You’ll be expecting this to be about the SNP Conference and in the end I've decided to live up to that expectation.
The reason for my hesitation is (on this occasion) no personal animus towards the SNP but rather a wider view that the importance of Party Conferences can be over-rated. They are of course hugely enjoyable events for their participants, as I have already written myself, but the general public regard them with a mixture of indifference and bemusement equating to their view of Star Trek Conventions. And unless something truly memorable happens, such as Kinnock denouncing the Militant in 1985 or Cameron bursting on to the Tory and then national stage in 2005 then they are forgotten almost as soon as they are over. I'm already struggling to remember much of what happened at our own Manchester Conference two weeks ago and I am hardly an average observer when it comes to these matters.
So, asked honestly what happened in Perth my answer is “not much”. The SNP didn't win the Referendum but they didn't make closing the gap in the polls any more difficult than it already is.
As a seasoned conference goer, I really enjoyed the NATO debate. Although I didn’t have a dog in the fight, had I been there, I would have been tempted to toss a coin for “sides” and then get up and make a barnstorming speech myself. But the 95% of the population who had no idea where the SNP stood on NATO before Friday still have no idea today. And few of the other 5% will be other than of already fixed conviction on the national question.
It was great entertainment for those of already interested in the minutiae of Scottish Politics but for everybody else it ranked alongside discovery of lost footage of “The Wrath of Khan”.
But, this being my blog you’ll be expecting a bit of revanchist unionist diatribe. So here it is.
I simply do not understand the strategy of Yes Scotland. From this distance, one thing is clear in relation to the October 2014 UK political situation with regard to the May 2015 UK Election. Either there will be no economic recovery, and thus Labour will remain well ahead in the polls, or (most improbably in my opinion) there will have been an economic recovery in which case the current Coalition government won’t be nearly so unpopular as it currently is. Even in Scotland. A strategy based therefore on voting for Independence to eject the (unpopular) Tories from Office presumes that, remaining unpopular, they are nonetheless somehow going to be re-elected. That is a logical fallacy.
Secondly, the bizarre promise of both tax cuts and better public services based on this 9.3/9.6 statistic simply lacks all credibility. It makes Independence look like a leap of faith rather than a seriously thought through economic proposition. It might gain support from the SSP (the tax cuts bit aside) but they’re voting for you anyway. I suspect, on the other hand that if you allow the campaign to develop in this way not only will you lose the Referendum, you will lose a good deal of your current Poujadist support in what are, truly, the Tory heartlands. For all the empty name calling of Johann since her “something for nothing” speech, support for Labour has increased and the Tories are now ahead of you in Westminster voting intention. A slightly smaller deficit is still a deficit that needs addressed and even potential Yes voters know that.
Finally, there is simply the question of tone. I didn't think much of Salmond's speech but it shared a common thread with others, even that of Nicola, who remains (Question Time aside) your most persuasive advocate. It simply isn’t good enough to claim that having chosen “voluntarily” to ask a question, it would then be disastrous for the wrong answer to be given. It's like the man who puts a pistol to his own head and then observes it would be very messy if he pulled the trigger. It prompts the response: “Well, who’s fault is that?” Further devolution isn't currently off the agenda but even I accept that it will be in the event of a decisive “No” vote. But, I repeat, “Who’s fault is that?” Having protested that this referendum is exactly what you always wanted it lacks credibility (again) to try and moan that you've been painted into a corner.
I have thought carefully about the word to choose to describe the current SNP rhetoric and it is “stridency”. The danger for you is that it slips over into the word I have currently rejected; “Desperation”.
So that’s all. And I’ve finished in time for Downton Abbey. A programme who’s first series, let us not forget, was not shown by STV because it was all about English Lord Snootys and thus, it was assumed, not likely to be of interest to us here in Scotland.