Comment: postponed indyref2 debate fails to excite

This debate on the request by the Scottish Government to gain the power to hold another referendum on independence was delayed due to the horrific killings in Westminster last week.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

It was perhaps this that led to the surprising sight of the First Minister re-opening a debate that she already opened last week.

Nicola Sturgeon kept up the sombre tone that she adopted in the first First Minister’s Questions session since the Westminster attack.

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Ruth Davidson seemed confused that the First Minister had chosen to open the debate, but wasn’t afraid to trade barbs during her own contribution.

As with last week, once the main players departed the stage, it was left to backbenchers to take up the allotted time with less-than-impressive speeches.

But unlike last week, there was no tub-thumping sermons, just MSPs who had already made up their minds going through the motions before a vote that everyone knew the outcome of.

When the vote was tallied and the result was that the Scottish Government will request the ‘Section 30’ order allowing them to hold the referendum, there was of course little surprise.

There did, however, seem to be a genuine weariness setting in amongst MSPs.

If this is the standard of debate for the campaign (Ms Sturgeon wants a vote to be held before the end of Spring 2019) then we are in for a long two years.

Oh Sit Down

If questions of energy and currency dominate the independence debate, then there could be a decent trade in faux outrage in an independent Scotland.

Firstly, Ruth Davidson had the temerity to refuse to take an intervention from the First Minister who wanted to interrupt her speech with some pressing point or question.

When Nicola Sturgeon rose to press home the issue, Ms Davidson snapped “sit down” before continuing singing the praises of Prime Minister Theresa May.

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This came after the Scottish Tory leader had said that while she was going to quote SNP MSP Joan McAlpine, she “wouldn’t do the accent”.

This prompted predictable outrage from the SNP – with a press officer for the party quickly splicing a clip of the exchange together to say it sums up the Tory attitude to the referendum.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf later railed against the ‘personal attacks’ of Ms Davidson on Twitter, which is becoming the predictable battleground for indyref2 clashes.

What’s in a label?

It was also curious to see that for a party machine that is as infamous as the loyalty of their members, the contributions from SNP MSPs seemed so uncoordinated.

In a lofty speech extolling the virtues of having a debate that was respectful of opponents, Leith MSP Ben Macpherson wanted members on all sides to avoid reductive terms like ‘Unionist and Nationalist’.

Mere minutes later, however, his SNP colleague Stuart McMillan noted that he had tried to understand ‘the positions taken by Unionists’ for some time to no avail.

Mr Macpherson provoked the loudest noise of the afternoon’s debates when he took issue with the label proscribed to the latest referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.

“This is not Indyref2, this is Indyref NEW”, thundered Mr Macpherson, to audible groans from around the Holyrood chamber.

Little to Nothing

It’s difficult, however, to opine or analyse the substantive issues that were raised in the debate, because frankly so few were raised.

Was the debate moved on by constant Tory scrutiny of the Green manifesto?

Were minds changed by wannabe comic Murdo Fraser casting the Green voters as being interested in beavers?

Did the people of Scotland need to hear Sandra White shudder at ‘the tone’ and tell us for posterity that none of her family are Tories?

Would it be considered necessary to hear yet another rendition Alex Cole-Hamilton’s emotive defence of the Union that was neither as effective nor as memorable as the Lib Dem MSP thinks?

Could the dulcet tones of Labour James Kelly intoning on the state of Scottish politics really be considered an essential facet of the debate?

It would appear the answer to all of these questions is no, and thus is it inevitable to conclude, as so many already have, that today’s debate was a waste of time.

MSPs time might not seem precious, but that of the people of Scotland is.

And they will have little time for another independence debate if what we saw in Holyrood today was the standard.