Fed up with the effin’ Tories, scunnered with scumbag Labour or pissed off with pusillanimous Lib Dems? Hard cheese, viewers in Scotland. In the aftermath of the referendum, not only do the winners get to write history, but they’re given carte blanche to plaster their version all over your TV screens till your eyeballs spontaneously combust.
Unless you’re Mystic Meg, it’s tricky to write a topical blog without subjecting yourself to the occasional news broadcast, so watching the conference season is a necessary evil, which you survive by gritting your teeth and paying close attention to your booze-hangover balance. This year, however, with flag-waving triumphalism accompanying the usual cacophony of cant, it’s required the patience of Job not to hurl the telly down the nearest mineshaft.
How much more palatable the Labour jamboree might have been if we ordinary punters had been granted Ed’s magic powers of forgetfulness! As it was, we sat squirming as the faithful, oblivious to their looming “cost-of-lying crisis” in Scotland, gleefully rang the bells for their heroes returning from the battlefield.
Smirkers-in-chief included Alistair Darling, displaying all the magnanimity of a wasp with a bad case of piles, Jim Murphy, soon to publish his self-help book on surviving the trauma of everyday stains, and Douglas Alexander, still several voice-coaching sessions away from sounding as authoritative as his big sister. Just out of camera-shot, Johann Lamont struggled to get through security as the knives in her back kept setting off the metal detector. Meanwhile, on the positive side, we rejoiced in the disappearance of world saviour Gordon Brown, who had swept off aboard his chariots of wrath in search of a petition to hijack.
But there was still plenty to delight masochists, as Ed Balls pledged to maintain the Tories’ welfare cap, albeit with a more compassionate face, or at least as compassionate as his mad staring eyes would allow. A 91-year-old firebrand’s passionate defence of the NHS moved delegates to tears, which, for those who during the referendum campaign had denied it needed defending, should have been tears of shame. And dear deluded Margaret Curran undertook to discover how to regain the trust of Yes voters in the Labour heartlands. Hi there, Mags, my suggestion would be, “Leave public life forever and take that ragbag of charlatans with you.”
Of course, as soon as Ed Balls started photocopying the Tories’ policies, it merely encouraged them to go further. The Tory conference was hard-core “We’re the Nasty Party, live with it” viewing all the way from the opening ceremony, which featured the creepily enigmatic Grant Shapps and serried ranks of Stepford ideologues in Union Jack T-shirts, to the finish, when David Cameron thrilled his audience with deficit reduction plans based on, ooh guess what, squeezing the poor. The only thing missing was Kenny Everett rushing on stage wearing a pair of giant hands and yelling, “Let’s bomb Russia!”
Ruth Davidson, who spent the conference grinning as if she’d bitten into a sandwich laced with Evo-Stik, was singled out as the new star in the firmament, eligible to be applauded even by old buffers without the slightest clue who she was. Immediately embraced as one of the family, she was awarded the place of honour next to SamCam as Dave romped through his keynote list of unfunded hand-outs to the middle class.
Sadly for Ruth, it’s unlikely the love will prove to be unconditional. Thanks to Dave’s bizarre impression that voting No means Scotland is full of embryonic Tories, welcoming the Osborne austerity agenda like turkeys writing letters to Santa, he’s now expecting her to work miracles at the 2015 General Election. When she inevitably disappoints him, he’ll have no option but to abandon her in a pub somewhere. The hallmark of the Tories is, after all, Ruthlessness.
But these days the party isn’t motivated solely by the urge to give Big Issue sellers a kicking and toss bricks to drowning people. An increasingly influential driving force, nibbling away at what passes for its soul, is dread of the relentless advance of UKIP. Defecting MPs and councillors can always be replaced, since the well-spring of power-crazy numbskulls never runs dry, but once moneybags donors start jumping ship you’ve got a real crisis on your hands. If some of the conference rhetoric seemed especially shrill this year, it may have been an attempt to divert the audience’s attention from the sound of Nigel Farage sawing away at the floorboards beneath them.
The policy arms race with UKIP is beginning to produce some spectacular collateral damage. A glaring example is the European Convention on Human Rights, good enough for Winston Churchill but not, apparently, addle-brained pipsqueak Chris Grayling.
Grayling and his fellow hooligans are dismissing the ECHR as meddling frippery because it threatens to stop us handing people we don’t like over to torturers. But don’t fret, chattering classes, because when we unplug ourselves from that namby-pamby nonsense we’ll have our own British Bill of Rights! It’ll be drawn up by Daily Mail journalists in their spare time, beginning with “the right to shut up and applaud everything the Government does, until it’s your turn to be arrested”.
And so, with a heavy sigh, to the Liberal Democrats, unless since I started this post they’ve had an outbreak of honesty and renamed themselves “The Useful Idiot Party”. Where the Tory conference came across as a resounding trumpet voluntary, the Lib Dem one was more like a comb-and-tissue-paper rendition of We’ll Meet Again, although in their hearts they know we won’t.
So, no tittering missus, here’s the Lib Dem case for the defence. For the last four-and-a-half years they’ve been driving a getaway car for a masked gang carrying bulging sacks marked “Loot”, and they’ve just become aware that these people may be thieves. Since they’ve never broken the speed limit or parked on a double yellow line, they reckon they're a moderating influence, and we should throw up our hands in gratitude and let them have the ignition keys for another five years. Oh, and depending on how things pan out they may suddenly decide to work for a different gang, but that’s none of our business.
As we considered whether "wasting voters' time" should be made a criminal offence, the post-indyref claptrap brigade came out in force: Alistair Carmichael, the “bruiser” who’s really his mammy’s big tumfy, administering a “stern rebuke” to Nicola Sturgeon for not ruling out independence for eternity; the waspish (and still is) Malcolm Bruce, comparing the Salmond administration to the Soviet politburo; and the gossamer-thin reality grip of Paddy Ashdown, classifying the SNP alongside various fascist, extremist or looney-tunes outfits in Europe.
But somehow this didn’t matter, for as they burbled on you could sense their imminent irrelevance, as if they’d taken a gulp of helium before speaking and their voices had gone all tinny and gurgly. This was a party enjoying a last picnic on the railway line, in blissful denial about the InterCity 125 of electoral oblivion hurtling towards them.
Less widely reported than any of the above, partly through their own choice but partly because their name contains a word that brings the BBC out in a nasty rash, was the gathering last Saturday of Women for Independence. 1,000 of its members packed out St Matthew’s Church in Perth more comprehensively than had been witnessed in decades of Sundays, and by all accounts had a whale of a time sharing experiences, floating ideas and laying plans.
Could this be the future? A forum where participation takes precedence over stage-management? More concerned with changing things in future than name-calling about the past? Driven by hope, not fear, career advancement or competitive mania? Composed of individuals, not delegates, and with a thousand personal visions rather than one stifling party line? Not seeking power, just striving to improve things for the better?
Nah, it’ll never catch on, surely. Will it?