Edinburgh Book Festival: Henry McLeish and david Torrance; Yes or No, What Next?

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Henry McLeish, David Torrance, Richard Holloway (chair)
Running time

‘Embattled’ might seem an odd choice of word to describe Henry McLeish, former First Minister and David Torrance, political journalist, but the debate on the Scottish Referendum has produced stranger sets of comrades-in-arms.

With Richard Holloway in the chair, the two pro-federalists from opposite aspects of the political spectrum struggled across the no-mans-land created by the lack of a second ‘Devo-Max’ option on the 18th September ballot paper toward some form of agreement.

The result was a highly interesting and sometimes entertaining exchange of views remarkable more for their similarity than their areas of significant disagreement.

Despite that out-of-fashion phrase, a degree of consensus, the discussion remained lively throughout, with both McLeish and Torrance offering insights as to how we had arrived at this point and what the future might hold, whatever the outcome of the September Referendum.

Both seemed to agree with our current Prime Minister that ‘things can’t go a on as they are’, and that since all three Westminster major parties have given assurances that greater powers for the Scottish Parliament will follow a ‘No’ vote, the status quo is already in the past.

However, contemporary politics, at least in the United Kingdom as presently constituted is viewed, perhaps rightly, with great cynicism by the electorate, who sense posturing instead of principal, along with an avoidance of decisions on difficult and contentious issues, coupled in Scotland with a failure to ‘get’ the main issues of the present debate in any significant way.

Both McLeish and Torrance viewed the likely long-term outcome as a federal or quasi-federal constitutional shift, but both acknowledged the reluctance of Westminster politicians to confront radical change in any meaningful way.

Mcleish’s observation that 20% of current Labour party membership was in Scotland was telling of itself, suggesting that a ‘Yes’ vote or significant reconfiguration post a ‘No’ vote would both have consequences for the main political parties as yet not thought through.

All in all, an extremely thought-provoking and stimulating debate, suggestive of at least some of the possible outcomes after the Referendum.

copyright Bill Dunlop 2014
first published on edinburghguide.com 2014