The Lib Dem manifesto, adrift in a sea of verbiage

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by Paul Kavanagh

Supposedly there is nothing like the threat of imminent execution to concentrate the mind and to cause us to clutch desperately at any straw of hope, however implausible.  It was much the same at yesterday’s launch of the Scottish Lib Dem manifesto.  Tavish Scott led the charge of the Lone Horseman of the Pettit Lips.  With a fixed rictus grin in lieu of an air of confidence came the dead man walking, concentrating intently, clutching a copy of the Lib Dem manifesto in the hope it would magically transform into a Get Out of Jail Free card and he could avoid the hangman’s noose.

I like a bit of spectacle.  Party manifesto launches should be all-singing all-dancing with massed troupes of Busby Berkley synchronised swimmers and balloons cascading from the ceiling.  This was a much more sombre and funereal affair.  More a rat on his arse than razzamatazz.  There were still plenty of balloons on display though.  They had names like Anderson Magnus Fforbes Farquharson Finlay.

It’s sad what’s happened to a once great political party.  It became a sort of nature reserve for Scottish people with weird first names.  They did once have a member called Malkie, but he had to change his name to Molquholme.  But now the Lib Dems have even lost their former role as a source of hope for wee boys lumbered with names like Anderson Magnus Fforbes Farquharson Finlay.  The manifesto launch was the last act of bravura of a circus act that knows the moorings of the high-wire have rusted away.

Anyway, focusssss.   You wait for years for a Scottish Conservative manifesto and then like a privatised bus service three come along at once, the Tories, UKIP and now the Lib Dems.  But we can put as much credence in the Lib Dem manifesto as we can in a skin care regime devised by a Glasgow Labour councillor who moisturises twice daily with ALEO to maintain his florid and roseate complexion.  Read the baby Tory manifesto and tell the good readers who are in need of their political fix, I remind myself, then the pain will be over.  But I’m coming out in sympathy with the Lib Dems and am likewise losing the will to live.   

Since selling their soul to the ConDem coalition for the price of a couple of ministerial cars and giving wee Danny Alexander’s mammy something to boast about at the Kirk pensioners’ social club, the Lib Dems have been bereft of all principle.  It doesn’t matter how strongly they assert something, or what promises they make, we know they’ll just make it all up to suit themselves afterwards.  No one believes a word they say anymore.  So the manifesto is pretty pointless.  All 83 pages of it.

But on to the substance.  If not the substances, though they’re a definite help when you have to read this sort of guff, which was written by someone who’d had a quick course in Teach Yourself Managementspeak, and failed.  Badly.  The Lib Dems want to improve language teaching in schools, and specifically mention making Mandarin Chinese more widely available.  They didn’t mention lessons in Managementspeak.  Good thing.  

But then they follow it up with a bad thing.  The Lib Dems, like the Tories and UKIP, want to allow shtupit kids to leave school at 14.  Not shtupit.  They didn’t actually say that.  They said they would:

Continue to expand the options available to pupils with the opportunity to attend college to do a course of their choice from the age of 14.  Our approach to engage the top 20 private sector employers in new ways of thinking will help promote much greater private company involvement in post 14 vocational opportunities.

Shtupit kids are too shtupit to know this means shtupit, and the post vocational opportunities will be learning how to say, “Do you want fries with that?” in Mandarin or Managementspeak.  “Do you desire to continue to expand the options available to stakeholders in your approach to vegetable oil treated potato based products?”

This policy must have been dreamt up as some wizzard wheeze by someone really shtupit, who was hoping we’d be too shtupit to notice.  What is it with these people?  The solution to problems in the education system is to say – you don’t need to go to school anymore?  How does that work?  Why is it only the Anderson Faquharson Finlays need to learn to spell focussed but the Malkies only need to learn to spell fusebox?

Onieweys.  Onwards and upwards into the sunlit pastures of Lib Dem Blue Sky thinking as we leave the real world ever further behind.  There are actually a couple of concrete proposals lurking amongst the flourishing undergrowth of meaningless verbosity.  It’s just a pity they’re the kind of concrete the Mafia uses when it wants to consign a murder victim to the bottom of a Scottish Water reservoir.

The Lib Dems want to ‘part privatise’ Scottish Water.  Even Thatcher knew she’d not get away with that one.  But the Iron Lady is no match in metallic resolve for Tavish Scott, the Leaden Noggin the Nog.  

Part privatisation means they sell off the profitable bits and we get stuck with the unprofitable stuff that requires constant lubrication with public money.  The sell off will produce, it is claimed, a £1.5 billion windfall, which the Lib Dems will then inject down the leaky pipeworks and dripping taps of government services which they no longer have enough funds to maintain.

All sorts of wonderful things will happen once the Lib Dems are in power and have sold off Scottish Water, a resource that even Westminster can’t tell us is in short supply and about to run out any time soon.  Wee birdies will sing round the heads of happy schoolchildren as they skip their way to classes in Mandarin Managementspeak, we’ll all have jobs asking people if they want fries with that, and Anderson Magnus Fforbes Farquharson Finlay can once more say his name out loud and proud without fear of ridicule.  That’s the thing about a Lib Dem manifesto, it can promise anything you like.

So it’s off again into the bright sunny uplands of commitments to assorted Greenery-lite, being nice to gay people, and using timber from renewable sources, couched in the language of a management training incentiviser who’s swallowed a thesaurus.  And all of it qualified by weasel phrases like “in so far as possible”, which means – If Nick Clegg and the Tories in London will let us.

But then I got to the section on improving local government and comprehension failed me again.  I  discovered that apparently the Lib Dems want to:

Incentivise public sector procurement which grows the local economy and develops social capital. We will encourage greater use of community benefit clauses and social impact bonds.

I have no idea what any of that actually means.  And I strongly suspect that neither did the person who wrote it.  A social impact bond?  What’s that exactly?  Two stray dugs that get stuck together after shagging,  that’s a social impact bond.  

Sounds a bit like the ConDem coalition, come to think of it.   And we all know which one is the other’s bitch.  And so do Scottish voters.