Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond gave his keynote speech to SNP Conference this afternoon. There were three things in it that struck me as a Liberal Democrat.
A numbers game
Apparently a “yes” vote for independence would be a vote for a “prosperous economy and a just society.” Does this remind you of any phrase being used rather a lot at the moment by any Liberal Democrat who can be persuaded to do so? I wonder how prosperous an economy built on wildly optimistic estimates of oil revenues would be to start with.
Many nationalists have been complaining about their fixed budget doesn’t give them enough control. Come 2015, they’ll have much more power to change that thanks to the Scotland Act introduced by Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Michael Moore. As he’s always said, that’s a stepping stone and there’s a growing consensus for further devolution in the future.
Power to the people?
It is said that to govern is to choose but even more fundamental than that is to choose how you are governed. I did wonder if he was having a laugh, here, as his SNP Government will centralise anything that sits still for a minute or more. Schools, police, you name it. They have taken power from the people to Holyrood and they don’t get the idea of local communities having a say on things which affect them. As a highlander, I instinctively find the idea of a centralising SNP Government in Edinburgh as unpleasant as a centralising government in London.
People should not vote for independence thinking they will have more say. They won’t if the SNP have their way. However Ming Campbell set out a blueprint for giving more powers away from Holyrood in his Home and community rule commission report.
Salmond knows fine that women are more sceptical about independence and he has to win them over somehow. So it’s hardly surprising that he talked about childcare and even used the phrase the gender gap. Look what he had to say:
But I believe a transformational shift towards childcare should be one of the first tasks of an independent Scotland.
What a cheek! This comes only weeks after he turned down Willie Rennie’s pleas for more nursery education for 2 year olds. He already has powers to do something about this, but chooses not to. It’s a cynical move, especially given that Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson are in the process of implementing a radically different system of shared parental leave and are offering help with childcare costs to the tune of £1200 per child per year.
Voters in Scotland will have to choose between the reality of what is available to them and some unspecified revolution yet to come.
Willie Rennie noticed the same thing and said:
The First Minister's decision to put childcare into his list of independence promises for tomorrow is not the outcome 50,000 two year olds who will grow up in Scotland between now and the referendum deserve. I'm disappointed that our reasonable and costed plans to deliver free nursery care for forty percent of two year olds is now being used as a sweetener in the independence referendum.
However I'm sure that parents, mothers in particular, will be even more disappointed. I want to build a stronger economy in a fairer society which enables every person to get on in life. It could not be clearer, or more saddening, that the First Minister is now confusing our nation's ambition with his obsession for independence.
If I had to summarise the speech in a tweet, it would be “Iraq bad, Westminster evil, and we’re not going to give you goodies until you vote yes.” It was, as ever light on detail.
The other big news elsewhere from Inverness was a challenge to David Cameron to come and debate Salmond. The SNP know they don’t have the arguments, but if they can get an unpopular Tory PM an hour and a half’s airtime, they think that will scare voters into the arms of the Yes Campaign. The pro-independence arguments are so weak that even Cameron could demolish them, but Salmond’s challenge reveals more about the desperate situation of the Yes campaign.