JOHN Swinney told Anas Sarwar that the Labour Party will “prolong austerity” as the pair clashed in last night’s STV leadership debate.

Alongside the Scottish Labour leader and the First Minister, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole-Hamilton took part in the first televised debate of this year’s General Election campaign.

A range of issues were discussed including the cost of living crisis, oil and gas licences, EU membership and the NHS.

Speaking to Sarwar, Swinney said: “The difficult that you face, the Institute for Fiscal Studies say that there’s an £18 billion black hole in the public finances which a Labour government has got to fill.

“And all those different tax changes you’ve set out are tax changes that you’ve already allocated the money to spend on different priorities so where are the spending cuts going to come because you’re going to prolong austerity that’s undermined our public services in Scotland.”

Sarwar hit back and told the First Minister he was the “architect of austerity in Scotland, particularly around local government”.

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He added: “We have already committed more money to our public services, I’ve already set out how we would do more capital investment, we would borrow to do capital investment as well.”

The pair then started to speak over each other as Swinney told Sarwar “you cannot say to me you’re going to borrow to invest in the economy” as this contradicted what Rachel Reeves had said.

“You have totally rewritten the Labour financial strategy there Anas.”

At this point, host Colin Mackay interjected to tell the First Minister to let Sarwar answer his initial question.

The Scottish Labour leader added: “We have said that we would not borrow for day-to-day spending but we would look at borrowing in terms of making capital investment because that’s how you grow the economy.

“I would expect as a former finance secretary, you would understand economics.”

The debate took place just hours after a poll suggested Labour is on course for the biggest election victory in the party’s history, surpassing Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.

Kicking Tories out

Elsewhere, the pair agreed that kicking the Tories out of Government is an “opportunity Scotland cannot afford to miss”.

“This election is about getting rid of this Tory government and it can only be replaced by a Labour government with Scottish Labour MPs at its heart delivering for the Scottish people,” Sarwar said.

“So surely you agree getting rid of this Tory government is an opportunity Scotland can’t afford to miss?”

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The First Minister replied to say he agreed but that the SNP was the nearest rival in every Tory seat in Scotland.

Sarwar hit back to say that while the SNP can beat Scottish Tory MPs, “Labour can get rid of an entire Tory government”.