Scottish election 2021: Who won the Channel 4 leaders' debate?

It was a debate that showed the worst of Scottish politics, obsessed with the constitution and unable to debate without resorting to comfort zone attacks.

This was Anas Sarwar’s poorest showing in the debates so far and his main weakness – a failure to establish a clear position on the constitution beyond being against the independence referendum – was on full show.

Despite attempts to shift the debate on to the pandemic and the SNP’s record in government, the newest leader of the five wobbled and sounded desperate to move on to more comfortable territory.

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The party leaders faced off during Channel 4's leaders debate.The party leaders faced off during Channel 4's leaders debate.
The party leaders faced off during Channel 4's leaders debate.
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Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s “you can sit it out” quip during the discussion on the constitution summed up Sarwar’s troubles.

Nicola Sturgeon, on a shoogly peg on both her record, Emma Harper’s inconceivable border comments and attempting to defend her own party’s inability to adequately investigate sexual harassment allegations, found comfortable territory bashing Boris Johnson.

But she was, again, weak when pressed on her government’s education record and suffered under questioning on the economic impact of independence.

Remarkably Willie Rennie was the man who gained most from the discussion about Tory and SNP sleaze, turning his answer into a rallying call for those sick of Conservative and SNP “competing claims of sleaze”, but he struggled to make an impact elsewhere in the debate.

Patrick Harvie was effective in pressing opposition leaders about the democratic route to independence if there is a pro-independence majority, but also struggled to differentiate himself from his SNP counterpart.

No standout winner, but there was a standout loser.

Douglas Ross, in a difficult position on the Prime Minister’s comments, successfully turned that line of questioning on to the SNP leader, but failed to be convincing on his response on whether he believed the comments on Covid-19 “bodies” had been made.

The Scottish Conservative leader was unable to answer whether the union was voluntary and, when asked whether he believes he will be First Minister, resorted to demanding the departure of the SNP rather than simply saying Yes.

Questioned on his comments that he would have voted against gay marriage led to a non-apology and an excoriating and effective attack from Sarwar.

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Ross’s constant interruptions also betrayed him suffering under pressure and his party will surely be glad TV debate season is nearly over.

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