The question ‘What is Willie Rennie for?’ has troubled political philosophers for years. The question was raised again this weekend as the Liberals Democrats met in Glasgow. Rather than map-out the prospectus for recovery under the Union, Rennie chose to attempt to smear his opponents in a way that is becoming characteristic: petty, ill-informed and infused with a sort of bitterness and bile that is difficult to measure.
It was all quite confusing too.
Rennie has suggested that even raising the idea of difference will lead to a ‘dangerous rise in anti-English sentiment’. It’s like the opposite of unity-in-diversity. Previous efforts to shore up a British identity have focused on (slightly ridiculous) notions of partnership and ‘union’, a coming together of different peoples and nations for a higher, noble cause. Think Douglas Alexander channeling Gordon Brown’s Blue Labourism. But not for Willie. This is a sort of forced uniformity. Britain and Britishness as an absolute orthodoxy, from which any deviation or expression of difference is, somehow, an insult and a crisis.
He warned the SNP to ‘leave identity and values’ out of the debate. How do you leave values out of a political debate about your political future? Now I get that Rennie and his discredited colleagues have to undergo something of a Houdini-style escape routine as they struggle with the austerity straightjacket of their own coalition making – but can’t they leave the rest of us out of their mental contortionism?
You’ve got to love ever-faithful Hamish Macdonell, writing in The Times (this was the guy you might remember who reported last year’s packed-out Radical Independence Conference as a major blow to Alex Salmond):
“He chose his language carefully, aware that he was treading on sensitive ground (this is code for talking cobblers – Ed) but his message was clear – there is a danger of fuelling anti–English sentiment if the SNP continues to talk up divisions that don’t exist.”
Are you following?
It’s like a re-run of Ghost with a more confusing plot. Willie as a slightly less hunky Patrick Swayze.
My favourite passage of all though has to be: “To start talking about Scotland being under the cosh and undervalued by others may just stir up beliefs that Scotland should somehow be better. That’s what I think is dangerous.”
He actually said that. He is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland. He actually said that…