Alan Grant narrates his impressions of BBC3’s “Free Speech” – and reaches an encouraging conclusion
Last week, to compensate for my absence from these digital pages, I was fortunate enough to attend the live broadcast and television taping of BBC Three’s flagship, youth-orientated current affairs discussion programme succinctly entitled, ‘Free Speech’. It was a wonderful opportunity, and my thanks go out to the close friend (and long-time political sparring partner/drinking buddy) who made it possible for me to attend.
It seemed clear to me that the edition of this weekly column next following that experience ought to be less of one coherent stream of argument (and, yes, that is usually what I aim at) and more a series of reflections on what I observed during the hour I spent sucking in my stomach in fear of an unfortunate camera angle. A truly difficult task.
It might surprise the avid reader, should he or she exist, that this column will not be dedicated to the rather ugly choice of words used by the former leader of the SNP Gordon Wilson with regards to London and the South-East of England. I would never normally urge the ignoring of anything cancer-related: but in the case of a faded politician who has already conceded defeat in the cause to which he has dedicated his life, ignorance is the perfect prescription. To paraphrase the words of Graham Fellows’ famous character, Jilted John: Gordon truly is a moron.
My first impression of the programme was a positive one; their choice of panel was above average for this kind of broadcast. Present were: the Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson MSP, a woman who has impressed most of her allies, as well as many of her opponents, for reasons which became clear to me during her oration that evening: her parliamentary opponent, the Scottish Minister for Children and Youth People Aileen Campbell MSP, another impressive lady of Scottish politics: Dr Ranj Singh, a doctor and broadcaster: and Jane Bussman, a comedian and journalist. It would be unkind, but nevertheless true, to refer to the latter two participants as expendable or interchangeable.
The topics were also varied and well-selected, and even though the programme formed part of a season on BBC dedicated to mental health, they allowed for some interesting debate. Ms Bussman in particular gave away a little more than perhaps she meant to in her insistence that Britain ought to throw as much as possible in the way of resources into the NHS, and warned that becoming like the United States was a deterrent against not doing so.
Had the microphone been closer when Ms Bussman uttered this dire warning, I would have been compelled to search my memory for, or at the very least Google, the comparative survival rates for various diseases which may afflict the average citizen, as well as waiting times for treatment. Simply put, the NHS, when its health outcomes are compared to the quasi-free-market approach taken by our American cousins, does not come out well. Dr Singh was also guilty of presenting an overly positive, propagandised image of the NHS, but as a doctor with a vested interest in the status quo, he can perhaps be excused; there is no cure for institutionalised NHS-blindness.
The programmers ought to also be congratulated for the plurality of the audience. Purely from observation there were members of political parties, action groups and pressure groups in the audience, but they did not dominate it. In this commentator’s eyes, this gave the event a legitimacy it would have otherwise lacked had the room been packed with the kind of politicos who make both murder or a triple-sherry seem like viable, perhaps even favourable, options. For the most part, the room seemed full of intelligent, articulate sixteen to thirty year olds, nothing more and nothing less.
While the debate covered issues such as the necessity of the monarchy, and briefly ventured along the well-trodden path of Scotland’s constitutional future, perhaps the most exciting exchange surrounded the always controversial subject of foreign aid. It was this subject which brought me to request a microphone and, in what brief time I had, argue the point that trading with the under-developed parts of the world is far more conducive to their economic development than simply handing them resources.
Implied in my point was a desire to see an end to trade barriers and the extension of free trade and unfettered capitalism across the globe. The expected ‘oohhs!’ and ‘boos!’ were, I grant, present, but where previously they would have shaken the walls at the mere suggestion, among a youthful audience, that capitalism is a force for good, in this case they took the form of a rather pathetic whimper. It may also be of interest to know that, since making the point, I have received some support on Twitter (as well as briefly possessing my own hashtag), thanks to this very site, and it has led me to a very encouraging conclusion.
The decline in negative receptions to liberty-centred and capitalism-centred opinions in the demographic which is traditionally most hostile to them, as well as an increase in tacit support for such points, demonstrates that the move in political philosophy which the entrenched social-democrats and embittered political left, both in Scotland and the UK, have most feared is actually happening all around them.
The young are moving towards liberty and responsibility, and an overwhelming resurgence of Classical Liberalism or Libertarianism is pervading; they are living in the wreckage of decades of collectivism and altruism; they are compassionate and do want to help the poorest in the world, but they are slowly realising that the age-old practice of conscience-easing hand-outs is not the way to do it. My experience may be a drop in the bucket, but it is a bucket which is filling up fast.