Willie Rennie gets the biggest cheer of the final Scottish Leaders’ Debate

Seriously, I’m not joking.

See for yourself.

I thought he would do well, but I wasn’t quite expecting cheering, and rapturous applause for him.

On this occasion, it was his answer to a question on a second independence referendum which got the audience on his side. He said that the Parliament and Government needed to concentrate on the neglected issues like health and education, to concentrate on making Scotland the best country in the world again. You can’t do that, he said, while having a groundhog debate about independence. He told Nicola that she was the one being anti-democratic by refusing to accept the result of the poll just 20 months ago.

“When you don’t get the result you want, you just want to do it all again.” he shouted in an exasperated tone that had the audience with him.

I somehow managed to pass the BBC’s rigorous selection test, which consisted not just of an online questionnaire but also a phone interview. Here I am, on the right, in the blue dress, behind moderator Sarah Smith as she introduces the debate, captured on my friend Jade’s tv.

BBC Leaders' Debate

The debate was, rather bizarrely, held in the opulent surroundings of Hopetoun House in South Queensferry. From there, you can just about see where Willie Rennie rocked the political establishment by winning the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election in 2006. I arrived to discover that there was no internet signal. Being offline for four whole hours during  waking hours is almost unheard of for me, but I somehow managed.

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough signal to tweet that for some reason the BBC didn’t trust us to walk a few feet from the place where we registered to the ballroom where the debate was being held. They hired a bus to take us over. I kid you not. You could walk it in less than a minute. The ballroom is more used to hosting weddings than political theatre. There was certainly plenty of drama.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson has been making a big push to replace Labour’s Kezia Dugdale as Leader of the Opposition. Handily, the BBC put her right next to Nicola Sturgeon so they could spend the hour picking fights with each other, panto style. The thought of that happening every Thursday at noon at First Minister’s Questions is not appealing. It was all a bit unedifying.  Ruth really struggled, though, on the issue of the delays to the  building of Royal Navy frigates at the Govan shipyards. She tried to make out she had a direct line to the Defence Secretary and that it was all going to be fine, but nobody believed her.

Willie’s answer to a question about the long-term future of the yards was the most forward-looking and thoughtful. He alone talked about the need for diversification into things like renewables, before giving Ruth yet more pain by reminding the audience how the Tories had cut the support for the renewables sector.

He managed to get all the key points about his positive vision for Scotland – investment in education, improvements in mental health care, protecting civil liberties and the environment.  He showed himself to be sincere, knowledgable, reasonable and passionate about making Scotland the best. He did a very good job of reinforcing the points he’d been making through the campaign. And he certainly nailed the Tory lie that we had dropped our opposition to independence. Nobody could be in any doubt of that.

People were coming up to him afterwards and telling him they were going to vote Liberal Democrat for the first time. This has been happening all over Scotland, even in places where you would traditionally find only one Lib Dem in the county, let alone the village.

I’d say Kezia Dugdale, the most talented Labour leader in a long time, came second. She doesn’t get into the scraps, but she’s sincere, authentic and reasonable. Her contributions were thoughtful and practical. You can always tell when someone does well, because the cybernats get a bit overheated.

The Greens co-convener, Patrick Harvie was, as ever, high on rhetoric but low on practical detail.

Here are Willie’s best bits:

And you can watch the debate in full here.

Here are a few snippets of what people were saying on Twitter about Willie’s performance:

But you can’t please everybody…

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd May '16 - 1:47am

    Very positive this , deserves to translate in votes at the ballot box ! Willie and the Labour and Conservative Leaders are all correct on the referendum , it is forty plus years since one on Europe , they are not meant to come like buses , in twos and threes at the same time when you do not want them ! Absolutely wrong of the SNP!

  • Jo Grimond was a fine LIberal leader but he died in 1993

  • “umballanced” – is that an example of SNP Newspeak?

  • well, we shall see soon enough how pandering to the unionists conservative cause translates into votes up there. personally, am disappointed to hear liberals continuing to parrot an illiberal stance toward a process of self determination.
    i watched the debate. the cheer was really less for willie rennie and rather more for his unionist sentiments. hey ho!

  • …really!

    Do you really believe that audience represented a cross section of Scottish voters?
    The returns I’ve seen indicate Tavish is toast and Liam is holding on by his finger tips. That is in your strongest Liberal fortress.

    Only a few days to go for the reality to unfold.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd May '16 - 8:27pm

    Wings is not the most credible source of information. Or anything, to be honest.

  • Caron at last we find something we agree about.

  • Peter Watson 3rd May '16 - 8:37pm

    Is the composition of the studio audience divided equally between the parties or is it based upon polling to be more representative?

  • Clootie, your thoughts now? The North Isles result was not too shabby for the Libs. You might want to have a heart to heart with whoever did the returns.

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