The Lamont Paradox


TOO many unanswered questions. Too much confusion, uncertainty. When, oh when is the SNP going to ‘come clean’ and provide us all with the facts we need to make an informed decision on independence?

Such, we are told, is the heartfelt plea of ‘the undecideds’ – that significant percentage of the poor, ignorant people of Scotland who would love nothing better than to walk hand in hand with Eck into the promised land of oil and honey … if only the shifty bugger would spell out exactly what was on offer.

As one previously unspecified aspect of the whole referendum process after the other has been designed and legislated for, these calls for clarity have not diminished, merely flitted onto the next huge question mark, and the next, and the next. The opposition in Holyrood regularly throw accusations of ‘conspiracy’ or ‘cover up’ and, even though mud of the poorest quality, some of it does eventually stick – at least in the eyes of a public scandalously ill-served by a brazenly one-sided media.

Among many other complex issues successfully negotiated by the Scottish government and its small band of hard-pressed civil servants over the last few months has been the legal basis for the referendum anchored in the Edinburgh Agreement, the adoption of every recommendation of the Electoral Commission (if only the opponents of independence would do likewise), legislation prepared to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote and now the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill containing a set date for the vote itself – all while the day-to-day business of government (including such small matters as steering another budget through Holyrood) has had to be conducted.

Each of these were in their turn described as vital, fundamental prerequisites for the referendum which the SNP government would fail to deliver timeously at their peril and in contempt of the Scottish people. Each now, of course, is dismissed as unimportant displacement activity to try to deflect attention from the ‘real’ issues such as … [add this week’s cause célèbre].

And still the calls for more clarity, more detail drone on. ‘The SNP have had 40 years to plan for independence – what has it been doing all that time?’ (a favourite refrain of the Gordon Brewers of this world). Next on the list of demands is that the White Paper spelling out a prospectus for independence be published immediately – a particularly disingenuous demand from a Scottish Labour Party which knows from experience in government that such whopping policy documents cannot be magicked out of thin air at short notice. But then, this is the party which wants every possible scenario spelled out and costed, every diplomatic, economic, social, political and constitutional crease ironed out and spread before the nation – all with no ministerial or civil service input as that would be diverting resources from dealing with people’s real concerns. And it wants it yesterday.

Nevertheless, slowly but surely, each dull procedural, legal and administrative duck lined up by the unionists and their acolytes in the media is being shot down and, slowly but surely, the attention now moves onto the interesting stuff. We go from the ‘how’ to the ‘why’. Yes Campaigners have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of this moment for some time, convinced that arguments of self-determination combined with the unchallengeable fundamentals of a sound Scottish economy – at least in theory – will at last reveal the paucity of the unionists’ case.

But perhaps it would be prudent to just pause for a moment. There is, I fear, a major conundrum to be faced before puffing out our chests and walking confidently towards the enemy’s guns, spiked though they may be. And the aforementioned Brewer’s latest assault on Nicola Sturgeon disguised as an interview (Newsnight Scotland, BBC 2, 21/3/13) shone a light on it.

In the course of his swivel-eyed harassment of the Deputy First Minister (could you imagine the same disrespect being shown to a senior member of the UK cabinet?), he demanded time and again to be told of a single SNP policy that would make Scotland either a) fairer or b) more prosperous than it is at the moment. When would the SNP start saving up its oil fund, what would be the level of corporation tax, how would it manage the welfare system differently from Westminster and how would it pay for it … etc, etc.? While admiring Sturgeon’s steely calm in the face of this spit-flecked aggression, you couldn’t nevertheless miss the fact that, first of all, her answers tended to be of the vague, aspirational sort, determinedly non-specific. (This, despite the fact that we know the SNP has policy ideas for an independent Scotland coming out of its ears.) Secondly, she seemed reluctant to point out the screamingly obvious nonsense at the heart of Brewer’s questions.

Brewer’s conflation of SNP policies with the strictly constitutional question of self-determination is, of course, done knowingly. He’s not daft. He just works for the BBC. And those of us who belong to no political party can and do regularly point out the difference between voting for independence and voting for Alex Salmond – a distinction which, depressingly, so often comes as a major revelation to folk. So, what’s to stop the Scottish government doing likewise? Because, had I been sitting in Sturgeon’s seat that night, I would have wasted no time in pointing out the difference between the two and telling Brewer to wind his neck in. But, as I said, she did not to nail him on this, preferring instead to accentuate the positive, touchy-feely stuff about Scottish values and how many new independent countries have been created since the last world war.

It is a reluctance that has vexed me for so long. I see an open goal – would somebody on the telly please take the shot?

But then I watched a clip of Johann Lamont from earlier in the day in the Holyrood chamber and slowly, shockingly the dreadful answer to my own question settled on me like the poisonous cloud of an eggy fart.

The independence movement, as we know, is a broad church. It includes people who, in any other context, wouldn’t be seen dead with each other. But for this overarching cause they will happily share community hall meetings, flag days and online chatrooms. Though mercifully free of paramilitary sorts (any of you out there just keep walking, nothing for you here … that’s it, move along) it does have a fair few conspiracy nuts. They range from those who see bias in every last punctuation mark of the Dundee Courier to those who fear an MI5 plot to rig the ballot and turn a ‘yes’ vote into a ‘no’. One only slightly less bonkers strain of paranoia holds that the performance of the unionist parties in Holyrood, particularly over the last two terms of SNP government, have been deliberately … how can I put it? Pish. The theory goes that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems, worried that the combination of a competent SNP administration and robust, intelligent scrutiny in the chamber by a lucid opposition might just persuade Scots that their parliament wasn’t half bad. That, you know, we might not be too stupid to run our own country after all.

And so, the X-Files box set owners would have us believe, we get lumbered with Lamont, Davidson and Rennie. We get Scottish Labour ditching the last vestiges of its core values, we have the Tories saying one thing one week and another the next, and we get the Lib Dems talking to themselves because they haven’t realised yet everyone else stopped listening three years ago. And we get all this because their London masters have commanded that it be so.

Let’s be honest, as conspiracy theories go, it’s not the worst. It certainly pops into my head whenever I get this reason for a plan to vote ‘no’: ‘That bunch of over-promoted cooncillors at Holyrood couldn’t run the tombola at a school fair. I’m not letting them loose with my taxes.’ But, of course, the real reasons for the sorry state of the opposition parties are many and far less exotic. The Tories have a dangerously small talent pool from which to pick their standard bearers in Scotland and the Lib Dems committed political suicide in 2010 – they just haven’t realised they’re dead yet. As for Labour, this really is the worry. Until the penny dropped the other night, I thought it was limited to just the betrayal of their principles as well as the graceless deportment, the inarticulate buffoonery of their front bench. But, paradoxiocal as it may seem, I now see in this shameless shadow of a once great political movement another threat to independence … well, the SNP in particular.

You see, the obvious answer to Brewer’s demands for cast iron commitments from the SNP for the first years of an independent Scotland – (and for the avoidance of doubt, here it is – that we are not voting in 2014 for the SNP, we are voting for the freedom to later and for evermore vote for a government of our choosing) – is an extremely hard one for an SNP politician to give. Why? Because, first of all, it’s a bit much to ask a party which has dreamed for its entire existence of what an independent Scotland could do to suddenly, with the dream’s reality at last in sight, go all collegiate and diffident, to subordinate its long-held policy specifics for fear they may be in some way counterproductive.

Secondly – and this is the kicker – because sitting in a TV studio as a member of a landslide administration, a government returned on a majority of the popular vote (the only one in the UK) it would be insane to start selling the policies of your deeply unpopular political opponents. That, I am afraid, is what emphasising the right of the Scottish people to choose another government post independence amounts to.

‘It would be presumptuous of me, Gordon, to tell you what the SNP would do in the first years of an independent country. The Scottish people will decide for themselves what government they want. It might well be a Labour one with its commitment to workfare and the end of universalism at the heart of the welfare state. Or Tory, with its commitment to workfare and the end of universalism at the heart of the welfare state. Or even a Liberal Democrat government with … oh well, I’m sure they’ll think of something.’

The Scottish people roundly rejected the policies of the other parties. Doing anything other than emphasising the progressive, social democratic approach which has served the SNP so well under Salmond’s leadership would be counter intuitive and surely too much to ask of the party. But it isn’t too much to ask of the wider independence movement.

This is the void the Yes Campaign needs to fill – and quickly. The phoney war is over. Just about every box in the administrative preamble to a legally binding, constitutional plebiscite has been ticked, the ‘t’s crossed and the ‘i’s dotted. Everyone knows now that we are about to start discussing what an independent Scotland really could and would look like. The SNP has its own vision – rightly separate from its aspiration for an independent nation per se. It is for the Yes Campaign to take the lead now, to sell the dream of independence, the opportunities and affordability of it, the freedom, sense of self-worth and sheer excitement of it. It can do this without being bullied by TV boors into delivering political hostages to fortune because in the context of the wider campaign such commitments are of no relevance.

We know the Yes Campaign is not a front for the SNP but it is time it started asserting that fact with much more vigour and aggression. Providing the SNP the space to make its own case for its own vision of an independent Scotland – free from the need to invent alternatives from the as yet fictional Scottish Labour or Conservative parties – seems to me like the ideal place to start.







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  1. steven luby says:

    And how would the Yes Campaign explain to the electorate that you can have whatever political party that stands at the 1st Scottish Election in 2016 you wish to have?
    Since when has it been the Yes Campaign’s responsibility to voice what a Scottish Conservative Manifesto would be in the run-up to this 2016 election,or any political partys manifesto?
    Sadly the media and political partys have been and will for some time make the the coming referendum a vote for or against the S.N.P.
    Perhaps the question should be asked of Labour,Conservative,Lib-Dems,’Will you have a party if Scotland votes yes,and if so,what will your policies be’?
    There is a long time before the campaign begins proper and if the 3 opposition partys have no policy beyond 2014,as they have now in Holyrood,just maybe these partys will have to get out of their little dream world and start taking the prospect of being in opposition for several terms past 2016.
    Its down to the opposition to create policies,no point in the S.N.P or anyone else for that matter throwing in their policies just to have the opposition and Scottish and U.K Media ripping it apart without giving ANY alternative.
    Its a waiting game and the opposition will soon be at each others throats as reality begins to sink in that they have been making such an arse of themselves and maybe a little time to grow up would be a good thing.

  2. Jim says:

    All interesting stuff.

    However, the ballot paper will require a Yes or No answer and in the run up to the referendum the Yes and No campaigns will take front stage and not the individual political parties.

    The media has yet to grasp this to a large degree whereas the unionist parties know it full well, thus their constant attacks on Alex Salmond and the SNP. They are happy with three unionist parties versus one nationalist one, but not at all comfortable with one Yes campaigner versus one No campaigner.

  3. Wullie says:

    Love the cartoon, a venomous Daphne Broon springs to mind.

  4. Albalha says:

    I didn’t watch the NS interview with Brewer but why not outline their differences in policy that already exist, eg attitudes to supporting carers’ at home and of course the Dundee SNP stance on the risible Bedroom Tax? (Now outlined at conference). Having worked in the media I’m inclined to think the SNP, in particular ,need to be more savvy about which interview requests they say YES to, which they turn down and which they treat as wider YES campaign requests, so giving non SNP YES folks a chance to speak.

    1. James Coleman says:

      ” think the SNP, in particular ,need to be more savvy about which interview requests they say YES to, which they turn down and which they treat as wider YES campaign requests,”

      I agree with that. Unfortunately politicians like to be in the limelight no matter if they are ripped apart.
      We need a strong TV performer in the YES camp and I vote Margo MacDonald. I saw her recently ripping the BBC presenter to bits. Why isn;t she helping: hasn’t she been asked?

    2. largslab says:

      Not sure what ypou mean by the Dundee stance on the bedroom tax. The SNP amended Labour’s motion on the “stance” to leave out Housing Association tenants, making it less comprehensive and weaker.

      And Labour in North Ayrshire proposed reclassification of rooms and a no eviction policy on 6th March, (before the SNP’s weaker motion in Dundee was passed). The SNP in North Ayrshire used Standing Orders to delay the Labour motion. Now they’re backing Alex Salmond, Standing Orders or not.

      So the difference that you want Nicola to expl;ain is that Labour was in first and that the SNP diluted Labour’s motion. Maybe that’s why she didn’t really want to explain it…..

      1. largslab says:

        Oh and the Dundee policy only lasts 1 year…

  5. Bill MacDiarmid says:

    I would go further and say that the TV and radio campaign team should have the final say on who represents the Yes side and perfect representative balance should be non -negotiable. All interviews should be direct and not in satellite studios.

  6. DougtheDug says:


    “And those of us who belong to no political party can and do regularly point out the difference between voting for independence and voting for Alex Salmond…had I been sitting in Sturgeon’s seat that night, I would have wasted no time in pointing out the difference between the two and telling Brewer to wind his neck in.”

    You are quite right. The referendum is not an election and it’s not about government policies because it’s not about electing a government. The policies of a future government in an independent Scotland will be determined after independence not at the referendum.

    However, and it’s a big however, if Nicola had dismissed Gordon Brewer’s questions about policy, if any member at the top of the party was to dismiss questions about policy in an independent Scotland as something for after the referendum then the media would have a field day. The resulting headlines in the press and on TV would run along the following lines.

    SNP have no policies for an independent Scotland.
    Salmond’s no policy vanity project.
    SNP working on back of a fag packet.
    SNP don’t have a clue why they want indy.

    Nicola may have wanted to tell Brewer to take a hike but that way lies a media bear trap which Brewer may very well have been trying to entice her into.

    1. Alex Gallagher says:

      Doug, The truth is the Nats have been squealing for “independence” for 80 years, but they haven’t a clue what it means beyond slogans, anti-Englishness and sentimental songs. Eck’s speech today proved that: two days after naming the referendum date he had nothing to say, beyond slagging off Labour, Tories and Westminster, about actual “independence” and why we need it and should vote for it.

      1. DougtheDug says:

        Enlighten us Alex and prove that you know what you’re talking about. Tell us what independence and being a sovereign state means for the UK.

  7. wanvote says:

    In my opinion, this piece would have carried more weight without the cartoon. There are satirists and joke merchants a-plenty on both sides of the debate.

  8. Macsenex says:

    The SNP has been creating innovative policies for years. These are being refined and will be publicised well before the Referendum but no doubt with a few nuggets and all budgeted for.

  9. Macart says:

    Whatever else happens, the SNP cannot be accused of ‘running’ the YES campaign. I had puzzled over Ms Sturgeon’s reluctance to slap Mr Brewer down, but your eggy fart analogy occurred to me also. How would it look to have the SNP tell the YES campaign what an independent Scotland should mean to them? In hindsight Ms Sturgeon boxed Brewer in quite well leaving him with nowhere to go except to become more offensive. However rude his attitude may have been, to react as naturally as the rest of us would have in that situation may have dealt the YES campaign a nasty blow. Nope, on sober reflection Ms Sturgeon did the right thing (although it still leaves my telly in a sad state of disrepair).

  10. Ronnie Heeps says:


  11. Angus McPhee says:

    Of course the paradox cuts both ways. Johann Lamont can hardly come out and say “You should vote against as you might end up with a Labour administration”

  12. Albalha says:

    The Lamont Paradox you say ……. today smarmy Dave C talks about the ‘something for nothing culture’ in his (there’s nothing new here but I want to steal a march on UKIP) migrant ramble. Never thought I’d be saying D Cameron steals line from the Labour leader in Scotland, always a first for everything ……….

  13. Barontorc says:

    The clock is ticking, the time to spell out what can be done by and for Scotland is shortening by the day. Every day is a lost opportunity if it does not build up to a climax and at the right time to keep it strong in the voters minds before the YES day.

    Given their out-of-the-park lead in these strategies – do you seriously think the independence parties who are formally gathered round the YES banner, will have missed this?

    I have long since stopped being concerned about the msm and the Curtis/BBC effect. For all their big guns, they cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!

    It doesn’t make me want to stop sounding-off in a rage however, that they think they should get away with the crap they try on!

  14. James Coleman says:

    The SNP and YES campaigners must not get manoeuvred into providing ideas and strategies too early in the phoney war because they will just be attacked non-stop by the NO-Men and Media. That is probably why Brewer is becoming upset. He has nothing solid to attack. We should sic Margo MacDonald onto him. She’ll sort him out good and proper. Let things drip out bit by bit. There’s a long way to go. And referenda (and elections) are usually won (or lost) in the last few weeks of campaigning; look at the polls in the run up to the Quebec and Scotland’s Devolution campaign. It was only in the final few weeks that a huge jump in the YES vote happened in both cases. So the SNP and YES campaign must be careful not to produce details of their ideas post Independence until very late in the campaign when there is not much the No-Men can do about it; as well as getting the final ideas into the voters minds at the crucial phase. And I am sure the YES people are well aware of all of that, as the SNP have been through a number of successful referenda campaigns.
    It is my view that the NO mob went into campaign mode far too early because they thought they could capitalise on the Great Brit Nat Fest last year. It didn’t happen for them. The NoMedia are now having to repeat their ridiculous scare stories ad infinitum, boring everyone; and going by the reducing numbers of comments BTL, also boring their supporters.

    1. largslab says:

      “The SNP and YES campaigners must not get manoeuvred into providing ideas and strategies too early in the phoney war ….. ”

      The SNP has been in businress for 80 years…. when would be appropriate for them to give the people of Scotland a clue what they’re up to

      1. thejourneyman says:

        I’m guessing you live in deepest Ayrshire but am also sure that you’ll be aware the SNP now form the government at Holyrood and are to be congratulated for delivering the referendum to our people of all political persuasion or none! Now, if you care to read some of the other posts you should find a consensus about the difference between voting YES at the referendum and voting for the SNP at the first election for our Government in an Independent Scotland. So if possible we would all like to hear what your views are for making Scotland a fairer and more just society after that election. Surely you are not telling us we can’t have a better country than the one the ConDems are currently giving us or the very similar one that Labour (Westminster) promises? Vote YES in 2014 and start to make our country better!

      2. largslab says:

        I only pointed out, in response to James, that The SNP has been in business for 80 years..

        and I asked when would be appropriate for them to give the people of Scotland a clue what they’re up to.

        I notice you haven’t addresed or answered. It’s only polite when asked a question to answer it before putting your own point. So If you answer my question satisfactorily, I’ll think about addressing your question to me.

        That’s fair, isn’t it?

        Of course James could also answer for himself….

      3. James Coleman says:

        The people of Scotland are very well aware of what the SNP is up to. They voted it into Holyrood with an overall majority at the last election. It appears that the only people who don’t have a clue about what is going on are Labour and other Unionist activists. And in the phraseology used by David Cameron and Alisdair Darling it is not the YES campaign’s job to do the NO campaign’s thinking for it.

  15. vinlmbe says:

    OK. The SNP stands for independence and in an Independent Scotland, they would get rid of WMD on the Clyde, promote free education and health care at the point of need and have an energy policy aimed at achieving world leading renewables targets to establish Scotland as Europe’s leading clean energy provider. Only this week they announced plans to put Child care reform at the centre of policy to enhance opportunities for more women and improve our economy.
    I have no gripe with any of these policies which, like you, I can vote for accordingly at the first election for an independent Scottish Government. Meantime the SNP are also committed to a people’s constitution after a YES vote at the referendum that get’s my vote all day long.
    Over to you then?

      1. Clydebuilt says:

        Keeping up a lie becomes harder the longer it has to be kept up……..for the Unionists Thursday 18th September, 2014 must seem like an awful long way away.

        1. Eric says:

          I met three reasonably well educated guys in the bar tonight. They work in the oil industry in Aberdeen. They had never heard of yes Scotland, better together or newsnetscotland ….
          They claimed to be PC literate… And ‘annoyed’ that there was not enough info to make a decision on independence!! They liked to watch news night etc etc,… All quite interested in politics… But said it totally confused them. (No surprise there)

          When I asked them what we needed to do to get the truth out… They said village town halls and road shows….

          They want to see ‘presentations and facts and figures,

          I think this is what we need to do…

          Independence roadshow… Campaign bus… Community meetings…

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