Watching Alistair Darling being interviewed by Sally Magnusson on Reporting Scotland this evening was revealing. Wearing his shiny new curmudgeonly expression and obviously itching to repeat his standard - and only - script on the perils of currency union, our Al clearly didn’t expect Sally to be so firm and to press so hard on some of his more questionable mantras. He certainly didn't anticipate her asking him what his vision for a future Scotland was should a majority of the country’s electorate actually choose to vote no. Momentarily fazed, Ali-D wittered for a second or two about young people but quickly realised he was in totally unscripted territory and moved to shift the discussion back to his chosen subject – oh go on, guess - yes, you got it – the currency. So that was it, that was the extent of the Better Together leader’s ambition and vision for the nation: simply to beat those in favour of independence then let the future take care of itself. Priceless.
In truth, he wasn’t much better when asked what currency he would prefer if Scotland - on gaining independence - couldn’t have the pound. He very evidently hadn’t given too much prior thought to his own question being turned on himself, so reverted to type and insisted we didn’t need to discuss this because we’re – yes – better together.
Actually, it’s becoming clearer with his every media appearance that Alistair isn’t too good with questions he either hasn't swotted up on or hasn't been tutored about to within an inch of his life. There were few memorable or unscripted moments during that excrutiating debate with Alex Salmond, but one that did stick out was the question from a woman in the audience who asked self-confessed proud Scot Al if he actually had an address in Scotland! Looking affronted, he insisted he did but quite understandably wasn’t about to offer up his postcode on national television. It’s an astonishing achievement though: he’s been a Scottish Labour MP for 27 years and has made such an impact here in that time that members of the public are able to seriously doubt whether he has any kind of home base north of the border. Which allows me to reprise the old - but sadly still relevant - joke about how many Scottish Labour MPs it takes to change a lighbulb? Answer: None – Scottish Labour MPs never changed anything. And that’s what Alistair’s all about: no change, no change whatsoever, and with a 27 year record of dogged delivery on this truly regressive political ambition, he’s not planning to lose his prime spot at the wrong end of the Poseidon any time soon.
But back to Al’s gaff in Scotland because, yes, he does have an address here. I happen to know this because it sits across the way from my place of employment. In fact it’s in one of the few streets of Edinburgh that still has some tarmacadam cover, a capital city whose roads increasingly have the appearance of a war zone, with IED size potholes everywhere surrounded by endless burst sandbags and overturned signs and barriers. Alistair’s street though, has an absolutely immaculate surface you could eat your tea off, a reflection perhaps on the priorities of a forelock-tugging local authority that recognizes that his wee but-and-ben stands at one end of the street whilst, at the other, a fair sized Morningside-style mansion stands and owned until relatively recently by that well-known Labour Party donor, JK Rowling. Yes, a classic Edinburgh Jekyll and Hyde situation: real imagination at one end and no imagination at the other. Or to put it in more sound-bitey, geographic terms, a literary wizard to the north and a financial muggle to the south.
As we move into the final five weeks of the referendum shuffle, however, and with his adopted cri-de-coeur now beginning to sound like a very broken record, Ali-D might well soon discover a compelling need to call upon his chum Jay-K to offer up a script containing material significantly more inspiring in nature than the increasingly grubby one he’s been reciting so far.
14 August 2014