I’d the great pleasure of hearing Labour leader Ed Miliband speak at the weekend. I say “great pleasure” in the relative sense; compared, say, to having my nose amputated without anaesthetic.
Iain Gray, the party’s leader in Scotia, is one thing – feel free to add your choice of adjective as to what kind of thing. But – and this is going to sound incredible – he was better than his boss when it came to public speaking and showing a bit of personality. I’ll just read that last sentence back. Iain Gray, personality, better. There’s something odd about it, but I just can’t put my finger on it.
Ed is odd. A dweeb, doubtless, but a dweeb who hopes to lead this great nation of theirs – England and the Other Bits. All parties go through a period of unsuitable leaders before striking paydirt. Say what you like about Blair, he had the X-factor. Following that up with Broon was madness. And now this fellow. He comes across as the sort of man who has a budgie.
I bet if, as an investigative journalist, you had just cause to enter his lavatory, you’d find the sheets of loo roll numbered.
It just goes to show that you should never leave politics to political parties. Remember the Tories had Iain Duncan Smith? William Hague? No country in modern history has ever elected a bald person to office. Until David Steel’s legislation of 1968, bald people didn’t even have the right to vote. They had to sit up the back on public transport.
It was a form of apartheid (see what I did there; heid – oh forget it). That was what did for John Swinney when he was made leader of the SNP. Honest John, beloved by all, a good, decent man, even his political enemies would concede. But he just didn’t have that number one, leader, top banana thang.
No-one was more surprised at Iain Gray, known to the nation as Elmer Fudd, getting the leadership of Labour in Scotland. From day one, when he was an MSP back on yon Mound, I’d marked him out for his soporific qualities. He enters a boisterous, joyful social gathering and, immediately, it all goes quiet, the silence eventually broken only by a sudden sob.
But, when you look at who else might lead Labour, you have to laugh. Andy Kerr? Richard Baker? Wendy Alexander? Oh, I forgot, the last-named gave it a go.
I don’t think the Nats can rest easy either. Deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has one foot on the tiller, as it were, but I fear she lacks that instinct for the jugular. She’s sane and rational, which doesn’t help. And she’s a bit of a lawyer, too.
Ecksforth Salmond, the current leader, has it all – a bruiser with a brain – but must beware the pitfalls of hubris. In particular, he needs to avoid his gambler’s habit of predicting things: Scotland free by 2003; returned to power within the hour; I’m a little elf by 2012.
Michael Russell is statesmanlike and smart, possibly even the best speaker in Holyrood, but he’s suspected of being a bit of a trimmer, somewhat flexible with his principles.
I remember during the fox-hunting debate, Mike seemed happy to go along with most sensible people on the issue, until he remembered his constituency was full of red-coated nutters, and so he hesitated about a ban. It was only when he stood up to speak that we noticed he had a riding crop stuck up his arse.
And, as the Declaration of Arbroath makes clear, Scotland will never be ruled by a man “bearing ye appendages of the anus”.
Anyway, leadership isn’t a problem for the Nats at the moment. Between Ed at Westminster and Elmer at Holyrood, this is a double-whammy of goofiness.
Elmer put on a decent performance at the weekend – perhaps because he wasn’t spitting bile directly at Eck – but I stress the word “performance”. I believed he even moved his arm at one point, and doctors at the scene pronounced he was alive. But the content was the most shocking bilge, utterly devoid of ideas. I’d the misfortune of hearing several delegates speak beforehand.
Put it this way: it is never difficult to distinguish between Labour conference and an edition of Mastermind. Utterly clueless and, as you would expect, banging on with old insults about Ireland and Iceland. In a surprise development, nobody mentioned our similarly sized, oil-rich neighbour Norway, nor yet Denmark, Sweden, nor even, if you will, Switzerland (population 9 million) or – why not? – the Netherlands (population 16 million, bigger than us but much smaller than Britannia). For the Brit Nats, though, it’s all about being a big boy strutting about the world stage.
On the stage in Glasgow at the weekend, Ed strutted about like a pished gerbil with a gammy leg . In Nat circles, much has been made of the fact that he spoke largely about English matters and avoided talking about Scotland. Indeed, he seemed nervous about the whole thing, particularly when any mention of “nation” or “national” came up.
I made a note of this at the time, because I had a written copy of the speech (reluctantly provided, I have to say), and most of the departures from the text occurred at these points.
The written speech spoke of the Tories breaking apart the NHS, the verbal one added “in England”. Ed spoke of schools being axed, this time deleting “in England”. The written speech burbled about Labour “at a national level”. In the delivered speech, he missed that bit out.
The Conservative-led coalition, he said, threatened the living standards of “us all”, where the original text said “the whole country”.
I wasn’t intending textual analysis. The differences, particularly the last noted, don’t mean a great deal in themselves. It’s just that, every time he came to anything mentioning “national” or “country”, he seemed to panic, and changed what was otherwise a mostly verbatim delivery.
It hinted at discomfort, as if he’d been briefed beforehand: “Remember to be careful about the country, the nation, and so forth. Don’t want to upset the Scotch.”
Still, at least Ed’s appearance inadvertantly helped Labour’s cause in Scotlandshire: he made Iain Gray look good.