Alex Cole-Hamilton wins best speaker in Charles Kennedy Memorial Debate

ACH in GUU debateIt still feels surreal and wrong to be attending a Charles Kennedy Memorial anything, but on Friday night I headed to Glasgow University Union to see the debate set up in his honour. After a gin and tonic in the beer bar, which, unlike in Charles’ day now plays intrusive music, I headed up to my seat in the gods. The floor of the chamber was filled with people in their bling and black tie who had been lucky enough to get tickets for the dinner which was to follow the proceedings.

The motion was

This House believes that the UK should remain within the European Union:

Speaking in favour were Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, our candidate for Edinburgh Western Alex Cole-Hamilton, theatrical Tory MEP Ian Duncan and Alistair, soon to be Lord, Darling. The opposition were made up of businessman John Mills, sociology professor Neil Davidson, Heather Whiteside, a former GUU Debates Convener and Graham Stringer MP.

Ming Campbell, wearing some pretty spectacular tartan trews, was in the chair.

The Union has been trying to do something about its reputation as a misogynistic bear pit with a mentoring programme to try and encourage more women to participate in recent years. In light of this, I was disappointed to see only two women out of eight in the debate. I took this up with the organisers on Twitter and they replied:

The debate committee was almost exclusively male, though. There were at least three women in that room, including one former parliamentarian, who, I’m sure, would have been happy to have taken part.

One of the highlights of the debate was a massive slip of the tongue by SNP minister Hyslop.

This was greeted by prolonged hilarity in the room, and Ming commented that we’d been talking about defectors all week and she’d be very welcome. Her dress was very red, but it looked dull in comparison with her face. Even at the end of the evening she had a resigned “I’ll never hear the end of this” look about her. It’s fair to say that the debate was mismatched. The pro-EU case was put very well, yet there was only one even remotely inspiring speech on the anti side. This came from Heather Whiteside, who had constructed her argument around the difficulty of making coherent decisions when everyone was working in their own national interest. Even though I disagreed with every word, it was a quality speech and shows what a good debater she is. Apparently she is actually in favour of the European Union, but as a former debates convener, is used to crafting arguments and taking the side she’s given.

The judging panel, which included BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor, Jo Swinson and Alistair Campbell judged that the best speech of the night came from Alex Cole-Hamilton. I totally agree with them. His thoughtful and passionate advocacy for the EU as a peace process, meaning that subsequent generations of his family had been spared sacrificing their lives in war as his great uncle had had to do. He started with a good joke, though, observing that there were five parliamentarians in the room:

In my party we call that a quorum.

He was also one of the few speakers to make interventions:

At the end of the debate,  unsurprisingly, perhaps, nobody voted against the motion. 

You can watch the whole thing here, but the sound quality isn’t great until about a third of the way through.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I really wanted to listen to this debate, but eventually had to give up as I couldn’t hear a thing! Frustrated!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Sep '15 - 5:49pm

    It says on the GUST site that they had real trouble with the sound until about a third of the way through but then it got better.

  • It’s audible from about 49.50. Just in time for Alex’s speech. One might almost suspect foul play!

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