John McTernan, former aide to Tony Blair and erstwhile special advisor to Jim Murphy, has been crowing in the pages of the Scotsman that the independence referendum has already been won for the Union. The nasty separatists have lost, brought down by the combined forces of the Westminster Avengers. George Osborne will grasp at any opportunity to dress up as Captain America in a skin tight leotard, and Ed Balls was hoping his Iron Man costume would let him outshine Ed Miliband. Though to be honest, you can do that with a potato.* Even Wee Danny Alexander was thrilled when he was asked to play the comedy sidekick.
And ever since then we’ve had a succession of concerned businesspersons with absolutely no business or personal connections to former UK cabinet ministers lining up to tell us that if we vote for independence they’ll jolly well move south of the border and take their bonuses with them. And then we’ll be sorry.
So it’s all bash, kapow, slam. And all us rupturists or herniaists or whatever we are this week have been besieged out of existence. So I am not writing this and you are not reading it. We don’t exist. They’re always telling us that the indy debate needs to raise its tone, and here we are already in a Kafka novel and it’s all thanks to John. That’s yer actual Czech philosophy that is. And we have the Union to thank for it. If we were foolish enough to vote for independence we could go through our entire lives without having an existential crisis like Czechoslovakia. Oh wait, bad example … sorry John … And there’s former Czech President Vaclav Klaus thinking Scottish independence isn’t a bad idea, just to pour salt in the split pilsner.
John’s looking forward to a return to business as usual. It’s just as well, because he doesn’t have many special powers and doesn’t look good in a superhero costume. Tights are so revealing. But still, we ought to listen to him when he warns us fissurists that we’ve already lost because John fondly believes that his secret superpower is his ability to manipulate public perceptions. He’s done exceedingly well at this. The results speak for themselves.
He was a spin doctor for Tony Blair, a man unrivalled in popular affections – everyone hates him. It takes a very special public relations spin doctor talent to achieve that. Mind you, the illegal wars did help a bit too. John helped spin those too.
He masterminded the Labour campaign in the Scottish elections of 2007, which managed to avoid any incidents in Subway Sandwiches even if it still ended in defeat. Defeat for the first time and the first of many more. Ouch. Then he went off to Australia to spin doctor for Julia Gillard, only for her to get turfed out of office by her own party. And then the Ozzie Labour party went on to lose to Ozzie Tories that make Boris Johnstone seem like he’s in touch with reality. You know that when John has his finger on the pulse, it’s about to turn into a corpse. Thank god he never took up a career in nursing.
So John truly has the most impressive spin doctoring abilities. They’re on a par with putting a heavy bag over your head, and rocking gently back and forward inside a dark wardrobe while muttering “Why did you leave me Tony”. And when he’s trying to manipulate public opinion, sorry, writing an important article for the Scotsman, we should pay attention.
John wants us to stop all this constitutional nonsense. For the first time in decades untold thousands who had previously given up on politics with disgust [waves shy hand] – in no small measure due to the machinations of the likes of Tony Blair and his troll minions – are discussing politics, with passion, interest, and for the most part an enormous dollop of good humour. Calling him a troll minion is good humoured, because it makes me think of one of those wee plastic figures from the fun fair. Only with a grumpy face.
But it’s the wrong sort of politics, and John doesn’t approve when people stop taking him seriously. He says it’s “the politics of the magic porridge pot”. He’s quite right there, there is no magic porridge pot, there’s only a magic gravy train in Westminster. Labour’s Scottish contingent know a lot about that.
Back in the real world, as opposed to Project Fear’s pale imitation of manga, John’s sole superpower is the uncanny ability to hitch his horse to the wagon with the broken wheels and Magrit Curran as satnav. When you’re a Blairite and only have Jim Murphy to talk to, you don’t have many choices. And if we vote no in September, neither will we. That’s why John is looking to the future with barely restrained glee.
And I too shall place my faith in John’s political antennae. Because you know that whatever he’s predicting, the opposite will happen. He’s reliably unreliable, just like the rest of his former colleagues at Westminster. I know that. The dug knows that. The woman along the street knows it, and so do her pals at the bingo. The only person who’s heid is in a spin in John’s.
He’s longing for things to get back to normal when Scotland has already changed forever. Things will never be the same again. John’s normal is the normal of back room deals, of Labour establishment and Pacific Quay together in cosy harmony. That normal died when 13 years of majority Labour government gave us ATOS, the first incarnation of the bedroom tax, wars, privatisation, PFIs, and Stephen Purcell’s cocaine fuelled implosion which went mysteriously unreported.
What he’s trying to do in his crude spinning way is to send a message to the unengaged that there is no point in discussing independence since the game is a bogey. But we know how his game works, which is why we’re playing a different game.
John’s game is called “not giving any answers, and gloating like Gollum”. It’s as close as he’s ever going to get to a positive case for the Union. He only thinks he’s winning because he lives inside his own spin. The problem with spinning is that everything around you is a blur. It’s a game played in TV studios and in newspaper columns.
Our game is called “talking to people, not at them”. The rules are simple, when someone asks a question about Scotland’s future, give an honest answer. Provide them with information, or show them where to find it. That’s not a game Westminster can play. It means looking people in the eye.
It’s a game we’re winning.
* Seriously, potatoes really do shine more brightly. All you need is a potato, a wee LED light, and a couple of other household bits and pieces. Science fun for all the family, and infinitely more illuminating than John McTernan: