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Leaders: TV debate irrelevant to independence

First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Ian Georgeson

First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Ian Georgeson

IF PRIME Minister David Cameron has allowed speculation to develop that he might consider a television political debate with UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage among the participants, how long can he maintain his opposition to a TV debate with First Minister Alex Salmond on Scotland’s independence referendum?

For the SNP leadership, the case for a direct encounter between the UK Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister has always been compelling. Mr Salmond is a formidable debater. He is a master craftsman at put-downs and scoring political points. And he has lived and breathed the independence issue for his entire political life. This would be an encounter in which Mr Salmond could expect to score heavily.

Now, the possibility that Mr Cameron might consider a TV debate in which Nigel Farage was involved has been immediately seized upon by the Nationalists as a further prop to their argument. Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, described it yesterday as “astonishing” that the UK Prime Minister is happy to contemplate a debate with the leader of a party that does not have a single seat in the House of Commons but continues to refuse such an encounter with Mr Salmond. The prime minister, she declared, “should stop snubbing Scotland”.

If only the issue was quite so straightforward. Mr Cameron has repeatedly argued that this is a debate about a constitutional referendum affecting Scotland in which Scottish political leaders should be dominant. It is not a general election political hustings with one party leader pitted against another. The person with whom Mr Salmond should be debating is Alistair Darling, as the leader of the Better Together campaign. Mr Salmond well knows an encounter with Mr Cameron would be to his advantage because the Conservatives are not popular in Scotland. Mr Cameron has faced the charge from the beginning that he is running away from such an encounter. Yet he is criticised when he does speak. He seems to be damned if he does speak and damned if he doesn’t.

It is not impossible that Mr Cameron may find it politic to change tack and agree. But this does not allay the concerns that important constitutional issues could be lost in a prolonged and combative spat over the coalition’s economic policies, welfare spending and foreign affairs posture.

Important though these are, they are secondary to the profound constitutional proposal before the people of Scotland and one which would affect our economic prospects and livelihoods for far longer than a five-year parliamentary term. It is quite different to any general election debate and there is a danger of demeaning it by treating it as one.

This is the objection that needs to be fully considered. That Mr Farage may or may not be included in a multiple TV hustings is hardly relevant to the unique constitutional proposition facing us here.

Don’t bank on blood in twilight years

Feeling the wearying effects of time? Throw out those rejuvenation pills, ditch the anti-ageing creams – and get some young blood instead. According to new studies, an infusion of young blood can reverse the signs of ageing. It opens up the ghoulish prospect of pensioners cruising the streets for prospective victims: a quick night-time slurp before it’s back to the nursing home and three hours on Facebook and Twitter.

Researchers claim “vampire” experiments involving the blood of three-month-old mice being injected into 18-month-old mice lead them to believe that young blood may contain natural chemicals that rejuvenate the ageing brain. The experiments improved the performance of the elderly mice in memory and learning tasks. Structural, molecular and functional changes were also seen in their brains.

“Future studies,” the leader of the US experiment team breezily writes, “are warranted in aged humans and potentially those suffering from age-related neurodegenerative disorders.”

But before the oldies leap from their mobility scooters and take matters into their own hands, some caveats are in order. Just because it works for mice doesn’t mean it will work for humans. And we don’t know what the side-effects might be. Sudden bursts of activity and rampaging through the house scattering Lego? Or if teenage blood is pumped in, a dramatic leap in interest in the opposite sex?

Tempting though it may be to reverse the ageing process by injections of young blood, the consequences may prove too macabre. For how long might the rejuvenating effects last? And what happens when they wear off? Waking up the next day to feel 110?

 

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