Sunday, May 01, 2011

What we learned from the BBC Leaders' Debate #sp11 #spdebate

Well that was an interesting debate!

I am writing this before it's shown on tv so I have no idea whether you could see me or not. That's clearly the most important thing, of course.

I was sitting pretty much at the back of the hall. Even though I arrived pretty much when the doors opened at 4pm, I was nowhere near the front of a massive queue. Before we got underway, Glenn Campbell did his thing of asking where people were from. You know the sort of thing - anyone in from Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen, the islands. You honestly would think that he had no idea that the west of Scotland even existed, even though the BBC studios are in Glasgow.

One thing Campbell did tell us was that the little lectern thingies were used in the Birmingham Leaders' Debate during the General Election.

An early question was about the CPPR's report suggesting that there would have to be major job losses in the public sector. Both Salmond and Gray used pay restraint as a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment at not having a decent answer. Salmond clearly hasn’t got the first clue what’s going to happen at the end of the initial public sector pay freeze. Nor does Iain Gray, even though he says to continue it  longer than 2 years is unacceptable. He didn't way what happened after that, although he said something about cutting high pay. Nice of him to come round to that point of view when our Jeremy Purvis has been saying the same things, and more specifically, for yonks. There was a point when I thought we'd travelled back in time to any Thursday at Holyrood at 12 noon because they had the same old sterile argument which goes: Gray: you've cost us 3000 teachers. Salmond: It's all Labour Councils' fault. 

It was on this question that Annabel Goldie delivered what was probably the line of the night: "One of these two is going to be First Minister. Who's going to grab them by the short and curlies?" She was clearly volunteering herself for the task. That induces a mental image so horrific that I have no idea how I'm going to sleep tonight. I suspect Gray and Salmond will be rushing to the nearest waxing parlour now. Seriously, though, I would much rather that control over the next First Minister was not exercised by someone who wants to give a £200 tax cut to rich pensioners while at the same time charging young people £16,000 for a degree.

We also learned from the not broadcast "practice" question, that Salmond has no idea how on earth he's going to pay for the Council Tax freeze for 5 years. Tavish was able to present our strong policy on this - abolishing the Council Tax for the poorest pensioners. The best moment of that was when someone from the audience said, simply, "When was it you started to think the Council Tax freeze was a good idea, Mr Gray?"
Iain Gray came over better than in the STV debate a month ago - which was hardly an achievement as looking like he had a pulse would show a marked improvement. However, he was hardly tested in this debate – he’s all over the place on knife crime and policing yet those important issues never came up. Let's hope they do on Tuesday night in the STV debate.
Tavish was strong on the inevitable tuition fees question. And he has a record to be proud of. He said that he was putting his daughter through university and had always voted against tuition fees and had stopped Labour introducing fees. And, when he'd been in Government, he'd spent more on the universities than ever before. 

I thought Glenn Campbell well uot of order asking Tavish if he'd do a Nick Clegg. Tavish's simple, dignified "no" was unequivocal. Why don't the others get scrutinised in quite the same way?,

Tavish also had a bit of fun trying to pin Salmond down on referendum date. I can’t understand why Salmond was so slippery and wriggly given he’d already told Sunday Times he'd leave it until late on in the Parliament.. Does he have to be slippery and wriggly all the time? 

I was impressed with Tavish's strong answer on sectarianism. He highlighted the the international aspect, and the fact that he'd put money into combatting sectarian hatred when he was a minister into initiatives which no longer seemed to be around. Salmond's was interesting - he talked about making sectarian chanting illegal. You have to wonder why he didn't as he'd have easily got that through Parliament. Also he mentioned about having to tackle internet hate. I just wondered if he'd met any cybernats recently. Just an observation.

I also thought Tavish had it spot on on renewables - he was the only one who seemed to understand where wave power was and what needed to happen to get it going, and he was the only one to make the point on energy efficiency.

Overall, Salmond got away with murder - he was allowed to waffle on incessantly. Glenn Campbell was not the best moderator. And Gray was not given anything to test him. It seemed like they were running the show, not the other way round.
I'm running out of time to finish this before the debate starts, so I shall just share with you a thought that's been running through my head, imagining them all as artists. Salmond would paint an enticing, beautiful, alluring picture, but when you looked at it close up, you wouldn't be able to see any detail, however rich in colour it might be. Iain Gray would be nondescript. I remember once seeing a picture called White on Seven Panels. And that's exactly what it was. Iain could do that. Annabel would be a fabulous cartoonist, because she'd make you laugh to conceal the details of her policies. Tavish would do pencil drawings of intricate detail. They might not attract your eye, but they'd be technically spot on and he'd understand every single process that went into it. I know what sort of artist I'd want to have running my country.

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