I received an invitation on Monday from a very distinguished journalist from outside the UK, one whose work I have long admired, to take part in a pre-recorded radio discussion later in April on what has been happening in Scotland since the referendum and analysis of the election.
I said I would be delighted to do so, providing I knew in advance the format and who else was taking part, and also that I was introduced as a supporter of SNP and independence, but simply as a voter and online activist without any official role in the party.
I received a reassurance on my status point, but when two of the other participants were named (with a fourth still to be selected) I declined to take part.
I offered the following reason for declining, without specifying any participant.
POSTSCRIPT. At this critical stage in Scotland's politics, SNP activists who are not politicians (who are constrained, as elected representative, by other expectations from media) have really only one criterion to satisfy - would my participation in this forum as structured offer useful debate and analysis valuable to the Scottish electorate? My judgement is no, but others will make their own decisions.
Perhaps this edit of a recent 'debate' will give you some idea of where I'm coming from -
I was deeply disappointed not to feel able to take part, given the reputation of the journalist and the country and media channel he represented. I feel that it may be worth explaining just a little further why I declined to take part in this one.
I am as capable of holding my own in debates and discussion as the next man. I prefer structured debate between rational men and women with some concept of how constructive debate is conducted, but I can play the noisy, talking-over, point-scoring, flyting, special pleading, heckling game with the best – and even enjoy it up to a point. No one with my background – both social and professional – could fail to play this game well. But what does ‘well’ mean in context?
The question is not can I hold my own in such debates, but whether I should enter them in the first place, without asking the question – what if anything will they contribute to my key medium-term political objective – the independence of Scotland – and my immediate objective, the success of the SNP in the pivotal and historic 2015 general election?
Like every other committed voter, I watched and listened to many debates and engaged in some, both live and online. Some made a valuable contribution to understanding, and forged the formidable Scottish independence electoral force – to all intents and purpose the SNP - that is now astonishing UK and world media.
But many were negative and counter-productive in my view, and the root was always the same – one or more participants who dragged the debate down to the lowest level and, in some cases, dragged more responsible debaters into their own gutter.
Such unedifying displays alienate many men - and most women. There are no winners and there are few positive outcomes. Their adversarial nature may satisfy certain journalistic objectives of providing ‘good’ radio or television in terms of liveliness and spectacle. I choose to avoid ones where the structure and participants seem to me to make such an outcome likely. Politicians can’t avoid them: some even seek them out as a vehicle for their particular repertoire of bluster and bludgeon.
They’re not for me anymore …