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I Agree With Alex

By Mark Simpson

So the Scots Nationalist Party has failed in its court action to force the BBC to include their leader Alex Salmond in the final TV leaders’ debate. Everyone south of the border working in politics and the media seems to be very much agreed that this was the ‘right’ outcome. Except for this Englishman. Not least because of the breathtaking, downright imperious hypocrisy of the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Clegg couldn’t wait for the court decision. He claimed a few days ago that Salmond was “stamping his foot on the sidelines in fury that he’s not on this debate programme. The broadcasters have arrived at the particularly reasonable position that the debates should be held by the three people fighting this campaign up and down the UK.”’

A ‘particularly reasonable decision’ because the chief beneficiary was Nick Clegg – someone who, if you remember, was mostly stamping his foot on the sidelines until he appeared on the TV debate himself a few weeks ago, upstaging the other two party leaders (‘Who is that new guy with the nice hair?’) and provoking a wave of Cleggmania by calling for an end to the ‘old politics’. Perhaps he’s worried that if Salmond is permitted to appear beside him he might be upstaged by the new boy the way he did Brown and Cameron.

Especially since Salmond has a cheeky, Shrek-like, twinkly-eyed man-of-the-people quality that would probably play very well next to Cameron and Clegg’s silver spooning and Brown’s apparatchik chic. The last thing that Clegg wants is to be out-Clegged.

Of course, none of the three main Westminster parties – or the BBC – want to share the limelight with Salmond on their political X Factor show. David McLetchie, head of the Scottish Tories’ election campaign was equally dismissive of Salmond’s bid, invoking the ‘British’ thing: “It’s British general election. Alex Salmond isn’t a candidate in this British election and he doesn’t want to be prime minister. In fact, he wants to destroy the UK.’

In other words: we don’t want him on the show because he won’t play by our rules. But contrary to how it has been portrayed in the media, this isn’t an American Presidential Candidate debate – this is a party leader’s debate. And Salmond is the leader of a party that has several MPs in Westminster – and is running Scotland.

What these arguments overlook – deliberately – is that post-devolution, and with a party devoted to total independence for Scotland in power at Holyrood, ‘Britain’ as a political project has largely already ceased to exist. This is the really ‘old politics’ that the Palace of Westminster doesn’t want to give up. The Union and the imperial identity it engendered is pretty much a dead letter. We’re just waiting for the decree nisi.  Which admittedly has probably been delayed in the post by the recession – but rest assured a Tory Government in Westminster would certainly help focus Scottish minds on their future again.

North of the border almost no one with a Scottish accent is ‘British’, while south of the border it’s usually a way of not talking about the English – or letting them have their own Parliament, or National holiday. Or in the case of the TV election debates, ‘British’ means two slick, super-posh Englishmen in nice suits laying into the plain Scots guy in a bad one. Which is no doubt part of the reason why Salmond wants to muscle in.

Allowing Salmond on the show would be an acknowledgement of how out of touch the ‘old politics’ really is. It would break the spell of ‘let’s pretend she’s just having a kip’ that surrounds the demise of Britannia. Neither Clegg, nor Cameron nor Brown, nor the British Broadcasting Corporation, want to do that because it would severely puncture their own imperial and imperious self-importance.

Now that it’s clear that the TV election debates effectively are the election campaign, let’s have the SNP in one of them next time – and why not Plaid Cymru, UKIP and, if they win any seats, the English Democrats?  Let’s take an honest look at the crazy-paved, devolved nature of post-imperial 21st Century UK politics. After all, 90 minutes is a very long time to spend watching two Blair impersonators and an automaton audition for the part of Emperor With No Clothes.  Especially without a camp Irish compère to lighten the mood.  Bring on, I say, the political version of Britain’s Got Talent.

Clegg talks a lot about an end to the old politics, the urgency of the need for Proportional Representation and how coalitions are not something to be afraid of, but instead welcomed: politics as complicated, grown-up stuff.   But of course coalition government and PR mean taking ‘fringe’ parties that don’t happen to be the Lib Dems a little more seriously.  It means an end not just to two party politics but also and end to three party politics.  And the fond notion that Westminster is still the centre of the world.

9 thoughts on “I Agree With Alex”

  1. I can’t tell you the amount of Yanks who have asked me eagerly if I play golf. I look at them with slick blank incomprehension and reply blandly no, I do not like golf, and I never knew anybody that played it in Scotland either. They literally are unable to believe that anybody could live in Scotland the Golf Mecca (TM) and not play the tedious worthless sport. Middle class Americans really are boring, unimaginative people. As are Lib-Dems and Tories.

  2. It’s all just warmed-over televisual Yank crap anyway, but I agree with what you said here about Salmond and his non-inclusion. England just doesn’t want to see another Scotsman anywhere near their precious election, and the sooner the Union dissolves the better. Then we Scots can concentrate on destroying Donald Trump’s worthless gold-digger golf course. Just because Americans have asked me SO FUCKING MUCH about golf and I HATE the sport.

    I have my priorities very much in order.

    🙂

    G.

  3. straightonlyinbed

    If the purpose of opening up debate participation to all represented candidates is to increase access to political power for “the masses”, why not have local debates among party activists?
    That would remove the monopoly on political discourse among the parties (held by BBC and the parties in Britannia or the bipartisan US bloc in the States).
    But then we wouldn’t be watching what promises the leaders promise to break, once elected.
    Isn’t direct democracy a natural extension of allowing more parties into the official debates?

  4. You’re welcome of course to set up your own party, but if you don’t have any MPs you’re not coming to the leader’s debate – at least the fantasy one that I outlined.

    The point about the SNP is that they have several MPs in Westminster and are running Scotland – which might not be the majority of the UK, but is a rather major part of it. Excluding them might make things ‘tidier’ – and it certainly makes things a lot easier for the main three Westminster parties – but that’s not the reality of UK politics today.

  5. While in the interests of fairness, the SNP and Plaid, etc. should be included in the leaders’ debates, if you take it to its logical conclusion, that argument would allow the inclusion of the leader of every political party in the UK. I could set up my own Devolve Herefordshire Party with no intention of fielding candidates anywhere else, but by virtue of Alex Salmond’s argument, I would be able to share the floor with another couple of dozen leaders. The debates would then be utterly pointless.

    The fact is that while the SNP isn’t fielding candidates in any other part of the UK, his policies are irrelevant to the majority of British voters who can’t vote for him. What would make more sense is for a series of Scottish/Welsh/N. Irish leaders’ debates to take place in parallel with the existing debates.

  6. How about the BNP, who will think of those children? A 10-party leaders’ debate (why exclude the Northern Irish too) would be a bit, hmmm, like parliament. And that would include all parliamentary party leaders.
    That said, it is high time the Union got dissolved – or at least the English establish their own parliament with the House of Lord a a federal senate for those constituent UK areas that want to stay in the union.
    Oh, and no need to be “hung-phobic” either. Most countries have been managing coalition governments for a long time, and are none the worse for it economically, socially or politically. Vote for policies, not personalities.

  7. Stephen: Thanks for mentioning them for me. I didn’t in part because they don’t have any MPs. But by all means bring the Greens along to the next round of TV debates too, if they win some seats during this election. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘very telling’, but the fact I mentioned UKIP and the English Democrats in relation to the Scottish Nationalist Party doesn’t mean that I support them – something they’ll be no doubt very relieved to hear.

  8. Indeed. Indeed. I find your mention of UKIP and the English Democrats but not the Green Party rather telling and pretty depressing though …

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