And the winner is… the verdict on the first Scottish leaders’ debate

Twitter was on fire, the live online thingy at STV nearly melted, and at various points, my brain froze trying to keep up with it all, while actually listening to what was being said.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Scottish election leaders’ debates, the first of which was on STV tonight.   And for each debate – yes I am that much of an anorak – the burd will be making special awards in a range of categories.  Feel free to add your views, especially if you disagree, and even your own awards…

Overall winner – that would be Alex Salmond.  But then most of us expected that.  It was a good performance, though he only reached top gear once, on the session on tuition fees and why higher education should be free.  He appealed on the values of aspiration, fairness and society and sounded like a leader.  His answer to the question on why he would make the best First Minister was spot on, focusing not on himself but on the SNP’s team, record and vision.  However, he lost us on the detail of apprenticeships and jobs, and tried to cover too much ground with his explanation of the al-Megrahi decision.  And while he kept his tendency to smugness and smart Alexness under wraps, his body language towards Iain Gray won’t have gone down well with some viewers. 

Best wardrobe – Bernard Ponsonby, hands down winner.  The STV political editor showed them all how to do it.  Salmond played it safe and it worked.  Annabel needs to ditch the beads, Tavish Scott the lurid pink tie, and Iain Gray needs a whole new wardrobe, and make up artist for good measure.

Worst audience contribution – gosh, so many to choose from.  There were some good ones:  the woman on fuel poverty raised a serious issue, offered some strong facts but forgot to ask a question.  And the sweetest member had to be the oul yin with the buttonhole there to woo Annabel.  Bless.  The audience was dire, to be honest.  Far too many plants and partisans, far too many folk trying to be a star, no one offering a killer question.  A toss up for worst between the wee lassie who nearly wept making her Oscar-like adulatory exhortation of Salmond for First Minister and the racist who questioned the Tories wanting to make young people pay for university tuition while we give money away in foreign aid.  He wins it by a shade and I was disappointed that no one booed him or told him to leave.

Best pantomime moment – they all belong to Annabel, and frankly the whole charade of the flirty matron, alternatively showing an ankle trying to secure a position as a junior coalition partner and scolding those naughty boys, is beyond tiresome.  It crowds out the substance – some of it actually quite sensible and principled (which does not mean I agree with it!) – of her answers.  Get a new routine, Miss Goldie, please.

Worst omission – no questions, no comment, no discussion about the cuts and our financial situation.  Remarkable really.  In the next few weeks, it all becomes frighteningly real – job losses, income squeeze, benefit changes, tax hikes, local services closing their doors.  And no one so much as furrowed their brows on it.  Like I said, remarkable.  Surely this issue will feature in, nay dominate the debates to come?

Best exchange – the man who asked about the release of al-Megrahi was brave enough to challenge Salmond, politely, on the first part of his response.  Good for him.  This whole segment was rounded and rich and reflected well on the leaders.  They all argued their positions thoughtfully and passionately.  No clear winner but it showed our politicians at their best, for once.

Biggest fail – call me biased, and I am, but I am utterly bemused that a debate largely dominated by the themes of education and youth unemployment only managed a handful mentions of “children”.  In fact, the ability of the party leaders to talk about issues while scarcely mentioning people throughout the debate was pretty astonishing.  People vote, institutions and issues don’t, and while children obviously don’t have a vote, their parents and grandparents do.  Most folk with children in their lives would not hesitate to state that they, and making sure they are provided for and have a secure and promising future, are their priority.  So why do they not feature more highly in our parties’ priorities?

A few other observations.  Whoever coined the campaign phrase, Scotland deserves better, was damned right.  Whoever suggested to Iain Gray that he take the fight to Salmond and try to disconcert him in the opening exchanges with a pugnacious approach and aggressive interventions should be sacked.  Whoever advised Tavish Scott never to crack a smile nor attempt a joke and to aim for earnest and dull was wrong.  Whoever picks the audiences for these things needs to find some real people without party affiliations.  The first leader to remember that there is an audience on their sofas and respond not to the host nor the studio audience, but straight down the camera to all those thousands of voters, wins.

However awful this one was, I’ll definitely be tuning in next time.  See you there?

17 thoughts on “And the winner is… the verdict on the first Scottish leaders’ debate

  1. Interesting. When Alex Salmond says, “Everything I do as First Minister is for the benefit of Scotland.”, then he’s considered an isolationist but if we’re not electing a First Minister to focus his or her attention and and energies on Scotland what are we electing him or her for?

    If, “Everything I do as First Minister is for the benefit of Scotland.”, is too isolationist in sentiment does anybody have any suggestions for the wording of alternative personal mission statements for the prospective FM candidates in which the prospective FM’s announce that not everything they are going to do if elected will be for the benefit of Scotland?

  2. Fair point, Colin, but that’s what annoys me about the ‘putting Scotland first’ and similar Nationalist mantras.

    When someone actually says something that’s consistent with it then they’re hauled over the coals regarding its practical application.

    • I agree – I dislike the parties playing the patriot card with implication that others are somehow less patriotic. I find it tiresome and immature.

  3. I’d just like to say that Labour majoring on the Megrahi release is cynical, hypocritical and pointless. Iain Gray got a round of applause for being opposed to the release, a fact that Scottish Labour gleefully tweeted during the debate. It was a one off judgement made by one cabinet secretary in unique circumstances, and unless we’ve got a stack of other similarly convicted terrorists in our prison cells is completely irrelevant to this election.

    When we got to the last section of the debate, I honestly thought we’d have a question about the cuts but no, we got Megrahi instead.

    I know previous Labour voters who are turning away from the party over this, and rightfully so.

    • I have my own view on the decision but was trying to review the quality of this segment of the debate. I thought all four leaders spoke eloquently for their position – though doesn’t mean I agreed with what they said! The quality was better here than elsewhere.

      And agree, cannot quite believe no discussion on the cuts, surely that must change?

  4. Per Alex Salmond:

    “Everything I do as First Minister is for the benefit of Scotland.”

    Racist? Isolationist? Inarticulate? Unintelligent?

    Good analysis otherwise, though, but I think Malc asks some very pertinent questions, which is why I find it difficult to reach a conclusion on such events, even if I could be bothered engaging with them to any great degree.

    To an extent it’s just a glorified FMQs.

    • It was much more consensual and gentler in tone than FMQs, and Gray was noticeably weaker when he didn’t have a script to work from.

      I would say that remark by Salmond, if we take it literally, is indeed isolationist. But to be fair to him, I think it was just supposed to be nice-sounding guff that doesn’t mean anything. Let sunshine win the day.

  5. Thanks for this, although having missed it live on tv, I am now not sure if I am going to bother watching it on stv player😉

    I would add the leader of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie to the debate’s worst omissions, as it were – surely a party that can bring down a budget and is the only one offering an alternative to the cuts in Scotland (as opposed to just different ways of implementing them) deserves the opportunity to be seen and heard by voters.

    • Yes I should have thought of that! I agree that Patrick – or as Caron mused, Eleanor Scott – should have been on the panel.

  6. “Thirded” on the the guy’s question. Isolationist is right – and it is a commonly held view. He’s not saying we’re better than other nations or anything like that, just that we should consider sorting out things in our own backyard before we try to solve the world’s problems. I don’t consider that a racist point of view.

    On the remainder – I think you capture the debate nicely (and it saves me from doing it as well, since I mostly agree!). One thing I wanted to ask though: what is your criteria for winning?

    I think we can count Gray out, and probably Tavish too (though at least he talked about policy). Annabel was probably the winner if we look specifically at debating-style points but Salmond was more “First Minister material”. At least in my view… no?

    • I think overall performance is the criteria for winning – demeanour, answers, engagement with others. Don’t think it was a streets ahead performance by Salmond but enough. And yes can see why you, and many others, think Annabel the winner. She willl stand out whatever because Tories have something slightly different to say so we all listen harder maybe? And she performed well – but she annoys me with that act, can’t you tell?! And on the saying something different line, it’s why Patrick should be there.

      • I never said I thought she was the overall winner – just that on debating points, she was probably stronger than the other 3.

        My point wasn’t so much really last night’s debate: how do we judge a winner in general? Since its one of two who will be FM, does it matter what Annabel or Tavish do? Does the debating ACTUALLY come into it any? Is it about style over substance (yes!)? Is it about changing people’s minds? That kind of thing.

        I’ll admit now – I have no idea. Hence the questions, and not many answers…

      • Ah sorry Malc – my focus is far too narrow. No these are very good and very pertinent questions. Hmm, need to go away and think about these (and do some work!)

        But a quick reply – the winner in an election is the one ie party/individual whose message strikes a chord with the electorate, who is able to persuade the voters to vote for them. And someone at some point in Twitter pointed out that the SNP are very good at winning campaigns but not necessarily elections. I shall carry these thoughts around all day now….

  7. Too many ‘is thats’ – but you know what I meant!

  8. Eck was well in there with that lady. Bit unfair to call the other guy a racist, though. I think he was just an isolationist – he complained not only about us sending aid to other countries (such as, er, China, apparently), but also about us blowing them up.

    • Agree with Colin there.

      If the epithet of racist applies to someone asking such a question, then there are an awful lot of them about. Not saying that it’s right of course and it’s a simple populist point. The reason though that he wasn’t booed or told to leave is, that quite apart from the fact that he’s entitled to his view, is that outwith the rarified world of politics, his view and question are probably quite representative.

      I never cease to be amazed when seemingly otherwise articulate and intelligent friends express similar sentiments and they don’t always have to be in the pub!

      • Yes you are all probably right – Colin, Rab and Malc – was an initial reaction to what he had to say, so what does that say about me?! Isolationist probably more appropriate description. And yes, nowt so queer as folk as they say. If we all thought alike, what a dull life it would be.

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