Think Vienna, think waltzes, romance and spiralling architecture. The classical sculptures along the tram line, the ornate fountain in the park and the wide, open streets all hint at the renaissance heyday that this city once enjoyed. But it isn’t all former glory- the city has had huge amounts of recent development and the university campus (where the European Debating Championships were held) was one such example. Constructed entirely from new only three years ago, this campus looks like a film set. It maintains the wide open spaces that echo throughout Vienna but instead includes buildings whose sharp angles, white interiors and clean lines echo something closer to the Guggenheim.
It was a surreal experience judging the best debaters in Europe in a large, cool, entirely white room. ‘The Spaceship’ as it is affectionately known, provided the only area of cool in the otherwise 40 degree heat outside. Over the course of the week I watched 16 debates (9 of which I formally judged) and by the end of the process I knew that my judging experience had increased, and my skills had been honed. Seated on a panel of 3-4 judges, with a guiding ‘chair judge’ meant that our discussions regarding the debate we had just seen were detailed and comparative. Judging a debate requires the onlooker to impartially weigh up arguments and burdens of proof as well as considering the inevitable limitations that plague certain speaking positions. Ironically, to judge a debate, you must be able to debate, both with yourself to reach a decision, and with the other judges to convince them of that. The chair judges were some of the most famous debaters in the world, and their feedback was invaluable. They taught me how to approach decisions that I was unsure about, how to justify more fully why I thought something, and how to weigh up arguments that didn’t seem directly contradictory to one another.
I have no doubt that these skills will not only help me to educate future debaters at Edinburgh, but that they have altered the way that I approach issues and forced me to consider more abstract and subtle concepts. Most importantly though, the Championships were a chance to watch people from all over Europe discuss issues that transcend any cultural differences that may have existed. Some concepts debated were more theoretical (This House believes that parents of musically talented children should do everything to maximise the output of that talent), and some more practical (This House believes the EU should lift its arms embargo on China). To gather initial strangers together for a week in Vienna to discuss everything from philosophy to economics seems a strange idea, but it was the best competition I have ever been to. It is exciting to think that the issues discussed are ones that flow far further than the Danube, and one day some of the people I judged might have serious control over our future world.