I was in Edinburgh yesterday, speaking at a
communications conference, followed by a lunch and q and a, during which I was
asked if people in England were aware of how the independence debate was
unfolding, and whether they cared.
As I replied, it struck me that one of the
downsides of devolution – other than Alex Salmond being in power – is that
England hears so little about what is happening in Scotland.
Someone said whenever they saw the London-based
national (ie UK) papers it was as though Scotland was a foreign country.
Indeed, not just America but France, Germany and most of the major powers
attract far more attention than Scotland. The recent furore over the release of
the Lockerbie bomber was the exception that somewhat proves the point.
As to my answer to the question, I
think they would care if they were aware. When a referendum on independence
comes – and it is coming – then England will doubtless hear about it. But the
awareness as of now is low indeed.
At both events I was needless to say asked about
the current political scene. Could Labour win? Yes, I said. How? By showing the
link between improved economic conditions and GB’s actions, by defending the
record since 1997 properly, by attacking our opponents better, and by showing
we are the only party with a credible and coherent forward policy agenda.
I was asked if I thought David Cameron would be
a good Prime Minister. No. Why not? Because even though he has been leader of
the Opposition for several years now, we know little about him, what we do know
does not add up to much, and he is showing himself serially incapable of making
important policy decisions. He is a good communicator, and without setting out
a forward policy agenda has persuaded the media to cover him as PM-elect not
Opposition leader (of which more in this week’s New Statesman by the way) but that is about all I will give him.
The arguments about devolution are a good
example of his weak leadership, and his confusion of strategy and tactics. For
short-term, tactical reasons, he plays up the question – why should Scottish
MPs at Westminster have a say in issues which only affect England? It plays
into the hands of the nationalist agenda when he – as the leader of the
Conservative and Unionist Party – should be making the point
that all members of the Westminster Parliament should carry equal weight. Alex
Salmond is desperate for the Tories to win at Westminster, because it will
strengthen his arguments about Westminster not being able properly to represent
It really would be something if the UK broke up
on the watch of a Tory government. But Cameron’s failure strategically to speak
up for the Union, preferring short term tactical trouble making, would be one
of the reasons. Another reason to make sure he never gets there.
Because if the UK did break up I think most
people in England would care.
The view of my audience seemed to be that
Scotland will not vote for independence. I agree with that. But I also said
Salmond would not become first minister, a few months before he did just that,
so you never can tell.
*** A brief PS on former President Jimmy
Carter’s view that much of the opposition to Barack Obama’s health
reforms is because he is black. It is obvious from the White House’s
reaction that they would rather Carter had not said it. But he is surely
It has been noticeable how few black faces there
have been at the meetings and rallies and marches organised against him. That
does not mean all the white faces in the crowds belong to racists. But in
the tone of many of the attacks, including on the ghastly right-wing radio
shows, then lurking beneath the surface you can sense the feeling that the
U S of A really ought to have a white man at the helm.
I see The Times today, following a botched attempt at
capital punishment of a convicted rapist, is saying America should now get
rid of the death penalty. Great idea – but my God, can you imagine the reaction
if Obama suddenly threw that one into the mix?