Domestic politics centre stage in Scottish debate

Four leaders will make respective pitches in a one-hour live debate on STV tonight at 8pm.

The UK wide debates, interesting though they have been, can never compensate for a political exchange on the issues that affect the day to day lives of the people who live and work in Scotland.

For viewers, frustrated by the arguments about public services which don’t reflect the reality of where they live, tonight offers the opportunity to put that right. Nicola Sturgeon, Jackson Carlaw, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie will make their respective pitches in a one hour live debate on STV this evening at 8pm.

So what makes this debate different from all the other ones? In a word, format. For many years now STV debates have focused on the leaders cross examining one another.

This is not just to heighten the political tension always evident in these programmes but it hands editorial control over to politicians to highlight what they consider to be the weaknesses in their opponents’ case.

The lines will be well rehearsed. In fact all of the leaders probably recite them in their sleep. Their challenge is to make them sound refreshing and new.

Tonight will be an opportunity to assess the Brexit dynamic in the election but from the perspective of a country that voted to remain in the European Union. So how will each leader approach this?

Nicola Sturgeon will no doubt attempt to hang Jackson Carlaw’s negative comments on Boris Johnson around his neck. She has no shortage of ammunition on that front and I expect Carlaw to come out slugging as is his wont.

His cross examination of the First Minister does not take a date with Mystic Meg to work out. The central focus of the Scottish Conservative campaign is to say no to a second independence referendum and I predict that he will throw hard-line unionist cards at the SNP leader confident that it will help the Tories mop up that section of the electorate scunnered by the the debate around indyref2.

Richard Leonard in a sense has nothing to lose. The polls are not encouraging for Scottish Labour so I expect he will use the Corbyn-inspired strategy of promoting class politics above the issues of identity and the constitution. Expect him to say that only two people can be Prime Minister, Johnson or Corbyn.

His pitch will rest on voters coming home to Labour as the only credible alternative to the Conservatives.

Willie Rennie will offer a double sound bite on the constitution: no to a second independence referendum and yes to remaining in the European Union.

Following an encouraging performance in the European elections he has to persuade voters that the Lib Dems are the best choice on the constitution despite the polls suggesting Labour might be squeezing his party as the crossfire around Brexit polarises.

Journalists are obsessed over whether or not they get a story from such encounters. I suspect they will since this will be the first debate where the leaders have the opportunity to have a go at one another.

I will post an after debate blog on my thoughts about how it all went.

Presiding over it all with a firm hand and a discriminating eye will be STV News’ political editor Colin Mackay. He will also have the opportunity to put the leaders on the spot and he will do this with his characteristic directness.

Should be fascinating viewing. Tune in tonight live at 8pm on STV.