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  1. Election 2024
8 April 2015

4 things we learned from the Scottish debates (again)

The Greens have better weapons than Natalie Bennett, Nicola Sturgeon is caught between two stools, and Labour doesn't understand the SNP's world.

By Stephen Bush

The Greens missed a trick in keeping Patrick Harvie north of the border

While it seems to have escaped the poster-makers in CCHQ, Nicola Sturgeon isn’t the SNP’s frontman in Westminister, and Alex Salmond isn’t their leader anywhere. It’s Angus Robertson, who leads the SNP’s Westminster group (at least until he wakes up on May 8th with a dagger in his back signed by one A. Salmond). But the SNP, wisely, put its best foot forward in the seven-way debates and put forward Sturgeon, who was the strongest performer in that first debate. 

If only the Greens had done the same. Natalie Bennett has many strengths but she is a drag on the Green party ticket. There are votes to be won from Labour and the Liberals by an assertive and articulate Green party leader, but Bennett, who is forgettable on her good days and memorable for the wrong reasons on her worst, will never be that leader. The devolved structure of the party, however, means that the party could have put Patrick Harvie, its leader in Scotland, forward in the seven-way debates. His top-quality performance tonight was exactly what the Greens are missing down south. If Ed Miliband is in Downing Street next month he will thank his lucky stars that Harvie never got on the train to Salford. 

Sturgeon falls between two stools

Nicola Sturgeon is like the Godfather films: the first installment a classic, the second alright, the third a bit of a dog’s dinner. This was some distance from the assured turn in the seven-way debates and even the somewhat fractious performance yesterday. 

What happened? Quite frankly she wasn’t sure what Sturgeon to be. There’s the Sturgeon-in-Holyrood: a responsible social democrat with a patchy record. And then there’s the Sturgeon-in-London: Syriza on the Clyde, basically. The latter worked well in Salford, looked strained yesterday and snapped completely here. (Although her final blast at David Coburn was superb.) The SNP badly need a better answer on the second referendum question, and if Ed Miliband can swot up on the SNP’s record in office, he can put Sturgeon under as much pressure as Jim Murphy did today.

Labour and the SNP have a dialogue of the deaf

Labour think the big headline of the night was Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to full fiscal autonomy. It would mean a far greater level of austerity for Scotland than even the worst plans of George Osborne. But I’m not so sure. Frankly, the first decade or so of independence for most ex-colonial nations, from the Irish Republic to Zambia, was rather grimmer than the one on offer for Scotland if Sturgeon gets her way. Unionists will bridle at the comparison, but for many of those now seeking an independent Scotland the price of freedom will always be worth paying. 

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If Farage doesn’t make it, Ukip’s future is bleak

Oh, David Coburn. When he wasn’t redundant he was a punchline – for Jim Murphy, for Nicola Sturgeon, for Ruth Davidson, for Patrick Harvie, or, at the closing exchanges, all of them. A recorded message saying the word “Europe” every minute or so would have been a better exponent of the Ukip case, and he was lucky not be brought up on the cringingly sexist moment when he referred to the First Minister as “Miss Sturgeon”. It remains the most likely scenario that Nigel Farage will make it to parliament in May, although both Will Scobie, the Labour candidate, and Craig Mackinlay, the Tory standard-bearer, are putting up more of a fight than he can have anticipated. If Farage does fall at the final hurdle, Ukip’s options without him are so uninspiring as to possibly mean the end of the party.

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