A report from John Campbell of Aviemore of the Danny Alexander No meeting at Newtonmore Community Hall, Friday 11 April 2014 at the unusual starting time of 5:30 pm.
Danny Alexander made a rare appearance on behalf of the “Better Together” campaign in Newtonmore last Friday. The gig was well attended by YES supporters. After all, Danny Boy has been Chief Secretary to the British Treasury since 2010. He must surely be in a good position to come up with some blistering facts and figures, some choice bits of hard information that would have YES folk in his home constituency scurrying about excitedly, wearing out our wee paws texting and twittering into the night. But no, it wasn’t really much of a show from No.
The support act was Alan Savage, Chairman of the Orion recruitment agency based in Inverness. As he has threatened to pull out of Scotland if we get independence we assumed that he must have at least some reason.
But reason has nothing to do with it. There was no case for Better Together. There wasn’t even any cogent thread of argument. Alexander and Savage ran through the same old material. A bit like Saturday night comedy, it was an irritating rehash of tired, old routines. We got “too wee, too poor, Alex Salmond, nationalism, nationalism, Alex Salmond”. The only mild surprise was that we didn’t get “too stupid”. Both speakers very carefully avoided that one. Alexander presents very well as a smartly dressed, properly groomed school prefect. He tells us:
“The Scots (he talks about us as if we’re not there) are very clever people. They could develop the necessary structures to survive but it would take them years.”
Of course he doesn’t explain what those structures might be. Law? Education? Health Service? We’ve got those already.
The “too poor” bit is priceless comedy, delivered dead-pan. “I work with lots of spread sheets with lots of big figures and its all very complicated but I can tell you that the figures I deal with are far bigger than Scotland could ever come up with alone” just about sums up his position on the economy. He should know. He works with spread sheets.
Independence, we were told repeatedly, would mean barriers to trade, all because of nationalism. There would be border patrols. Scotland would be out of the EU and it would also have the Euro because it would be a new state, not that the other 28 would allow it in, Spain is against it, but it would have to accept the Euro if it did. Aye, he said that. All in the same breath. That was the basic pattern of his presentation. Avoid cohesive argument, insert some lies, avoid facts, throw in a few mutually exclusive possibilities and jab them from both sides, ha-ha. Got you, you nasty nationalists!
This is how they do it when they have the full power of the mainstream media working for them. They don’t actually have to make sense. People attribute reason to them. In a way it was a bit like a Derren Brown show. The audience have already been fed their responses well in advance of the show. They just don’t realise it. The mentalist pulls out the correct answer that he has prepared earlier, the audience recognise it and clap on cue. That must be entertaining in a theatre after a nice meal and a drink. But it’s a bit disturbing when performed in the political arena of a local hall in one of the former heartlands of Scottish Liberalism.
Alan Savage tries the same trick but unfortunately didn’t manage to pull it off. “I like the Scots but I would have to consider moving my company elsewhere. My company deals with over twenty different currencies. We trade with countries all over the world. If Scotland goes all independent on us we won’t be able to cope with the currency exchange. It will be a foreign country. .” He doesn’t even try to wriggle out of that one, to explain why, if his company is so skilled with currency
exchange and has a world-wide platform, they couldn’t cope with an independent Scotland. He just blinks and stares for a moment that lasts for ever, as if realising the profound stupidity of his own words. Then he goes back to ‘nationalism’. He’s a Labour man from the north of England, always had been. His grandfather fought in the Spanish Civil War and so he hates nationalism. He has given a lot of money to the Better Together campaign so he expects to be invited to speak again
sometime. He’s not joking. No hint of a wry smile. Nobody laughs.
The first question comes from the back of the hall where some YES supporters are lurking. “If you hate nationalism, then why do you both support British nationalism? Surely an independent Scotland will be able to trade directly with the world without Westmonster control. For us there would be far fewer barriers to trade and communication. Your parties, Lib-Dem, Labour and your coalition partners have embraced xenophobic forms of nationalism as a response to UKIP. An independent Scotland would be progressive and open.”
“I understand your viewpoint but I don’t agree with your analysis” says Alexander. “I don’t see the xenophobia.” Savage starts waffling about currency but is reminded that he has been asked about British nationalism. Ed Milliband and Labour have been waving the Union Jack around a lot recently and promoting English/British nationalism and patriotism in a right of centre response to UKIP. Savage merely repeats what he has already said. “I’m a Labourman, I’m not a nationalist”.
The currency issue is of course rock solid. Scotland won’t get the pound. Danny assures us of that. “I work very closely with George Osborne and when he says something he definitely means it.”
That was the level of debate. Nothing new. The only surprise was that they still can’t answer the most straightforward and honest question that people have been asking since this all began. “Do you not think it’s unfair and undemocratic that Scotland always gets a government it doesn’t vote for? Do you not think that we have a right to proper political representation?”
Alexander’s reply is that Scotland has “One hundred percent representation in its own parliament.” He might as well not have been there and just sent a record or two. A worn out 45 for some of the younger ones in their sixties and maybe a cracked 78 for the rest. He was only there in person for the pictures opportunities. Having established a solid reputation locally as an absentee MP, a wee photo in the local paper makes it look as if he’s still interested.
The big question they really want to avoid is what will the UK do without Scotland. Danny know that the UK hasn’t got any money. It has to keep on borrowing. Savage kept saying that Scotland couldn’t meet its debts and wouldn’t get a good credit rating. Both denied ever hearing about Standard and Poor’s triple A credit rating for an independent Scotland. They actually said they’d never heard of it. They were telling what in polite circles are known as ‘untruths’. If they do another gig, go along and hammer them on that one. The UK is almost bankrupt Danny. You should know. You’re the chief whatever-it-is-you-do at the treasury. What is you actually do again?
There was an odd vibe in the place too. Liberalism has traditionally been strong among crofters and farmers, a relic from the days when the Liberals were a radical force for change. At the last UK election they captured a youngish vote. Now it’s all pish and pandrops. Apart from two local worthies, now coming up in years, real gentlemen both of them, the sort of folk you would enjoy having a good dram with, the rest of the crowd of about 65 in the hall seemed to be much less Liberal than Tory. Taking away the ten or so Alexander staff and organisers and about a dozen local YES! supporters, there were about 40 others there. Given that Alexander is a member of the British cabinet, is the local MP, had sent personal invitations to everybody in the area, (rough cost about 800 quid) and is in the news almost daily, that is a pathetic response.
Most of Danny’s supporters looked well over pension age and most of them looked well off. Many of them seemed to be some sort of toff or another. And they really were bitter together. The atmosphere was tense. An eloquent, gentlemanly activist, declared himself to be a devout internationalist. This earned a brief burst of applause which triggered a ripple of fear through the rest of the audience. As if rowdies had gatecrashed their party. When said activist, having heard enough lies
for one evening (they told us that all of the Highland school referendum votes had been for no, not one for YES!, when in fact Plockton and Dornoch called for YES!), announced that he felt the debate was “quite frankly boring”, people seems genuinely shocked. There was audible whispering about ‘cybernats’.
The impression from this meeting is that Danny Alexander wasn’t even preaching to his own people. It looks as if the Liberals have abandoned the Bitter Together sinking ship and their place has been taken by elderly Tory BritNats who are too rich, too arrogant or just too stupid to jump off. There was a funereal edge to the occasion. Sort of “This might be the last time we all meet together like this. The game’s up. The flag is lowered on yet another part of the empire. Goodbye old chap.”
One of the toffs nabbed me on the way out. He said “You can’t expect people to understand your questions if you don’t talk properly. You should take speech lessons.” I said “Whit? Sorry, A canna mak out whit ye’re sayin. Dae ye spik Inglish?” He took a real radge at that and shouted: “Yoah just being shilly! I shed you should gow end get shome speesh leshons! Lehn to tok pwopoowy!” I tried another response: “A’ve nae idea whit ye’re on about. Parlez vous français peut-être?”
The conversation ended there.