By Kenneth Roy
It is scarcely believable – no, no, scrub that, it is all too believable – that the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Johann Lamont, should have greeted yesterday’s announcement by the first minister with the following mind-numbing response:
The most important thing is that whichever side wins this referendum, it, and the process to it, is conducted in such a way that the day after it all Scots can come together to fulfil our national duty to make Scotland all it can be.
Dear God. Forgive me for invoking the deity, if there is one, but I feel a spot of divine intervention may be in order here.
Dear God, is that really, seriously, the best the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland can do? She cannot claim to have been bounced into the statement by some unexpected turn of events. She has had many days in which to get her act together and prepare some stirring defence of the union, making it clear that Mr Salmond will be given a run for his bawbee – as good a choice as any for our new currency.
Instead, what do we get? A seasonal moose; a wee timorous one; one that shows no sign of ever roaring.
The sentence is not even well-written. The word ‘it’ keeps intervening and not always with utter clarity, the phrase-making is leaden (always better to avoid ‘in such a way’ and ‘whichever side’), the construction is tortuous. It is committee-speak, of a not very bright committee.
The sentiments are vacuous. This vision of all Scots coming together to fulfil their national duty – what on earth does it mean? What does she expect of us? If she likes I will play my part by introducing a gardening column and implore our readers to dig for victory. Will that do?
But worse than the inelegant prose and the sub-Churchillian rhetoric is the whiff of defeatism. The statement from Johann Lamont that ‘the most important thing’ about the referendum is how we respond to the result, whatever it is, suggests that this is a party leader whose heart is not in the fight. Maybe, in her long dark nights of the soul, she fears the cause is lost.
When I think of the Labour politicians I have known and admired in Scotland – from John P Mackintosh and Willie Ross in the distant past to John Smith and Donald Dewar in the more recent and George Robertson in the present – it is impossible not to be struck by the impoverished state of the party. Not one of these five men would have allowed Johann Lamont’s statement to see the unforgiving light of day.
In the week of Robert’s birthday, I remember Willie Ross in particular; I hear him delivering one of his thunderous Immortal Memories – quite a terrifying experience if you happened to be sitting next to him, as I sometimes was. Ross’s most serious political error was consistently to under-estimate the potential of the SNP – not an accusation ever to be levelled at Dewar – but Old Basso Profundo would have seen that Ms Lamont’s sentence did not exactly cut the haggis.
The Scots are by temperament more sympathetic to the idea of being part of a community of shared values and interests than in the acquisitive individualism that Mr Salmond seems to wish to encourage.
I bring you a second Willie this morning, Willie Rennie. You may have heard the name. He is the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, poor man. His contribution to the momentous day was to describe Mr Salmond’s announcement as ‘more Shakespeare than Burns – Much Ado About Nothing’. We are staring an independent Scotland in the face and he thinks it’s much ado about nothing? It is more than likely that this came dead from the hand of some clever young aide not long out of university, who finds himself languishing in a dimly lit backroom. It cannot be much fun.
Still Mr Rennie was not forced to utter the words. It should be a resigning matter. Tavish Scott must be prevailed upon to return at once.
Ruth Davidson, the young woman who leads the Scottish Conservatives, assuming there are any Scottish Conservatives left apart from herself and Bob Kernohan, issued a few platitudes, none worth repeating.
And so we come to the man of destiny himself. Again, however, there is a problem with language. ‘Scotland’s journey, our home rule journey, is clearly part of a bigger international trend,’ Mr Salmond said. So far, so not bad. But then: ‘After all, independence is what we seek as individuals – whether it is buying our first car or our first home’.
There are two issues here. The first is the offensive idea that consumerism should be linked to the home rule movement. If that is true, questions arise about the maturity of the movement. The second is the apparent misunderstanding of the Scottish character; the Scots are by temperament more sympathetic to the idea of being part of a community of shared values and interests than in the acquisitive individualism that Mr Salmond seems to wish to encourage.
There is a possibility, putting it no higher, that the quality of the discussion will improve: that Ms Lamont will produce a coherent case for the union in clearly constructed sentences; that Mr Rennie will find quotes that actually make sense; that Ms Davidson will say anything of interest; and that the first minister will stop resorting to shameless populism.
Am I hopeful? Not really.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review