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The question is, could we get a team on University Challenge?

By SPP Reporter

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University Challenge – "The House of Commons team went on to achieve one of the lowest-ever scores for the Paxman-era: 25 points!" – that’s what it says in the history, and I remember very well watching the show back in 2003.

It was nothing less than a slow motion rail crash as the "Mother of Parliaments" went down to ignominious defeat at the hands of a team of journalists. And, by then a member of the Scottish Parliament myself, I watched the show in mute horror.

"My goodness, thank heavens that wasn’t me," was my unspoken thought.

Fast forward six or seven months, and sitting at my desk and reading my emails, one particular new message caught my eye.

It said that the Scottish Parliament had been approached by Granada TV (the makers of University Challenge) and that Granada would shortly be coming up to Edinburgh to check whether we had what it takes.

A few days later, a second email told all interested MSPs to be in a committee room at a certain time.

"What the heck; I’ve always enjoyed pub quizzes" – thus yours truly showed up at the allotted hour. There were about two dozen other MSPs in the room waiting for Granada to start the proceedings.

"Right – we are going to ask you all to sit a small test.

"You will have exactly 50 minutes to write the answers to 50 questions which we shall play to you from this recording.

This does not in any way guarantee the Scottish Parliament appearing on University Challenge – after a recent unfortunate experience we have to make sure that teams do indeed have the necessary capability – but if the capability is there, then the test results will show us who should be on the team.

"Here we go – pencils at the ready – question number one…"

Crikey! Umm…

"Question number two."

Hold on, I haven’t done number one yet!

"Number three."

Fifty minutes later I returned to my office completely demoralised.

"Oh, didn’t you know that one? It was easy."

Ruddy clever clogs. Crossly I put the unfortunate episode from my mind and returned to whatever I had been doing.

A few weeks later the committee of which I was then a member (the Scottish Parliament enterprise committee) was fully engaged in an inquiry that we were holding – into a subject that will be

absolutely no stranger to readers of the Northern Times – the whys and wherefores of wind power and wind turbines!

In order to establish how much turbines impact on the lives of people living nearby (eg noise when the turbines are going full pelt) we decided that as a committee we would have to go and visit a wind farm. Thus we braved the winter gales and headed for Denoon.

By George it was rough weather out on the hills – and in our wellies and sou’westers we soon knew that this was a very far cry from the gilded life of Edinburgh.

"Begorrah, Seumas!" (she always called me Seumas). "We’ll be needin’ a drop or two after this back at the hotel!" shouted the extremely nice Irish-born Labour MSP Christine May.

Back at our small hotel in Denoon, as I wrung out my socks and searched for a dry jumper, I thought of that dram. (As we had wearily ascended the stairs to our rooms, I had promised Christine that I would meet her in the bar in a quarter of an hour.)

I was just straightening my hair – when the mobile rang. It was a number that I didn’t recognise.


"Jamie Stone?"


"This is Granada Television in Manchester – and I am delighted to tell you that the Scottish Parliament has been selected to take part in University Challenge and that you are one of the four on the team.

"And, Jamie, we would like you to captain the team…"

"Bejasus, Seumas – did you see a ghost?"

It was a big dram.

t More on this next week.

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