Letter from Edinburgh 21.11.08

IT’S BEEN a somewhat terrifying week. A while back the BBC phoned up and asked me to join the BBC Question Time programme chaired by David Dimbleby.

I said “yes”, thinking it was another TV show that was important for airing the political issues of the day. But, as I write this, the true nature of the challenge has just dawned. The programme lasts an hour and the panellists are given no warning of the likely questions. I’ve been watching last week’s show and talking to colleagues who have done the programme before – but it’s still somewhat nerve wracking.

The party press offices, both at Holyrood and in London, produce copious quantities of briefings on topical matters. I read it all, but couldn’t find any mention of UDI for Shetland or the Bressay bridge, so I’m guessing that these matters may not come up.

The biggest question of course is the “and finally” one which is meant to elucidate cheerful or witty reposts from the panellists. My staff had a brainstorming session on the likely “funnies”.

Given Scotland were playing Argentina at Hampden on Wednes­day, a football question was con­sidered possible. Would former Eng­land defender and current Scot­land assistant manager Terry Butcher shake hands with new Argentinian manager Maradonna, all those years after the “hand of god” goal when the two nations met in a World Cup? This would have allowed me to mention Archie Gemmill’s Scotland goal against Holland as the best ever World Cup goal.

The other more likely question was thought to be whether the panel thought John Sergeant should have resigned from Strictly Come Danc­ing. There were two trains of thought during prep time.

Firstly – the people have chosen. If John Sargeant is seen as a good dancer – or even a bad one but a splendid bloke – by the great British public, then he should win. Politi­cians are judged in the great court of public opinion and TV reality shows are, in that sense, the same.

The other option was that he was terrible and that there should be some quality control checks as other­wise the completion would be damaged by a less than wonderful dancer. This is especially the view of the so-called experts.

However, what is wrong with this argument is that that, if we apply it to politics, then the next prime minister will be decided not by the votes of the people, but by a panel – a panel of, say Denis Healey, Michael Heseltine and David Steel. So after three recounts and a split 2-1 vote Nick Clegg is the PM. Exactly. Much as I might like that result, it wouldn’t be right.

So we agreed that, were the Sargeant resignation to be the question, I would finish with an offer to my fellow panellist, Nicola Sturgeon, to dance the Dashing White Sergeant. Quite what response I might get was not predictable.

Tavish Scott


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