Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the USA, famously stated during his inauguration speech that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself". Roosevelt spoke in relation to the great depression and the political dangers of the prevailing situation. Many films of that era tended to reflect the political and social issues of he time. One such is the 1939 children's classic The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy from Kansas, transported to the land of Oz, has to challenge the fearsome and all-powerful Wizard of Oz who can help her to return home.
After many adventures with, among others, the wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy discovers the Wizard to be a small man with a big megaphone, enforcing his will by outshouting everyone else. Behind the impressive front, the Wizard is revealed as a pompous and bombastic wimp. In Scottish terms, the great panjandrum is really a toom tabard...an empty cloak.
Watching the events of last weekend unfold I could not help being struck by the parallels with current Scottish politics.
First, Alex Salmond claimed in a political magazine that only SNP politicians have the right to talk about "independence". His remarks were in the context of the decision by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to investigate the implications to Scotland and the UK if Scottish "independence" was ever to be put in place. The FM declared that "there is no one on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that has a mandate to say anything about a referendum, apart Eilidh Whiteford (SNP)....". The master of bombast and bluster shows a small part of his hand...... the SNP is legitimate, everyone else is illegitimate, therefore questioning "independence" is also illegitimate and the Nats aren't playing that game, thankyouverymuch.
On Friday Alex Salmond gives an interview to the BBC in which he promises to have a two-question referendum on "independence" and "devolution max", and in which he warns the Prime Minister to steer clear of calling his own referendum. "The time has passed when Westminster can dictate to the Scottish people", says the Great Eck, thus dismissing the Wicked Witch of Westminster.
The Great Leader's speech, to be delivered the following day at the SNP Rally in Inverness, was much trailed in the papers and on TV. Again, we were told, there would be warnings to Westminster to lay off and again there would be the commitment to a two-question referendum.
But come the speech itself: it had the usual nationalist tropes about wha's like us and hands of our oil and how they are "Scotland's Party" and nobody else counts and London's imagined baleful influence. There was a lot about "independence" and the promised referendum, but, interestingly, no direct mention of the second, "devo max", question. It's attractions were hinted at, but there was no open commitment by the SNP, the party which runs the Parliament and which wants the referendum, to actually formulating and including a question on "devo max" in their referendum.
So. What happened to the SNP's desire for a fallback, second question, on "devo max"?
Fast forward to Tuesday night. On Newsnight Scotland Alex Salmond, Alex Neill and Derek McKay of the SNP lined up to insist that there must be a second question but it must be set by the other parties! This bizarre argument is pursued with much illogic, by Mr McKay in particular, on this clip from the programme.
Now the Scottish Affairs Select Committee returns centre stage: Eilidh Whiteford resigns from the committee claiming that she was threatened with a "doing" by committee chair Ian Davidsom MP (Labour). She's so distressed that she cannot carry on. The SNP says it will not be represented on the committee until Mr Davidson resigns as chair. But Mr Davidson has apologised while denying any threat, and other members of the committee who were present at the meeting cannot recall Ms Whiteford being threatened at all. Whatever the truth of the matter, the Nationalists are seizing on it to uncouple and distance themselves from any public discussion of the "independence" question. When the Scottish Affairs Select Committee reports on the problems it finds with the SNP's main policy, the Nats will hold their hands in the air and say "Ah but, we don't accept it because we weren't consulted". Because they chose not to take part.....
For years now we've been told that Eck was the wizard of Scottish politics. Everyone was afraid to take him on because no-one could stand up to his scorn or match his rhetoric: he could win every argument by sheer volume of voice and he could blow away all opposition. One result has been that nobody, particularly the Scottish media, has questioned his position, or his policies, such as they are. The Wizard of Eck has megaphoned his way to domination over a fawning media and a bamboozled political class.
But is the very real Wizard of Eck any different in essence from the fictional Wizard of Oz?
The Wizard of Eck's strategy is revealed: bluster, bombast, megaphone politics, threats and warnings. If these don't work, then blame everyone else and, when cornered, run away or plead for special treatment. Just like the Wizard of Oz.
How very familiar.... the question now becomes....who is to be the Scottish peoples' Dorothy to prick the imposter's bubble?
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