I've heard one or two people (mostly from south of the border, oddly enough) suggest that the two Scottish leaders' debates this week were somehow superior to the "sterile" Britain-wide debate in Salford last week. Now it's true that the Salford debate had its limitations - you had four members of the audience asking elementary questions and being treated like little Gods for the next thirty minutes.
"Thank you Jonny for your question, it's such an important one for hard-working families and for our whole country. And you're absolutely right, Jonny, I agree with you so much, Jonny, and I pay homage and tribute to myself for recognising that Jonny is so right. I remember your name, Jonny, it's been twenty seconds since you asked your question, but I still remember your name, and I want you to know, Jonny, that even though I will have to stop speaking soon and give someone else a go, and even though it will probably be five whole minutes before I get a chance to speak again, when I do get that chance again, Jonny, I will be calling you Jonny, because I will remember your name even then. That's how important your question is to me, Jonny, and I want to thank you for all you've done for our country tonight."
But I think that was a price worth paying for all seven leaders being given a relatively equal chance, not being talked over (for the most part), and not being unfairly advantaged by one-sided applause or jeering (for the most part). That's where the Scottish debates have fallen short - they haven't always allowed the arguments to be fairly put and fairly tested. Viewers thankfully have a strong sense of justice, and the coordinated attempts to shout Nicola Sturgeon down tonight will have angered a lot of neutrals - however, that effect would have been even more devastating for Jim Murphy if he hadn't been partly let off the hook by the distorting "social proof" of an army of Labour partisans in the audience making their presence felt.
If you can guarantee that the audience will be politically balanced, then fine - allowing them to intervene has an enriching effect. But the lesson of tonight is that providing such a guarantee may be utterly impossible. I defy anyone to suggest that anything even approaching 45% of the audience in Aberdeen were Yes voters. As Gillian Martin hinted at on Twitter, it may not be the BBC's fault in this case - Labour may simply have cynically organised people to pose as neutrals and supporters of other parties when they filled in their application forms. (And the fact that there are enough Labour zealots out there to pull that stunt off puts a rather different complexion on the hoary old myth about nationalist infiltration of polling panels.)
The presence of Hugh Pennington as an "ordinary member of the audience" when he has been a household name for two decades, and when he appeared in a Better Together ad only last year, raises a few question marks to say the least. There are also strong rumours on social media that the young woman in last night's audience who claimed to have been won over on the spot by Jim Murphy may in fact be a long-standing Labour activist.
I'm glad to say that Nicola kept her cool throughout (perhaps learning from the head-to-head with Johann Lamont last year) and emerged with enormous credit and dignity. She was the clear winner tonight, just as she was last night - but of course it remains to be seen whether the creepy journalistic cult of Murphy will take advantage of the absence of instant polls, and insist once again that the Earth is flat.
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As a particularly barking mad illustration of the above point, Ross Clark wrote the following a few hours ago at the Spectator -
"Having impressed a UK-wide audience in the seven-leader ITV debate last week, [Sturgeon's] reception at the Scottish version was far more muted, with some instant polls suggesting a narrow victory for Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy."
Hmmm. There were no instant polls, and yet Murphy seemingly managed to win some of them. See what I mean about a cult?
Still, it appears his "victory" in these non-existent "polls" was only "narrow", so at least his fan club in the press are keepin' it real.