HUSTINGS 2019

 EDINBURGH NORTH & LEITH 

Over 130 people gathered last night in Broughton St Mary’s Parish Church at Spurtle’s General Election hustings for the Edinburgh North & Leith constituency. 

The event was chaired by Mr Harald Tobermann, a local resident selected by Spurtle for his independent mind, constituency knowledge as Vice Convener of Leith Central Community Council, and bracing firmness of purpose. 

Two of the seven candidates were unable to attend: Heather Astbury (Renew) and Robert Speirs (The Brexit Party). Bruce Wilson (Liberal Democratic Party) arrived late and left early for reasons which will become apparent later.

Questions were taken in themed batches, the first in each batch submitted by Spurtle or Spurtle readers who had taken up our invitation to pose their questions for them. Candidates were advised to answer as many or as few of them as they wished.

Audience responses were subjectively judged as fairly as possible by this correspondent in the hall. They occasionally appear in caps within square brackets. [A] denotes polite applause. [AAAAA] denotes the loudest applause of the evening. No A or A’s within square brackets denote the sound of one hand clapping loudly.

Below, we summarise and paraphrase the candidates’ responses inasmuch as we were able to hear and transcribe them. For those seeking definitive party positions, links to Manifestos appear after the first appearance of each name.

Afterwards, we offer Jaundiced of Claremont’s impressions; composed, we understand, whilst soaking his feet in a bucket of vinegar.—AM

MEETING COMMENCES AT 7.30pm

Chair briefly expresses widespread despair and irritation at too much politics, then settles candidates’ nerves by promising hellfire to any of them who exceeds 2-minute maximum for answers.

Asks audience for a show of hands. How many have already decided how to vote? A slight majority remains open-minded.

BREXIT

  • Is a General Election the best or most pragmatic way to resolve Brexit?
  • How did you vote in 2016? What will you do next?
  • If Brexit hadn’t happened, would you still have wanted to reform the European Union and if so how?

Iain McGill (Conservative & Unionist Party): I campaigned to leave, and am angry at any attempt to block the will of the people. I wouldn’t like another referendum.

Gordon Munro (Scottish Labour & Co-operative Party): I voted to remain, and wrote an article for the Leither about the need to remain in and reform the EU. I’m pro a second referendum, and would campaign for Remain. [AA]

Steve Burgess (Scottish Green Party): I voted to remain and would do so again. Yes, would reform an imperfect EU. I’m pro-uniting Europe, not letting far-right groups split it apart.

Sixty years of peace is no guarantee of future peace in Europe. The EU reduces the risk of conflict through building economic and social ties.

Why put up trade barriers with 500M people on our doorstep? Huge progressive, social, economic, and environmental gains from EU. All these threatened by a bonfire of regulations. [AAA]

Deidre Brock (Scottish National Party): This constituency had the second highest vote for remain in the country (78%). The UK Government has brushed aside Scottish voters. Brexit would be economically, culturally, and socially disastrous. Regardless of which Brexit deal is agreed, 6–9% will be knocked off the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Scotland has a right to choose its own direction of travel. The 2016 referendum vote was influenced by lies and dubious online practice.

BENEFITS AND SOCIAL SECURITY

  • Jane Ellis, who works with vulnerable families at Home Link Family Support, asks: Why do we have food banks in this country?
  • What is your opinion of Universal Credit and why?
  • What will you do about the obscenity that is child poverty?

GM: Universal Credit is such a disgrace – we’d scrap it. Two weeks ago someone died in the DSS office in Edinburgh. I wrote a report as a councillor on how poverty blights Edinburgh. Companies must pay taxes. This is a wealthy country. Childhood poverty should not exist here.

SB: Food banks exist because of the Conservatives’ inhumane sanctions regime. Truly a scandal in our wealthy society. Universal Credit is a Conservative policy. Trussell Trust says there’s been a 50% increase in food banks since the introduction last year of Universal Credit. We would get rid of it, and also do away with Bedroom Tax. Westminster policies have driven 1 in 4 children into poverty. We favour a universal basic income to cover essentials without means-testing. We would remove the stigma of benefits and promote a more equal society. [AA]

DB: The Coalition Government started it. I see problems every week in my surgery – the appalling effects of stringent hoops for the most vulnerable in society. We want an immediate end to Universal Credit and benefit sanctions.

BW: [ENTERS THE HALL AND SITS DOWN.] Apologies for being late. I’ve just had twin daughters. [AAAAA]

Benefits problems produce an increasingly unequal society. We’re behind the rest of the UK in terms of expanding education. We promise 35 hours of education in our Manifesto.

Food banks have been caused by many issues – I don’t agree with austerity and the Coalition’s approach to it, but there’s more to the existence of food banks than this. 

IM: Twenty years ago, under a Labour Government and Labour Council, I worked in Edinburgh North and Leith in a food bank. There have always been food banks. [HECKLER: HOW MANY?] We need to find mitigating measures.

At the Spurtle hustings in 2003, there were questions about the difficulty of navigating a complicated and unwieldy benefits system. [AUDIENCE: GRUMPY MUTTERS] Universal Credit was driven by a desire to simplify that system.

CONSTITUTION

  • Do we need a written constitution? And what role is there for referendums?
  • Will this be the last election run using the ‘corrupt’ first-past-the-post voting system?

SB: Yes, we do need a written constitution. We need to prevent the pandemonium of a Government playing fast and loose with Parliament and its procedures.

Yes, we need referendums. In particular, we need a confirmatory referendum on whether or not to go ahead with Brexit.

We Greens feel the pinch under the first-past-the-post system. It’s anti-democratic that people end up voting for a party they don’t believe in so as to defeat a party they can’t stand. It leads to Governments being supported by only 30–40% of the people. Proportional representation would deliver 60 Green MPs initially, and even more later. Even so, take this opportunity to vote Green and tackle climate emergency.

DB: The SNP favours proportional representation even though it would lose seats – it’s the right thing to do. 35 SNP MPs and only 1 Green MP is not fair or sustainable.

We favour a written constitution. Westminster operates on protocol and procedures … so long as people behave and respect them. The Prime Minister does not respect them. A written constitution is essential.

I do agree with referendums. Switzerland has several per year and functions very capably. It’s important on big issues to go back to the people and get in touch with their thoughts.

BW: The Lib-Dems very much favour proportional representation, a written constitution, and reform of the House of Lords.

We’ve learned a lot about referendums over the last five years, and the importance of understanding their consequences. Vote Leave no longer exists and can’t be held to account. A more holistic approach is needed than can be provided by referendums.

IM: Based on ‘knocking-on-doors’ responses – There’s a lot of uncertainty on who to vote for, with people disenchanted by all parties. I would stick with the first-past-the-post system. Am not a fan of written constitutions, which have their own problems as seen recently in the USA.

Vote Conservative and we won’t have another soul-destroying and divisive referendum. I have no desire to see referendums come back any time at all. This is a clear difference between Conservatives and other parties. [A]

GM: [ACCIDENTALLY IGNORED BY THE CHAIR] I think we need a written constitution for this hustings. [LAUGHTER] Yes, we need a written constitution. We would also scrap the House of Lords and move the concentration of power out of Westminster to the regions.

We would extend the franchise to 16–18-year olds, backed by improved education on civics and history of the votes won by trades unions and suffragettes. Labour extended democracy via home-grown groups (e.g. Scotland United) which brought about the Scottish Parliament. [AAA] [CHAIR APOLOGISES FOR EARLIER OVERSIGHT] 

DEFENCE AND FOREIGN POLICY

  • If you can judge a person by their friends, what do our friends in the Middle East say about us?
  • Would you scrap Trident?
  • Should we support the arms trade in Scotland?

DB: Yes, scrap Trident tomorrow. That’s been my position for decades, and I’m proud of my work looking at the safety record of Faslane, where the Ministry of Defence has kept serious problems under wraps. We cannot continue to have weapons of mass destruction kept near our largest populations. Renewing Trident is an abhorrent waste of money, money which could be better used to improve conventional armed forces.

I’m also concerned about munitions dumps – the MoD doesn’t have to comply with normal environmental legislation on land and sea environmental legislation, and it isn’t monitoring dumps like that at Beaufort’s Dyke which are degrading.

BW: I speak as a former Royal Marine. It’s easy to criticise nuclear weapons. We are members of NATO. [INAUDIBLE] If you’re talking about scrapping nuclear weapons, you have to ask what the world will look like in 20–30 years. When would we use such weapons? In the event of a nuclear strike by another country, we might get 4–10 minutes’ warning and then the UK would be wiped out. Having our own weapons serves as a deterrent.

I would ban arms sales to countries abusing human rights. I would support an ethical arms trade – i.e. not Saudi Arabia. I support fantastic shipbuilding on the Clyde and in Rosyth.

IM: Of course I’m pro-Trident, pro-nuclear weapons, and so maintaining our place at the top table. I support the arms trade in Scotland – we’re very good at it. I note that Jeremy Corbyn has record of supporting Hamas. [GROANS] Our nuclear deterrent gives us a voice around the world.

GM: Support for CND and opposition to Trident are at the core of my being. In the Middle East, Libya has become the centre of slave traffic and a source of refugees – we need diplomacy that works, not just invasion. Arms trade has grown since the 1980s (e.g. Leonardo, the former Ferranti). Diversification of skills here can be used for more peaceful purposes, as for example by the US Coast Guard.

We need to support members of the armed forces when they retire, and help them to rejoin society. It’s a shameful indictment that we choose not to. [AAAA]

SB: Sadly, the UK promotes arms sales to countries it shouldn’t – like Saudi Arabia. We need to get out of the arms trade – it fuels war – but this should involve a transition process because of the numbers employed in this area.

We are against nuclear weapons, and disarmament was an important foundation stone of the Greens. Nuclear weapons are immoral and a colossal waste of money. The money would be better spent on devastated public services. We should get the UK to sign up to banning of weapons. Bruce [WILSON] has been part of the military at Faslane. I’ve been part of non-violent action on the other side of the fence. 

EMPLOYMENT, TRADE, AND INDUSTRY

  • If we leave the EU, how would you improve trade with the world? If we abandon Brexit, how would you improve trade with the EU?
  • Do you agree the UK Government has done good things for employment legislation? Not all good things have come exclusively from the EU.
  • Should employed people have rights against unfair dismissal and redundancy from Day 1?

BW: We should stay in the EU because it offers future prosperity for Scotland and the UK. How to improve it? We’re already reaping benefits, but we need to interact better with other EU members. [NEXT LISTED BENEFITS OF STAYING IN EU] Workers’ rights? Yes absolutely. [INAUDIBLE]

Can’t rely on markets. Companies not more important than people. I worry about rights flip-flopping between governments – it’s another argument in favour of a written constitution.

IM: I’m enthusiastic about opportunities resulting from Brexit. Freedom in trading with growing economies (not shrinking economies within the protectionist EU).

Workers’ rights here are well ahead of where they are in the EU. [DERISIVE LAUGHTER] Don’t vote for Corbyn or Scexit because it will lead to economic need for redundancies. [BOOS]

GM: Labour would defend worker rights from Day 1. We’d introduce a Ministry of Labour to enforce laws. No more kids up chimneys. [DERISIVE LAUGHTER] Already six rounds of negotiation with Trump on future of the National Health Service. It’s shameful. That’s Iain’s ‘opportunities’.

Under Labour, money saved by not leaving the EU would be spent on R&D and building exports. Labour make the most of the resources, academia, workforce we have. Only a change of Government can make this happen. [AAAA]

SB: Trade barriers with nearest neighbours would be disastrous. Jobs are linked to trade with Europe. I fear dealing with Trump when he has us over a barrel. We don’t want his standards imposed on us.

Workers’ rights were brought to us through membership of the EU – likewise equal pay and maternity leave. I have real concern that such rights could be rolled back post-Brexit.

DB: Better not to leave the EU. If Boris Johnson gets his way we’ll spend years negotiating with the EU. Whatever deal we end up with won’t be as good as the one we have now. Years and years and billions of pounds will be tied up in negotiation. Loss of GDP predicted by Treasury’s own analysis, Scottish Government and others.

I don’t trust those around the Cabinet. I don’t trust Jacob Rees-Mogg or Michael Gove on lowering standards. I give full respect to Labour for its efforts on employment and workers’ rights. I wish employment rights had been devolved to Scotland (something only the SNP and Greens supported). [AAA]

IMMIGRATION

  • How would you improve immigration across the UK?
  • Is immigration better within UK or in Scotland? In Scotland, the highest number of immigrants are English, followed by Poles.  [LAUGHTER]

IM: I’m in favour of a points-based Australian-style level playing field for immigrants. What can you do? How can you help?

How to attract immigrants to Scotland? Get away from Scottish independence. Focus on restoring the NHS to make it work better. I’m against the Conservative Party’s artificial targets for immigration.

GM: Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants is appalling: ‘Go home or face arrest.’ [AAAA] Appalling that Russian oligarchs have more rights to move here than refugee babies who end up washed up on a beach. The UK is punishing poverty.

Leith has always been very welcoming to newcomers. Labour favours free movement of peoples – it’s the only way to act with each other as civilised people. [AAAA]

SB: UK’s approach to asylum and immigration is brutal and racist. Shameful: outsourcing of services; deporting of the vulnerable; Windrush scandal. We need a system based on human rights – justice, dignity, safety.

Gaps need to be filled in social care, health, nursery teachers in Edinburgh – immigration here is a resource not a threat. Asylum-seekers fleeing war and violence need the right to work here and thrive on sufficient income with dignity.

Regarding the ‘hostile environment’, Brexit could be used as an excuse to water down the Equality Act. Foreign students should be able to extend visas after finishing studies, allowing them to live and work here.

DB: Agreement across the board. Asylum policy – I have fought against it since the Coalition Government introduced it. After the Brexit vote, the SNP was first in front of the TV to reassure European citizens of their continued welcome in Scotland.

Points-based Australian and Canadian systems could work here. I am alarmed by 80% drop in European nurses coming to work here over the last two years. This is a highly multi-cultural constituency – one of the most so in Scotland. Scrap the ‘hostile environment’!

BW: ‘I’m really, really tired of this argument.’ Conservatives, Labour and SNP appeal to tribal notions of them and us. Beneficial influx of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. My wife is from Iceland. Before criticising ‘hostile environment’, look also at unacceptable intolerance of accents and difference in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon’s post-Brexit assertion of Scottish welcome for Europeans was just political opportunism. [A] [BW LEAVES THE HALL AT THIS STAGE]

PROMISES, PROMISES

  • How would you pay for your party’s Manifesto promises? From taxation, borrowing, or savings? [AUDIENCE MEMBER INTERJECTS: There’s a fourth way to pay: Stay in the EU.]
  • Labour Party’s Manifesto costings in the Grey Book have been criticised, but no other party has provided as much detail. Why so lacking?
  • Accountability: Should appearing on Leaders’ Debates be compulsory?

GM: This marvellous Manifesto [HOLDS IT ALOFT] is fully costed. Achievable through, for example, stopping tax evasion. Yes, there would be substantial borrowing, for example to settle the debt to WASPY women.

Compulsory appearances? Boris Johnson doesn’t want to appear: ‘Gee whizz. Appalling. Disgraceful. Cowardly.’ Real change requires Labour. [AA] 

SB: The Institute for Fiscal Studies says Conservative and Labour Manifestos can’t be paid for. Greens won’t form the next Government, so no requirement for us to present a full budget. But we’re still rigorous about costing, as seen in the Scottish Parliament.

Green policies aren’t more expensive – they often identify room for efficiencies and reducing costs.

TV Debates: yes, there’s a good case for compulsory appearance by Leaders. Greens have the opposite problem – not being invited to appear. This is a huge democratic deficit. [AAA]

DB: Stay in the EU and save billions. Get rid of Trident. Growing the economy is key – Scotland’s exports grew 15% last year, largely due to effective promotion abroad, e.g. in France and Canada. We would increase support for renewables and carbon capture storage.

Accountability: Leaders have to be prepared to be questioned. Disgraceful threats to Channel 4 over ice sculptures standing in for absent Johnson and Farage.

BW: The Institute for Fiscal Studies supports the Liberal Democrat figures. We would invest in the workforce. This is a good time for borrowing because of cheap interest rates.

We must face up to the risk of climate change, and encourage the economy to drive this; e.g. through wind and tidal energy, roll-out of insulation retro-fits. Our leader Jo Swinson

is absolutely fuming at exclusion from TV debate. [A]

IM: Conservative Governments always balance the books. [AUDIENCE GASPS] We would use some borrowing. Labour will nationalise the economy.

Nicola Sturgeon won’t be Prime Minister, but she’d be the one pulling Jeremy Corbyn’s strings if he got into power. As for Swinson, the more she’s seen the less popular she becomes.

Chair: Am disappointed no one has used the word ‘productivity’. Productivity has flatlined and declined over recent years.

UNSCRIPTED QUESTIONS – ANYTHING GOES SO LONG AS RELEVANT AND DECENT

  • Reader Brian McNeill asks: Do you accept that estimates of internal UK budget deficits are largely fictional and inaccurate?
  • I’m originally from Northern Ireland. I left because of divisive politics. Why would I vote SNP with its nationalist pacts?
  • Why are all the candidates here male? If you don’t think this is OK, what do you propose to do about it? [CHAIR, CANDIDATES, AUDIENCE, DEIDRE BROCK — ALL POINT OUT THAT DEIDRE BROCK IS CLEARLY FEMALE. QUESTIONER CORRECTS HIMSELF AND APOLOGISES.]

SB: Budget deficits a fiction? I don’t understand question. [CHAIR BRIEFLY CLARIFIES REFERENCE IN QUESTION TO ‘GERS REPORT’ (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland)]. I’ll skip it.

Why would you want to come to a country wanting independence? We’re in favour of independence, but it’s not our main policy. For Greens, it’s just a means to an end – a greener and fairer society with powers to tackle the climate emergency – not because we are nationalists. Why so many male candidates?

I suspect confrontational politics deters women. At City of Edinburgh Council, we recently resolved to show mutual respect, but at the very next meeting that all dissolved into acrimony. Among Scottish Green candidates there are equal numbers of men and women.

DB: It’s hard to tell how accurate the GERS Report is. The Scottish Government lacks powers to compel businesses to provide all relevant information, and must rely on voluntary surveys.

Nationalist pacts? The SNP has no pacts with the Scottish Greens. I’m originally Australian. My Dad’s English. I’ve only ever encountered friendship and warmth in Scotland. We simply believe that the people in Scotland are best placed to make decisions affecting Scotland. We’ve always done our best to protect Scotland. The (SNP) Scottish Government has a good record on a gender-balanced Cabinet, work rights, and equal pay. 

BW: I disagree with many SNP policies, but it’s great to be represented by a woman.

Social-media crap is worse for women than for men. A sad reflection of our society.

GERS figures: we need independent bodies to assess these figures.

I agree with questioner from Northern Ireland – ridiculous to have division in politics. Liberal Democrats use pacts to fight Brexit. In Scotland, there is a tension between the Greens and the SNP love affair with 

IM: My Mum left Northern Ireland for the same reasons as you. She married a Leither.

I see Jo Mowat in the audience, a highly experienced councillor in the City Chambers.

As for pacts, when Ruth Davidson won her seat, the real vitriol was between SNP and Greens arguing over who should have stepped aside. One of the worst things I’ve seen in politics.

GM: I’ve seen a lot worse that. [LAUGHTER]

GERS figures are not seriously contested.

National Debt has more than doubled to fuel bankers’ bonuses, leaving 14M people in poverty.

We must bridge division, build, and renew. Spend money on the many not the few. Government is not working now.

Gender balance: Holyrood among the best in the world thanks to Labour. In the Shadow Cabinet, we have some real talents. For the top 20 seats in Scotland, 15 Labour candidates are women. Same down south. We must reflect the population as a whole. [AAA]

UNSCRIPTED QUESTIONS CONTINUED

  • Do you agree that the £10-12B fiscal deficit in Scotland is a lie. Scottish whisky made by Scots using Scottish ingredients and machinery – but most profits are credited to England where biggest producer Diageo is registered.
  • Climate emergency – Should this be the biggest issue. What are you really doing?
  • How can my French girlfriend be made to feel more welcome in Scotland, with or without independence?
  • Your thoughts on Scottish responsibility (particularly the Royal Bank of Scotland) for austerity.
  • GERS figures reflect UK Government’s handling of the Scottish economy. Should we sack UK Governments in the same way we sack CEOs and football managers?

DB: SNP definitely looking at figures, but struggling to be given reliable statistics timeously. We can’t compel businesses to provide export statistics. We can’t set normal governmental controls such as National Insurance and Corporation Tax.

70% taxes reserved to Westminster.

Welcoming newcomers – very little is more important than to encourage EU citizens feel at home here.

BW: Welcome is common in London, too – perhaps more so than other parts of England.

On the environment: LibDems have a realistic target based on speed and effectiveness without wrecking the economy. I hate procrastination, but becoming carbon neutral by 2030 is not possible. Brexit is a distraction. Need to focus on carbon neutrality.

As for fiscal figures: You can’t just hate the ones you don’t like. [AA] [BW LEAVES THE HALL]

IM: GERS figures have been used in the past to justify Scexit, but now people selectively don’t trust them when they’re not so favourable.

The Environment is more important than flags and nationalism.

As for division: Around fringes of Nationalism, there are extremes – people carrying ‘English out of Scotland’ banners.

GM: I wish we had whisky at Labour meetings. They’d be a lot more fun. [LAUGHTER]

We must welcome EU citizens as full equals.

Sacking managers – as a Hibs supporter, that’s a bit too close to home

I blame the bankers.

This is a crucial election for making environmental change. Change the Government to tackle climate change.

SB: This election needs to be about more than Brexit and Independence. Those are just two chairs on the Titanic. Climate change poses an existential threat, and we have only 10 years left to avoid catastrophe.

Setting targets is easy. But key powers on monetary policy and energy regulation legislation are controlled by Westminster. Government must be active in incentivising use of green power. Vote Green and send a message.

AND FINALLY …

  • If you were cast away on a desert island, which party leader (not your own) would you want to share it with and why?
  • When you get back from your desert island, which of your own party policies would you try to improve or abandon?

IM: [A VERY LONG PAUSE] Tony Blair. We could reminisce about the days of a centre-Left Labour Party. Speaking from the centre-Right, I’d enjoy debating with him. We need more centre-ground politics.

GM: Caroline Lucas [Leader of the Green Party]. She’s already changed my mind on quite a few policies.

SB: Siân Berry] [GROANS/HOOTS FROM THE AUDIENCE. CRIES OF ‘SHE’S YOUR PARTY!’] I must point out that, constitutionally, the Green Party of England and Wales is a completely separate entity to the Scottish Green Party.

Can’t think of any policy I’d like to change.

DB: Caroline Lucas – I’ve worked quite closely with her in the past. I respect her diligence, passion, and resourcefulness. She has a good sense of humour. We’d have good discussions.

I didn’t agree with SNP policy to cut Airport Tax, so was glad to see that scrapped.

Chair:  Who, among those who were undecided at the start of the hustings, have now made up their minds? [ABOUT 40 HANDS GO UP]

SPURTLE THANKS TO CANDIDATES AND PUBLIC FOR ATTENDING, AND TO BROUGHTON St MARY’S PARISH CHURCH FOR HOSTING. MEETING CONCLUDES AT 9.30pm.

JAUNDICED OF CLAREMONT — HOW THEY FARED

Deidre Brock had the difficult task of coming to the hustings as Edinburgh North & Leith’s most recent MP. She needed to appear experienced, knowledgeable, realistic, at ease in control. At the same time, she needed not to appear as though she’d grown too comfortable down south, or had nothing to learn from reconnecting with voters. For the most part she pulled it off, neither pompous nor fake ingenue, and emerged well from a display of pantomime outrage when a member of the public dug a hole for himself with a question and fell in. She didn’t fill the earth in over him. Neither did she pull him out. All in all, a steady performance, a reassuring one, short on jalapenos.

Steve Burgess is a Broughton lad, raised within earshot of this very church’s solemnising bell. Not that you’d know it. He didn’t make anything of it on the night, didn’t even mention it, and unlike Gordon Munro steered clear of colourful local references to entertain and bedazzle. His approach was outwardly calm, quietly spoken, articulate, well-briefed, technocratic. There were contradictions, however. He wanted our votes, but didn’t expect Greens to govern. Greens were good at costing, but didn’t need a budget. Everyone should stay calm, but we’re facing a catastrophe. Another paradox: Burgess simultaneously panicked and was really good in a crisis.

Iain McGill has unsuccessfully contested every Edinburgh election since the death of Queen Victoria. His is usually the loneliest spot at the hustings, assailed from all sides, the butt of jokes, the target for farmyard noises from the back of the hall. We’ve grown to expect, even depend on, his loyal Conservatism, delivered without apology, forehead moist like a melting waxwork, smile fixed as if by a mortician. He didn’t smile much last night. He looked in deadly earnest. Things are serious, and perhaps he anticipated more of a Brexit backlash than actually materialised. McGill bashed through with a boxer’s determination, landed a few counter-blows of his own on Labour and the Greens, repeatedly snarled at ‘Scexit’, and then, without any warning, offered two remarkable insights. First, that he’s no great fan of ‘artificial’ Conservative targets on immigration. Second, that his desert-island companion of choice would be Tony Blair. These are strange times.

Gordon Munro had the best evening last night. He evidenced passion on social inequalities, bulldozed through doubts about Labour’s ambitiously costed Manifesto, had all the best jokes, and produced nice rhetorical flourishes which stirred the audience to spontaneous applause. Or maybe he just had the best claque – it’s hard to trust anyone nowadays. I enjoyed his sparring with McGill (both are aiming to deliver knock-outs), and how he continually rooted national experience in problems and opportunities happening in Leith right now. Munro is a persuasive man. You can’t help liking him. Not yet persuaded how practically grounded his passion is. Will he persuade enough people Labour policies are realistic?

Bruce Wilson was a bit of a mystery. First he was coming, then he wasn’t, then he appeared, then he left early. And all because of the arrival of twins. For these he received the loudest applause of the night, but didn’t look pleased at this response. In any case, it later transpired they’d arrived on Tuesday. Wilson seemed distracted, disgruntled. He was occasionally inaudible, occasionally unintelligible. At one point it was easy to think he was gargling baked beans. At his best, he made good sense on the limitations of referendums, and on complacency about Scottish hospitality. At his worst, he seemed evasive on Lib-Dem involvement in the Coalition, short-tempered and ungracious about Sturgeon’s post-Brexit Referendum reassurances. Perhaps he was just really, really tired. [EDITORIAL REVISIONS 19:30, 30.11.19:  'didn't look pleased' changed to 'didn't look pleased at this response'; 'at times unintelligible' changed to 'occasionally unintelligible'.]

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