Monday, October 7, 2013

Back to the future with Alistair Carmichael

You might remember that a long time ago, way back when Labour still innocently thought that the 2010 Westminster election was a stepping stone towards the glorious return of the 'Dream Team' of Iain Gray and Richard Baker to power at Holyrood, a fraud was perpetrated in a TV election debate that was almost on a par with the Tory government's current attempts to have a former Labour Chancellor represent them in an independence referendum debate with Alex Salmond. The Lib Dems were represented in the 2010 "Scottish leaders' debates" by a man who, as we discovered within the space of a few short weeks, was not Nick Clegg's first or second choice as Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, I speculated at the time that Alistair Carmichael may not even have been Clegg's third choice for the job - and nothing that has happened today has changed my mind about that. When I read that Michael Moore had been (deservedly) sacked, I fully expected that the next sentence would read "and his replacement is East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson", and I'm quite sure that would have been the case if Clegg had felt he had a free hand. But it seems that the independence referendum has concentrated minds wonderfully, and has suddenly made suitability for the job a greater virtue than slavish loyalty to the right-wing orthodoxy of the three London party leaderships.

The bad news, folks, is that we can't have an independence referendum every year, so if you want the people governing us to be vaguely suitable for the job on an ongoing basis, it is actually going to be necessary to vote Yes.

Carmichael will probably prove to be a slightly more formidable opponent for the Yes campaign than his two predecessors, but a) that isn't exactly hard, and b) if the Tory/Lib Dem government are so frit that they always want Labour to speak on their behalf in Scotland, does it really matter who the SoS is? I will, however, raise a glass to the fact that the ideological composition of the UK Cabinet has probably just moved about 0.001% to the left. In Westminster world, all you can do is cling to these scraps.

As for the apparent belief of BBC correspondent Norman Smith that the choice of SoS has to take into account the need to prevent Alex Salmond from being able to call the No campaign "you know, Sassenachs", words fail me. Evidently Smith didn't heed Robin McAlpine's timely word of caution that anyone who thinks that Scots actually call English people Sassenachs is giving away the fact that he or she has a perception of this country that is stuck in the 1950s.

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