I understand that, particularly in an election campaign, politicians have to talk up their own prospects and those of their party. I understand, also, that when talking up those prospects becomes risible, politicians will generally turn to talking down the prospects of their rivals.
Unfortunately for whatever threadbare remnants of credibility that Willie Rennie might have been clinging to, he has utterly failed to recognise that talking down the prospects for the SNP, in dumb disregard for all current polling evidence, is no less ridiculous than proclaiming a LibDem revival.
Not that Willie Rennie playing the political clown is an event sufficiently uncommon to be noteworthy. Nor should we expect perceptive political analysis from those party leaders who prefer to live in a bubble of sycophantic cheerleaders whose role is to shield their boss from disturbing reality. What is interesting here is, not Rennie’s comical antics, but what his comments regarding the SNP tell us about the attitude that prevails in the British parties in Scotland.
Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson have already conceded that the other British parties are fighting for second place. The extent of their ambition is to get to ask the first question at FMQ. Willie Rennie’s party is fighting for survival. The extent of his ambition is to keep his job. With no hope of influence, or even relevance, the LibDems are hoping only to retain a token presence at Holyrood. Try talking up those prospects!
What is notable is the fact that none of the British parties are competing with the SNP in terms of ideas. They are not out to beat the SNP. They have given up on any notion of defeating the SNP. They are making no effort to rise to the challenge posed by the SNP. At best, they are content to wait on the SNP tripping up in some significant way. At worst, the British parties are intent on bringing the SNP down to a level at which they might be able to compete.
As we have seen, they will gladly resort to whatever deceit, distortion, dishonesty and defamation serves their petty purpose. And do so with no regard whatever for the damage that might be done in the process to Scotland’s reputation or her institutions, society and economy.
In the context of British politics, it is a truism that challengers don’t win elections, incumbents lose them. But Scotland’s politics is different. It has been changed by the rise of the Yes movement. Changed in very significant ways. The British parties in Scotland proceed as if they are oblivious to this change. They continue to conduct themselves as if there was nothing distinctive about Scotland’s political culture. They behave as if they are entirely and solely geared to fighting Westminster elections, in which it is necessary to do no more than be marginally less corrupt and incompetent than your opponent.
People in Scotland have come to expect more. They are more demanding. They are not content to simply settle for the least awful. They insist on a genuine alternative. They are engaged. They are involved. They are participants in a political discourse which is as far removed for the utterances of Willie Rennie and Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson as the speeches of Jimmy Reid are from the chatter of monkeys.
Not a day passes without the British parties proving that, however bad they paint the SNP, they are not fit to replace them. They are not even fit for opposition, far less government. Increasingly, they not fit for Scottish politics. Our electoral system pretty much guarantees the British parties representation in our parliament. We are entitled to wonder how much longer they might be either worthy or relevant.Views: 2544