Nicola Sturgeon turned up for a grilling on last night’s Question Time special but basked instead in the warmth of the audience’s ignorance about Scotland.
The SNP leader benefited from what appeared to be a coach-load of supporters dotted across the studio but it was the English majority, interested but not obviously clued-up about matters north of the Border, who made it her night.
Sturgeon confirmed she would expect Jeremy Corbyn to dance to her tune on Scexit if she held the balance of power after December 12. But Corbyn had already told the programme that he wasn’t minded to give the Nationalists another referendum right away. Did the audience really think, she ventured coyly, that Corbyn would spurn the chance of power just to stop Scotland voting?
The silence that greeted her answer meant you could have heard a pin drop — or the penny thumping to the ground.
Because the non-sympathisers in the studio audience knew little about Scottish politics, the SNP leader could wriggle her way out of every tight spot. She prated: ‘The Brexiteers told a lot of lies, one of them on the side of a bus.’ A few breaths later she denied the EU had warned in 2014 that a separate Scotland would be out on her ear. No, not the EU corporately but the key leaders in Brussels all did.
If the BBC insists on having Sturgeon on network TV (despite not being a candidate in this election), she ought to be held to account as thoroughly as all the other leaders. As it was last night, she was slippier than an eel on a water slide and no one could lay a hand on her.
The evening was a little trickier for Jeremy Corbyn. It wasn’t the worst thing to happen to a Labour leader in Sheffield during an election but the audience was able to test him in a way it couldn’t Nicola Sturgeon. We were all right — all right! — on that front at least.
A gentleman who, from his extensive facial mullet, appeared to have just come from a ZZ Top revival concert warned that Corbyn’s ‘socialist’ worldview would imperil freedom. When he’s lost the bearded vote, you know Corbyn is in trouble. The Marxist marrow-botherer said he believed in freedom — he had ‘got into hot water for defending people’s freedoms’. True, and some of them weren’t even wearing balaclavas at the time.
Another chap in the stalls confronted the Labour leader about the spread of anti-Semitism in his party, which Corbyn tried to blather his way through. The punter was fit for him, though. ‘I don’t buy this nice old grampa routine,’ he snapped.
Corbyn glowered. He’s angry and entitled and every time he comes under scrutiny, the real Jeremy reveals himself.
The big news line of the night was Corbyn’s admission that he would remain neutral in a second Brexit referendum. He intends to be present but not involved.
Red Jez got an easier time in the second half of his appearance. One animated questioner took the unique route of holding the rest of the audience to account, chiding them for their scepticism towards Corbyn. There was a zeal in his eye only seen among Corbynistas and casual acquaintances who try to sign you up for an exciting opportunity selling nutrition supplements that is DEFINITELY NOT A PYRAMID SCHEME.
Still, it was good to see Sheffield Friends of North Korea get its Christmas night out.
Poor old Jo Swinson. She made the crazy decision to come on and tell the truth. About Brexit, tuition fees, austerity. The Lib Dem leader was left gawping like a guppy fish as one audience member after another piled in.
One red-jacketed lady, apparently a Labour supporter, railed against her for voting with the Conservatives. It’s a fair cop. Swinson voted with the Tories almost as often as Jeremy Corbyn. Even a Remainer took Swinson to task for ‘promising to unilaterally revoke Brexit’ — ‘the Liberal Democrat party’s name is now a misnomer’.
The nadir came when she was forced to defend her party’s notoriously dodgy graphs. ‘I think all barcharts should be properly labelled,’ she squeaked, defeated.
Boris Johnson’s fared about as well as a Christian in the Coliseum after the lions had been on the 5:2 diet. When they weren’t tearing chunks off him, they were openly guffawing.
‘That concludes our evening,’ host Fiona Bruce chirped at the end. ‘It’s been worth it, hasn’t it?’ No, Fiona. No, it hasn’t.