I read something in the jemmajournal blog that made me think:
“From what I saw, last night’s STV #thedebate was not a flattering self-portrait for Scotland. It was not representative of the type of debate I want to see about Scotland’s future. The format was tired – two middle-aged men in suits shouting put downs across a middle-aged, male interlocutor in a suit.”
More on this can be found in the 8th August 2014 post at: http://jemmajournal.com
What was it that was wrong with the format of the debate? The event seemed to be constructed from several elements. It drew on the structure and tradition of Prime Minister’s questions in the Westminster Parliament, which is based on adversarial point-scoring, soundbites, and a general unwillingness to listen to the other person. There also seemed to be some bits of it that seemed like reality TV – commentators watching in another room and making completely obvious remarks about what had just happened (just in case we were unable to make sense of it on our own, without the help of experts). There was then reduction of the wisdom and knowledge of ordinary people, by reducing them to question-readers. This was all wrapped up in a atmosphere of high anxiety and emotional tension – no-one seemed to be relaxed enough to do justice to their vision. A lot of it was rehearsed, rather than being in the moment. And it seemed to be based on an assumption that viewers and audience would be unable to follow a thread of analysis and argument that extended for more than a couple of minutes. (This, in the country with the highest proportion of university graduates in Europe…)
What is wrong here, is that this way of holding a conversation about important matters, is not consistent with Scottish cultural traditions. We can all see that it just did not work. The tragedy is that we do not seem to know how else we can organize this kind of event. I do not know how public discourse was organized before the union with England, or even whether than knowledge would be relevant to us now. The fact is that we have lost our rituals. We have lost our shared understanding of how to have these public conversations.
I believe that the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, and its procedures, were explicitly designed to make it possible to avoid the sad, tired spectacle of Westminster Prime Minister’s questions (“two middle-aged men in suits shouting put downs”). Clearly, it has not worked. We have not been able to move on.
So often, journalists and broadcasters tell us that, in private, our political leaders are relaxed, expansive, open, humorous, knowledgeable, impressive and inspiring. We have a right to see a lot more of that.