The leaders’ debate and the online reaction


by G.A.Ponsonby

Perhaps the most pertinent comment from the first Leaders’ Debate was on Twitter.

“Bit of advice for Iain Gray: Don’t click your name in the Trending Topics column. You won’t like it one bit”.

The use of Twitter and other social media showing live comments during the debate provides the opportunity to react immediately to what has been said, not only to the official party commentators but also to members of the public.

Twitter acted as the online equivalent of shouting at the telly to support or decry a comment made by the political leaders.  It also served as a second debate as the online community swapped their own opinions and views.

It allowed them to express their own observations and discuss comments with each other on the topics raised in the debate.  Further though, these assorted ‘tweeters’ and ‘twitterers’, continued to comment after the debate and were pleased to see that the debate had become a trending topic on Twitter.

For the uninitiated, Twitter describes a trending topic as “a subject algorithmically determined to be one of the most popular on Twitter at the moment”.  No mean feat when one remembers that this is a UK wide determination; it shows the growing influence that the internet and social media is having on our electoral process.

Alex Salmond and the SNP were the clear winners on Twitter.  Their official presence was well managed and gave out strong clear messages on the topics discussed with links for tweeters to follow up if they wished to do so.

Nicola Sturgeon was tweeting live throughout the debate and answering people’s points so there was a real feeling of involvement with the SNP.  Amongst the general public’s tweets, the SNP did well with Alex Salmond and the SNP achieving an impressive 89% of positive comments.

Of the other parties, it was probably the Green Party’s official presence that was the next most organised.  Although not in the Leaders’ Debate they tweeted about their exclusion to some effect with several people commenting that perhaps they should be included next time – many adding that Patrick Harvie should be there instead of Iain Gray!

For Labour and Gray, the evening was as much a disaster on Twitter as it was in the actual debate.  Labour’s comments were clumsy, negative and badly received.  Comments from the public expressed Gray’s poor performance and Labour’s lack of their own policies were given as some of the main reasons why folk would not be voting for them.  Iain Gray did ‘trend’ on Twitter but for all the wrong reasons with comments about him recorded at 99% against.

The extent of people’s disappointment with Labour and their worry that Gray could be the next First Minister was there in black and white.

Two major concerns emerged for Labour on Twitter though.

The first when Labour activists attacked people for voicing their concerns, something that never goes down well with the public.  Secondly, and bizarrely given Iain Gray’s U turn on the issue, Labour activists were attacking the SNP over freezing the council tax.  It exemplified the shambolic state of the Labour Party in Scotland and the open infighting that is taking place there.

Whilst some may question the value of social media, it is an important new way to get the message across.  No better example of this could be seen than after the debate when tweeters at the Scottish Television studios were tweeting that although the other leaders had left, Alex Salmond had stayed on to talk to individual members of the audience.

That is not the sort of message that is normally reported in the mainstream media but it is always important to the public.  They certainly like to know what kind of interest the leaders have in the public when the cameras are switched off.