Watching the STV Scotland Tonight Referendum Special debate in process, with the ‘head to head’ between Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Secretary, Alastair Carmichael, has been disappointing and infuriating.
Both of the combatants made tedious and predictable – if mercifully brief – opening statements.
When they got into the issues of EU membership [with the statement today by Spain's Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership as a new entrant] and Scotland’s planned continuing use of the pound sterling, with all of the loss of independence that this would bring, the event hit the deck – or the ceiling.
It became less of a debate and more of a high pitched screaming match with the presenter ['chair' would be an inappropriate description] trying to screech louder than the opponents; and pointing her finger at the pair of them in the manner of a school teacher.
The presenter – Rona something or other – was helpless and hopeless, with no natural authority and having to be called to attention by Alastair Carmichael to exercise her duties properly when she was taking a detached breather in the section where each questions the other.
Nicola Sturgeon simply gabbled and talked continually over the answers she was being given – with no restraint.
It was impossible for the listener to get any real sense of any line of argument for the sheer uninterrupted and uncontrolled noise – on rising crescendos from the speakers.
This was the worst controlled television debate we have seen – a total and early abdication from the chair.
Nicola Sturgeon broke the rules continually and was never reined in. In the cross examination section, when Alastair Carmichael was asking questions of her, Nicola Sturgeon would ask him a question instead. With no intervention from the presenter and the natural tendency to answer questions, Carmichael was outmanoeuvred.
It was also unprofessionally parochial, with the presenter addressing the debaters cosily as ‘Nicola’ and ‘Alastair’
Then there was the battle of the supposed ironic sneers – the Surgeon squawk over the Carmichael snort.
No new arguments were advanced. The ‘repeat button’ was the order of the day.
Dog-whistle matters – like the bedroom tax were used whether or not they were relevant to the issue of the moment – and in fact no issue ever had time to settle.
The only matter of note was that Nicola Sturgeon did admit that vetoes might well be used in currency negotiations following a vote for independence.
In the end, Carmichael had no answer to the Sturgeon attack and verbal flurries.
But in sum, this simply was not worth listening to. It was a noisy squabble, insubstantial – centred on who could best play the game – irrefutably Ms Sturgeon – rather than who could answer the questions. We still don’t know.
It was schoolyard stuff – one for the bravehearts not one for reasoned debate.
And the fault lay with the presenter.