After a sustained attack from the Labour leader, Mr Russell stood up and said: "I am more than prepared to say that my experience of the recession and of the loss of 25,000 university places south of the border make me believe I was wrong."
His comments were met with jeers from Labour, setting the tone for the rest of the heated debate. Ms Lamont accused the SNP of betraying young people with education priorities, failing to accept the reality of reduced public finances and for wanting tax cuts that would make US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blush.
"The easy option for me, as leader of the opposition, would have been to sit back, put my fingers in my ears and pretend that we can afford to pay for everything forever more. However, I care too much about Scotland to do that. I care too much about public services to let them bleed to death," she said.
"The debate I called for is not about universality versus means-testing. It is about what we can and cannot afford. It is about affordability. It is about sustainability. And it is about how we protect those most vulnerable in these tough times.
"What the SNP have to say on universality will be of little comfort to young people from poor backgrounds who cannot get a place at college, older people faced with declining standards of care and people losing their jobs. The SNP do not have a basic understanding of fairness. That is the reality."