A few quick thoughts on last night before I dash away to record a discussion on it for batemanbroadcasting.com with an all-female panel. (It will be posted later and I’ll tweet when it’s ready).
I don’t much like the idea of winners and losers in debates because it detracts from content and what should be the key element of dialogue, but without thinking of it as a sporting event, I still felt I had heard a more compelling case and a more measured tone from Salmond than a curiously unsettling performance from Darling. (I thought Glenn Campbell done good in this show. A nod to him and old bruiser Bernard)
At heart what is lacking from Darling is a convincing case for No. When asked to step beyond fear and uncertainty over his opponent’s proposition, he flounders. Or rather, he crumbles. To be flummoxed on what new powers might deliver is a stunning hole in the middle of the Unionist case. To be honest, I always thought there would come a scary moment for Nats like me when the Unionist parties realised they needed a clear Next Move and would produce a combined Devo Max offer guaranteed by all, irrespective of UK government configuration after the general election.
Ludicrously late it might have been and dogged by their refusal to have it on the ballot paper but a strong offer with total agreement would have swung wavering Labour folk into line. It hasn’t happened. Why on earth not? It looks like failure to commit and leaves their case weak and woolly when they needed something to shove in Salmond’s face and say: Look. This is what they want and we’ll deliver it.
And wouldn’t it have been a coup for them if they had an intelligent and attractive woman leader in Scotland who could have presented their case? Imagine if she had stepped up for the second debate, figuratively shoving Darling aside and saying: Let me at him. I can do this. I speak for working class Scotland and I’m his match.
The sad truth about Alistair is that his skills aren’t really in this domain. Think back to the first debate and all that happened was that he confounded the doubters by shouting, dominating by speaking over and being aggressive – against expectation. There was no content. There WERE questions and demands but again he stumbled on powers. His case relies entirely on picking holes in the opposition and working them into uncertainties to worry people. That should only be the start of his proposition, not the end. And how can a Labour politician (as he constantly said he was as if it was in doubt) not sound like the champion of social justice, however defined?
Alistair looks and sounds like corporate man and was nailed by the woman who reminded us of how he is the plaything of the corporations, pocketing thousands for helping the NHS privateers. People can take him up to a point but the same tight mouth, angry eyes and finger jabbing doesn’t work twice, especially when your message is unchanged.
Salmond, whom they try to denigrate, is made to sound modest in comparison, reasonable and only occasionally fired up with passion when appropriate. The right wing numptie press in England like to deride him as a provincial bank manager type (that is, not the right stuff). Yet the town banker used to be a figure of respect, on speaking terms with all, carrying our secrets, never getting too far above himself or the gossips would start. Like Salmond he might not quite fit his suit and have a crumpled look, a man clearly at war with his weight – aren’t we all – and with a vulnerable side that makes him approachable. He is not the forbidding, ultra smooth and aloof posh figure Darling projects. Disappointing that Darling couldn’t bring himself to call Salmond by his first name. Such blatant rudeness. Such contempt for both the man and for his office (and by extension Scotland). There is a visceral dislike in this that he can’t conceal and I speak as an Angry Nat.
There was a moment at the end where I realised how badly this had gone. I have been in studios when an interviewee has had a bad day and made a hash of a discussion. It takes time to recover composure. The result is that even after you’ve thanked them, they sit stock-still. They don’t move a muscle as they go back over their performance and what it means for them. Shell shocked would cover it. That’s what Darling did at the final whistle. He was unmoving, hands stuck to the lectern, mind absorbing the awful truth.
Ultimately, the Union case is Don’t Change. Don’t Risk It. It Could Be Worse. Scotland Isn’t Worth It. The delirious energy of Yes, boosted with more oxygen from last night, mocks their sterility. No is turning this into a gothic gloom of a future where we’re crap and we know it but we’re powerless to change it.
That gives undecided voters a clearer impression of the choice, stripped of the mechanistic and legalistic sophistry around currency and treaties and debt.
The commentators sneer that this might come down to Scotland or Britain– which is it to be? It may come down something even simpler – The Future: Good or Bad?by