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The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon secured a major pre-election victory by winning the TV leaders' debate tonight.

An average of three snap surveys (ICM, YouGov and ComRes) after the two-hour long debate in Salford showed that the SNP leader had beaten David Cameron to poll position (22% vs 21%).

The research also revealed that Labour leader Ed Miliband and Ukip firebrand Nigel Farage drew for third place as both garnered 20% of the vote.

The historic seven-way showdown came after a 90-minute question and answer session on Sky News and Channel 4, when Miliband and Cameron were grilled by legendary political inquisitor Jeremy Paxman.

But Miliband failed to sink his teeth into the prime minister during tonight's contest as the leaders scrapped for air time.

Farage probably offered the most controversial remarks of the night when he said foreign HIV positive patients should not use the NHS to source expensive antiviral drugs from the NHS.

Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood hit out at Farage over the comment and claimed he "should be ashamed of himself".

"This kind of scaremongering rhetoric is dangerous. It divides communities and it creates stigma to people who are ill and I think you should be ashamed of yourself," she argued.

The debate also hotted up when a heckler, Victoria Prosser, attacked David Cameron over the issue of homeless veterans.

The 33-year-old was reportedly removed from the ITV studio in Salford after the outburst. She later told journalists that she wanted to question the "1% at the top" of British society, "who are not working in our best interests".

The woman who heckled Cameron during the debate has now been named as Victoria Prosser, from Salford.

The 33-year-old said she wanted to question the "1%" at the top of British society, "who are not working in our best interests".

But another poll from ICM has put Miliband in first place.

YouGov have called it for Sturgeon, who had a eight point lead over Farage straight after the debate in a snap poll.

ITV debate

The leaders have now made their closing remarks. Bennett told people to vote "for what you believe in" and warned not to "vote for lesser of two evils".

Wood kept with her anti-austerity theme and claimed for a stronger Wales, "give your vote to Plaid Cymru".

Miliband stressed that he would work hard for everybody and stop tax avoidance, while cutting the deficit every year he is in power.

Liberal Democrat leader Clegg repeated that his party would not allow a future government to "lurch" to the left or right. "When you vote, vote to keep country stable, strong and fair," he urged.

Sturgeon, meanwhile, kept it simple. She said for a "louder voice in Scotland" vote for the SNP.

We've got our first heckle of the night. Homeless servicemen and fracking appeared to be her gripes. The woman has been reportedly removed from the studio.

The debate has now moved onto young people what the parties would do to make youngsters feel optimistic.

Wood says Plaid Cymru want to offer free tuition fees , but claims because of austerity the party can't.

Miliband, however, says he will help out be abolishing exploitative zero-hours contracts.

Cameron, meanwhile, argues that his government's Help to Buy will help young people get on the property ladder and the prime minister stressed that a Tory government would create an extra two million jobs.

Elsewhere, Bennett argues that education is a public good and should be paid for by progressive taxation.

Clegg, who infamously broke his pledge on cutting tuition fees, blames Labour for "jacking up" the fees.

Sturgeon, who explains she is from a working-class background, argues that she will always fight to university fee.

Finally, Farage argues that the social mobility gap is increasing and the decision to move away from grammar schools has hurt those looking to climb the education and jobs ladder.

Farage finds an unlikely ally in Wood on his immigration point.

It's all getting a bit shouty. Again, Cameron claims Ukip will help Miliband get into Number 10.

A snap poll from ComRes showed that Farage was ahead of the other six party leaders at half-time. Can the Eurosceptic maintain his lead for another hour?

Ouch! The two right-wing leaders have just had a scrap. Farage claims that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is "the real boss in the EU" and states you cannot renegotiate free movement of people.

Cameron, however, said Farage is "just a back to Labour, which will give us an open door to immigration".

On the issue, Sturgeon says we need to "recognise that there is a strain on housing and public services"; Wood argues "we should not allow rhetoric that blames immigration for ills" and Miliband says his government would "offer control" but not cut the UK off from the rest of the world.

Nigel Farage

ITV have gone to a short break. Up next is immigration. We're sure one of the leaders will attack Cameron over his failed pledge to reduce net migration to the UK to less than 100,000.

Midland and Cameron are now locked together in a head-to-head over the NHS.

The Labour leader claimed the Health and Social Care Act was a "recipe for privatisation" and if you slash social care, you "undermine" the NHS fundamentally.

But the Tory leader hit back. He argued that Miliband was "scaremongering" and mentioned the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal, which happened under Labour.

TV debates

Bennett argues that the Coalition Government have privatised the NHS and the act has caused "huge damage". "We are racing towards an American system," the Green leader argues.

Farage, however, repeats his point that health tourism is costing the UK too much.

The Ukip leader says there are 7,000 diagnoses each year for HIV. 60% are not British nationals and drugs costs £25,000 a year, he claims.

Farage argues that health tourism costs the UK £2bn a year and declares that foreign workers should have health insurance.

Miliband, meanwhile, attacks the prime minister over Accident and Emergency waiting times, citing official data that shows his government have missed their targets.

Elsewhere, Clegg says the question is simple: "who has a plan to put an extra £8bn in to NHS?". The Liberal Democrat leader says you are only going to get if you ask the wealthy to pay more.

Wood, Bennett and Sturgeon have found common ground one again. The leaders are against the privatisation. Wood, for example, says the service faces a threat from austerity and centralisation from Labour in Wales.

The debate has now moved onto the NHS. Terry, a member of the audience, asks the leaders how they will fund the health service and keep it as a public service.

Bennett sides with Sturgeon over the economy. The Green leader says 1/5 of workers are on less than the Living Wage and the government have not created an economy "where people can build a working life".

Miliband is now attacking Cameron over his so called "bedroom tax", otherwise know as the spare room subsidy.

Cameron promises to eliminate the UK's deficit and run a surplus by the end of the next parliament.

It seems it's heating up in Salford. Farage had his say about public spending:

Clegg launched an attack against Cameron. The Liberal Democrat claimed that the prime minister doesn't want to stay the course and alleged that he would veer to the right if he is voted into power after the election.

There seemed to be some clear water between the party leaders on public sector cuts. Sturgeon attacked the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the issue.

Finally, Wood makes her case to the British public.

Elsewhere, Miliband argues that for five years wages have not kept up with bills and the NHS has "gone backwards". He repeats his pledge to hike the minimum wage to £8 per hour.

Cameron delivers his opening statement:

Clegg keeps his centre-ground message. He promises not to "let anyone else impose ideological cuts".

Sturgeon, meanwhile, admits that she wants Scotland to break away from the rest of the UK. But the SNP leader argues that it's not just people north of the border that "feel let down".

Bennett starts proceedings. She claims the Greens are committed to returning the NHS to its founding principles and that "other parties trade on fear", but her party trades on hope.

With only minutes to go before the big debate kicks off, here's our 60 second take on what you need to know about the 2015 general election.

ITV are predicting that they could get a staggering 10 million viewers for tonight's debate. The first 2010 general election TV debate garnered 9.4 million, so it's certainly not a pipe-dream. But will the extra number of politicians – and rhetoric – turn people off?

Ed Miliband Manic Miner
Labour Party/IBTimes UK

Miliband was on good form yesterday when he revealed to Absolute Radio that he was a big Manic Miner player. The interview was a bit of a nostalgia trip and the Labour leader seemed relaxed and cheerful. He will definitely want to carry that momentum into tonight's debate.

Confirmed: Clegg is wearing a yellow tie tonight.

No doubt the leaders have done lots and lots of preparation before tonight's event.

The Greens told IBTimes UK that Bennett has been revising ahead of the debate, but they wouldn't go into specifics.

Nigel Farage, meanwhile, may enjoy a "big gin" before the showdown, a senior source close to the Ukip leader told IBTimes UK.

Elsewhere, Clegg is "just catching up on a few stats and figures". Or is that Lord Ashcroft's Sheffield Hallam poll?

The prime minister has taken a lot of stick for not agreeing to a head-to-head debate with Miliband ahead of the election. The Mirror have been chasing the Tory leader around the UK with their chickens. Here's a Vine, Happy Easter.

It all kicks off at 8pm and here's the speaking order. It looks like Cameron has an advantage by speaking last. But look out Dave, Farage will be hot on your heels.