“Scotland Debates” – the biggest live television debate in Scottish television history 1997
Operations Manager for the venue, the main contact with the television company, and an integral part of the team that attracted this very high-profile event to Rothes Halls.
“Scotland Debates” was a major live televised debate aired on 8th September 1997, just three days before the Referendum on Scottish Devolution. The audience was brought in in coachloads from all over Scotland – from Inverness & Fort William to Dumfries, and needed food, a drink, and a chance to stretch before going into our Main Hall for the debate.
“Scotland Debates” was done by the team that did the regular “Scottish Voices” series of programmes, who had already visited Rothes Halls a couple of times, using our Small Hall, so to that extent we were well placed to pitch for this event. Other factors that I pushed included the availability of ample parking for coaches within a three-minute walk (courtesy of Fife Council, whose office car parks are usually empty after 1700h), the convenient parking area at the rear of the Halls for the OB trucks, with convenient cable hatches to run leads to and from the Hall, the experience of the Halls catering contractors in dealing with food and drink requirements for large numbers (both at a banqueting and at a snack level), our ability to host the commentators, politicians and presenters in a luxurious area well away from the audience … but I have a slight suspicion that the deciding factor was geographic: Glenrothes is in Fife which is seen as a bit “off the beaten track” – thus taking the show to the people – but in fact is within 45 minutes of Edinburg and 90 minutes of Glasgow.
The couple of days beforehand were the usual panic. We had a very tight timeslot both before and after the event, and there were an awful lot of cables to run, and last-minute decisions to be made. The TV crew were focussed very much on the minute-by-minute practicalities, while the Halls technical team also had to bear in mind the tight Health and Safety regulations that apply to venues licensed for Entertainment – ensuring that the fireproof intumescent pillows were stuffed into the cable hatches that let cables pass through firewalls, and so forth. It’s not that either the Television or the Theatre/Entertainments disciplines have a lesser approach to safety matters, just that the disciplines differ and we were fortunate that the crews got on well enough to ensure that we got the best of both worlds, rather than constant conflict.
On the night, I was one of the two Duty Managers, being there to deal with technical and operational stuff while my colleague dealt with the audience. As always with a properly-planned event, my main role was to be there, exuding an air of calm confidence, and to take decisions about last-minute changes. It often actually doesn’t matter what the decision is – just that it’s made calmly and promptly! In the event, there was only one bobble … one of the coaches was delayed. However, it arrived in the nick of time (although “spare” audience members were on standby), and that part of the audience was hurried into the auditorium with only a bare few minutes to stretch their legs.
The show went off extremely well, and I was delighted to have had the opportunity to be part of it. Part of my family background is Scottish, and I found the seven years I spent working in Scotland among the most rewarding of my professional life, so the Devolution debates were something I felt very much part of.