IT’S the stuff of nightmares. You sit down and open the exam paper, only to realise you’ve revised entirely the wrong subject. Then you glance down and realise to your horror that you’re wearing your pyjamas or, worse still, your birthday suit. Waking up is a relief – of course this kind of thing would never happen in real life. Your anxious brain is playing tricks on you.

When SNP members Steven Campbell and Laura Pollock agreed to be interviewed for BBC Radio 5 Live at the party conference on Tuesday, they no doubt felt well prepared for their live broadcast debuts. They’d been invited to take part in a chat about what they were expecting from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech, so what could possibly go wrong? There’d be no prizes for guessing that independence would get a mention, along with the shambolic state of affairs at Westminster. As introductions to political punditry go, it would surely be gentle.

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But it did go wrong. It went wrong because from the very beginning they faced not the chat they’d prepared for but instead a hostile grilling about the “challenges” facing Scotland … with a ban on mentioning either the B-word or indyref2. Instead of talking about the two issues that were bound to dominate the First Minister’s conference address, they were invited to declare where they felt “the SNP have fallen short”. This wasn’t what they’d signed up for. But once it began, they were committed to it – they were live on UK-wide radio. They were exposed.

Listening to Nihal Arthanayake’s interrogation, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that young people were specifically sought out for this segment because they would be easier to bully. Older, more experienced SNP members might have taken the presenter to task over his framing of the questions. And if they’d been misled by producers about what the conversation would involve, they might have come out and said so, live on air.

What stopped these young people from doing so – apart from the fact that they were audibly stunned by the aggressive line of questioning – was that this was the first media appearance for both of them, and neither wanted it to be their last. They understandably wanted to give a good account of themselves, and represent their party well. I’m sure it didn’t occur to them that they could simply have rejected the whole premise of the discussion and walked away. And I’m quite sure those involved in setting them up knew that.

The National: Laura Pollock and Steven CampbellLaura Pollock and Steven Campbell

It’s fair to say The National doesn’t always give BBC Scotland the easiest of rides when it comes to its political coverage, but at least its presenters save their cross-examinations for politicians and public figures – people in positions of power. It doesn’t count as a “gotcha” when the person being “got” is a 20-year-old who’s been involved in party politics for less than a year.

It appears the team at Radio 5 Live have a more flexible approach to journalistic ethics. I was open-mouthed listening to Arthanayake firing off a series of leading questions after telling the pair “I trust you to be honest …”, and was impressed they had the wherewithal to raise the topics of climate change, childcare and tuition fees. Steven even had the gumption to point out – despite the presenter’s aversion to mentioning it – that Brexit will only worsen problems of NHS recruitment.

These young people should certainly not feel embarrassed by responding to curve-ball questions with long pauses for thought, but the presenter should be mortified. Presumably a producer had a word in his ear following his questioning about education – as he admitted he might have been reading out-of-date figures from his list of “SNP bad” bullet points – but without missing a beat he simply pivoted to discussion of the “referendum and election fatigue” that would surely doom a second vote on independence to failure.

This is about more than just the mistreatment of two young Scots – one of whom came away from the experience close to tears and drafting his letter of resignation as convenor of a Young Scots for Independence branch. What message does it send to other young people who are considering getting involved in politics that putting your head above the parapet might end with you feeling defeated and humiliated in this way?

Some might counter that Steven and Laura should not have put themselves forward if they weren’t tough enough to withstand a robust quizzing, but what message does that send about who is regarded is the right type of person for party politics? Someone with an ego the size of a conference hall and nerves of steel? I’m pretty sure we already have far too many of them – just look at Westminster.

Others might say they were poorly prepared, but how could they possibly have known they’d be asked about teacher shortages, mental health waiting times and the mechanics of a border between Scotland and England? They were expecting to be asked what they expected from Sturgeon’s speech, not called upon to defend every policy of a party that came to power when they were aged seven and nine respectively.

If this is BBC Five Live’s idea of “cordial and fair”, I’d hate to catch Nihal Arthanayake on a day when he was being rude and partisan.