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Tuesday 3 December

Black Friday, indeed.

This should have been the White Paper’s week, but the scenes in Glasgow on Friday night have rightly over-shadowed it and claimed first place in people’s thoughts.  All those of us with sons and daughters -indeed any family members - who go out to enjoy themselves on Friday nights in any of Scotland’s pubs and clubs after a week’s work, shuddered.

In yesterday’s Scotsman, Secretary Carmichael added his praise for the operation carried out by the rescue services – The rescue and recovery operation has been done with all the professionalism that we could possibly have hoped for…on all counts, the response has been absolutely magnificent. The job they are doing is not an easy one and I hope and believe people in the city will give them the space to do their job.”  

Mr Carmichael also spoke of the reaction of the people of Glasgow - “I also want to reflect on the tremendous public response that there has been in Glasgow,” he said. “I’m wearing a badge which says, ‘People Make Glasgow’, and if you have to have a badge that sums up the response to what happened late on Friday night, you couldn’t improve on that.  Glasgow is no stranger to tragedy, we’ve seen that over the years. But the response of the people of the city has spoken volumes about their strength as a community and their courage and character.”

The best tribute to the people of Glasgow appeared in yesterday’s Telegraph,  where Alan Cochrane  admitted he was humbled by what he saw and heard -  “What I found incredible…was the stoicism and matter of fact manner in which Glaswegians — the “Weegies” of popular parlance — described what they’d endured. Television viewers and radio listeners saw and heard no self-pity, no hysterics or histrionics, merely an incredibly articulate and generally low-key description of what they’d been through.

They weren’t looking for sympathy. Someone had asked them what had happened to them and they answered frankly, lucidly, in most cases grammatically and, being Glasgow, even, at times, with a touch of humour. It was as if the television cameras and reporters’ notebooks weren’t there. There was none of the mawkish sentimentality that we often get in such circumstances”.



So here it is…was it worth the wait?

To few fanfares, and even less razzamatazz, the long-awaited White Paper [a 14+MB download] emerged on Tuesday. So popular, the first 20,000 copies were snapped up in days and a reprint ordered. [that’s a lot of wonky table legs – ed].

You will, of course, be reading all 670 pages in the lull between Christmas and Hogmanay, but meanwhile, the BBC helps out with a précis. It got a pasting in the press, with everyone from the Spanish Prime Minister to our own ex-PM John Major rushing to say why none of the propositions it contains would work or be acceptable.  Who said what?  BBC to the rescue again with potted reactions from the great and the good.

As Iain McWhirter in the Sunday Herald pointed out, it was the Canadian Governor of the Bank of England who calmly said he would welcome negotiations with an independent Scotland over remaining in the sterling zone. Mr Carney’s intervention was also welcomed by David Hume Institute director Jeremy Peat in yesterday’s Herald.  McWhirter fears that most Scots have now come to believe that we would not be allowed to keep the pound or be a member of the EU, when there is a wealth of evidence that we will. Nonetheless, he maintains, “the White Paper and its media aftermath has failed to budge Scottish politics from the scare agenda. For all its detail and clarity, it has not convinced sceptical Scots that the independence policy of the Scottish Government is a sound one”.

Kevin McKenna in the Observer was kinder – “the fabled white paper itself was a reasonable and fact-based dissertation of what an independent Scotland might look like…yet last week will not come to be defined by this document but by the reaction that accompanied it. For this was the first time that all the spiritual emptiness and intellectual paucity of the Better Together campaign was laid bare for the entire nation to see. Admittedly, the Better Together campaign has been dismal from the outset, characterised by claims that are simply unhinged.”  McKenna went  on to make the same points as McWhirter – that rUK cannot afford not to have Scotland in the sterling zone – both Carney and Darling understand that fine well, he says - and that the Spanish PM has his own axe to grind.

Elsewhere the Sunday Herald carried a piece on the White Paper from the FM himself , and a vox pop – this latter readable only if you’re really interested in the other man in the street…

Lesley Riddoch in yesterday’s Scotsman queried the lack of debate over the childcare proposals -

“Every other major part of the white paper offer has been subject to seemingly endless scrutiny. After decades campaigning for overstressed mums and under-engaged toddlers you’d think child welfare charities, academics and women’s organisations would be ecstatic. You’d think a policy advanced explicitly in terms of economic benefit might excite comment from money experts and think tanks. And since better childcare is now linked to a Yes vote, political commentators might even opine about its likely impact on the independence gender gap (women are currently 15-22 per cent less likely to plan a Yes vote). But all these normally outspoken parts of civic society have been virtually silent. What’s going on?”

Ian Jack in Friday’s Guardian took a generally sympathetic look at the question of multiple identities and immigration raised in the White Paper – a change from the usual passport canard. 

The “Living Autopsy”

A gladiatorial contest between Nicola Surgeon and Alistair Carmichael took place on Wednesday’s Scotland Tonight. Here’s the video if you missed it. Afterwards political analysts Colin Mackay and Bernard Ponsonby gave their views on the contest – Sturgeon the winner by a long way. To this impartial observer it looked like wiping the floor.  Remember, she was credited with a slow termination of the career of Michael Moore when they met earlier in the year.

This was how Fraser Nelson’s began his must read column in Friday’s Telegraph -  “It was way after the watershed but there was still something indecent about the way Scottish Television broadcast coverage of a man being eaten alive on Wednesday night. It was supposed to be a debate, between Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Carmichael, the Scotland Secretary. Instead, viewers saw a genteel Liberal Democrat being disembowelled by a ferocious and merciless nationalist … this gruesome spectacle was only beamed into Scottish households – a shame, because David Cameron really ought to have seen it. It would have shown just how much trouble the Union is in.”

"A potentially ruinous hurricane"…

For the Unionists, Nelson has a more serious point to make – that Downing Street has to trust the running to the Liberals because it has no Tory MPs other than David Mundell, and they are not good at referendums, and Better Together, Darling excepted, is being run by Scottish Labour who were comprehensively bested by Alex Salmond in 2011 – unofficially, the mood is bleak. Some of the Prime Minister’s chief strategists now argue that the battle is lost and that a Yes vote is not only possible but probable”. After pulling the White Paper’s main arguments to pieces, Nelson ends “The case for the Union is far stronger than that for separation – but that won’t matter, if it cannot be articulated with the requisite passion and force. The coming referendum is not about the Barnett Formula, or dividing oil wealth. It’s about saving the most extraordinary country ever created, whose joint intellectual and military endeavours exported the modern notion of freedom and won two world wars. Unless David Cameron’s Government can get this point across, there is a horribly large chance that he will be the last British prime minister”. 

There’s also a mild note of panic in Adam Boulton’s piece in the Sunday Times (£), urging Cameron to get over the same ‘lazy assumption’ that we’ll vote No by default and consider the consequences of a Yes vote. “Focus on the botheration…if Cameron loses Scotland next year, all calculations for the 2015 general election will be void…  a potentially ruinous hurricane is on the horizon, and we don’t want to talk about it…”

In last week’s Scottish Review, the pseudonymous Denis Park looked at the ramifications for the international status and defence policies of rUK if we vote Yes. Why is David Cameron so unwilling to debate with Salmond? Park says it could be because such a debate could reveal the slender thread which supports Britain's international status and the domestic political impact of a Yes vote?” He quotes the interview Denis Healey gave Holyrood Magazine in which the former Labour politician said – I think there are a lot of problems connected with it that haven't been faced up to, either by Salmond or by the British and they are mainly to do with oil and the income it provides and yes, I think they [Westminster politicians] are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it.”

Yet a third warning note from Simon Jenkins in Wednesday’s Guardian– “the English would be well-advised to stop lecturing the Scots and silence the claque of Scots expatriate scaremongers clearly appalled at becoming foreigners in their adopted land. Humility all round is urgently needed…Salmond has put on the agenda a new dispensation between London and the "national" capitals of the UK, Northern Irish and Welsh as well as Scottish. Only the arrogance of London's political community finds such a prospect intolerable. That arrogance lost one British Empire. It may yet lose another.”

Interesting viewpoint on the post -White Paper Holyrood debate from Adam Ramsay in Click on Wales.  Some points that are batted around are specious, he maintains, but Mr Ramsay once spent four years as a volunteer in the Parliament and has some good things to say about the tenure of Holyrood. “It’s nice to be reminded that politics doesn’t have to be like it is at Westminster. Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie included in his speech a plea for the debate to be conducted in a civilised way, in the spirit of friendship. Coming up from the South East of England, my overwhelming sense is this: the politicians threw insults and blame at each other, not at the poor or the vulnerable. They argued over how to make the country better for everyone, not just the super-rich. They are frustrating, and lots of them are wrong. But they aren’t nasty or corrupt. This is a world away from Westminster”.

From the sublime….this is Harry Mount in the Sunday Times News Review (£) and this is Robert Shrimsley in Thursday’s FT. We forbear to comment



Wrap up warm…

We’ve all got to pay energy bills. The Mail on Sunday went into hyper-drive over the coming week’s ‘freeze’, and the prospect, says the Daily Express, of worse to come before it gets better, so even that extra layer may not be enough to ward off the gas bill. Ben Brogan in his Telegraph blog last Friday looked at the government’s answer to Labour’s price-freeze promise – just asking the Big Six to be nice to us and keep the bills down. He speculates that the government’s part of the bargain – removing some of the Prime Minister’s green c**p – will feature in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement later this week. All very well, says Brogan, but will they buy it – and what about the one they say they can’t control, wholesale prices?  It will be freighted with risk”, he says “as it will merely defer price movements that would otherwise happen naturally; third, and for my money this is the trickiest bit, it smacks of political short-termism mixed with panic”.  On Friday Ed Miliband launched the opposition’s Green Energy Paper in Manchester. Long term energy security v. short-term political favour from either party?  Place your bets…

The Mail on Sunday , the Guardian (probably the most informative) and Saturday’s Telegraph both had details of Mr Osborne’s package - £50 off bills and £1,000 towards insulation for homes that need it.  Ben Webster  reported in yesterday’s Times (£) that families are wasting hundreds of pounds a year on energy because the government’s programme of insulating lofts has slowed down in 2013. Yesterday’s Telegraph leader accused the Chancellor of robbing Peter to pay Paul in moving the subsidies from our bills into general taxation. The FT’s editorial yesterday blamed EU targets, and worried that those set next March for 2030 will repeat mistakes already made.

But if the energy companies will be reducing their prices in a matter of days as a result it’ll be welcome. Every little helps.  Just in time for the Baltic temperatures and snow coming on Thursday …



And finally, because it’s been a traumatic week…

Rocking around the Christmas tree…

1. David Leask in Saturday’s Herald told us of a view of the First Minister that we never thought we’d see – and most of us still hope not to.  In recognition of his services to referendums and independence, the Catalans have rewarded him with the highest honour [they assure us] by ‘immortalising’ him as a ‘caganer’ – a traditional Christmas decoration in north east Spain.

“The doll”, writes Mr Leask, “captures Mr Salmond's front profile, however if you turn the figure round you get sight of the politician with his trousers down and doing, bluntly, what the Catalan name suggests”. And should FM have any doubts, he’s in good company alongside the Catalan PM, the Pope, the Queen and Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta.  We should be grateful perhaps that the Herald is too bashful to print a picture…

2.  The Daily Record has provided us with the subsidised (that’s us) Christmas dinner to be enjoyed by MSPs at the ‘posh’ Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen.  As the paper says, this is not just food…