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Sunday 28 September 2014


He hasn't gone away: Salmond lost, but he still matters

Salmond seems not to understand the dangers of unleashing nationalism, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

HE HASN'T GONE AWAY: Though the referendum vote was lost, Alex Salmond, and his demagoguery, will remain in politics. Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

I went to Pride last week, an entertaining if over-praised movie about how in the 1984 strike, a group of London gays and lesbians befriended and won acceptance from a striking Welsh mining village. Predictably, the villain was the Wicked Witch, who was determined to smash the industry despite the heroic resistance of those described by their eloquent leader, Arthur Scargill, as "part of the greatest struggle on earth".

Time for a reality check. During the 11 years when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, 160 pits were closed: 290 had gone in the 11 years when Britain was ruled by her Labour predecessors, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. Scargill was no hero. He led his own people to impoverishment in their losing fight against the inevitable.

Thatcher is such a useful bogeywoman that she was being used during the independence debate by both nationalists - to whom she symbolised uncaring, oppressive Westminster - and left-wing unionists, who hurled at First Minister Alex Salmond allegations about how he approved some of her economic policies.

Certainly Salmond - who was a bank economist for seven years - used to be a champion of robust capitalism. In a famous speech at Harvard in 2008, he said that "the lesson we draw from our neighbours in Ireland - the Celtic Tiger economy - where annual growth has averaged more than 6pc over the past two decades, is that with the right strategy, there are no limits to success in the modern global economy".

Among Scotland's "brightest prospects" was the financial services industry: "with RBS and HBOS - two of the world's biggest banks - Scotland has global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long term. With talent like this and the right strategy, Scotland will become a Celtic Lion." One can understand why this speech was later removed from the Scottish government website.

Salmond the capitalist was displaced by Salmond the socialist during a referendum campaign in which he sought to outflank Labour, the main opposition. Hence, his raft of promises for a post-independence utopia, where unlimited oil supplies would provide benefits and services so generous as to be the envy of the world.

It was the poor and the ill-informed at whom the nationalists aimed these messages, which is why, for instance, Glasgow - where the life-expectancy is the lowest in the developed world - voted 53pc 'yes', as opposed to the countrywide 45pc. More disproportionate was the vote from the 16- and 17-year-olds whom Salmond had insisted on enfranchising: they voted 71pc 'yes' and were to be seen hugging each other incredulously and tearfully after the result was announced.

They had proved themselves to be "serious, passionate and committed citizens", said Salmond afterwards, so there was an "overwhelming, unanswerable" case for giving them the vote in all future elections in Scotland and across the UK and not "a shred of evidence" against.

What about the fact that only 48pc of 18-24 year olds voted 'yes', having got to an age when the hormones have calmed down and you can think about serious questions like what currency would Scotland have? At 16 and 17, most people think a lender of last resort is your auntie Mary.

Salmond is a gifted, charismatic, powerful politician who loves his country, but while he would never support violence, he seems not to understand the dangers of unleashing nationalism. As Charles de Gaulle remarked: "Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first." We've seen in Ireland where that takes us.

The commentator Martin Kettle pointed out that Salmond likes to compare himself to our own Charles Stuart Parnell, and that indeed "the comparison between their shared electoral brilliance, their strong leadership skills and the way they brought their respective nationalist causes on to the threshold of triumph, is a striking one".

Salmond has resigned, but ominously has promised to stay in Scottish politics, where I fear he will not rein in his demagoguery.

He has divided his country, not least by implying repeatedly that 'no' voters were not properly Scottish. He has encouraged Anglophobia, has stirred up anti-Scottish resentment elsewhere (30pc of English and Welsh said in a recent poll that the debate over Scottish independence has damaged their opinion of Scotland and the Scottish), and has given the UK a massive constitutional headache.

As David Cameron confronts the terrifying enemy that is Isis, he is trying to find a way of buying off the Scots without enraging the English.

Mel Gibson's ludicrous Braveheart proved very damaging to British unity. I await with trepidation the referendum movie. As the loveable, idealistic tartan-army of Justin Bieber fans are ridden down by David Cameron's brutal Old Etonian cavalry, will they be comforted by Salmond's cry that he hasn't gone away?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards