Debate Night Comes to Perth

Last night I went to Perth Theatre to watch BBC Scotland’s filming of Debate Night.

This blog is about the event.
It is also about feeling scared to speak (something many ESL English learners feel all the time).

As you will see, a good solution is to immerse yourself in contexts with people totally unfazed by public speaking. Let their confidence transform you.

This is how our immersion language holidays work (you can find out how in this blog too).  


Debate night Perth - theatre entrance

Behind the Scenes at Debate Night Perth

Debate Night puts a panel of politicians and well-known voices in front of local audiences across Scotland to answer their questions.

There are about 5 pre-selected questions per show. Debate is formal; in most cases, each of the politicians gets a turn to answer each question (and also respond to one another), with the audience also able to raise a hand and get invited to respond to anything said.

“Remember that if your question isn’t selected you are still very much part of the debate”.

The host Stephen Jardine encouraged participation pre-show, by saying this was our chance to make our points to politicians – and hold them accountable. He loudly confided:

“I pretty much know what they are going to say. It is you I want to hear from”.

(I wondered what pep talk he gave the politicians).

There was a bit of pre-show audience prep – in which we were told not to look up for the mic before speaking, not to stand up (or risk getting hit on the head by the boom mic).

It was all presented with humour and enthusiasm.

There was good mindset advice,

“Look straight ahead, take a breath and say what you want to say”.

And audience ettiquette:

“Imagine the camera pans to an audience member making a point, and there’s someone opening a packet of crisps behind their head.”

And a few clear nos, like specifically alluding to the Rutherglen by-election (it is illegal to broadcast opinion during the pre-election period).

Debate night Perth - warm up

Don’t Wait to be Heard

We were also advised that the time would fly by, so don’t wait until the end before first raising your hand.

As the audience sat patiently, politicians and presenter got a final dusting of powder, and lapel mics were pinned on and adjusted.

It’s an odd sight if you are not in the industry, but so normalised by everyone’s compliance. Without being aware, my own capacity to be part of this TV world adjusted slightly.

There was a practice question to give everyone a taste of what to expect, and then Stephen Jardine stood, rattled off an impressively fast and wordy introduction to the panel in a single take.

Queue applause  – and the filming began.

Choose Your People

Last night proved to me that it really matters who and what you surround yourself with.

When I’d applied, I had just wanted to see politicians debate in real life and find out if I found them trustworthy and answering with integrity – or just see puppets spinning a party line (a frequent debate in our household).

One of the Debate Night team had phoned to check out my candidacy.

She encouraged me to submit a question.

“Oh no, I replied, I don’t want to be on telly, just watch”.

“If you change your mind, you can submit one at any time on Wednesday”.

I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine feeling brave enough. The odd thing is, after seeing Stephen Jardine charismatically boom welcome and thanks to the audience, after the warm-up round (compulsory national service?) and feeling the genuine willingness of the panel to take part in this platform, I didn’t feel camera shy, and I did feel like speaking up and being heard.

Earlier in the day I had recorded a short introduction video for our English language school (hub!).

I’m embarrassed how many takes it took me.

Self-doubt and insecurity got in the way – and once they started to erode my confidence, my ability to speak got worse.

For anyone promoting themselves or their work through video – there’s a reason experts say to do a bit every day. You do get used to it. It feels less and less like a big deal.

A Fresh Look at the Refugee ‘Crisis’

A question about immigration was asked.

“Does Scotland have the infrastructure to support high numbers of immigration?” 

Luke Graham MSP, Scottish Conservatives was asked by Stephen Jardine if he supported Suella Braverman’s recent language of a migration ‘hurricane.”

He replied with mild discomfort that it wasn’t his own choice of words.

The panel pointed out that the problems of high refugee numbers weren’t being experienced in this region, and to be wary of language used in the press and media to incite fear around the subject.

Keith Brown MSP described that the Perth and Kinross region was actively trying to encourage legal immigrants to the area. Perth and Kinross has a labour shortage. Legal immigrants are needed to fill jobs.

Debate night Perth studio floor symbol

Room for Drugs

A question was asked about Drug Consumption Rooms*, and how their efficacy would be measured.

Refreshingly, none of the answers seemed to be about point scoring, just sharing viewpoints to find a solution to Scotland’s horrendous drug addiction problems. (Almost 3 people die from drugs every day, by far the highest rate of any country in Europe, including the rest of Great Britain).

The panel each supported the initiative – with Keith Brown even pointing out that the Westminster government had even backed out of the debate and let Scotland press on with the policy unchallenged.

Horse pointed out that for any initiative to be successful, it would have to happen with the community onside – she had experienced NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) responses on a needle exchange project she’d worked on.

I appreciated everything David Duke MBE had to say.

Formerly homeless, David Duke’s life was changed by seeing an advert for the Swedish Homeless World Cup. He is the founder of Street Soccer Scotland, using football to change lives through providing relationships, hope and structure.

David Duke spoke with compassion on the subject of refugees, and drug addiction – and people’s lives in general, throughout every Debate Night question. 

I also think he made the best point of the evening.

“If someone is dealing with drug addiction and they have a pivotal moment – and reach out and seek help. A waiting list is no use, they’ll get lost back in the spiral of circumstance and addiction. Help needs to be available the minute someone seeks it.” (Paraphrased)


“If someone is dealing with drug addiction and they have a pivotal moment – and reach out and seek help. A waiting list is no use, they’ll get lost back in the spiral of circumstance and addiction. Help needs to be available the minute someone seeks it.” (paraphrased)

David Duke, Street Soccer Scotland

Finding Your Voice

All English learners have to get over fear and insecurity to speak and be heard.

I’m sharing my own fears to show that I am also on my own journey of development. Being too afraid of a TV camera to challenge politicians won’t change the world.

I’m not ashamed that I thought I wouldn’t want to speak out last night.

Instead, choose to see the positive: actually, I did feel brave enough in the moment.

So the next time I need to speak, I’ll be one step closer.

(Not being too self critical is another language learning tip!)

Tips for English Learners

If you need to feel courageous, spend time with courageous people.

There’s a really nice, simple English exercise that you can do if you hate your accent. Find someone famous from your country and listen to them speaking English in public. Admire them for speaking English in public.

Yes, they have an accent. So what! It Doesn’t stop them sharing their unique talent and power with the world.

It doesn’t shut them up – and it shouldn’t stop you either.

Grow Your ‘Confidence Muscle’

Confidence is just like a muscle. It is not something we are either born with or without. We all have a confidence ‘muscle’ but some of us haven’t learnt to exercise it yet.

It is really common to have a ‘small confidence muscle’ in a second language – even if you are a power house in your native language.  Just know that it doesn’t need to wait until you are ‘fluent’ or ‘perfect’ to grow strong.

In fact, working that muscle will help you gain fluency more than anything else.

Practising English in real, live situations will give you comfort speaking throughout your career – whatever it throws at you!

Top Up Your English

We have a convenient and flexible English practice to suit your schedule. It is one great way to grow your confidence muscle.

Top up my English online English voucher graphic

Here at Blue Noun Language Hub we offer feel good English conversations – on your schedule.

No need to plan ahead.

Just buy your vouchers and use them before the deadline.

These vouchers make a great present!

Immersion English Holidays

At Blue Noun Language Hub, we’re all about taking you behind the scenes and exploring the culture of Scotland – away from tourist trails, and having real conversations within our community. Don’t just see Scotland: be yourself, in English, in Scotland.

We have a great group of people who want to help you get talking, including artists and makers.

We’ll get you talking!

2024 English language holiday dates

*Scottish authorities on Wednesday approved a 2.3 million-pound ($2.8 million) pound drug consumption room, the first government-backed place in the U.K. where users can take illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin under the supervision of medical staff.

Further Information

Blue Noun Language Hub

About Perth’s New Museum.