Royal High School pupils reach national debating tournament grand final

Royal High School pupils have successfully reached the grand final of the Law Society of Scotland’s annual national schools debating competition, after a semi-final that saw the return of the unseen motion after the rules were relaxed in 2020 owing to the effects of the pandemic and the move to remote debating.

Students Douglas Macartney and Laura Young of the Royal High School won over the judges in their semi-final heat, with their arguments on the motion ‘This House would abolish prison for all but violent criminals’.

Their achievement is all the more remarkable, because they were only given the motion one hour before the debate started and had to prepare their arguments without the help of technology, books, newspapers or other external sources.

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Douglas and Laura will now battle it out to be crowned national debating champions against the other finalists from Douglas Academy in East Dunbartonshire, Fortrose Academy in the Highlands and Peebles High School.

The grand final will take place online on Thursday, June 10.

The Dewar Debate, now in its 22nd year, is the biggest competition of its kind in Scotland, with 64 teams from schools across the country entering the tournament in September in the hope of ultimately being named champions.

For the first time, the tournament has taken place entirely online, due to the coronavirus pandemic and, over the course of several increasingly tough heats, the teams have been whittled down to the final four.

The grand final will take place online on Thursday, June 10.

With this year’s semi-final heats taking place over two days, different unseen motions were set for each heat, which were ‘This House would introduce positive discrimination to put more women in the Scottish Parliament’ and This House would abolish prison for all but violent criminals.

The motions for this year’s semi-final were inspired by content in ‘What’s new?’, a new digital resource for Modern Studies from tournament sponsor Hodder Gibson, launching in April.

‘What’s new?’ is available for National 5 and Higher, providing ready-made lesson presentations that will be updated four times a year and delivered through Hodder Gibson’s interactive Boost platform.

Lyndsey Thomson, careers and outreach coordinator at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We have been so impressed by the quality of the debates this year, with pupils taking on the challenge of debating against each other remotely with real enthusiasm and skill.

“Re-introducing the unseen motion certainly added to the pressure for the semi-finalists. They should be extremely proud of themselves for the comprehensive arguments they pulled together under such tight restrictions. It was great fun to watch and I can’t wait to see the arguments put forward by the four teams at the grand final in June.”

The winners of the tournament will be awarded £1,000 for their school by the Law Society of Scotland, with the runners-up receiving £250, donated by the Glasgow Bar Association.

The top two schools will also share educational books to the value of £500, donated by Hodder Gibson and the best floor speech on the day will win a £50 book token, sponsored by the Scottish Law Agents Society.

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