Opinion: Better Together should agree to a third independence referendum debate

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TIt appears that despite lengthy discussions between Sky news and the Yes and No campaigns there will now be no third televised debate between the two campaigns.

According to the Sunday Times:

A spokesman for Better Together said: “We made it clear right from the start that all television debates would have to be done before the first postal votes start to go out.

There are only two weeks now before around 1m people who are registered for postal votes start to receive their voting forms.

It’s only right that the debates between the leaders of the Yes and No campaigns have all been seen by then. If Mr Salmond had not spent so much time trying to delay both the STV and BBC debates, other bids could have been accommodated.”

So potentially one million voters will have been sent their postal votes and it seems that this is the point where BetterTogether see no further need for debate.

But hold on what about the other three million voters?

In 2010 the party leader debates covered the period before and after postal votes were issued. So if David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown had no issue with this why does Alistair Darling?

It seems odd that with the opportunity to address over three million viewers yet to vote, may who may well include a large proportion of don’t knows, the BetterTogether team has nevertheless chosen to reject Sky’s offer of a final debate in September.

With the second debate scheduled for 25th August on BBC it may be that Alistair Darling thinks a second round of good press on his performance is all he needs or a calculation that if the First Minister does better next time then refusing a third debate is about damage limitation.

But for what is probably the most significant vote in our nation’s history don’t we, the electorate, deserve to be more than pawns in electoral tactics. Don’t we deserve the two cases to be put with honesty, integrity and passion and opened up to the fullest possible scrutiny in debates that eschew sound bites and omnibus audience questions in favour of moderators who relentlessly demand detailed answers to voter questions?

At the Scottish SLF conference last year, Craig Harrow, our party Convenor and a director of Better Together, jokingly told me and some other members voting yes that we were ‘rogues on the wrong side of the argument’ but at least we had an honest lively debate. It highlights that in our party, and I hope our nation, we can hold differing and passionate views on the referendum but still avoid the vicious partisan rhetoric that adds nothing to the debate. I did not know Craig that well before the debate but I really enjoyed his contribution and despite disagreeing with him I actually thought better of Craig for the way he challenged my own views in a serious, positive, witty but above all respectful way.

Just as I am Yes Scotland’s to lose, I am Better Together’s to win. Three million of us can cast our votes in person on 18th September and I think we’re worth both sides still fighting to convince us to stay, switch or finally decide.

So if Alistair Darling won’t step up and accept the airtime on Sky why doesn’t Willie Rennie? It would certainly be good to finally hear the Home Rule case being made.


* Alex Dingwall is a Liberal Democrat member from Glasgow who was a City Councillor until 2012

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  • Stephen Harte 18th Aug '14 - 10:27am

    well said Alex.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Aug '14 - 11:12am

    I’m not at all opposed to the idea of a third debate, but it’s worth noting that there could have been about 20 by now if Alex Salmond hadn’t refused point blank to debate Darling for so long.

    I’d also find a debate between, say, Angela Constance and Kezia Dugdale, much more illuminating and enriching, I think. I attended an event in Livingston earlier this year when they both made respectful, intelligent, warm contributions.

  • Why are three debates better than two?

    And, as Caron says, this is entirely Salmond’s doing. Also, as Caron refers to, there have been multiple debates between many different participants on all sides across the country, most of which were not televised. There hasn’t been any shortage of public debate, even if it has been relentlessly low quality in live events.

  • Allan Heron 18th Aug '14 - 1:11pm

    There’s an unstated assumption that postal voters are too stupid to hold back from voting until the debate has been held if that’s what they want to do. Sky are guilty of being late to the party in seeking another debate, but it strikes me that to use postal votes as a reason not to debate is either utterly foolish or a smokescreen for the element of calculation that Alex mentions.

    But the whole culture of current affairs is utterly twisted these days. The format of the STV debates is designed for the purposes of two people to have a rammy, not debate serious issues. The debate between Salmond and Darling was better managed (owing both to the participants and the moderator) but the previous ones were shocking exercises. The format results in the participants spending more time on making their opponent appear foolish,

    Where’s the modern day Brian Walden?

    I’m still waiting to hear an argument in favour of the union being retained from Better Together rather than one simply dismissing independence (usually in terms which can readily be used if it was a federal option that was being considered).

    Both options have risks attached and many unknowns. Not least what will happen in the event of a No vote. The suggestion that reform is”guaranteed” is a risible one when Labour’s proposals are looked at. Any reform needs to be a UK solution and the other parties (and their Scottish representatives) seem to be petrified of debating this in any way seriously. (And, no, Liberal Democrats didn’t debate this seriously in York).

  • Norman Fraser 18th Aug '14 - 2:25pm

    I have no objection to a third debate, so long as the format permits reasoned argument instead of encouraging a shouting match as STV have done. I’m not sure how the BBC intend to handle the next one but they can only do better.

  • Why is everybody so late to debate anything in this country anway? Issues are brushed under the carpet until they’ve got to be talked about. Why no debate in England/Wales/NI about whether Ruk wants a common currency?

  • John Probert 19th Aug '14 - 9:45am

    Moreover the three main UK parties appear to have told Scotland that a ‘No’ vote will be a vote for ‘Devo Max’.
    Where has each of them spelled out exactly what that will mean?

    As a non Scot I consider this to be a matter for an urgent UK-wide TV debate – not just for Scotland – between the Party leaders , each of whom has no doubt already obtained backing for Devo Max from their own Parliamentary parties.

  • Allan Heron 19th Aug '14 - 6:43pm

    John, no one is promising devo max. More’s the pity. However, the term is banded about in a way that increases expectations alongside the likelihood of disappointment and further disengagement when our “guaranteed” new powers are granted after a No vote.

    Devo Max is full fiscal federalism with everything bar defence and foreign affairs being run from Scotland. England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be in the same situation alongside a considerably slimmer Westminster.

    Throw in a written constitution and there’s an opportunity to ditch the House Of Lords too!!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Aug '14 - 10:55am

    Allan, do you want the House of Lords actually ditched? Surely a second chamber elected on a different basis should be there as a check on the power of the primary chamber?

  • Allan Heron 3rd Sep '14 - 12:49pm

    @Caron. In a federal structure there is no ‘primary chamber’. And the power of the Commons would be much diminished in any event.

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