Crowds flock to independence debate

It was standing room only as crowds flocked to the Buchan Observer’s referendum debate that was held at the Palace Hotel on Thursday night.

More than 300 people turned out for the free, open event which saw leading local campaigners from the Yes and No sides battle it out.

The referendum debate in full swing.

The referendum debate in full swing.

Speaking in favour of a Yes vote on September 18 were Banff and Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Ellon and District councillor Richard Thomson and chief executive of Anderson Construction, Kenny Anderson.

Advocating a No vote in the referendum were North East MSP Richard Baker MSP (Labour), Score Group chairman Charles Ritchie and Former Director of the North Sea Regional Advisory Council and former North Sea Commission Marine Advisor, Ann Bell MBE.

Editor Morag Kuc opened the evening’s proceedings and introduced the speakers for the event before handing over to chairman for the evening, local businessman Graham Barron.

Shortly before the start of the debate the Yes panellists won a coin-toss to determine who would speak first in the opening and closing speeches, and the Yes side chose to go first in the opening section.

The Better Together panellists - Charles Ritchie, Richard Baker MSP and Ann Bell MBE - ahead of the referendum debate.

The Better Together panellists - Charles Ritchie, Richard Baker MSP and Ann Bell MBE - ahead of the referendum debate.

During Dr Whiteford’s opening speech, she raised the issue of child poverty, saying that one in five children are being brought up below the breadline, most of whose families are in work. As well as poverty, the MP also addressed the issues of economic inequality and the retirement age.

Dr Whiteford said: “Independence is not a magic wand, but control of our economy would allow us to create job opportunities, create better incentives for firms to start up and grow, improve childcare, support our pensioners, invest properly in our roads and communications infrastructure, and allow us to tackle some of our most ingrained inequalities. That’s why our economy is at the heart of this debate.”

Following the Yes side’s opening remarks, members of the audience were able to pose questions to the panel, with the set-up costs of independence and migration among the questions raised.

It was then the turn of Charles Ritchie to deliver an opening statement in favour of a No vote.

Kenny Anderson answering a question during the debate.

Kenny Anderson answering a question during the debate.

During his remarks, the Score chairman said: “The SNP are asking us to dissolve this union, with no guarantee that what replaces it will be better.

“If you get the wrong result, there’s no way back,” he added.

Stirring a reaction from the audience, Mr Ritchie said those in favour of a Yes vote were: “Off your heads.”

Audience members were then invited to ask questions, with the position of the NHS emerging as a key issue in the debate.

Dr Whiteford said that all the health consequentials the Scottish Government had received through the Barnett formula had gone back into health spending in Scotland, plus additional monies.

However, Richard Baker rebutted the argument, saying health was already a devolved policy area.

The Labour MSP also questioned how the government of an independent Scotland would be able to spend more on public services while also cutting corporation tax.

In the main Question and Answer session, members of the audience were able to pose their questions in addition to Buchan Observer and Fraserburgh Herald readers who sent in their questions beforehand.

The first question in the wide-ranging Q&A related to infrastructure spending.

Panellist Ann Bell commented that EU funding had been vital in securing infrastructure funding, saying: “European funding has been really important in this area. The European Regional Development Fund has funded many things here.”

Fellow Better Together speaker Richard Baker, meanwhile, argued the North-east had been short-changed as a result of SNP policy.

Other topics raised during the course of the evening included Scotland’s place in the EU in the event of a Yes vote and which powers would be delivered to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote.

Another question from the floor, regarding the raised terror alert, led to a wider discussion about foreign and security policy.

Better Together speaker Charles Ritchie asked how an independent Scotland without nuclear weapons could be a member of NATO but Yes panellist Kenny Anderson argued that only three of NATO’s 28 members had such weapons.

Towards the end of the session, questions were raised on everything from oil and gas, passports, austerity, morale within Police Scotland and workers’ rights.

In his closing remarks for the Better Together side, Charles Ritchie argued that a Yes vote would be a disaster for exports and create an unnecessary new border between Scotland and England.

In his closing comments, Richard Thomson said: “Tonight we’ve had a spirited debate,” adding that the best people to run Scotland’s affairs were the people who live and work in Scotland.

Did you go along to the debate or have you watched the video coverage of the event on the Buchanie website? If so, let us know what you thought by e-mailing us at: news@buchanobserver.com