Sunday, December 5, 2010

When 'lucky' is the greatest compliment

I've just caught up with an intriguing little post by O'Neill from a few days ago at Northern Ireland blog A Pint of Unionist Lite. The gist of it is that Alex Salmond can count himself extraordinarily lucky on two counts - first of all that the independence referendum didn't take place, saving him from certain "crashing humiliation", and secondly that the unionist parties were crazy enough to concede so much ground in the Scotland Bill when they could instead have been busy delivering that "crashing humiliation" (yes, he really does say it twice). For good measure, our trusty old pal Chekov pops up in the comments section to concur that "the Scotland Bill represents an extraordinary gain for the SNP in extremely unpropitious circumstances".

Isn't it fascinating that unionist fantasy is never content for these entirely hypothetical defeats for Alex Salmond and the national movement to be mere defeats - they always have to be "humiliations" and "routs"? I'm struggling to see what actual rational basis there is for assuming that an independence referendum this year would have resulted in such abject failure for the Yes side. The most recent YouGov poll had Yes on 34%, No on 50% - which would have represented defeat, but scarcely "humiliation". More pertinently, it was a mere snapshot of opinion which almost certainly would have changed over the course of an intensive campaign. I don't know in which direction opinion would have changed - but apparently the unionists know for certain. Who exactly are they trying to convince? Themselves, would be my best guess. Which probably goes some way towards explaining why Salmond's "crashing humiliation" remains purely the stuff of pleasured imaginings. It's all very well for O'Neill to rage at the timidity of the unionist parties, but when all three of them separately conclude that an independence referendum is too much of a risk it ought to tell him something. It also ought to assist Chekov in his calculations of just how strong or weak Salmond's hand has really been.

Incidentally, O'Neill would clearly prefer us to look at the figures from the recently released Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which has support for independence down at 23%. Just a couple of problems with that, though - it's a multi-option survey, so supporters of greater self-government are split between independence and the prospect of enhanced devolution (the overwhelming popularity of which scarcely supports the contention that unionist concessions were unnecessary), and in any case the fieldwork is highly likely to significantly predate the recent YouGov poll. I can't find the exact dates, but if they're similar to last year some interviews may even have taken place before the general election.

Rather amusingly, O'Neill concludes by observing that despite his "whingeing" about the Scotland Bill, Salmond has been handed a "respectable consolation" in place of his deserved "rout" - not through his own doings, naturally, but by pure 'luck'. But in his preceding sentence, O'Neill had dismissed that very "consolation" as a "dog's dinner". So it seems Salmond's "whingeing" on the subject of Calman is uncannily similar to O'Neill's own!

Question : can there be a more eloquent testament to a politician's talents than to be branded outrageously lucky by his opponents?

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