When he saw the writing on the wall and was desperate to get people to vote Yes, Alex Salmond made a last ditch appeal on the Andrew Marr Show the Sunday before the independence referendum. He said that people had a once in a generation or even a lifetime chance to vote for independence and they should take it.
Now, it was fairly clear to me and I expect most other people that he absolutely didn’t mean what he was saying. There was no way that the entire nationalist movement was just going to give up and take up crochet if they lost. Of course they were not. They sincerely believe that independence is the best option for Scotland in the same way that I believe that a liberal approach to our problems is the best way to run a society. I’ll never give up my quest to see a truly liberal world.
It therefore comes as no surprise to see that he’s already working on “Indyref 2” as outlined in a recent interview with Aberdeen’s Evening Express:
Mr Salmond said: “A taxi driver said to me that he had voted No to independence but he would do it differently next time. I think we would win if there was another referendum.”
He added: “Luckily in life, as in politics, people sometimes get a second chance.”
The SNP seem to be executing a carefully co-ordinated plan to make a second referendum more likely. Their only chance is winning an overall majority at Holyrood in 2016. It’s therefore in their interests to paint the Smith Commission they signed up to in a bad light and for any coalition negotiations at Westminster involving them to fail – in such a way that they can blame those nasty unionists, of course. That, they think, will give them an advantage in the Holyrood elections.
Why else would they choose as their deal breaker the one thing that is most difficult to deliver? It looks like they want to walk way. I want rid of nuclear weapons as much as they do. I really don’t think we should have weapons of mass destruction. My own party doesn’t agree with me on that, and neither do Labour or the Conservatives. Labour might surprise us post-election and decide to unilaterally disarm, but I’d not even bet the Murray Mint in the bottom of my handbag that that would happen. Why pick that issue, though, rather than one that could directly improve people’s lives in Scotland right here right now. If we devolved benefits sanctions and conditions, we could do it so much better. There should be a lot of common ground between Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats on things like tackling poverty, social justice and fairness. There is huge potential for what we could achieve together using the powers we already have. The challenge for all concerned is to behave like grown-ups and do that. By choosing a red line issue that’s not that high on people’s priorities, the SNP runs the risk of looking opportunistic and provocative.
But back to Mr Salmond. He was never going to fade away into backbench obscurity. It’s just not his way. I was particularly amused by his comments about David Cameron and the Queen for two reasons. Firstly, he slated Cameron for repeating a conversation with Her Maj – and then did exactly the same thing about his conversation with her. Then, he slated Cameron for trying to impress billionaires. This is the same guy who expressed admiration for both Vladimir Putin and Rupert Murdoch. Chutzpah, much.
He’s also tried to position himself as some kind of wise elder statesman figure for the English, telling them they need a referendum to sort out their constitutional issues.
None of this, of course, is of any earthly use to the people of Gordon who seem little more than a vehicle for his ambition. If he talks about national issues, even to local papers, he gets the profile without the requirement for balance and talking to the other candidates. It’s all really pretty clever. His victory in Gordon is far from assured, though, despite Nicola Sturgeon’s entirely coincidental visit to the north east the day before announcing that she’s going to splash the cash up there. They’ve only been in government for seven years…
I asked Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat who’s seeking to continue Malcolm Bruce’s 32 year record of action for Gordon, what she made of Salmond’s tactics. She told me:
Alex Salmond has pursued independence for his entire political career and it’s becoming clearer by the day that is his only motivation in standing for Gordon.
The issues that matter to the people here do not appear to matter to him. It’s why he failed to address them in 7 years as First Minister and why we are now receiving widespread support from local people to make sure we hold Gordon.
As MP I would make listening to the people about those issues my first priority, as Malcolm has for 32 years.
We are hearing from people on the doorsteps that they do not want the SNP to hijack their votes purely to pursue independence, something they have already rejected.
It’s easy to see why Christine’s Facebook likes have gone through the roof since Salmond declared, from 300 or so to almost 6000. If you look at her page, it’s all about things that really matter up there – decent mobile signal, broadband speeds, the NHS, supporting local businesses.
Of Salmond’s comments about a second referendum, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:
The former First Minister has broken his word to the Scottish people. Alex Salmond said the referendum was a once in a generation opportunity. But now, if he gets his way, another one will be just round the corner. It beggars belief that within weeks of losing the last referendum he is boasting of a victory in the next one.
I am sure people will be puzzled that Alex Salmond is rubbishing the Smith Commission which is transferring big welfare and tax powers to Scotland. It is odd as his party signed up to the package of powers.
The SNP took their eye off the ball during the referendum and cancer targets were missed, college places were slashed and hospital went into crisis. Backing Alex Salmond’s plans for another referendum is not in Scotland’s interest
Combating the SNP’s wider plan is going to take a lot more than the “Get over it, you lost” riff that we’re getting from some elements in the pro UK parties. There is no point in taking comfort in complacently thinking that the UK was saved despite a Tory government in Westminster and Better Together being one of the worst campaigns in the history of democracy and is therefore invulnerable. This is far from over and if the pro-UK doesn’t get its act together, we could be facing another referendum within a very short space of time. Public opinion is now broadly on the side of arguments that Liberal Democrats have advanced for decades and more. We need to be very assertive about showing that and explaining what we can offer both UK and Scottish governments in the future. Had we not made so much fuss over armed police, stop and search and human rights, the SNP would not be moving on these issues.
The SNP think they can bide their time and independence will pretty much fall into their lap. It’s up to us to take the lead in making sure that the people of Scotland are given an inspiring alternative, a vision of how the powers we already have can transform our society for the better.