An event has just taken place which causes me to fear for the future of the United Kingdom. Of course I am aware that there are all sorts of arguments in favour of, and against, the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I could write a long piece telling you why, on balance (and despite the unwarranted subsidies paid by England to Scotland) I come down overwhelmingly in favour. But I don’t feel the need to make that case — I just know it is right.
So what was the event that alarmed me? Perhaps surprisingly, it was not the remarkable success of Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party in the Scottish elections, unforeseen as that was. Salmond has said that he wants a referendum on Scottish independence, and he is now in a position to deliver. I personally think he will lose it, provided the other side doesn’t throw it away. There are plenty of Scots who are prepared to vote for the SNP as a governing party, and for Alex Salmond as First Minister, without actually wanting full-blown independence.
Ed Miliband, none other, is seeking to persuade him, and Ed advances cogent arguments in his favour. Gordon is … well, Scottish. And he’s a former Prime Minister. What more can you want?
Yes, Gordon is Scottish, but he’s a Scot who took the high road to Westminster, and he’d be up against a Scot who stayed behind and achieved an electoral miracle at home in Scotland. Gordon is grumpy, withdrawn, unclubbable, verging on paranoid, with a well known and furious temper. He had one chance to lead his party to electoral success, based on his record in Number 11 and Number 10, and he crashed and burned. If you were looking for a counter-example to “charisma”, he’d be top of the list.
And Salmond? Clever, subtle, likeable, exuding an aura of confidence and success. Unlike Brown, Salmond is a people person. And Miliband thinks that Gordon Brown can front a campaign head-to-head against Salmond, and win? Tell me another one.
I first met Alex Salmond, believe it or not, in 1994, in a boat in Singapore harbour. Salmond was making a state visit to Singapore, and prominent members of the British community were invited to meet him (I think I got in because I was a regular at the Saint Andrew’s Ball). He proved to be exceedingly good company — pleasant, friendly, relaxed. Based on this scant acquaintance, I approached him a few years later to ask for help with a speech I’d been asked to give at a Burns Night Supper. I scarcely expected a reply, but in fact he sent me the draft of a similar speech he’d recently given, which I plagiarised shamelessly.
Don’t get me wrong. I disagree profoundly with Salmond’s politics. In general terms, he’s just another socialist tricked-out in nationalist trimmings. He still talks the talk on climate alarmism (although, on the plus side, his commitment to emissions reductions has been criticised). On Europe, he’s just plain confused. He thinks in terms of “a Scotland independent within Europe”, failing to see that that’s a contradiction in terms, and that whatever he dislikes about government from Westminster will be ten times worse with government from Brussels.
If, heaven forfend, Scotland ever became independent, he’d find that he’d added another “S” to the PIIGS — we’d have Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain and Scotland in the euro dog-house. I think that the Scottish people, broadly speaking, understand that in an independent Scotland, the RBS débâcle would have bankrupted the nation. Indeed they’d be worse off than the PIGS — and more like Iceland.
So I think that Salmond will get his referendum, but like Nick Clegg, he may not like the answer. All we need is a credible campaign on the other side. And with that in mind, spare us Gordon Brown!