The Referendum Murders (paperback)

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Another imbalanced 'debate' on Scotland2015 – the old Better Together gang line up

I wouldn't say there were four unionists in last nights debate but Sarah Smith strayed dangerously close to filling the fourth slot, particularly in one assault on Stewart Maxwell.

It was like being in a time machine, transported back to 2014 and the Referendum Campaign, BBC Scotland-style, with representatives of three Union Empires locked in the past but unaware of it and one calm Commander Maxwell of the Starship Scotland gently trying to bring the squabbling, excitable Union men into a realisation of their situation without giving them too much of a shock to their systems.

Who were these strange people, united by a a residue of blind loyalty to a dying militaristic, monarchical Empire?

Two were Westminster MPs – Ian Murray and Alistair Carmichael, the last of their respective party kinds, the sole survivors of their species in Scotland.

The other appeared to be there, courtesy of Scotland 2015, to fill three conflicting roles– Adam Tomkins.

An unelected adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, he tried to play three parts on this stage - as objective expert with academic credentials and membership of the Smith Commission to justify his presence, as committed Tory Unionist and as the proxy for David Mundell (egregiously absent) an MP and Sec. of State for Scotland by default,  who is also the last survivor of his party species in Scotland, and whose absence from this panel left a gaping hole in the programme.

Adam Tomkins was spectacularly unsuccessful in two of the roles he appeared to be being asked to play.

As objective expert, his objectivity remained constantly in stark question because of his other two partisan roles.

As proxy for Mundell, he failed utterly, because as an unelected representative among three democratically elected MPs and an MSP he was constantly forced to alternate between appearing to speak for the Secretary of State and the Tory Government at one moment,  and denying that he spoke for them at another, or had any knowledge of their plans because he  was not a politician.

He was totally convincing in his third, authentic role as  committed Tory Unionist, a commitment unblunted by his twelve years in Scotland or his time in Australia. He is an Arsenal supporter and – surprisingly to me - a republican committed to replacing the monarch with an elected Head of state.

The structure of the programme was deeply confused. It didn’t seem to know if it was a Scottish political debate or a UK-level debate, with two Westminster MPs, a Holyrood MSP, and an objective expert with deep party and union loyalties   in a Tory Government  partisan advisory role.

This muddled political thinking on structure has become characteristic of BBC Scotland. Perhaps its roots lie in its appalling employee relations history, the recent departures of the Head of News and the Head of Human Resources, and its relationship with BBC London.

But here’s the programme – judge for yourself …