Anas Sarwar came out on top after a bruising night for the SNP and Scottish Tories

The STV leaders’ debate ended up as a three versus one pincer movement against John Swinney.

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems share the same general election objective in Scotland - winning seats off the SNP.

July 4 is about electing a UK Government and deciding who will be Prime Minister, but the showdown felt like a shadow debate on who should govern Holyrood in 2026.

Anas Sarwar, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole Hamilton focused as much on Edinburgh as they did on London, with varying degrees of success.

The Scottish Labour leader was the strongest of the three as he was able to glide between “17 years of broken promises” by the SNP Government and the “lying” Tories.

He was able to blame the Conservative administration for economic carnage while pivoting to an attack on Swinney’s record on public services.

Cole-Hamilton came across like a Sarwar impersonator who was auditioning for the role of Deputy First Minister in two years, asking the Labour leader softball questions on rural healthcare.

He spoke about the difficulties in accessing a GP and declining school standards, both of which have nothing to do with Westminster.

Ross was his usual dismal self.

Elections should be about reaching out to undecided voters and moving out of the political comfort zone.

But Ross is a core vote politician who does not have the skills to reach out beyond his diminishing base.

You would think a Tory would use a leaders’ debate to mount a robust defence of the Government he would like to see re-elected.

He occasionally mumbled faint praise and tried to change the subject as quickly as possible to the SNP.

Voters remember Ross backed Boris Johnson and the dangerous Liz Truss. And he knows that they remember.

He got a pasting from Sarwar and Swinney on partygate, the Truss budget and covid contracts to Tory cronies. It was painful to watch.

Swinney, a hardened SNP slugger, used his experience to survive the fifteen rounds of attacks.

The SNP leader has a PhD in blaming Westminster for the failures of his colleagues and he deflected criticism in his usual way.

The first debate is unlikely to go down as a defining moment in the campaign, but it confirmed some obvious trends.

Sarwar has the momentum with voters while Swinney is desperately trying to limit his losses to Labour.

The Tories under Dismal Douglas, meanwhile, are circling the plughole.

The two parties of government should brace themselves for a difficult night next month.

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