A decisive moment and crucial timing last night as Alistair Darling crumbled under the onslaught of Salmond’s analysis. If the body language was anything to go by one was calm and confident the other looked like he might burst into tears.
A rattled Darling jabbed his fingers, stuttered, stammered and pleaded ‘I’m a Labour politician, I’m a Labour politician!’ as if that particular Get Out of Jail Card still worked in this constitutional Monopoly. Salmond appeared assured – even to the extent that he had the cheek to offer his opponent a job in Team Scotland, (an offer Bella hereby rescinds on behalf of the rest of us).
But it wasn’t just in matters of style that this was a walkover. On Trident, poverty, oil and new powers key and substantial arguments were won.
On Trident Darling will get caught out because he was simply lying. This matter was conclusively dealt with in 2012 by the Nuclear Information Service, an independent think-tank. They wrote:
Claims that Scotland would lose thousands of jobs if the Trident nuclear weapons system is taken out of service or moved elsewhere have been thrown into question following an admission by the Ministry of Defence that only 520 civilian jobs at HM Naval Base Clyde are dependent on Trident.
The figure was released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in response to a freedom of information request from Scottish CND, who asked the Ministry to provide a definitive up-to-date number of jobs at the Clyde base, which includes the Faslane submarine port and the Coulport nuclear weapons store, which directly rely on the Trident strategic weapons system.
MoD replied that “there are 520 civilian jobs at Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde, including Coulport and Faslane, that directly rely upon the Trident programme”. MoD employs 159 personnel at the Clyde base, with private contractors Babcock Marine and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems employing 254 and 107 people respectively. The majority of the jobs are for engineering and science specialists.
An earlier report in 2007 by STUC and CND ‘Cancelling Trident: the Economic and Employment Consequences’ – pairs the same picture, of a golden opportunity to diversify and create real jobs for real defence needs.
On Oil the Better Together/No Thanks/United Together/Team UK campaigns have a real problem to convince people that oil will make you poor. The stark fact that there’s been £13 billion investment by the industry in the last just underlines what everyone knows, that this is huge resource. This was an area for Darling to lose and lose it he did, going back to an area with little prospect, probably because they are running of ideas. The lack of creative thinking in the No camp may lose them Britain, as they rush round in ever diminishing circles repeating the same tired arguments: Oil will make you poor, Trident is good, the NHS is safe in our hands. It’s patently failing as Don’t Knows and No voters turn off in droves.
It was perhaps on Child Poverty that Darling floundered worst of all. It was a classic trap-question: “How many children are estimated to enter child poverty.” If Darling knew the figure he wouldn’t say, because out of his mouth would have come a terrible truth about the austerity union. ‘But I’m a Labour politician’ was all he could muster.
On New Powers incredibly, Darling couldn’t answer. He was completely thrown by the specific nature of Salmond’s question: Can you name three new job-creating powers that you will deliver? He couldn’t and it was a tortuous moment for the ex-Chancellor as he panicked and shouted about ‘staying in the union’. His credibility was in shred by the end of that section. A more astute or well prepared politician could have responded with something constructive. Better Together’s ingrained sense of entitlement and over-confidence is now killing it.
Finally let’s hope that Better Together continue on their obsession with the currency, which drew groans and derisive laughter from the audience. The issue has shifted from being a liability for Yes to being an asset and the more the No campaign focus on it the more they are digging their own grave. As Darling said: “Of course we can use the pound”.
The central myth that will kill the No campaign is the idea repeated often by the commentators and politicians. It goes like this: the Tories are political ebola in Scotland so we need the ‘big guns’ of Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander to ‘front’ the campaign as they have such respect here. The reality is that that respect has been evaporating since 1997. After the generation of Dewar and Smith passed, after the shambles of Iraq, the scandal of PFI and the failure of the Brown leadership, these people don’t have the influence they think they do. The woman from the audience last night knew this well. She floored Darling who could only plea: “But I’m a Labour politician”. Yes, we know you are.