Colm Flynn, former Chair of the World Universities Debating Council, anaylses the debate.
Winner: Nicola Sturgeon
Second: David Cameron
Last: Natalie Bennett
Looking at the debate as a whole Nicola Sturgeon was a clear winner. In the first half she stood out with clear arguments and good style. She was also the strongest in the open discussions as she did not rely on scripted answers and instead engaged with what the others had been saying. She drifted back into the pack a little in the second half but they all appeared to be losing energy in the second hour. She gave a strong performance for both the Scottish voters that will be voting for her party but also for the English and Welsh voters who may not get to vote for her but may end up with her in their government. She wasn’t just a Scottish politician she was a UK politician.
Second was tight between David Cameron and Ed Miliband and ultimately this will be the battle to decide who is Prime Minister. Both had a strong grasp on the facts and arguments they wanted to present. Both came under attack for their record in government, Cameron for the last 5 years and Miliband for his time in Tony Blair’s government and the Labour record in Wales. Content wise both will have shored up their core vote but may not have won many new ones. On balance however I shaded it to Cameron on presentation. He appeared in control, mature and statesmanlike throughout.
In fourth place I had Nick Clegg. He was a pale shadow of the man we saw dominate debates 5 years ago. He initially tried to distance the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives with an attack on David Cameron but kept getting sucked back in especially by Cameron. His closing remarks about maintaining stability directly contradicted his opening stance as this was a clear appeal to return the current coalition. To his credit he did admit failings and broken promises which was good because it was honest and help diffused attacks that would come later. However on balance he was a long way behind the top three.
Leanne Wood came fifth. She did what she needed to in appealing to Welsh voters but little else and at times disappeared from the debate completely. That said she came into it more in the second half and she probably did enough to win votes from Labour in Wales so she will regard it as a win on her objectives.
In sixth place I had Nigel Farage. His presentation was slick and confident. He had a strong grasp on what he wanted to say. However his attempts to blame everything that was wrong in the UK on the EU and immigration was tiresome. For example blaming all the problems in the Health service on Health Tourism was very weak and was seized on by a number of the others. As a result he faded away in the second half even on the immigration discussion. I simply did not find his arguments persuasive. That said people outside England are probably not his target audience and therefore his arguments will not resonate with us. He will have maintained his current vote but may not have done much to attract new ones.
In last place I had Natalie Bennett. She looked nervous and over rehearsed throughout. She constantly had to glance at her notes for the prepared statements. During the open discussions many of her contributions were not linked to the discussion that was actually going on and also felt prepared in advance. The green agenda barely registered until her closing remarks and then felt irrelevant to the discussion.
Overall this was a far more enjoyable debate than I feared it would be. It was well moderated and the format worked. I think this set a model for future debates in other countries.