Analysis: Who performed best at the STV leaders’ debate?

Anas Sarwar put in another strong performance in an leaders’ debate with a format that gave the hopefuls a more engaging platform to make their case for Scotland.

Allowing leaders to interrogate their rivals gave viewers the best insight yet into the key messages each party wishes to put to the electorate as to why they are the ones to choose. And again it was Scottish Labour through Sarwar who came out on top.

During an early feisty exchange on independence, it was the Scottish Labour leader who most successfully put across his case for the domestic agenda and it was a stark contrast to the “you just can’t” response from Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross when asked whether Covid-19 recovery and independence could run in tandem.

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STV leaders' debate: Nicola Sturgeon defends record in government
Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie, Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon, presenter Colin Mackay, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party Willie Rennie taking part in The STV Leaders' Debate at SWG3 in Glasgow.

Bar an early gaffe misnaming chair Colin Mackay, Mr Sarwar was assured and the politician with the clearest domestic message of how best Holyrood can, without independence, do more.

Despite a strong start on issues such as Brexit and Conservative “recklessness”, a message sure to resonate with those who believe the First Minister dealt well with the pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon came under fierce attack on her record.

Her responses, long-winded and failing to provide a credible explanation as to why the SNP has not done better, meant her central weakness of her government’s record was front and centre.

Mr Ross improved on the first debate and attempted to avoid the question of the constitution during his questioning of Sturgeon, but failed to apply the finish in one question on the SNP’s record, blazing the shot wide by mentioning a referendum.

His softly-softly approach to questions from other leaders was a sea-change, but came across as manufactured, especially in response to his SNP counterpart.

The best question of the night and the weakest moment for Ross was Patrick Harvie asking the leader about his views on gypsy travellers.

The Scottish Greens leader was also strongest on climate issues and made his points with confidence from his lengthy parliamentary experience.

Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie did his best to stay relevant, but struggled on Brexit and Scotland’s future with the EU.

In any case, the debate will have done little to help the floating voters, with all leaders focused on shoring up their own core vote.

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