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End the warm-up and get in the game

At first glance, the independence debate should be boosted tomorrow by the interventions of two big political beasts.

Gordon Brown – a successful chancellor but a disappointing prime minister – will help launch Labour's separate pro-Union campaign in Glasgow. At the same time, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will make a speech to mark the start of 70 weeks to the referendum.

Brown will no doubt attack the Nationalists and indulge in the scaremongering which has become the stock-in trade of those who aim to save the union. Sturgeon talks about there being a "natural majority" for independence, but from the detail so far revealed the speech does not look like a major contribution to the debate.

So far, so business as usual. The trouble is that the independence debate is not business as usual. The referendum is the most important choice Scotland has faced for 300 years. A debate of this nature requires exciting and innovative ways of persuading the country to connect with the issues involved and consider the attractions and possible problems.

But instead of an inspiring, invigorating debate of ideas, much of the debate has so far resembled little better than a tired and jaded rehash of a traditional political campaign.

The audience of tomorrow's speeches says its all: Sturgeon is addressing Yes activists, while Brown will deliver a Labour message to a vetted Labour audience.

So far, the case on each side has been targeted at people who have already made up their minds. The "debate" itself seems to have consisted of a series of angry press releases, endless questions and manufactured Twitter rows.

It is in this context that the comments last week of businessman Sir Tom Hunter and others should be examined. He said: "We've had the skirmishes but we've got to get into the real fight and I'm really looking forward to it. I guess I'm impatient for some of the answers."

So what should be done?

In 2007, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traded blows in a series of fantastic debates in the primary contest to become the Democratic party candidate, leaving no-one in the dark about where each candidate stood on the issues.

In Scotland, a far greater emphasis should be placed on a series of public debates, not stage-managed rallies for the already converted.

The alternative is to turn the opportunity of a lifetime into a squandered opportunity.

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Local government

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