Alex Salmond speaking in Hawick today – photo taken by myself
In the absence of BBC’s flagship political “debate” programme giving a voice to right-wing blowhards, I find myself short of things to write about. Today however, I found out the Scottish Cabinet were on tour in my hometown. This fact had not been well reported in local news outlets, perhaps due to the fact our region’s “local” news is based in Carlisle and focuses on Cumbria and Northumberland, was more than likely to pass the newscaster by.
Upon walking into my high school’s assembly hall, I was struck by how much of a publicity opportunity this event was for the Scottish cabinet. There were cameras as I was signing my name in attendance, cameras as I was entering the hall, and a row of photographers in each of the aisles. The stage was set in bright lights, a saltire in lit up on the blue background.
As is to be expected with politicians, the public meeting was scheduled to start at 12:45 and the cabinet did not take their seats until just before 1pm. A short introduction from the leader of Scottish Borders Council leader – David Parker – the wait for Alex Salmond’s appearance was over.
It has been well reported in the media that Salmond is an engaging speaker. Having never heard him speak publicly whilst I was in the audience before, I was certainly sceptical of this reputation. However, quickly it became clear just how Salmond is able to ingratiate himself into people’s hearts and minds. I am no great fan of the man himself but have no issue separating him from the independence debate (something I’ve seen many of the people who have already decided they’re voting no seem unable to do).
Salmond made an obvious attempt to appeal to the people of Hawick by quoting (but fatally mispronouncing) the title of our Common Riding song Teribus [Tear-ee-bus] with his eye on the final verse of the song which appeals to his cause:
Peace be thy portion, Hawick forever,
Thine arts, thy commerce flourish ever,
Down to the latest age they send it,
Hawick was ever independent
From this he made links to the fact next year’s independence referendum comes 500 years after the Battle of Hornshole which gave birth to the song quoted above. His final point was about Hawick’s supposed independence (even though our seat of local government is in Melrose) has never stopped ties being formed far and wide, and if this is true, why can’t that be expanded to Scotland?
Once Salmond had dispensed with this routine which slightly rang with insincerity, he then launched into the sort of speech you would expect: how an independent Scotland would fare in Europe and worldwide; attacked the self-titled Project Fear; and Scotland’s fundamental incompatibility with Westminster’s increasingly insular ideas.
He has already begun talking about the legacy of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games next year, promising that the region would not be forgotten about (in fact he’s already had a photo op with a group of Hawick, all male, children to highlight the opening of all-weather tennis courts in the town).
In a wise move for his audience, Salmond stayed away from the topic of the Borders Railway as from people I have spoken to locally it is largely useless to those who do not drive. For example, if I were travelling to Edinburgh, I would either be paying the £5 fare for a bus to Galashiels and then paying some extortionate rate to continue on to Edinburgh or continuing to use the bus service and pay one fare of around £7.
Salmond also made an attempt to appeal to the 5th and 6th year pupils who were in the audience, setting himself apart from “Daily Mail-esque comments” and congratulated the young people on their excellent results for another year. He also used Scotland’s young people as another stick to beat the union with, as the UK government has been opposed to an EU proposition to introduce a target for youth employment. In terms of EU membership, he also made the point that to change the UK’s relationship with Europe David Cameron cannot keep throwing his toys from the pram and threatening to leave. Change must come from within.
The whole focus of his speech was on independence and interdependence. Bringing Scotland its autonomy back and providing a voice which has been quietened to a whimper. An independent Scotland is on-par size and population wise with 12 current members of the EU. The interdependence with Europe was also made clear on a local level: the Border brewery has been funded by money from the European Union; in terms of export 170 jobs at Barrie Knitwear in the town were secured when the factory was bought by Chanel, who bought it because they had been using the products from Barrie for over a quarter of a century. He also debunked a good number of Project Fear/Better Together’s myths they have been busy perpetuating.
Whether you like the man or not, he puts forward a compelling case for Scotland’s independence. In a debate which so far has been full of hot air from both sides, it is hard to see where the truth lies – however if you take a step back from partisan politics you can see where Scotland and England are fundamentally incompatible politically. From my point of view things will only get worse – the men currently vying for control of Westminster are so hard to tell apart any man could be leading any of the three main parties, the tabloid media are so bloodthirsty for revenge that the brand of social justice the Yes campaign are aiming for cannot be possible in the current climate.
This post is one of two I will be writing from today’s public cabinet meeting which took place as part of the Scottish Government’s tour of Scotland. The next post will contain information from the question and answer session, followed by conversations I had with the cabinet members themselves.