These are desperate times. And in desperate times politicians are moved to take desperate measures. Example one – the desperate Scot in the midst of a referendum campaign.
When a politician feels the need to use patriotism to slight an opponent and goad him into a misjudgment you can be sure of two things.
The first is that is that he or she is resorting to base-level name-calling in the absence of having anything positive to say that will not be immediately smashed to smithereens upon the rocks of reason.
There is nothing optimistic, positive or aspirational in behaving in this Braveheart way – it is in fact cowardly; it is the way of megalomaniacs over the ages who have expounded patriotism under the shield of democracy as a cover to bully their more tolerant and courteous opponents to get their own way.
The second thing to remember is that he or she knows their argument is or is about to be lost.
The combination of these two truths is that heroically patriotic but desperate assaults will be made to impress the controlled and limited Scottish electorate.
Controlled and limited because the referendum has been fixed, limited to Scots that might vote in local council elections (a list that might include any recent arrival from the rest of Europe) rather than to those who might ordinarily vote in a general election (a list that includes servicemen and women who are willing to die for their country as well as Scots who work overseas).
Yesterday, the First Minister revealed himself to be a desperate politician. He challenged the Prime Minister to debate with him on television the question of Scotland’s continued union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland that makes the United Kingdom what it is and allows us to call ourselves British (For those that say we will shall still remain British if we leave the UK I simply ask how many Scots were calling themselves British before 1707? Sorry, how many? How many Irish people call themselves British now? Again, how many?).
But he went further – he said that to be against independence is to be anti-Scottish. And there we have it – the desperation, the retreat to patriotism, the refuge of the scoundrel.
If you are one of the 59 per cent of those in this week’s poll that are against independence (only 28 percent were for – the lowest since the campaign started) then you will be interested, maybe amused or infuriated to know that your First Minister says you are anti-Scottish. But that’s just how desperate he has become.
It is no longer enough to make independence meaningless by saying everything like the monarchy, our currency, our borders, our membership of the EU and Nato – and more – will stay the same. His dilution of the independence idyll is clearly not reassuring the public. Now Alex Salmond’s plan is to say you are not pro-Scottish if you won’t vote for a breach.
This is as banal as saying you are not for womankind if you want to stay in a marriage, whatever its merits. Let me be clear – being pro-Scottish allows you to vote No or Yes.
Neither position is more patriotic than the other, neither is more Scottish – that the First Minister says otherwise tells us that he knows he has already lost.
Example two – the desperate Englishman in the midst of a slow- burning general election campaign. When a politician feels the need to not only publicly double-cross an opponent but in doing so betray the very principles of compassion, peace and justice that he proclaims to stand for you can be sure of two things.
The first is that is that he or she is resorting to base-level opposition for the sake of it. There is nothing glorious or endearing about someone who hopes, one day, to run the country whilst being so cavalier in giving up the statesman-like approach he or she might have to adopt in the future.
The second is that this man or woman only wants easy popular solutions – and does not want, or will not take, the hard choices that real leaders must face.
Yesterday in The Times, the leading leftist commentator and broadcaster David Aaronovitch eviscerated Ed Miliband over his leadership of the Labour Party in general and his behaviour over Syria in particular:
“. . . politically he is not a presence at all, he is an absence. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.”
Ed Miliband is desperate. His polling lead over a lame coalition government is shrinking, union money is haemorrhaging badly and the economy is reviving. He knows he is losing the argument and he is now betraying his own party.
Desperate times and desperate men – both set to lose their reputation as well as their campaigns.