Assured Salmond takes plaudits in BBC leader’s debate

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by G.A.Ponsonby

First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond has emerged the victor in yesterday’s Scottish election leader’s debate on the BBC.

The debate, held in the Perth Concert Hall saw Alex Salmond, Annabel Goldie, Iain Gray and Tavish Scott go head-to-head in front of a 1,000-strong audience.

The four leaders faced questions from the audience on a variety of topics including tuition fees, a referendum and renewables.

Host Glenn Campbell also peppered the proceedings with follow up questions as each of the participants looked to impress the assembled audience and TV viewing public.

Alex Salmond was pressed on when the SNP would introduce a referendum bill should the party form the next government.  The SNP leader explained that the economy and extra powers contained in the Scotland bill were the priority but confirmed that a referendum would be held in the second half of the term.

Iain Gray was questioned on Labour’s nuclear policy with Fukushima being mentioned.  The Labour front man insisted that his party remained committed to nuclear power plants and nuclear would form part of Labour’s energy mix.

Tavish Scott, as expected, faced questions on his party’s education ‘U’ turn in England but insisted that tuition fees were off the agenda for Holyrood.  Annabel Goldie insisted that the Conservatives would legislate for some form of graduate contribution.

An early exchange between Iain Gray and Alex Salmond saw the Labour man challenge the SNP leader on a drop in teacher numbers, but Mr Salmond hitting back by pointing out that two thirds of teacher job losses had been forced through by Labour run councils.

It was on energy that saw real differences between the main protagonists with Iain Gray claiming the SNP’s targets for electricity supply were not possible.  Backed by the Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, the Labour front man implied that the SNP’s 100% goal was unachievable.

Responding the First Minister insisted that the target of 100% of electricity needs through renewables was not just achievable but necessary in order to re-industrialise the country.  Mr Salmond cited experts who backed his party’s proposal and argued that Scotland stood ready to lead the way in the 21st century technology.

The debate saw no major gaffes from either of the participants but gauging audience reaction suggested that Mr Salmond’s ‘vision’ probably gave him the edge.  Host Glenn Campbell’s handling was poor with the BBC presenter deciding that his interruptions were more worthy than audience participation.

Noteworthy for their absence in the debate was knife crime and minimum pricing.

Speaking after the debate, an SNP spokesperson said:

“Alex Salmond won the debate hands down, with a strong and assured presentation of the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.

“He connected with the audience on crunch issues – such as defending the right to free education, and Scotland leading the renewables revolution – winning as much applause as all of the other leaders added together throughout the debate.”

Mr Salmond received 17 rounds of spontaneous applause compared to 7 for Labour’s Iain Gray with Tavish Scott and Annabel Goldie enjoying just 5 apiece.

The SNP spokesman added:

“Alex Salmond was the only candidate who demonstrated passion and ambition for Scotland – he has done a fantastic job as First Minister for the last four years, and is the people’s choice for the next five.”