Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Change of Tack?

In 2009, while I was at the Law Society, we held a Conference to mark ten years of the Scottish Parliament.

We secured, if I say it myself, a stellar line up of speakers. Jack McConnell, Jim Wallace, David McLetchie, Jim Sillars and many others.

And we were obviously wanted a Minister of the then Government. Who, after a bit of coming and going, proved to be Mike Russell.

He came and went like most of the other contributors that day. But, unlike the others, he did not come and go alone. For he arrived in a Government car and with an entourage of SPADS and Civil Servants.

I make no criticism of that, for it reminded me, on the day, of a similar experience when big Donald spoke as (still then) Secretary of State for Scotland at the last big Scottish Labour Action event held in early 1998 on the topic of a Labour Agenda for the Scottish Parliament. Then, he spoke, and then as he left the hall seemed to be followed by the entire first two rows of the audience.

There is, it has to be conceded, a certain.....grandeur...that goes with being a Minister of the Crown appearing on official business. And a certain authority to your remarks that exceeds even that of the most distinguished opposition politicians.

I have been surprised to date as to how little use of this phenomenon the SNP has made use of in the Referendum Campaign.

For all they are an entire Government committed to securing Scottish Independence you would have thought from their public utterances that it was a matter only of real interest to Eck and Nicola (and not even all the time to Eck). The other Ministers are apparently mainly interested in running their Departments, even if that was framed by a requirement to run them as quietly as possible for fear of frightening the horses. “Freedom” is to be placed more in the hands who see Independence only as a precursor to the more general revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Those who would make their argument on the street, or at least up Calton hills or Glasgow statues.

Patently this isn’t working, notwithstanding Panelbase polls commissioned by Wings over Scotland.

So the decision of Kenny McAskill to do an extended interview on Scotland Tonight on Justice Policy represents an interesting change of tactic.

Kenny is a manifestly competent minister. He might be a bit authoritarian for my taste but he will, I say with confidence in advance, be seen to be manifestly “on top of his brief”. Even on the issue on which we would most fundamentally (currently) disagree, the abolition of the requirement of corroboration for a criminal conviction, he has an argument to make and I am sure he will make it well. No harm to STV but it would be better if he was up against a (non-political) lawyer on this point.

The wider point is however this. At the end of the programme, lots of viewers at home will be thinking “I might not agree with that guys politics/nationalism but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.” A reaction from the neutral seldom enjoyed by the various “collectives” around the fringes of the Yes Scotland debacle.

And I’m sure a similar imprimatur would be bestowed on Mike Russell on Education, Keith Brown on Transport or even Richard Lochhead who is I am told similarly competent in a policy area of which I have little knowledge and only slightly more interest.*

If I was advising the SNP I’d say this was the way to go. “These people are competently running the Country at the moment. Give them more power.” Crucially, that also sends a signal  that Scotland, post independence, would not be expected to spend all day Saturday marching up and down outraged about something before going home to find Strictly had been replaced on the SBC with a two hour monologue by Alan Bissett about why we should all hate the English. Instead, the same, quietly competent people would still be in charge.

I wonder if Kenny’s appearance tonight means that Yes Scotland, under new leadership, has reached the same conclusion.

*Obviously there are exceptions that prove the rule but the internal politics of the SNP seem to prevent Alex Neil being thrown out of office as the useless clown that he is. Nonetheless  Governments in the end, decide who gets on the telly and who doesn’t so presumably that could be managed.