Tonight’s Scottish leaders’ debate in Edinburgh is as important to the general election campaign as last week’s debate featuring Cameron, Miliband et al in Manchester. Both this debate and the second Scottish one tomorrow offer Labour a final opportunity to reverse the SNP advance.
The polls indicate that the SNP are on course to take 28 Scottish seats off Labour in May. This would make it the largest Scottish party at Westminster. It would also make it impossible for Ed Miliband to win a majority. At the moment, nothing seems capable of halting the Nationalists’ momentum. The dramatic fall in the oil price, which has upset many of the calculations in the independence white paper, hasn’t dented their support. Meanwhile the leaked Scottish Office memo, which alleged that Nicola Sturgeon told the French Ambassador she would prefer Cameron to Miliband as Prime Minister, has simply bounced off her.
Labour now need something to happen if they are to prevent the SNP from taking a majority of Scottish seats. These debates are Jim Murphy’s best chance to make something happen but it won’t be easy for him. Sturgeon, as she demonstrated in Manchester last week, is a formidable debater and immensely popular. Scottish Labour sources, though, point out that Murphy will be able to hold her to account for the actions of the Scottish government in a way that Miliband simply couldn’t in last week’s UK-wide, seven-way debate.
I’ll be providing full coverage of the debate from Edinburgh on Coffee House this evening. So, check back in later to see if Murphy has managed to halt the SNP advance.