Less heat, but more light from the latest independence debate

Elaine C Smith and Kezia Dugdale go head to head. Photo:

We’ve had the independence debate between Alistair Darling and and Alex Salmond

Sometimes they got a bit shouty pointy. From time to time it got angry.

The independence debate tonight, hosted by STV, was rather different.

Six participants. Nicola Sturgeon, SNP deputy First Minister first took on Labour MP Douglas Alexander.

It was not shouty-pointy. It was very civilised in fact. And it got into some detail on Scottish funding - the famous or perhaps not so famous Barnett formula.

But most of the arguments on both sides, including on funding and the part oil plays in the Scottish budget, were well rehearsed.

So for the viewer, good to hear them presented in more detail, but no variation in ‘the line’ from each side. But no winner or loser from the panel.

Next up came Elaine C Smith, actor and activist versus Kezia Dugdale, a Labour MSP.

Elaine C was fiery and passionate and will, I suspect, have won over many of the audience - and more importantly in terms of the referendum viewers at home.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking part in the debate.

But she did find it difficult when presenter Bernard Ponsonby pressed her on whether she agreed with SNP policy of cutting 3p in the pound on Corporation tax - SNP official policy.

When she was pressed a third time she said: “I’m not sure whether I agree or not…” Most people took that to be a ‘no’.

Ms Dugdale, seen as rising Labour star, was solid on social policy and suggested Elaine C was only interested boundaries and borders, a point the actress hotly denied.

Elaine C probably lost on policy detail but won on charisma and audience appeal.

Then came Tory leader Ruth Davidson versus Green party MSP Patrick Harvie.

Ms Davidson surprised many by praising Tony Blair for his record of multi-lateral nuclear disarmament.

Mr Harvie simply questioned the moral value of nuclear weapons something his party has always been against.

He also made it clear that he disagreed with SNP policy of being part of NATO, which relies on the ‘nuclear umbrella’.

But he did want independence to give Scotland the opportunity to decide on the issue.

What have we learned?

First, despite what we sometimes think, Scotland has some very good politicians (and one non-politician in this case) and we should remember that.

Second, that on the ‘Yes’ side there is a range of opinions. Elaine C probably spoke for many on the Left on not being keen on cutting business taxes.

Mr Harvie, for many - also on the Left - who have significant reservations over other aspects of the SNP’s plans.

The problem, though, is that the SNP is presenting its White Paper as the basis for their electoral mandate if they win the referendum.

For the ‘No’ side there was more agreement though there are, of course, differences over for example extra powers coming to Scotland.

We did not get such a variety from the ‘No’ side as there were two Labour politicians.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander made the case for a 'No' vote.

Ms Sturgeon sought to reinforce the difference on the ‘No’ side by saying that Mr Alexander and Ms Dugdale were on ‘team Tory’ for the night.

So in conclusion a very useful night. Less heat than the head-to-heads, more light.

What they will have seen probably helped those who have already decided.

Will it have helped those who have not decided? Perhaps. We must certainly hope so as it’s not long to the referendum date of 18 September.

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