Pupils from Peebles High School have been crowned Scotland’s best young debaters, after winning the grand final of the Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament 2020/21, organised by the Law Society of Scotland.

Thomas Dunmur and Laura Eggleton of Peebles High School in the Borders won the national debating competition on the strength of their arguments opposing the motion “This House would ban opinion polls being published in the build-up to an election”. It is the second year in a row that a team from Peebles High School has won the tournament and its third win in just four years.

Thurso High School pupils Kyle Leavesley and Kieran Johns were named runners up of the final, and Thomas Fox and Edie Matthewson of Fortrose Academy, and Laura Young and Douglas Macartney of The Royal High School, Edinburgh, also competed in the final.

For the first time ever, this year’s Dewar Debate tournament took place entirely online, owing to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, the grand final is hosted in the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament and Deputy Presiding Officer Liam McArthur MSP opened proceedings with a short, recorded speech.

This year, 64 schools from across Scotland entered the national school debating tournament. Pupils tackled a series of diverse topics over a number of heats in order to reach the final, including: making voting compulsory, abolishing the Olympic Games, introducing positive discrimination to put more women in the Scottish Parliament, and abolishing prison for all but violent crimes.

The winners receive £1,000 for their school from the Law Society of Scotland, with the winners and runners up sharing educational books to the value of £500, donated by tournament sponsors Hodder Gibson Publishers. The runners up also receive £250, donated by the Glasgow Bar Association and all finalists will receive a book token and commemorative gift to mark their success.

Pupils who took part in earlier rounds of the tournament were also in the audience for the virtual final and contributed to the floor debate on the night. Aimee Ross of Fortrose Academy won the prize for best floor speech and will receive a £50 book token, courtesy of the Scottish Law Agents Society.

Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Congratulations to Thomas and Laura on their well-deserved win. It was a hard-fought final and I was incredibly impressed by the skill of all the debaters and the quality of their arguments. The judges certainly had a hard task choosing the winner from a fantastic group of finalists and the six other challengers proved worthy opponents, with passionate and skilled reasoning. Everyone should be very proud of their achievements and reaching the final.

“I am delighted that we have been able to continue to give schools and pupils the chance to participate in the Dewar Debate by going fully online. The final was an exciting and fitting end to the tournament and I thank all the debaters and coaches for their commitment and enthusiasm in such challenging circumstances.

“Many thanks also to our chairperson and judges, to the Scottish Parliament and our sponsors for their continued support, and to the team at the Society for always working tirelessly to ensure the competition runs so smoothly.”

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.