Saturday, 10 March 2012

Not a bad speech

Eck spoke today to the SNP Conference. The full text is here.

I wrote when commenting on his October Conference Speech about the template for such orations made by leaders, any place, any time and Eck's speech today fits that formula perfectly.

"The norm, has five elements: 1, A topical  introduction of some sort related to the place or time; 2. an attack, ideally involving humour, on the opposition; 3. a list of your achievements in Office; 4. what is, or at least purports to be a new initiative of some sort and inspirational peroration. It is possible to reverse elements 2 and 3 but only at the price of restricting the humour to the introduction. You can also "baroque" it a bit by putting in trills from different bits out of sequence as you go along or even, if your really on the ball, have a recurring leitmotif  but the basic structure might as well have been set out by Isaac Newton."

So, today, Eck didn't make a bad speech; it was just, in the proper sense, mundane. On the page it contains nothing really new although I do not doubt that in the hall it felt to the faithful as if they were listening to Dr King at the Lincoln Memorial.

You don't have to like the SNP to appreciate that, at the moment, they carry an aura of excitement about their affairs. Eck got a genuinely heartfelt standing ovation from his rank and file both before and after his address.There clearly was a feeling in the hall that history was on their side. Closer examination of public opinion however might tend to suggest that this excitement is more appreciated by the SNP's opponents than it is actually impacting on the voting public.

There was an interesting you gov poll this week. Labour continues to trail the SNP by 4% on the Holyrood constituency vote but that is only 4% despite the Party's self-admitted need to yet fully address any number of political and organisational challenges. More significantly still perhaps is that, even now, Labour enjoys a healthy (42/30) lead over the SNP in Westminster voting intentions. And, actually, that's what all public opinion accepts as a background "given"; if there was a UK General Election in the immediate future, Labour would still completely dominate that political environment.

Now, the problem for the SNP is that they are starting to live in a sort of alternative reality which bears no relation to the day to day experience of ordinary people. To believe Newsnet is in some way equivalent to the BBC as a medium of record.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the different perception of where we are on the national question between those within the SECC and the rest of the world.

The same you gov poll confirms what every other reputable poll suggests; that support for independence in a straight choice with the status quo, continues to stand at around 30%. It also confirms, as does every other poll on the subject,  that adding a second question offering enhanced devolution reduces the number who would vote for full independence.

Now it begins to stray into the realms of the incredible that 2000 people appear to have been prepared to sit through, indeed ultimately stand for, a Leader expressing outrage that his political opponents were conspiring to prevent him from securing the best level of support for his own supposed objective.

This is what I mean by the collective suspension of reality. Somewhere in their heads these people appreciate that the need for the second question is to give them something to fall back on given their inevitable rejection in the answer to the first question. Somewhere in their heads they know that it makes no sense to claim the Scottish people are desperate to throw off British Rule while suggesting that it would be inappropriate, at the moment, to put that to the test. Somewhere in their heads they know that all of the policy goodies on offer, lower taxes and higher public spending, would be no more realistic in an independent Scotland than they are in any other Country in the World.

But being among the faithful somehow removes you from reality, at least for the weekend. I say that from experience as a regular attender at Labour Party Conferences during the 1980s.

The problem with this is that even when the realisation dawns that a different face requires to be presented towards the public, success breeds the temptation to slip back into old ways. It was that which fatally damaged Neil Kinnock at the now notorious Sheffield Rally in 1992. No Labour Supporter who attended that event had anything other than one of the best nights of their life. The problem was they were already all going to vote Labour. Those watching on the Telly were however not necessarily in that camp.

Now, of course, Labour did win in 1997 but by then a different product, for good or ill, was on offer. In 2007, the new, "We only want a Referendum", SNP were of course also a new product. Their rank and file just weren't told, and still haven't been told, that the reason the old product was put on a back shelf was because nobody wanted to buy it.

Who knows if they ever will be or whether the lure of Conference idolation will lead Eck ultimately to see his shop go out of business. I still think he's too clever for that and that if he can engineer it in some way, there is not going to be a referendum.


  1. You could easily add in a Burns quote (usually a slightly obscure one although, yesterday, it was an obvious one).