“We will continue to expand and increase the quality of the debate while the Unionists can work on their attempt to sell us an imperial anachronism that grows more unattractive by the day.” Cygnus looks back at the Great Blairs Debate last week.
It is less than one year until the most important constitutional question in 300 years will be posed to us. Dundee University had another ‘5 Million Questions’ panel-based, one hour event. One of the aims of this is to “lift the national debate beyond the obvious and towards the profound”. The debate on the 30th of October remained – with a few exceptions – largely in the realms of the vapid and insipid.
Representing the Yes Campaign was Blair Jenkins, the chief executive. From the No Campaign, Blair McDougall came to speak (Alistair Darling is actually Jenkin’s counterpart, but he was busy preparing for his debate with Alex Salmond). Someone invited Brian Taylor to chair and did not apologise for it.
McDougall trotted out a predictable stock set of Unionist arguments that most of us campaigning for independence have heard before. Many were red herring arguments or weak attempts to sugar-coat the Union. He said something vague about Scotland in the UK having more “clout” – a right-wing euphemism for hard power, but sometimes used in discussions on diplomacy (ie. There are more of ‘us’, so we can assert ourselves more). He revived the old ‘John Swinney’s secret paper’ chestnut (a cornerstone of the No Campaign’s online propaganda). He erroneously claimed that Scotland’s economy was “based on oil”. He pointed out that Scotland is running a deficit – but omitted to mention that UK deficit is worse and that virtually all capitalist economies operate this way. McDougall had the gall to say that both campaigns are working to promote a positive vision of Scotland and secure it.
Jenkins presented an image of a free Scotland by appealing to arguments focussed on economy and democracy, in line with the Yes Campaign material. The wealth of the present Scotland and the prosperity potential for a future Scotland was his key focus. Unfortunately, he did not use some of the most convincing arguments, including one which he himself has used before. However, he did offer an interesting one, which ran: When you are thinking about the referendum, stop and ask yourself, ‘which vote is more likely to give me the sort of country I want to live in’. Seemingly benign, it does throw into question the status quo that the No Campaign are defending. However, it does reinforce the individualist, egocentric approach to politics (“What’s in it for me? How do I benefit?”).
Judging by the applause Jenkins received for his points and the laughter at McDougall’s characterisations of Westminster as acting in Scotland’s interests, it is fair to say that the audience was mostly Yes voters. There was a small, but notable, presence of Unionists. One was particularly obnoxious: she received the microphone, but continued to talk and refused to give it up (frothing about EU control of UK), to the point where many people on the floor were visibly annoyed. A short while later, Brian Taylor allowed her the microphone again and she behaved the same as before. Almost all heckles were levelled at McDougall – they were concerning a variety of topics, from lack of No Campaign transparency and objections to Unionist fibbing.
The level of discussion at this event was around that of autumn last year. This was due to the pull of No Campaign-oriented rhetoric from both McDougall and some in the audience. This is the obsession with the EU and currency, and the general use of the No formula of fear-doubt-risk. Jenkins could have countered this and shifted the debate; he did not genuinely attempt this, and remained passive and reactive. Thankfully, this event was not representative of the debate nationally. Elsewhere, we have begun talking about inequality, decentralisation, community control of resources, foreign policy. We will continue to expand and increase the quality of the debate while the Unionists can work on their attempt to sell us an imperial anachronism that grows more unattractive by the day.