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Dear Leader,

Yes, I thought I’d write an open letter to you all, Alex, Iain, Tavish and Annabel.  Not that I suppose you’ll have time to read it but hey ho – I find it cathartic.

I do hope you get the chance this evening to turn off the phone, kick off your shoes and settle back with a wee malt or similar and watch your collective performance on the BBC’s Politics Show’s live leaders debate.  I’ll warn you now to have the bottle to hand, cos it ain’t pretty.

Because – heaven help us – we have a few more of these artifices to get through before polling day, I thought it might be helpful to pass on a few tips that might just improve the tone and temper of proceedings:

  1. when a question is asked, it is the usual form to answer it.  Now I know as politicians you’ve spent years perfecting the art of not answering a question but please.  Can’t we move on a little and try a different tack, one that doesn’t make the viewer grind his or her teeth in exasperation?
  2. when the lady interviewer asks you a supplementary or even the same question a second time in the hope of eliciting an answer, it is rude to talk over her.  Worst of all, having a wee pop at her really doesn’t play well with the viewing lieges.  They just feel sorry for her and think of you as a brute.  You most of all, Annabel.
  3. getting into a squabble about who is going to pay themselves the least is pretty unedifying.  No one thinks MSPs and Ministers are going to starve because they’ve frozen or cut their salaries and all you do is remind the rest of us that you earn a packet.  Gives us another reason not to like any of you, see?
  4. if all four of you talk at once no one can hear anything.  I would have thought this was obvious.
  5. let’s reprise this little exchange:  “how tough is it going to be for families?” – Salmond:  “it’s going to be tough”;  Gray “it is tough” but “how tough?” “people know how tough”;  Scott “people know how difficult”;  Goldie “we know there are challenges”.  Now, can any of you suggest how we could have made that a little more meaningful for the viewer?
  6. Annabel and Tavish:  sitting on the outside is never easy but god knows, you both should be used to being on the fringes by now – don’t shout across the room at each other, either endearingly or abusively;  it doesn’t make for nice telly
  7. Alex and Iain: acknowledging each other’s presence wouldn’t make either of you come across as weak - in fact, you’d come across as expansive and statesmanlike, heck folk might even like you a bit more
  8. when asked to say something nice about each other, please do;  I’ve met all of you at various times and you all have redeeming qualities – again, the poor viewer/voter out there would warm to you for being human

Finally, please don’t listen to anything your most ardent activists and apparatchiks say about today’s little shenanigans.  All of them, to a man and woman, will say how well you did, how you scored the most points, how you wiped the floor with the opposition.  But you have their votes and adoration.  Their view counts nane. 

It’s voters what count.  And given that only 50% of the population voted last time round, you might want to ponder that taking your Holyrood bar-room brawl tactics into their living rooms today will have encouraged a few more to sit on their hands and polling cards this year.  If ever, in the sma’ dark hours, you get to wondering about the reasons for the disengagement and disillusionment of voters in Scottish politics today, you might want to take a long hard look in the mirror and then hit the replay button. 

The answer is staring you in the face.

Yours sincerely,

the Burd

P.S.  If you think I’m being a little harsh on you all, pop over to Lallands Peat Worrier to read his opinion of the debate… though I’d refill your glass first.

And the winner is… the verdict on the first Scottish leaders’ debate

Twitter was on fire, the live online thingy at STV nearly melted, and at various points, my brain froze trying to keep up with it all, while actually listening to what was being said.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Scottish election leaders’ debates, the first of which was on STV tonight.   And for each debate – yes I am that much of an anorak – the burd will be making special awards in a range of categories.  Feel free to add your views, especially if you disagree, and even your own awards…

Overall winner - that would be Alex Salmond.  But then most of us expected that.  It was a good performance, though he only reached top gear once, on the session on tuition fees and why higher education should be free.  He appealed on the values of aspiration, fairness and society and sounded like a leader.  His answer to the question on why he would make the best First Minister was spot on, focusing not on himself but on the SNP’s team, record and vision.  However, he lost us on the detail of apprenticeships and jobs, and tried to cover too much ground with his explanation of the al-Megrahi decision.  And while he kept his tendency to smugness and smart Alexness under wraps, his body language towards Iain Gray won’t have gone down well with some viewers. 

Best wardrobe - Bernard Ponsonby, hands down winner.  The STV political editor showed them all how to do it.  Salmond played it safe and it worked.  Annabel needs to ditch the beads, Tavish Scott the lurid pink tie, and Iain Gray needs a whole new wardrobe, and make up artist for good measure.

Worst audience contribution - gosh, so many to choose from.  There were some good ones:  the woman on fuel poverty raised a serious issue, offered some strong facts but forgot to ask a question.  And the sweetest member had to be the oul yin with the buttonhole there to woo Annabel.  Bless.  The audience was dire, to be honest.  Far too many plants and partisans, far too many folk trying to be a star, no one offering a killer question.  A toss up for worst between the wee lassie who nearly wept making her Oscar-like adulatory exhortation of Salmond for First Minister and the racist who questioned the Tories wanting to make young people pay for university tuition while we give money away in foreign aid.  He wins it by a shade and I was disappointed that no one booed him or told him to leave.

Best pantomime moment - they all belong to Annabel, and frankly the whole charade of the flirty matron, alternatively showing an ankle trying to secure a position as a junior coalition partner and scolding those naughty boys, is beyond tiresome.  It crowds out the substance – some of it actually quite sensible and principled (which does not mean I agree with it!) – of her answers.  Get a new routine, Miss Goldie, please.

Worst omission - no questions, no comment, no discussion about the cuts and our financial situation.  Remarkable really.  In the next few weeks, it all becomes frighteningly real – job losses, income squeeze, benefit changes, tax hikes, local services closing their doors.  And no one so much as furrowed their brows on it.  Like I said, remarkable.  Surely this issue will feature in, nay dominate the debates to come?

Best exchange - the man who asked about the release of al-Megrahi was brave enough to challenge Salmond, politely, on the first part of his response.  Good for him.  This whole segment was rounded and rich and reflected well on the leaders.  They all argued their positions thoughtfully and passionately.  No clear winner but it showed our politicians at their best, for once.

Biggest fail - call me biased, and I am, but I am utterly bemused that a debate largely dominated by the themes of education and youth unemployment only managed a handful mentions of “children”.  In fact, the ability of the party leaders to talk about issues while scarcely mentioning people throughout the debate was pretty astonishing.  People vote, institutions and issues don’t, and while children obviously don’t have a vote, their parents and grandparents do.  Most folk with children in their lives would not hesitate to state that they, and making sure they are provided for and have a secure and promising future, are their priority.  So why do they not feature more highly in our parties’ priorities?

A few other observations.  Whoever coined the campaign phrase, Scotland deserves better, was damned right.  Whoever suggested to Iain Gray that he take the fight to Salmond and try to disconcert him in the opening exchanges with a pugnacious approach and aggressive interventions should be sacked.  Whoever advised Tavish Scott never to crack a smile nor attempt a joke and to aim for earnest and dull was wrong.  Whoever picks the audiences for these things needs to find some real people without party affiliations.  The first leader to remember that there is an audience on their sofas and respond not to the host nor the studio audience, but straight down the camera to all those thousands of voters, wins.

However awful this one was, I’ll definitely be tuning in next time.  See you there?

Respect? My arse!

Whether we like it or not, never mind want it, we’re getting it.  So much for the sovereignty of the people.  Or even the settled will of the Scottish people.

Apologies for the profanity in the title but the news that we are to get five year Scottish Parliamentary terms released my latent Jim Royle.  Apparently, the ConDem Government are prepared to gift us five years of the next Scottish Government and group of MSPs because of their “respect” for we Scots and our devolved institution. 

And all because they want to move to a fixed term parliament for Westminster – not before time mind you – and doing so would make the UK General Election in 2015 clash with the end of the four year cycle for Holyrood.  So the solution?  Move over darling, this bed ain’t big for both of us. 

No matter that the Scottish Parliament four year term is enshrined in the Scotland Act, as is the day on which Scottish elections must be held.  No matter too that only a few years ago, the idea of tinkering with this Act was anathema to our politicians. And even had they wanted to, there would be no available Westminster parliamentary time.  Amazing what a difference political self interest makes.

The burd can understand why the Scottish parties are going along with the suggestion;  there are, after all, bigger fights to pick with Westminster these days.   But what is interesting is that no one is suggesting that the Scottish people be asked for their view on it all.  I’m not talking about another pesky referendum but even just a wee bit consultation.  It’s not a perfect mechanism by any stretch of the imagination, but community councils could have been asked for their view through an online survey?  Or would that come uncomfortably close to giving the people a say in how long we get stuck with our politicians for?

Apparently Clegg and Cameron making this decision for us is about showing “respect” to Scotland.  Clegg was at his most sonorously insincere when speaking about it on the radio the other day and Ms Goldie – glad she has found her voice on something - trumpeted how this was the UK government treating “Holyrood with respect“.  Indeed, it may be. 

But it shows darn little for the Scottish people, whose Parliament this is, after all.

The burd gets the impression oor politicians forget this weeny fact – here’s Annabel again:  “As a group, we will take decisions shortly over when the date of that election should be”.  How nice, our political parties in a wee huddle sorting it out amongst themselves.   We, the voters, are very much an afterthought and such pronouncements simply confirm what the burd increasingly believes, that elections are far too important to be left in the hands of the politicians.

But let’s not get too cynical or upset.  Here is a golden opportunity for them to resolve a few other matters pertaining to Holyrood elections.  Voting on Thursdays – why?  Like many parents I really resent having to use up a day’s precious annual leave to facilitate the electoral process.  Other countries vote at weekends, why can’t we? 

How about introducing some methods that make it easy for folk to vote – red button, onlne, by text even – instead of marching us up and down hills to our nearest community centre or primary school (particularly when with all the closures about to happen in the next few years, that will actually be some distance away for many voters).  It all might actually, you know, improve voter turnout which would surely be a good thing for democracy?

No, of course not.  This would involve putting the needs of the people before those of the political class.  And we couldn’t possibly have that.

Respect?  My arse!

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