Will Danny Alexander’s big yellow briefcase become the lasting symbol of his time at the Treasury? It has the same comic value as Mitt Romney’s magic underpants. Will he tour clutching it?
He appeared like a 70s kids tv presenter with his Big Magic Yellow Box the other day outside No 10. “What’s in the box today Danny?” Absolutely fuck all. “What’s in the box today Danny?” A tissue of lies. “What’s in the box today Danny?” £1260 billion of debt.
Confusingly he exclaimed: “I’ll be back” at the Lib Dems conference in Aberdeen. A disconcerting rallying cry for the party faithful bound to provoke the question ‘Where have you been?’ or possibly worse, ‘Where are you going’? Unfortunately for Danny everyone knows the answer to both those questions.
With all the focus on the Labour collapse it’s important not to overlook the Lib Dems meltdown too. If the Survation and Curtice analysis is right they face being reduced to a single MP at Westminster and a handful of MSPs Holyrood in 2016. That puts them, appropriately, on the same footing as the Conservative Party.
This isn’t petty vindictiveness, but part of a deeper wider shift. Remarking on the failure of neither Labour or Tories to capture the public imagination, Andrew Marr, writing in the New Statesman (‘British Politics is Broken’) suggests: “We had two grand political narratives offered to us in the postwar Britain and they have both gone pop…”. He believes Scottish politics has become utterly detached from the politics of the English South, and that a UKIP/Tory driven anti-EU exit will open the door to a second referendum:
“There comes a time when the decay of political parties is inevitably followed by the decay of the power structures they inhabit and give life to.” As Chief Secretary to the Treasury Alexander is one of four men who run the economy. They call themselves the Quad. From this position, there’s no hiding. He took office at only 38 and it will be a short-lived political career.
But are we, as commentators are beginning to agree, at a significant moment? Gerry Hassan writes in Open Democracy:
Scotland is at a seismic moment with huge implications and long-term repercussions not just for Scotland but the UK – as what increasingly looks like a tartan tsunami could sweep away scores of Labour once impregnable bastions north of the border. Viewed from Scotland, so much has changed and shifted that it is almost impossible to convey – politics, society and attitudes, but more critically how things are perceived, felt and what is now deemed possible or not. The reference points in Scottish politics and public life have dramatically changed. This extends way beyond the SNP’s massive influx of members, away to hit 100,000 in the next couple of weeks, or the flatlining of the Scottish Labour Party. Society feels different. The referendum has produced a dramatically different political landscape which is disguised by many of the institutions, players and language being the same as before.
This is largely true, even, given more skeptical voices. But there are problems, the two biggest would seem to be a general atmosphere of contempt, and a marked lack of strategy. As we can do little about the former we should focus on the latter. But first, the contempt.
The Times this morning has a new twist on the Scotholm Syndrome, portraying Salmond as a kidnapper, holding Labour to ransom. And, in a piece that is crude even by the standards of the Telegraph, Bruce Anderson writes:
The divergence is absolute and could prove fatal. In England, many voters are already bored with the election campaign, which has hardly begun. But large parts of North Britain are in the grip of religious mania. Scottish friends of mine, who thought that they understood their own country, now feel bewildered, marginalised – and threatened. The Scot Nats’ concept of Scotland is totalitarian. If you do not agree with them, you are no true Scot.
“Cunning Nats have always planned to irritate the English in order to convince them that Scotland is more trouble than it is worth” he continues. Somebody might need to offer the entire Telegraph team some smelling salts.
The anger management is not confined to our southern neighbours. Allan Massie, only a few days ago compared any agreement between Labour and the SNP to “a pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.” The newspapers editors duly published a photo of Uncle Joe signing with Hitler. If you want to take a measurement of the political atmosphere the fact that Massie actually wrote that and the fact that the Scotsman published it, is a fair reflection on where we are. It’s a febrile atmosphere.
So is this ‘seismic’? Is Britain Broken? Why are they so angry?
First, there is an incredulity at having ‘won’ the referendum and it all now just not going away. This is the consequence of having won the vote but lost the argument. The No victory was based on such a dodgy premise, conducted in such a hopeless manner, and balanced on such a precarious demographic, that its hold on Scottish society is loose. It’s a very fragile mandate.
Second, there is the asymmetry of the union. It is absolutely fine and proper for England to dominate by sheer force of numbers. We can and should pt up with decades of rule by a government we didn’t elect. But for us to have sway or influence in the other direction is simply appalling and unthinkable. The Union only works one way.
Third, the loathing of the SNP is deeper than we imagine. We may know them as the reasonable, cautious and, for some, too conservative. They have been our government. For many English tv viewers they are a marginal and faintly comic trio of Scots in a parliament of 650.
Combined and this poll surge is both distressing and inconceivable. Ian Bell writes:
“Why has the Scottish National Party built a massive and apparently impregnable lead in opinion surveys? Because, comes the reply, its supporters are the political equivalent of the Moonies; because they are ill-educated or none too bright; because they have been lied to time and again. It’s a complicated yet crude way to explain away the collapse of three Westminster parties. It’s not, at first sight, the perfect formula for a hearts-and-minds campaign. A few Tories aside, no one talked like this was when Labour was picking up 42 per cent of the Scottish vote in the 2010 election. Hysterical rancour is the language of the lost cause.”
There’s nothing so annoying as losing when you think you have just won. Many of the political elite presume victory and a right to rule. Structural change, real change, is simply not allowed to happen. So the prospect of constitutional change on the horizon is provoking a visceral fear in the established order. If you throw into the mix Salmond, who appears to know no humility, and those damned Celtic Harpies Sturgeon and Woods and you can see the blood pressure of the body politic rising as the patient reaches new stress levels. This is hysterical stuff. Us Cunning Nats from North Britain must be sorted. To vote for a moderate social democratic party is to be ‘totalitarian’. To agree electoral pacts is to be compared to Nazis. The problem for the Unionists is that they have still not shifted away from arguments of fear. We are still looking for the positive case for the union. I don’t think it’s in the big yellow box.