Monday, 5 September 2011

Myth busting with Michael Moore

Michael Moore, the Secretary State for Scotland, was in the news last week for making an important speech on the future for Devolution in Scotland.

In the speech he highlighted the UK Government’s Scotland Bill and what he believed it could mean for Scotland, and he set out to show it as an alternative to Independence in the range of options Scotland now has.

As such he set out a rebuttal to nationalism and made the case to consider alternatives studied by Calman and being offered through the Scotland Bill.

Central to his argument was that there will need to be proper scrutiny of any referendum proposals put forward by the Holyrood administration.

He noted, as many of us will have observed, that the SNP thus far have been shy about fleshing out precisely what they mean by independence.

He challenged this by posing 6 questions that need answered in order to understand and then assess the viability of the independence options.

This much readers of this blog will probably be fully aware of.

There is something of myth developing in some quarters that this was a slightly tired and lame attack on independence.  I don’t think it was that at all, and to see it like that was to miss the point being made.

This seemed to me to be a totally reasonable speech and totally reasonable and pertinent questions.

The First Minister’s spokesman called the speech embarrassing and confused.  Many of the polemicists and iconoclasts amongst the cyber nats chose to follow what is very much the house narrative about Michael Moore - whatever he says.  Indeed they are invariably somewhat churlish if not just plain nasty about him.

Such is the business of politics.

Some of the press reaction surprised me.

Iain MacWhirter speaking on “Newsnicht” last Thursday said debate has moved on and the UK government was trying to create fear that Scotland can’t survive as an independent country – that our financial services industry will somehow fail in this set-up.

This was not how I read what was being said at all.

I think it is absolutely right to question Salmond and the nationalist agenda.  We need clarity from the SNP as to where they are taking us, especially as they are now saying things about the links they will maintain with the UK.

We need to move the debate forward ahead of any referendum.

Where I thought MacWhirter was uncharacteristically wrong was that this is not saying 'Scotland cannot survive, so don’t go there or your head will drop off'.  Rather, it is asking for the detail to be put on the table so we can have a detailed debate about all the options and decide where we are going.

This is important.  The SNP won big but it was not a mandate for independence.  They have earned the right to put a referendum and proposals for constitutional change to us.

These are big questions and hitherto most Scots have been against independence. This is a question that involves us all and involves all the options – not just what the national party of Scotland wants.

I also noticed some rather patronising swatting away of these 6 questions saying they had been answered in 2009 in the white paper “Your Scotland, Your Choice”

No they hadn’t!!  At least not in any detail!

If we are to have a referendum we need to discuss precisely these issues in some detail and the practicalities of implementing what is proposed. 

The point is not scaremongering – the debate has indeed moved on.  The point is considering the pros and cons of independence and the other options available, and then the Scottish people deciding on the constitutional direction we want to go in.

Some of these questions will have a perfectly good answer, others will not, but they are important.

Isabel Fraser on 'Newsnicht' seemed to think that issues about finance and the cost of independence had been settled and the debate on that had moved on too.  I don’t think anything has been settled.  As far as costs or financial regulations are concerned we continue to see different arguments being made, quite rationally, with different facts being used.  These issues need debated.   

Two other myths I would like to bust

First that Michael Moore is somehow confused.

Michael Moore is an extremely straightforward and reasonable politician and a first rate constituency MP.

As a minister he is highly intelligent and pays attention to detail.  His is a forensic mind suited to the legislative process and the hard yards of detailed policy implementation.

In fact he forms a highly effective double-act with the Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie who is more the performing combative politician in the bear-pit.

The second myth is that Michael Moore is some sort of foreign interloper.

It’s his job as Secretary of State.  As such he is in a pivotal position between the national government and the Scottish administration.  And he is an extremely proud Scotsman representing us in the Westminster arena, just as there are proud Scotsman working in the Holyrood context.

The SNP inevitably try to drive a wedge between Michael Moore at Westminster and Scotland.   

Some of the nationalist writers, set firm in their fantasyland where no one is allowed to fall out of line with the national party, like to present him as some sort of last viceroy.

Wrong again!!  He is a Scot and he is performing a Scottish role in national government in our parliament – at the UK level – it’s not the empire!

But then the Nationalists seem to believe they are on the side of the angels in an evolving utopia under their own Laird Protector Alex.

At best this is a little delusional, at worst it is driven by a latent anti English sentiment.

As Jim Wallace said in the Times this Saturday, this is unimpressive rhetoric, “that somehow of all the countries in the rest of the world that have experienced economic difficulty, Scotland would be the one that doesn’t have to engage in deficit reduction and is only doing so because it’s being foisted upon us by Westminster.”

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