THERE was not one but five topics discussed at the latest Althing event in Lerwick on Saturday night as the debaters raced against the clock to win over the audience.
Sexism, speed bumps and Scottish referendums were all brought up at the Staney Hill hall on an evening of speed debating that often erred more on the side of hilarity than hard discourse.
Two teams – writer Donald Murray and architect Barbara Dinnage, and BBC Radio Shetland’s Richard Forbes and Chris Bunyan – had just two minutes per person to make their case, even if they didn’t personally agree with the motion.
First up was ‘No more referendums, thank you very much’, with Murray telling the audience of around 25 that the voting system is not natural to UK tradition and doesn’t hold people to account.
Bunyan said it is wrong to think that only “elitist and snobby” politicians should decide important issues, but Dinnage said referendums can be “divisive” by nature.
Forbes said that referendums avoid wasted votes and “encourage public discussion”.
Audience members largely agreed that the system spurred on democracy and debate, although Andrew Halcrow suggested there had been “misinformation” on both sides of the recent EU referendum.
Following an initial vote, there wasn’t much swing in the audience mood and the team fighting for the motion won.
The following topic suggested that having speed bumps on Lerwick’s Esplanade was an “abomination”, with Forbes doing his best to criticise the controversial traffic calming measures.
And when queasy night-time revellers get a taxi home from Victoria Pier with a belly full of drink, it will soon be “bump, bump…bleurgh.”
Murray quipped that speed bumps, akin to a “fairground” ride, can be so fun that they should be implemented across Shetland, while Bunyan said there was a “better use of money” than the Lerwick development.
Dinnage, meanwhile, had the hall giggling as she listed the numerous ways you can tackle speed bumps, including cyclists doing a figure of eight.
During audience comments, Lerwick Community Council member Damien Ristori said he felt Shetland Islands Council was getting too much criticism when in fact the police were one of the main forces pushing for the traffic calming measures.
The team debating for the motion carried through their initial support and won with 11 votes.
The third motion, ‘Sexist Shetland should get with the times’, saw Bunyan rallying against the “surely illegal” boys-only Junior Up Helly Aa, but Dinnage said women occupied a number of key roles in organisations like the SIC, the NHS and schools.
Forbes took a tongue-in-cheek view that men were actually discriminated against and pointed to BBC Radio Shetland’s What’s On segment and the number of women-only groups holding events in the isles.
Murray meanwhile joked that Shetland was actually “ahead of the times” as Up Helly Aa showed that the isles had been promoting the transgender and transvestite cause long before others.
Commenting after the debate, one female secondary two Anderson High School pupil said the boys-only Junior Up Helly Aa made her feel “pushed back” and contradicted schools’ messages that pupils can do anything, regardless of gender.
A female audience member raised the gender imbalance among councillors and Debra Nicolson, who is herself standing for election in May in the Shetland West ward, agreed that more women should put themselves forward.
As there was prior to the debate, the majority of the audience was in agreement with the motion.
There was strong opposition in the crowd for the next motion – ‘Councillors should be appointed, not elected’ – and Dinnage attempted to persuade the audience that selecting members would make for better “quality control”.
Forbes said appointed councillors would service the “corporate body” instead of the community, but Murray argued that it would reduce the amount of “egocentrics” in power.
Bunyan, however, went on a tangent and raised the idea of having an SIC reality TV show, where councillors would have to do daunting tasks like explain a 50 page report in two minutes, or make an unpopular decision.
Following the speeches, the audience remained resolute in their support for councillors to be elected.
A final motion, which said Nigel Farage should be knighted, saw the ‘for’ side trying to promote his achievement in “giving a voice to millions” while the team going against the motion decried his “racist and divisive” views.
The final show of hands revealed there was little UKIP sympathy in the room – at least not publicly – with not one person in the room in support of the motion.