A three-day catch-up to Friday. 82 days of campaigning to go.
Can you in your wildest dreams imagine Ed Miliband taking part in a laid-back, conversational interview such as Alex Salmond’s public chinwag with Derek Bateman on his Bateman Broadcasting podcast?
According to observers who confuse politicians with people who actually achieve things, Ed’s a highly capable chap whose brain possesses its own gravitational field. But the poor guy does “natural and relaxed” like Luis Suarez does vegetarianism. My personal job from hell would be as his body language coach, training him to interact with humans without scaring them. Pushing water uphill with a sieve would be preferable, and less likely to end with me being led away in a straitjacket.
Now, the personalisation of politics is trivial and unhelpful, as I’m sure professional “Salmond Dictator Bingo” player Alistair Darling would acknowledge. But we all have hidden shallows, haven’t we, and nobody’s going to take our vote away on account of that, apart from Glasgow City Council, who’ll grab any excuse. So there’s no denying the influence of David “Debate? Moi?” Cameron, the spine-chilling prospect of whose re-election in 2015 might, according to a tantalising recent poll, scunner Scots sufficiently to swing the referendum result to Yes.
This makes Ed the white knight bearing the banner “Saviour of the Union”, whether he’s sitting the right way round on his horse or not. And it adds a distinct pinch of spice to one question stewing away in the electoral cauldron. Does the mental image of Ed smiling and waving on the doorstep of Number 10 give UK voters a cosy, warm glow, or does it look suspiciously like the trailer for a disaster movie?
Unfortunately for Ed, other polls darkly hint that 60% of voters think he’s not up to the job, and it’s always possible that the other 40% are confusing him with his brother. How Ed must envy his fuzzy-felt-haired sibling as, knife wounds beautifully healed, he jets around the world polishing his International Rescue halo and receiving “Let’s do lunch!” texts from Hillary Clinton, while Ed himself is left munching disconsolately on the bacon sandwich of failure.
Such was the background to Ed’s trip to Scotland on Friday, the latest in a “regular” series he’s threatened. It was part of a two-day Shadow Cabinet blitz in cahoots with his fellow Ed, Mr Balls, who’s on record as promising to resign as chief bean-counter if a future Labour UK government agrees to a sterling union with Scotland. It’s hard to beat a generous two-in-one offer like that, so we were all agog to see how his boss would rise to the challenge.
He didn’t. Ed’s advisers, perhaps working from a 1970s Scottish Labour manual that said you simply had to turn up to win a standing ovation, had somehow failed to load his “voter-pleasing” software. Instead we got an old Bitter Together cocktail of spittle and wind about his patriotic duty to erect border posts if Scotland introduced a robust, fair and coherent immigration policy in place of the UK’s random, cruel and senseless one. As the room was full of journalists, any outraged squeals from fair-minded listeners were drowned out by purrs anticipating lurid headlines.
It’s de rigueur these days for party leaders visiting Scotland to promise “more powers”, except for Nigel Farage, who’s usually barricaded in a pub before he has the chance to promise anything. Ed declared Labour’s unworkable and chaotic proposals, unveiled in March, a perfect fit for his 2015 manifesto, but gave no undertaking to explain them to Johann in terms that she could understand. Did this indicate that Johann was about to take a long walk off a short plank? We thought about that for a moment, and discovered we didn’t care.
As Keir Hardie knew, a political party must have a firm philosophical grounding or be an empty shell. But philosophy looks like awfy hard work, so nowadays Scottish Labour’s main driving force is its hatred of the SNP’s guts. Tax strategy, irrelevant to voters in September 2014 but arguably Labour’s principal remaining Socialist fig-leaf, is an excellent conduit for the party’s bile.
So cutting Corporation Tax, which Gordon Broon did twice and would have done a third time if the electorate hadn’t rugby-tackled him to the ground, was lambasted by Ed as a “race to the bottom” when suggested by the wicked SNP. Cynical readers may note that the other Ed, safely returned to London, is currently reviewing business taxes as a whole, so this view may change in future. Stay tuned for a whispered retraction at the height of the Commonwealth Games in a carefully camouflaged paragraph on page 24 of your super soaraway Scotsman.
Insofar as he ever had a field of expertise in the real world, before becoming the least unpopular self-aggrandising oddball on his local ballot paper, Ed used to major on “policy research”. The remainder of his speech reflected this, as it became obvious that he’d researched the policies of the Tories and decided that to adopt them was the best way to get elected. Sorry, I mean second-best. The best was to adopt a shoutier version of them.
Thus Tory spending plans, otherwise known as “Pick up the nearest flamethrower”, were endorsed as a decent start. The cold shower of austerity? A bracing tonic, and let’s pep it up by shovelling bucketfuls of ice over ourselves. Food banks? Brilliant photo-ops for politicians doing compassion, more please! Iain Duncan Smith’s incompetent, blame-shifting slash-fest at Work and Pensions? A brave attempt, but can we not do something to increase the amount of crap kicked out of people?
So ended another chapter in the never-ending story “That’s The Scots Telt”. In a bawbag - sorry, nutshell - Ed was nonplussed. Why on earth should Scots want independence when we can have this truckload of exploitative tosh, “the biggest progressive change for a generation”? Isn’t progress, after all, a great thing?
Yes, it is. Except, of course, if your vehicle is teetering on the edge of a cliff and some berk is lunging for the accelerator.