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Compelling viewing? If there is to be another Scottish referendum debate, it needs a new format

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

Jim Naughtie, who leads Scottish indepdence coverage for BBC Radio 4, described the debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling as "compelling".

Salmond and Darling separated by STV's Bernard Ponsonby

His description reminds me of a critic who said a Norman Wisdom film was "one for all the family... the Wisdom family".

Of course, living in London, I have no way of knowing if the head-to-head was as riveting as Naughtie describes. The event was only shown on television in Scotland and the STV Player crashed under the weight of those who logged on to watch it in the rest of the UK.

I hesitate to disagree with such an illustrious journalist as Naughtie, especially as I was unable to catch the debate, but experience dictates that two hours of political discussion where the adversaries had only one topic may have had its compelling moments but surely not for the whole 120 minutes.

Two whole hours. The last US presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was only 90 minutes and that ranged over world peace, free medical care and the economic future of the the world's largest economy. No wonder the commercial television companies refused to show the Scottish stooshie nationwide.

There are mutterings of a second debate, this time on the BBC and to be shown across the whole country. If this takes place then it must have a new structure. It should not be more than an hour, it must be tightly chaired, the audience told to remain silent and the right of reply on each question no more than a minute. The length of the debate is not important, the quality of the arguments paramount. It should also take place in early September when schools have returned and most people are back at work and not away on holiday.

Hats off to the Guardian for organising an immediate close-of-debate poll which gave Darling a 54 per cent approval against Salmond's 46 per cent. What we now need is a detailed break down of those figures. How many women sided with 'Better Together'? What was the breakdown of those aged 16 to 18 who have been given a vote in the referendum for the first time? Is there any geographical bias?

Unfortunately for the debate, in England the resignation of Baroness Warsi competed for headlines, alongside the traditional holiday picture of David Cameron inspecting a fish counter during his holiday in Portugal. One for all the family... the Cameron family.

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