Sketch: Clapped-out audience fail to add spirit to leaders' television debate

HE WANTED a place at the top table for a lavish dinner in front of the nation, but in the end Alex Salmond had to settle for Sunday brunch in Edinburgh, as he joined Sky's Scottish debate.

After delaying his RSVP for weeks, Mr Salmond looked to be in his element, buoyed by the voluminous rounds of applause afforded to each and every answer he gave.

The audience, seemingly unhurt by hangover or dimmed by any sense that this was the day of rest, clearly came to clap, and clap they did. Clap, clap, clap. Over and over again. "Labour introduced the minimum wage." Clap. "But Labour have had 13 years to sort out this mess." Clap clap. "We were the only party to oppose the Iraq invasion." Clappity, clap. "Scotland should have control of its oil revenues." Clap, clap, clappity clap.

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By the time the debate moved on to dealing with civil liberties, the arm-weary audience had understandably graduated from applause to shouting "disgraceful" at the attempts by Jim Murphy to justify the compilation of a DNA database in the UK.

This was a call some viewers may well have echoed at Sky's decision to forgo the 76 rules that have so far prevented the interminable applause interruptions on the big sister events already aired on ITV and Sky News.

As yesterday's debate scorched through immigration, fuel prices, benefits and whether Scotland could have coped with collapsing banks all on its lonesome, each leader gave hints that the fallout from those landmark events had informed their strategy.

Alistair Carmichael showed he had taken a leaf out of his leader's new best-selling book – 'How I Gained Significant Electoral Advantage from a Stage Managed Televisual Event' – by being the first to wheel out an anecdote.

He was also the first to address the camera and his tale of a struggling apprentice mechanic must have been effective, because it triggered a frantic response from the in-house clapometer, by that stage working overtime.

Meanwhile, the plaintive "I agree with Nick" was replaced by "Alistair makes very strong points" and Alex Salmond carefully name-checked a couple of audience members in his closing statement.

So far, so pre-rehearsed. But it was left to David Mundell to inject some levity. Discussing the Pope's forthcoming visit, the First Minister, with tongue firmly in cheek, lamented the fact he was on the B-list of celebs lined up for an audience with His Holiness alongside England striker Wayne Rooney.

"Wayne Rooney probably has as many substantive policies for Scotland as Alex Salmond," quipped a clearly delighted Mundell, as the audience dusted off their hands and issued the now mandatory applause.