Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mixed Messages At Better Together


Thanks to my mole at Better Together for intercepting this e-mail.  I can’t imagine who “Alistair” and “Blair M” might be, although they seem to be quite important in the organisation, so if you have any ideas please let me know.

Hi Alistair,

I trust your anger management therapy is going well, and hope to see you soon here in Scotland, which I know you regard as your second home, when it isn’t your first.  It is, as always, an honour to present my report on Better Together’s recent campaign activities.

Firstly, many thanks for asking GCHQ to send us figures on the Prime Minister’s “phone-a-friend” initiative.  We’ve now analysed these and, as we feared, they’re somewhat disappointing.  With half of England underwater and the government’s response a mixture of back-stabbing, extravagant promises and hasty back-pedalling, it seems people aren’t exactly making it a priority to ring up their Scottish friends and say, “Wow, stick with this Westminster lot – they’ve totally nailed running the country!” 

We did identify one useful stat:  a brief spike in phone calls to Scotland midway through Saturday evening.  It was just Englishmen wanting to gloat about the rugby, of course, but readers won’t realise that when our selectively-edited graphs appear in the Herald’s imminent 4-page “Weekend Wooing” pull-out.

Now, one minor concern.  As you know, some key BT donors and their bodyguards visited our office last week, leaving lasting impressions on me personally.  We discussed how to reverse the trend in opinion polls, which had become so obvious that even Professor Curtice had noticed.  Our conclusion, if the subsequent anaesthetic hasn’t dulled my memory, was that we should start sending out a more positive message to voters. 

That’s all very well, but how does it square with today’s news on the BBC that George Osborne is about to rule out a currency union?  How is any propagandist this side of Alpha Centauri supposed to spin that as a positive message?  Might as well try training an elephant to tap-dance.  I know it’s the BBC, so obviously there’s a liberal sprinkling of pish involved, but, given all the hullaballoo, he must actually be going to say it, right?

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love misery.  I pour vinegar on my bran flakes every morning, and if my toast doesn’t land buttered side down I kick it around until it does.  But now the staff are confused by the mixed messages.  Are we supposed to be nice or nasty?  Was it a waste of time looking up “positive” in the dictionary?  Why weren’t we told about this before flushing 490,000 undistributed “Goodbye To The Pound” leaflets down the toilet?   Now we’re uncertain what we should be doing and the drains are blocked.  That’s no good for morale.

What about the efforts we’ve put into Johann Lamont’s smiling training?  We’ve already gone through half-a-dozen reinforced mirrors, and incurred significant agency expenses after two of our permanent trainers became traumatised.  The staff are in uproar because the milk for their coffee keeps going sour and they can’t say “Hello” in the corridor without getting a dose of her withering sarcasm.  Personally, I still prefer Plan B, where we hold Johann prisoner for seven months and replace her with a giant smiley sock puppet.  No-one at Holyrood would notice, and the puppet would stand more chance of getting Labour to approve her tax devolution proposals.

What about the money that’s already gone into the new charm offensive?  For example, on hiring an open-top bus to drive Strathallan School pupils down Princes Street while they pelt passers-by with tubes of Love Hearts.  Or replacing all of our switchboard operators with minions from Despicable Me in the hope that callers will find them cuter and funnier.   Or buying cuddly toys to send to local debates in place of speakers, to show the audience we love them even if we can’t be arsed to defend our position in public.

What about our plans to engage with voters through music?  Ruth Davidson is clearly ready to launch into Land Of Hope And Glory at the slightest provocation, and we’re considering sending her up a Munro and filming her Sound of Music style.  Douglas and Danny are all set to go on tour as the New Alexander Brothers, just as soon as Danny can be surgically detached from George Osborne.  Ian Davidson’s irony-free rendition of Shipbuilding is expected to go viral on YouTube, and Anas Sarwar is working on an ambitious project he calls his “Wall Of Sound”.  We may well bring the whole shebang together in an open-air summer concert, if we can find a football stadium small enough.

Our natural supporters in the media would surely enjoy a move away from constant negativity.  When the editor of the Herald picks up the phone to take dictation, we want to hear the birdsong of welcome in his voice, not the clink of anti-depressants in his glass.  When Sally Magnusson reads out the lies we pump into Pacific Quay each day, we want to watch her gasp at their sheer audacity, not read them out with the merest arch of an eyebrow before moving on to that night’s road traffic accident.

So, bearing all of this advice in mind, I wonder if you could pop round to your old house to ask the Chancellor if he might reconsider?   I’m sure the head-butt last time was an unfortunate accident, and in any case you could wear a protective helmet.

Meanwhile, with a degree of resignation, we’ll restart the creaky old baggage carousel and set the scare stories trundling endlessly round again:  EU, pensions, borders, supermarket prices, defence.  Of course, there’s now a space where “currency” used to be.  Perhaps I could fill it with one of the cuddly toys?  That would be the best of both worlds.

Yours aye (in the sense of “forever”, naturally),

Blair M

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