Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Notes on Salmond in London

The Scottish media was granted observer status at Alex Salmond’s speech to the Foreign Press Association in London today, which gave me a chuckle as SNP policy is to effectively turn me into a foreign correspondent in any case.

It’s easy to see why Salmond chooses to address the foreign rather than domestic press when he comes to London.

As First Minister he is accorded a reverence that he would not be granted by the British political press, and generally gets less awkward questions than Andrew Neil or an irritated Sarah Montague might throw at him.

He starts on the premise that Scotland will be independent, and no one in the room bursts the bubble by pointing to polls that consistently show this is the choice of less than one in three of the population. As observers we remained politely silent for our hosts.

The questioning follows his line of assumption, so he can set the terms of a future prospectus even when he is dressing his own his own party policy that Scotland would have a written constitution as a new development.

Some of the arguments are the familiar backwards and forwards bluster of independence. One of the key messages about renewables - one of the strongest “optimism” cards in the independence armoury - is still a good throw. (I know, only if you dismiss the fact that Scottish renewables are viable thanks to highly subsidised ROC tariffs on English electricity consumers).

It struck me he could have been more radical in his constitutional proposals - the right to edcuation and housing are, after all, enshrined in law and UN charters. The SNP could "own" land reform and a radical health agenda if they chose, for no other party is occupying the territory. But wait, these are issues Holyrood could move on right now, without constitutional upheaval.

I don’t see the First Minster in operation every day, but close up he is still the confident, formidable performer of old, though maybe he had a bit of a croaky, winter cold.

There was a significant change in the tone though. Kremlinologists, or Arbroathologists, noticed the slip of the tongue that had Salmond “hoping” to join the European Union, rather than asserting it as a fact.

But he swiftly followed that with a deft attack line on how Westminster, not independence, is now the danger point for the European Union.

“The threat comes not from north of the border but from up the Thames,” he said.

Also when he came to talking about a post-independence Scotland he emphasised - twice - that it would not necessarily be an SNP administration running things.

The focus groups must be telling party strategists that voters do not like the idea of a hundred year SNP empire. So coupled to the message that “nothing will change” immediately after a Yes vote is the idea that it need not be an SNP-run Scotland afterwards either.

Maybe the idea came from Claire Howell, Salmond’s life coach consultant, who I’m told was a dinner guest at a speech he gave to a business audience last night.

She is credited with both  turning Salmond onto a positive message and banning the word “freedom” from the independence campaign, much to the derision of the opposition.

Funny how the SNP accuse Scottish Labour of getting a London spin on its message but Salmond is rarely picked on for coming south for the services of a motivation guru who, wait for it, has even given psychological coaching to English Premiership teams.

But that’s London, an easy city for anyone to operate in, including Alex Salmond.

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