This is politics as showbiz, an entertaining canter across a lush political landscape. An hour of political debate which was thoroughly enjoyed by a packed house in a wonderful venue.
The evening starts with a prerecorded video message from actor Brian Cox. In Logan Roy style, he tells us to “enjoy ourselves – or else”.
This show will be different each night. A series of ten debates on a variety of topics. The first night issue is one that has divided Scotland for a long time, particularly since the 2014 Referendum:
“This house believes Scotland should be Independent”.
The Director, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, introduces our ‘cast’ for tonight’s debate:
Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, will propose the motion for the ‘Ayes’. David Davis, former Brexit Secretary, will oppose for the ‘Noes’. They will lead for the Ayes and Noes throughout the series of ten debates but be joined by different people each night.
Tonight, Salmond’s seconder is Joanna Cherry, SNP MP, and seconding for the Noes is Lord Strathclyde, Conservative peer. Each side will have a third speaker from a local High School.
Chairing will be John Bercow, the former Speaker of the House of Commons. He starts proceedings with his renowned shout of “Order, order”.
What ensues is a debate which deals with all the main issues but in contrast to the norm in the House of Commons, the debate is conducted in a friendly way with jokes and compliments being exchanged between opponents.
Salmond speaks without notes. His wide ranging speech includes the key points that no-one will do a better job of governing Scotland than the people who live and work here, and that none of the 50 countries that have become independent from the UK since 1945 have asked to rejoin the Union.
Davis says that “the people of Scotland should be allowed to decide their own destiny”, but he adds that most opinion polls show a majority of Scots still support the Union. When Davis points out he is the only speaker from England tonight, he gets a few light-hearted boos which he receives with a smile, and counters with the fact that he’s just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his Scottish wife.
The audience is exuberant from the start with lots of good-natured heckling. This allows John Bercow to remind us of some of his classic ripostes for which he was so famous as Commons Speaker. He tells one heckler to “stop chuntering from a sedentary position” and suggests he should “calm yourself by lying down in a darkened room”.
Joanna Cherry points out that Scotland has abundant natural resources and lucrative exports in products such as whisky and salmon. She adds that Scotland is lagging behind other small countries which are Independent such as Ireland and Norway. Scotland was pulled out of the EU against its will.
Lord Strathclyde says the Edinburgh Festival is representative of what the Scottish people can do as part of the UK. He says that “nationalism limits our identity” and accuses the SNP-Green Scottish Government of trying to shut down the oil industry.
The two students from Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh make confident speeches – Alannah for the Ayes and Shona for the Noes. Alannah points out that young people are overwhelmingly in favour of Independence. Shona says that Scottish people like her are proud to be British. They receive warm praise from the politicians, and Bercow calls them the “stars of the show”.
There is time for a few minutes of questions from the audience followed by a brief summing up by Salmond and Davis.
Then comes the vote. The shouts for Aye are much louder than those for No. “I think the Ayes have it. The Ayes have it”, declares Bercow.
Perhaps 60 minutes was a bit short to cover such a major topic, but maybe better to leave feeling we wanted more. This show could get politics a good name.
Reviewer: Tom Scott
Reviewed: 4th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: