Pupils prove they can talk the talk

Mari and Blair
Mari and Blair

TWO high school pupils proved they had the gift of the gab and the knowledge to back up their confident words last week.

Mari McKinlay and Blair Wilson, both 15, made Braes High School proud when they won through to the grand final of this year’s Law Society of Scotland Donald Dewar Memorial debating tournament.

The pragmatic pair debated on the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16 and put Balfron High, Edinburgh Academy and Abronhill High to the verbal sword at the semi-final showdown, which was hosted in Braes High.

Blair, from Shieldhill, said: “We have debated once or twice before, but this is a different format.”

“Nothing we’ve done has been as competitive as this,” added Mari, from Brightons.

The first round saw them debate the merits, or otherwise, of extending work experience and the second round had them waxing lyrical on the good or harmful aspects of the Internet.

In last week’s semi-finals they were only told the subject they would be covering one hour before the debate. Luckily the school pals are a perfect match – each bringing their own set of unique skills to the table to create a formidable debating team.

“Mari brings the style,” said Blair. “She’s very good with the presentation of the debate. I’m good with the content and the replies – you have to be quick on your feet because they can stop you at any time and you have to come back with a reply to what they say.”

Mari said: “Blair’s the brains of the group – I was stressed we only had an hour to learn about the subject we were debating, but luckily it was something I was able to talk about.”

The annual competition, sponsored by Simpson & Marwick solicitors and Hodder Gibson publishers, is now the biggest schools’ debating tournament in Scotland, with hundreds of competitors taking part from schools all over the country.

Running for over a decade, the Donald Dewar Memorial tournament is a tribute to an individual, a parliamentarian and a solicitor who contributed greatly to Scotland and Scottish public life.

Whether they win the tournament or not, both Mari and Blair will have benefited greatly from their experiences in the last few months.

A Hodder & Gibson spokesman said: “We believe debating is good fun, teaches skills which are invaluable at university, job interviews and in employment. Debating is the art of researching, constructing and presenting an argument.

“As well as looking fantastic on your personal statement in your UCAS form for university and on a CV, it’s a life skill that will help you in every aspect of life.”

Blair and Mari will now rest vocal chords and recharge brain cells for the final, which will take place in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament on June 16.

“It should be good,” said Blair. “But we’ve got exams to worry about first.”