Supporters of independence often level the accusation at Unionists that they think Scotland is “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to thrive on its own. Unionists generally affect great insult at the suggestion, and have taken to being much more circumspect about the first two, nowadays tending to claim that Scotland could survive without Westminster control, just that it shouldn’t, because of all the positive aspects of the Union such as [SUB FILL IN LATER PLEASE].
Accordingly, the “too wee, too poor” element of the argument against independence has taken something of a back seat in the last year or so, and the “too stupid” part has been correspondingly pushed to the foreground.
Firstly, we’re simply told that – for some reason – Scotland does better if all its big decisions are taken in London, leading inescapably to the conclusion that we’re not as bright as our betters to the south. But more crudely, we’re also shown on a regular basis just how bad independence could be.
A month ago we put forward the theory that the appalling performances of the Scottish Parliament opposition, particularly Labour, might actually be some sort of deliberate ploy aimed at undermining the confidence of the Scottish people by terrifying them with the thought of a stupendously incompetent future Holyrood government led by Johann Lamont and her D-team front bench.
That’s not an entirely partisan view, either. On this week’s “For A’That” podcast, Labour activist Ian Smart predicted an SNP victory in the 2016 election regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum, offering this admirably candid opinion of the state of his own party (at 19 minutes in):
“Being honest about it, I don’t think Johann is a credible candidate for First Minister, and I don’t think that the current Holyrood group has anything like the talent necessary to form an administration. There are able people there, but there are very very few of them.”
We were half-joking with our “scorched earth” theory, but on watching Lamont’s appalling car-crash of a performance on Monday’s edition of Scotland Tonight, the idea is becoming much harder to dismiss.
Lamont was interviewed by Bernard Ponsonby on the occasion of having given a speech in Glasgow to mark her first anniversary in notional charge of the Scottish branch of her party. The speech chiefly concerned the future of Scottish education, so you might imagine that Lamont would have been well briefed for questions on the subject. You can watch the interview for yourself for as long as it’s active on the STV Player, but some of her answers really need to be seen in cold black and white, so we’ve set ourselves to our least favourite task – transcribing – in order to preserve them for easy reference. Buckle up, readers.
BERNARD PONSONBY: On the issue of funding for universities, you said in the speech that “a no-change system is essentially regressive”. Can I take it from that that whatever Labour proposes at the next election, it will involve a graduate contribution?
JOHANN LAMONT: Well it’s very hard to see how it could be otherwise. We have said that we’re not in favour of upfront tuition fees, but currently we’ve got a situation where a policy of no tuition fees in higher education is essentially being funded by cutting college funding, with the consequence that has actually for the quality of education. That’s unsustainable, and I recognise in these tough times it may be those with the broadest shoulders can bear… bear the cost.
BP: You were asked a specific question by a Labour student, I didn’t think that you gave him a straight answer. He said “Are fees on the table?” Are they?
JL: Not upfront tuition fees, but a graduate contribution, a way of funding higher education, is being examined. This is part of the review process, testing policy against both its benefits and its consequences. We’ve, as I highlighted before, this is something that we want to do. What we have currently got is a closing down of that debate, and not a recognition that there are consequences, and I want to open that up.
BP: In a sense haven’t you been guilty of perpetual oppositionism in the last year? I mean, you’ve constantly pointed out that the government have been cutting the college budget – 24% over the last two years – but you haven’t actually been making firm pledges. Are Labour committed to restoring the cuts which you say the SNP are making?
JL: Well we will certainly argue in the budget for them to be restored. We know that the, the, the Education Minister is presiding over a situation where £75m a year is funding access to Scottish education for free for students from across Europe. We know that they’re making other funding decisions too, and we will certainly argue –
BP: 24% amounts to approximately how much?
JL: Well, I won’t give you the exact figures just now, but what we would certainly want to do is to highlight the fact that, that that cut should be restored.
BP: What would you cut to restore that?
JL: Well, we’re fortuna- unfortunately not in government, we don’t have access to the figures –
BP: No, but you’re “a politician of tough choices”, and therefore what you want to do is to say, if we’re not going to cut the college budget, you’re going to have to tell the government what they’re going to have to cut in order to protect college budgets.
JL: No, no, no, we don’t have to tell the government, the government has produced a transparent budget, which has not been properly scrutinised, and what we’ll say to them, we believe it is possible to restore those cuts. They should be looking at, you know, end of year monies and so on –
BP: But where should they cut elsewhere?
JL: They should be looking, well, they should be look within their budgets to see what can be done.
We can’t bear any more. The remaining minute or so of the interview was more of the same incoherent, evasive, meaningless noise, in which Lamont identified the high point of her 12 months of leadership as being the local council elections – in which the SNP recorded its highest ever vote, its first-ever victory in the popular vote, and healthily extended its lead over Labour in terms of council seats.
But it’s nothing short of astonishing that Scottish Labour should be happy to send out its “leader” in front of the nation so completely unprepared to deal with the most obvious questions. It’s understandable, if utterly dismal, that Lamont didn’t want to be pinned down on what she’d cut or what policies she’d adopt if she was in charge. But that she didn’t even know how much the cuts she wanted reversed amounted to – a straightforward published fact – must have had Labour supporters weeping in shame and embarrassment in front of their TV screens.
Unless, that is, they really ARE deliberately preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice – of letting the SNP win the 2016 election as the price of making Scotland so frightened by even the tiniest possibility of First Minister Johann Lamont And Her Incredible Cabinet Of Hopeless Numpties that it’ll vote No out of sheer terror.
Scotland Tonight called the evening’s episode “Political Reality Or Political Suicide?” In the light of performances like Lamont’s last night, on top of the party’s recent adoption of massively unpopular Toryesque policies and language, the latter notion – namely that Scottish Labour is deliberately rendering itself unelectable until at least 2020 in order to save the Union – is growing more believable by the day.