The Scottish referendum debate took another lurch into Bizarro World this week, as Labour's campaign co-ordinator Anas Sarwar revealed the first of his “Dad’s Army” group of clapped-out zombie politicians from the Blair era to try to stick a fork in the toaster of the Yes campaign.
This turned out to be Lord George Robertson, a small brain in a big head whose utter mediocrity somehow hasn’t prevented him scuttling up the ladder of success, where in a just world he would have landed painfully on the part of his anatomy he reserves for talking. You wouldn’t normally trust George to run a bath, far less an organisation possessing 45% of the world’s nuclear weapons, but it so happened that in 1999 Tony Blair, itching to get started on making poverty history by bombing the poor, urgently needed a glove puppet as Secretary-General of NATO.
Already the recipient of several “Useless Lickspittle of the Month” awards during his tenure as Defence Secretary, wee George was the obvious candidate. His five carnage-strewn years in the role made him the man he is today: patrolling the outer reaches of sanity, ever vigilant for threats to Western security, US hegemony or job offers from companies specialising in ways of blowing people up.
So it was that the other night George found himself being trundled on stage, with a short fuse fizzing fiercely, in Washington DC. By complete coincidence, a gilt-edged invitation from prestigious think tank the Brookings Institution had come fluttering through the letter box of his fallout shelter asking him to speak at the very time Alex Salmond would be at “Tartan Week” in New York. Alex, ever the showman, was working hard for Scottish interests, or, as Johann Lamont would put it, “wasting taxpayers’ money staying in hotels when, if it was me, I’d be sleeping in ditches and living off the kindness of strangers.”
In the interests of balance, it was only fair that someone should be given the opportunity to trash Scotland’s reputation. Rising to the challenge, George, who’s rubbed shoulders with the elite, albeit mostly against their midriffs, decided he’d do so in true Presidential style. Unfortunately, the tools he chose were Nixon’s paranoia, Reagan’s reality deficit and Dubya’s all-round dumbness. The resulting speech was the equivalent of screaming at the top of his voice for forty-five minutes before being led away in a straitjacket.
Better Together’s translation service remarked, “Lord Robertson’s masterful address, carrying echoes of Dr Martin Luther King, merely pointed out how Scotland’s pig-headed insistence on breaking away from the UK will result in the destruction of all life on earth. With NATO torn apart because no-one wants to take Trident, a Russian-Chinese alliance will conquer the world and, as a result, Starfleet will never be formed. The Klingon Empire will consequently meet no opposition when they come to vaporise the planet in the year 2156. These are facts that the Yes campaign has never denied, and Scottish voters need to take account of them.”
In their heart of hearts, Better Together probably wished that the forces of darkness would kidnap George and haul him off to a dungeon in Mordor, never to be seen again. Even the Unionist press was struggling to report the speech without using the words “complete diddy”. The Herald called it “powerful”, possibly referring to its stench rather than its vigour. And the pain continued, as George manifested himself again on Newsnight Scotland, assuring startled hedgehog Gordon Brewer that his speech made perfect sense because he’d looked up “cataclysmic” in the dictionary.
But, even as they eat their socks with embarrassment, Unionists need not be entirely downhearted. Comedy gold it may have been, but the debacle did achieve three interesting goals:
- Completely upstaging Alex Salmond. Finally broadcasters had a good excuse to ignore any statesmanlike remarks he made about constitutions, enlightened self-interest and other dangerous rabble-rousing topics. Previously this week Scotland Tonight’s justification for not presenting the Yes case had been reduced to “Ooh look, a rat’s just chewed through this cable.”
- Advancing an argument so mind-bendingly stupid that it’s impossible to counter it without sounding dismissive and insulting. Nicola Sturgeon has to be commended for not yelling, “Aw, come on, do you expect me to take this pish seriously?” but wee George was still able to accuse her of playing the man, not the ball. This will have gone down a storm in the Better Together tactics truck.
- Making Alistair Darling, who flew out to Washington at taxpayer expense on Tuesday to deliver the usual cliché-encrusted claptrap to selected audiences, seem like the voice of reason. Anyone who watched his hag-ridden performance on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show would have considered that beyond the scope of human endeavour. Of course, it may not be of long-term benefit to his public speaking career, where his remuneration depends on how much his audience is prepared to pay for him to shut up.