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Wings Over Scotland

The Straight Debates

Posted on March 15, 2012 by

The media and blogosphere is awash with anguished, hand-wringing pleas for the independence debate to be conducted in a mature, reasoned and intelligent way over the next couple of years, but which do very little to bring that situation about. Yet it's a vital goal, because the way we're going whoever wins the referendum will find themselves living in a bitterly divided Scotland torn apart by years of vicious fighting.

Looking to the mainstream media is hopeless, because it's simply not set up for adult discussion. Politicians are crammed into tiny amounts of airtime which encourage nothing but vacant point-scoring soundbites – prepared in advance, often repeated robotically, and on no account to be deflected by anything the interviewer might have actually asked. (Though in fairness, on his night the BBC's Gordon Brewer can be as tenacious an inquisitor as these islands have seen.)

The online arena is no better, overwhelmingly inhabited by partisan sites – including this one – many of which also censor large swathes of dissenting opinion behind cowardly moderation policies. (Which we don't – only a contributor's first comment is moderated, as an anti-spam measure.) It's almost unheard of for opposing sides to undertake any sort of above-the-line dialogue.

So we're going to have a go.

The Straight Debates is an idea we've been mulling for a while. It's a tightly-structured discussion format which attempts to get round the issues mentioned above and hopefully produce some light rather than just heat. It's a format that, within the constraints of linear time, we're happy to engage in with anyone – from any party or none – who has something to say that conflicts with our own views. (That doesn't necessarily exclude supporters of independence.) We encourage others to adopt the format too. It works like this:

1. You need two people at a time. More than that could theoretically work, but it'd probably get pretty messy and prohibitively long.

2. Participant A opens with a question. Participant B must give a direct answer to that question as their opening sentence – valid responses are "Yes", "No", "Don't know" and "Don't care". They can then expand on that answer to whatever degree they choose.

(The only exception to the rule is that the question may instead take the form of a list of options, of which Participant B must either select one or answer "None of the above", before continuing as previously.)

3. Participant A may now offer a follow-up, to which Participant B gets a second reply, which is the final word.

4. The positions now reverse, with Participant B putting a question to Participant A, and steps 2 and 3 are repeated.

5. The number of questions is up to the participants, but either two or three each seems like a sensible number, depending on the length of answers.

6. The completed debate must be reproduced in full, and not be edited in any way – except for formatting and to correct typos – unless both parties expressly agree in advance to any changes. (For example, if someone wants to slightly rephrase a passage for easier reading, without changing its meaning.)

And that's it. But it's easier to show than to tell, so later today we'll be airing our first, but hopefully not last, attempt. Stay tuned.

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4 to “The Straight Debates”

  1. Bobby McPherson

    Genius! I lookforward to the debate perhaps if successful and I every reason to feel confident that it will be, it may catch on elsewhere…. Good luck

  2. steven luby

    This sounds good,encouraging to see sense bouncing in at last !!

  3. Janos

    What's sad is that whilst this makes perfect sense, the day 90% of Westminster politicians subscribe to such a logical and sensible model of debate is the day that planet earth becomes united in peace and prosperity.  As in not for another few thousand years at least …

  4. Shodan

    It's a grand idea. Your opinions on most the alternatives out there are much the same as my own. It's like panning for gold at a played out source.

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