General Election: How party leaders rated in last night’s heated TV debate

The previous leaders debate. Picture: Getty
The previous leaders debate. Picture: Getty
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We look at the best and worst moments by the main party leaders in last night’s debate.

Nothing injects life into a political campaign quite like a televised debate between the main party leaders.

That didn’t seem to be case last night as a relatively low-key 90 minute sparring session between the leaders of Scotland’s six largest parties took place in Edinburgh.

But with a row still bubbling over the role of an NHS nurse who tackled Nicola Sturgeon over the public sector pay cap, it does seem to have shaken things up a bit with just over two weeks left until voters go to the polls on June 8.

All six of the country’s top politicians had their good moments and the moments they looked like they would rather have been anywhere else.

By party, and going by poll rating, we assess how each leader performed.

Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister has as much experience of televised debates like these as any other politician in the UK.

But this won’t go down as one of her better nights after she was put on the backfoot over her Government’s record.

READ MORE: Sturgeon defends nurse at heart of debate

The SNP leader was clearly ill-at-ease when a nurse spoke of her difficulty in living on the Scottish Government-set salary that she earns.

That’s not to say the debate wasn’t without it’s positives for Ms Sturgeon, who was strongest when challenging Ruth Davidson in a debate the duo largely dominated.

Clearly and understandably frustrated at the debate’s focus on devolved issues, Ms Sturgeon landed some telling blows on the Scottish Tory leader when pressing her on previous support for Scotland remaining in the single market and forcing Ms Davidson to defend an immigration cap.

Ruth Davidson

Despite the likelihood that her party will come second in the general election in Scotland by a factor of dozens of seats, Ruth Davidson is being feted by many, not least in her own party, as the potential big winner from the upcoming vote.

The Scottish Conservatives may not reach their own targeted high of 15 seats, but will almost certainly increase their representation at Westminster.

Ms Davidson was clearly continuing to try and present herself as a serious alternative First Minister alongside Nicola Sturgeon, who she clashed with throughout the debate.

READ MORE: Catch up on our live blog from last night

As would be expected, Ruth Davidson is at her least comfortable when being forced to defend some of the more unpopular policies of her colleagues in the UK Government.

Nicola Sturgeon unsuccessfully tried to shoehorn in a late stage reference to the so-called Rape Clause, but moderator Sarah Smith called time on the debate before she had a chance.

Davidson too, had her strong moments, she was well-prepared for Nicola Sturgeon’s prop of a Tory leaflet which puts independence front and centre.

Kezia Dugdale

It is perhaps indicative of how firmly established Scottish Labour are as the third force in Scottish politics, that Ms Dugdale’s performance was an after thought for many of the watching journalists.

The Labour leader interacted well with the audience, a classic debating trick when a politician feels like the public are making the point well enough for them.

A despairing gesture to the nurse who uses foodbanks was as effective an attack line for Ms Dugdale than tackling Nicola Sturgeon directly.

Her weakest moments came when she twice accused the First Minister of dishonesty while falling short of outright calling her a liar.

“That’s not truthful” and “You are telling a porky there” had Nicola Sturgeon looking distinctly unhappy.

It felt like had she meant to call the First Minister a liar, the stronger line of attack would be to just come out and say it, politically explosive though it may have been.

The Others

It seems appropriate to lump the three remaining party leaders (David Coburn of UKIP, Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems, and Patrick Harvie of the Greens) into one group for our analysis.

Mr Harvie, in particular, could have considered himself quite lucky to feature on the programme at all, given his party is standing just three candidates across the whole of the country.

He stuck well to his party’s progressive platform, again challenging audiences to look within themselves to divine whether they could afford paying more in tax to help those less fortunate.

It was lofty stuff, and it went down well with a section of the crowd – with Mr Harvie not expected to be celebrating his party’s first MP next month, it is all about consolidation for the Scottish Greens.

When their co-convenor said many Scots were ‘scunnered’ by the amount they had to vote over the past few years, it seemed he was speaking for is own party.

Willie Rennie was at the forefront of the discussion on whether to put a ‘modest’ penny on Income Tax, though as we noted in the live blog, this is a very simple way of saying you want to increase tax bills by hundreds, even thousands of pounds.

Mr Rennie will have been annoyed that he didn’t have more of an impact on the Brexit debate that dominated the first 15 minutes or so of the broadcast.

Opposing the ‘hard Brexit’ and effectively re-running last year’s referendum are key policies of the Lib Dems, and it was buttons that Mr Rennie didn’t push as effectively as he could have.

As ever, David Coburn, the eccentric leader of UKIP in Scotland, contributed little but occasional sniggers to the debate.

True to form, he accused his opponents of ‘flim-flamming’ over Brexit, and seemed confused about his own policy on fishing limits.

His party, in Scotland and across the UK, is expected to have a very bad night when voters go to the polls in a few weeks time.