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?