SO the televised leadership debates are over. What ever will we do with our early evenings?

There’s also a bigger question – how can Scotland have the important debates that didn’t really happen over the last two weeks?

Will the next FM raise Scottish tax rates? If not, how will they alleviate or eradicate poverty? Of course, candidates might have other solutions – and the Chancellor’s announcement about free childcare for one and two-year-olds in England will help fund the same commitment made by Humza Yousaf, if he wins.

But even that is too narrow a sweep of a much bigger subject.

READ MORE: Kevin McKenna: What about this Competence Index for SNP leadership contenders

It’s absolutely true that freeing up young mothers will raise family incomes and bring numbers and talent back to the workforce. But parents won’t feel happy about leaving toddlers at nurseries unless standards are high and staff have the energy and training to make kindergarten more than glorified cloakrooms. That means higher pay for staff and low enough ratios to allow a focus on each child.

Can the Scottish Government ensure a welcome expansion doesn’t end up lowering standards because of staff shortages?

And even that is too narrow a focus. SNP conference passed a landmark motion last year, supporting a change in the school starting age from four/five to six – departing from Britain’s uniquely damaging early start to formal education in favour of the later start that prevails across Europe.

Hooray. But that will mean more kindergarten care for four and five-year-olds. A considerable – and welcome – expansion of provision. But how will it all work together?

The National: Newham and Waltham Forest have teamed up to fund a low traffic neighbourhood scheme spanning both boroughs. Picture: PA

There’s a fabulous book called Crap Cycle Lanes, stocked with photos of expensive cycle lanes that run for a hundred yards before terminating in a phone box. Or a bollard. Or a motorway. It’s a perfect illustration of the “stop-start” childcare we really don’t need.

Without complete control of the nation’s finances, advances will necessarily be piecemeal. But until parents have high-quality, affordable, full-time childcare that doesn’t terminate suddenly at the age of two or become means tested at four, parents will still be stressed oot and kids will not experience the calm predictability and continuity that characterises seamless kindergarten provision in the go-ahead Nordic nations. If there isn’t enough cash for the whole shebang, is it better to concentrate on four and five-year-olds, ask for a parental contribution (in Norway, the maximum is £200 with poor families exempted) or raise the Scottish component of income tax to cover the entire sum?

How can Scots contribute to this whole important debate?

The answer is we can’t.

The National: SNP chief executive Peter Murrell

SNP conference might – but that depends on Peter Murrell (above), unless he’s fired by the next First Minister as he should be. The Scottish Parliament might – but that depends on Anas Sarwar defying Keir Starmer’s ban on anything resembling a lefty, un-costed, spending commitment lest it upend his General Election chances.

So how will a big, grown-up debate happen?

In all probability, it won’t.

Why does debate end when the term of a new First Minister begins?

It’s hard to have detailed policy discussion on prime-time TV with three candidates. But with one, it’s possible to have a series of Brian Walden-style conversation between a cracking presenter and the new first minister, perhaps with a panel of citizen experts. Now I realise that for most readers, Brian Walden is probably an unrecognised name. He was the Weekend World presenter who conducted probing, one-hour interviews with political leaders (including Margaret Thatcher) every Sunday lunchtime for almost a decade on ITV in the early 1980s.

Yip, an hour. Sometimes I did lose interest – but I always knew that was my loss. Of course, the received wisdom is that modern TikTok-addicted generations have the attention span of a gnat. Why not find out?

Broadcasters wag a collective censorious finger at politicians who dare to put independence before the NHS, economy and public services – but then fail to make these public priorities the centre of their broadcasting effort after election-time. Yet, that’s when we’re more likely to get meaningful debate – after all, these candidates were thrown in the deep end by Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden resignation. They have all improved as debates have progressed.

But by and large, the public only know whether candidates were assertive and comfortable in their own skins and whether their basket of promises was more eye-catching and deliverable than the next “chap”.

Unless you count repetition of “continuity won’t cut it”, there wasn’t much analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the SNP, the Scottish Government or indeed, Scotland itself. And we need that so a post-Sturgeon “reset” can happen.

Obviously, in the final BBC debate, Kate Forbes said she was proud of the SNP’s record in government, which didn’t quite square with her statements about continuity and mediocrity.

READ MORE: Hypocrisy charge after Scottish Labour brand Kate Forbes a 'tartan Tory'

Similarly, we never really discovered whether Ms Forbes is an economic conservative or what that might mean. Since she was a member of the Growth Commission, it would be interesting to know if that still seems the right way forward for Scotland now. But it was never directly posed.

Instead, on Tuesday’s Debate Night programme, economic outlooks were reduced to differing stances on the deposit return scheme. Humza Yousaf suggested his main rival was an economic Conservative because she would “let big business off the hook” by pausing the DRS scheme instead of firing ahead with bigger companies only. Ms Forbes said a pause is “perfectly progressive … because small businesses are the backbone of our Scottish economy”, which earned a round of applause.

That wasn’t an answer to “letting big business off the hook” – but whatever. The ability to turn a difficult question to your own advantage is a necessary skill of any first minister.

The bigger point remains.

Who thinks a discussion about economic conservatism or a progressive agenda is usefully answered through the prism of a bottle deposit return scheme?

What about Freeports or creating a National Energy Company so Scots benefit from the massive expansion in renewables as the SNP once promised? Yousaf wants a Government stake in future ScotWind auctions – but why not total ownership? Let’s see the workings. At worst, that energy cul-de-sac might boost the case for independence.

At best, Common Weal’s crafty solution can be properly considered and maybe adopted.

Indeed, beyond any individual project, where’s the economic overview, vision or even ideology?

The National: While the Scottish Government has come under fire from some in the drinks industry over plans to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) in August, 86 per cent of people surveyed said they would use it either some or all of the time

True, the next First Minister faces an almighty set of challenges from the internal workings of the party and paused bits of legislations like the National Care Service, DRS and Gender Recognition Reform Bill to action on everything from the climate crisis to ferry delivery and a new strategy for independence.

It’s enough to drive even a relatively young First Minister to drink – if tackled alone. A smart First Minister will delegate heavily to colleagues and give controversial issues to Citizens’ Assemblies – the way the Irish successfully resolved vexed issues of equal marriage and abortion.

Meanwhile, a smart broadcaster would get bids in today for a series of in-depth discussions with the new First Minister.

The TV debates may have finished, but the quest to really understand the next First Minister has only begun.