The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, on Tuesday laid out plans to charge university students £6,000 for their degrees.
During the second TV debate of the Scottish election campaign – hosted by STV at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh – Davidson said Scottish students would be expected to pay back around £1,500 for each year of their degree after they had graduated and started earning a certain amount.
After coming under intense questioning from SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Davidson said that Sturgeon's commitment to "free tuition" came at the cost of thousands of college places and kept poorer students out of university.
Responding to questions from Sturgeon, Davidson said: "First of all, it's not a graduate tax, it's a contribution after you've graduated and after you've earned a certain amount. We expect it to be in the region of just over £1,500 per year, so that's a lot less than England. You keep talking about university education being free; university education is not free."
Sturgeon replied: "It's not going to be free with you."
In February, Davidson threw her support behind what opponents labelled a "graduate tax", saying she wanted to end the "cosy consensus" on free tuition in Scotland. She called the SNP's commitment to free tuition "a middle-class freebie, tarted up as an egalitarian policy".
During February's speech, she pledged to use funds raised from the graduate contribution to give higher-education bursaries to less well-off students. The most recent figures showed that Scottish students were racking up record levels of debt as the amount paid out in bursaries continued to fall.
Commenting after the debate, the SNP's business convener, Derek Mackay, said the Conservatives were the "party of hidden taxes".
"It's clear that Ruth Davidson is now on the run as the extent of her plans for hidden taxes have come to light," Mackay said. And with plans to charge Scotland's students £6,000 to go to university and to force people suffering from ill-health to pay unfair prescription charges, it's no wonder people in Scotland are continuing to comprehensively reject the Tories."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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