If your response to the news of Michael Moore’s departure was, like mine: So what?…you might be interested in this tale of how the mighty Moore fought tooth and nail for the Union.
Listening to Scottish Questions from Westminster on your behalf – right there I have justified the licence fee – I sat open-mouthed two years ago as Moore was asked by one of those English backwoods Tory buffoons who view Scotland through the sights of a double-barrelled Purdey, Philip Hollobone (Kettering):
“Isn’t it the case that a separate Scotland simply wouldn’t have been able to survive the global banking crisis on its own and, had it been separate, would now be heading the way of Ireland and Greece?”
Moore replied: “A very important point, because the scale of the financial disaster that befell both Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland would have placed a crippling burden upon Scotland. By being part of the United Kingdom we shared the risks, we’re sharing the recovery and that is the right way forward.”
If the bold Michael had gone down on one knee and bowed his head to the Tory oaf, it would have encapsulated the moment perfectly.
Well of course, that’s the conventional Unionist view: You’re too small, too poor, too feckless and too dependent. Count your lucky stars you’ve got bigger charitable neighbours to bail you out.
At the BBC we began phoning around renowned experts in banking and finance and turned up three who all disagreed with the Moore line to a greater or lesser extent, pointing out that the crucial missing ingredient was that the country where the bank is headquartered isn’t what’s important, it’s where it does its business and is regulated. And that’s where the real impact falls. So, if the banks did 90 per cent of their business in the City, 90 per cent of the bail-out applied there, not in Scotland.
Now I don’t expect a politician to give the game away exactly, but if your job is to represent Scotland in the Cabinet and in the Commons, shouldn’t you offer more than a jellyfish response when your country is being traduced? Does Moore have an ounce of fibre in him or is it all straw?
Here’s what I thought he could have said in reply: “I thank the Honourable Dumbell for his question. Can I say first of all Mr Speaker than the Scottish banks have made a monumental contribution to the economy of this country through Corporation tax and other revenues and RBS is the largest private sector employer in Scotland. They bring enormous benefit to the City of London and have collectively provided a revenue stream on which the growth of Britain was built. That is to the credit of the banks and to Scotland, proving that Scotland is a valuable contributor to the British national economy. It does him no credit if the gentleman implies Scotland is reliant on London for financial support, rather than being engaged in a mutually beneficial arrangement in which money flows in both directions. That is the foundation of the Union. And that is how the bail-out worked, a solution appropriate to Scotland, England and the Exchequer. He should be aware at this politically sensitive time that it is unhelpful to offend Scots whom we are encouraging to stay in Union rather than implying they would be paupers without Union.”
But being the worst kind of servile Unionist and Westminster greasy pole-vaulter, Moore couldn’t summon more than total agreement even while he knew his country was being insulted. That’s what happens when you elect an uninspiring chartered accountant and pretend he’s a politician rather than a placeman.
We asked for Moore to come on the programme and debate the bail-out based on his answer. To no-one’s surprise, he declined…too busy…he’ll be at home in the Borders on Saturday…etc
He did though manage to get his adviser to compose a bitter and detailed rant in an email about how we’d got the story wrong and demanding an apology, all the usual drivel that flows from a humiliated man who thinks he’s got power. We even had his adviser on the phone expressing fury on his behalf. (The usual drill here is that the spad is forced to ring up while the minister listens in and has to relay the big tough man’s anger to the quivering journalist. It’s worth saying down the phone at such times: “He’s listening in to this, isn’t he?” There are cases where the spad, still in character, shouts: “Yes.” Hilarious.)
The minister in this case thinks he is putting a lid on the story. He gets to object and deny without being challenged and to vent his anger without having to appear on air and undergo scrutiny. Pathetic. You can see where The Thick of It comes from.
And our next move was straight out of the same script. Instead of letting it lie and just publishing Moore’s denunciation on the website, we wrong-footed them by going straight back with a message of our own. We said: “Since the minister says we are wrong on the bail-out and is clearly troubled by our programme which he couldn’t appear on last week, we offer to re-run the whole item again from start to finish and offer to interview him live at the top of the programme for as long as he likes, say 20 minutes of question and answer.” We would send a radio car to his house in the Borders. If not, we could pre-record an interview at any time and at any place he requested.
You could almost hear Malcolm Tucker shouting: “For fuck’s sake…we can’t do that. We’ll get shredded…He isn’t a government minister, he’s a plastic toy from a cornflakes box…”
So Moore duly cancelled again. Two chances to defend that Commons statement before a BBC audience and two declines. We empty-chaired him on air. If he really was sure of himself and fighting for the Union, how does he justify running away from a BBC interview? Twice. It shows you, again, how insecure some of these so-called big beasts of Unionism are. Isn’t running away exactly what Cameron’s doing over the televised debate?