>Oh dear. Take 4 party leaders, put them side by side without any structure to their interactions and you’re going to get a rammy. And if you had 5, with the addition of Patrick Harvie, I reckon it would just have got angrier sooner.
That’s what happened on the Politics Show Scotland yesterday. All of them were guilty of talking over each other. It didn’t look great, but if they’d all been polite and waited for each other, some would never have got a word in. They were damned whatever they did under those circumstances. I think if you are going to have all the leaders on, you need to give them their own space and provide a format that encourages proper debate. I think the Scotland on Sunday debates were quite good at that. In them, there were 2 minute opening and 1 minute closing statements, the chance for each participant to ask a question of all the others and then taking questions from the floor and online. If Claudia Winkleman or Jake Humphrey can take questions on their live shows on Twitter, then so can Isabel Fraser. It’s not rocket science.
There were some good points. I have been critical of Tavish Scott’s apparel in the past, but I loved his cool green tie. It was his exposure of the SNP’s utter hypocrisy on Freedom of Information which I thought was really good. The Government has cost the country a small fortune fighting with the Information Commissioner about releasing figures on the cost of a Local Income Tax. Tavish pointed out that when the FOI legislation was brought in, the SNP in opposition argued for it to go much further – and now in Government are reluctant to release information.
He was also constructive on alcohol, accepting the link between price and alcohol consumption, but also saying that current laws aren’t being used enough, with only a handful of prosecutions. I might disagree with Tavish and our previous group of MSPs on minimum pricing, but he is spot on that there’s a wide range of things which need to be done to tackle our tortured relationship with alcohol.
However, I felt that Tavish missed an opportunity, when Labour and the SNP were talking about a living wage for public sector workers, to mention that our raising of the tax threshold was comparable to that and covered everybody, including pensioners.
Iain Gray was less awful than he was on the STV debate, but I still find the prospect of him as First Minister profoundly depressing. He might have appeared to have had a pulse yesterday, but you would think he would have been able to answer questions easily about his flagship policy to send anyone convicted of carrying a knife to jail for 6 months. There were nearly 4000 convictions for knife crime last year. Where exactly are we going to put these people and how much is it going to cost? We actually don’t have the physical prison space, and if we have less bobbies on the beat as a result of decentralisation, this policy is going to be completely unworkable. Tavish Scott was really good by saying that experts on the ground, who understand the issues, say that it won’t cut crime and will increase re-offending. When knife crime is actually falling because of the implementation of policies like funding the violence reduction and the No Knives Better Lives campaign, why take us backwards?
Gray also had the brazen brass neck to talk about how Labour had backed the SNP on prescription charges. Oh yeah? Only for the final reduction a few weeks before Parliament was dissolved. That was the only time they’d supported the SNP. It was just stunning hypocrisy.
Annabel Goldie still hasn’t provided any sort of answer as to why she wants to make us all pay £5 for prescriptions and students pay for their degrees at the same time as giving rich pensioners a tax cut. Tavish did well to point out that inconsistency. I found her manner quite objectionable yesterday. I’ve liked her a lot in the past, but she treated the other leaders with absolute contempt, telling them off in a way that you can imagine Margaret Thatcher speaking to her Cabinet. Saying “Hang on a minute, you” to a political equal is never going to look good.
Alex Salmond was completely and utterly stunned by a question about why women didn’t like him. He really didn’t know what to say. He thought it was unfair to ask him that because he was ahead of the other leaders in that poll. Total arrogance. I mean, I actually do quite like Alex Salmond and I respect his political abilities, but sometimes I just want to pull him back down to earth and make him realise that it’s not actually all about him.
They were all, and I include Tavish in this, awful on the final question about what good qualities the others had. It looked mean spirited that none of them could find a good word to say about the others. It wouldn’t have killed them to say that, maybe, Alex Salmond was kind to kittens, or Annabel told some cracking jokes behind the scenes, or Iain Gray was excellent at Tiddliwinks or Tavish had an excellent taste in ties or something. I only know that one of these things is definitely true, and I’d bet the two creme eggs sitting next to the laptop that one other is. They need to realise, though, that generosity looks good. Isabel Fraser set them a trap and they all walked straight into it. I had hoped that the personal rapport between them behind the scenes was better than it appeared to be on the basis of that question. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
All in all, I’d say Tavish did well, and was practical and sensible and made a few original points, but I’d have liked him push more of our issues, like early intervention, and Iain Gray did badly. Salmond loses a hell of a lot of points for not caring about women, but I’d say he and Goldie were in the middle somewhere. My marks? Gray 3/10, Salmond 6/10, Goldie 5/10, Tavish 7/10. I’ve taken a mark off each of them specifically for the way they answered the last question.