The National gets better by the day: in today’s edition, it excelled itself.
From its eye-catching, ‘Russian Roulette’ front cover through its news items to its articles, analysis and readers’ letters, it provided a wealth of information on key topics for committed supporters of Scotland’s independence – and hopefully many others as yet uncommitted – that helps to make them the driving force in the best informed electorate in the world, despite the efforts of the rest of the mainstream media to misinform and mislead them.
And of course, there’s the regular Monday delight – the Greg Moodie cartoon, in my view one his very best to date. (My cartoon consumption goes back to the 1940s and includes the American funnies, sent to me by relatives in the U.S., and I was viewing the great newspaper political cartoonists from early childhood.) This one had a real story to tell, with the word balloons driving the riveting, graphic wedding narrative – the impending nuptials of Ed and the SNP.
The second part of Alasdair Gray’s series, titled Towards Democracy contained - among his musings on explosions in munitions depots and the nuclear risk, the following gem -
“Everyone wants to live as far from such things as possible, so the London Government has placed the most dangerous in Scotland.”
He also observes that “British and North American armed forces have been bombing and blighting foreigners in wars where a minority of British and U.S.A soldiers died, and this caused no explosions in their homelands before a suicidal guerrilla group destroyed the New York World Trade Centre.”
But perhaps Alasdair’s most interesting proposition was that Alex Salmond adopted the high-risk strategy of moving the SNP towards NATO membership – which almost split the party in 2012 – to stop Obama, the U.S.A. and its supporters from “directing a global blast against Scottish independence before the referendum.”
Alasdair Gray advances the idea that this was in fact counter-productive -
“As a result, President Obama spoke as gently against it as the Pope. I believe the strong blast Salmond feared may have given the Yes campaign a clear majority, because a lot of Scots were getting tired of being told they could not rule themselves ..”
Well, we’ll never know – but I, for one, think Alasdair Gray may be right. But in this, as in so many other vital, pivotal judgments, e.g. the currency question, I don’t envy Alex Salmond the agonising choices he had to make. Characteristically, he made them bravely, decisively and without equivocation, not as a gambler, but as the statesman he was - and is.
Alasdair is in no doubt, and has a view on what must be done -
“NATO will keep its bases in Scotland no matter how much an independent Scotland protests, but that is no reason the SNP conference should not return to its former policy of total nuclear disarmament.” and “Alex Salmond’s amendment is less than three years old, and can be scrapped.”
However, for me, the most insightful and immediately relevant article in this fine National issue was George Kerevan’s “Time to face up to reality about the role SNP MPs will play post-election”. Kerevan is one of the true political thinkers in the SNP camp, and unlike many Scottish journalists, is capable of getting right down to the structural heart of complex political issues that others shy away from.
Anyone who wants to understand the complexities of the Westminster situation Nicola Sturgeon and the new bloc of SNP MPs will face if they are returned in the numbers the polls suggest must read this article - and then read it again.
In the maze of options, from coalition (currently ruled out) to confidence and supply deals (not “supply and demand” deals as one journalist suggested elsewhere!) the voting behaviours of an SNP/Plaid/Green bloc will demand fine judgements, as Kerevan’s keen eye detects.
Yesterday, Iain Macwhirter, in an excellent Sunday Herald article In this era of Coalition, the political map has turned yellow addressed similar questions. But he used the language of negotiation (a language most journalists should take care to avoid, since they rarely have any understanding of the dynamics of negotiation) to describe the dilemmas facing the SNP Westminster bloc.
In examining the choices the new SNP bloc will face, the choices that Nicola will have to mastermind – having ruled out the possibility that Alex Salmond “could become the back-seat driver from hell”, he adopts what I believe to be a false premise, namely that Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out “playing politics with the Tories”
Leaving aside the fact that the SNP minority government of 2007-2011 only survived because Alex Salmond deftly played politics with the Tories to get his budgets through, what Nicola has ruled out – as I understand it – is entering into coalition or any confidence and supply-type arrangement with the Tories. To do either would clearly be political suicide for the SNP in Scotland.
But this cannot be extrapolated into saying that the SNP would never vote with the Tories on any issue. (If Nicola said this, I missed it!) One only has to illustrate by extremes, e.g. what if the Tories agreed to vote against the upgrading of Trident against a Miliband Government determined to do it?
Although such a scenario stretches the bounds of probability, it does illustrate that distaste for the Tories cannot overwhelm common political sense, where there are key voting issues on which consensus exists. Such a distaste for the SNP from 2007 to date led the Scottish Labour group in Holyrood into utter folly, directly contributing to the decline of their party.
So when Iain Macwhirter says of voting with Tories that “Remarkably, the SNP has chosen not to do so and make clear that the only party it will play politics with is Labour” I believe him to be factually wrong. He goes on to say that -
“Sturgeon has thus handed an extraordinary advantage to Ed Miliband. He knows that the SNP will go into post-election negotiations with with precisely zero negotiating clout”
I must disagree totally with this verdict of a journalist, Iain Macwhirter, for whom I have the highest admiration and respect. Politicians, lawyers (Nicola is both!) and journalists rarely have even a rudimentary understanding of negotiation, but Nicola Sturgeon is a unique politician, as is her mentor and close colleague and friend, Alex Salmond – and both, although rooted in fundamental political principles, are supreme pragmatists.
They will deal – when and how they need to deal – when the situation demands it, in the over-arching interests of Scotland and the Scottish people.