I don’t really understand why politicians spend so much time talking to journalists. Most of the time little good can come from doing so. Of course, from a personal or professional perspective, this is fine and adds greatly to the gaiety of trade and nation. Nevertheless…
Take, for instance, the reports in today’s Financial Times and Daily Mail in which “senior” government sources stick their shivs into Alistair Darling. The leader of the Unionist campaign fighting next year’s referendum on Scottish independence is, we are informed, “comatose most of the time”. A different (I think) Downing Street figure complains that Darling is a “dreary figurehead”.
Meanwhile in the Mail, Gerri Peev finds another “senior parliamentary figure” who complains that Darling is “useless”. Perhaps he is but since the source then suggests Jeremy Hunt would be a useful weapon for Unionists to deploy we may safely conclude that this particular Tory is, to use the proper technical term, a fucking zoomer.
Guess the source is, of course, an entertaining parlour game. We may, I think, presume that the “senior parliamentary figure” is not a cabinet minister and not, on this showing, likely to be promoted.
The redoubtable Peev quotes a cabinet minister saying “We could be in real danger, we are not in any way complacent about this. The independence side have an easier sell.” There are, this source adds, suggestions that Gordon Brown will be hauled from his tent to play a part in the campaign: “We have to remember he is more popular in Scotland than he is in the rest of the country. But God help us if it takes Gordon to win the referendum.” The casual, familiar, reference to ‘Gordon’ rather than ‘Brown’ makes me wonder if this source is a Scot but perhaps it doesn’t really matter who it is.
All this nonsense has Iain Martin and Alan Cochrane spluttering into their claret. And with good reason. Darling is not an exciting – or an excitable – figure but the Unionist campaign needs a steady hand at the tiller. It has not always enjoyed that.
As Mr Cochrane notes, the suggestion we shouldn’t vote for independence because if we did mobile phone bills might increase is the sort of juvenile imbecility that discredits the Unionist cause much more severely than you might think. It makes a mockery of the argument. Ask Nick Clegg how easy it is to recover from mockery.
But reading the FT’s report one has the sense there are English Tories who think the problem with the Better Together campaign is that it has not been negative enough. I can assure them that this is not the case. Not when viewed from Edinburgh it ain’t.
Nevertheless, these English Tories seem to think that the UK government should drop its vast reserves of napalm on Scotland. It could, of course, and there’s no doubt this would have some impact. But at what cost?
Since Unionists are asking Scots to vote No some negativity is unavoidable. But it is not enough. Because in this campaign how you win matters nearly as much as actually winning in the first place. The vote will not be the end of the story, not by any means. And we will still have to inhabit the same sodden, freezing country. A scorched-earth Unionist campaign might well prevail but it would do great damage to Scotland – and the Union – in the process. It would leave Scotland a battered, sullen, resentful country of no use to anyone, least of all itself.
Which is why the WMD option, if you will, is MAD.
Then again, perhaps these Tory briefers are actually SNP moles. They might as well be.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.