Ed Miliband is coming to Scotland to stick it intae Alicsammin. Can you feel the frisson? Are you getting a thrill? Is there not just the tiniest wee damp patch in yer knickers? There is in mine, but I’ve been sitting on top of the washing machine when it’s on its spin cycle. Ed’s spinning gets no one moist, not even the damp paper bag he can’t punch his way out of.
Ed comes to Scotland fresh from triumphantly making no impression at all after Osborne’s budget promised more austerity, more cuts, more making the poor pay for the avarice of the bankers, and some giveaways for “hard working families and pensioners” – Westminster code for “people who could be persuaded to vote Tory”, and the fact they are so persuadable is also the reason both the Tories and Labour spend so much time courting them. Ed can only carp about the details, about Johann Lamont’s wee things, because when he’s in power he’s going to implement the same cuts and reward the same Tory leaning constituency.
Ed’s in Scotland to give a wee speech to the demoralised band of fratricidal comrades at Labour’s Scottish conference. He wants Scotland to vote no to honour the legacy of the late John Smith. Perhaps he mean honouring it like Tony Blair honoured it when he went to war in Iraq. Or like Gordon Brown honoured it when he abolished boom and bust and encouraged the bankers to get rich quick. Introducing the bedroom tax on private tenants was honouring John Smith, who knew? Privatising, and PFI, they honoured his legacy too. Giving ATOS loads of juicy contracts was a socialist act that would have made John Smith proud.
If the leadership of the Labour party can’t honour John Smith’s legacy they have no business expecting it of anyone else. Least of all people who understand what his legacy really was. John Smith’s legacy lies buried on Iona, and Labour’s leadership danced on the grave. Ed’s not in Scotland to honour John Smith’s legacy, far less to build on it. We need no lessons in what John Smith stood for from a man who was a government minister under both Blair and Brown. Ed danced with the worst of them.
Apart from the unseemly appeal to the dead, Ed’s big idea is to revive the SNP are Tartan Tories trope. That might have worked back in the 1960s, when my Irish Republican grandfather was convinced that Scottish independence meant surrendering to Presbyterians – who according to him would always be Tories even if they dispensed with the Unionist bit. But my grandfather has been deid for 40 years. Even so, he’s not buried as deep as Ed’s chances of reviving the fortunes of the Labour party with his tacky sequins and torn ballgown.
But credit where credit is due, at least it’s not quite as behind the times as the Tories’ Victorian era One Nation slogan which Ed believes best represents the aspirations of the British centre left in the 21st century. Ed’s catching up, and if he keeps going at this rate he’ll be starting to grasp the real issues around the independence debate about the time that HS2 finally gets to Scotland.
Ed claims that Alicsammin apes Tory policies. He’d know a lot about that then. Margaret Thatcher taught Tony Blair the steps of Westminster’s dance to the seat of power. Ed has every intention of following in their footsteps. Labour is happy to ally itself with the Tories when it comes to screwing over Scotland, Ed Balls and George Osborne practised the choreography for their currency routine for ages. But the voting panel of Scotland’s Strictly judges was not impressed. The dance did not wow the audience and was received with an arched eyebrow and bitchy comments. They should have got Eric Pickles to do it, the overweight comedy turn may screw up the dance steps but at least it gets the sympathy vote.
Ed’s basic problem, and it’s not really giving succour to one’s opponents by pointing out the fatal flaw in their thinking when the fatal flaw is bleedin’ obvious, is that he thinks Alicsammin is a word meaning “Scottish independence”. All this time we thought Westminster was personalising the debate and making out that the future of an entire nation is entirely the same as a single individual, but it turns out it’s just Westminster politicians getting confused by the Scottish vernacular. That’s what happens when you rely on Magrit Curran to translate.
However there are a number of problems with the attacking Alicsammin approach to the independence debate, not the least of which being that a not insignificant number of people who intend to vote yes don’t give a toss what Alicsammin thinks about Corporation Tax, or indeed anything else. At this stage in the proceedings, we should take it as read that the yes campaign has already hoovered up all the SNP voters that it’s going to get, but the yes campaign cannot win on SNP votes alone.
SNP supporters are unlikely to be moved in their opinions of Alicsammin by anything Ed says. The very large number of non-SNP voters who have decided to vote yes have already realised that they’re voting for independence, not for Alicsammin, so they are scarcely any more likely to be discouraged from voting yes when Ed attacks Alicsammin. It’s not going to shift the poll movement back towards no. But in lieu of any deeper comprehension of what’s happening in Scotland, it’s all Ed’s got to go on.
It wouldn’t be the first time Westminster politicians have been confused by what Scotland is saying. In 1997 when Michael Forsyth led the Scottish Tories into the General Election and lost every one of the party’s seats, Scotland’s verdict was the most definitive “away you tae fuck” it’s possible to achieve in an electoral system. But Westminster thought we’d said “Give this man a seat in the House of Lords so he can keep influencing our laws.” Easy mistake to make.
But it’s not Scotland’s accent. It’s their ears. Ed has come to Scotland to make a speech, not to listen. Westminster’s ears are still not working.