Tuesday, 29 May 2012

BBC: The Big Debate

I was pleased to be invited back to Pacific Quay on Sunday for the BBC's Big Debate show. Billed as a panel of "distinguished guests in a debate on Scotland's constitutional future". The first thing the audience noticed was the pleasing composition of the panel. 

Whereas in previous such shows - although the BBC is less guilty than other outlets - there has been an amorphous mass of white, middle-aged men, generally three British Nationalists to one pro-independence panellist, this panel was politically, gender and racially balanced. 

Patrick Harvie and Nicola Sturgeon represented the YES Scotland campaign, while Anas Sarwar and Ruth Davidson represented the British Nationalist Parties. Johann Lamont, who claims to be the leader of something called the "Scottish Labour Party" didn't manage to make it on. 

On subsequent television viewing, it showed that the BBC's natural leanings hadn't changed. After an introduction from Isobel Fraser, of Newsnight Scotland, who had come dressed as the diffident biology teacher from Chewin' the Fat, the screen was completely filled by a giant British flag. 

1. "What [will] living in an independent Scotland do for me?" 

SNP depute leader Nicola Sturgeon rhymed off the old favourites of social justice, the elimination of Britain's disgusting weapons of mass destruction from our shores, and the simple fact that the people of Scotland would direct the running of Scotland. 

Anas Sarwar, speaking for the British Nationalist coalition of the Tories, Liberals, Orange Order, BNP and Labour, gave a typically trite and shallow response. It was telling that his first word was "history". 

Green co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, began in the impressive tone he was to carry through the whole debate by telling the questioner that he simply didn't know - but that we must break dependence on the right wing economic model followed by the British government. He called on the SNP to make much more information available before the referendum. 

Isobel Fraser then managed to lose control of the debate within the first few minutes. Calling on an audience member to ask a question, the chap began what can only be described as a mad anti-SNP rant, ranging from the Icelandic economy (no, me neither) to the position of London-regulated failed banks (no, me neither). He was eventually told to shut up by the moderator, Fraser, but was allowed to carry on shouting random words out at Sturgeon for another twenty seconds. 

A bemused Sturgeon recovered from the verbal assault to point out that the failed "Scottish" banks were overseen by the Bank of England, and that a Scottish Banking Regulator could hardly do much worse. 

Ruth Davidson, for the British Nationalist Parties, interjected, and soon wished she hadn't as it became apparent that she had completely misunderstood Harvie's point on banking reform.

Fraser then asked for a few more contributions from the audience. First up was Tim, Nice But Dim, from the Harry Enfield show. A middle-class stuffed shirt who was a clear British Nationalist Plant, he launched into another rant as the young lady who sat beside him rocked back and forth staring blankly, nodding, and applauding at various points in Little Lord Fauntleroy's spiel. The next (and first non-British Nationalist) guest was called - he pointed out that there's no shared prosperity in his home town of Inverclyde: three centuries of British rule have left it one of the poorest places in western Europen.

Another audience member was then called. Sitting next to an elderly tramp in a red checked shirt who had presumably found his way into the building to make a nest in the electrical wiring, he pointed out that we lived in a global economy: surely, he pointed out, we would be better off as part of a larger group of countries, with a strong, shared currency. 

Curiously, he later applauded wildly when Davidson went on to attack the Euro. Presumably the British Nationalists are only happy to be part of a strong union with a shared currency if none of those beastly foreign sorts are involved. 

2. Eilidh Clark - "Would an independent Scotland be financially better off?"

Harvie ended the debate as a contest here with his answer that it isn't exactly the first thing that people ought to be thinking of when they vote in autumn 2014 - the growing inequality under the British regime was spotlighted. Davidson responded by branding the people of Scotland as subsidy junkies on State benefits. 

Sturgeon pointed out that the success of a nation is down to how well it is governed, and that the only way to ensure the proper governance of Scotland would be by allowing the people of Scotland to elect a government with its interest at heart. Davidson then started shouting over the top of Sturgeon. Fraser had a chance now to set a respectful and polite tone for the debate, but failed to intervene. 

Sarwar, the product of an expensive private education, and the inhabitant of a Parliamentary seat bought for him by his father, admitted that Scotland would be a success as an independent country. 

An audience member brought up the question of DevoMax - Fraser sought a show of hands from the audience as to who wanted a second question. It was not a popular option. She perhaps ought to have developed this theme further - it is certainly a question which needs answering very early in this process. 

3. Nicholas Black - "Would an independent Scotland use the Pound or the Euro?"

Sturgeon reiterated SNP policy that Scotland is part of the Pound Sterling, that the Pound Sterling is our currency, and that like other independent countries, we would use the Pound Sterling. She pointed out that, like Alex Salmond, disgraced former British premier Tony Blair wanted to join the Euro. She claimed that Scotland would not be compelled to join the Euro, as we are not part of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. 

Sarwar claimed that although Blair wanted to join the Euro, he was over-ruled by his finance minister, Gordon Brown, who imposed a series of tests which would have to be passed before the British would join. He pointed out that an independent Scotland using the Pound Sterling would be subject to a Tory government imposing borrowing and spending limits and setting interest rates. 

As well as conceding the 2015 British general election, it appears to have escaped Sarwar's notice that they already do. 

Sturgeon countered Sarwar's belief that independent nations could not share a currency union without a fiscal and political union by noting that Scotland and Britain do not have the wildly divergent economies that, say, Germany and Greece have. 

Davidson, bless her, then got a wee shot of playing with the politicians. She unveiled a Portuguese accent which pleased her greatly, then brandished a letter which proved that the SNP had not been in contact with the European Commission for legal advice! Aha! How are you going to get out of that one, you dastardly Jock? Ah. Sturgeon patiently explained that the Government had been in contact with eminent European jurists. They concurred with the Government's position. Ruth looked crushed :(

Fraser then went back to the audience. One man bragged that he read the newspapers and on occasion watched the television news - and surely if there was a clear advantage to independence, he would KNOW it? Ha! We fooled you, silly man, we gave all the benefits to the radio shows! He was shot down in flames like a NATO war criminal pilot over Vietnam by a gentleman who confessed that he was sick of people's obsession with money: it can't buy happiness. 

The audience then discussed the matter amongst themselves for some time before Fraser remembered she was meant to be presenting it. 

As a tetchy Harvie waved a metaphorical finger at the rest of the panel for talking over each other, Sarwar then found himself admitting that the British regime intended to wage economic war against an independent Scotland as punishment for leaving the United Kingdom. Oops. Maybe Lamont can get on next time? Or maybe not.

We then had a tale of two audience members: one young lady making the point that the British are savagely hammering the poorest in society, followed by a young man who, waving his hands around like a raver on speed, screamed abuse at Sturgeon, calling her a liar. 

Another audience member then asked why Scotland would want to leave the United Kingdom for the European Union. Strange. Are we stronger together? Are we weaker apart? I think we should be told. 

It was intriguing, incidentally, that in this segment, the same gang of braying Davidson Youth members, sat next to each other in a row, were often called to speak. Plants? Certainly the moderator knew exactly where to go when she wanted a toff to make a sneering anti-Scottish point. 

4. Colin Campbell: "How will an independent Scotland replace the defence (sic) jobs which will be inevitably lost after independence?"

Davidson drawled that they'd be irreplacable. She called for the weapons of mass destruction to remain at Faslane. Sturgeon noted that Scotland was already haemorrhaging defence jobs under the British - but that we would be better off without Britain's WMDs.

An audience member proudly blurted that the British "defence" ministry has never given a contract for a ship to a foreign country. Sturgeon pointed out that Korea was recently awarded such a shipbuilding contract. 

Sarwar then noted that Scottish shipyards were absolutely shit, and that the British only give us scraps because we stay with them. He said that Labour were "internationalists, not nationalists". 

That's fair enough: Britain has a very much equal opportunities policy when it comes to sending their bloodthirsty legions of criminals out to kill. Genocide, the use of poison gas to systematically murder humans, the invention of the Concentration Camp, the illegal invasion of foreign countries for their own benefit. No, it's not Nazi Germany, but British foreign policy in India (seven million dead), Iraq (use of gas against civilians), South Africa (the internment and slaughter of the Boer civilian population) and poor old Iraq again (and pretty much every other country in Africa and the Middle East that had mineral wealth). 

Internationalists? Fuck off.

5. Alex Airlie: "Who pays for the removal of Trident?"

Harvie insisted that the vast majority of the population of Scotland is opposed to Weapons of Mass Destruction, and therefore there is no chance of a pro-Trident government being elected. He called for a constitutional ban on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Scotland, and lamented that so many people simply seemed to want a smaller version of the United Kingdom, with its own weapons of war and aggressive projection of power. 

Davidson went on to support NATO, give the traditional, mawkish trick of spouting the tired old rubbish of being proud of Our Heroes, and then made the startling admission that she was proud of the NATO action in Kosovo and Metohija, before making the dubious claim that they stopped ethnic cleansing! Ruthie will forgive me for pointing out that the quarter of a million ethnic Serbs and Roma who were forced out of Kosovo and Metohija by militias aided and abetted by NATO look a bit ethnically cleansed to me. 

A couple of audience members were called - one asked who an independent Scotland was going to nuke, another pointed out that we cannot uninvent nuclear weapons (South Africa seems to have done a pretty good job of it). 

The tramp from earlier then appeared. Through a haze of straggly facial hair, he revealed himself as hilariously failed "politician in waiting" George Laird! Laird, a notorious racist, despised and isolated by Glasgow SNP members, who received but a single vote in an SNP selection meeting, for which he has been bitter ever since; and who has been drummed out of branch after branch, has taken of late to indulging a bit of paranoia and jealousy. Stunned at his emphatic and abject rejection, this man has made it his mission in life to bring down the YES campaign. Although given he has less than a hundred Twitter followers, and an almost virginal comments section on his blog despite the dozens of spam messages he sends out every time he writes a new post, he won't do too much damage! The creepy weirdo ranted a bit about how he was pro-nukes, and pro-NATO. He clearly expected this announcement to produce gasps, or nods. He doesn't realise he is utterly insignificant in Nationalist politics. This is why only one person voted for him to be a council candidate. Sturgeon looked at him with pity. Not a single member of the panel bothered to address his point. Poor George. 

A more sane audience member was called - she mentioned that so many Scottish Labour politicians were in tune with the vast majority of the population in desiring the removal of Weapons of Mass Destruction from Scotland. Was it not the case that being part of the UK stops Labour itself from its natural pacifist tendencies?

This wasn't allowed to be discussed. 

The final audience member to be called made the excellent point that the Pound Sterling, the Euro, the Monarch - it didn't matter. All of these decisions are to be made by us: but we can only make them with independence. Let's get independence first and then we can decide - these are matters for a post-independence General Election.

6. Sandra Webster: "Can we be independent if we retain the monarchy?"

Harvie said yes - but he didn't want a monarchy. He pointed to the strong streak of Republicanism and egalitarianism in Scotland. 

Davidson wittered; Sarwar supports the monarchy (he would support the hereditary principle!) and Sturgeon tried to convince people she wanted the monarchy. 

My view on this is that yes, a country can be nominally independent and share a monarchy. Would anyone seriously argue that Australia is the same country as, say, Canada?

However, in a modern world, why would one desire a monarchy? In this country, it is a divisive symbol, a sectarian institution, and one which bears no resemblance to our ideals of hard work and egalitarianism. 

Furthermore, within living memory, the British queen used her powers as an unelected potentate to dissolve a democratically-elected socialist government in the Lower House and replace it with an extreme right-wing coalition government. If the monarch can do it once, the monarchy can do it again. 

I wish to break the links with the British Empire, it's legacy of hate, violence and war crimes. 

The monarchy is the most potent symbol of that evil empire: there is no place for it in a modern Scotland. 

To misquote a great Edinburgh socialist, James Connolly: If you remove the British tomorrow and hoist the Scottish flag over Edinburgh Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic your efforts would be in vain. The British will still rule you. They will rule you through their capitalists, their landlords, their financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions they have planted in this country and watered with the tears of our unemployed and the blood of our poor. 

There is no point in having a Littler Britain. 

7. Some shite about Eurosong

Who won?

Isobel Fraser started badly, went downhill, and never recovered. We've tried Brian Taylor, we've tried Glenn Campbell, and we've tried Isobel. Gordon Brewer for the next one, surely? The BBC really could do with trying to poach someone with a bit of gravitas and authority - someone like John Mackay or Bernard Ponsonby from STV. 

Patrick Harvie was the clear winner in the debate. He appeared almost presidential, as though he was above the petty squabbling politics of the other three panellists. 

Anas Sarwar appeared sneering and supercilious, with a sense of entitlement. Unsurprising, I suppose, he's got every reason to have one. Bizarrely, he shook everyone's hand on the way out, thanking them for coming. It was meant to be a nice touch, but just came across as...paternalistic and a bit silly. Bit of a droner, but not as aurally offensive as other SLAB people. 

Nicola Sturgeon didn't have her best evening - she seemed to be a bit weathered by the behaviour of some of the plants in the audience, and the constant attacks on her. She was constantly shouted down by Ruth Davidson. 

Ruth Davidson came across as totally out of her depth and a very rude woman (at one point, she sneered that she "clearly moves in different social circles" from Pat Harvie), who felt it her right to talk over other panellists. 

All in all, it was a bit of a waste of time. We knew nothing at 8pm on Sunday night that we didn't know at 5pm. 

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