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Bad and good questions in the indyref campaign

I've just spent a few happy days with my two great nephews - who are great in every way.

One of their themes of the moment related to questions. They were capable of rattling off 100 questions an hour and, to modify their curiosity, the theme for the week was: "Is that a 'good' question' or a 'bad' question?

A 'good' question was one which was well thought out and had the possibility of an answer which would be helpful or informative.

A 'bad' question, on the other hand, was one to which there could be no obvious answer or which was inappropriate to the situation, the questioner, or the person being asked.

Despite their lack of years, they had quickly understood, and asked few 'bad' questions - often stopping themselves, and saying: "Oh - no, that's a bad question."

It occurred to me that comparisons could be made with the way that the supposedly more sophisticated campaign that is the Independence Referendum has been prosecuted.

Virtually all politicians involved know well that the vote on September 18 is not about Alex Salmond, the SNP, Braveheart or fortune-telling. They know equally that the discussion to be had is in reference to the governance of Scotland - as a 'region' of the UK, or as a country in charge of all its own affairs.

There are arguments to be made on both sides and there are politicians and media authorities who are equally well qualified to comment on the details involved.

From that, you would expect there to have been a limited number of 'bad' questions during the campaign, and that 'good' questions would have driven the discussion forward.

Well, perhaps that was a little naïve.

The political parties, in the main, and presumably with vested interests, are asking 'bad' questions on a daily basis: What will Scotland be like in five years' time? Will we be able to see Doctor Who? Will there be Border crossings? What will be the currency? What about the EU? What powers will we get if there is a No vote? What is Plan B? Where is Plan A?

In my nephews' parlance, these are 'bad' questions, because the answers depend on either foretelling the future or the results of negotiations which have not yet taken place. My nephews already know that asking questions when you know there can't be an answer is not seeking information, but making mischief.

Happily, perhaps the most valuable development during the campaign, are the increasing numbers of groups, outwith the party political mainstream, who are asking 'good questions'. The National Collective, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Common Weal, the Radical Independence Campaign, as well as other groupings and individuals, are drawing attention to 'good' questions that can be considered before the vote.

What kind of Scotland do we want to live in? How do we challenge inequality? Can there be justice with the current ownership of land in Scotland? Do we aspire to dubious 'world power' status, or to take care of the most vulnerable in our society? Does the UK system work for the most needy in our society? Is there a different way, a better way?

There are differing answers to these questions - but answers are possible - and so they are 'good' questions, and all of those questions are better than the ultimate 'bad' question: "Will I be better off?"

Surely the most important 'good' question is: "Do we want the poorest and most vulnerable to be better off, and will Independence give us a better chance to achieve that?"

Assuredly there are more questions than answers - but perhaps the calibre of the questions defines the quality of the argument.

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Local government

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