This has been quite a remarkable two weeks for Scotland’s opposition parties. Not familiar with wall-to-wall media coverage in recent times, as the UK Tories and Labour party assembled at their respective conferences, Johann lamented the Scots addiction to welfare ‘handouts’ and Ruth went all Romney, declaring only 12% of Scots contribute to the country’s economy. If they were both looking for headlines, boy did they get them.
After the backlash following Mitt’s ‘47%’ gaff, to say both bold policy swerves came as a surprise would be putting it mildly. The spin doctors, particularly in Labour’s case, seemed taken aback. ‘Erm, no, that wasn’t what she meant..,’ ‘erm, no, we will be protecting the vulnerable…’ ‘erm, no we don’t believe everybody is a scrounger..’ and so on.
I have to be quite honest and say personally I quite like ‘bold and fearless’ when it comes to politics. Often it is this which distinguishes the hapless from the history-makers.
This, however, must be judged against the aspirations and desires of the electorate whom you are meant to represent, or intend to represent.
And this is where the two failed most miserably.
The only explanation, certainly in Johann’s case, is pure desperation. No-one I came across at Holyrood seemed to be anything other than completely puzzled by her antics. ‘Political suicide’ was a phrase I heard more than once.
The leader of Scottish Labour will have been heartened, to say the least, when the following week Ruth spluttered out her 12% remark. Nothing like someone else making a hash of it to detract from your own failings.
Both leaders’ remarks will nonetheless have had the Scottish electorate scratching their heads. On the one side of course we have always known the Tories’ attitude towards Scotland remains firmly stuck in the 1980s. The other; well, how did it ever come to this?
At the Tories annual jamboree in Birmingham David Cameron has been making a point of putting Scotland at the top of the political agenda. As the man who may be the last Prime Minister of the UK & Northern Ireland as it currently stands, the legacy of a Yes vote in the independence referendum will be one he will want to avoid on his watch.
He has put the issue of ‘saving the Union’ as his number one priority. One wonders at this point why on earth unionist parties have not being doing so before now. If their attention towards Scotland had been as acute as it seems to be these days, then perhaps a more considerate agenda could have ameliorated the vigorous fermentation of Scottish politics in the latter part of the 20th century and the creeping inevitability of more powers, and subsequent independence from Westminster.
Whilst the SNP will be jostling at their conference in Perth to discuss what exactly they want Scotland to look like in a post-independence world, the Edinburgh opposition, frozen out of political debate through their own failures and ineptitude, can only watch and flap from the sidelines.
Johann’s lament came across as a bizarre and outdated soundbite more akin to those so often repeated by Ruth and David’s Tories. Whilst the Scottish political landscape has transformed via devolution, exuding a palpably more confident aspect, Labour have been left trailing, lost for words.
Free prescriptions, the smoking ban, free personal care for the elderly, free education, a freeze on Council Tax and world-beating renewable targets form part of what it now means to have a distinct Scottish political identity, and form the chrysalis stage of where we want to take out country next.
The public debate in the run up to the Yes referendum will not be on whether we should be clawing back the great gains we have made as a country as a result of devolution and a reinstated Scottish Parliament.
It will be about the kind of Scotland we want to see. It will be about what we aspire to.
If Labour and the Tories cannot see that then they have already lost the fight to be relevant to the future of our nation.
These past two weeks may well prove to be the watershed moment which defines the entire referendum and its outcome.