I haven't laughed so much since...oooh, since the last time Political Betting delighted us all by imparting their "wisdom" on Scottish politics. Today, Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson picks up on a speculative piece in the Mail about Alex Salmond possibly standing against Danny Alexander in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey next year. That's fair enough as far as it goes, because Smithson lets the story speak for itself and doesn't add any comment to it (he probably couldn't be arsed), but the comedy lies in this immediate response from his sycophantic second-in-command TSE...
"Interesting that Salmond took your advice and decided not to stand in Gordon"
Now, TSE is admittedly a self-styled wit, but this does appear to be genuinely intended as a serious comment. Where to begin? Why not with the bleedin' obvious - the Mail story is wildly speculative, and is not a sign that Salmond has "decided" anything at all. I actually think Inverness would be a good choice for him, but it certainly wouldn't be in line with the signals he's been sending - he's repeatedly stated that he will continue to serve "the people of the north-east of Scotland", and to the best of my knowledge Inverness does not fall within anyone's definition of the north-east.
But as for Salmond taking Smithson's advice...words fail me. If you recall, that advice (which was embarrassingly issued just one day before an Ipsos-Mori poll was published showing the SNP on course for a landslide next year) was that Salmond shouldn't stand in Gordon because he was a washed-up politician, yesterday's man, and the SNP couldn't possibly hope to knock off the mighty Lib Dems in a heartland seat. So presumably TSE is now implying that Smithson sensed that, for some unspecified reason, the no-hoper Salmond would have a slightly better chance of winning if he instead stood in another Lib Dem-held seat in which the SNP are starting from even further behind?
Well, that was a brave call, Mike. Is there no end to your crazy-paving genius?
Back in the real world, of course, Salmond would be a near-certainty to win Gordon, and that's why he may be considering helping his party out by transferring his personal vote to a slightly tougher seat. The emphasis is very much on the word "slightly", though, and unfortunately the Lib Dem source quoted by the Mail doesn't seem to have got that memo -
"We haven't heard anything officially, but we're expecting Salmond to make an announcement any day. But we're confident we can beat him – he's not as popular as he was in 2011 and the referendum saw a 60 per cent No vote in this area. People used to see him as invincible, but that's not the case now. He's something of a spent force."
It's fascinating to ponder whether this is just bravado intended for public consumption, or whether the Lib Dems have retreated so far into the bunker that they genuinely believe this stuff. Let's get real here - if Salmond doesn't stand in Inverness, the only parties that will have a realistic chance of winning the constituency are the SNP and Labour. If Salmond is the candidate, soft Labour voters will realise he's the man to humiliate Alexander, and will flock behind him.
The "60 per cent No vote in this area" (which seems to apply to Gordon rather than Alexander's seat) is, as we all know, a red herring - opinion polls show that many No voters now wish they had voted Yes, and many No voters who haven't changed their minds are planning to vote SNP next year. In any case, there are an awful lot of otherwise intelligent people (including Alex Massie, for example) who seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that we're now reverting to FPTP - it's perfectly possible for the SNP to win many seats on a minority vote based on the people who actually voted Yes. As Smithson himself points out, the predecessor seat to Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey was once won on just 26% of the vote.
By the way, here's another gem of a comment from PB -
"Hmmm The Highlands voted NO by a surprisingly large amount. 53:47. IIRC it was expected to be a lot closer."
Just how much closer than 53-47 was "expected"? At this rate they're going to start redefining Bush v Gore as a landslide in order to make it consistent with their insistence that the referendum was not a narrow result.