Scotland Leaders’ Debate (BBC1)***

COUNTLESS hours, 62 million crossed words and several pairs of soiled trousers later, the end of the General Election 2019 debates was in sight. Just one to go, the Scotland Leaders’ Debate. It was like ending the Olympic Games with an egg and spoon race.

The home crowd on the sofa was revolting. “Not another one!” they cried in best Brenda of Bristol fashion. “Where’s River chuffing City?” I had to tell them that this was not a debate as such; this was an avante garde panto.

The big blonde who looks like an ugly sister missing a sibling? Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative leader (interim). Labour leader Richard Leonard was playing Jack, wandered in from another panto, the world’s worst bean salesman. The Lib Dems’ Willie Rennie was Buttons because he was so bright and shiny. Okay, he was shiny. And then there was Cinderella, a plucky gal with a thing for heels and high hopes of meeting Prime Minister Corbyn in Downing Street on Friday.

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Schedulers were so convinced viewers were gagging for this debate they ran a half hour “build up” programme. God loves a trier, especially one with a sense of humour.

The BBC Scotland set, with its streams of coloured raindrops running down a black backdrop, was very festive if hypnotic in a lava lamp way. Maybe that was the intention. Also looking jolly was host Sarah Smith, clad in a navy jumpsuit. Just parachuted in from London, perchance?

With the participants further apart than in last week’s STV debate the atmosphere was less combative. For about a minute, anyway. It took until the second question, on independence, natch, for a rammy to start. An audience member told off Willie Rennie for talking over other people. Carlaw then heckled Smith for not allowing him to come back on independence. When it was his turn he let rip, asking if anyone believed that if Ms Sturgeon lost a second referendum she wouldn’t ask for a third.

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On we trotted through hung parliaments, public finances (where’s the money coming from), mental health services, food banks, climate change. Shouting. Interrupting. Scornful looks. The normal business of Scottish politics had resumed.

All told, the dialogue for this panto had left a lot to be desired. Nor was there a decent joke to be had, and certainly no sing-song, unless you counted the high pitched whining from Willie Rennie as a ditty.

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But when it came time for closing statements it was difficult to find a dry eye in this house. How those tears of joy fell. As for the great debate season of 2019, look out, it’s behind us. Hurrah!