Last week, I attended a debate organised by the Evening Standard newspaper and the City of London at the Guildhall in central London.
There were – at my estimate – around 1000 people in attendance with queues in typical British fashion winding their way around the Gresham Street entrance square waiting to pass through the reception.
The BBC’s Emily Maitlis chaired the debate and on the panel were the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (and one of the four most powerful men in the country as a member of the infamous Quad at the heart of Government), Tory MP Rory Stewart, Labour peer Helena Kennedy QC, Stewart Hale representing the SNP, businesswoman Michelle Thomson and Scottish (although resident in London) comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli.
Even before the debate heated up, a pro-England protest unveiled itself with two men and a woman with duct tape over their mouths standing stage-left with a rather large St George’s flag. As they were not disrupting proceedings (which the duct tape enabled) they were allowed to silently protest throughout the evening. Their point was valid (if it was there point?): no one outside of Scotland (and especially England as the largest country in the Union) has been given a vote on Scotland’s Independence. This is a disgrace as we are all currently subjects in one Union, that of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If Scotland does decide to separate then this will have a profound effect on the rest of the Union, one we will have had no say over.
Each panelist was allowed to make a speech from a lectern (all very student-politics) and then questions were taken from the audience. For the record, Danny Alexander was in the No camp along with Rory Stewart and Helena Kennedy. Whereas, of course, Stewart Hosie WAS the Yes camp. And to allow balance on the panel, Michelle Thomson and Hardeep Singh Kohli were firmly in the Yes camp too.
Hardeep Singh Kohli thought he was at some kind of 1980s anti-Thatcher rally as he railed against the corrupt Westminster elite and evil Tories who (allegedly) have done such dastardly things to Scotland. He rounded his speech as if Scotland had already said Yes with: “Your body politic is rotting, your House of Commons is full of charlatans and thieves.”. It’s ironic how some Scots are so rabidly nationalistic but in the same token their uber-Lefty thinking makes them so anti anyone else being nationalistic. Michelle Thomson was equally abrupt in her arguments repeatedly trying to speak over Danny Alexander, who received a round of applause when he pointed out it was better for the debate if everyone was given a chance to give their point of view. He also informed the mainly English audience the Scottish Independence debate was a daily occurrence in Scotland, implying we were lucky, but unfortunately it also regularly descended into mud-slinging.
Mr Alexander’s last point about the constant debate up in Scotland compared to almost complete radio silence south of the border was a serious one. Where are the reports of the campaign and debate in the national media? Why aren’t the BBC reporting on it albeit recounting the latest poll results every 6 weeks? It is frankly a complete stitch-up by politicians in Westminster who ensured the rest of the Union didn’t get a vote in case they voted Yes for Scotland to leave.
A number of audience members asked some pertinent questions which fed into Rory Stewart’s (the most Union patriot of the panel) argument that the emotional side of the Referendum debate has been distinctly lacking and it needs to be brought to the fore. The economic arguments pulled together to assist both the Yes and No sides will be null and void in 30, 50 years, 100 years, Mr Stewart said, but the Union, if it is broken up, will still be broken up!
Helena Kennedy, in reflecting the unpredictability of the poll and the likelihood the result will be close, implored the powers-that-be after 18th September to form a Constitutional Convention for everyone in the UK to debate the Union and how we are organised and governed across the British Isles. Without this, we are heading towards an eternal debate on Scottish Independence if the No camp were to win, and if Scotland votes Yes, well this will be a monumental change for the constitution for the remainder of the UK and will need careful and inclusive debate as well.
I end this little summary of the very interesting Evening Standard debate on Monday with the words of Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley, who is still the only person in the UK to elegantly sum up why Scotland should not leave us, as we care so deeply for her: