Reviewing the debate.

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scotsmanlogo.jpgLast night I went to the first of the Scotsman's current round of big debates, topic: the constitutional future of Scotland. Even though the paper's editor admitted these events are a cynical attempt to boost circulation, they are also a good contribution to the gaiety of the nation. Here's how I think all the participants did, in order of appearance.

  1. Michael Crow (moderating). After a very funny introduction, equally scathing about all the politicians on the panel, he adopted a pretty hands-off approach. This worked well, except where it didn't. See #9 below.
  2. Malcolm Chisholm (Labour). Having been described as "a serial resigner", with all the licence that implies, Malcolm gave a pretty wet performance. Under the vagueness, I believe a man of principle lurks, but he didn't even make hay when invited to oppose Trident. Also claimed it was now clear what Labour's policy is on the referendum. How we laughed.
  3. Patrick Harvie (Green). My unbiased view.. no, wait, I can't pretend I have one. Best line of argument: if Scotland and the rump UK were both EU members, we'd have twice the voice when we agree, and when we don't, the UK wouldn't be making the case against us on our behalf. Backed this up with Eurovision argument that an ex-UK could be a powerful voting block.
  4. Prof Tom Devine (History). Very interesting, the only outsider perspective and all the more valuable for it. Also worked out that if you more or less swallow the microphone you can intervene on anyone. His book's for sale.Tom, now you owe me a tenner.
  5. Margo Macdonald (Margo). I always think Margo comes across as persuasive, much as I find her politics frustrating. However, a voice next to me, when asked about her, said simply "demagogue". Certainly speaks her mind clearly, which makes her more interesting to listen to than many on the panel.
  6. Nicola Sturgeon (SNP). Didn't set the heather alight, but a decent performance from the Deputy First Minister. Spent too long talking about the ins and outs of various polls, though, and wasn't clear about whether she wanted a low-tax, low-services Scotland, the Irish model, or a more Scandinavian approach. They do talk about both, but we can't have both. Did her best to be conciliatory with others on the panel.
  7. Nicol Stephen (Liberal). Again, it's hard to be unbiased. Patrick pointed out that the Calman Commission is a creature purely of three parties, not the people, and Nicol more or less agreed. He made the odd argument that the Liberals wouldn't necessarily even back a referendum on that Commission's own proposals. Incoherent, unpersuasive, and only had one friend with him, if the clapping is anything to go by.
  8. Murdo Fraser (Tory). Michael Crow told us Murdo had gotten into politics because his school was short a Tory for a mock election, and it did indeed feel like inertia had carried him all the way from that to the party's deputy leadership in Scotland. He had a good moment where he declared himself a devolutionist heretic, but wouldn't go further for fear of a handbagging.
  9. The Audience (SNP). With a few honourable exceptions, like the young man to my left who put the panel on the spot over nuclear weapons (an actual issue, an issue, thank God!), the audience were poorly prepared, confused, or just plain bonkers.
We got interminable history lessons about the Claim of Right instead of questions about what independence should be for, we got discussion of a sticker from the window of a British Midlands flight (no, I don't know either), we got what would have been a run-through of every historical event since the Darien project. We got depressed and dispirited listening to people who simply adored the sound of their own voice.

At least half of the questions reminded me of the approach taken by the SWP and the SSP in their heyday - monomaniacal oddballs entirely unaware of the effect of their approach. It was like seeing the Herald's and Scotsman's online comments sections in person.
Other than that, though, I had a good time, a decent busman's night out. Thanks to the organisers for their efforts.

Here's today's short piece about the debate, and I think David's doing a longer one for tomorrow. Links to other blog reviews will follow. Come on Kez, don't tell me you're actually working today!

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