When I heard Alex Salmond on BBC Radio 4 this morning, mercifully for the last time before the referendum, the words of Marlon Brando’s failed boxer in On The Waterfront came spontaneously to my mind
I could have been a contender, Charlie.
You could have been a contender, Alex.
Despite my Englishness (tempered by a Scottish partner, three Scottish childen and thirty years of happy life in Scotland) and despite my instincts for the union, you could – just – have persuaded me. But you blew it.
You blew it because even though you’ve spent a lifetime preparing for this moment you didn’t, strangely for a trained economist, take heed of Bill Clinton’s famous dictum
It’s the economy, stupid.
You didn’t line up all your economic ducks in a row. In fact, notwithstanding the 649 pages of Scotland’s Future, I’m not even convinced you’d identified who the relevant ducks were, let alone assemble them into anything approximating a row.
You blew it because when you were challenged about all those big issues, and many others, you weren’t able to provide answers that convinced me.
You blew it because your whole tone was combative and triumphant and gave me no sense that you are a conciliator, that you could bring what is clearly a divided country together after the referendum.
You blew it because I couldn’t believe the construct of ‘civic nationalism’ your party tried to build. You said it’s all about the future but you couldn’t resist, repeatedly, revisiting the distant past of Bannockburn and Arbroath, where you made your own declaration whose words no-one seems to have noticed but whose symbolism was only too apparent. You spoke repeatedly, in parliament bellowed, about ‘destiny’ and ‘the sovereign will of the Scottish people’, most uncivic words and hinting at a darker nationalism.
You blew it because there was a lot of nastiness around the Yes campaign that you would not acknowledge, did nothing to dispel and would only treat with weasel words like ‘there’s idiots on both sides.’ Your treatment of the media was part of that nastiness and funnily enough, politicians waging campaigns against journalists makes me very uneasy.
You blew it because your characterisation of the UK generally, and England in particular, wavered between two extremes I just didn’t recognise. On the one hand your description of the evils of Westminster presented a parody of British democracy. On the other I found it impossible to believe your soothing balm of ‘England, our friend and neighbour.’
Tomorrow will tell whether enough voters think you’re a good enough contender to become a champion. Frankly, I hope not.
Footnote – I know, I know. It’s not all about Salmond and the SNP, although he does give disproportionate time to Cameron and the Tories when he presents his many negative arguments for independence. But the fact is that if there’s a majority for separation he and his government will be in power during the first critical year and a half to the next Scottish parliamentary election. He will set the agenda and the tone in Scotland and probably already has.