Sturgeon wasn't the winner we were looking for

3 Apr 2015

It was a debate that achieved little. Despite ITV's best attempts to present their format almost as a boxing match, the tension never really sparked flame. The leaders themselves seemed to ignore a floundering Natalie Bennett of the Green Party, whilst Nigel Farage of UKIP gave Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP her only hit of the night; "There isn't anything Nigel Farage wouldn't blame on immigrants!" She declared, conveniently forgetting that there is nothing she wouldn't blame on Westminster.

In a bizarre twist, the pollster YouGov declared Sturgeon to be the winner of the debate, citing 28% of their panelists who thought she out performed her rivals. The runner up for yougov was Farage on 20% with Cameron and Miliband trailing on 18% and 15% respectively. 

Yet Nicola Sturgeon was by some way the weakest performer of the night. She missed several moments where she could and should have capitalised on the chance to make key political points. When Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood bemoaned the inequalities in funding for Scotland and Wales, Sturgeon should've planted her flag on increasing the cash flow to the smaller nations of the UK. Perhaps she should even have rounded on Wood, reminding her that the SNP and PC are allies, working to extract valuable concessions from a Westminster elite that they regard as out of touch. 

Sadly, the SNP only think inwardly. Sturgeon showed us this with her wildly inaccurate or downright hypocritical claims throughout. Claiming that Scots "have paid more tax per head for the past 34 years" simply isn't backed up. According to HMRC, England presented 86.2% of UK tax receipts, Scotland only 8.3%.

The most important factor in this is that, despite the rhetoric of the pro-independence lobby, it is not 'Scotland's oil'. In this United Kingdom, we pool our resources, we share the benefits and we share the costs. Additionally, it is worth establishing that public spending in Scotland is higher. The ONS places 'identifiable expenditure on public sector services (per head)' for the four constituent nations of the UK at the following figures:

England: £8,529
Northern Ireland: £10,876
Scotland: £10,152
Wales: £9,709

A series of figures that were argued, very strongly, during the Scottish Independence debate. No matter how you analyse the figures, whether or not you give the full figures of the North Sea oil and gas industry to Holyrood, Scotland receives more than she gives to the UK.

However it was Ms Sturgeon's rhetoric on the belief in free education that was so surprising. Reminding the audience that were it not for free university education she would never have gotten to where she is now, she said "I have no right to take that same entitlement away from the next generation of young people." Yet for young people in England, Wales or Northern Ireland considering their UCAS forms or preparing to begin a university course in September, the lack of tuition fees in Alba doesn't apply to them. As things stand, students from another European Union country are entitled to the same free university tuition in Scotland as the Scots reserve for themselves. So why can they charge up to £9,000 a year to somebody from Newcastle but not from Lisbon? EU law is clear about the discrimination based on nationality but let us not mince words, that is what this is: discrimination. For the leader of a party which laments an apparent "them and us" system of rules for the working classes and the landed elite to ignore such blatant hypocrisy is nothing short of astonishing.

As always with the Nationalists, blame lies solely with Westminster. During the referendum debate this was a question that Scottish Universities were keen to have answered, in the event of a Yes vote the Scottish Government made clear it intended to continue charging fees to students from the remainder of the United Kingdom. Universities fear, quite rightly, that this would lead to EU law enabling costly legal action that the Scottish government would be unable to win.

Whilst YouGov have given the debate to Ms Sturgeon, she would be foolish to celebrate such a minor victory. (ComRes places the debate as a tie between Miliband and Cameron, whilst ICM awards the crown to Miliband) the increased publicity for the SNP across the UK will result in much greater scrutiny for their party. I've given two examples of how Nicola Sturgeon presents some wildly inaccurate facts and there are many more in the SNP's arsenal of rhetoric. Her party is out for one thing: Scottish independence, a move that would make the people of Scotland worse off, a move that globally only Russia and North Korea support. Last night showed us how weak the First Minister's hand is and whilst some commentators are awarding her kudos, scratching the surface shows a leader with nothing concrete to offer the UK and only division to offer for Scotland.  

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