The Politics Now debate between the four main Inverclyde by-election candidates was considerably more entertaining than expected, albeit mostly for the wrong reasons. At least three of the four candidates had mildly excruciating "I really wish you hadn't asked me that question" moments, and for all that she won the debate hands down, it has to be said that the SNP's Anne McLaughlin was one of them. Yes, it was monumentally pointless for Bernard Ponsonby to persevere with the questions on defence policy when she'd more less put her hands up and admitted she didn't know the answers (Andrew Neil is similarly petty in asking his guests complex economic questions he knows perfectly well they can't answer), but all the same this sort of thing has happened so often that you'd think the SNP high command would by now have got everyone together and made sure they know the detailed proposals for an independent Scotland's defence capabilities off by heart.
The undoubted highlight of the evening (and a rare case of me finding myself cheering on one of Clegg's mob) was 20-year-old Lib Dem candidate Sophie Bridger's hugely satisfying slap-down of Labour's Iain McKenzie. He'd been quite simply refusing to let her complete her answer to his question about why she didn't support mandatory prison sentences for carrying knives (that old favourite), repeatedly interrupting her with the moronic and faintly patronising line "don't take that on the doors of Inverclyde, Sophie". Eventually she paused, fixed him with an icy glare, and asked him : "are you going to lecture me or are you going to let me answer your question?". The effect was extraordinary - McKenzie fell completely silent and instantly looked about two feet smaller.
That masterstroke couldn't, however, disguise the fact that it was otherwise a very patchy performance by Bridger, who herself looked utterly panic-stricken when the Tory candidate David Wilson asked her a question she didn't have a scooby about. Understandably, he decided against letting her off the hook at that point - she'll clearly have to brush up on the indispensable art of the non-answer as a matter of urgency. And when the tables were turned and she had the chance to grill Wilson, her efforts to get him to admit that the Lib Dem contribution had made the coalition government "fairer" were swatted away with ease, as he on four separate occasions gave her precisely the opposite answer to the one she was clearly anticipating!
As if that wasn't enough, Bridger was also skewered by Ponsonby when he asked her what the coalition's biggest mistake had been. Wouldn't he rather hear about all the good things the government had done, she implored? "No" was the rather foreseeable answer to that one. Then the subject turned to Lib Dem MPs voting in favour of higher tuition fees. Now, if you thought Tavish Scott's stock line during the Holyrood election of "for heaven's sake go and ask them about that" had been weak, Bridger surpassed it with ease with her astounding "I...wasn't...an...MP, I...can't...comment". So let's get this straight - we're not allowed to ask the Scottish Lib Dem leader about the way Scottish Lib Dem MPs vote (including his own deputy) and we're not allowed to ask a prospective Scottish Lib Dem MP either. Is there anyone who actually is available to comment? It's starting to remind me of the old joke about Gerry Adams, when he makes a series of detailed demands of the British government, the Irish government and unionist politicians, but when asked if the IRA should disarm he indignantly replies "well, it's not for me to tell the IRA what to do"!
It wasn't just Bridger who had repeated dodgy moments. Iain McKenzie tied himself up in knots when pressed about Iain Davidson's charge that the SNP are "neo-fascists". McKenzie stressed that he wouldn't have used such language himself because he didn't want to drag politics down to "that level", but when asked if it had been gutter politics he replied : "it's not gutter politics, it's Iain's type of politics". OK, so Iain Davidson is not a gutter politician, but he is, it seems, very much at "that level" of politics. Not to worry, Mr McKenzie - I'm sure no-one will have spotted the implication, let alone found it side-splittingly funny.
Anyway, here is how I scored the debate -
Anne McLaughlin (SNP) 8/10
David Wilson (Conservative) 6/10
Sophie Bridger (Liberal Democrat) 5/10
Iain McKenzie (Labour) 4/10