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7 April 2015

4 things we learned from the Scottish TV debates

Nicola Sturgeon isn't half as impressive when someone gets up in her grill, and Labour must thank their lucky stars that Ruth Davidson isn't moving south any time soon.

By Stephen Bush

Nicola Sturgeon benefits from condescension

“You can have your opinions, but you can’t have your own facts,” Jim Murphy told Nicola Sturgeon, “You might get away with it in England but you won’t get away wit it here.” The First Minister was still a dominant figure but she was some way distant from the imperious figure she cut in the UK-wide debates. What happened? There, she was effectively left unmarked by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, despite the threat she poses to both their parties. Here, she faced an audience and a group of political opponents who were willing to get in her face and really challenge the SNP’s record, leaving her a much-diminished presence. Challenged on her record she cut a cantankerous and at times marginal figure. Team Miliband should take note ahead of their second clash with Sturgeon on April 16. 

The Liberal Democrats need a new tune

The Liberal Democrats haven’t done too badly, you know. Stronger action against female genital mutilation than any other government. The 0.7 per cent aid target enshrined in law. And they’ve done more to remove the stigma around mental health than any other party. Yes, there have been disappointments and the Janus act over tuition fees has, rightly, cost the party a great deal. But they have a more positive message, surely, that “look at this shower”. A miserable “plague on both your houses” message did nothing for Nick Clegg last week and did even less for Willie Rennie tonight. Time for the party to start shouting about its values and achievements, not merely attacking the other parties. 

Labour will thank their lucky stars that Ruth Davidson is unlikely to cross the border anytime soon

Ruth Davidson lists kickboxing as one of her hobbies but, on this evidence, it should really be listed as a key skill. It’s all too easy for the third party to end up squeezed in these affairs but she was more than a match for Jim Murphy or Nicola Sturgeon. More importantly, she seemed to have a hunger for the fight that, as Ian Leslie noted, appears to have abandoned David Cameron. She has the advantage, too, that she doesn’t sound posh; when she talks about people who struggle, it sounds like something she’s lived, not something a focus group spat out. “The best leader Scottish Labour will never have,” was the quip of one Labour strategist during the referendum. Labour will hope she remains the best leader that the Conservatives will never have at a UK-wide election, too.

The Union’s not done yet

45 per cent. A narrow loss in an independence referendum, a narrow majority under the Holyrood election system, a crushing defeat under the Alternative Vote,  and a landslide at Westminster. But not a majority, and there was a reminder of that tonight when Nicola Sturgeon was booed for not ruling out another referendum for the forseeable future. The SNP’s monopoly on the forces of independence looks unlikely to be challenged at Westminister – although at Holyrood the Greens will have a thing or two to say about that – but there’s no evidence yet that there is any real movement towards the SNP’s preferred solution. Scottish politics, which feels so vital at present, could in fact be headed for a period of prolonged stasis, with the Nationalists unassailable at Westminster and Holyrood, but continually frustrated on the question that provides them with a raison d’etre.  

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