I get asked about the weather and how I’m coping with the rain. The answer is Just fine, thanks, I’m Scottish. In fact it’s a pleasure to feel it on my face after weeks of 30 degrees and a ground so hot you couldn’t walk barefoot. It’s also the best way to see the Clyde which I sailed up yesterday redolent as it is with long-gone memories of bustle and business, now a watery road to nowhere. The only vessel we passed was itself a museum, the Glenlee. Otherwise there wasn’t another human on the water and not a single pontoon to allow the thousands who live in town-size developments on the riverbank access to a boat. Peering through roan-flecked windows seemed about right.
I’m getting flashbacks to Portugal too, like opening the Herald after the Budget to find not one but three right-wing Unionists on the same day…you can take this balance business too far, you know. There may only be three right-wing Unionists left so you don’t want to bunch them up. There was Andrew McKie (who did a balanced analysis). There was Catherine Macleod (who blamed the SNP and said it was their job to defend Scotland from the Tories). And there was Jenny Hjul. I love Jenny. She’s comedy gold. Nobody generates a sense of outrage like her – remember her piece last year on discovering that an actor who happened also to be…a…a Nationalist from…Glasgow was living next door in Inverleith. (Seriously successful David Hayman). The vapours!
This time she was pleading with fellow Tories not to start a breakaway party (!?) as it would split the vote and help the Nats. This was all discussed at the great political hotbed that is the Scone Game Fair. I pictured her – Scotland’s own Hyacinth Bouquet – in one of those silk headscarves with horses on, in a quilted gilet with a Lab on a lead. She’s leaning on the bonnet of a Landrover as Roger Duff-Pennington-Smythe pops a cartridge into the breech and announces the next one’s for Salmond.
Shouldn’t someone sign up Jenny and Alan for one of those fly-on-the-wall programmes about people whose world has stopped turning and who are inadvertently hilarious like the Hamiltons – the Dying Breed. But better be quick…
And how prescient Catherine turned out to be. It was up to the SNP to offer the opposition because the spineless drones in her own party gave up. I read and re-read how Labour had been whipped to abstain. How some had ‘rebelled’ by opposing the Tories. And then heard the abstainers brazenly claim to have opposed all along. This doesn’t qualify as politics to me but the mad rush of the headless chickens just before they drop dead. I’m of the view that Labour’s only medium term hope is that Corbyn wins, the party splits and forces for the first time in 20 years an all-members fears-and-tears debate about the purpose of a Labour Party. Its sole purpose just now is to make the Tories look like they’re right. Which takes me to my main point.
I came across an assortment of commentators whom I assembled into a New Intellectual Front because they’re all really brainy. They were moaning about the Nationalists from different aspects and concluding earnestly that it wasn’t good enough. They included Hugo Rifkind, David Torrance, Kenny Farquharson and Andrew Tickell who all had some criticism or other and they mirrored a tone that has emerged since the General Election. You may have noticed it in the writings of Kevin McKenna as well. (I suspect he was seduced by interviewing Kezia).
Hugo is fed up with the SNP braying about themselves and appearing to be morally superior and lecturing everyone on how clever they are. (Isn’t that what London commentators do, I hear you ask). I detect in this an unease about SNP encroachment from a London Scot reluctant to be associated with the more hirsute clan members bringing their unsavoury practices into polite society. It is a notable phenomenon that while some Scots become ever more stereotypical when relocated – pint of heavy, pal and don’t put water in that whisky – others come over all apologetic – I haven’t lived there for years and never voted SNP. Why the hell are so many Scots embarrassed about being Scots? I know another London Scot who was so outraged at Salmond waving a saltire at Wimbledon that he wrote him a personal letter of complaint. Eh? It’s as if they want to tip-toe around their new friends and play the role of the shy incomer who all but denies his identity. For fear of what? Can it be that over the generations we have quietly accepted our allotted role of inferior type, of not being officer material, of being the butt of jokes and that we have to demur in order to get on?
Hugo, a perceptive and entertaining writer, has form here. He once wrote a piece complaining that he worried he was too posh to be truly Scottish, relying on the generally working class nature of our country which produced cultural rules he couldn’t apply to himself. He sounded an outsider here who had found a comfort zone more suitable (and started a family) in London.
What he seemed to miss was that it might be attributable to this mum and dad that they made him one of the four per cent who attend fee-paying schools. Making an educational choice is one thing but knowingly setting your child apart and telling them they are superior with a higher expectation of entitlement is a social division which not everybody copes with. I am not convinced it is Scotland’s fault if you feel you don’t fit in. And in his case, can you really exclude the possibility of some scurrilous wretch taking exception to your famous father’s role as posh Tory lawyer and MP? I’m glad Hugo’s happily settled but I wish he’d stop blaming the Scots for his own angst.
The NIF boys are also adamant that the SNP must come up with more and radical policies and can’t just be against everything. And, as Catherine also wrote, they will have to ameliorate the hardship about to be unleashed on the poor. Are they blind in one eye? If the role of Holyrood is to exact taxes from Scots simply to allay the worst of Westminster decisions, is not the case for independence explicitly made? To argue it is Scotland’s job merely to mop up London’s mess shows how we are diametrically different countries in need of a break. Yet there is a gusto in Farquharson’s view which echoes a Twitter exchange of some weeks ago in which the Tory adviser Adam Tomkins was agreeing with Labour diehard Ian Smart that the Scotland Bill was designed to force the SNP to raise taxes to help recipients whose benefits would be cut. The phrase Tomkins used was: Money where mouth is. To be clear, this is not government for the people, this is punishment. These are people with no concern for the real victims of Tory policy – poorer Scots. Both Labour and Tory (in this case the government’s own adviser) have designed policy which forces income tax rises (the only effective route to raising extra cash) on the SNP to help the poor. If they don’t raise tax, the Unionist front believes the SNP will be exposed as frauds. That is their policy aim – defeat of the Nats – just as it was the aim of their referendum approach – defeat of the Nats, not better government for Scotland.
I suspect that almost total lack of proper opposition – Mundell, Murray and Carmichael are chocolate soldiers sent to the front – has left a vacuum that the commentators are rushing to fill. Yet what is the political imperative? Are there marches demanding local government reorganisation…petitions calling for a cleaner environment…pitched street battles over updating planning laws? The issue of the day is austerity and fighting the Tories – to deflect attention from that is to let down the public and miss their mood. And when you have detailed proposals on how that should be done differently, backed by an ambitious vision of a new country, how can you be said to need new policies…how is that being against everything rather than for something?
The Torrance variation amounted to what is now a tired agenda – that the SNP talk a good game but don’t deliver. Mmm…how’s that working with the voters? I’d say a voting tsunami with no sign of stopping and 6o per cent support indicates that David is out there on his own. Well, someone must be telling Yougov they’re a Tory.
His summation is that the SNP case is built ‘on shifting sands’. I ran this through the Bateman Political Enigma Codebreaker and it translated it as: The SNP are f***ing genius at politics.
As I keep writing – the SNP have cornered the market. Their time has come. It doesn’t matter how exasperated David Torrance gets that Scots can’t see the true path to Toryism and it doesn’t matter how much he can see through the Nat case and how they alight on each topic and carefully make it their own and hold seemingly contradictory positions. People don’t care. Why not?
Well, for a start they look at the opposition. Would you back Cowdenbeath against Barcelona? The paucity of people and policy and indeed purpose makes this a no-brainer for any sensible voter.
Then there is the Teflon and Kevlar coating of a professional, well-resourced organisation which has over the years built up goodwill and refined its message. People know what it stands for – Scotland. Simple. Nobody can compete with that. Sturgeon makes them proud, irritating Westminster (and Hugo) makes them smile and when they see one of the Westminster smart alicks in a pink bra snorting coke from a hooker’s front grille, it doesn’t exactly make them hanker after London government. And since when did the public study policy detail? Instead they know the SNP has Scotland at heart, that it will do its best in all circumstances, that it is curtailed by London and when mistakes are made they can be forgiven.
There is an example this week. The EU has obliged the SNP to ratchet up the percentage of private finance in its infrastructure plan. Labour claim this shows they say one thing and do another. But it doesn’t do that. This is the replacement for Labour’s PFI which has burdened local government with crippling generational servicing costs. The government is legally obliged to comply with the EU demand. Is that really going to change anyone’s vote when they sit on a reservoir of goodwill the size of Loch Lomond?
The brutal fact is that the SNP is smarter than the commentators and is way ahead of them. So is the public. They may be reading the New Intellectual Front but I see no evidence they are taking notice of them. Scots are settled in their view – this lot will do. For now. All that could change that now is for an MP to be found in a pink bra snorting coke from…