First Minister Alex Salmond has sent perhaps a premature response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to enter the debate between Scottish residents on the future of Scotland.
Mr Salmond had asked the Prime Minister to take part in a head-to-head debate with himself – but as David Cameron correctly pointed out: ‘You want the independence debate to be an argument between you and me. the Scottish Government and UK Government, the SNP and Conservative Party – in fact anything except what it really is about.
‘Nor is your argument with the rest of the United Kingdom, it is with the people in Scotland.’
Mr Salmond fired off a narky response on Friday, which lacked consistency of argument and which had an immature tone of the street-corner scrap about it, telling the PM either to front up ‘or butt out of the debate for good’, going on to say that ‘the case for a head-to-head between us is unanswerable. You should reconsider.’
The sheer rattledness of this communication tells a tale of the First Minister’s state of mind. Like an ageing champion in cage fighting he wanted to pin the fate of the nation on a bare-fist show down with a high-profile but inappropriate opponent.
He then felt wrongfooted when the Prime Minister pointed out the inappropriateness of the proposal – and got snappy, in what has all the appearance of a missive sent when he had escaped from his minders.
This stunt would have been a tactical mistake in any case. The First Minister is nothing like as intellectually nimble as he once was. His substitute for mental agility these days is simply to up the volume and shout down the opposition.
We have not heard one single compelling argument for independence from the First Minister throughout this entire campaign – not one original touchstone that has set the campaign alight.
In his letter, Mr Salmond accuses the Prime Minister: ‘You continue to direct your government and its taxpayer-funded resources to make the case against an independent Scotland’. He chooses to remain blind to the fact that he is doing exactly the same from Holyrood in ‘directing his government and its taxpayer-funded resources’ for an independent Scotland.
Some time ago, For Argyll submitted a Freedom of Information request to both governments – which we published – asking for details and costs of the deployment of civil servants’ time and other resources to researching and reporting on aspects of independence from their separate perspectives.
Each – eventually [and the Scottish response was by far the slowest, beyond the legal limit] – refused to disclose the information on more or less similar grounds: that it would take too long to put the information together.
All that is certain is that the taxpayer is funding the whole shebang.
Success or failure, we will never know what this entire adventure has cost – but we will have to pay for it.
Try it the other way around
The best way to test the validity of the First Minister’s approach and response here is to imagine if things had happened the other way around.
Supposing Mr Cameron, as UK Prime Minister, was insisting on the right to debate with Mr Salmond on Scottish independencc – to be decided by the vote of those living in Scotland.
Imagine Mr Salmond’s response to that.
Yet this is actually what he has invited the UK Prime Minister to do.
This issue will not be decided in a cage fight to the death. It will be decided on whether, before they sign Scotland into a one way ticket out of the UK, every voter pauses to consider the sustainability, the affordablity of the prospectus before us.
We are not voting for independence on 18th September next year.
We are voting for or against this particular prospectus for independence.
If we are not doing that, what has been the point of the promises made?
These promises include but exceed keeping the Queen, using the pound, staying in NATO, kicking out Trident, using British Passports and Driving Licences, keeping all our universal benefits, taking the Royal Mail in Scotland into public ownership, reforming land ownership and spending on pensions we cannot afford to underwrite on the scale to which the Government has now committed?
Whatever our eventual aspirations, a responsible vote can only be for ‘Yes’ if this prospectus on offer can be shown to be viable – against robust scrutiny.
If someone asked you to walk out of your house for good and go and stand in a field to wait for a salesman to wrap a new house around you, at least as good if not better than the one you’ve got – would you walk? Would you throw away the keys? That would be some salesman.