I USED to be so full of hope when I watched a Scottish leaders’ debate.

I would pride myself on the fact that no matter how awful things were south of the Border, in Scotland, we had some hope with a leader of Nicola Sturgeon’s calibre at the helm. It kept me calm in the throes of woeful Tory policy that there was at least some element of protection and sensibility within our devolved government.

The heydays of Nicola, Kezia, Ruth at the top of Scottish politics was a political era that has yet to be replicated. Even as much as I disagreed with their politics, I have looked back fondly on the contributions of Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson to our political sphere and I regret that gender representation at the top has since gone backwards. It was a time when leadership debates were so impassioned, so full of vision and less so filled with political animosity.

What I watched in Tuesday night’s leaders’ debate was tired. It was flat, uninspiring and, frankly, filled me with very little hope. It felt as though it could have been any other Thursday First Minister’s Questions, each candidate bashing their opposition at whatever chance they got, even when they were explicitly asked not to by the audience.

There was little meaningful connection with the everyday people that had given up their evening for the opportunity to have some of their most pressing issues addressed by those supposed to address them.

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It feels like we are in dire political straits at the moment, and I don’t say that lightly as someone who so routinely defends politics and deeply believes in the power that it has.

Looking down south in the first instance, where we have Rishi Sunak up against Rishi Sunak 2.0 for the keys to Number 10. Though it’s looking like 2.0 is going to take it over the line and the Tories might finally be getting the boot, there is no hope to be found in that result either. 

I have said this often, but I almost dislike Keir Starmer more than Rishi Sunak – and that’s not to say I harbour any fondness whatsoever for the latter. But he at least owns that his policy decisions and moral positioning are despicable. In fact, being despicable is now an intentional aspect of his brand – because he is actively looking to appeal to the hard-right to keep himself in power.

But Starmer? He parades as something he isn’t. He parrots top lines about “the many” and “the people” but has failed to present a single policy improvement on Sunak, and has operated with a lack of humanity on Gaza that should strike fear into all of us.

If he is capable of such coldness and separation when faced with the mass murder of almost an entire population, he is capable of it full stop, and his policy decisions will be and already are reflective of it. An utterly dire choice between two evils, albeit in mildly different shades. 

In Scotland, hope has always been found with the SNP. I won’t for a second sit here and defend every policy position of the SNP, and have found myself fiercely at odds with the party in recent times, but I believe the intention has always been in the right place. The best interests of Scotland have always been at the heart of decision-making with a genuineness that is so rare in politics. It feels distinctly more sensible than the playground politics of the Tories and Labour. And I still believe all of those things to be true.

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John Swinney was undoubtedly the adult in the room during the debate, though also Lorna Slater, who I think performed well and felt really engaging, despite as the only woman on the panel being spoken over and struggling to get a word in. The First Minister spoke sense, and to the heart of some of the defining policies of the SNP, but it wasn’t particularly inspiring.

I am someone who is very much of the opinion that a lot of Scotland’s problems are dependent on us securing our independence. I find it mind-numbing to hear the likes of Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar continually parrot soundbites about the SNP putting independence ahead of the big, everyday hitters when in fact – with the employment of even minor critical thought – it could reasonably be concluded that independence would deliver a level of change in all of those areas that is unlikely to come to fruition without it. That being said, it is difficult to face that argument down in a debate – and I don’t think it was done particularly well.

People don’t want to hear about how bad the Tories are or how seedy and dishonest Labour are, they can come to those assertions on their own. For most, they will have directly felt the impact of more than a decade of Tory rule and can decipher for themselves what their resulting opinion of them is.

What they do want – more than anything else in this period of political disaster – is hope. They want to be inspired by a leader who is taking them somewhere and has a plan of action to get there that makes sense to them. It’s that simple.

Your opponent might be the worst, most immoral and rotten political entity you have ever encountered, but if you can’t convince the electorate of what you offer besides that you are not as bad as them, your vision is lost.

As a voter, as a member of the public, I need fury to be channelled into something bigger – I need to find the hope to place it in. That is how you deliver lasting change, and it is also how you win independence.

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People are frustrated with politics because they feel disenfranchised by it, like it doesn’t belong to them – because they continually see themselves excluded and ignored while politicians fight among one another. That debate was a perfect example.

I found myself at 10pm deflated, uninspired and nostalgic for days gone by – and I know that’s a feeling that was shared. A problem primarily for the SNP, who have long been the party of hope in a political atmosphere where little is to be found.

If the SNP can deliver that hope and vision, particularly with the little tools available to them while still a member of the Union, that is how we will win the hearts and minds of the majority.

The party that is capable of the Sturgeon era is capable of much more than this, and if we want to win, we need to replace the despair and frustration with the hope and vision that has been the cornerstone of the trust and faith in the Scottish Government in the turbulent political times of recent years.

If we can’t, we are in trouble.