It was supposed to be a triumph of youth engagement in politics: a debate on Scotland’s independence referendum giving 8,000 teenagers the chance to grill key members of the Yes and No campaigns.
But in the end, the most entertaining feature of the BBC’s Big Big Debate at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro yesterday turned out to be the scathing commentary provided by thousands of increasingly bored school pupils on social media.
“Am gettin bored, n a want ma bed when does this finish,” ran one typical Tweet from a schoolboy called Ross, who like most of the audience had turned to his smartphone to pass the time. The captive audience of 15- to 17-year-olds, many of whom will be eligible to vote in next week’s referendum, were encouraged to use the event’s official hashtag #BigBigDebate so the wider world could see democracy in action – but it was swiftly hijacked.
While the sun beat down on an uncharacteristically hot September day in Glasgow, many of the pupils complained of the stifling heat in the arena due to a lack of air conditioning. “Waving paper in front of my face instead of clapping otherwise I’ll die,” wrote Hannah Clifford. “Arms pure sore from waving a piece of paper in ma face for like 3 hours straight,” added another user. Ross Fergusson was even more cutting: “Bored as fuck any only came for a day off didny ken it was gonna be like a sauna in here,” he wrote.
Chaired by BBC reporter James Cook, and with a panel made up of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Respect MP George Galloway, leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson and Green MSP Patrick Harvie, the debate was filmed during the day and broadcast on BBC One last night.
Proceedings did not get off to a good start. Hundreds of the assembled schoolchildren – many of whom had travelled across the country to attend the debate – complained of being forced to sit around for hours waiting for the speakers to arrive, with the arena’s bright lights shining in their faces.
“Is this debate actually going to start or are we going to sit around taken pictures & doing the Mexican wave aw night? #BigBigDebate #shite,” wrote Morgan Prior. “Tanning under these lights, turn them down!” added Charlotte Gilgannon.
When the event did finally get under way, some of the pupils whiled away the time by passing comment on Mr Galloway’s decision to wear a Stetson-style cowboy hat on stage. “George Galloway’s hat is enough to make me vote Yes,” wrote Ellie McClarty. “George Galloway does Indiana Jones,” remarked another user.
Mr Galloway caused controversy in the run up to the debate by suggesting that the BBC had tried to rescind his invitation at the request of the SNP, claiming that Ms Sturgeon had threatened to pull out if he took part. A BBC spokeswoman said it was “not uncommon” for panel line-ups to change.
Some pupils used the opportunity of being in a large crowd of their peers to do a bit of matchmaking. “Can you help my friend looking for a boy with blonde hair who had a blue school tie and black bomber jacket?” Tweeted a hopeful Niamh Tonner. “Boy in grey jumper, non uniform plz dm [direct message] me,” wrote a user called Katy, using the hashtag #hopeyoudinnyhaveabird.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies