THE four people hoping to attract the support of Argyll and Bute’s voters in this Thursday's General Election were put to the test by the Helensburgh public on Monday night.

Helensburgh’s only hustings of the campaign, organised by the Advertiser and hosted by the Tower Digital Arts Centre, saw Rhea Barnes (Labour), Gary Mulvaney (Conservative), Brendan O’Hara (SNP) and Alan Reid (Liberal Democrat) answer questions on a host of topics of local and national interest, including Brexit, Scottish independence, the NHS, social justice, taxation and the economy, under the chairmanship of former Advertiser editor Julian Calvert, now a journalism lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Here's our pick of the best bits from an often passionate, occasionally angry, and always fascinating evening's debate...

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Support for a second Scottish independence referendum

Gary Mulvaney: "In another generation, fine, but I'm not wanting another referendum any time soon."

Brendan O'Hara: "The circumstances are already here: if the people want another referendum, and our parliament says we want to have another referendum, I don't see why another parliament should deny Scotland that democratic right."

Alan Reid: "We were promised the 2014 referendum would be a 'once in a generation' event. To me, round about 2044 would be when we should consider another one. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon gave their word in writing that they would implement the result; we expect them to stick by their word."

Rhea Barnes: "Jeremy Corbyn hasn't ruled one out, but it won't be within the first term. Once we get society back on an even keel, then we can talk about it."

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Social justice

AR: "I want to create a society where everybody has opportunities – where our criminal justice system is fair and open, where minorities are given a fair crack of the whip, where everybody is treated fairly no mater what category they fall in to."

RB: "The most important thing to me is the NHS. All the other policies are useless if you don't have your health to enjoy them."

GM: "It's not about equality per se, it's about equality of opportunity to rise up as far as merit takes you. We need to create wealth to support our public services."

BOH: "There's nothing to be gained while others are left behind. Over the last decade I've watched the deliberate and callous widening of the holes in the social security safety net. That doesn't happen by accident; it happens by design."

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Party policy v personal priorities

GM: "We have a Conservative manifesto, which I accept. There are things outwith the manifesto I don't agree with – I've made it clear I'm not in favour of repealing the ban on fox hunting, for example – but ultimately as an MP I would be accountable to you, and in four or five years' time, if you don't like what I've done, you have the ultimate sanction."

BOH: "I've never been told how to vote on a matter of my own personal conscience. I wouldn't take the whip on something I was morally opposed to."

AR: "I've been there, I've had the arguments with the chief whip. I voted not to increase tuition fees; I voted not to introduce the bedroom tax. I have a record of voting against the party line."

RB: "A lot of politicians forget they're the servants of their constituents. I would hope I'm a strong woman, but at the end of the day it's your views, those of the people who elected you, that count."

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Economy and Brexit

BOH: "My starting point is remaining within the EU, and being able to attract people to Argyll and Bute from across Europe, from Greece to County Donegal. We have a depopulation crisis in Argyll and Bute – overall we are ageing, we are not economically active and we're not breeding at the rate we need. Brexit will cut that off at the nose. Our economic survival depends on remaining in the EU – because if we don't, we're gubbed."

AR: "Free trade brings prosperity. Tariff barriers and customs posts stop free trade. It's so important that we stay in the EU and in the UK and invest in the industries of the future. We have to stop all this constitutional wrangling; because of the uncertainty over Brexit and independence, our economy is just bumping along."

RB: "Labour will invest £100 billion into Scotland's infrastructure. We will raise corporation tax to 26 per cent – that's still lower than France, Portugal, Belgium and Greece. Brexit is important, I fully understand that, and Labour will give people an option between remaining in the EU and a negotiated deal to leave."

GM: "The fundamental things for business are stability, confidence and certainty. Labour's tax plans would affect not just large corporations but small businesses too. With every Labour government there's ever been, there's been a mess left for the Conservatives to clean up at the end of it – while under the SNP, the Scottish economy is growing by 3 per cent while the UK economy is growing by 12 per cent."

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Do the candidates trust Boris Johnson when he says the NHS will not be part of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US?

AR: "No, I don't. It's clear the US will want the NHS to be part of any trade deal. He will not get a trade deal with the US unless the NHS is part of it."

RB: "I wouldn't trust Boris Johnson to look after my hamster. Our NHS will be on the table. I have an American fiancee, and I've seen what happens with the healthcare system there – those companies will come in and ravage our health service."

GM: "It's been made clear the NHS is not up for negotiation, full stop. Nicola Sturgeon's record on the NHS is the real issue here. I will judge Boris Johnson on his record in government, and I'll trust him to deliver a strong economy for the whole of the UK."

BOH: "You're dealing with Boris Johnson and Donald Trump here – a complete moral void. They're asking you to ignore the evidence of your own ears and eyes and believe they're on your side. To those voting Tory: you know this man has no integrity. Don't come back in five years and say it was all a surprise – if you trust the NHS in this man's hands, you must button up the back."

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What are the benefits of Brexit for Scotland?

RB: "I can see the benefits and the drawbacks. But Argyll and Bute is tied to the EU. I'm not saying the EU is perfect, but personally I don't think Argyll and Bute will benefit from Brexit."

GM: "The people decided something and we should implement their decision. The key thing is we get rid of the gridlock in parliament. There's a great opportunity to to deals with Australia, with countries in the Far East, with emerging economies in Africa – there's going to be a transition but there's going to be benefits out of it."

BOH: "There's no Brexit deal that will benefit Argyll and Bute. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being truthful."

AR: "There are no benefits to Argyll and Bute from leaving the EU. And Gary Mulvaney couldn't come up with any either."

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Scottish independence and EU membership

GM: "I simply don't support it, and will never support it. If we were to leave the UK we'd have a hard border with England. The currency question hasn't been sorted. Defeat Nicola Sturgeon in this election and that question will go away, and Nicola Sturgeon will go away."

BOH: "The reason for the constitutional wrangling is that it's an issue for people. It's what people want to talk about. We can't seek to be your elected representative and then dictate to you what the issues are. In all the EU institutions there's a recognition that Scotland doesn't want to leave and that should we become independent we want to come back as quickly as possible – and I think, if given the opportunity, re-entry would be pretty straightforward."

AR: "If Brexit happens there's no good outcome for Scotland. Becoming an EU member requires us to have debt that's no more than 3 per cent of GDP – in Scotland it's now 7 per cent, and I don't see how Scotland could plug that gap without major cuts in services. Independence for Scotland is no solution to Brexit."

RB: "I quite like being part of the UK. I'm sympathetic to all the views of people who want to be independent and I understand that desire, but it doesn't sit right with me to just walk off and leave a group of people we've been part of something with for so many years. I want to focus on making sure the most vulnerable people in our society are looked after first."

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Support for the 'WASPI' pension equality campaigners

RB: "Labour's policy is clear. You made a contract with the state, and you should be paid what you're owed."

GM: "No-one has an issue around equalising the state pension age; it's about how it's been communicated and how the change has been managed. It's very easy for those in opposition to say 'we'll just write you a cheque', but it would be wrong to say we shouldn't look at this."

BOH: "I believe the Tories decided to take on middle aged women because they thought it was an easy hit. Gary says you can't just write a cheque, but when you've robbed somebody, and been caught, and the court of public opinion says you're wrong, you write that cheque."

AR: "An injustice has clearly been done here, and it goes back many years. It's clearly right that we should equalise the state pension age, but the issue has been mismanaged by successive governments."

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Faslane, Coulport and the nuclear deterrent

GM: "I firmly believe in the nuclear deterrent. I'm very, very proud of the 11,000 jobs that are at the base. We want investment in the base. Nicola Sturgeon wants to close the base."

BOH: "There's no moral, economic or military basis for the possession of nuclear weapons. The SNP has never said, and we will never say, that the base will close. What we will do is we'll reconfigure it to become a conventional naval base for the use of Scotland and our allies in Europe and NATO. The base can be whatever Scotland wants it to be, and people who say otherwise should stop scaremongering."

AR: "Nuclear weapons are terrible things. But the ones that worry me are not the ones held by Britain, but the ones that could be developed by countries that are very unstable and are led by dictators. I believe the future of Faslane is safe as long as Scotland is part of the UK: if Scotland becomes independent, the base is going to close. That's the reality."

RB: "I have to be honest with you and say I'd vote against renewal of this country's nuclear weapons systems. I'll fight for every job in that base – it houses some amazing talent, but it could be put to far better use than housing weapons of mass destruction. Its potential is fantastic."

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