Comment: Scotland’s future needs frank discussion

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AT times, the referendum discussion can be exasperating to say the least. Name-calling, scare stories and wishful thinking riddle the discourse, and as we’ve seen with the Salmond v Darling kerfuffle over TV dates, that can be the case before the debate’s even started.

Thankfully, ‘cybernats’ and scare tactics are far from the only elements of the discussion on the pros and cons of independence.

Through my work with Debating Matters and STV, I travelled the length and breadth of Scotland listening to 16-to-18 year olds discuss the issues around the referendum as part of a nationwide debating competition.

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From the Borders to the Highlands, we found youngsters who could tackle the big questions with informed, well-reasoned and well-thought out arguments – and could do so in support of both sides.

Some came in sure of their position, and left unperturbed. Others left holding the same opinion, but with new things to consider. Some were argued round to the other side – small victories for the Yes and No camps.

But no matter how they left the competition, there was a strong sense from all involved that Scotland’s future was up for grabs, and that it deserved a full, frank and honest discussion.

The artificial nature of the competition, in which pupils did not decide which side to argued for, meant that teams had to confront the fact that ‘the other side’ do in-fact have some reasonable points to make.

The youngsters saw that our political opponents can’t just be dismissed as stupid or malicious, leading to a quality of discussion that is all too often missing from the wider debate.

As the bickering between the two sides intensifies in the run-up to September’s vote, the example of our youngest voters is one we’d all do well to keep in mind.

• Craig Fairnington is Online Resources Manager at the Institute of Ideas, and chaired debates in the STV/Debating Matters Referendum Schools Debate. Craig will chair the ‘What is the Cost of Breaking up Britain?’ debate at the City of London Festival on 2 July.