Debating behind the bikesheds

The English lexicographer, wordsmith and scottophobe Samuel Johnson once said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Alistair Darling knows exactly what that feels like right now, although he’s got a bit more than a fortnight in which to ponder his impending doom. I’m quite relieved that it’s more than a fortnight away, as it gives plenty of time to learn Morse code so I can check if Alistair is frantically blinking H.E.L.P…M.E…R.O.N.A. during the debate.

Ali and Alicsammin debating is one of those things that Westminster thought wasn’t supposed to happen, like the SNP winning an outright majority in an electoral system Labour and the Lib Dems had designed to ensure that never happened. But that set a pattern, and this referendum campaign has been full of things that were not supposed to happen. The referendum itself wasn’t supposed to happen. Holyrood setting the terms of the vote, the timing, and the question wasn’t supposed to happen. Mass popular participation in the debate and the campaign wasn’t supposed to happen. Scotland responding to a barrage of scare stories and threats with laughter, mockery and ridicule wasn’t supposed to happen. Yes snapping at the heels of the Bet You Don’t Know What We’re Called This Week campaign in the polls wasn’t supposed to happen. The momentum of a Yes grassroots movement that’s bigger and reaches further than any political campaign in modern Scottish history wasn’t supposed to happen.

You’d think, given that there’s a precedent or ten for Scottish things that Westminster thinks aren’t supposed to happen actually happening, that they wouldn’t try and act macho about something that they’re praying won’t ever happen. Alistair Darling must now rue the many days he called on Alicsammin to debate with him, all the while in the belief that Alicsammin would continue to refuse. It’s like the school bully’s nyaffwank wee pal suddenly discovering that the big Bullingdon bully won’t be giein him haunders after all. Now the whole of the school is going to meet up behind the bikesheds at the STV studios and watch him get a wedgie with his pants on fire. It’s a painful and humiliating thing when a wedge strategy goes wrong.

Alistair has a reputation as a calm and dignified statesperson. He maintains this by being remote and distant, and doesn’t do combative interviews, preferring instead a nice wee chat with Jim Naughtie. The calmness of his badger fur is never ruffled. Not once during the entire campaign has he debated with or been interviewed alongside someone from the Yes camp. It’s easy to look dignified when you maintain an aloof aura aw roon, and you’re away in the big important parliament far away in London doing big and important things but have deigned to lower yourself to paddle in the provincial pond in order to tell Scotland how lucky we are to have people like Alistair far away.

But the debate with Alicsammin will teach Scotland the lesson Father Ted tried in vain to teach to Father Dougal. Alistair isn’t far away, he’s just small. And Davie Cameron is a wee dot in the field outside the caravan window, running away as fast as he can.

STV tried to force the issue with a highly reluctant No Comment campaign, which has been refusing to put up speakers for public debates on the grounds that people who are not politicians might disagree with a politician, which is clearly abusive. Eventually STV informed each side that they either put up a speaker or they’d ’empty chair’ them. They should have gone with the empty chair, it would make a more positive case for the Union than Alistair has ever managed. Chairs can at least provide comfortable support, and Alistair’s would be well-upholstered. Furnishings can be claimed for on expenses.

Despite the attempts to spin events as Alicsammin being “smoked out” – geddit? smoked, because Salmond sounds like salmon and no one has ever used that joke before – this is a disaster for the No Sex We’re British campaign, as it’s been well and truly screwed. It’s understandable that Cameron didn’t want to debate. He’s going to lose. Badly. That said, he should still debate. He is, let us not forget, the Prime Minister of Scotland, and this country is currently engaged in a debate about whether or not we want to let him keep his job. It is after all one thing for Westminster to tell us that after independence we can’t have the pound, or EU membership, or the BBC, or defence from invasion from outer space if you believe Philip Hammond the Tory defence minister, it is however the height of inanity to tell us we can’t question our own Prime Minister while we’re still a part of the Union.

If Cameron had debated, expectations of his performance would have been low. Low expectations like if you’d entered John Reid in a humility contest, or nominated the Collected Speeches of Johann Lamont for the Nobel prize for literature, or asked Tony Blair to apologise for Iraq. In order to have the UK media hailing his statemanlike powers and magnanimous grace, all Davie would need to do would be to come out with some meaningless PR mince about family of nations WW2 Olympic spirit Willnkate (don’t mention the helicopter) Harry Potter and 307 years of everything joint except the stuff that gets you stoned. He could, if he had been smart about it, turned it into one of those Great British Dunkirk evacuation style defeats, a defeat but a glorious and heroic one. Except that glorious and heroic aren’t adjectives usually associated with Davie Cameron, unless there’s a “not” in the sentence, and quite often a “useless fucker” in Polish as well.

Instead we’re getting the Labour party’s Alistair Darling as the Tory understudy. That’s really going to appeal to those wavering Labour voters isn’t it. He’s spent the last two years pointing out the uncertainties of independence, even though many of those uncertainties exist only inside his own head, and most of the remainder are uncertain only because the sole body which has the ability to clarify the uncertainty is the Westminster Parliament. And they’re certainly not for telling. He’s now exposed himself to questioning on the uncertainty of new powers for Holyrood in the event of a No vote. Or more precisely, questioning on the certainty that after a No vote Westminster will kick the entire issue into the long grass that still doesn’t get you stoned. Scotland won’t be very mellow about that at all. Alistair’s a backbench MP for Her Maj’s Opposition, he’s in no position to offer any certainties, and the squabbling members of the No We Can’t Agree On Anything Except We Hate Alicsammin campaign don’t provide him with much comfort, no matter how well upholstered his chair. He can’t even be certain about how much bog paper he’s going to need after debating Alicsammin. Probably quite a lot though. But he can get it on expenses.

Samuel Johnson also said “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!” He was, let’s face it, a bit of a nyaffwank. The only reason the ingrate is famous is because a Scottish guy with more writing talent than Johnson, but a rampant case of runaway cringe, preserved his witticisms for posterity. And his dictionary is pish too. It’s missing the word nyaffwank* for starters. The relationship between Johnson and Boswell is a metaphor for the Union. And that’s pretty nyaffwank too.

But in Alistair’s case the noblest prospect he’s got in store will be the road out of an STV studio, leading to a hole in the ground somewhere where he can hide under a blanket and rock back and forward, wondering why it all went so wrong.

*a flaccid and embarrassing indulgence with no satisfactory outcome which leaves you feeling short changed and annoyed

38 comments on “Debating behind the bikesheds

  1. cuddyback says:

    I thought it sounded strange when i read the smoked-out story today, but once again you’ve nailed all the angles in this one. Except, perhaps, who gets to choose the 500 people in the live audience?

    (First typo i’ve seen in your posts, though; there’s a superfluous ‘s in the first paragraph. Delete this post when you find it! 😉)

  2. scotsgeoff says:

    Just fantastic.

    Like most rational people I do believe that David Cameron has a duty to debate with the First Minister. However, I have often wondered that because expectations of him would be so low he may actually have come out of it looking quite good. Of course, the media would spin it that way regardless. What are your thoughts on this?

    As far as Mr Darling being the First Minister’s opposition I doubt whether all the forces of spin could turn that debate into anything positive for him. Viewers who don’t follow politics as such (the majority of the debate’s TV audience) will surely have an expectation of him to do well, after all he’s never off the telly is he (excepting recently)? He has been touted as the ‘face’ of the No Scotland campaign and when given free reign on TV may even fool some people into thinking he commands respect. Mr Salmond, like him or not certainly ‘knows his stuff’ and has perhaps waited 40 years for this opportunity; I would expect it to be not unlike bloodsport.

  3. JimnArlene says:

    Darling debating with Salmond, will be a squirmathon for Darling; with an incredible blink rate. The Guinness book of records, should be present to give Alistair his only achievement of the evening; the world blinking under stress and lies per minute record, award.

  4. diabloandco says:


    Had a good chortle on reading this – learned a new word too , “nyaffywank”. I may not be able to weave it into many polite conversations but I intend to try!

    I think Mr Darling may self combust .

  5. brianmchugheng says:

    Darn it… coffee all over my jeans. LOL😀

  6. brianmchugheng says:

    Thanks… coffee all over my jeans. LOL 🙂

  7. fynesider says:

    You have a way with words which gives me, and every other reader I’m sure, great pleasure every time we read a new post.

    Please consider publishing your collected works. May I order my copy right now?

  8. So is ‘nyaffwank’ Polish for ‘useless fucker’?

  9. macart763 says:

    Another beauty Paul and right on the money. McDougall and Darling must have reckoned it was the safest bet in political history. They get to call Alicsammin names from a distance for eighteen months and no comeback because he’s after sharks not sardines. Sorted right up until Alex decides he fancies a snack and sardines on toast is a favourite.😀

    I near choked when I saw Sev’s article and I don’t think I stopped laughing through the whole read at the attempts to turn things on their head. Which is saying something considering Severin’s record on Scottish politics. The smoked Salmond though, that gave the game away. A real attempt to rally the troops by demeaning the neighbour’s FM. Shallow, cheap and nasty. Bit like that Hi Karate aftershave you’d get from your least favourite auntie at Christmas. Stench enough to drop sewage worker at fifty paces kind of cheap n’ nasty.

    I’m not normally in favour of TV debates. Far prefer public forums like the stage set road shows we’ve seen in evidence over the piece where the people get to question the players and listen to the answers. But in this instance I’m willing to let sheer pleasure have its way over civic engagement.

    If anyone deserves to be publicly held to account for his actions over the period of this campaign its Alistair Darling. If anyone deserves public ridicule and embarrassment its Alistair Darling. The strategy that he and McDougall have employed in this campaign, their Project Fear, their campaign of demonisation and social division, is probably one of the most openly offensive and socially damaging I’ve ever seen. The capper coming from Darling himself over his blood and soil accusations.

    Lets see this piece of work repeat those accusations in front of the FM and the Scottish viewing public. He’s bound to give it a try when he sees how badly things are going in an attempt to rattle his opponent. Jeez, I hope he’s stupid enough try.

  10. Nana says:

    I imagine the debate will be made as comfortable as possible for darling with a psychiatrist’s bed near by and a straightjacket on standby.

    Seriously doubt the media running the show will allow darling to get even flustered and as for answering questions I think the agenda will be to allow darling to waffle on but pressure the FM.

    I do hope I’m wrong….the people of Scotland deserve to see Darling for what he is. I’m too polite to write the words!

  11. No no no...yes says:

    Always a joy to read, thanks. Is it just a coincidence that the chosen broadcaster is SCOTTISH Television, and not the British Bias Corps?

  12. […] Debating behind the bikesheds […]

  13. Kenzie says:

    I have known Rob Shorthouse since his days as assistant PR at the (then) Bell College in Hamilton. If nothing else, he is thorough and will have Darling well prepared for every eventuality. I think Darling will constantly try to “trap” the FM and then exaggerate any mistakes Alex might make.

    Having said all that, I hope that the FM ‘eats’ him and blows him out in bubbles.

  14. Susan says:

    Brilliant stuff!

  15. Julian Gibb says:

    Do you really think Darling will do that well?

    I think the outcome will be much, much worse.

    I think some outrage will be constructed to justify his pulling out of the debate.

    The empty chair is the much stronger position for those struggling to settle on a campaign name.

  16. arthur thomson says:

    I wonder what the odds would be on Darling being too unwell to turn out and a surprise alternative like Reid stepping in?

  17. Eilean says:

    I just had my digibox replaced with a “Youview” box courtesy of British Telecom. This one seems to have picked up more channels than the last one including STV Glasgow ( ) As you might expect a lot of the output seems to be about “Fitbaw” with lots of “fitbaw” chatshow format stuff. A bit like “Off the ball” but without the humor but lots of “fitbaw”.

    I took a wee look at the schedule last night and saw that they were broadcasting Scotland Tonight I selected the channel and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t last nights edition but a repeat of the famous “Help me Rona” episode. Well done them. Considering that it was on just before the “fitbaw” it might have reached an audience that missed it before.

    I will keep an eye on STV Glasgow in the hope that we might just have some decent programs. I expect that a lot of the output is from STV. I am checking the schedule as I write and I notice that there is a program “The Riverside Show” 3:45pm till 5:15 pm which sounds interesting. Anyone heard of Jennifer Reoch or David Farrell? 5:15 till 5:30 STV Glasgow News? And for the nostalgic amongst us they are repeating “Take the High Road” weeknights at 5:30pm. Haud me back!

  18. Eilean says:

    I see that Stanley Baxter has come out for “No”. Got to be some comedy gold there. He was never as funny as Duncan MacRae anyway!

    And that gives me an excuse to post this.🙂

  19. Helena Brown says:

    Another brilliant piece Paul bright, witty and utterly devastating. I have no doubt at all that whatever piece Mr Darling comes out with will be spun by our lovely unbiased Media as the most demoralising to the First Minister. If Mr Salmond crushes him, he will be said to be being unnecessarily cruel.
    Not sure I want this debate, he, Mr Darling has nothing to offer us, he is merely a bank bench MP, this debate should be with the PM and FM to fight out as David Cameron and his Government are the only ones with the bargaining chips.

  20. Gavin Barrie says:

    @ Helena Brown: Mr Darling…a bank bench MP! How appropriate, but did you mean it or is it a typo?

    And Paul, I’ve resented Johnson’s sneering arrogance and Boswell’s cringe throughout my adult life and here you provide a so apt description. Their relationship a metaphor for the Union.

  21. Marian says:

    The cynic in me says loudly that Project Fear will provide a handy smear or diversionary tactic just before the debate so that the media can obsessively report that rather than any thrashing Darling will likely receive.

  22. Steve Bowers says:

    On the money once again Paul, nice one, personally I don’t know why Salmond is debating a back bench opposition MP.

  23. Les Wilson says:

    Well, I have thought a bit about this from when it was revealed. I cannot help thinking that this was a great little trap for BT by Alex Salmond.

    He has let BT and specifically Darling continue about his desire to debate with Salmond but getting evermore mouthy about it in interviews, as he never thought it would happen, so if you like he has made his own noose, but also one for BT also. I imagine after he heard this he shouted in panic mode ” OH FOR F….. Sake!” “OMG, OMG!

    There will be panic now the wee breastie of Darling and BT, for they know it could be disastrous for them. Sort of beware what you ask for, because you may get it. He got it, and panic will now be in place.
    His day will now consist of a visit to his advisors, who will repeatedly tell him just how to batter Alex, then on to his meditation team, then to finish of, his daily hypnotism session.

    Then of course as these euphoric events dissipate before he goes to bed, he will not be able to avoid the thought of disaster befalling him and the consequences that might bring.

    Sleep well Mr Darling, if you can.

  24. FergusMac says:

    I am not convinced that the First Minister is wise to debate the political front man for the No Campaign, the discredited Chancellor of a discredited government, and now an opposition backbencher with a reputation for creative expenses claims. Don’t get me wrong, it’s Celtic against Auchenshuggle United, or fillet steak against pottit heid – like everyone else, I reckon it’s no contest, Mr Darling will get his head in his hands.

    My worry is that the Unionists have been trying to portray Alex Salmond as the leader of the Yes Campaign, so that they can pin responsibility for any trumped-up charges on him, and dismiss the whole referendum process as Alex Salmond’s wasteful ego-trip. Part of the strategy of the Yes side has been to emphasise that is not about Mr Salmond and the SNP, the campaign is much wider and much more diverse. Blair Jenkins is the Chief Executive of Yes Scotland, not Alex Salmond.

    There is, of course, no chance of Mr Cameron finding the integrity and courage to debate against the First Minister. His interventions are underhand and increasingly pathetic. I can see the advantages of a top-level debate, and Mr Cameron could just stop it happening by not turning up – I doubt the broadcasters would have the guts to “empty seat” him.

    I may well be wrong about this, but I am uneasy.

  25. gerry parker says:

    Well, I think Alex has the ability to turn this one round spectacularly. At the end of the debate which he will win hands down he can always say Darling was lucky he didn’t have to debate with the head of the Yes campaign.

  26. They better get wan o they heart banger things ready fur flippers hert. A think it micht pack in unner pressure.

  27. Loved the wisnae meant tae happen bits….made me quietly loud..cheers Wee Dug!!!!

  28. […] The English lexicographer, wordsmith and scottophobe Samuel Johnson once said: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Alist…  […]

  29. It’s being reported in W.O.S that Darling has withdrawn from the debate. Is this accurate?

  30. David Agnew says:

    Darling has pulled out of the debate. The agreed line by Boggling Tangents was that Salmond had pulled out in a huff, but no one told the telegraph who reported it truthfully as Blistering Twits being the ones who walked out first, citing Salmonds demands for the debate to held after the commonwealth games as the main reason. Trolls for Blethering Tits are going bat shit crazy trying to spin it as Salmond being a big fearty, as the Telegraph story undermines every wretched little lie they spin.

    I’ll be Honest, I fully expected Darling to pull out. The last thing they want is any kind of debate. They are now saying they have put forward 12/8 as their preferred date…which is oddly after the commonwealth games.

    We should have a compo about what excuse comes up next

  31. smiling vulture says:

    AS weakness if debate happens

    wanted to join the euro as soon as possible

    called sterling”a milestone around Scotland’s neck”


  32. cuddyback says:

    Game aff? Now that’s what i cull badgering aboot. I was all sett for an evening of brock’n’brawl.

    But don’t worry, Ali, someone will show up…..mebbe Gordie?

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