Wednesday, 30 January 2013
THE INAUGURAL JIMMY REID FOUNDATION LECTURE JANUARY 29TH 2013
The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s inaugural lecture was delivered by Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond last night in Govan Old Parish Church. Delivered in the shadows of the Upper Clyde Shipyard the lecture was the first in what organisers hope will be an annual event aiming to ‘promote fresh thinking from a left perspective’. The First Minister took as his theme ‘the opportunities Independence will bring’.
After paying generous tribute to Jimmy Reid the SNP leader spent most of his 40 minutes defending the record of his Government insisting that whatever failings it might have made these last 6 years were down to a shortage of powers at Holyrood. The speech to be honest was not one of his best. Always guarded, it sounded like an SNP Party Election Broadcast. The loudest applause of the night came when he mentioned the abolition of NHS prescription charges and re-iterated his commitment to the principle of care free at the point of need. A bigger man would have acknowledged, particularly on an evening such as this, the role the Scottish Socialist Party played in bringing forwarded that Bill in the first place. Unfortunately it was an uninspiring speech that not only lacked vision it was a master class in how to speak for 40 minutes and say nothing.
The short question and answer session that followed barely improved things with Salmond offering often incoherent and evasive answers to queries about how women might benefit from Independence, the kind of tax regime he would have and how scientific progress might be advanced.
The evening did remind us however what a consummate politician Salmond is as he danced around questions on privatisation, anti-union laws and the monarchy. ‘Rocks will melt under the sun’ he insisted ‘before I allow Scottish Water to be privatised’ to rare applause. But he noticeably gave no such assurances about returning the energy supply industry to public hands despite its control of our other natural resources and forcing 40% of households into fuel poverty. His Governments record on fuel poverty is poor and yet this issue is the populations number one concern.
And the novice listener might have fallen into another ‘Salmondesque’ trap when he referred to the renewable energy sector. ‘We gave away the wind power industry this country invented!’ he told us. Could he be inferring that he will take it back and advocate return the gas and electricity industry privatised by Thatcher to public hands I thought? No, not Salmond. He remains steadfastly right of centre on industrial and economic policies. It’s just the way he makes you think he is saying one thing when in fact he supports its opposite.
And he used the ‘lets fool the gullible’ trick a second time when answering a question on anti-trade union laws. ‘There is no mood for anti-union laws’ in Scotland he stated. But listening carefully you realised he did not propose to repeal the worst anti-union laws in Europe under Independence he was only ruling out plans to introduce any more! Given that even the Tories see no need to enhance these punitive restrictions, Salmonds position is no different from there’s.
And the ‘Tartan Tory’ was in evidence again with the answer he gave the final question of the night on why we need the Queen as Head of State in an Independent Scotland. His less than democratic reply was to say, rather unpersuasively, that ‘we need to carry people with us on this’. In other words the divine right of Kings, their hereditary privileges, medieval class relations and un-elected Heads of State will remain in an Independent Scotland under Alex Salmond. Not much sign of fresh thinking there, or indeed all night, from a rather tired sounding First Minister. After a good nights sleep he might like to reflect on whether such answers might help explain why the polls continue to show the ‘Yes’ side lagging behind.
Jimmy Reid, I’m sure, would have spotted the dialectical contradiction in the First Ministers strategy on Independence. On the one hand he talks about the ‘fundamental change’ Independence represents and the new powers it must bring and yet on the other this ‘fundamental change’ means keeping the Queen, staying within NATO, keeping the pound, maintaining the same corporate stranglehold over our economy and retaining the same anti-union laws which so damages Scottish society. Independence under Alex Salmond suggests ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ and its not persuasive.