8 Apr 2015

Scotland second debate: Lib Dem to SNP – don’t break promises

Jim Murphy was much more on his best form  than yesterday. One colleague said the Scottish Labour leader had been unnerved by the hostility he sensed in the audience last night. Tonight the audience was revved up and more animated clapping all-comers (with the possible exception of UKIP).
Lib Dem Scottish leader Willie Rennie and Jim Murphy both made much of the venue, Aberdeen, and the oil price plummet that has hurt that city so badly. Both said it was a story in microcosm of the threat Scotland would suffer if it was independent and dependent on oil tax revenues.

The First Minister said no other oil-producing country would give up on its autonomy just because the oil price had gone down. Westminster, she said, was not protecting Scotland and redistributing as Jim Murphy said it was.

Jim Murphy also took on Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of “full fiscal autonomy.” The SNP is demanding it, full control of tax and spending. The IFS says that would leave Scotland with a black hole of £7.6bn on current numbers.

Jim Murphy extracted a promise from Nicola Sturgeon that SNP MPs would vote for immediate full autonomy for Scotland and then said it showed recklessness. Nicola Sturgeon said his way was the way of helplessness leaving Scotland at the mercy of Westminster. Labour feels this has gifted them “the rest of our campaign.” The SNP don’t look exactly terrified. These are not normal times.

Jim Murphy for Labour appeared to row back on his statement in yesterday’s debate that Labour would not necessarily cut if Ed Miliband was elected. Ed Balls distanced himself from the line today. Nicola Sturgeon leapt on the change. He said that he – unlike the SNP – was being honest. “If you earn more than £100,000, congratulations to you, but we are going to tax you more.”

UKIP‘s Scottish MEP David Coburn provided a diverting character and managed to unify other panelists in mockery. He struggled to be coherent and seemed unsure of basic facts.

The BBC’s James Cook put the Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie about whether he would ever support a government that supported capitalism and Mr Harvie looked as though he wasn’t entirely sure how to answer it.

He put Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives’ leader, on the spot about whether she would block another referendum for Scotland.

Bernard Ponsonby for STV was also excellent yesterday.

The most memorable moment was (perhaps surprisingly) when Willie Rennie turned on Nicola Sturgeon as she refused to rule out a second early referendum despite her pledge in the referendum that it must wait a generation. Mr Rennie turned to Nicola Sturgeon and said: “You’re not thinking of breaking a promise are you? Cos I really don’t recommend that.” That got a big laugh.

How much influence do these debates have?

I don’t get the impression Scotland is awash with swing voters when I chat to them on the street. Polling supports that impression and suggests Scots are more certain about how they intend to vote than any other part of Britain.

Some Labour MPs claim they think some of the angry voters have burnt off some of their anger and may now listen to Labour’s arguments. One pollster told me the change so far is at best a “shaving” of SNP support and its pace at best “glacial.” That gives little hope to Labour but Labour (in nothing like the numbers the SNP can muster) is battling on.

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