A four-day dash from Thursday to Sunday. 73 days of campaigning to go.
With the news beginning to seep nauseatingly out of Westminster that “appropriately dealing with” child abuse dossiers and losing them without trace were one and the same thing, it was clearly time for some razzamatazz to distract people’s attention.
Fortunately, we had a glitzy toy to gawp at: HMS Queen Elizabeth, the new aircraft carrier that will, we’re told, be a source of inspiration and pride for us all. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2020 before it becomes a source of aircraft too. This makes it an especially potent symbol of the Union, which with the swing of the Treasury’s remorseless axe will soon deliver fire engines with no hoses, ambulances with no wheels and, by special request of Donald Trump, wind turbines with no blades. As denizens of Maryhill know, food banks with no food have already been delivered bang on schedule.
The naming of the bare-decked behemoth took place at Rosyth before an assortment of the great and good, including American dignitaries who’d agreed to shut up about independence even though it was 4 July. For David Cameron, watching his fifth cousin perform the ceremony with a bottle of “UKOK” whisky thoughtfully provided by William Grant & Sons, there was a glow of pride at a significant achievement: three days in Scotland in less than a week, and still no questions answered. Or did the glow betray a smidgin of embarrassment at getting booed? Never mind, he thought, he’d get his chums in the media to say the heckling was even worse for Salmond.
“We’re back in the business of maritime power projection!” gushed Philip Hammond, who by all accounts is UK Defence Secretary. That’s great, although going by the last time the Russians strayed into Scottish waters without challenge he may still be relying on scaring them off with holograms and cardboard cut-outs.
Still, unless his staff had carelessly left him on his “random Tory lie generator” setting, at least Phil confirmed that the new warship’s wee sister would be built at Rosyth even if, despite all the Government’s postal votes, Scotland came out for Yes. Cue gurgling noises from Alistair Carmichael, history’s one and only Secretary of State for Portsmouth, as his last iota of credibility slid inelegantly beneath the waves.
A different form of power projection, one we needed like a boil on the bum, manifested itself in Glasgow on Saturday, when an Orange Order march ended in another piece of bottle-smashing and a 12-year-old girl was injured. Now, I’ll not spend long on the Orange Order’s activities, because (1) they’re a crashingly hopeless subject for comedy, and (2) you can take it as read that I’ll rant about provocative, quasi-militaristic, alcohol-fuelled sectarian exhibitionism being an abhorrence in an educated modern society, so why waste energy?
The stramash was relevant to the referendum because the Orange Order, displaying an intellectual honesty that’s an elusive butterfly to the CBI and BBC, had signed up as No campaigners with the Electoral Commission. So the parading of chunky great NO banners through Glasgow while mayhem was taking place immediately offstage was, at least until the press found a way of blaming the whole thing on Alex Salmond, a PR disaster for Better Together.
This is a dangerous thing for Yes to gloat about. To be fair, it’s unlikely that any fascist fringe weirdo groups, or for that matter UKIP, will come banging on Blair Jenkins’ door asking to be given a plug in the next Aye Right leaflet. But I, for one, won’t be uncorking any champagne if Rupert Murdoch, the destroyer of all that’s worthwhile, becomes bored of toying with Cameron and cranks up the muck-spreader called the Scottish Sun in support of Yes. When it’s a binary choice, there’s always the danger of winding up with fellow travellers whose views on other topics make you want to throw up.
But there’s no room for sentiment in a propaganda war, so as BT furiously back-pedal we can expect several trip-wires to be laid in their path. They certainly wouldn’t hesitate to be equally ruthless with us, as was demonstrated big time by their calculatedly over-the-top reaction to the anti-bias protest at BBC Scotland the previous weekend.
As far as I’m aware, the protest was overwhelmingly good-humoured, started and ended at the advertised time, involved no bottles being lobbed in anyone’s direction and took place without a single arrest. If John Simpson was there in a tin helmet, ready to deliver a breathless war zone report, I hope he brought plenty of Sudoku puzzles to keep him occupied.
But Jim Murphy, who really should give his Irn Bru crates more air time because they’d undoubtedly talk better sense, slammed the demo as “bullying” of the BBC. Ah, that oft-prostituted word, from a man whose party used to understand the principle of peaceful protest, until Tony Blair devoured its soul with a nice Chianti! Just to keep the irony-meter smouldering, the protest had included a speech from Professor John Robertson, an academic who really had been bullied when the BBC responded to his questioning of its impartiality by effectively trying to get him sacked.
Murphy’s whinge goes to show that, in the twisted world of propaganda, picketing a TV station is far from risk-free, even if you behave like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Accordingly, some high-ups in the Yes campaign weren’t at all keen on the BBC demo, and said so, resulting in a spicy in-house Twitter rammy I’m sure the forces of darkness enjoyed.
Well, sorry, high-ups, but in my view having a self-organising grass-roots campaign is a stunning advantage, something for which Better Together would crawl over broken glass. However, it does mean you can’t complain too much when the naughty grass roots do something that doesn’t slot neatly into your agenda.
In any case, seeing how cheesed off people were when the Beeb turned a blind eye to 50,000 anti-austerity marchers in London, I reckon there’s scope for “BBC bias” protests to emerge in the not-too-distant future as the new fashion craze. Maybe the Pacific Quay demonstrators are pioneers!