Something interesting stirring in Wongaland over the referendum…someone down there is briefing not just against Better Together comedy stand-up Alistair Darling but also telling journalists that Downing Street thinks it may already be lost.
I have to say I think this is nonsense and completely against the evidence I see which only makes it all the more intriguing.
In Fraser Nelson’s Daily Telegraph piece he reports: “But unofficially, the mood is bleak. Some of the Prime Minister’s chief strategists now argue that the battle is lost and that a Yes vote is not only possible but probable.” This is predicated not on Darling’s failings but on Scottish Labour’s (Alistair is deemed by Number 10 to be one of Them rather than one of the Caledonian artisans), the same Scottish Labour Salmond made mincemeat out of two years ago. Labour is no longer the unbeatable machine, he says, to general surprise, and cannot offer the kind of rock-like backing the Unionist leadership requires. Add to that the new Scottish Secretary Carmichael whose strengths have never been on the rarified intellectual plane and you get from a London perspective an unimpressive jumble sale of the slow-witted and the low-browed perfectly capable of missing the easiest of open goals.
The impression of Carmichael as – putting it mildly – less than the bruiser he claimed, was heavily reinforced by the STV head-to-head debate with Sturgeon in which she appeared to be the senior politician armed with the knowledge and the answers making demands of the Westminster stooge. I imagined Michael Moore smiling contentedly at home and pressing Record.
Here’s is Nelson’s upsum of the debate: “Carmichael was backed by the combined might of the British government machine – so it should have sent him into that debate armed to the teeth with examples of the White Paper’s most egregious defects. His dire performance was a symbol of another deeply alarming trend: it seems the UK Government is not really trying.”
When you add to this the words given to the Daily Mail about Darling having no fire in his belly and being comatose, it does suggest they have the feeling things aren’t moving their way. And yet surely they are. On the face of it, there’s nothing but anecdote to say Yes is moving forward let alone ahead. They will take comfort from the polls – the published ones – and rightly so, although my own view is that the polls wont move for months yet because the don’t Dnows still don’t know until the pressure is on and so all the polling up to now is largely a waste of money, each effort confirming the previous one.
Of course I’m assuming these are genuine sources truly reflecting opinion in the seat of power instead mischief making. I mean the source who attacked laugh-a-minute, up-and-at-em Alistair wanted Michael Gove or, so help me, Jeremy Hunt to take over. I’d be ordering my Free At Last tee-shirts if that happened. And the deer horn cufflinks. So that idea surely damages the credibility of the source but leaves us with the nagging feeling that something’s afoot. It occurred to me that this is an aspect of the debate I foreshadowed before when discussing the media. I maintain that if and when the polls begin to move north for Yes, the same Unionist media will turn on its own and the likes of Alistair and McDougall will find themselves challenged in print and even on Good Morning Scotland where Jim Naughtie will preface his question with an erudite essay on the vicissitudes of the political fates before asking Alistair: “Mr Darling, where did all go wrong?” And such is my blinding perspicacity that I also foresaw how that turncoat mode would produce resentment among journalists who would be proved wrong. That’s when they start digging and begin to question Alistair’s credentials, his actual credentials, for the job. Thus in the same edition of the Daily Mail which called Alistair useless we find Richard Kay writing about his outside interests. “In the past year he has raked in more than £170,000 for addressing a string of private events. Darling was paid a total of £172,550 in fees for just 15 speaking engagements between November last year and October. He received two payments of £15,300 each in a single day in May when he spoke at two conferences in London — a total of nine hours’ work. One had been organised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the other by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Darling picked up a further £8,500 from Merrill Lynch when he spoke at another of its bashes in July.”
Wouldn’t want the Undecideds of Wester Hailes and Gorgie to know that, now would he? With this type of stuff now in Google, other journalists will find it handy when writing skeptical pieces about the Member of Edinburgh South West and write it they will if the idea gets about that despite the opinion polls and in spite of their own uncritical support, journalists see the No campaign stumbling and Salmond starts doing what he does best, making a fool of the Establishment.
I see Downing Street phoned Alistair to reassure him that he is still treasured and that they’re hunting for the mole as we speak. That might be a wise move because I suspect that Alistair’s pride outweighs his belief in the Union and he’s quite capable of stepping back to allow someone else to front it.
That would bring Gordon Brown into shot, as one of the leaky sources said. Alistair doesn’t hate anyone more utterly than Gordon and if that did happen I think he’d become a sotto voce whisperer against Better Together. Another option of course would be to have it run by a woman – Johann is first in line. That would be a welcome addition to the debate, wouldn’t it, a Borgenesque classy political operator in charge?
Alistair moving aside would also remove Cameron’s cover for ducking out of his obligation as actual leader of the Union and debating live with Salmond…this is turning out to be fun. Perhaps that Downing Street source is a closet Nat.