If you saw the Andrew Marr show this morning you’ll have caught something pretty outrageous.
You’ll have seen a Tory minister say, on the air, with no contradiction at all, that Scotland voting for the SNP and expecting them to have a say in government is “dangerous for democracy.”
She was sitting beside Alex Salmond at the time, following an interview where he handled insulting questions with the deftness we’ve come to expect from him.
He sniggered at her, appearing to her find her comments as absurd as I did.
I actually laughed watching it.
What balls these people have. I mean, seriously … First Past the Post, the way it works here, is one of the most backward, weighted, political systems in the world, and an absolute insult to any concept of what the word democracy means.
Whenever there has been any kind of clamour to change it the two main parties have balked.
When the Lib Dems had a choice between seats around the cabinet table and forcing real voting reform they chose a shot at power.
Single member FPTP systems always have a perverse outcome, just not usually this one. They always lead to the creation of a political duopoly and they aren’t cut out for those occasions when that duopoly is shaken up.
There’s even a technical term for it; it’s known as Duverger’s Law. It has produced the current morass here in the UK and it has kept the United States torn between two equally corrupt, and useless, political organisations in the Republicans and Democrats.
By its very nature, First Past the Post erodes the democratic process.
But what are we supposed to do with that? This is the system the UK operates under, and it’s the one they wanted us to live by. The Westminster parties, backed by their praetorian guard in the media, used every lie, scare tactic and underhanded means going to keep Scotland within this union.
They succeeded. We’re still here. And this is the result.
Talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences.
The irony is delicious, especially when you consider that their conduct is what built the SNP to where they can now muster more foot soldiers than the British Army (they have 87,000 regular soldiers to the SNP’s 100,000 plus members!).
They can’t believe this turnaround. They are squealing like pigs tonight because we’ve fashioned a full house out of a very bad opening hand and now we are going to use the very electoral system they’ve imprisoned us in to our full advantage.
To do that takes a special skillset. Thankfully, this is a party with leaders who possess the necessary know-how.
I thought Salmond was magnificent today. When asked how he and the party would react if Ed Balls simply told them to do their worst – as Jim Murphy suggested on Friday – he replied quite brilliantly, asking Marr what Labour would do if he offered a budget amendment saying the HS2 rail link would start in Edinburgh or Glasgow and run to Newcastle instead of London.
He rightly pointed out that such a proposal would have cross-party support and that the north of England MP’s in Balls own party, especially, would be broadly supportive of it. Marr was monetarily lost for words.
If I were a Labour strategist, particularly one in Scotland, and I had been watching that this morning I think I would have swallowed hard, picked up the phone, called Milbank and told my bosses that worrying about how we would poll in the election itself was not the only thing to be concerned about any longer. I would have told them “these boys up north … they ain’t playing games. They’re coming to the table with some serious intent.”
I don’t know what would have troubled me more; the idea that Salmond came up with such a monumental game-changer on the spur of the moment or that he had that idea in mind all the time.
It would make me wonder – and worry – just what else he and the SNP have considered, and how many more grenades they are bringing into the negotiations. A box-full I would think. All primed and live.
If I were in a position of authority in the SNP right now I would have teams of prospective candidates, led by more experienced figures, war-gaming scenarios for every government department. I would have them working out two separate sets of policies; one for presenting during post-election negotiations and the other for simply raising Hell if the first set is ignored.
I would have other teams working through the likely legislative programs for the main parties and trying to work out how best to mess with those, and Trident would leap off the page as the most obvious one there, of course.
I actually think that argument is winnable, especially if the opponents of renewal can rally the opinions of experts to discuss alternative weapon systems and bring in some disaffected generals and army people who see their own budgets facing major cuts to pay for it.
I suspect that there are enough Tories who are worried about our conventional forces to think the money could be better spent, and I know there is enough doubt on the Labour benches to make this uncomfortable.
Salmond hit Marr – and through him Murphy – with that sledge hammer too today, when he asked how Labour voters would react if the party forced through a policy the majority of its members disagreed with, especially hiding behind Tory votes.
It is up to Salmond and those in his party to polish up the alternatives and present them to the British public, and guarantee the full, open debate on this issue which we’ve yet been denied. I think that could turn the trick.
He’s also discussed how the SNP might call for a “triple lock” mechanism for any vote on the EU referendum – which means every constituent part of the union, Scotland, England, the north of Ireland and Wales, would have to vote No for that result to be binding – which is another piece of out-of-the-box thinking that must have the “main parties” scared stupid.
In my last article I speculated on how the SNP’s weapon of last resort might be the “unilateral declaration.” Without ruling it out – and Alex himself has proposed this in the past – he said today that this election will not, itself, deliver the mandate for independence.
He said, however, that the issue could be settled by putting the commitment to hold a second referendum in the next Scottish Parliament election manifesto … which is broadly in line with most of our expectations.
With the majority of Scottish MP’s and another win at Holyrood, it is impossible to imagine Westminster refusing to grant that to us. This has clearly been thought about for some time … and the idea probably preceeds September’s vote.
Political scientists, and those who never dared to dream, have said that politics is the art of the possible. By their thinking, to accomplish anything in the game at all requires that the practitioners know the limitations of power and tread carefully.
Greater minds than these know that history isn’t made by timid leaders who watch their every step. It was Frederick the Great who said “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” and George Patton agreed with him, and made it his own philosophy.
Alex and Nicola know full well that you can change the world with audacity, moving forward with confidence and daring, doing what lesser individuals say can’t be done. They’ve already changed Scotland that way.
Imagination is the only thing that can impose limits on a unified political party that holds the balance of power and today we saw, clearly, that the SNP leadership don’t lack that particular quality.
I feel very contented tonight, having re-watched that interview. Alex’s resignation as First Minister was clearly not a reaction to the referendum defeat but part of a more far-reaching plan by far.
With him heading for Westminster and Nicola already in Holyrood, each backed up by a strong contingent of elected representatives, with their hands on the levers of power, you can start to see the broad outlines of a plan, and the depth of their strategic thinking … and it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.
If the Scottish electorate hold their nerve and give them the mandate, these two will take us all the way.
It is our country’s great fortune that we have the very brightest and the best looking out for its interests at this huge historical crossroads.
These two can see a mile down the road … and increasingly, we too can glimpse the Promised Land that lies ahead.
There are 45 days to go.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
(I need your help if this blog is to keep improving. You can help by making a donation on this site, by using the button which will be at the top right or at the bottom of the page. The first issue of our website’s magazine is out and, available to download free, right here. Just click on the magazine cover below, and don’t forget to share it and Follow us by pressing the icon on the bottom right of the screen.)