Scottish election 2021: Who won the BBC leaders' debate?

Tonight's debate represented a highlights episode as the party leaders' answers failed to offer anything to change voters’ minds.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the debate. Picture: BBC Scotland
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the debate. Picture: BBC Scotland

This was a night the opposition leaders needed something, anything, to finally land a blow on the seemingly untouchable First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon has overseen a government that has failed on drugs, missed numerous targets on the NHS, and made huge errors in its handling of care homes.

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These were all mentioned this evening, the last debate, the one before that, and throughout the campaign. Despite this, Ms Sturgeon knows her party will be re-elected, with the only ‘what if’ being whether she enjoys a majority.

Seemingly bored of the foregone conclusion, her responses appeared angry, dismissive and often evasive.

The First Minister was at her most vulnerable on social care, insisting the pandemic showed the “strength” of the current system, but also its weaknesses.

Throughout Ms Sturgeon repeatedly sought to shift the questions onto the role of the UK Government, whether on international travel or even just the costing of the SNP manifesto.

The debate also marked yet another struggle for Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who focused far more on criticising Ms Sturgeon’s answers than offering his own positive vision of Scotland.

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He was also hampered by having to defend the decisions of Boris Johnson, whether his Brexit deal or the £200 million investment in a Royal Yacht.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie excelled on independence, offering a passionate, albeit vague argument on how it could revitalise Scotland in a debate where the First Minister seemed embarrassed to talk about it.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie maintained the role he has throughout the debates, looking around with bemused incredulity like Tim from the Office at the debates around him.

As others sought to focus on the constitution, Mr Rennie instead tried to bring the conversation back to mental health.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was strong on the Covid recovery, but tonight felt like a missed opportunity on a day the polls suggested his party would lose seats.

The overall tone of the debate was muted agreement, with the opposition leaders perhaps having lost their voice during what feels like an endless campaign.

Will anything said tonight change people’s minds? No. Was any of it new? Also no.

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