|The British state - no pussy-cat!|
I do not inhabit the political bubble. I am not "in the loop". Unlike Euan McColm, I don't get calls from spin doctors eager to influence my opinion. And that suits me just fine. I am perfectly comfortable with being a mere political anorak. I am quite content that my perspective may be more attuned to that of "ordinary voters" than is possible for those tainted by constant contact with the elites of politics and the media. And if that perspective is any guide then those ordinary voters are pretty disgusted by what they are seeing. The British state is on the defensive. The claws are out. And things are starting to get really dirty.
Alex Salmond has long been something of a hate figure for the British establishment. The more so since they have been obliged to at least pay lip service to dealing with him on equal terms, only to find that this master of the political arts is more than a match for them. In various ways, from the SNP's election victory in 2007, through the proving years of that first minority administration, to the 2011 election landslide and lately culminating in the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, Salmond has bested the best that the British state could send into the fray against him. The British state does not take such slights to its imperious pretensions lightly.
In the past, a "nuisance" such as Salmond would have been harassed then jailed and, as a last resort, unceremoniously assassinated. We live in different times. Harassment, imprisonment and murder are no longer the order of the day. But while the weapons may have changed, the attitudes most certainly haven't. The British state is still as jealously protective of its power, privilege and patronage as it ever was. And as bitterly vindictive towards those who challenge it as the constraints of modern society will permit.
This past week has seen one of the most vicious and concerted attacks on Alex Salmond that we have witnessed to date. With the help of a constant media barrage of propaganda, the British political parties have managed to generate in susceptible minds an impression of incompetence, confusion and even dishonesty in the SNP leadership. In salvo after salvo the same distortions and downright lies have been rained down on anybody who is still listening to the BBC or reading the nation's newspapers. At Holyrood, the likes of Lamont and Davidson have sought, somewhat feebly it must be said, to do their bit for the British state, descending to some borderline unparliamentary conduct in the process. The onslaught has been relentless.
It is not uncommon in such a fevered atmosphere for people who should know better to get caught up in the mentality of the Angry Villagers, losing sight of the facts and recourse to their critical faculties in the process. Thus, the frenzy tends to become self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing as it infects even some of the less irrational and prejudiced minds among us.
Euan McColm might well be flattered to be cited as an example in this context. His opinion piece in today's Scotland on Sunday (Salmond both a formidable asset and the greatest challenge to Yes cause) pretty much encapsulates the current smear campaign against Alex Salmond. First, there is the acknowledgement of Salmond's abilities as a political operator in the hopes of establishing some kind of credentials as an "honest broker". That pretence doesn't last long as McColm almost immediately seeks to portray Salmond's political abilities as some kind of personal flaw with the claim that he has "carefully absented himself from tricky political debate". It seems that it's OK for Salmond to be a clever politician just as long as he doesn't do the things a clever politician would do.
And all the other elements of the smear campaign are in there. Many of the more astute commentators are rather backing off from explicit allegations that Salmond lied in that interview with Andrew Neil now that it has been subject to more thorough analysis than journalists are generally capable of or willing to attempt. But it is too juicy a morsel to let go of, so it has to get another mention before the fact that the accusation has been totally discredited becomes general knowledge. Likewise the malicious myths based on misrepresentation of the ministerial code - knowingly or through ignorance - and dumbly unquestioning belief in the moral rectitude of Catherine Stihler's vexatious Freedom of Information request.
Then there is the dismissal of the investigation into the allegations against Salmond and the impugning of the integrity of those assigned the task of conducting that investigation. This is necessary, of course, as it is all but certain Salmond will be cleared, as he has been on no fewer than five previous occasions, because the charges against him are unfounded. Basically, the British nationalists have demanded an inquiry while simultaneously declaring that they will not accept the results of that inquiry unless there is the guilty verdict that they crave. That, folks, is the British sense of fair play.
And the propaganda effort would not be complete without an attempt, however contrived and feeble, to link Salmond's political fortunes to the success or otherwise of the Yes Scotland campaign. All pretty standard stuff. And not particularly cleverly executed. So why did McColm's article attract my attention?
The article starts by harking back to 2004 and the launch of Salmond's campaign to become party leader again. At the time I was not a member of the SNP, although I was an ardent supporter of Scottish independence - as I have been quite literally all of my life. I didn't like Alex Salmond. And I was far from alone in that. Although I recognised his skill as an orator and his superiority when it came to debate, I was nonetheless seriously dubious about his ability to unite the party behind him and avoid alienating people with what I suspected was a rather abrasively arrogant manner. I was also concerned by the fact that he never seemed ready to be content to simply win a debate, he always gave the impression of wanting to utterly crush and humiliate his opponents. In short, I was not convinced that he had the necessary qualities of a party leader and, by extension, that he could not be convincing as a potential national leader.
I was wrong.
To be more accurate, I was to become wrong. I'm pretty sure my assessment of Salmond was fairly near the mark at the time that I reached my conclusions about him. But he changed. He changed quite dramatically.
I'm not entirely sure when this transformation occurred. As said at the start, I don't move in those circles. It seems likely that the effort to remodel himself started prior to his running for leader in 2004. But I know that it became quite startlingly apparent early in the campaign for the 2007 election. I knew then that we were looking at a future First Minister and the man who would deliver a referendum on independence. Perhaps even the ultimate prize.
I knew I was looking at a man who had changed himself in very significant ways. Something that, in itself, is no mean feat and greatly to be admired. But it was more than that. This was a man who had taken his personal weaknesses and hammered them into political strengths. He did not seek to discard or disguise his arrogance, as a lesser man might have done. Instead, he moulded that arrogance into a powerful aura of resolute confidence that inspired all around him and conveyed to the electorate.
Aware of his flaws, Salmond surrounded himself with people well able to mediate and keep him in check. Like any leader worthy of the name, he delegated to others realising that their strengths would compensate for his weaknesses. And it was his arrogance that allowed him to do this. Secure in his supreme self-confidence, he had no fear of bringing into his inner circle the kind of people a less assure individual would have regarded as a threat.
He was the man for the job.
And he still is. That is why the British establishment is so determined to get rid of him
I am not naive. I harbour no romantic notions about politicians. I do not imagine they should, or could be some kind of superior creatures not subject to the same sort of folly and failings that the rest of us fall prey to. I accept that they are just human beings. Then I judge them on how effectively they do their job. How well they are fitted to the role that they fill. I accept that some of those qualities that we might find unappealing or even reprehensible in another context may actually be desirable or even essential in our political leaders - so long as they know where to draw that all important line. And I'm pretty sure that's how most people look at it.
I'm pretty sure people are not going to be swayed by the vicious smears and contorted calumnies perpetrated by servants of the British state. I'm pretty sure they will trust their own judgement rather than the pronouncements of the blatantly prejudiced. I'm pretty sure they see in Salmond a man who knows where that line is.
I'm pretty sure people look at Alex Salmond and they see someone who is far from perfect as a man, but bloody effective as a political leader. I'm pretty sure they look at Alex Salmond and they say, as we tend to here in Scotland, he'll dae.