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Showing posts with label The YES Campaign. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The YES Campaign. Show all posts

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The SNP, NATO and the end of a dream of a nuclear-free Scotland

I thought this comment and my reply warranted being pulled out on to the blog. The comment, from someone I respect, resident in America, whose commitment to a vote for independence and a nuclear-free Scotland is unquestionable, gives me the opportunity to crystallise my present position.

BLOG COMMENT AND REPLY

  • J. R. TomlinSaturday, July 21, 2012

    I am fairly rabidly anti-WMD, but I suppose I disagree with you in this. This IS something that should be debated and debated before the referendum campaign.
    It is the SNP's strength, not its weakness, that it can look at policies and bring them before their conference for open debate.

     

  • MoriduraSaturday, July 21, 2012

    Undoubtedly it should be debated, Jeanne - and it will be. Whether it can be categorised as open is another matter. It's backed by the party's strategist and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson. It's backed by Alex Salmond, the party's Superman. Dissenting voices are few, and muted (or being muted!) The party leadership simply can't afford to lose this vote, and they won't.

  • The party is in "Let's avoid dissent on everything until after independence - then everything will be alright" mood. But it won't be. There is a growing blandness in the party's approach and what they risk is not the loss of core activists campaigning and voting for YES (like me, in or out of party), but the increasing body of the uncommitted saying "So if so little will be different after independence, why not stay in the UK?" Without their votes, there will be no independence.

  • If the party votes to join/stay in NATO, I might see independence in my lifetime, but I will never see a nuclear-free Scotland. Trident decommissioning and removal will be at least 10 years away, perhaps 20 - and that means never – it will disappear into very long, polluted NATO/rUK grass.

  • Sorry to see you on the wrong side in this Jeanne, but at least you've got loads of company. I will be looking for a realignment on the Scottish Left (there is no such party - yet ...)

  • regards,
        Peter

  • Sunday, 1 July 2012

    A nautical metaphor for Scotland and the UK. Big ships and wee ships?

    While the big ship goes down, the small ship may stay afloat in turbulent seas.

    A small ship can avoid icebergs and navigate the most turbulent seas, survive the worst storms. If its captain and crew are competent, disciplined, have clarity of objectives, trust each other and above all, understand the sea - an elemental environment without malice and without pity – the vessel will successfully hold its course.

    The small ship seems vulnerable because of its size, yet its size is its strength, as seafarers have known from coracle to sailing ship. And in flexible co-operation with other small ships, sometimes in convoy, it has even greater strength yet sacrifices no autonomy.

    The big ship offers an illusion of security, of power and control, yet its turning circle is so long and so slow that it cannot easily change course, cannot easily avoid the icebergs.

    The diversions and entertainments offered by the large vessel lull the passengers into a false sense of security, help them to forget they are on the high seas: they are easily convinced that the captain and officers know what they are doing. The crew - closer to reality – know better, but dare not question their direction and judgement.

    The passengers, having paid for the voyage, have surrendered their control for the duration: the last real decision they made was to board the ship. The only real decision they may have left is when to abandon ship and take to the boats, and even that decision may be taken away from them.

    A fire in the hold of a small ship may be easily doused: a fire in the hold of a large ship may reach the proportions of a conflagration before it is detected, and then it may be too late. When crisis strikes a small ship, the crew and captain are united against the threat. When crisis strikes a large ship, panic and disorder may reign supreme, and the powerful may act to save themselves, not the passengers.

    The real owners of a small ship are usually on board. The real owners of a large ship are usually safely on land, often in a  different country to that of most of the passengers, subject to different laws, or no laws at all.

    They are insured – they are immune - they can find more passengers and more ships to profit from. This ship and passengers are expendable, but if salvageable, can be exploited yet again.

    Reflect on the metaphor – limited as all metaphors and analogies are – in relation to Scotland’s independence of the United Kingdom, its freedom to determine its own course in turbulent seas.

    Saturday, 30 June 2012

    What brought me to the SNP in May 2007

    Saturday, 30 June 2012

    I thought I would repost my reasons for switching from being a lifetime Labour voter to the Scottish National party in the 2007 election. This piece appeared as a guest blog on the YouScotland site just before the May 3rd election, on May Day 2007.


    Why I am voting SNP May Day 2007
    In the Glasgow I grew up in, if you didn't support the Labour Party, you were either well-off or something more complex, aspirational. My widowed mother and I lived in a decaying tenement in Dennistoun; my father had died of tuberculosis, after the humiliation and degradation of unemployment in the 1930s. We typified the kind of people for whom the Labour Party had been brought into existence, and our support for Labour was instinctive and fundamental.

    I have always been a Labour voter, but never a Party member. My support has been at the ballot box, with occasional canvassing and leafleting activity, and some modest financial support. Throughout the nightmare years of Thatcher, I railed against the infighting of the Party that kept it from effectively challenging the Tories, and I was ecstatic when Tony Blair strode into Downing Street on a great wave of popular acclaim, carrying with him the hopes of millions like me.

    But then the progressive, insidious betrayals began - the gradual erosion of cabinet government, the cynical news management, the toadying to money and celebrity, the marginalisation of dissent, the attack on personal freedom under the law. It seemed only a matter of time until a great defining political issue would reveal the fault line in Blair's government, and it came - Iraq.

    As we moved inexorably towards the war, I began to write to the newspapers, especially the Glasgow Herald, and in early March 0f 2003, closed a long letter by saying -

    "Iraq has become the defining political issue of our time, and the questions that will be asked of politicians (and all of us) is - where were you when there was still time to stop it?"

    In May of 2003, after the resignation of Claire Short, I again wrote to the Herald -

    "There are two kinds of dictator - those who seize power by force and those who erode parliamentary and cabinet processes gradually while maintaining the appearance of democracy. To Labour MPs I have this to say - get him (Blair) out before it is too late for the party and the nation. Our own Scottish Parliament is now finely balanced enough to permit a debate and a vote on the threat to our egalitarian traditions posed by this man, who appears committed to the belief that the fundamental organising principle of the State is war."

    Labour MPs and MSPs did neither. Gordon Brown, the man who boasts of his moral compass, fully complicit in bankrolling the war, did nothing, either from political cowardice or because he endorsed it.

    I have carried in my head over all the decades the rationale for supporting the Labour Party, or indeed any political party, inculcated into me in my early youth in Glasgow.

    Be loyal to a political party only to the degree that it shares your ideals. Policies reflect ideals - a party with ideals and no policies is a waking dream, but a party with policies and no ideals is an empty shell.

    Scotland made the Labour Party, and Scotland can unmake it if it betrays its ideals.

    Both of these maxims have now come to haunt me in the dog days of Blair's government. Blair, Brown, their supporters, and the toom tabard, Jack McConnell, have betrayed my ideals, and, I believe, the ideals of millions of Labour Party supporters and members. The majority of Labour MPs and MSPs are fully complicit in that betrayal. I reject them and all their works. The Labour Party I knew and loved is dead.


    Only one politician of stature asks me to lift my head and look at a horizon that reveals a vibrant, nuclear-free Scotland, an equal partner in the European community of nations - only one politician and one party offers to restore my political idealism - Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party.

    The SNP will have my vote on May the 3rd 2007. I have never been a nationalist by instinct, but I believe that it now represents our last, best hope.

    May the Labour Party rest in peace among its honourable dead, while Blair, Brown and their cohorts contemplate the charnel house they have made of Iraq, and their destruction of a once great political party.

    SUMMARY
    My faith in the Scottish National Party and Alex Salmond has been fully vindicated in the five years since then, and any vestiges of respect and sympathy for the Labour Party have been utterly extinguished by their behaviour in Westminster and in Holyrood. I trust the Scottish National Party to bear in mind my old Glasgow political maxim -

    Be loyal to a political party only to the degree that it shares your ideals. Policies reflect ideals - a party with ideals and no policies is a waking dream, but a party with policies and no ideals is an empty shell. (The SNP needs to remember that too ...)

    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Independence

    independence noun (often followed by of or from) the fact or process of being independent.  Concise Oxford

    INDEPENDENCE

    I support Scotland’s independence.

    Independence is what I’ll vote for.

    I will try to persuade people to vote for independence.

    The independence of Scotland is what I hope for.

    I like the word independence – it conveys a precise meaning to me.

    I have a powerful aversion to doubletalk and PR speak in politics – and in life.

    I believe Scots are known for saying what they mean and meaning what they say.

    As an advocate of Scotland’s independence, I fully intend to use the word independence at every opportunity

     

    Vote YES in the autumn of 2014 for independence

    Saturday, 2 June 2012

    Scotland’s currency – the unionists' last resort: the pound, the euro and a’ that …

    From the over-excited young audience member in last Sunday’s debate who called Nicola Sturgeon a liar, through Johann Lamont at PMQs, and former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, the unionists think they have got the SNP on the ropes over an independent Scotland’s currency, the Bank of England as lender of last resort, and the seat on the monetary policy committee (MPC). Alf Young in the Scotsman on Saturday also jumped aboard the bandwagon, and since we all know where Alf stands on independence, I won’t bother quoting from a thoroughly superficial attack on the SNP. You can read it here.

    Unionists have been given aid and comfort in this attack by the more insular  section of SNP supporters who believe that to be truly independent, Scotland must have its own currency. The real true believers in this group also are against membership of the EU and probably against having any truck with anybody or anything after independence that does not meet their definition of being authentically Scottish. Their vision of independence owes more to mist-shrouded visions of Caledonia than the uncomfortable economic realities of the modern world, and just what the transition to independence some four to five years down the line will require of the Scottish Government and of Scotland.

    I am not sure how all this is playing with the electorate and whether it will affect their choice in the autumn of 2014. Economic and monetary theories are probably not not well understood by the average voter, and given the lamentable record of economists in contributing to a stable world economy, their ferrets-in-a-sack fights over economic remedies, and the disastrous politicisation of economic debate, the voter can be forgiven for asking what the hell economists really know about the price of mince.

    As for me, my economic understanding is roughly equivalent to that of Alan Johnson, MP who, when he became Shadow Chancellor for a time from 2010, had to find a primer on economics to give him some idea of what was going on. (I did cover economics as part of the Institute of Personnel and Development exam syllabus in 1968, which as one laconic Lancastrian friend observed, would not have qualified me to run a ‘toffee shop in Wigan’, i.e a sweetie shop in Glesca.)

    The core points in the unionist argument are as follows -

    1. Scotland is not going to be become independent if we (the Tory,Labour/LibDem Coalition against Scotland’s independence) can help it, but if it does, it won’t really be independent if it still has sterling as its currency.

    2. Alex Salmond really wanted to join the euro: he was wrong on that, therefore he is wrong on this.

    3. An independent Scotland would not have any influence in a currency union with the UK, much less a seat on the MPC, and would be wholly at the mercy of the Bank of England on monetary policy, and since the B of E is invisibly controlled by the UK (sic) Government and the Treasury, Scotland’s financial independence would be an illusion – the control of fiscal levers and policy would make no difference.

    Now it seems to me, with my Ladybird Book of Basic Economics in my hand, that these simplistic arguments should be relatively easy to rebut, but although the SNP Government may have rebutted them piecemeal in various forums, they have been making a bit of a pig’s breakfast of rebutting them in single, coherent, accessible statements, and are certainly losing the PR war at the moment.

    MY REBUTTAL

    This is an attempt to talk the language that the average voter might begin to understand, so a warning shot to the ravening hordes of PPE graduates and professional economists – don’t try to bury me alive in complex conflicting arguments and academic references which have more to do with the political axe you are grinding than economic facts – haul your wagon to one of the many learned journals who publish this kind of thing, and have fun quarrelling with your peers over arcane theories.

    1. Scotland is not going to be become independent, but if it does, it won’t really be independent if it still has sterling as its currency.

    The idea that there is some pure, unalloyed version of independence in the complex interdependent world we live in is fantasy, as it is in individual life. Independence includes the right to decide with whom we cooperate, with whom we form alliances, when we cooperate and when we walk away, and whether that cooperation and those alliances are on trade, on economic controls, on defence, or in cultural, social, humanitarian and sporting policies and joint ventures.

    And to forestall yet another ludicrous unionist old chestnut, our present membership of the UK does not already give us such sovereignty – it involves the surrender of the right to decide, the surrender of the sovereignty of the Scottish people on all but the few devolved matters the sovereign UK deigns to permit us to exercise some control over.

    It might be nice at some point in the future to have an independent Scottish currency, Equally it might be appropriate to remain in sterling, or to join the euro, or join some other currency union as yet unknown. What will be even nicer is that the sovereign Scottish people will make that decision – nobody else.

    2. Alex Salmond really wanted to join the euro: he was wrong on that, therefore he is wrong on this.

    Resisting the urge to laugh at the utter naivety of this argument, I will simply say that what anybody said about the euro, about economics, about international banking and finance over four years ago is now almost completely irrelevant in the light of the economic and financial chaos that has engulfed the world. With the exception of a few prophetic voices crying in the wilderness, nobody foresaw it in any meaningful sense, least of all the economic and political theorists. Great fun can be had by selectively picking quotes of yesteryear, but it contributes nothing to an adult debate.

    3. An independent Scotland would not have any influence in a currency union with the UK, much less a seat on the MPC, and would be wholly at the mercy of the Bank of England on monetary policy, and since the B of E is invisibly controlled by the UK (sic) Government and the Treasury, Scotland’s financial independence would be an illusion – the control of fiscal levers and policy would make no difference.

    First, a few facts -

    Currency unions exists all over the world, and can be one of three kinds – informal, formal, or formal with additional rules. They are entered into to maximise economic efficiency in a geographical region.

    Scotland doesn’t need permission to use sterling – it is an internationally tradable currency, like the dollar, and if an independent Scotland continues to use it, it de facto has entered into an informal currency union with rUK.

    To take the arrangement beyond the informal would require negotiated agreement with rUK. Such an agreement could only be reached during the wide-ranging negotiations that will take place after the YES vote in autumn 2014. The present UK Government is not going to enter into such negotiations, formally or informally, in the lead-up to the referendum when it is fighting for a NO vote. To do so would be to admit, de facto, that Scotland was likely to become independent. (Johann Lamont more or less did just that at FMQs.)

    (If sensible politics and diplomacy were a feature of the present UK Coalition Government and Opposition, there would probably be confidential discussions taking place right now. Regrettably, there is little evidence of anyone in the Coalition Cabinet, or in the Scottish Office, or the Holyrood Opposition capable of the sophisticated approach that this would demand. There are undoubtedly such people in the diplomatic services. But to use diplomats would involve acknowledging that Scotland is likely to become an independent country.)

    The Bank of England is the Central Bank of the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown gave the Bank of England operational independence in monetary policy in 1997, and it became responsible for setting interest rates through the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee, independent of Government.

    The members of the MPC are the Governor of the Bank of England, two deputy governors, the Bank's Chief Economist, the Executive Director for Markets and four external members with financial expertise directly appointed by the Chancellor. A representative from the Treasury also sits with the Committee at its meetings. The Treasury representative can discuss policy issues but is not allowed to vote.

    Its role is to set interest rates, to issue banknotes (Scotland still issues its own) and to contribute to “protecting and enhancing” the financial system. It has the right to use a process called quantitative easing to ‘print money’ (which is not printing more banknotes!) usually in crisis situations such as the recent banking collapse. The MPC does this by electronically creating new money to purchase assets, thus increasing the national debt. (Between March 2009 and January 2010, the MPC authorised the purchase of £200 billion worth of assets, mostly gilts – UK Government debt) This injects more money into the economy.

    An independent Scotland will have full control of every aspect of the financial measure – fiscal levers – necessary to run the Scottish economy, raise taxes, etc.

    If it uses a currency other than its own - e.g. the euro, sterling, the dollar – its interest rates would be set by the central bank of that currency. Scotland would therefore be subject to the monetary controls and monetary policy of that central bank.

    The strength of a currency depends on the economic performance of the country issuing it, and the perception of that country, its currency and its economic performance by other countries. This determines the exchange rate, normally defined against the dollar.

    For a newly independent Scotland to launch its own currency in a favourable world economy would have been a bit of a gamble: for it to launch its own currency in the current chaotic economic climate, or to join the euro would be lunacy. Sticking with sterling is the prudent, sensible option, either informally or within a currency union with rUK. This is not the time for macho posturing, indeed there is never such a time …

    For the Bank of England and rUK not to accept the reality of an independent Scotland, with full fiscal control, using sterling, without having an observer equivalent to the present UK Treasury advisers would be illogical. Lyndon Johnson’s memorable phrase of “better inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in” comes to mind. Since the criteria the chancellor uses for selecting the four independent special advisers is unknown to me, I can offer no advice other than to say that a special adviser with an insight into, and special knowledge of Scotland’s finances would make sense.

    A currency union beyond the informal also makes sense to any objective adviser.

    As for Johann Lamont’s nonsense about consulting the Bank of England or the UK Treasury in advance, I refer to my comments above. Expect no objectivity from them until we have a decisive YES vote and negotiations have commenced.

    Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee

    Tuesday, 29 May 2012

    Television debates on independence – do we need a better format?

    Last Sunday’s Big Debate on BBC1 was unsatisfactory from a number of perspectives: I’ve posted it in full on YouTube in two parts, and viewers will draw their own conclusions. It exhibited the structural problems that beset all such debate formats, on BBC, on STV and on Sky, so rather than analyse this particular one, I’ll try for generic comment covering all that I have seen.


    POLITICAL DEBATES IN A DEMOCRACY

    Before television, political debate was simpler – in America, politicians went on the stump, and in Britain on the husting. Both referred to the platform mounted by the speaker or speakers to address voters, which could quite literally be a tree stump, but more often was a specially erected platform in a public place, or even the platform in a village hall. A humbler version was the soapbox, whether at Hyde Park or the Glesca Barras. (My political awareness from childhood was honed by listening to the wonderful Barras soapbox orators in the 1940s)

    Sometimes there was only one speaker, with one political viewpoint, sometimes there were multiple speakers with different viewpoints. There was occasionally a chairman of sorts for the multiple speakers versions, who had the unenviable job of trying to maintain order, often backed up by the polis in case he failed. Sometimes there were stewards to deal with the unruly hecklers who were invariably present.

    Scotland - Dundee specifically - may lay claim to originating the term, which comes from the jute trade hecklers who teased and combed out the flax. A heckler performs a similar role, by interrupting, by raising embarrassing points, by puncturing pomposity and exposing humbug, by departing from the agenda, and often by abuse and taunts in a deliberate attempt to disconcert the speaker. A good heckler teases out the truth. Disruptive hecklers obscure the truth and inhibit free debate. Political extremists use heckling to destroy democratic debate, and right-wing hecklers move quickly to violence, as history shows all too clearly. So heckling is a mixed blessing – sometimes vital in a free democracy, sometime inimical to that very democracy.

    Politics has many similarities to advocacy in a court of law – the law, the facts and the rules of procedure matter vitally, but so does charisma and the ability to appeal directly to the emotions as well as the intellect. An electorate – or a jury – may assimilate the arguments and understand the law, but the force of the argument depends in significant part on the style and personality of the person delivering the argument and citing the law. And in both situations, the jury or the electorate may choose to ignore the facts and the law and deliver a verdict based on emotion or gut feel – call it what you will.

    Why do we permit this as a society? Because the law is a process that does not always deliver justice, and emotions and deeply felt convictions are sometimes not shifted by facts. Both the law and political argument in the United Kingdom are adversarial in nature: both sides claim to be in possession of immutable, incontrovertible facts, both sides – or in politics, multiple sides – produce experts of unimpeachable authority who in effect call each other idiots, if not outright liars. Of course, there are real facts, objective truths in there somewhere, but we only perceive them through distorting prisms of personal belief and experience, and through competing interpretations of these very facts by people with an axe to grind.

    In law, a judge considers, then decides, although sometimes constrained by a jury’s contrary decision. In politics, the ultimate judge is the collective voice of the electorate.

    The electorate are not all of the people, however, they are only some of the people: many have no franchise, usually because the law so dictates, but on occasion because they have spurned their right to vote because they distrust the system under which it is granted. In certain situations, therefore, the voice of the people overwhelms the voice of a manipulated electorate, and their voice is heard by other means.

    If the opposition is weak, even though large in numbers, the protest movement is simply ignored, e.g. the Iraq War. Otherwise this leads inevitably to one of four outcomes – reform of the electoral system, overthrow of the government by revolution, or suppression of the protest movement, and perhaps the complete suspension of democratic rights.

    So political debate has always mattered, because the alternative are not attractive. But the old concept of politicians on the stump and the hustings changed for ever with the advent of television and the Nixon-Kennedy debate over half a century ago. This new medium and this seminal debate revolutionised US politics and political debate, and had an incalculable impact.

    But it has taken the UK all of that fifty years to really catch up with the American model of political debate, and the 2010 general election campaign and the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections were the first real television debates based  on the American model. There had of course been extensive television coverage of politics and politicians and other televised forums where politicians debated, sometimes with an audience present, but they had tended to be focused on a narrow range of issues.

    The 2010 debates overnight transformed the fortunes of the LibDems and put them into coalition government almost totally because of Clegg’s performance in the final debate, aided by the post-debate poll on ‘winners and losers’ of the debate. The subsequent disastrous impact of coalition on Clegg and the LibDems perhaps points up inherent weaknesses of electoral success thus gained.

    How much the televised debates contributed to the SNP’s landslide victory in 2011 can never be accurately determined, but they must have contributed in some measure.

    THE STRUCTURE OF DEBATES

    The first question that must be asked on television debates is Who decides the structure and format?

    I don’t know the answer to that, anymore than I know the answer to related questions that follow. What I do know is that the process must be more transparent than it has been, more open to scrutiny, that there must be more consultation and involvement and a wider range of views sought than has been to date.

    The other questions I would like answered – I realise the answers may already be there waiting for me somewhere on a TV company’s website or elsewhere and I just haven’t found them – are: -

    How is the party representation chosen by the television companies involved, i.e. the political parties to be given a place?

    For example, in last Sunday’s debate, who decided on one Green, one Labour, one SNP, one Tory? Who decided that the LibDems didn’t warrant a representative, or the Scottish Socialists? Was the decision based on the number of representatives in Holyrood? On the number who voted for these parties at the last Holyrood election? Did the UK status of the parties – very different say, in the case of the Tories and LibDems – come into play?

    Who decided that the Greens and the Tories be represented by their Scottish party leaders and Labour and the SNP by their deputy leaders? Was it the BBC or the parties themselves? Does one Green or Tory leader equate in status terms to one Labour or SNP deputy leader?

    What input do the parties themselves have to the decisions made, if any?

    AUDIENCE SELECTION AND QUESTIONS

    Similar questions arise in relation to the selection of the audience. The BBC did invite members of the public to apply for tickets and stated that a balanced audience reflecting the range of political views would be selected from the applications. But how is this determined? Do they take the word of those applying as to their affiliation? Were there sex and age criteria?

    Audience members are invited to submit written questions – how is the choice made from those submitted, since more are submitted than can be asked? How is the choice made on the basis of spontaneous, hands-up questions by the presenter/moderator?

    (I can only offer personal experience from attending a regional Question Time at Meadowbank Stadium many years ago. I received a phone call following my application, and I was asked what issues were important to me. I was not asked to specify my political affiliation. Before the show, audience members had to submit several written questions. How the choice was made, and what criteria were applied is unknown to me.)

    THE FORMAT OF THE SHOW

    Just what criteria determine the format of the show itself are not clear. Is it an attempt to reproduce a husting – a political meeting in a hall, with all the potential rough and tumble that the real thing involves? Is it an attempt to create a structured debate, with controls of time and content – and behaviour – applied by the moderator?

    How is the balance found between informative, structured debate and the excitement of spontaneity that  a traditional husting might provide – that spark, the unexpected questions, the revealing answer, the passion? What makes for good television viewing may make for poor voter information, but too much control can inhibit true debate. These are the challenges that face television producers and presenters in news debates between the parties, but with an audience, the unexpected quotient goes up radically.

    If the format is too loose, it may make for good television but poor debate, and leave serious voters frustrated that issues were not examined and key arguments either not presented or buried in cross talk and abuse.

    Critical timing decisions are involved. How long should the overall debate be? Too long, and the viewers may get bored, and the practical limitations of television schedules obviously create constraints.

    What should the debate theme(s) be and how many topic headings should be covered in the time available? How much time should each speaker be given to reply? Should the time allotted to speakers relate to the size of their party’s representation in the Parliament, or to their voting strength in the last election – or none of these? How rigorously should the guillotine on speakers be applied by the moderator? How much time should be allocated to spontaneous contributions by audience members?

    SOME THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    What I have to say here represents my frustrations with some of the political debates, all of which were present in last Sunday’s BBC debate. These frustrations may not be shared by others, and even if they are, they may have different ideas.

    TIME

    Scottish television news channels and political programmes have found seemingly endless time to discuss the financial affairs of Rangers Football Club. Newsnight Scotland seems to have been temporarily – one hopes – to have turned into Newsnight Rangers, and other slots have been devoted to this hopefully not endless saga.

    Could the future of Scotland as a nation – which will also significantly determine the futures of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – be given at least equivalent time in total to the future of a football club?

    Either the one hour slots need to be increased in frequency, or longer time given to each programme, dependent on topic reach.

    PRESENTERS

    The skills of a television interviewer do not necessarily embrace the skills required of a debate moderator. Television channels understandably want an experienced political journalist with a familiar face, but across all the debates that have been held, this has proved – at least from my perspective – only partially successful.

    Radical thought though it may be, a moderator does not necessarily require political understanding, but only the skills necessary to authoritatively control a debate within rules. It is the politicians and the audience that must be heard in a debate, and prompts and context interventions are not required from a moderator.

    Since I have dragged a football comparison in above, let be say that a football referee has to understand the game and its rules, and have the capacity to apply the rules scrupulously fairly, with sanctions if necessary.  He is not required as a coach to offer useful suggestions as to how the game should be played. I see no reason why this should not apply in debate moderation.

    EXPERTS

    I noted above that in adversarial politics and the law, all sides will find experts to argue contrary interpretations and offer conflicting ‘facts’.

    Since each political party cannot supply its own experts without cluttering the programme, I suggest that for key topics, the political parties must by consensus choose a single expert to offer an opinion on facts at pivotal junctures.

    If, as may well be likely, the parties can reach no consensus, then there should be no experts, and the programme moderators should open proceedings by announcing this fact, and the names of the experts considered and rejected. An intelligent electorate – and Scotland does have an intelligent electorate - will draw its own conclusion from this failure.

    STUDIO AUDIENCE REACTION AND APPLAUSE

    Studio audience reaction at the moment is confined to applause, and since this cannot usefully be analysed except by volume and the infamous clapometer, other methods should be used. For a least twenty years now, audience voting remote control devices have been available, subject to an immediate count. A simple YES, NO choice could be offered at suitable points in the debate, giving a much more accurate idea of how the audience reacted to key points and propositions, with instant display of results.

    AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

    Some pre-submitted questions are chosen and others are rejected by the programme makers. A list of all questions submitted and the criteria for selection/rejection should be made available after the programme to all those present and be available online soon after.

    LIVE QUESTIONS/REACTION FROM THE AUDIENCE

    The practice of inviting live responses from the audience, a staple feature of BBC’s Question Time, and on balance well managed by them, does not in my view work well on live TV debates. Although the selection is random by the moderator/presenter, it does leave the way open for deliberate planted question by party hacks placed in the audience for that purpose, and there have been some egregious examples of this recently (my perception).

    In my view, little would be lost and much gained by this practice being abandoned. It is a feature of live hustings but has little useful place in studio debates. One gain would be of that crucial commodity, time for debate.

    CROSS TALK AND INTERRUPTIONS

    No talking over a speaker should be permitted by the moderator – the parliamentary procedure of asking the speaker to give way should be observed, and the discretion of the person who has the floor should be respected.

    SEATING ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPEAKERS

    There should be a speaker’s lectern – there would very definitely have been one in a live husting, and the television debate should observe this. The politician speaking should be up front and addressing the audience, not looking to the side at others. Alternatively, all the speakers should be standing at individual lecterns, as in the Parliamentary debates of 2010.