Independence television shambles was just sad for Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Referendum debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont was a damp squib.

OK, I’ll admit it. The Nicola versus Johann battle on STV was not exactly sisterly. Or mannerly. Or audible. Or ultimately much use at all.

STV’s Scotland Tonight special, presented by the capable Rona Dougall, started with high expectations.

Nicola Sturgeon the SNP’s formidable deputy leader had previously gone two rounds with former Scots Secretary Michael Moore and successor Alistair Carmichael, skilfully wrong-footing them both.

Johann Lamont though would be a different kettle of fish.

Here was a working-class woman and straight-talker, a Scottish politician based in Scotland not Westminster and very familiar with the argumentative style of the SNP’s top debaters.

After all, as leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann has the ultimate weekly workout with Big Lec himself at First Minister’s Questions.

So there were high hopes that this TV encounter between Scotland’s top female politicians might finally produce some real clarity for voters. Well, it didnae.

Round one mediated by presenter Rona was fiery but to the point. Round two cross-examination without Rona was a shambles.

Nicola repeatedly refused to be drawn on a Plan B over currency, Johann refused to comment on “the risk of a Tory government” if Scots voted No. So far so predictable.

But unlike the previous encounters Johann didn’t sit quietly, waiting to be dissected.

She interupted, talked through Nicola’s questions and accused her of patronising the public and endangering hard-won security with an irrational independence obsession.

Nicola couldn’t get a word in edgeways and that’s saying something.

Things got extra-heated when the SNP deputy said it was unfair that Scots received lower pensions under the Westminster system because of the country’s lower life expectancy.

“Astonishing ludicrous,” said Johann. Nicola joined the amateur dramatics herself with Johann’s challenge on the potential loss of shipyard jobs in an independent Scotland.

“This is surreal,” said Nicola.

“Govan is being closed under the Westminster system right now.”

At least that’s what I think she said. It was kinda hard to hear.

The ‘cross-examination’ was really two separate monologues blaring out simultaneously like two radios on different stations in the same room. At peak volume.

I used to sit watching boxing matches with my dad before I knew better and Johann reminded me of a tired fighter clinging to her opponent to avoid a knockout blow.

It wasn’t elegant or stylish, just a smart tactic against a better fighter. And a total turnoff for viewers. It was McCar Crash TV.

So what went wrong? The same format in previous debates worked well. Did two Queen Bees wreck the show?

Well, neither gal felt the slightest compulsion to observe gentlemanly behaviour.

And, from the body language, Nicola and Johann are clearly not best chums.

But above all this was a big, emotional grudge match in a way Lib Dem baiting would never be.

Scottish politics is dominated by the intense rivalry and even loathing between Labour (the old guard) and the SNP (new kids on the block).

So there was no way this exchange would be like the previous, containable bouts and presenter Rona wasn’t ready to step in and force the deadly rivals apart. No wonder.

Once the two were in full flow it was like trying to separate Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

TV presenters don’t expect to have to act as referees, but last week it was needed.

Not because the combatants were gals but because the parties were sworn enemies.

And that’s sad for Scotland whichever side you support.