Saturday/ Sunday. 87 days of campaigning to go…
The Scottish public awoke on Sunday to find that overnight a miracle had occurred.
You know how difficult it is, if you’re a meeting organiser, to find Better Together representatives to speak at debates? Your initial e-mail gets zapped to atoms by their anti-virus software for containing the words “Yes” and “positive case”. You try phoning them, but all their operators are busy trolling on Twitter, so you sit through endless repetitions of Rod Stewart croaking Twisting The Night Away before someone blows a giant raspberry in your ear and the line goes dead.
Eventually, by an elaborate process involving wizards, dragon-slaying and a quest for a magic amulet, you show up in person at their front desk, where the receptionist stonewalls for a further 15 minutes by pretending it’s a branch of Domino’s Pizza and asking what toppings you’d like. Then, even if you succeed in coming away with a couple of names that are neither fictional characters nor smart-arse puns, there’s still a fair chance they’ll pull out at the last minute, citing hair appointments, root canal work or irresistible urges to run away.
So we were all gobsmacked that keen Yes campaigner Mr A Salmond of Holyrood had actually managed to secure an opponent to face his debating skills. Much of the credit for this went to fight promoter Mr B Ponsonby of STV, whose rage at being given the slip by George Osborne in February had evidently been channelled into a study of the best places to set trip-wires and elephant traps.
Sadly, Alex hadn’t been permitted his first choice, David Cameron, who loftily insisted that the debate should be between Scots, and that he was comfortable in his own role of “interfering git not available for questions”. Relying on his legendary personnel expertise, the PM had delegated the job to everybody’s favourite Munchkin, Alistair Darling, promising a “full and frank apology” to the nation when the whole thing proceeded to go tits up. An aide confirmed that this was in line with Mr Cameron’s summer holiday to-do list, which read, “Cancel milk, leave spare key with evil neighbour, remember to pack child, stitch up scapegoat for losing Scotland.”
One wondered if the PM had actually consulted the world’s most over-promoted back-bencher, whose demeanour when questioned even on the level of “And have you anything further to impart to a grateful nation, Mr Darling?” is that of a man with a ferret loose about his person. Those in the know gulped apprehensively and battened down the hatches for a toy-throwing tantrum.
But wouldn’t it be a shame, we thought, if the carefully-arranged debate fell through because, say, Alistair preferred it to be at the BBC, where he’d have a comfy chair and an interviewer peeling him grapes? Or because he wasn’t allowed to use his special cough that sounds like “Kim Jong Il”, or insisted that victory should go to whoever was better at impersonating a badger, or decided to throw a monumental paddy about…. oh, I don’t know…. what date the bloody thing should take place?
Fortunately, by the end of Sunday none of this had happened. And I’m absolutely 100% confident none of it will, unless (a) they find a way to blame it on Alex Salmond, and/or (b) oops, it already has.
Ach, high-profile debates are over-rated anyway. They’re just professional obfuscators beating each other about the head with slogans, while we viewers wonder why nothing’s being done about the screams of pain until we realise they’re coming from us. Witnessing the confrontation of unflinchingly opposed views is like being force-fed sand, which is why the first edition of Radio Scotland’s Crossfire on Sunday was an intellectual desert.
The BBC complaints department is no doubt preparing its standard piss-off reply to the inevitable question, “How could you make a worse job of replacing Headlines, except by spending an hour broadcasting the sound of two chainsaws?” Kezia Dugdale’s last-minute withdrawal may have been down to money, chemistry or an apocalyptically rubbish performance in the pilot, but equally she may just have been savvy enough to know when to head for the lifeboats.
Well away from the talking heads, the Radical Independence Campaign hit the pavements on Sunday, respectfully begging to differ with Professor Curtice with a highly encouraging mass canvass. One could imagine Blair McDougall surveying the scene by telescope from the roof of Blythswood Square, wondering how the hell to extinguish all that widespread hope. Jim Murphy and his Irn Bru Crates of Doom? Anas and his blunder-bus with blacked-out windows, careening hazardously from town to town with its cargo of chancers? Nope, it looked like he would just have to rely on the entire machinery, resources and duplicity of the British state, as usual.
If Blair’s reflections had taken place 24 hours earlier, he might have had an additional option, for that was when solicitor, prankster and general humorist Mike Dailly had his Bright Idea. “What if I create a list of Wings Over Scotland social media supporters whom we can smear in the newspapers?”
It was a joke, of course, lacking only the essential component of humour. Nevertheless, Mike spent a few hours on Twitter trying to look spooky and intimidating, only to find that most Cybernats were too busy watching football to be provoked. Undaunted, he called Alex Salmond an arsehole, but only as a satirical observation, of course, crafted to draw attention to the puerile and corrosive nature of the online debate.
Don't worry, Mike. When we threatened to report you to the Law Society and get you sacked, we were just joking as well. We don’t have a list of our own, as it happens, but we wouldn’t need to put you on it anyway. You’re one of a kind.