By Mike Small
Last night’s STV Leaders debate was missing much: quality production, coherent format and Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens a party – according to one poll today - ahead of the Liberal Democrats (who seem to be disappearing off the political map). There’s no doubt that Patrick Harvie should be given his place, it demeans democracy and the quality of debate to exclude him and there’s no rational argument to keep him out. I suspect it plays into the SNP’s hands to present this as a presidential style election from which Salmond stands above the other candidates head and shoulders.
This is a precedent set last year when the SNP were excluded from the Westminster TV ‘leaders’ debates. As we said at the time (and the Greens only half-heartedly agreed) this means commercial tv companies like SKY and ITV/STV setting and often distorting the political agenda. This is completely unacceptable. This is the distortion that led to Nick Clegg’s 15 minutes of fame when he rose like a giant amongst pygmies and wooed Middle England…the rest as they say is history.
It might not be a bad thing for the greens to be off-screen. Last nights debate was pretty tepid and disappointing. The consensus after was, as Jamie Livingstone puts it: “This was a good night for Annabel Goldie and Alex Salmond. Iain Gray performed poorly with Tavish Scott somewhat anonymous.” Or as the CalMerc put it: “Alex Salmond emerged as the winner of the first Scottish leaders’ debate of the election campaign tonight – largely because Labour leader Iain Gray didn’t manage to do enough to knock the First Minister off his stride.”
Only papers like Labour’s press news-sheet the Record have it different.
The parties who are doing well in this campaign are those who believe in something. Goldie’s straight-talking might impress but she is given a dispensation because everyone knows the Tories are an irrelevance. No-one will make a coalition with them and there vote will be down, so we can put little energy into her as a hate figure. Flip-flopping Labour and the hapless Lib Dems are being punished for endless policy u-turns while the Greens are getting a massive boost from honesty and clarity. Conviction politicians speak with conviction, nobody knows what the Lib-Lab people believe in. As James Mackenzie writes here, ‘Sometimes political parties go away.’
Yesterdays YouGov survey also suggested that support is surging for Alex Salmond’s SNP, which has overtaken Labour in the constituency vote for the Holyrood contest for the first time since last year’s general election.
But what are Labour to do? Snarling Iain Gray seemed bereft of a media strategy yesterday, and his visible anger and frustration are a tv nightmare, inchoate and unrooted. It will get harder as Labour misery and fear turns too desperation. Things could get nasty.
Tavish Scott seemed to be visibly thinning live on-air. If he just goes ‘pop’ and disappears entirely will Charlie boy be ushered back from oblivion?