Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 16 August 2007

Alex Salmond's 'Conversation'

I downloaded my copy of the SNP's propaganda document (aka 'White Paper') today off the web (thanks to the link here). It's a lovely-looking document; I'm trying to say something positive about it. So far I haven't read it in detail, but it seems to be, at first glance, a profoundly self-serving document, rather like the speech the good man gave when introducing it.

Anyway, yesterday I had one of the regular YouGov survey emails I get , inviting me to take part in a survey about 'various matters' - what it was about was in fact the 'National Conversation' proposal, presumably directed only at people in Scotland as the whole survey was only relevant to us. It was in fact one of the more interesting surveys I've seen from YouGov in a while and was obviously designed to gather information about initial reactions to the new 'White Paper'; whether the survey is being conducted for a specific sponsor or purely as an information-gathering exercise by YouGov I have no idea. One of the questions offered various 'ways forward', from the ones that Mr Salmond proposed (status quo, increase in devolved powers, independence) with one crucial addition not offered by 'wee Eck' - that the Scottish Parliament should be abolished and that our constitutional arrangements should revert to the status quo ante (i.e. prior to the enactment of the Scotland Act). That's the option I chose - I know it is highly unlikely ever to happen and is even more highly-unlikely to be an option that we are offered in any referendum, certainly not by the crowd currently in power in Edinburgh, but it's what I would wish, ideally, to see happen. The Scottish Conservatives have been bought and paid for, unfortunately, with their acquiescence in the 'List MSP' charade which gives them a presence in the Scottish Parliament which they would be unlikely to have (and certainly not at its current level) under a purely FPTP system. A few questions in the survey focussed on views of Salmond, Brown and McConnell - I assume the content of the questionnaire was finalised before it was known that McConnel was resigning; my ratings for Brown and Salmond were almost the same for every question, those for McConnell were somewhat different; although I don't like his politics one little bit I think that of the three I rate McConnell as the best human being; I couldn't ever imagine 'liking' the man, but in my view he inspires a certain level of 'trust' that I could never imagine feeling in relation to the other two gentlemen; he doesn't give me the 'heebie-jeebies' the way the other two do. Having said this, I can't say I'm particularly sorry to see him go - he would never have been leader of Scottish Labour or First Minister in consequence, but for the unfortunate political demise of his immediate predecessor.

I make no apology for my seeming (and actual) curmudgeonly attitude toward the very notion and principle of the Scottish Parliament. I do not support it; I simply have to live with it and to that extent I accept it as a fact of life and one that I must deal with in as positive a way as I can manage. However my own personal attitude is that I am 'British' first and 'Scottish' second, immensely happy to be both of course. I'm constantly hearing that this is now very much a minority viewpoint, but so what?

As for increasing the powers the Scottish Parliament has already - I'm unconvinced of the need for this and even more unconvinced of the wisdom of the Parties which say they support continuance of the UK in accepting this as a potential outcome. One of the powers that exists already and which has not, so far, been used is the tax varying powers, which allow a variation of 3p in the pound either way. The political reality is that an increase of tax in Scotland would be massively unpopular amongst the Scottish electorate and a reduction of tax here would arouse even more anger in England than has already started to become apparent because of the 'West Lothian' question and other issues (drugs availability, free care for the elderly, student fees, etc). What additional powers does the SNP suggest, short of its ultimate desire for 'independence' and what additional powers are the other parties prepared to agree to in a (forlorn) effort to try and defuse the SNP's thunder? These are the real and awful questions, and strategies, that lie behind this SNP 'gambit' - and yes, it is just like chess. The SNP is maneouvring the other Parties, little by little, into a tacit acceptance that the status quo is not an option, according to Mr Salmond at least. I do not for one minute accept that any change (other than abolition of the Scottish Parliament!) is necessary for our constitutional arrangements. I will observe the developments over the coming weeks with great interest. I don't often agree with Lord Forsyth, but I share his view that an early referendum is not only desirable, but essential. Then the SNP's silly ideas could be buried for at least a[nother] generation; I believe that the Labour/Conservative/LibDem joint policy of absolute opposition to a referendum is profoundly misconceived.

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