After watching both of the main tv debates on Scottish Independence between the leaders of the respective ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns, Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, I was left utterly bemused and disappointed at what I was watching.
Let us take the most recent of these two poorly produced and structured events:
- A few minutes each to set out their introductory case
- A few minutes each to cover important issues such as the economy and Scotland’s place in the world
- About 12 minutes to ‘cross examine’ each other (this was the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy, unprofessionally managed piece of political nonsense I think I think I have ever seen with each just talking over the other and playing ‘tit-for-tat’ points scoring’.
- A few minutes for each to sum up their entire case for independence.
A few minutes, A few minutes, A few minutes….
It seems that this is all that the life and future changing event is worth; a few minutes, on barely a handful of the dozens if not hundreds of major issues of relevance.
To make matters worse was the audience. The odd relevant and thought provoking question aside, the vast majority were simply loaded questions from one side of the divide (because it now clearly IS a divide with a gulf of polar opposite opinion between the two sides) or the other.
The whole thing was an absolute shambles that pandered to the worst aspects of modern society. In particular, feeding the ‘I want everything NOW, and in 140 characters or less’ aspect of society, where if it can’t be said in a matter of minutes then it can’t be worth it.
Well shame on you, the producers and broadcasters of this meaningless trash. You have had years to prepare for this, months to work out a reasonable format, whilst not bowing to the notion that everything must be covered ‘on the quick’. Because to cover the issues that needed to be covered properly, it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to do with the format that was utilised. Again – shame on you. You failed in what I personally believe was an absolute DUTY to get this right.
I believe that Scotland is worth more than this, and I believe that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people living in Scotland (and indeed the rest of the UK and world) would have been interested in seeing the debates on crucial issues carried out in a competent and more balanced way – yes, even if this meant taking a bit more time to do so.
So having thoroughly criticised what WAS shown, if I was given the responsibility to plan the TV part of the referendum build-up, how WOULD I have done it? Well here is what I would have done, and what I think SHOULD have been done by any producer with an ounce of common sense:
- Realise that the necessary issues could not be covered in the course of two programmes alone, and demand more airtime. This should not have been even a slight problem given the magnitude of the issue – what controller or scheduler would want to go on record saying that such a massive political event should not be given maximum attention?
- Schedule a two hour slot once a week for the 8-10 week run-up to the election.
- For each event, here is what the format should have been:
- ONE area covered per debate (say, week one – the economy, week two – education, week three – NHS etc. etc.)
- Main panel consisting of EITHER Salmond and Darling, OR appropriate representative from each side such as cabinet member or shadow cabinet member responsible for the area in question currently.
- Alongside those indviduals, also having one academic expert on the area in question on each side such as a professor or author in that area who is willing to discuss their researched opinion.
- Moderator in the middle.
- PART ONE: Each side has 30 minutes to present their arguement on the area in question in the form of a lecture or presentation with any visual aids necessary – and here is the important part – ENTIRELY UNINTERRUPTED BY THE OTHER SIDE.
- PART TWO: 40 minute Audience Q&A. Another part of the televised debates that irritated me was that the audience was ONLY populated by random everyday people. I would have 50% of the audience being workers FROM THE AREA RELEVANT TO THE DEBATE IN QUESTION at each debate. So for the debate on NHS, 50% of the audience should be Doctors, Nurses, Health board workers, researchers etc.. The first 20 minute Q&A would come solely from these people who would be best placed to ask specific questions relevant to the area in question. The final 20 minute Q&A would then come from the other 50% of the audience, who would be the equal share of everyday people asking general questions on the area in question.
- PART THREE: Back to the panel – each side has 10 minutes to sum up and conclude their argument. AGAIN UNINTERRUPTED!
- The final show, having in the weeks preceding covering important issues such as the economy, NHS, education, international issues, industry etc. would then be the full blown debate between the leaders. In this show, each side would have the opportunity (again, guess what – uninterrupted), to present for 30 minutes rebutting any perceived spin etc. seen over the preceding weeks from the opposing side. There would then be a final 30 minutes each to sum up the entire campaign of debates, positives for their side and reason why you should vote YES / NO. No Q&A for the final debate.
This is how I would have arranged the televised debates. Treating the electorate with respect, and providing them with a substantial amount of uninterrupted information from each side of the debate in a number of the most crucial areas relevant to the independence issue. Carrying out the programming in this way would have ensured that major issues were covered in detail (I think I heard circa 40 seconds on education in totality between both actual ‘debates’), and ensured that people who watched would then be able to make an informed decision.
It is such a shame that the reality of what we got was nothing short of a disgrace.
Please note, the above is my personal opinion as a qualified and experienced academic in various areas of domestic and international law including Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, EU Law, Criminal Law, and Employment Law and not the opinion of my employers.