Scotland the big loser in BBC Scotland leaders’ debate

I had intended to write a pithy, witty post about BBC Scotland’s party leaders’ debate.  But it was so pedestrian, I was struggling to fill my pre-ordained categories.  So I’ll have a rant instead.

For all that Labour and the SNP have stolen each other’s policy clothes during this campaign – Labour far more and far less cannily, it has to be said – the Scottish media don’t do us any favours either.  For they have condensed this election’s key talking points into a handful of areas.  Tonight’s topics which came from audience questions were free bus passes and their affordability;  public sector jobs;  tuition fees;  independence and the referendum;  sectarianism;  renewable energy;  and their autobiography titles.  And possibly A N other subject that I missed because some of us were having a twitter debate about ties.  It was that good.

Where, I wonder, are the real issues that people have said are the most important in this election?  Yes, jobs came up in last night’s debate – it was Iain Gray’s mantra throughout – but nothing of substance or detail, making the leaders explain what they were going to do to enable jobs to be created.  The focus was purely on public sector jobs, because of course, that’s where we all work.  And for every public sector worker thankful at the parties doing all they can to protect their employment and terms and conditions, there’s another private or third sector worker – or self-employed person – resentful at the same lack of attention being paid to their often more precarious positions.

Both Labour and the SNP have BIG commitments on youth employment, but they need to be pinned down on the detail.  What jobs, where, and how will these be created?  Will they be sustainable, on a living wage, and how do they ensure apprenticeships lead to full time careers?  Apprenticeships in what exactly – stuff we do now or stuff we need for the future?  How do these tie in with college courses currently offered?  Does the country actually need more hairdressers, nursery nurses, media graduates and sports coaches?

Poverty – Scotland’s real shame which dare not speak its name in this election.  Ah, but we’re all squeezed middle or hardworking family or struggling pensioners now.  Poverty is on the increase in Scotland, the gap between the haves and have nots grows, the numbers in fuel and food poverty are increasing rapidly, and nope, no one has anything to say on it.

Education – no, not bloody tuition fees, the bits that affect all children.  There have been skirmishes on class sizes, buildings, teachers, the curriculum but bugger all on the only bit that matters, our children’s learning experience and attainment.  The education system fails 20% of our children, and has done throughout devolution.  The most marginalised children are still just that; children with needs, either through disability or circumstance, are getting scant support to succeed.  Local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that every child fulfils his or her potential.   With pressure on budgets, how will the parties ensure this happens?  And to return to the issue that grabs them, how will they ensure that more young people from poorer backgrounds get to go to university, for improvement here has been mighty slow during the years of plenty?

Early years – everyone (including the politicians) agrees that the most important thing we can do for our future is invest hugely in children, nurturing and supporting them and their families in the earliest years.  All the parties have actually made significant commitments in this vital area of social policy but we have heard very little about them in election coverage.   Yet, what could be more resonant than investing in Scotland’s future generations?  But no, not capable of being digested in a single soundbite nor explained in a couple of lines, so the media are just not interested.  And they wonder why we are turning off and tuning out in our droves?

Health – for all the record investment and protected budgets, Scotland is still the sick man of Europe.  How do the parties intend to tackle the obesity crisis that doctors warn will engulf services in years to come?  What are we doing to prevent and relieve multiple sclerosis, Scotland’s very own cluster disease?  Mental health services?  Infant mortality?  Men’s reluctance to seek early medical advice and treatment?  Alcohol misuse?  The NHS has had targets for breastfeeding and alcohol treatment orders and failed on both – why and what will the parties do to change that in the next four years?

Transport – the roads are in a shocking mess; pavements are worse; we need more and better train services;  the lack of a high speed rail link to England threatens our economic competitiveness;  for every air link established, another one folds;  and local bus services are under threat as subsidies dry up.  We live in a country that makes it hard to get from A to B –  where the maxim that it is better to travel most certainly does not apply.  Yet, sound infrastructure is vital to our society and our economy on so many levels.  No one want to discuss any of that?

So glass half full – there’s still time, there’s one more leaders’ debate to come, maybe these issues will feature and maybe we will get some vision as well as detail from each of the leaders.  But actually our glass is bound to be half empty.  None of this will feature and all we will get is the same old sterile stuff that has been offered up throughout the campaign.

There is a cosy consensus that operates in political and media circles about what the big issues of the day are, but it ignores the reality of people’s lives and concerns, and only serves to emphasise the gulf between the governing and chattering classes and the rest of us.   Come Thursday night, thought, the very same people will be wringing their hands in woe at the continuing low turnout for Scottish elections.

Occasionally, the burd despairs.

19 thoughts on “Scotland the big loser in BBC Scotland leaders’ debate

  1. Er.. no I don’t Burd (can I call you that?) as you will have seen from the quality of the election addresses put through the door…

    I think the overiding theme is all questions but no answers. Still got the Lib Dem leaflet I got at the Weekend to write about though!

  2. True that the questions and overall show was dull, but I don’t just blame the selection of questions. Since poverty and inequality affect all aspects of our society, any party leader that cares about poverty or equality can say so if they want to in answer to almost any question.

    My conclusion is that they don’t talk about these issues because they don’t care.

    • I’m not sure I am that pessimistic Steve – I think on some level they do care but are guided by what they think matters to voters, and I’m not sure they have that right.

  3. Dull was the word that came to mind. I lost interest about 15 minutes before the end.

    Yep, we can have a go at the cardboard politicians on show (Hello Iain Gray), yes we can have a go at those leaders who can muster some vague faux outrage (hello Anabelle, Alex & Tavish). But at the end of the day, this campaign has been stage managed with the assistance of the media in this country.

    For example, why the bland questions? Why was it hosted by the 4th class presenter Glenn Campbell? Why was it broadcast (heavily edited one would imagine) at 10:25pm – when the same leaders debates for the UK General Election were peak time programmes.

    By the way, I have still to have a politician on my doorstep. Whatever happened to the “doorstep election”?

    • you obviously don’t live in a key target seat Allan! The bland questions were carefully selected to represent what the BBC thought should be debate – many folk had submitted questions on issues like poverty, education etc. The scheduling was a disgrace and symptomatic of the BBC’s shoddy campaign coverage throughout. Just not enough thought applied.

  4. What do you think it’ll take to get institutionalised politicians to actually listen? And take heed? There’s lots of sense (common and otherwise) in what you and Gerry Hassan say in your blogs/articles/comments. But it’s a bit like swimming upstream.

    And meanwhile, all those voters are staying in. Guess I shouldn’t be pessimistic and should wait for Thursday’s actual numbers.

    • Gosh Pat if I – or others – had the answer to that question… I think the only reassurance that can be given is to say that we, and particularly thinkers like Gerry Hassan, will keep trying. I do think the turnout will actually be decent at this election but won’t match General Election turnout. But that will have less to do with what politicians have had to say in this campaign but more because this election matters. There is worse to come in terms of cuts, impact, etc and hopefully there will be more of a clamour as a result but that is hope based on nothing more than er, hope.

  5. From the deafeningly dull opening question to the grim barren staging in the cavernous hall, this was dreadful. Did none of the parties PR people have a say? The lighting the sound the structure the format were all dire.

    How to engage with young people? How to engage with anybody?

    • Quite. The whole thing was set up to seem portentous but only managed, as you say, for it to come across as barren. Where are the big ideas? Oh, that’s right they are over at Bella Caledonia!

  6. Exactly. The media has and is trivialising politics in this country. I don’t believe this is entirely accidental nor is a it a matter of little consequence.
    We are entering a situation in which it is not really significant who wins elections in the Uk as they are all beholden to the powers that own and manipulate the mainstream media.
    Thus, when it became obvious that the Tories could not be elected a few years ago, it was conspired to put a tory in charge of the Labour party which was duly elected with the help of areas of the media.
    As a by product of this the Labour Party has been destroyed. It is now no more than a tame Tory Party Mark 2 run by the same vested interest which controls the Tories (and probably that emphemeral body, the LibDems)

    • Agree wholeheartedly Dave and I know you won’t like me saying this, but I have the same concerns about the SNP. I get entirely what is going on and why it is so vital to get elected a second time – and my dad articulated it best and made me think again about my doubts – but I still have them. Power is not just for its own sake, but for change and progress, and while there are some very good things in the SNP manifesto, there are also worrying signs of the disestablishment party believing that little in the institutions of Scotland need to change. Gerry Hassan always voices it well – and in fact did a very good blog on the debates thing and how they represent “safety first” Scotland. http://www.gerryhassan.com/?p=1679

  7. Bravo, Kate. When it finished we asked, “is that IT?” Are they entirely deaf to what public concerns are, blind to the problems real life brings or to what isn’t working? Whether that’s crime, education, poverty, or health, does churning out statistics (and on costs of knife crime I showed both parties are wrong) somehow salve their conscience or answer “the questions.”. Last night was a perfect example of a “calm down dear” approach; platitudes and rhetoric may work for some but for those looking behind that for substance, it fails. “Promise much, then deliver whatever WE want” could be the real election mantra. Wisdom, integrity, compassion, justice; wherefore art thou?

    • Indeed Caroline, and having got to know you a little through your tweets and much welcomed comments on blogposts, I really do hope you get in on Thursday. Margo needs a pal who is forthright and principled and committed to look beyond party boundaries for solutions.

  8. Hope you feel better after that although I wouldn’t call it a rant though as that would suggest that I rant continuously.

    • Welcome to the club David…. Sometimes feel all I do is rant! Get a blog it’s a great way of releasing pent up frustration!! Hee, hee!

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