The seven-way UK leaders debate, hosted by ITV on 2nd April, gave regional and smaller party leaders the opportunity to take to the stage to debate beside the Westminster big guns. Accompanying Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon in this was the leader of the Welsh National Party ‘Plaid Cymru’ Leanne Wood and leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett.
Many expected the female leaders, as the leaders of the smaller and regional parties, to fall flat against their male counter-parts but this proved to be the opposite. Although leader of the Green Party, Bennett moved away from typical ‘green issues’ and spoke primarily on ending austerity throughout the debate. While Sturgeon, although confirming Scottish Independence was something she still desired, spoke to the UK as a whole sending a message of “friendship”.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, was unsuccessful in making herself heard throughout the debate, bringing all discussed topics back to Welsh people, a tactic which could alienate her from the rest of the UK’s voters. Despite this, Wood once gained audience applause, when she told UKIP Leader Nigel Farage he should be “ashamed of himself” following his controversial comments on HIV sufferers in the United Kingdom.
Throughout the debate Sturgeon, Wood and Bennett offered their parties as progressive voices if elected into the Westminster parliament. Claiming their parties would challenge the voices of the Conservatives and Labour parties, which has dominated the UK government. The three women also seem to be sticking together in their respective election races. Sturgeon has called for the people of Wales to vote for Plaid Cymru, while she asks the people of England to vote for the Greens or for a progressive Labour candidate.
The fellow male leaders fell flat throughout the debate, despite topping a number of polls.
The surprise winner of the debate was Sturgeon who topped the YouGov poll following the debate with 28%. Although another poll, ComRes, placed her in 4th place with 20% not far behind Cameron, Miliband and Farage all level with 21%. This stellar performance has catapulted Sturgeon into the spotlight with many expecting the SNP to top the polls in Scotland and even has some voters wishing SNP candidates stood in other parts of Britain.
Following the debate, both the SNP and surprisingly the Conservative party used Sturgeons strong performance to help strengthen their own campaigns. The Conservatives used an image of Labour leader Ed Miliband in Sturgeon’s pocket to show how Miliband could be dominated by Sturgeon if elected.
This imagery could be seen as a prelude to what could happen as the Conservatives and Labour remain neck-in-neck in the polls and if elected one of Labour’s most obvious government partners could be the SNP.