The prodigious BBC Radio 4 debate programme “Any Questions?” was broadcast live from the GUU debating chamber to Radio 4 listeners on Friday 14 October. The panelists debated numerous issues including a Scottish Brexit, a second Referendum on Scottish independence, and the immigration status of foreign students at British universities.
Jonathan Dimbleby chaired the discussion between panelists David Frost of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe, Rhea Wolfson of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, Conservative MP and Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell, SNP MSP and Brexit Minister in the Scottish Government and Professor of Culture and Governance at the University of Glasgow Mike Russell.
Questions from the audience touched on issues ranging from the prevention of post-Brexit price hikes, to the electability of the Labour party. However the majority of the debate was devoted to the circumstances and likelihood of a second Scottish referendum following the announcement by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of a new independence bill at the SNP conference in Glasgow the previous day.
The topic produced a heated debate following Mike Russell’s assertion that there could be a “middle way” for Scotland between leaving the UK or leaving the EU, whilst defending the legitimacy of a second referendum bill. David Mundell criticised the SNP’s strategy, accusing the party of using the result of the EU referendum to re-open the independence issue, despite the previous referendum having been conducted in the knowledge that the UK could vote to leave the EU.
Mike Russell responded that the result of the vote which would lead to Scotland leaving the European Union despite voting to remain reflects a “material change in circumstance” and that as such it is right and “intellectually honest” to have independence as an option. Mundell disagreed and stated that a second referendum bill undermines an agreement signed by the SNP to accept the first result made before the initial vote. Rhea Wolfson then accused the SNP of using a second referendum as a way of avoiding being held to account for their failure to maintain living standards in Scotland. David Frost called the uncertainty after the vote for Brexit “enough to be going on with”.
The panelists found themselves broadly in agreement against the prospect of foreign students in Scotland being classed as immigrants, with David Frost arguing for “openness” rather than bureaucracy. Mike Russell pointed out that there was a potential to skew immigration figures and deter foreign students from wanting to come to Scottish universities, whilst Rhea Wolfson highlighted the importance of tackling the perceived rise in xenophobic in the UK and criticised Amber Rudd’s rhetoric on the issue.
Despite their previous disagreement, Mundell and Russell later found themselves on the same side as they praised Bob Dylan’s receipt of the Nobel prize.