Analysis

Who won the seven-way ITV general election debate? The SNP's Stephen Flynn lands some blows as Nigel Farage hails poll showing Reform overtaking Tories

Representatives of the main political parties faced off in front of a studio audience

ITV’s 90-minute political showdown had barely kicked off when the SNP’s Stephen Flynn launched his first attack on Labour.

"The thing the NHS requires more than anything is clear financial support from government and a plan for the future,” the party’s Westminster leader said.

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"I’m afraid that Westminster doesn’t offer that hope and that certainty. What’s baked in under a future Labour government is £18 billion worth of public sector cuts.”

The battle between the SNP and Labour is the story of the general election in Scotland. Polls show Sir Keir Starmer’s party heading for a landslide majority, and the Nationalists are fighting to stem the tide north of the border.

Mr Flynn repeatedly referenced that £18 billion figure, and later accused Labour of seeking to privatise the NHS.

Thursday night’s multi-party debate saw him face off against Labour’s Angela Rayner, the Conservatives’ Penny Mordaunt, Daisy Cooper for the Liberal Democrats, Nigel Farage for Reform UK, Carla Denyer for the Green Party and Rhun ap Iorwerth for Plaid Cymru.

The first half hour was dominated by health and education – both of which are devolved in Scotland. This allowed Mr Flynn to make broad points such as trumpeting free university tuition north of the border, while largely avoiding any scrutiny of his own party’s record.

Ms Mordaunt said Labour’s plans contained a “black hole” of £38.5 billion, and insisted Sir Keir would raise taxes. Ms Rayner said Labour has a strategy to grow the economy and pay for public services, and argued the country could not afford another five years of the Tories.

A later barney over immigration also worked in Mr Flynn’s favour, allowing him to stand apart from the Westminster “status quo”. Scotland needs more migration, he said.

He slammed Brexit, receiving applause from some of the audience. Ms Rayner said her party respected the result of the referendum – unlike the SNP.

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Mr Flynn also got in some effective digs against Mr Farage. At one point he goaded the Reform UK leader into insisting he had “always told the truth” – sparking laughter in the audience. It was one of the stand-out moments.

But in truth, there was little new in this debate. Instead, it was chiefly interesting for the way it hammered home the main themes of the election and the messages each party wants to get across.

Mr Flynn had a good night and delivered a strong performance, even if the format made it relatively easy for him. The SNP will be happy. Ms Rayner held her own, but didn’t excel.

Mr Farage’s lines about a “population explosion” driven by immigration and the need “to have net migration at zero” will no doubt have hit home with some, but his party is much less relevant in Scotland.

Ms Mordaunt had the toughest job. Shortly before the debate kicked off, Reform UK overtook the Tories in a poll for the first time.

Appropriately, then, it was a question from Mr Farage that set up one of her most painful moments. He asked why anybody should believe Tory promises to cut migration. "Because of the record of this Prime Minister,” Ms Mordaunt replied. Cue audience laughter. Ouch.

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