There are some things that anti-independence campaigners say (and it seems to happen more and more as time goes on) that have such obvious holes in them, or that are just so patently silly, that it quite literally takes your breath away. Do they really have such contempt for the intelligence of the undecided voters they are trying to win over, or is it just that they're so used to being let off Scot-free (pun intended) by a sympathetic media that they don't even notice how weak their debating points have become? It's a bit of both, for my money. Here's a small selection from the last 24 hours -
John McTernan (astonishingly, this was retweeted with approval by Blair McDougall) : "Alex Salmond attacks parochialism and then calls the Olympics 'the London Olympics'!"
Which disgracefully puts Alex Salmond in the company of...oooh, just about everyone in the known universe, who also seem to have the bizarre habit of using the term "the Barcelona Olympics" when they reminisce about the 1992 Games held in the city of Barcelona, and "the Athens Olympics" when they're having a good old chinwag about the 2004 Games held in the city of Athens. IS THERE ANYBODY ON THIS PLANET WHO ISN'T A BLOODY SEPARATIST?
OK, let's be serious for a moment. To make any sense whatever of this extraordinary gaffe, we have to briefly step onto Planet McTernan (and, it seems, Planet McDougall as well) and see the term "the London Olympics" through the eyes of Julia Gillard's highly successful (ahem) former spin doctor. It appears that he honestly and truly believes that the only people who have ever used it are Scottish nationalists, that it's a disparaging term for the British Olympic team, and that it doesn't in any way refer to the event itself (you know, the one that was called the Olympics and was held in London). He essentially confirmed this interpretation later on with a follow-up tweet that redundantly pointed out that Chris Hoy won a medal and that he was a Scot.
From this we can conclude that McTernan knows less about sport than a socially isolated bison in Alaska. I'm not sure we've learned much else, though.
Caron Lindsay : "Remind me, did @theSNP get more than 50% of the vote?"
This has become a bit of a recurring theme recently - whenever anyone points out that without independence we will continue to be governed by people we didn't elect, an anti-independence activist will imply that we didn't 'really' elect the SNP government either, and that it's therefore six of one and half a dozen of the other. But here's the thing - regardless of the fact that the SNP fell short of an absolute majority of votes in 2011, they were legitimately elected as a majority government by the residents of Scotland under the electoral system we currently have in place. That is in no way comparable to contracting out our choice of government to the residents of another country, one with an entirely different (and much more right-wing) political culture. Now, it's perfectly true that the SNP might have required a coalition partner to form a government if we'd had an absolutely pure form of list PR, of the type that is only really used in Israel. I doubt if we'd ever want to go down that road, but that is yet another of the decisions we'll be able to take for ourselves if we're independent, and that we'll be leaving to others to make for us if we're not.
Also, wouldn't you logically expect someone who makes the case that the SNP weren't properly elected on 45% of the vote to automatically be in favour of the only electoral system that would make such an outcome impossible, namely Israeli-style pure list PR? Er, no. This is what Caron said only an hour or so later -
"And most radical political reform enacted by Lib Dems - STV for local government, giving real power to people."
Hmmm. STV, for so long the Holy Grail for Lib Dems, is indeed an empowering system that has a great many virtues. Alas, maximal proportionality is not one of those virtues - STV is in fact considerably less proportional than the AMS/MMP system we use for Scottish Parliament elections. Ireland is one of the few countries that uses STV for national elections, and at the last Irish general election Fine Gael came very close to winning an absolute majority of seats with just 36.1% of the vote. It was projected that they would have been comfortably over the line had they got 40% - well short of what the SNP required for their own majority.
Stephen Glenn : "Just one problem with bringing the Royal Mail back into public ownership post independence. Scotland would need it's own mail service. Post independence due to international stamp rules, Scotland would have to be on stamps as a separate nation. Only UK nameless."
The word Scotland on stamps? Alex Salmond's publicly-owned postal service having to be Scotland's "own mail service"? What self-respecting nationalist is ever going to sign up to all that? DON'T THESE SEPARATISTS EVER THINK THESE THINGS THROUGH?
Back on planet Earth, does anyone actually give a monkey's whether our postal service is called the Royal Mail or not, just so long as it's returned to public ownership and does its job properly? Well...Stephen does, for one.
"Yeah but Alex is promising something that independence has no way to deliver. He can promise a public post service not the RM."
We may as well throw in the towel right here and now, guys.
Blair McDougall : "We're all proud to be Scottish, we all believe in Scotland, we just don't believe in Alex Salmond."
So a No vote, one that will potentially determine our constitutional status for decades to come, is primarily a vote against Alex Salmond as an individual - someone who in all probability will not be in office that much longer whatever happens in the referendum, given that he's been SNP leader since 1990 (leaving aside one short interlude). This is a curious idea, because, as you might recall, anti-independence activist and McDougall uber-fan Duncan Hothersall repeatedly gave short shrift to my suggestion that the referendum is to some extent a choice between Alex Salmond and David Cameron as our country's Prime Minister. Indeed, Dunc went so far as to conclude that I was a "daft wee laddie" for saying such a thing. It seems the No campaign's thinking (if that's not a contradiction in terms) has moved on considerably since then. Tell me, Mr McDougall - if a No vote is a vote against Alex Salmond, which politician is it logically a vote for? Here's a clue - it isn't Alistair Darling. Here's another clue - it's David Cameron.
Are you quite sure that's the most promising way of framing the choice, given that the Scottish government presided over by Alex Salmond has an approval rating of +23, and the UK government presided over by David Cameron has an approval rating of -28? Each to his own, I suppose. I salute your bravery.
Last but not least, we have the comments of Andy Burnham, which were not strictly speaking made in the last 24 hours, but were brought to a wider audience midway during Alex Salmond's barnstorming conference address. If anything, they were even worse than Salmond made out -
"I would feel really genuinely sad if Scotland votes for independence, not just for our own self-interest and in the extra difficulty we would face getting a Labour government in England but I also don’t want to drive up the M6 and get my passport out or have to drive on the right when I want to drive on the left…"
OK, let's get the bleeding obvious point out of the way first of all. Ireland is not only an independent country, it doesn't have the Queen as its head of state, it isn't a member of the Commonwealth, and it's part of the Eurozone. But even with that maximal form of what in Westminster-speak is called "separation", you still don't need a passport to go there, and they still drive on the left for the simple reason that there's no actual point in switching to the right (and of course it would be far too much hassle anyway). But let's assume that we've entered into Burnham's parallel universe where an independent Scotland loses its marbles and decides to switch to driving on the right for the sheer hell of it. What really leaps out at me is the colonial overtones of Burnham's sense of outrage at imagining himself getting to the end of the M6 and being "forced" to drive on the side of the road that he doesn't "want" to drive on. I wonder - does he feel like that when he goes to France? No? So what's the difference, given that one side of the road is as good as the other? Why, because driving on the left is the British way! How dare the Jocks mess with my right to do things in the British way on British territory?
With enemies like that, I sometimes wonder if we even need friends.