MORE eye-rolling than eye-opening was how one teenager summed-up Friday evening’s independence referendum debate in Dingwall.
Emily Ross came down from Strathpeffer looking for facts to help her make up her mind about the big vote. But she went away disappointed, saying it was more like a slanging-match.
"People were arguing amongst themselves more than anything else," said the 16-year-old.
"There were quite a lot of snide comments, even between the panel. We didn’t get an awful lot of information."
The Dingwall Academy event attracted about 180 people but only a handful represented the target audience of younger voters.
Bickering among the panel members was rife and the chairman had to shout to warn certain members of the audience to simmer down.
Scotland’s resources, membership of the EU, and the timeous question-mark hanging over the NHS, were among the major points of contention.
First Minister Alex Salmond has this week moved to rejuvenate the yes campaign by saying independence was the best way of protecting the NHS in Scotland from Tory-led privatisation.
Prime Minister David Cameron has dismissed Alex Salmond as a "desperate man" making a "desperate argument", insisting the only person with the power to
change the health service in Scotland was the First Minister. Health is devolved to the SNP.
But Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, including Dingwall, Black Isle, Aird and Loch Ness, said it was perilous to ignore Salmond’s warning.
"We have protected the NHS as much as we can," he said.
"We will not be able to protect it if we vote no because the Westminster government, especially with Boris Johnson in charge, will make sure that Scotland’s funding will continue to get slashed.
"I’m asking you to let hope reign over fear."
Mary Scanlon, veteran Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, claimed Mr Thompson was lying. "That’s lies. Unacceptable lies," she said.
Mrs Scanlon accepted that private hospitals were on the rise in the UK but said they had an important role to play in helping the NHS provide care.
She insisted that was not privatisation, and said all treatment was being funded publicly.
She said NHS Highland was in "dire-straights" after more than seven years under SNP leadership and challenged Mr Thompson to name one patient who had been denied care free at the point of delivery.
"In the last year Scotland has got an additional £300 million so why is it that Dave Thompson and the SNP blame Westminster when NHS Highland is facing £23 million in cuts this year and £10 million in cuts at Raigmore?
"The cuts are coming from the SNP. Why would you want to risk splitting away from the union?"
The pair continued to argue over key points, and made a contest out of who had come from the most impoverished background.
Mr Thompson urged the audience to vote yes, saying it would help poor people, and he knew all about poverty.
"I was born in a house with a corrugated iron roof and an outside toilet," he added.
"Given that Dave names where he was born," said Mrs Scanlon, "My father was a farm labourer who didn’t own any land. If you want to know about poverty I’ve got that t-shirt too."
Fellow panellist John Erskine, Labour candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, spoke about the future of Scotland in the EU, saying breaking away from the union would "create havoc with our closest trading partners".
Mr Thompson said he could not recall any newly independent country regretting the big move.
Panellist David Green, a researcher for the MP Charles Kennedy, replied: "How many of them have the opportunity to sit at the top table of world politics with a seat at the Security Council?"
Greg Shand, a young Dingwall nationalist who is now in his final year at university, was also on the panel, alongside Aodhan Byrne, also a former Dingwall Academy pupil who is now a student of history ad politics at University of Stirling.
Mr Shand made the point that too many Scottish people have to leave Scotland to find a job.
"One of the main areas that they go to is south east England. That’s the seat of power in this island. London is draining the wealth out of this country," he said.