Scotland's political big guns in pupils' firing line

15th April 2011 at 01:00
Question Time-style debate takes modern studies to a new level and is watched online around the country

An East Lothian school pulled off a coup last week by attracting the Scottish Labour leader and the Justice Secretary to its election hustings.

The Question Time-style debate at Musselburgh Grammar was attended by 200 senior pupils and watched on the Glow intranet by many more around the country, including first-time voters.

The panel, chaired by modern studies teacher Ruairidh Nicolson, comprised Labour leader Iain Gray, Justice Secretary and SNP candidate Kenny MacAskill, Conservative Derek Brownlee, Liberal Democrat Ettie Spencer and the Scottish Socialist Party's Aidan Simpson - a former pupil at the school.

Questions covered the release of the Lockerbie bomber, knife crime, prescription charges, renewable power and university tuition fees.

The debate was dominated by sparring between Mr Gray and Mr MacAskill, although Mr Simpson got perhaps the biggest round of applause for saying that most Scottish parties ruled out tuition fees because of young people who had marched and occupied buildings in protest.

Mr Nicolson reminded the audience that this was not just another hustings - it was a modern studies lesson.

Kieron Sim, 18, whose intention to vote SSP was confirmed by the debate, said interactive events were "definitely the best way to learn". The hustings would prove particularly useful for a question on devolution in his modern studies Higher, he said: "I'll definitely be thinking back to today when I'm doing my exam."

Danny Fairbairn, 17, said that watching politicians in person was more likely to influence his voting intentions - were he old enough - than watching them on TV. He was torn between Labour and SNP, but found himself shifting toward the Nationalists after Mr Gray vowed to crack down on Buckfast. "People will just go to other drinks," Danny explained.

Mr Nicholson started planning the hustings in October as part of his involvement in East Lothian Council's "Steps to Leadership" programme, which encourages participants to organise ambitious events.

Twitter was crucial in building pupils' interest, he said.

- Watch the debate at: http:bit.lymgsqt2011

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk

A BIG ASK

Questions included:

- Alex Salmond has claimed that Scotland has won the "renewal energy lottery". What alternatives does he have to wind power, given that the turbines don't operate efficiently for 365 days of the year?

Mark Hannah

- Was introducing free prescription charges the best use of resources? Michael Steven

- Was it right to release al-Megrahi?

Steven Thomson

- Should carrying a knife result in a mandatory sentence?

Kieron Sim.

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