KEIR STARMER has been slammed by the SNP for refusing to rule out raising university tuition fees.

In his first major speech of the campaign, the Labour leader sought to persuade voters that he could be trusted to deliver economic stability and protect national security.

But speaking to journalists afterwards, Starmer also refused to scrap or rule out raising university tuition fees – and claimed "there needs to be change".

Instead, Starmer said he is prioritising the NHS.

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"We have done the sums, we can't have both. That is the political choice Labour is offering the electorate,” he added.

To note, Starmer previously supported scrapping tuition fees when running to be Labour leader.

The comments come as analysis commissioned by the SNP indicates that, since the Labour Party first introduced university tuition fees in 1998, the cost of student debt in England has soared.

In 2000, the average loan debt for students graduating in England was £2690 but by 2022, that had risen to £44,730 - an increase of over 16.

In 2022, the average student debt in Scotland was 67% lower than in England at £14,770.

The SNP's education spokesperson and candidate for Glasgow West, Carol Monaghan, said Starmer must “come clean and admit he's planning to increase university tuition fees”.

"This growing Westminster threat to students shows why it's essential to vote SNP to defend free university tuition and put the interests of Scotland first,” the MP said.

"With the Tories and Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party both saddling students with sky high debts, it's only the SNP that are standing up for young people and their families.”

She added: "It's no surprise that more and more young people are finding it impossible to buy a house or start a family when they are swimming in debt imposed on them by Westminster.

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"At the general election, the SNP is the only party that will protect students and defend free education, which has left graduates in Scotland thousands of pounds better off. A vote for the SNP is a vote to always put Scotland's interests first."

In his speech, Starmer also said that 14 years of Conservative “chaos” had led to a “crisis” in the national culture.

Speaking in Tory-held Lancing, West Sussex, he said: “Elections are about more than individual changes and policies, but about values, temperament, character and a bigger question: whose side are you on?

“Who do you hold in your mind’s eye when you are making decisions?

“Everything I have fought for has been shaped by my life, every change I have made to this party has been about a cause, the answer to that question, the only answer: The working people of this country delivering on their aspirations, earning their respect, serving their interests.”

He also acknowledged that despite Labour’s commanding opinion poll lead, many voters were not fully persuaded about his party.

“I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election. They’re fed-up with the failure, chaos and division of the Tories, but they still have questions about us: has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders, our security?

“My answer is yes, you can, because I have changed this party, permanently.”

Starmer dismissed Rishi Sunak’s plan for a new form of compulsory national service as a “teenage Dad’s Army”.

He said the policy would be “paid for by cancelling levelling-up funding and money from tax avoidance that we would use to invest in our NHS”.

“All elections are a choice and this is a clear one: levelling-up and the NHS with Labour or more desperate chaos with the Tories.”