THE Scottish Labour leader dancing to Bruno Mars in a car park, the Scottish LibDem chief sitting on a giant garden chair in the ocean and the Scots Tory boss singing Atomic Kitten in a beer garden. These were the campaign highlights Channel 4 decided to show its predominantly English audience ahead of last night’s leaders’ debate.

For the casual viewer this introduction to Scottish politics must have given the sense that all is congenial north of the Border. But within minutes, the debate was anything but.

The 45-minute long programme was close to unwatchable, with most participants visibly aware of the severe time constraints and desperate to get their official party lines in. Krishnan Guru-Murthy moderated over a frantic stage, with interruptions from Douglas Ross frequent and tiresome. It was like a hyperspeed remix of last week’s Question Time election special feat. a fiery Nicola Sturgeon.

This was not a strong night for Unionism. The pro-UK candidates spent more time trying to (unsuccessfully) take down Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie than presenting their vision for Scotland.

Ross didn’t give himself the best start by telling viewers he takes the Prime Minister at his word amid the lockdown comments row. He then became feverish when pressed on whether the Union is voluntary or not. “Of course” you can leave, he said. He just won’t tell you when, or how, or whether he would ever accept that.

READ MORE: Channel 4 leaders debate was a re-hash of the same lines we’ve heard before

The self-proclaimed grown-up in the room, Anas Sarwar, was not on top form. In previous debates he largely successfully evaded questioning on the constitution by focusing on the impact of the pandemic. But when nearly every question was about the constitution, it was much harder to dodge them tactfully.

While Ross and Sturgeon went back and forth on a constitutional issue, which had been put to them by the debate chair, Sarwar jumped in to “remind” them about the pandemic. The First Minister pointedly replied that she did not need reminding. It was a political tactic and not a successful moment for Sarwar.

In a very telling moment, Guru-Murthy said to Sarwar: “We are talking about the constitution. If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s fine, you can sit this out.”

It was the clearest exposure yet that perhaps the new Scottish Labour strategy is less about rising above it all and more about staying out of it completely.