Jane Devine: Independence debate & outsiders

Scotland's referendum on independence just 332 days away. Picture: TSPL
Scotland's referendum on independence just 332 days away. Picture: TSPL
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We need the debate on Scotland’s future to involve outsiders, or we risk it becoming narrow and insular, writes Jane Devine

FOURTEEN years ago, when Scotland reconvened its parliament, the press lobby on the Mound was a hive of activity. The Irish Times had a correspondent in Edinburgh, so did Channel 4 News and many other media organisations. Scotland had a devolved government, with a well-regarded leader at its helm and people were interested.

The activity started to peter out, however, when the substance of what parliament was discussing failed to ignite newsrooms outside Scotland. And, when the gravitas brought to the Parliament with Donald Dewar seemed to disappear with his sad and untimely death, the tumbleweed really started to blow.

The spotlight is now once again on Holyrood, with Scotland’s referendum on independence just 332 days away. This is a good thing. The people of Scotland are about to make a massive decision about our future. All political parties agree that Scotland could be independent – now we as an electorate have to decide if we want to be. We can only benefit from the involvement of outsiders and international commentators giving us different perspectives and arguing new points.

But in order to attract that attention and maintain it and in order to present Scotland as the dynamic nation it is, our politicians need to up their game. So far, the debate has been criticised for failing to ignite interest and for being overly negative, with one side recently rolling out what has been dubbed “project fear” in a bid to persuade voters that the union is best. Politicians on both sides have also become obsessed with a tit-for-tat squabble over who is senior enough to debate with whom in hustings in the run up to September 2014.

We really can’t afford to showcase Scotland in this way – no-one is interested in that kind of debate and we really need people to be interested.

How many of you found waking up to the dulcet tones of James Naughtie on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme refreshing? For two days last week we had decent, meaty interviews on Scottish issues. We even had journalist and commentator, Peter Oborne, in a live interview on Radio Scotland discussing the police’s role in the Andrew Mitchell “pleb-gate” affair. That’s a prominent English journalist discussing essentially UK policing matters on a Scottish news programme. Would he even have bothered if Naughtie hadn’t been there? And we all know that Naughtie has been parachuted in to cover the referendum.

I am not suggesting that we should be grateful for this in a subservient kind of way. I’m saying it is welcome, it is what we should expect and it is what this debate on Scotland’s constitutional future needs: fresh blood, a different perspective and prominence in more than just the Scottish media.

We need to grasp this opportunity to debate Scotland’s future with others. If not we risk the debate becoming insular and closed when we need it to be captivating and informed.