7 October 2013

The Man Who Saved Britain

The official line seems to be that Alistair Carmichael will "bring a different, more combative" approach to the role of Secretary of State for Scotland.  For Jamie Maxwell in the New Statesman, today's Westminster reshuffle is a tactical blunder. Michael Moore, Jamie argues, represented a cool and courteous Unionism which posed tactical problems for SNP belligerents.  How to paint this lugubrious, labrador Borderer as some sort of high-handed Tory functionary? Jamie argues:

"Moore’s sacking is a classic Westminster misreading of the Scottish situation. London is obsessed with the idea that a big hitter” is needed to "take on" Salmond. Yet quite apart from the fact that Carmichael is hardly a "big hitter", the First Minister relishes (and has a habit of winning) confrontations that allow him to pit plucky, populist Holyrood against the big, clunking fist of Whitehall. Moore was a formidable opponent because his measured, moderate unionism was difficult for the nationalists to deal with. For no good reason at all, the no campaign has just dumped one of its strongest cards."

I'm not so sure. First the cheap political point: I'm not convinced that Moore, whatever outbursts of measure or moderation characterised his tenure in Dover House, really impinged on the public consciousness one way or the other. By my reckoning, Alex Massie sounds a clearer note over at the Spectator:

"Alistair Carmichael will, we are told, bring a more combative approach to the Scotland Office. Well, we shall see. But he is still a Scottish Liberal Democrat. They don’t do Rottweiler. His promotion, I fancy, owes much to Nick Clegg’s desire to reward Carmichael’s years of service in the thankless task of persuading Lib Dem backbenchers to vote in favour of policies pursued by a government formed, in part, by the Liberal Democrats. This has been harder than you might think and tougher than it should have been."

Without any particular animus agin the fellow, I struggle to see the new Scottish Secretary as a credible crusader for the Union Jack. Very moderately brasher than Moore he might be, but Macolm Tucker he ain't. Carmichael has always had something of the burst couch about him. He's comfortable but unfashionable knitwear, good for kicking about the house, but hardly stuff to swank in. The well-worn leather shoe on the foot of an Argyllshire auldwife who makes rare tablet and scones which rise. Hedge-trimmer, not hatchet man, like a Blue Peter presenter who has reached a thickening middle age and now discusses how to trim peonies on Gardener's World

You can imagine him gossiping in the church hall in Kirkwall and enjoying droll exchanges with the minister as they both - with feigned guilt - scoff a fourth fairy cake rustled up by some diligent parishioner.  In the local hotel pub, you can see him giggling girlishly as he orders a second dram for the road. Oh, I am awful. Slurp. In the movie version of the independence referendum, he'd be played by Christopher Biggins.

On the other hand, Jamie makes one critical point. Whether or not Carmichael emerges from central casting as a credible liberal unionist bruiser, the improbable way his appointment has been characterised has stitched his motley for him, and tells us at least something about the Scottish sensitivities at the heart of the Westminster government. Ta very much for all the independence referendum donkey work Michael. Bully for you. Now for a bully to give those perfidious Nats what's what.  Whether or not Carmichael measures up for the role: that's the one being pushed.

It beggars belief that any sane soul believes that the constitutional debate needs a yet more confrontational approach from the anti-independence side. And yet there the proposition sits, unabashed. I wish Mr Carmichael well in the role, I hope Mr Moore isn't smarting too sorely from his embarrassment today.  I would commend one lesson to the Secretary of State, however, as he dons villain's greasepaint and practices sounding robust.

The problem with a scorched earth strategy is that, eventually, you run out of things to torch.


  1. Or the Union Jacksy as we like to say.....

  2. Maybe, when Carmichael doesn't try to bruise, we can conclude that Scottish-UK government relationships are smoother and quieter than they are generally portrayed.

    1. "I believe sir ordered a snowball's chance in hell?"