Gerry Hassan has written a very detailed analysis of last night's Newsnight debate on 'the future of the Union'. I must say that personally I wouldn't be quite so effusive about Rory Stewart's performance - he's undoubtedly very articulate and has a 'screen presence', but he got himself into very unwise territory when he flatly informed a Scot in the audience who gave primacy to a Scottish identity that "you do not speak for Scotland, sir". Stewart's proof for this assertion was that his own father is Scottish, lives in Crieff and is "very proud to be British". This, of course, is the classic Tory delusion that got them into such a pickle over the Poll Tax - forget about elections and opinion polls, authentic Scottish opinion is represented by their father or third cousin once removed, or that well-bred chap they once canvassed in Drymen. Admittedly, for as long as there is more than one view held among the public, no-one can literally claim to speak for all of Scotland, but what evidence we have on majority opinion is clear enough - the Scot in the audience was much closer to speaking for modern Scotland's aspirations than that British imperial throwback Rory Stewart, former Deputy Governor of two Iraqi provinces. No wonder Rory still thinks there is something terribly "precious" to be lost if the Union bites the dust - how many other thirtysomething Scots have been given the wizard opportunity to rule a conquered Middle Eastern country? Would never happen under independence.
While we've seen much worse from Paxman, he was scarcely the most even-handed moderator, allowing Michael Portillo to wax lyrical for several minutes about the supposed historic British tradition of anti-fanaticism, but almost biting Joan McAlpine's head off when she tried to introduce a bit of balance by pointing out that one of the first acts of the British state was a pogrom in the Highlands of Scotland. "Oh, we're not going back to that," he groaned after an apparent Damascene conversion about the unimportance of British history, "I want to look forward". Earlier, he had taunted McAlpine about the failure of the "Scottish banks", but ten seconds later airily brushed off a member of the audience who pointed out that many of the bankers in those "Scottish banks" were English. My own point would have been more that those banks failed under UK rather than Scottish regulation, but doubtless Paxo would have regarded that as a "cheap shot" as well. He's certainly the expert on those.
The other thing that leapt out at me from the debate was the utter incoherence of the argument put forward by the representative of the English Democrats. Once again, it seems that underneath the veneer they are classic right-wing Brit Nats, who are lashing out at Scottish and Welsh presumptuousness with an affectation of English nationalism. What England is crying out for is an equivalent of the SNP or Plaid - a left-of-centre (or at the very least centrist) civic nationalist party that believes in English self-government for the right reasons.