WOODY Allen once claimed to have mastered the art of speed-reading.

"I've just finished War and Peace in 20 minutes," he said. "It's about Russia."

Thus Alistair Darling, Johann Lamont and Alistair Carmichael got through 650 pages of the White Paper on Independence in five minutes. And they concluded: "It's about Britain."

The common people frequently complain about the calibre of our politicians. Little wonder when you see leading statesmen and women perform predictable roles in a pre-scripted pantomime. They're not open to debate. Not open to persuasion.

Neither, to be fair, is the other side. What then is the purpose of debate? Pointlessly, I repeat the point that First Minister's Questions, for example, is a waste of time because nobody watches it. Even if, in the course of debate, someone makes a scintillating point, it goes ignored.

It's like the old days of football. Fabulous passing, great cross, a goal dribbled in by nose. But no cameras there to record it. Holyrood has cameras, but you might as well put bags over them. Like 1940s football, the debates might never have happened, except for the benefit of those actually present.

In the decent old days, mind, both set of fans might have applauded. At Holyrood, meanwhile, there must be some on Labour's benches tempted to clap all this progressive talk.

Only career, salary and tribal loyalty stay their hand, at least in public. No-one in a regulation red tie will announce: "I see what you mean. It is all clear to me now." Still, in the privacy of the polling booth, some may plump for Yes.

Many among the general public also remain open to persuasion. Some don't read or watch a word about the debate and then complain: "We dinnae have enough information." Here's an idea: stop moaning.

Others are making genuine attempts to understand, against a background barrage of disinformation. If the latter gets to them, a No vote is in the bag.

But the devil isn't in the bag. It's in the detail. Hence the 670-page White Paper. The three mentioned above demanded detail, but never had any real interest in it. They stick to broad-brush emotionalism and a form of nationalism that stresses strutting about on the world stage more than it does childcare.

Not that childcare - nor, for that matter, pages of introductory waffle about "fairness" (you don't say!) - does much for me. So am I persuadable for the Union? Oh, a tiny bit. As a former Air Cadet, there's always a little Spitfire propeller turning in my heart. There have been good things about Britain.

But, by and large, Scotland has been more shafted than propelled in recent decades and, doubtless, before that too. It's definitely a different country and could be so much better. So either you believe in your country running its own affairs or you don't.

That's a principle. All the rest is detail. True, re-watching 633 Squadron might tug on my old heart-strings. And when I catch anything on STV or BBC's Sportscene, I do have doubts as to whether we really could run our own affairs.

Cleverer observers than I have remarked the irony by which the old unionist claim we're too stupid to run our own affairs might actually prove correct when we choose not to.

It's said that we are not as other men. Centuries of thirldom to another nation has undone us, leaving colonised minds.

And yet, slowly, we're making progress. The ill-informed questions from the English media at the White Paper's launch in Glasgow on Tuesday shows how far the debate has come in Scotland. We've left them behind. Our betters possess few scoobies.

Speaking of which, our three speed-reading patriots have presumably finished the document by now.

So, do tell, Johann and the Alistairs (great name for a band; chuck in the Davidson quine and they could be a unionist Abba singing The Winner Takes It All To London): is there anything good in the document?

Or was it all bad, as you intuited before you had even speed-guessed a word?