It’s easy to cast Michael Moore as a villain, the arch-enemy of the YES Campaign, the current Scottish Secretary whose predecessors had a remarkably consistent record in acting against the interests of Scots, with the honourable exception of Tom Johnson, probably the only Scottish Secretary who conceived of the role as Scotland’s man in the UK instead of the other way round.
I have done my share of teasing and criticising Michael Moore, but have radically revised my view of him after analysing in close detail his responses to Iain Davidson’s Select Committee and his performance in the negotiations with Nicola Sturgeon over the referendum deal. I have no doubt whatsoever that this Northern Ireland-born son of a British Army chaplain is a committed unionist in his heart, and intellectually as a Liberal Democrat, and that he is totally opposed to Scotland’s independence and will campaign vigorously against it.
But he is also what the independence debate desperately needs right now – a pragmatic realist with a sound grasp of the principles of negotiation, and a budding diplomat of the highest order. (His destiny in the UK or rUK should be the Foreign Office, where he would do a better job than the pompously inadequate William Hague.)
Having managed to upset Davidson’s Commons Committee by refusing to play their dirty little game, he has now repeated the trick with the Lords’ committee, which also has thinly concealed anti-independence motives. So far, I only have press reports to go on, but the signs are encouraging - Michael Moore savaged by Unionist peers over EU row
What enraged the unelected Lords was Moore’s argument that that there was no need to engage in a dialogue with the European Commission because a considerable body of information was already in the public domain- including EC President Barroso’s letter to the Committee - suggesting Scotland, as a new member state, might have to reapply and negotiate its membership.
In reply to an increasingly frustrated Michael Forsyth – who one of these days is going to birl uncontrollably and fly up his kilt into his own orifice, such is his exasperation at the prospect of Scotland’s independence – Michael Moore offered the following gnomic reply, which baffled the parcel of Lords, but brought a knowing smile to the faces of experienced negotiators -
Michael Moore: "There will be elements of this which are, to put it mildly, inelegant in terms of how well-informed people can be at the time of that vote. But short of doing that pre-negotiation, which as the UK Government I don't think it's our place to do, I believe we cannot resolve some of those issues."
Moore, in this and other revealing remarks, displays an real understanding of the dynamics and tactics of the pre-negotiation phase of negotiation, especially one that is going to be conducted in under a media searchlight and in a atmosphere of fevered and often highly ill-informed speculation and comment. He seems to have acquired a sophisticated understanding of such matters, matters that most politicians and media commentators are involved with throughout their entire careers without ever grasping their essence. Either he has an innate grasp of the fundamentals, or has had formative experiences in politics and government that shaped him, or – perhaps and/or – he is being advised by someone who can tell shit from Shinola.
These are qualities and skills that will be vital in the run-up to 2014 and in the negotiations that follow a YES vote. But relaxing in the knowledge that the Scottish Government negotiators will have a worthy opponent who understands La règle du jeu – with a nod to a great filmmaker, Jean Renoir – nationalists must also brace themselves to face a formidable opponent, one they must treat with wary respect.
Michael Moore will be, I hope, the last incumbent of the post of Scottish Secretary, but I entertain the hope that he will acquit himself honourably, in the spirit of the great Tom Johnson, lose with honour and with the respect of nationalists, and go on to a long and successful career wherever he choses to pursue it. For my part, I would like to seem him join in building the new Scotland after independence.
Sadly, if the Forsyths of this world have their way, he will be eclipsed or supplanted by some bumbling but highly vocal primitive Tory placeman, and the negotiations will be a bitter experience with a negative fallout.