Monday, April 11, 2011

Official : Tavish only 'agrees with Nick' because to do otherwise would 'look like panic'

Yesterday's Politics Show leaders' debate shed considerably more heat than light, but all the same there were a few extremely telling moments, none more so than when Isabel Fraser asked Tavish Scott why he hadn't distanced himself from Nick Clegg by conceding that his UK party leader had made a massive mistake and let people down.  This was the rather extraordinary reply - 

"Because I think it would have looked like panic..."

That's a strikingly honest answer, but I'm not sure it's one that's going to be terribly attractive to voters.  He's essentially openly admitting that what he says about the actions of the Westminster coalition will not be based on principle or even on loyalty, but simply on a crude calculation of 'what would look bad'.  Well, if that's the sole test, perhaps he'd like to know for future reference that his indignant cries of "this is so unfair!" when he was put on the spot for politicking over alcohol pricing didn't come across at all well.

Alex Salmond had a brilliant and unanswerable reply when Fraser raised his supposed 'problem with women', namely that if he has such a problem then all the other leaders must have as well, because he actually has the highest personal ratings with both genders.  Nevertheless (and at the risk of sounding like a broken record here), I look forward to the day when an interviewer gets round to asking a leader about his or her 'problem with men'.  For as long as there are gender gaps in polling data the issue will always cut both ways, but the media don't seem to have spotted that rather obvious point yet.

As ever, the debate's much-needed comedy moments were unwittingly supplied by Iain "the Snarl" Gray.  When asked if anyone who carried a knife would be automatically sent to prison, he replied "no" emphatically.  Only those who were convicted of carrying a knife would be subject to mandatory jail terms.  OK, so we've now established that Labour don't want to introduce internment without trial.  Given the recent direction of travel, I suppose that's a relief of sorts.

But it got better.  Fraser challenged him on the cost and practicalities of sending far more people to jail, and added with a touch of irony "presumably you've done the figures".  A look of sheer panic appeared on Gray's face, and as he tried desperately hard to think of something to say he very sloooowly intoned the words "yes-I-have-done-the-figures", as if it honestly hadn't occurred to him that he was being asked what the figures actually were.  There's really got to be a better way of flannelling than that - it was right up there with his all-time classic "well, yes I can speak Portuguese actually".

Having said all that, Gray successfully managed to avoid his finger-jabbing excesses of the STV debate, and with Scott looking so uncomfortable on a number of occasions it's a bit harder to say who was the outright loser this time.  Here is how I would rate it -

Alex Salmond 8/10
Annabel Goldie 6/10
Iain Gray 5/10
Tavish Scott 5/10


  1. Absolute car crash TV. That wasn't a debate, it was a bickering contest. I hope the second BBC debate is better than that cut price job. You can't have a proper debate with four people bunched up together so closely like that, and without an audience. Isobel kept saying that she'd encouraged them to interact with each other - I hope that wasn't her idea, because it was an awful one. I kept hoping she would tell them all to shut up and let the person that was speaking finish their piece.

    Isn't it terrible that our party leaders need to be told how to behave?

  2. I was out yesterday so I'll have to look at the show on iPlayer but from several reports of the programme the debate format could not have been better designed to give nobody the chance to shine.

    In other words if there was a party leader who was good in debates then their debating qualities would be hamstrung by the format of the show and no-one would emerge as a clear winner.

    It's the old problem of deciding whether the show format was cock-up or conspiracy.

  3. A dreadful spectacle from all concerned. They came across as four squabbling children, is that the best it can be? The format was appalling and Isobel Frazer was just useless. She allowed them to all talk at the same time and make a mockery of a proper debate. There wasn’t much in it as far as I am concerned!

  4. You forgot the bit that Tavish said about taking loads of people out of tax and restoring the pensions/earnings link abolished by the Tories and which Labour never restored in 13 years. Convenient, for you, that selective deafness:-)

    And, if Tavish suddenly just dumped Nick Clegg in it, what would you all be saying? "Desperate act by desperate party" would, I bet, not be a million miles from it. He was absolutely right to point that out.

    At the manifesto launch last week, he was asked if Nick Clegg was a liability and he said that he'd be happy to welcome Nick Clegg to Scotland during the campaign and he was proud that we were taking people out of tax, raising the minimum wage, extending it to younger people, stopped Labour's post office closures, that kind of thing.

  5. Ezio Auditore da Firenze - Alex Salmond for First MinisterApril 11, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    I think the ridiculous set up of a debate really shows the lack of respect the BBC is having for this election.

    Could you imagine if they had had Brown, Cameron and Clegg sitting side by side in a cramped studio with no audience and called it a big, set piece debate?

    And the less said about their website coverage of the election the better. When STV are considerably better than you, you know you have a massive problem.

    As for who "won", I'd keep your order the same, but mark all of the participants down quite alot. It was absolutely horrific to watch.

    And please, somebody, ANYBODY, tell Goldie that the "exasperated mammy" act is really, really boring.

  6. I wonder that producers don't point out to participants before a presentation of this kind, that in a flat sound system, like tv or radio, when 2, 3 4, even 5 people are talking together, the words become largely indistinguishable, and no one can understand what is being said.

    It’s bound to happen some times, but it happened so often that, not only did they come across as a bunch of squabbling amateurs, it also made very bad television.

    I hope someone in the BBC is reading this and gets the message.

    Caron. I for one would have had enormous respect for Tavish had he disowned Clegg and his policies. You mention a few good things that have been done in London. I note that the minimum wage is to go up by 15p, for example. That’s good. It’s bad though that having announced with great fanfare a re-linking of pensions and wages, your government has taken £100 a year from older pensioners and £50 from younger ones.

  7. "You forgot the bit that Tavish said about taking loads of people out of tax and restoring the pensions/earnings link abolished by the Tories and which Labour never restored in 13 years. Convenient, for you, that selective deafness:-)"

    Caron, he did say that, and that might have made a difference if Isabel Fraser hadn't then pushed him on the question of tuition fees, and he hadn't replied "you'll have to ask them about that". In other words, he's happy to bask in the reflected 'glory' of any actions of the Westminster coalition he happens to agree with, but if he doesn't agree with an action it's a case of "nothing to do with me, guv". That's an utterly pathetic cop-out, and will be seen as such.

    As for how I'd be reacting if he had distanced himself from Clegg, I've been calling for years for the Scottish branches of the three London-based parties to break free of the shackles, and while you might (very cynically!) suspect that I wouldn't go out of my way to give any credit to Tavish Scott during an election campaign, I certainly wouldn't be criticising him for doing something I think is long overdue.

  8. So you say you wouldn't criticise him for taking a different view from the party in London literally the paragraph after you do exactly that?

    Policy on Scottish Higher Education is none of Nick Clegg's business. It's all down to the Scottish Party. Similarly, the Scottish Party has no control over what the party in England decides to do on tuition fees down there. That's what devolution is all about. And, because of the Liberal Democrats standing firm on this issue up here, the debate in Scotland is in a different place.

    Having said that, I will make the point that although the new system in England is far from perfect, the lowest paid will be paying £84 a month less than they do under the system introduced by Labour. That is solely down to the intervention of the Liberal Democrats.

  9. "So you say you wouldn't criticise him for taking a different view from the party in London literally the paragraph after you do exactly that?"

    Please don't put words in my mouth, Caron. I said I wouldn't criticise him for distancing himself from Clegg - something he hasn't done, by his own admission. Where he "takes a different view", as you put it, he has taken the cop-out route of saying "you'll have to ask them about that". Distancing himself from Clegg would instead mean saying something like "I think they've got that one wrong, and we're not going to follow such a damaging course in Scotland". That shouldn't be so hard if the concept of a federal party structure has any meaning - but, tellingly, it still seems to be extremely hard.

    By the way, Caron, if English Higher Education is none of the Scottish party's business, could you please explain to me what on earth Jo Swinson - "Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats" and the MP for East Dunbartonshire - was doing voting through higher tuition fees for England?

  10. I doubt, James, there is a great deal of point in asking LibDem supporters that question, given that their leader was unable to find an answer to it.