Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Watershed


So, Eck didn’t do as well as most people, myself included, expected.

There has been acres of analysis today as to why.  Some of it on the more cerebral Nationalist side has been dedicated to asserting Eck had actually won. It was just that the rest of us hadn’t realised that.

I could spend time demolishing that but in some ways it would be unimportant. Eck lost because the consensus is that he lost.

Of much more interest is whether it was important. And it was.

It was important in three ways.

Firstly an awful lot of people were watching. Far more than I anticipated. Kind of restores your faith in politics to engage. Enough said.

Secondly, it legitimised the No argument. In his closing argument Eck tried, too late, to roll out what has been an underlying theme of the SNP campaign. To vote Yes was to be brave.

It didn’t matter if that was “true”. This wasn’t a matter of truth or lie. It was the articulation of a state of mind.  And it had a considerable traction.

I spoke recently to a Labour politician who had spoken at a public debate at a highland venue. He felt that his side had had the better of the platform speeches but had been rather taken aback as to the strength of Yes sentiment in the body of the hall. And the absence of support on his side. His location was sufficiently remote to rule out this being bussed in support for the Yessers. Perhaps Nationalist support was stronger (at least in this part of Scotland) than my friend had anticipated?

Except that, this being an attractive location, politics aside, my friend didn’t depart the next day but rather stayed on for a few days holiday. During which he was repeatedly approached by people privately, some of whom who had even been at the meeting, to confess their loyalty to the Union. “But you know how it is, you don’t want to speak up.”

Before yesterday, if to vote Yes was brave then, by implication at least, to vote No was cowardly. And nobody wants to admit cowardice, even if that is the entirely sensible option. That has changed.

I was out and about today. I spoke to various people in my own office and at the Court.  For good or ill my own loyalties are well known so people do engage me in conversation about the Referendum.

I would like to say that previous Yessers confessed second thoughts but they didn’t. What however did happen was that people who had clearly always been on my side but had felt it appropriate to keep their own counsel suddenly felt emboldened to speak up. I might have always thought Salmond to be a charlatan but suddenly they felt willing to say so as well.

Argument from anecdote is always dangerous but it is my feeling that this is a wider sentiment today. Not a gamechanger but rather a watershed.

The third reason last night was important is because Eck didn’t lose on style, he lost on substance.

When the “Westminster Parties” ruled out a currency union it was badly mis-handled. One of the rules of a democracy is that a politician must not appear to be an arrogant bastard. Even if he or she is an arrogant bastard. Although many politicians (mostly but not exclusively men) undoubtedly are.

But if there was a textbook example of arrongant bastardy then it must surely have been George Osborne’s visit to Scotland in February to rule out a currency union. Turn up, make a speech, take no questions, give no interviews, just dictate terms and then head off back to London.

And so the Nats could respond at the time by doing little more than saying “What an arrogant bastard”.

And that kind of worked. Except that it ignored the fact that, combined with the statements of Ed Balls and Danny Alexander, the idea of a currency union had been taken off the table.

It might well have led to an easy cheer at the various “public” meetings of the faithful that they are holding across the Country for the Nats to announce “George Osborne says we can’t have a currency union. What an arrogant bastard!” Except that this ignored that, even if he was an arrogant bastard, it was nonetheless his (elected) privilege to be so. And rejection of a currency union would be his (or any possible successor’s) decision. For no matter what an Independent Scotland might mean it would not conceivably involve the right to appoint the Government of England and Wales.

Last night the chickens came home to roost on the Nats forgetting that the converted are not the audience they need to....(eh)......convert.

Be in no doubt, this was not a one off. Every time Eck or Nicola now put their heads above the parapet the same question will be shot at them. What is your currency Plan B? Of course, if there was any answer that might increase their support then one or other would give it. Except that they know that there is no such answer. That is their problem.

And just before Eck thinks that he might as well get back into the ring here is another question Alistair might as well have put in a similar format. If we vote yes and negotiations to join the EU are not concluded by Independence Day on 24th March 2016, what happens then?
Twelve minutes of cross examination is too long to evade answering and hope to run out the clock. As the First Minister discovered last night.
Although, in a different way, the clock is now running out on him.

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