THE tweets went round, a little less desultory than usual: “I suppose this seems like a BBC Question Time (#bbcqt) I might watch this week.” And indeed, Thursday’s show – its cast-list scattered all over the Holyrood Parliament chamber – looked as if it might rub cliches together vigorously enough to catch some flame.

A strangulated editor of the Spectator, a Duracell-powered young Scots Tory, the near-papal Michael Russell, a Celebrity Who’s Clearly Getting Out Of Here, and Val McDermid (representing literature and humans). Plus a “diverse” audience which we now know is carefully assembled by an “audience producer” (with equally carefully placed “star turns”, in case the pabulum threatens to choke us all). Haud me back.

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Presiding over all of this was an emanation from the very earliest Reithian days of the BBC. More polite even than Jacob Rees-Mogg, nobly obliging both Duke and Dustman in the democratic dialogue, alive and twinklingly ready for the bluster and bullshit. But, quite manifestly, bored out of his gourd.

And as Britain’s break-up continues, like an alarmingly speedy ice crack under the feet, it’s perhaps no surprise to hear that oor ain Kirsty Wark is the frontrunner to replace David Dimbleby in the chair. The Britishness of this broadcasting corporation made diffuse again, lest the whole enterprise goes completely under.

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Was it a classic of the QT genre? Meaning, did it actually serve its vaunted ambition of “opening up politicians to the views of the public”, in a brief, fizzing spectacle of citizenship? There was nothing as powerful as the woman I remember from 2015, a nail-bar owner called Michelle Dorrell. She was an ex-Tory voter who exploded on-air at Amber Rudd defending cuts to tax credits.

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“I work bloody hard for my money to provide for my children ... and you’re going to take it away from me and them,” she said. “I can hardly afford the rent, the bills, and you’re going to take more from me.”

The Dover audience started chanting “Shame on you! Shame on you!”. (Michelle is now a committed activist in Momentum).

The nearest memorable exchange on Thursday was the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson orating about drug crime statistics in Aberdeen, and then being upbraided by a criminologist in the crowd who ... actually happened to be studying drug crime in Aberdeen. A little too convenient, perhaps? With the 2017 accusations that a certain audience producer was exercising her own far-right predilections in selecting punters, maybe this was a plant intended to be noticed.

Personally, I have a terrible tendency these days to regard the post-10.30pm political shows as my own variety of soap opera. Predictable characters, endless versions of roughly the same establishment-led storyline, and some truly weird costumes and casting. Call it consensus-reality TV.

But it’s also a bit of a conveyor belt – a showbiz moment for the facile, fluent and generally capable, selling their communicational wares. There are many more paid gigs than politics that require talking on your feet, an instant framing of issues, and a mildly engaging personality.

As I saw it on Thursday, a Kezia Dugdale untethered from the comrades will be a pretty effective centre-left advocate. One might imagine her as the voice of a major charity or NGO: You heard it here, em, probably not first. (I’d also say any hammering of the Nats she conducted was with an only-partially-inflated joke hammer, squeaking as it landed. Noted).

But it’s probably not good enough just to regard Question Time as an end-of-week accompaniment to a bottle of Merlot (plus some shouting and throwing of knitted objects). Our broadcast media should be helping us to become thoughtful citizens, as we spectate on our various general meltdowns. So we should run the rule over Question Time as it is – and if it’s found wanting, try some new forms.

The National:

Kezia Dugdale could be the voice of a major charity

Phil Burton-Cartledge, lecturer in sociology at Derby University, is a self-confessed nerd about Question Time. He is about to publish research on the demographics and political balance of the show since its inception, and gave me a sneak preview.

Phil notes first that women have been under-represented in the show’s history – with only one season, 1995-96, in which they provided more than 50% of appearances.

(I can’t imagine Kirsty Wark wouldn’t address that immediately).

His particular bugbear is the “almost total erasure of trade unionists”, while business representation maintains its presence. From 2010 until the end of the 17-18 season, trade unionists have appeared nine times in total; business, in 32 slots; and celebrities (novelists, actors, the arts) have had 55 slots. From 1979 until 1990, it was 51 slots, 65 slots, and 10 slots respectively.

As Phil points out, trade unions are the largest voluntary organisation in civil society, with a membership of six million – “but leading trade unionists combined have been on less than Nigel Farage” in the last decade. An indicator there of capital’s vanquishing of labour – but also of cultural capital becoming just as important as finance capital. Or, that QT producers just want that crazy Russell Brand or Eddi Reader on again.

(Though the National Union of Journalists might be pleased. After politicians, says the lecturer, “the most represented occupational category is journalists”. And they are largely selected, suggests Burton-Cartledge, to “stir up a bit of controversy in the studio”.)

I asked Phil about the SNP’s representation on the show – and it is, indeed, a poor show. During the LibDems’ Coalition period (2010-15), when they had 57 MPs, they averaged 25 MP slots per Question Time season. When the SNP had 56 MPs (over 2015-17), their average was between 13 and 14 slots for MPs.

That’s a clear disproportion. And it persists. At 2017’s snap election, the SNP went down to 35 MPs, and the LibDems were restored to 12. However, during the 2017-18 season each party got an equal number of slots on Question Time with six … even though the SNP have nearly three times as many Westminster seats as the LibDems. On all of this record, Burton-Cartledge speculates that the rationale of the show’s producers would be “to justify this in terms of vote shares, and of not seeing the SNP as a ‘proper’ third party as it only contests seats in Scotland”.

Has anyone heard this rationale publicly? If not, shouldn’t someone ask? It’s frustrating, and kind of predictable, but still important. The political majority in Scotland is being asked (or compelled) to wrench out some kind of liveable future within this constricting, mutating Union. If so, then its political representatives should at least get proportional access to that Union’s major weekly political show.

Will our new BBC Scotland channel, with its well-staffed hour-long nightly edition and projected “People’s News” show, begin to rectify matters? Will Stuart Cosgrove’s plea last Sunday be heard – that the Scots who see the future of their country as independent might get broadcast media which respects that position, fairly and justly?

We shall see. Scots certainly need more media time slots where political and policy questions can be asked – and perhaps, even, solutions co-created. In any case, let us agree one thing. There is much more to democratic engagement with our media platforms than dinging the dog’s favourite soft toy off the screen every Thursday night.