Friday, 9 September 2011

Why not just get on with it?

Obviously there was nothing in the SNP's legislative programme announced this week that hadn't been flagged up well in advance, so I didn't really pay too much attention to it all, but one or two items of pro-independence propaganda stood out.

First there was Alex Salmond's reference to the Claim of Right in his address to Parliament. Which appears to be substantively meaningless, thus it was particularly apt that the first minister should mention this in a speech consisting largely of spiel, spin and soundbite. Onywey:
We hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.
Which means what, precisely? That Westminster simply does what Alex Salmond tells it to do on the back of an election won by virtue of the endorsement of barely 1 in 5 of the population, that was indeed secured by way of celebrity and tabloid newspaper endorsements, cash from cronies and even blatantly misleading the public in the ballot box? Of course, that's a bit harsh, because there was some substantive policy that no doubt helped sway voters, such as the sheer vision and reforming zeal of the council tax freeze, not to mention, er...

Thus the quote from the Claim of Right meant nothing other than yet another soundbite in a speech largely devoid of substance, unless it could be construed as referring to the indisputable sovereign right of the Scottish people to vote for independence if they so desire.

But Mr Salmond didn't really mention that either, thus underlining that it was all just another attempt to manipulate public opinion as regards a future referendum. Why not put the Claim of Right into practice by calling the vote rather than merely quoting something meaningless? Answers on a postcard to Bute House, please, except that of course Mr Salmond knows the answer to that question better than anyone.

Another one that caught the eye this week was Jim Crumley's Courier column, which managed to get a bit of pro-independence stuff in between the pro-sea eagles and anti-wind farm blurb. Thus, regarding Danny Alexander's "hysterically droning" speech to the Scottish CBI:
One imagines that there will be a great deal more of this from Westminster sages of various political hues as the independence referendum draws nigh. But don't you find it strange that the Westminster government goes to such extraordinary lengths to champion the cause of Arabs who want their independence half a world away...
Er, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think what he's referring to was anything to do with "independence", at least unless you subscribe to the mindset that effectively equates Scotland's relationship with the UK to that of Tibet's with China.

Mr Crumley "drones hysterically" on:
...but is so determined to bully Scotland out of the notion that it is capable of thinking and acting for itself, and (perish the thought apparently) it's just possible that we might be better at running our wee country better than they are?
Which is ironic in that the first part of his column consists of stuff about Edinburgh's inability to construct a glorified train set. Must be the Union's fault then.

"Bully" is also an interesting word, which of course does little more than emotionally reveal a preference, because given the context in which he uses it we must all be bullies, including Mr Crumley himself.

His penultimate word "they" is also interesting, since it seems to assume that everyone in Scotland has adopted the same perspective on such matters, like a 'them and us' sort of thing as far as the UK is concerned. Well, clearly Danny Alexander hasn't, and presumably there are others as well. Oh aye, it's generally the majority of Scots when anyone is interested enough to ask them.

But I think I've droned on hysterically long enough now with my own propaganda, so just a quick mention of my other favourite episode of the week, this time the priceless moment on Newsnicht when Nationalist Ewan Crawford accused opponents of trying to "pin the SNP down on individual questions so that the bigger picture is lost".

Aye, let's ignore things like the economy, the currency, pensions, defence, wind farms and sea eagles, and let's decide it all on the basis of things like the Claim of Rights, "forging our own destiny" and that David Cameron is effectively little better than Colonel Gadaffi, presiding over a totalitarian UK state. Saor Alba!

But if it's all so obvious then why just not get on with it?

Perhaps the problem in that regard is that Scots living in the real world are a bit more realistic and circumspect about these things than people living up in the hills and making a living from writing books and newspaper columns, say?

Frankly I'd be more impressed by the SNP if they simply said that they won't have a referendum right now because they know they can't win it and they're in the meantime trying to formulate a version of greater autonomy that the Scottish people will buy. Any other stated rationale for the delay represents mere contrivance and artifice.

But clearly they won't state explicitly what's blatantly obvious to even the dogs in the street, because the UK political imperative is not to be candid and honest, and the longer the SNP continue with this charade the more they revert to Westminster type.


Angus McLellan said...

At the risk of repeating myself, timing is as important for a politician as a comedian. If the SNP leadership think they will improve their chances of winning a referendum by waiting, why not wait? The opposition can hardly complain. Their mantra has always been "not now, not ever".

There's plenty for the government to be getting on with, from reforming the police & fire service to amending the Scotland Bill out of recognition, in the meantime. Done well, these things will increase the chances of a win. And the hapless opposition and the uninspiring Westminster government should be allowed as much time and rope as possible with which to hang themselves.

Did you catch sight of the story about Fiona Hyslop's "blunder" on the EU? I don't know whether this is the SNP starting to open megaphone talks with the European Union, or whether it is just another case of giving the Unionists enough rope, or whether it signals a change in the precise meaning of "Scotland in Europe". Whichever it is - and it needn't be just one - we shall see soon enough.

Barbarian of the North said...

I think Salmond was overdoing it a bit with his opening speech. Saying that, it wasn't unexpected, but to be honest people want to see action rather than a glorified speech (exceptions being those fundamentalists who worship at the Temple of the Holy Pie Eater).

It's still east street for the SNP, and it makes you wonder if they should have gone for the jugular and risked the referendum.

The longer a party stays in government, the less popular they become. All it will take is a couple of major cockups and things might go pear shaped.

The other problem is the majority. One hand Salmond knows he can bulldoze just about anything through parliament, on the other the voters will be expecting him to deliver, and excuses about Westminster might not wash.

Whatever happens, we've and the 100 days and basically bugger all has happened, Hopefully things will not start picking up.

Stuart Winton said...

Angus, I agree with much of what you say, and indeed the opposition parties are equally opportunistic from where I'm standing.

However, my point wasn't so much about the SNP securing political advantage but the way the whole thing is spun. For example, that the economy and jobs is more important than the referendum, hence the delay. Which has of course been the line since well before the landslide election victory.

But of course the reality is that if the polls were currently saying that 70% (say) would endorse independence in a referendum then we'd no doubt be having one on Novemember 30 this year or whenever the appropriate legislation could be rushed through Holyrood.

My point essentially is that it's all just a bit too opportunistic and lacking in candour, to put it as nicely as possible.

No, I wasn't aware of the Fiona Hyslop story, but thanks for the heads up, because it sounds interesting!


Indeed, but on the other hand I was kind of saying that last time round.

But the do-next-to-nothing strategy last time round seemed to help rather than hinder the SNP, because it's perhaps when parties actually try to implement big changes that they tend to alienate people, and then when things don't quite turn out as planned then they alienate even more, and by the end of their term the public are fed up and give the other side a chance.

Which was kind of what I meant when the SNP won the unexpected majority and I thought it would be a poisoned chalice in that they would actually have to do something rather than just tread water and keep going with the anti-Westminster strategy.

But of course that perhaps looks like the strategy for the second term as well, despite the SNP's effectively unbridled power at Holyrood.

Thus just keep Scotland ticking over and don't try to do too much. Continue with the schtick that if only Westminster gave us more powers - like that job creating magic wand - then we could just do so much more. And of course play on the Scottish anti-Tory ethos and blame Westminster for the cuts.

And the opposition parties' problems at Holyrood will also play into the SNP's hands.

Thus the 'perfect storm' for a referendum in a few years' time.

Of course, UK politics perhaps demonstrates that it normally takes a couple of terms before the public become disillusioned, and to that extent you may be right.

But whether or not the SNP become more or less popular I can't really see a huge groundswell of public opinion *against* a referendum on greater autonomy in three/four years' time.

Probably not full blown independence, but there seems little doubt that the public will vote for greater autonomy.

It's the degree of this autonomy that's the great unknown, and that's what Salmond & Co will be trying to ascertain between now and then to make sure they frame the referendum so they can win it.

Of course, the more mundane events between now and then will decide the SNP's popularity and to that extent perhaps also the degree of greater autonomy that the public will buy.

The more popular the SNP is by that time the greater autonomy the public will buy, and vice versa.

Clearly there will be cockups on the way, but the impact they have in the wider context is the big unknown. For example the Supreme Court hoohah and the cack-handed anti-sectarian legislation drive doesn't seem to have done the SNP any harm.

It's probably the 'externality' of the UK/Westminster/Tory factor that makes the 'two terms and your out' rule of politics more difficult to apply to the current Holyrood scenario.