James Forsyth

Ed Miliband’s gamble paid off but the Scottish question still haunts him

Ed Miliband's gamble paid off but the Scottish question still haunts him
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Ed Miliband took a risk by turning up to this debate and until the last question it looked like it had definitely paid off. Miliband avoided conceding too much to the anti-austerity alliance to his left of Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood and parried Nigel Farage’s attacks on Labour pretty effectively. On Trident, he sounded statesmanlike as he explained why in an uncertain world, Britain needed to renew its nuclear deterrent. All the while, he got in regular attacks on David Cameron both for his record in government and not being at the debate.

But the last question was about hung parliaments and it is this which caused Miliband some problems. He stuck to his line about Labour wanting an overall majority and warned about the risks of voting SNP. But Sturgeon took the opportunity to set out how she and the other progressive parties would make Labour ‘better’. I suspect that as we speak CCHQ is cutting the footage into a new attack video. The BBC News at Ten led with this part of the debate and if the BBC news machine decides this is the main story of the night then it could become a problem for Labour and would justify Cameron’s decision to avoid this debate.

One thing that is bound to be a talking point after tonight is the audience. Early on Nigel Farage attacked the audience for being too left wing which led Miliband to quip, ‘Nigel it is never a good idea to attack the audience’ to which Farage responded, the real audience is at home. But as the night went on, the audience’s reactions seemed increasingly surprising. One Nicola Sturgeon attack on Miliband for being too like the Tories was met with woops from the audience.

It was also how striking how Miliband didn’t use the debate to really go after Sturgeon over the SNP’s proposal for full fiscal autonomy or the record of the Scottish government. For that reason, I suspect that this debate — with Sturgeon attacking Miliband as ‘Tory-lite’ — will have in Scotland done more for the SNP than Labour

Update: The Survation post-debate poll has Miliband ‘winning’ this debate. The figure are 35 per cent for Miliband, 31 per cent for Sturgeon, 27 per cent for Farage, 5 per cent for Natalie Bennett and 2 per cent for Leanne Wood. Labour will be relieved that Miliband topped this poll, it avoids any embarrassing headlines about him losing. But it is remarkable that Sturgeon can get 31 per cent in a UK wide poll. One disappointment for the Tories is how poorly Natalie Bennett did. Back at the start of the year, the Tories hoped that the Greens might take a decent chunk out of the Labour vote. But that now looks unlikely to happen.