Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, has dominated an influential seven-way live TV election debate in the U.K. just weeks before general elections are due to take place, according to snap polls published immediately afterwards.
The two-hour debate, which took place on the UK's ITV channel Thursday evening, focused on the economy, the National Health Service, the European Union, immigration and young people and was seen as a major testing ground for political leaders ahead of the U.K.'s general elections due May 7.
A YouGov poll of 1,100 people after the event involving the leaders of the seven most influential parties suggested Sturgeon was the "clear winner."
David Cameron of the right-wing Conservative Party, Ed Miliband of the main opposition center-left Labour Party, Nigel Farage of the right-wing, anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Sturgeon of the Scottish left-wing separatist SNP were almost tied in rankings on average after the debate, where members of the public were asked by pollsters who they thought had won.
Sturgeon and Farage largely outperformed their parties' popularity in national polls, while Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats Party came in fifth, according to the major polls.
Some of the sharpest exchanges in the two-hour event came when Clegg clashed with government coalition partner Cameron.
He accused the prime minister of wanting to cut funding to schools which Cameron denied, saying they had both made decisions on the subject together in government.
Another heated exchange saw Miliband attacking Clegg for "betraying young people" over higher education tuition fees.
Clearly stung, Clegg attacked the Labour leader's "pious stance" and called on him to apologise to the British public for "crashing the economy."
Labour had been wrong over its approach to regulating banks, Miliband admitted.
The most controversial statement of the entire debate came, unsurprisingly, from controversial figure Farage when he said 60 percent of HIV-positive people in the U.K. were foreign nationals, whose drugs cost taxpayers £25,000 per year.
Wood gained the first round of applause of the evening by saying Farage "ought to be ashamed of himself" for using "scaremongering rhetoric."
One audience member also heckled Cameron over the treatment of military veterans after they leave the British army, as he was praising the armed forces.
Widely respected pollsters YouGov placed Sturgeon on 28 percent, Farage on 20 percent, Cameron on 18 percent, Miliband on 15 percent, Clegg on 10 percent.
Leanne Wood of the left-wing Welsh separatist Plaid Cymru Party polled 5 percent and Natalie Bennett of the left-wing environmentalist Green Party 4 percent.
A ComRes-ITV poll put Cameron, Miliband and Nigel Farage in joint first place on 21 percent followed by Sturgeon on 20 percent, Clegg on 9 percent, Natalie Bennett on 5 percent and Leanne Wood on 2 percent.
An ICM poll put Miliband just ahead of Cameron.
An average of the three polls had Sturgeon in first place, followed by Cameron, Miliband, Farage, Clegg, Bennett and Wood, respectively.
'Annihilation' in Scotland
The SNP claimed to have gained over 1,200 new members over the course of the debate.
Sturgeon was also by far the most mentioned party leader on Twitter, with nearly 37,000 mentions.
An ICM poll conducted for the liberal-left Guardian newspaper on March 26, 2015, suggested Labour would face annihilation in its Scottish heartland.
The poll gave the SNP 43 percent and Labour trailed by 16 points at 27 percent.
If correct, the SNP would take 43 of Scotland’s 59 seats, up from six seats in 2010.
Labour would lose 29 of the 41 seats it won in 2010, leaving it with only 12 Scottish seats and likely unable to form a majority government.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.