I thought politicians were meant to be on their holidays? They are enjoying what they like to call recess but others might less generously call an extended vacation. Call me Dave is in Portugal and Alex Salmond is on a golf course where women are allowed to be members (but still play in separate tournaments and play off different tees).
One would have hoped that we might get some respite from their antics and, perish the thought, notice that the world doesn’t end despite their absence. Hearts would still be in debt (and then some); the economy would still be teetering on the brink of recovery and the NHS would still be one of the poorest health services of the western world despite itself and its hard-pressed staff (the clue is that politicians try to run it).
But no. Although politicians depart from their offices, researchers, aides and the world of meaningless soundbites stories continue to pop up and keep politics in the headlines – and this week has been no different. Holidays? What holidays!
I thought to myself I might get to look at something more relaxing, like the Edinburgh Festival that is about to descend upon us, the new inexpensive French wines I’ve discovered over the last few weeks or tell you about the five different recipes I’ve collected from around the world – for cooking tripe. Instead I need to write about the offal state of Scottish politics (sorry!).
I have to apologise profusely in advance but it appears that no matter where we go on holiday, what cave we go down in, what mountain we go up or what slow boat to China we take, the independence referendum will not leave us alone. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets and Kindles have to be buried in a vault, newspapers eschewed and wirelesses or televisions switched off if we are to have any chance of not being assaulted by the constant stream of bulletins, tweets, news feeds and alerts about who has said what, done what – or even not said or done anything of note.
This week, despite the politicians’ holidays, has been little different to the last or the one before that – and no doubt it will be the same next week and thereafter until September 18, 2014. Sadly, if you think it will stop after the referendum let me assure you it will not end there. Our politicians now have so much at stake in the referendum that after it, whatever the outcome, they will be trying to justify, take the credit or pass the blame for their own side’s defeat or victory.
If we say “No”, the victors will be saying it puts the issue to rest for at least a generation – if not longer – while the vanquished will be saying that the level of support (whatever it is) shows there is an urgent need to carry on and seek to challenge the result within another five years. If it’s a “Yes”, well, frankly there’s no going back. It’s a ratchet referendum that can only turn one way, turn it the other way and it won’t stop.
Despite the holidays we’ve still had politicians shouting from the rooftops, reports telling us what can and cannot work and the inevitable dirty tricks scandal as a cherry on top.
The Secretary for Scotland, Michael Moore, made a speech saying that if a separate Scotland wants to be all bohemian and liberal (oh, the irony) by having lax immigration laws then it will mean border controls between Scotland and England as there’s a more general feeling down south that there are enough people (of whatever race and colour) to be going on with. Given the UK is entitled to border controls within the European Union because we did not enter into the Schengen Agreement this is rather stating the obvious – still, there were people queuing up to rubbish him. I can only imagine they don’t enjoy international travel very often.
Then the highly-respected Institute of Fiscal Studies published two reports; the first said Scotland could certainly have a more generous welfare system (a good or bad thing depending on your point of view) but this would require higher taxes or bigger spending cuts to afford it. In other words, there’s a cost to politicians’ promises of free sweeties.
Its second report said Scotland would face a huge pension black hole that we could not afford to meet – which caused John Swinney to get off his lounger and deny the apocalyptic scenario despite the fact that Scotland’s population is ageing more rapidly than the rest of the UK. Yet more free sweeties that can’t be paid for.
Finally, we had the spectacle of SNP councillors and activists standing around a Labour for Independence banner and handing out leaflets as if they were card-carrying disciples of Ed Miliband. You can fool the public some of the time but . . .
Next week we will have Annabel Goldie made a pantomime dame (oops! it’s already happened) and the first tram taking councillors for a test run. Dare I wish it’s a one-way journey?