Sunday, 25 April 2010

Alasdair Carmichael, who does he think he is - Olaf the Red?

Carmichael, barely recognisable in this rehersal shot for the Sky debate.

Sky TV's Scottish leaders' debate was actually quite enjoyable (how sad is it to admit that?) with the political insults flying as fast as the policy statements. The freeflowing, combative format made for more entertaining, if not more informative, television with a surprising result.

The cybernats were out to make sure the instant online polling gave Salmond a win but I have to give the man of the match to - wait for it - Lib Dem Alasdair Carmichael.

I know, I never thought I'd say that either, but Salmond and Jim Murphy were both under performing for most of the 90 minutes while Carmichael and Tory David Mundell, with more to gain and a lot less to lose, went hell for leather to score points.

Murphy did score one bullseye on Salmond, accusing him of "sleeping for Scotland" by not voting for the minimum wage in Westminster while the Tories stayed up all night opposing it.

But for a large part of the time Murphy had to fend of fiesty parries from Mundell and Carmichael.

The flash of passion from the Islay boy over the Iraq War dead and his "real life" experience of the legal system in Scotland put weight behind his punches. At one stage I swear Salmond said "I agree with Alasdair" and I was forced to tweet: "Alasdair Carmichael, who does he think he is - Nick Clegg?"

Mundell accused Salmond of being the "only politician on the planet" not to believe that cuts were necessary but Salmond's touchstone answer - cut Trident, the Scottish Office and the House of Lords - are soundbite politics for lots of public sector workers who know that the worst is yet to come.

In fact, in one of the below radar comments Murphy implicitly admitted that the recession hadn't really started for some people who had only recently been made unemployed. He's right.

Scotland's public sector economy kept the wheels turning during the worst of the 2008-09 recession but it's when public spending gets reined in places that rely on the state sector - as Cameron indicated he'd do in his Newsnight interview - the real misery begins.

Salmond picked up on the lack of debate on public finances in his closing remarks, which was the only point he struck a statesmanlike, father of the nation, tone which might have served him better throughout.

Fuel prices got an airing - but no politician will say "use your car less" in that argument. The price of oil was debated, but that could go to a six-part docu-drama all of its own without any agreement on whether it's Wur oil and whether, in Murphy's words, you should base the nation's economic future on the most volatile product in the world.

For me Salmond sounded weakest on the issue that has deflated support for the SNP - the global financial crisis and how Scotland would have dealt with it on it's own. We would have coped, said Salmond, well no doubt - but at what price? The arc of prosperity (it still exists somewhere between the Flannan Isles and St Kilda) hangs around Salmond's neck like a sack of gannets, I fear.

Murphy insisted the financial crisis meant that “the economic case for breaking up Britain has never been weaker. That’s not just the Labour Party that says it - the Scottish public say it loud and clear.”

I understand the SNP's frustration with not being in on the main debates but most of the Twitter traffic at the beginning asked what Salmond was doing on in the first place - he isn't standing in this election.

In the free-flow Mundell was quite spikey on what Salmond has been doing at all. "You can’t run an economy on soundbites - you’ve got to have substantive policies and the SNP simply don’t," was one of his best.

That was until Salmond complained that, like Wayne Rooney, he was on the B-list of guests for the Pope's visit. Mundell scored on the rebound with the line: “Wayne Rooney has more coherent policies for Scotland than you do.”

Ouch. 1-0 to the Tories which, on current polling, might be as high as they score in Scotland ten days from now.

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