Brian Monteith: Who will speak for the Union?

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Not for the first time, Jack McConnell has spoken more sense from the House of Lords than he often uttered when he was in Holyrood.

tion and training in prisons, but lock up the serial offenders first.

Shorn of his responsibility to keep the Scottish Labour Party united or the need to soft soap the electorate so that it might be tempted to continue voting for his collectivist mob, he has warned the unionist parties that they need to get their act together to win the independence referendum – and that finding a credible spokesman to take on Alex Salmond should be a priority. He is right on both counts.

In preparation for the independence referendum the unionists need to think strategically and act tactically. That means planning ahead for all eventualities so they can dictate the campaign and anticipate the nationalists’ own moves – and then being flexible and quick-witted to seize opportunities and respond to issues without ever losing control.

Such political demands apply also to Salmond and his team, but he has the advantage of being in charge of one party with the same goal while the three main unionist parties will have their own agendas that, no matter how hard they try to suppress them, will compete for attention.

The fact that the Tories are just starting their election campaign for a new Scottish leader and Labour will not commence its search to replace Iain Gray for a few months yet also puts them at a disadvantage.

If these parties have any sense they will place the co-ordination of the unionist campaign in the hands of experienced politicians that have few personal ambitions and can bring valuable insight to the table – who better than the Lords McConnell, Steel and Sir Malcolm Rifkind?

They could work out the ground rules of how the Stronger Together Weaker Apart campaign will operate; establish which people will have temporary responsibility for what aspects of the campaign until the three parties are able to bring their leaders to the same table. Meantime, they could also undertake the valuable job of setting up the various groups such as nurses, farmers, teachers, businesses, students, and such like, that can have their own spokesmen and women when the need arises.

By all accounts the unionists have done little of this, but I am sure the SNP are ahead of the game.

This leaves the question of who will be the main spokesman to tackle Salmond?

In some situations where the debates are clearly party political, the unionists would be better arguing that they should be entitled to field their three party leaders – but this will not always be the case and if the independence campaign opts to field the First Minister as its main spokesman, then the three political parties will need to eat humble pie and decide on someone who is confident, charismatic and credible to debate with him.

This person, possibly new to the scene, should have a good grasp of economics to match Salmond’s professional training – and be assured enough to tackle him head on, as he is not infallible, being prone to sweeping generalisations and exaggeration.

The candidate should be able to think on his or her feet, as Salmond will need pinned down and will try to shift the debate without warning. And while having a sense of humour to equal that of the First Minister’s would be helpful, more important would be a sense of gravitas and humility that would give serious contrast to Big Eck’s ego and sometimes light-hearted “it will be all right on the night” approach.

My own feeling is that a woman with a good career already established but as yet unknown to the general public would be a better foil than those politicians already on the scene. There is time yet to become a household name, but the headhunters need to start scouting now.

What I do know is that former applicants for First Minister need not apply.

Prison works

A week ago it was revealed that of all those charged with rioting and looting in London last month an astonishing 75 per cent had a previous conviction or caution against their name.

Now it has been revealed that 25 per cent of the same group actually has ten or more convictions on their record.

This has led some people to say the problem is that our prisons breed criminals. Funny that, I thought everyone was born innocent and first had to be criminals to get into prison.

The statistics across Europe show that those countries that lock their criminals up rather than leave them free, and lock them up for longer, have lower crime rates because most crime is committed by a small group of repeat re-offenders – and if they are behind bars they find it a tad more difficult to break the law.

My suspicion is that if we tried the American system of three strikes and you’re out on the hard core – such as those 25 per cent – then they would not be so free to riot and loot (as well as live off crime in many other ways).

Prison works – we just need to apply it more.

By all means improve educa