Nicola Sturgeon urges voters in UK elections to punish Boris Johnson over 'stench of sleaze'

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Scottish Labour leader Anas with SarwarFirst Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Scottish Labour leader Anas with SarwarFirst Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Nicola Sturgeon has urged voters in elections across the UK next week to punish Boris Johnson over the "stench of sleaze" around the UK Government as she tried to use the furore to bolster her campaign.

The First Minister said people voting in elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, English local authorities, the London Assembly and mayors in 12 parts of England should show the Tories "they are not untouchable".

She told a Channel 4 Scottish leaders' debate that the Conservatives were "acting as if the rules only apply to other people and that they and their wealthy friends can act with impunity".

But Ms Sturgeon was forced to defend a series of sex scandals and controversies in her own party, including the Alex Salmond affair and Derek Mackay, who was forced to resign as Finance Secretary on the eve of the Scottish Budget over lewd messages he sent a schoolboy.

She also came under fire over her plan to stage a second independence referendum by the end of 2023, while Scotland is recovering from the pandemic, amid claims that this would distract her from helping the economy, NHS and education systems get back on their feet.

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative party leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie, take part in Channel 4 News election debate in Glasgow - Andrew Milligan/PA
Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative party leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie, take part in Channel 4 News election debate in Glasgow - Andrew Milligan/PA

In a reference to an admission she made during a previous TV debate about Scotland's record drug deaths, Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "We don't want this referendum because Nicola Sturgeon will take her eye off the ball again."

Ms Sturgeon also struggled to defend comments made by Emma Harper, one of her candidates and a South Scotland MSP in the last parliament, who claimed last week that a hard border with England could help create jobs.

The First Minister resorted to claiming that Mr Ross had misquoted her when he repeatedly challenged her over the comments.

But the first exchanges in the debate were over the allegation Mr Johnson allegedly said back in October that he would rather "let the bodies pile high in their thousands" than impose another lockdown.

Senior Scottish Tories fear that the furore will help Ms Sturgeon get a majority on May 6 and depress their support.

The First Minister said: "There's a stench of sleaze around this UK Tory Government. They are acting as if the rules only apply to other people and that they and their wealthy friends can act with impunity, make and spend money however they want and somehow they're untouchable.

"Well, I think the message for people across Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the UK where there are elections next week, is [to] show them they're not untouchable and actually the rules apply to them as well."

Mr Ross reiterated that the alleged comments would be "unacceptable from anyone at whatever level of elected office" but that he believed the Prime Minister's denials.

He argued that Mr Johnson was "someone who was taken into intensive care himself. He saw first hand what our nurses and doctors had to do to protect lives."

Ms Sturgeon contrasted Mr Ross's demand that she resign over her role in the Salmond affair, before she was cleared of breaching the ministerial code, and his defence of the Prime Minister.

Defending her plans for a separate Scotland to join the EU, which would create a hard border with England, she said she wanted to "open up free trade again across 27 other countries".

Ms Sturgeon added: "We want trade to continue across the Scotland-England border." However, Mr Ross pointed out that more than 60 per cent of Scottish trade is with England, more than three times the amount with the EU.

However, Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said her plans were akin to "adding chaos on to chaos" and argued it would be far more difficult to break up the 300-year-old United Kingdom than leave the EU.

Mr Ross also admitted he would have voted against same-sex marriage when it was legalised in 2014, but he had since changed his mind. However, Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said the "cuddly Tories under Ruth Davidson are gone".

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