The finalists of the Law Society of Scotland’s annual national schools debating competition have been confirmed, after a nail-biting semi-final that saw the return of the unseen motion.

The four teams going through to this year’s grand final of the Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament are: Douglas Academy, East Dunbartonshire; Fortrose Academy, Highlands; Peebles High School, Borders; and the Royal High School, Edinburgh.

The Dewar Debate, now in its 22nd year, is the biggest competition of its kind in Scotland, with 64 teams from schools across the country entering the tournament in September in the hope of ultimately being crowned champions. For the first time, the tournament has taken place entirely online, due to the coronavirus pandemic and, over the course of several increasingly tough heats, the teams have been whittled down to the final four. They will battle it out in the grand final on Thursday, 10 June.

After a relaxation in the rules last year due to the pandemic, this year’s semi-final saw the return of the unseen motion. This is when competitors are given the motion just one hour before the debate starts and must prepare their arguments without the use of technology, books, newspapers or other external sources.

With the semi-final heats taking place over two days, different unseen motions were set for each heat. These were:

  • This House would introduce positive discrimination to put more women in the Scottish Parliament
  • and This House would abolish prison for all but violent criminals.

The motions for this year’s semi-final were inspired by content in What’s new?, a new digital resource for Modern Studies from tournament sponsor Hodder Gibson, launching in April. What’s new? is available for National 5 and Higher, providing ready-made lesson presentations that will be updated four times a year and delivered through Hodder Gibson’s interactive Boost platform.

Lyndsey Thomson, Careers & Outreach coordinator at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We have been so impressed by the quality of the debates this year, with pupils taking on the challenge of debating against each other remotely with real enthusiasm and skill.

“Re-introducing the unseen motion certainly added to the pressure for the semi-finalists. They should be extremely proud of themselves for the comprehensive arguments they pulled together under such tight restrictions. It was great fun to watch and I can’t wait to see the arguments put forward by the four teams at the grand final in June.”

The winners of the tournament will be awarded £1,000 for their school by the Law Society of Scotland, with the runners-up receiving £250, donated by the Glasgow Bar Association. The top two schools will also share educational books to the value of £500, donated by event sponsor Hodder Gibson. The best floor speech on the day will win a £50 book token, sponsored by the Scottish Law Agents Society.

You can find out more about this year’s competition on our debate pages or follow #DewarDebate on Twitter.

Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament

This year, our annual schools debating tournament will see 64 teams from across Scotland enter the first round, with just one team crowned the winner at the grand final.