What have they unleashed? One of the immediate consequences of the tripartite Unionist front dictating currency policy to Scotland is a hardening of anti-British sentiment. Those who have been pretending this is about questions of personal wealth – give me £500 and I’ll vote Yes – are realising that the real divide is between Scotland and Britain.
The line-up of all of the Westminster parties AND, uniquely, the Civil Service, in an embodiment of the British state, addressing Scotland like a colony, denying us access to what is ours by right and dictating policy without negotiation, is the encapsulation of everything we detest about London rule. It is Better Together’s Spitting Image moment.
By pulling together and stating effectively that retention of the Union supersedes all policy differences is a seminal moment. Had they come together to plead with us for a No vote, it might have been an illuminating event. But when they colluded to put us in our place with their London Master threats they may have made the second biggest mistake of the campaign after rejecting a second question.
For Labour to be enrolled in a united campaign to “save the Union” is one thing. To act jointly with the Tory-led Coalition on a specific area of policy is another. A generalised, pro-Britain stance is logical for Labour but when they conspire to create individual policy along with the Tories they are getting into bed with the people who are wrecking lives in Britain. Their claims from now on to be deeply opposed to everything from the bedroom tax to salary tax rates are compromised by the alacrity with which they can co-operate when its suits them. And why is “saving the Union” a greater crusade than saving the dignity of the unemployed? Why does the perfectly normal arrangement of a currency deal supersede zero hours contracts and welfare cuts for the disabled? For a socialist what is the motivation to bury all differences with the hard right in order to send a brutal message to the Scots – that we don’t co-operate, we dictate. We don’t negotiate – we assert?
I wrote this week that Balls is conflating his loathing for the SNP – and his fear of it – with the Scots generally. His message doesn’t just hit Nats, it falls on all Scots and brands everyone as somehow an enemy, even Unionists. What is the likely result? He stirs deep-rooted resentment about London diktat, brings to the surface irritations over subsidy jibes and leaves undecided Labour voters wondering what exactly it is they are supporting. Many of them are already Don’t Knows leaning towards Yes and this is a sharp reminder of how they are really viewed even by their own leadership, as dumb ruminants to be shepherded by the master’s whistle. They haven’t been able to take the next step to Yes because independence is seen as Salmond’s project – he owns it. But when their own leadership is doing the Tories’ work for them against Scotland’s interest, those doubts disappear.
If they are looking for explanation from their “Scottish leader” they may look long. One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole campaign so far is the near invisibility of the “Scottish leader”. Isn’t it an amazing fact that at this critical time in Scotland’s history someone who has not long ago been anointed the first-ever “leader” of all the Scottish party has played virtually no role? Indeed, as a keen observer said to me yesterday, Ruth Davidson has played a bigger part with more interventions that Johann Lamont. One can only assume that her advisers, the some ones who have steered her into “something for nothing” and “nationalism is a virus”, reckon it’s safer to keep her out of the front line for their own sake. I am assuming that this week she will appear beside Balls and express her support and be questioned on the currency position. If she fails to, it wont only be voters who grasp that she doesn’t lead but it will intensify MPs’ contempt for her and their opposition to her Devolution Commission proposals.
Tuning in to the BBC it was striking how different James Naughtie’s interviews were with Salmond and Alexander. As ever, he was beside himself with Salmond, barely letting a whole thought or sentence finish, nipping away in the background, adopting a challenging tone. It made for a frustrating listen and his truculence extended to an ironic remark about Scottish government anonymous briefings in reply to Salmond pointing out the Herald’s story that the coalition might not recognise the referendum outcome…a pretty serious development. Some of this of course is acceptable except when contrasted with his Danny Alexander interview minutes later. He was positively sheepish and I don’t think he stopped him once. Alexander was allowed to make prolonged statements, adding idea after idea, to promote party lines and criticise the Scottish government while Naughtie went to sleep. He asked what the Coalition would do if there was no agreement on the debt – would they refuse to accept the independence result – and Alexander simply didn’t answer. He answered a totally different question and Naughtie didn’t pull him up. Then Alexander made a number of unchallenged assertions including that Scotland would start off poorer because of a large deficit. I pricked up my ears awaiting the mighty Naughtie intervention but, again, nothing. Yet we know according to the FT that: an independent Scotland could also expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK. And the numbers show every person in Scotland £1300 better off immediately of nearly £6000 for an ordinary family. And of course the only reason Scotland shows a deficit in government tables in the first place is because they add in a share of their debt to our accounts. Shouldn’t a journalist have some ammunition in an interview? This Naughtie experiment isn’t working. Jim simply can’t stop himself railing against the SNP and seems to have a personal issue with Salmond. I defy anyone at PQ to listen to these two efforts side by side and say they are remotely similar in approach or fairness or that a listener couldn’t justifiably deduce there was bias. Has anyone got the balls to tell him? Or does it just confirm our worst fears that content is the last thing on the BBC’s mind?
Which brings me to Kirsty Wark who produced a disturbingly strident performance on Newsnight with a cleverly patient and unruffled Salmond. Her tone was shrill, impatient and kind of patronizing, the way she might speak to her puppy if it poohed on the carpet. You know the interviewer has got it wrong when you end up watching her/him instead of the interviewee. My theory? Wark and Naughtie are used to feeling in charge, playing an interview like a fish on the line. They both know with Salmond that he is a master of the form and always has an answer, knows more than they do and will not be bested. Therefore they are all wound up in advance not to let him away with too much and the result is they get the tone all wrong, make the viewer sympathise with Salmond and look unprofessional. Shame.