A partial defence of Alex Salmond (or a right good go at Alastair Darling.)

5 Jun

Before doing this I must make two things absolutely clear

1.)    I am not, and have never been, a supporter of the SNP

2.)    When I hear people say that they are voting Yes or No in September just because they like or dislike Alex Salmond I want to scream. People who are prepared to base the most important decision of their lives on the personality of one individual should be openly ridiculed and embarrassed at every opportunity.

Ok, here we go

In Scotland we have had our own parliament since 1999 and this has allowed Scottish politicians, elected in Scotland, to administer certain areas of everyday Scottish life like health and education. In setting up the Scottish Parliament, however, the rules governing who could be elected were set in such a way that no one party could win a majority at Holyrood.

Where Westminster’s first past the post system was designed to produce one party rule (Conservative or Labour), the Scottish system was intended from the outset to produce coalitions or, at most, minority governments.

The main reason for this, according to some, was to stop the rise of the SNP and its calls for full independence. Indeed, former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has openly said that the electoral rules for the Scottish Parliament were implemented to prevent a Scottish National Party government achieving a parliamentary majority.

There was therefore a widespread feeling that by giving Scotland its own parliament, the people of Scotland would be content to have “the best of both worlds” by running some things from Holyrood and others from Westminster and the calls for independence would soon die down. As George Robertson put it before the Scottish Parliament was set up, “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead.”

For the first few elections to the Holyrood Parliament this tactic seemed to have worked, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats governing by coalition in 1999 and 2003. By 2007, however, the SNP had made considerable gains and decided to govern as a minority government after becoming the largest party in the Scottish Parliament by one seat.

This was still deemed “acceptable” by many in Westminster since the SNP had only managed to form a minority government and thus would not only have to rely on support from other parties to pass legislation, but also, much more importantly, did not have the democratic mandate to call for a referendum on independence.

All this changed dramatically in 2011. Despite the electoral system being designed specifically to stop the SNP forming a majority government, they won the Scottish Parliamentary elections in emphatic fashion by taking 69 out of a possible 129 seats.

The immediate consequence of this victory was something that many in Westminster had actively sought to make impossible – there would be a referendum on Scottish Independence. After campaigning explicitly on the promise to hold a referendum if they were elected, the SNP won an outright majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament. This meant that the Scottish public had democratically voted, by a majority of votes, for the holding of a referendum.

In stark contrast to the Holyrood elections in which the SNP broke the system to win a majority, the 2010 Westminster general elections that were designed to produce a majority failed to do so. For only the second time since 1929, no one party had been able to win an outright majority of votes. The result has been that since 2010, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have governed by coalition.

This then brings me to my point: Alex Salmond is the only leader of a political party in the UK who has been able to win a majority at a parliamentary election (Labour won a majority in the Welsh Assembly). David Cameron’s Conservative Party failed to win a majority in an electoral system designed to produce them and now requires Liberal Democrat support in a coalition government. Alex Salmond’s SNP won an outright majority in an electoral system designed to produce coalitions.

Keep this fact in mind at all times: Salmond is the leader of a party that won an outright majority in a democratic election.

It is therefore simply baffling that so many UK politicians and commentators continually refer to him as a dictator (Hitler, Mussolini, Milosevic and Stalin have all been used. See here for a wonderful insight into the world of ALEX SALMOND DICTATOR COMPARISON BINGO.)

The latest in this long line of dictator comparisons came the other day from Alastair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign, who said that Salmond was acting like Kim Jong Il, the crazed – and dead – dictator of one of the world’s most secretive and suppressed societies. What’s more, when the New Statesman in the same interview asked whether he considered the SNP to be peddling a brand of “blood and soil nationalism” (a term associated with the Nazis), he replied “At heart . . . [inaudible mumble]”

Now, if this inaudible mumble actually meant yes, and there is every reason to believe that it might since he had already said that the SNP movement was not “civic nationalism”, the comparison has now shifted from Salmond and dictators to SNP supporters en masse and the Nazis. Charming stuff.

As far as I know nobody in the Labour party has compared David Cameron to Hitler or suggested that the Prime Minister is behaving like the deranged leader of a secretive communist state. Can you imagine the media storm if somebody did? How many old school Tory Toffs do you think would sit still if Miliband compared Cameron to Kim Jong Il?

But when it comes to the democratically elected leader of Scotland it seems like everyone who can hold a pen is queuing up to take a pop.

Of all the things that this sort of approach might be, it surely can’t be good campaigning tactics. How many Scots do you know will respond well to being told that their elected leader is comparable to a dictator and that supporters of the biggest political party in Scotland are like Nazis? Not too many, I’d imagine.

The other point to bear in mind here, aside from the dictator nonsense, is simply this: how pish must the other political parties in Scotland be if they could not collectively stop the SNP from winning a majority in an electoral system that was designed to prevent majorities?

We are having this referendum not because the SNP are some wonderful solution to all of Scotland’s problems. We are having it because support for the other political parties in Scotland all but collapsed. If they had got their act together, none of this would be happening today.

Now that the referendum is upon us, it is these same parties who failed so miserably to stop the rise of the SNP, despite having an electoral system designed in their favour,  who are now teaming up to campaign for a no vote.

In doing so, their campaign leader has deemed the most appropriate way to tackle the SNP this time round is to bypass all common decency and jump straight into implying that SNP supporters have something in common with Nazis.

And, on a final note, remember that all 3 of the main Westminster parties and the Better Together movement as a whole have said that they favour giving the Scottish Parliament more powers if Scotland votes no in September.

The consequence here, then, is that Darling and co. are openly advocating the transferring of more powers to a parliament that they believe is run by a dictator like head of state who commands an army of blood and soil nationalists.

Surely there is something wrong with that policy somewhere along the line?

The above is not intended to be an endorsement of a Yes vote in the referendum campaign or a plea for people to leave poor old Alex Salmond alone. It is an attempt to highlight the worrying depths to which people who should know better are willing to sink to make a cheap political point.

When political debate at a nationwide level amongst senior politicians and commentators (I exclude the online community which is an entirely different matter here) is reduced to comparing democratically elected leaders and their supporters to some of the vilest organisations in human history something has gone far wrong.

Going into this referendum campaign there was a unanimous consensus that matters should be conducted on the basis of what was best for the people of Scotland moving forward.

In my mind, and I could be wrong, consistently comparing Scotland’s democratically elected leader to a variety of fanatical despots probably isn’t something that is likely to be conducive to the public good in Scotland.

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