Take your pick of the polls today. That sounds like the first line of a jolly Victorian music hall song -
Take you pick of the polls today, take your pick of the polls
Some say up and some say down, but the lead goes rolling on
SOS (that’s not a panic message from a sinking unionist ship, but the name of a newspaper, Scotland on Sunday) carries a little headline in the right-hand column of the front page - Labour slashes SNP lead in election. The pale fluid that passes for blood in Iain Gray’s veins gives a little surge, but then slows down again as the third paragraph hits the reef of reality with the chilling words
Alex Salmond remains on course to beat his main opponent …
But the SOS poll gives a crumb of comfort to Labour, and reminds the SNP of what they already know - the game ain’t over till the polls close, on this fateful Thursday for the Scottish people.
The Progressive Scottish Opinion/Mail on Sunday poll shows the changes (bracketed) from the same poll early in March at the start of the election campaign
SNP: 45% (+8)
Lab: 35% (-8)
Con: 10% (-1)
Lib: 6% (+1)
SNP: 41% (+4)
Lab: 36% (-8)
Con: 8% (-3)
Lib: 5% (+1)
Gre: 6% (+2)
THE INDEPENDENCE THING
Columnists over the last week have been liberal - if that is the right word - with their advice to Iain Gray as to how he might wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, advice that has ranged from the considered but misconceived (Kenny Farquarson) to the realpolitik expedient populist (John McTernan) - advice which, if taken, will infinitely compound Labour’s misery.
Much of it has centred on what unionist believe is the SNP’s Achilles Heel - that independence thing. And today, in the Sunday Herald, Iain Macwhirter leaps into the maelstrom, scorning the dangers, apparently unconcerned by the fate of his two colleagues, and invokes the spirit of Wendy Alexander on the independence question.
He offers a lifeline to Iain Gray if “he dares to take some bold, inspiring steps as the election nears”, the main one being to challenge Alex Salmond to call a referendum, with the inspiring Alexandrian words “Bring it on …” ringing in his ears. This will “reboot the entire election campaign … as the SNP … say what they actually mean about independence. Flags and armies? The euro? NATO? Scottish passports? Customs posts?”.
Oh, Iain - what possessed you to pen this stuff? Leaving aside the fact that the SNP have already made their intentions clear on all of these topics, do you really think Iain Gray and his team, incapable of even marshalling a few hard statistics on knife crime without bringing the derision of the numerate down upon their heads, have got the political intelligence to even begin to address such issues in the three campaigning days left?
Let me wearily set out the facts on that independence thing yet again, aware that I am talking to a man I considered as one of Scotland’s most incisive and objective political commentators - until today …
The Scottish National Party’s raison d'être is the independence of the Scottish nation by the free democratic choice of the people of Scotland, a choice that will be offered to them during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, the electorate and May the 5th permitting.
Alex Salmond’s position on that is as clear today as it was at the beginning of this election campaign, and for a long time before that. When will he call for a referendum? When he judges the time to be right for the Scottish people to be given the opportunity to make their choice within the life of the next Parliament.
Let’s move from those clear waters into the muddy pool that is the unionist parties’ collective mind, and examine the multiple contradictions in their approach, starting with about the only two things that are clear to them -
1. They don’t want independence.
2. They don’t want the Scottish people to have the opportunity to express their democratic view on whether or not they want independence in a referendum.
From what should be these two Forsythian (the wee Laird of Drumlean) tablets of dogma, they then wander off in all directions, eventually moving in ever-decreasing circles, encouraged by journalists such as the three above, eventually flying up a number of orifices into their own guts.
The tortured ‘logic’ that flow from the above goes something like this -
The best way to avoid independence is to stop an SNP government being elected, but if they are elected, as seems likely, to ensure that they don’t have enough seats to table a bill requesting a referendum, and which the combined unionist opposition could block. But if they might just get enough seats to do this, to ensure that a referendum is declared quickly, before they can demonstrate yet more effective government in Scotland, hopefully returning a NO vote (based on the present polls of voting intentions), and taking the independence question off the table ‘for a generation’.
The above is bad enough, and cynical enough in itself - a dying hegemony desperately trying to halt a people’s wish to determine their future - but what follows from it descends into farce, a kind of Carry on UK up the Khyber production.
To achieve this, the Farquarson/McTernan/Macwhirter Plan is to use the last three days of a floundering, failing Labour campaign to demand that Alex Salmond call a referendum - right now, Alex - this very minute! Gie us a date, Alex - go on, gie us a date! We dare you! Ya Boo, big fearty - gies a date noo!
This slides over the fact that Iain Gray spent the last couple of years telling the First Minister that a referendum would be an unwarranted deflection from the serious business of managing the appalling economic crisis created by Iain Gray’s UK governing Labour Party when in power, and now being compounded by the incompetent, quarrelling, collapsing ConLib coalition.
Alex Salmond, a statesman and a master tactician, has a wide range of effective responses to this, and with his usual sure touch, will select the best one.
The one I would love to see, just for the sheer delight of watching the response to it, would be to calmly ignore the playground taunting. This would produce the following risible scenario -
Iain Gray: (with Bluetooth link to advice from The Three Journalist Stooges) See ! he’s feart, he’s feart! We say he’s secretly planning UDI, and will declare independence on May 6th, with a simultaneous erection of border posts, withdrawal from NATO, the waving of the Saltire and the standing down of the army.
But he can’t do that, because Parliament would have to approve a bill to request a referendum, and that would go the Westminster - and they widnae let him dae it! Naw, they widnae …
SANE JOURNALIST IN THE AUDIENCE (probably Angus Macleod) Why then are you asking him to “bring it on” and demanding a referendum, Mr. Gray?
Iain Gray: (after long pause to listen to Bluetooth Trio) Because he widnae win it! And he’s hiding the fact he wants independence …
Sane journalist: But he’s the Leader of the SNP, committed to independence, and he has said he will request a referendum within the life of the Parliament, Mr. Gray? Do you believe him?
Iain Gray: Naw, I don’t - he disnae really want independence. And I cannae wait - I want it right now, so he cannae have it. Anyway, a referendum would be a distraction from managing the economic crisis which Labour created … (pause for Bluetooth advice) … which the global ConLib bankers created and which Gordon Brown had nothing to do with. And I want that distraction right now! Gie’s is a referendum, Mr. Salmond - you know you want it!
Sane journalist: What if he agreed to your request and set a provisional date for say, 2014?
Iain Gray: What? 2014? The Scottish people cannae wait that long for independence! (more Bluetooth) What I mean is - if he waited that long, they might vote in favour of independence. But if we have it right now - today, or even next week, they widnae … But even if they did, we’d find a way to stitch up the result, like we did the last time. They’re no gonnae get it, OK? Anyway, he disnae want independence - he’s feart, and we’re determined to show that he is.
Sane journalist: If he doesn’t really want independence, he’s on your side surely, Mr. Gray? Don’t you think there are logical inconsistencies in your argument?
Iain Gray: You would do well to emulate your colleagues, Angus - they’re as logically inconsistent as me … (plaintive aside to aide That didnae come oot, right, Andy …)
Wendy Alexander, at rear of crowd, in dark glasses and a big hat: Oh, Jesus Christ …