BETWEEN the sub-Scorsese punk routine (“I heard bad tings aboud dose ballots. Bad tings”), and that flickering grey hologram of a vice-president, I was just about coping with losing 90 minutes of my precious life on the first presidential debate.

But blearily the next morning, I saw it jump back up out of my laptop’s bin. A tweet from the Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra ran like this: “Trump v Biden ‘debate’ reminds me of the shouting and haranguing tactics of Nicola Sturgeon against Johann Lamont in 2014 TV debate. Tactics designed to drown out reasonable debate and opposition, leaving opponent few options. Too similar for comfort.”

Cue contumely from our side. There’s obviously vanishingly little that these two politicians might share (other than their equally commanding grip of a lectern). But with some time to spare, it was easy to find that Sturgeon-Lamont 2014 debate on YouTube. Armed with oatcakes and a milky coffee, I sat down to test Marra’s assertion.

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Initial reaction: the MSP makes half a decent point. But watching this piece of recent ancient history also raises wider questions – about the alienating nature of official politics, the nature of charisma, and how to best emotionally solidify an indy majority.

The first thing to note is the hilarious sexism of the 2014 STV debate’s basic structure. Yes, quite a spectacle (at the time) to see an all-women debate (the two leaders and Rona McDougall chairing).

But then there are two cutaways to three male political pundits, sprawling on their black leather couches, mumbling about “nippy sweeties that would take the mooth aff ye”, and recommending “boxing gloves” for the next debate … Mansplaining? That barely describes it.

Yet as for the actual debate itself? Aargh all round, frankly. The second half – a cross-examination exercise – is where it all went pear-shaped. Both sides presented to each other “answer yes or no” questions, whose premise the other side then completely rejected or regarded as false.

There were moments of ostentatious horror at the ethical failings of each contender. Lamont was shocked – shocked! – at Sturgeon pinning a better pension scheme on Scotland’s lower life expectancy. Sturgeon was outraged – outraged! – at Lamont’s quiescence over the threatened closure of Govan’s shipyards.

And towards the end, everything dissolved into a glossolalia of gabbled answering and spat-out questioning, neither remotely meeting each other. I honestly couldn’t say each was as bad as the other – essentially because Sturgeon was at her most lawyer-like and forceful, attempting to mount up a pile of Lamont’s evasions.

But Lamont was pretty close, as she tried to pick apart her opponent’s composure. (Incidentally and surprisingly, she showed a liveliness of mind which has been sorely missing in the last few ScotLab leaders).

So I would say to Jenny Marra that it would be considerably unfair to compare Sturgeon’s debating style to Trump. Both of the 2014 combatants were willing to interrupt and disrupt the other’s attempt at a smooth and tidy answer.

But it would be fair to bemoan how two experienced, thoughtful and capable women candidates managed to let their cases degenerate into such a stramash. An edge of personal dislike is even noticeable in the closing stages.

And surely the level of animosity and malice displayed by Trump the other night, the degree of his wanton trashing of the debate rules, is not comparable to Sturgeon – even at her most prosecutorial. My own shudder moment (out of many) was Trump rounding on Joe Biden saying the president wasn’t “smart” on Covid. Trump tore into Biden’s poor course marks at his Delaware college, murmuring “there’s nothing smart about you”, as Biden returned another glazed smirk.

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This guy’s a total bastard, I said aloud and involuntarily to my darkened room (and not for the first time that night: Trump’s roping-in of Biden’s wayward sons was also a breathtaking rabbit punch). Yet when considering the nature of Trump’s charisma to his base supporters, the question has always been: Is he our bastard?

THIS is another point of comparison between Sturgeon and Trump that needs something more subtle than an accusation. Do the millions that support Sturgeon’s authority in Scotland like it because she does display a certain dour, no-nonsense sternness? “Telt”, in the term used by her internet meme? Arguably.

To what degree does the charisma of successful leaders – the rhetoric they use and the way they embody it – answer the emotional needs of their constituencies? There’s much in the recent science of emotions that can illuminate this question, in distinctive ways, for both Trump and Sturgeon.

There’s a fascinating online essay in Aeon this week by Manos Tsakiris about “visceral politics”. This operates “at the intersection of the body’s physiology and political behaviour”.

Essentially, the latest science on human emotions says they’re not deep drives from our animalistic past, triggered by outside events. Emotions are instead constructed mostly in language, and made up from how we relate to each other. We use these emotion-constructs as clues to point us towards how we should stay mutually healthy and balanced.

However, when our societal system has driven our bodies out of balance – because of poor diet, insecure jobs, fitful parenting, information overload, reduction in welfare and public goods – we are possessed by longings and frustrations we can’t quite put a name to. Until someone (say, a well-resourced and fluent populist politician) does so – and by doing so, constructs emotional clarity, meaning a sense of balance, for you.

As Tsakiris puts it, the emotionally strategic politician says to their public: “You should feel angry/afraid about this.” That is, they address stressed citizens who are not sure of how they feel about these demanding times – and help them feel something stable and comprehensible.

If the machinery of emotions indeed works in this “constructionist” way, it explains the sulphurous success of recent right-wing populisms. The human imbalance and distress that austerity and neoliberalism cause us, on an inner and everyday level, makes many of us ripe to receive such dramatic emotional appeals.

Will Trump’s combination of Make America Great Again values, and conspiratorial threats, construct enough of an emotional reality for enough voters? Tin hats on.

But of course, these emotional mechanics can run with a different programming: for example, “you should feel caring/hopeful/happy about this”. And if there’s anything further to concede to Jenny Marra, it’s that Sturgeon has decidedly shifted since 2014, in the way her emotional constructions inform her messaging.

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Handling Covid, and the traumatic mortality it involves, has manifestly deepened Sturgeon’s sense of what exercising authority means. Hot-button point-scoring is hardly the appropriate tone, when a virus is felling citizens without a shred of concern for anyone’s ideological stand.

And what opens up is the opportunity, as Sturgeon has been doing in recent speeches, to use terms like “loving”, “caring” and “solidarity”. This is a different end of the emotional spectrum from Trump’s phantasmagoria.

Certainly, the Scottish population is as anxious, battered and insecure as any other part of these coronavirused islands. And thus as ready to be emotionally constructed as any.

So I’d hope Jenny Marra recognises the conscious choices in tone and affect that are being made by the First Minister and her Covid-era communicators. And the social calm, balance and even health that these choices are inducing.

What does this mean for the stairheid rammies that are no doubt lurking in the future, if and when an indyref2 kicks off? It’s worth some consideration. Rhetoric has effects on our bodies, as well as the body politic. And knee-jerk tweets can sometimes point up what needs to be a lot better, among all parties and contenders.