Well, we certainly got some answers in the last 24 hours. Alistair Carmichael let it be know he would be asking the questions and the nationalists had better have their responses ready. The Bruiser was coming out fists flailing. Duck, Salmondo…Run, Nicola…Take that, Separatists! Whack! Thump!
But sadly Big Al turned out to be as tough as my wee lassie’s teddy bear. For all the choreographed trailing ahead and the dutiful headlines by the cheerleaders among the Press, what he actually delivered was a plodding, predictable tick-a-box list that those of us who haven’t been hibernating in the Westminster undergrowth for the last two years are already bored with.
That part didn’t come as a surprise. Alistair after all is reinventing the role of Scottish Secretary – in his mind. He’s trying to give us a taste of the red blood that he thinks Moore recoiled from. The trouble is that Alistair is proving that he doesn’t really have an original thought or a new way of doing things at all. He just sounds behind the times. But he’s now in danger of becoming ridiculous because he has a somewhat inflated opinion of himself and believes he is bringing new gravitas and insight to the debate.
That’s why “his first major set piece speech” in Inverness was puffed so highly by his taxpayer-funded PR operators and why he agreed to stay up late to appear on Newsnight. Dearie me! I saw in the set-up package he was having a dram – proving what a full-throated Proud Scot he really is – and after his interview I wondered if it might not have been the only one over his throat.
This was 100 per cent proof bluster. Like a drunk doggedly wrestling with the language, he became hilarious as he verbally bounced from side to side off each question getting increasingly outrageous as it went on.
It wasn’t even difficult for Gordon Brewer because Alistair set up the premise himself. Anybody telling the media he is going to be “asking the questions” can guarantee to have it turned round on him. (See previous post before he spoke).
Alistair says he wants clarity – from the nationalists obviously – but did it really never occur to him that it cuts both ways? Isn’t it blindingly obvious that nationalists have been asking questions too? Are the British nationalists so used to getting a comfortable ride from the media that they think they don’t have to try?
So key question to British state: Will you rule out Scotland using the pound?
Much faff and fluff from the “combative politician” but no answer. (Even confuses Gordon Brown with George Osborne.) Osborne refuses to rule it out so will Alistair? Of course, not. And as he is pursued he fishes for an explanation which turns out to be that if they said No at this stage, it would only bring “howls of outrage from the nationalists”. So, UK government policy is not to upset Alex Salmond…the British refuse to clarify their position on sterling because it would annoy their opponents. What a precedent.
Correct answer: We won’t rule it out because it will be in the interests of the British economy – including the strength of sterling – and the interests of British business and of free movement of goods, services and people to share a currency. Where Salmond does have difficulty is in persuading the Treasury and the Bank of England to agree an arrangement that suits his needs when the Bank will focus on the rUK’s interests first. Lender of last resort requires oversight of Scottish spending and borrowing plans. (It seems to me this is a stronger and more logical case against a Yes because it can be made to sound like very limited independence when the Scots are being asked to risk such a lot. It also eliminates the implied slur that sterling is somehow England’s and not Scotland’s, an anti-Union position).
Then on the European question, did Alistair not go through an interview rehearsal with his PR team? He was bound to be challenged on why the UK doesn’t seek clarification on Scotland’s entry to the EU so why didn’t he have a coherent answer?
This time it boiled down to his notion that it was for the nationalists to make the case for European membership and it was not the job of the Unionists. “The onus is on them,” he says. This sidesteps the whole thrust of Alistair’s “first set piece speech” which was to seek clarification. Brussels says it will not answer Edinburgh but will answer London so in this case there is nothing Salmond can do. But there is something the British can do if they want clarification. They just won’t because it would clarify the situation. So this is how those Nasty Nats are “dodging awkward questions”, eh?
He also said the nationalists had never come forward with a reasoned case for Scottish membership. How about the treaties, Alistair? Can you point to the section that says a country can fall out of membership or be thrown out? Can you point to the text that explains the process of exclusion and what happens to the rights and citizenship of the population?
It strikes me that to suggest a democratic vote in a member state automatically leads to exclusion from the EU is a profoundly anti-European sentiment to come from one whose party preens about its European credentials. Are those the same credentials as the social democratic ones so obvious in Coalition policy? I suspect Alistair is threatening to become a liability already. The truth probably is that he works better when he’s angry because the cool rational version is missing. He looked like someone getting his just desserts for thinking he could walk in and do a better job than Moore but is finding out it’s not as easy as he thinks. Getting the headlines in advance is the easy part, backing them up is much harder.
If this is the first in a series of outings for the Beast of the Scotland Office, we can all relax and enjoy Christmas. My wee one wants a big cuddly bear from Santa and I know just where to find one.