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13 June 2012updated 21 Jul 2021 12:55pm

The main takeaways from the Question Time leaders’ debate

By Ailbhe Rea

Jeremy Corbyn would remain neutral in a second referendum

The Labour leader told the audience this evening that he would “adopt a neutral stance” in a second Brexit referendum, confirming again that that was his stance when pushed by host Fiona Bruce. After audience laughter at Labour’s Brexit position during the last leader’s debate, this was an attempt to make a virtue of Corbyn’s delicate dance over Brexit, restyling it as a unifying position of strong leadership.

He also wouldn’t hold a Scottish independence referendum in the “first two years” of a Labour government  

When pushed on his earlier pledge not to hold another independence referendum in the “early years” of a Labour government propped up by the SNP, Corbyn was forced to clarify. “Early years… first two years, at least,” he confirmed. That will be seized upon by the Conservatives, who have already been pushing a “vote Labour, get two referenda in two years” line.

Nicola Sturgeon expects Jeremy Corbyn to bow to her demands in the event of a hung parliament

When Sturgeon took to the stage, she added further amunition to that Conservative line, suggesting that Corbyn would be prepared to move further to meet the SNP’s demands in order to get his own policies through.

Nicola Sturgeon is a true pro

Sturgeon’s appearance was a lesson in media appearances from a seasoned politician, the most experienced in the debate. She deftly pitched her message to a UK-wide audience, not necessarily an easy task, promising that if the SNP holds the balance of power it will act “of course in the interests of Scotland, but also in the interest of progressive values across the UK.” Sturgeon was relaxed, good-humoured (“Brexiteers told a load of lies… some of them down the side of a bus” she quipped, to a warm audience response) and responded flexibly to a tough question on drug addiction from one audience member.

Sturgeon is worried about voters drawing parallels between Scottish independence and Brexit

Sturgeon was careful to address concerns that have been coming up on doorsteps in Scotland, over whether independence will be like Brexit. She was keen to emphasise that Brexit “didn’t have to be like this”, and dodged any commitment to holding a confirmatory referendum on a hypothetical independence deal.

The Liberal Democrats’ revoke policy isn’t the vote-winner they were hoping for

As sincere, measured interventions from Remainers opposed to the revoke Article 50 policy demonstrated, the Liberal Democrats’ hopes that adoping a revoke policy would boost them have been sorely disproven. Swinson made a passionate defence of her party’s policy, but it was met with an awkward silence from the audience. 

Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have enraged voters 

The audience took both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson to task over anti-Semitism and Islamophobia respectively, in some of the most passionate moments of the evening. More so than in 2017, these issues seem to have ignited voters: the first key moment of the evening was a man challenging Corbyn over allowing Labour MP Ruth Smeeth to be heckled at a party conference. “I dont buy this cuddly old grandpa… I’m terrified for my daughters when I see that video,” the man told Corbyn. Johnson, equally, was passionately informed he can’t champion women’s rights while referring to Muslim women as “letterboxes”. 

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