Yesterday evening (2 September) a third and final TV debate on the subject of Scottish independence was held in Edinburgh. The format was different, with each side represented by three prominent politicians, Bernard Ponsonby again in the chair, and a larger number of questions from the select audience directly to the panel. You can watch it yourself on this link: http://player.stv.tv/programmes/yes-or-no/
Thanks to the change of format a greater variety of topics were covered than in the previous debates, including EU, employment, oil revenues, defence and Trident, social justice, gender equality, local government financing and youth unemployment. It was also refreshing to hear a wider range of voices supporting the respective positions. One has to observe that the lead speakers for Yes Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, MSP (Deputy First Minster of the Scottish Parliament) and Better Together Douglas Alexander, MP (Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary) both presented more reasoned, yet still engaging, arguments than expressed in previous debates by their respective leaders. Questions from the public were mostly well-informed and well-expressed, resulting in a genuinely informative debate climate.
The second section of the debate was on social justice and welfare, conducted between Kezia Dugdale, MSP (Scottish Labour shadow education secretary) and Elaine C. Smith, MSP, (Chairperson of Scottish Independence Convention). Elaine Smith got off to a better start as Kezia Dugdale spoke so rapidly that few could follow what she was saying. However, when she slowed down a little Kezia came across as better informed and as equally engaged as her opposite number. None the less, according to my notes, Elaine Smith received three rounds of “heavy applause” from the audience against none for Kezia. I thought it surprising that the audience didn’t respond more strongly to Smith’s observations on the increasing threat of UKIP to the Conservative position on EU – this should be a Yes Scotland winner.
The third section of the debate, on defence and foreign affairs, was conducted between Ruth Davidson, MSP (leader of Scottish Conservatives) and Patrick Harvie, MSP (Co-convenor (språkrör) of the Scottish Green Party). While Ms. Davidson spoke with authority and conviction, Mr. Harvie ranted and raved more like a lunatic than a politician, giving us his own wildly unrealistic views on unilateral nuclear disarmament and a refusal to engage on topics such as NATO and the current threat from Russia. Mr. Ponsonby kindly referred to this as showing the breadth of political opinions within the Yes campaign. On a positive note, Mr Harvie did make the point that an independent Scotland was the only way to keep it within the EU and received heavy applause for his claim that the UK was “trying to punch above its weight” geopolitically and this cost money that would be better used on social justice at home.
After an extensive Question and Answer exchange between the public and the panel, the debate was rounded off by closing statements from Ruth Davidson and Patrick Harvie. Ms. Davidson made the point that independence, if won, was irrevocable but her claim that Better Together would offer further opportunities to improve one of the best countries in the world range hollow. Mr. Harvie had by now cooled down a bit and claimed that Yes Scotland represented a way out from the inequality and exploitation of Westminster and offered a new model for society. His final statement “We deserve better” was greeted by prolonged and heavy applause.
As before the audience was hand-picked to fairly represent both sides and included a number of undecided voters.