Sunday, 13 April 2014

My take on Eck

Alex Salmond had a historic opportunity yesterday. And he failed to live up to it.

Now, you would expect me to say that . for it is no secret that I am no admirer. But even I would concede that it is an achievement for him to have brought his country to a position where, to paraphrase Jim Sillars, between 8am and 10pm on 18th September, it has its sovereignty in its own hands.

As it will.

And I do not dismiss the observation that, as much as I personally am now a "No to dissolution" man as I would have been a "Yes to the union" man in 1707, this year I, like every citizen of Scotland, will have an opportunity to express a view. In the way that "the likes of me" had no say back at the beginning of the 18th Century. Indeed, one of the few advantages of this whole baleful episode will be to shoot down forever the argument that "Scotland never voted for the Union."

Yesterday, however it was for the man leading the counter argument to make his final pitch. To rise above the day to day and to paint a broader vision. Instead, Eck opted largely for boilerplate and calculation. You'd almost have thought he already knew this was only now about firing up a core vote.

For, while the speech started well, with a few well observed jokes at my side's expense, as it went on it became increasingly clear it was addressed to the already converted.

Let's be honest. Even if Scotland was to be the fourteenth most prosperous country in the developed world, while the UK was only the eighteenth, nonetheless Scotland would face choices. All taxes could not be lower while all public services were better. People are not daft. Very few, even in that hall, believe that a Scottish Government would not face tough decisions just as a British Government faces tough decisions. Indeed even as the German Government does.

And people also understand that politicians twist the facts to their agendas. They understand that in his heart David Cameron is for lower taxes and all its consequence while Ed is for better public services whatever the cost.

Thus they understand that, in a Scottish context, that Alex Salmond would be for an  independent Scotland no matter what the price. He need reassure the public that it is affordable but he'll never credibly persuade them that the cause of his life arises from some sort of economic analysis he did as a schoolboy.

So surely it would have been better to acknowledge that and then to suggest why the electorate should agree. And a key element of that would have been to argue why that was the right choice NOW even if tacitly conceding that those to be persuaded of it now had not necessarily been wrong in their past views. And that has to be posed strategically: not based on abolishing the bedroom tax or getting rid of recent increased charges to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim.

This is what he could have said.

"This year we pay homage to those who founded this Party eighty years ago. Without them we would not be here today. But we also have to acknowledge that, over that eighty years, what we understand by independence has changed. This Party was founded in the aftermath of a cataclysmic world war and while the world was still divided into armed camps. Today, we are privileged to live in a Europe, in the west at least, where the idea of the use of force to resolve our disputes is a thing of the past. 

The Party was founded when the idea of being a true Scot meant that you would be white and, let's be honest, protestant. Today we acknowledge those of many skin colours, and of many religions and none, who are  fully equal members of our wonderfully diverse society. 

It was founded by those who's overwhelming priority was Scotland itself, perhaps sometimes losing sight of the fact that there were other equally worthy causes. For wider social and political progress; to confront and defeat poverty; to secure true equality for women and ethnic minorities and, perhaps in a way some of us have only fully come to appreciate in the last ten years, to recognise that who you love cannot always be defined in traditional ways.

Without these pioneers of eighty years, as I say, we would not be here today but equally without our more recent recognition that independence can only succeed as part of a wider progressive movement would we now be standing on the verge of finally achieving their, and our, ultimate goal.

So I say to those concerned for a fairer society; your cause is our cause. For those wishing women to be full members of our community; your cause is our cause. For those wishing equality for all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation; your cause is our cause. 

We believe, we have always believed that Independence is the best vehicle to achieve that. You have trusted us with the conduct of the devolved settlement over the last seven years and I believe we have served you well in that capacity. But how much more could we have done with full sovereign powers?

For about one thing the pioneers of eighty years ago and we in this in this hall today have been constant. That decisions affecting the people of Scotland are best taken by the people of Scotland. Not because we won't make mistakes. We will make mistakes. 

But because the interests of every nation are best served by being controlled by the people who live there.

For the astonishing thing about Scotland is that it exists at all, That after more than three hundred years of union with a much larger neighbour we are still recognisably a Country of our own in every sense but the fully democratic one.

Going forward, beyond September 18th we will bear malice to none. We will continue to be a good neighbour and a responsible world citizen. When it is in our mutual interests to do so, we will continue to pool and share resources, and decision making, across this island, across Europe and indeed with all other democratic nations across the world. And we acknowledge that along the way some of that will need compromise. 

We only ask that we be allowed to do so by our own calculation and not at the dictate of others.

We only ask to be a normal country. Scotland."

Now, that is what he could have said. Instead the speech was placed at the centre of a tableau which began with a dramatic performance of a play specially written by a man of well established anglophobic view; was then followed by two men with beards and guitars singing patriotic songs and was rounded off, after the oration itself, with the rendition of a dirge about a battle seven hundred years ago.

And backgrounded by a downward clicking clock that seemed to portend not opportunity but doom.

And the speech itself contained no real vision. Just rather repetitive rhetoric for the already converted and a clunky tokenistic "promotion" of two women to the cabinet in a crude attempt to address the yawning gender gap in the opinion polls.

Moses may have lead his followers to the top of the mountain but he seemed clueless as to how to get them to the promised land.

The next SNP Conference, postponed to November, will prove the test as to whether there can be a Joshua generation.

To stick with an Old Testament analogy however, my money would be more on Cain and Abel as a likely precedent for that event.

No comments:

Post a Comment