Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Alex Salmond’

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th April, 2020

Should Auld Acquaintance Be ForgotReferendums are famously divisive, as Britain discovered in 2016 when the UK’s continued membership of the EU was put to a public vote. The Scots could be forgiven for being cynical about all the angst south of the border, not just because they had voted decisively to Remain but also because they had had their own referendum two years earlier regarding Scottish Independence. On that occasion people living in Scotland declined to break away from a Union that had lasted three centuries by a margin of 55:45. But it is not just the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) — which has the lion’s share of Scottish MPs at Westminster, thanks to the UK Parliament’s distorting first-past-the-post electoral system — which is now asking whether a new independence referendum would deliver a different result. Not that one is likely any time soon. This is the context for journalist and author John Lloyd’s new book Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Polity, £20), which argues that Scots are better off within the UK. Mr Lloyd was a self-confessed reluctant Remainer in the EU Referendum, but his heart is much more engaged in our islands’ Union. And he believes Britain could learn a lot from the experience in Canada with regard to Quebec separatism. His arguments are various, and not least economic (as one might expect from the Contributing Editor for the Financial Times). The Nationalists long maintained that North Sea oil should be Scotland’s saviour, but that oil is no longer as plentiful as it was, and the price of crude is a fraction of what it was at the height of the boom. Moreover, while Scotland does rather well out of the financial settlement known as the Barnett Formula, that subsidy from central government would doubtless evaporate on independence.

John LloydLike many Englishmen with no roots in Scotland, but a deep affection for the country, I have always thought that the Union is preferable than a break-up of the United Kingdom, but that really it is for the people of Scotland to decide. Mr Lloyd argues that the rest of the UK should have a vote in any future referendum, though I suspect that might actually swing the result towards independence on the “If they want to leave, let ’em” principle. The SNP does not have an entirely unblemished reputation for governing the devolved nation — Lloyd rightly castigates them over a decline in school education, for example — but it has to be admitted that the party has been fortunate in having had two charismatic leaders in Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon (the former’s reputation somewhat restored since his recent acquittal on all sexual misdemeanour charges). A few months ago in the Scottish Parliament I witnessed Ms Sturgeon handling First Minister’s question with considerable aplomb. Not that politics is the only factor in Scottish nationalism. A growing sense of national and cultural identity and pride has been noticeable for several decades. Paradoxically, for me the most enjoyable parts of John Lloyd’s book are where he discusses the non-political aspects, from memories of his childhood in East Fife to a very lengthy and fascinating (if tangential) section on Scottish literature, in both Scots and English, from the anglophobe poet Hugh MacDiarmid to novelists as varied as John Buchan, Alexander McCall Smith and Val McDermid. Yes, there are vibrant Scots voices — a myriad of them — that are completely different from English ones. The only question is whether they will flourish better within the Union or on their own.

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Grilling Vince Cable

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th January, 2018

Vince Cable David SelvesSir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, this lunchtime faced a grilling at the London Grill Club, a group of journalists, broadcasters and businessmen who meet on a regular basis to put probing questions to prominent figures in British life. Other recent invitees have included Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Chuka Umunna. Vince dismissed a perhaps predictable early question about his age, arguing that age is just a number and that one is as old as one feels, before moving on to the more solid matter of the state of Britain’s democracy. This he described as being in serious trouble — dysfunctional, in a word. Theresa May appears to be increasingly weakened and there are renewed rumours of a plot among Tory MPs and even Cabinet Ministers to oust her, but Vince thought it unlikely that there would be a general election this year, reminding us of the five-year fixed term under the Parliament Act, unless there is a sufficient majority of MPs voting for it in the House of Commons — something the Conservatives would be unlikely to support. Besides, the government is totally bound up with Brexit, even it seems unable to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Vince refuted a charge from one person present that it was denying democracy to call for a “second referendum” on Brexit, arguing that this would in fact be a new referendum on the terms of the deal — assuming the government is able to put one together with Brussels — and that that was definitely democratic, as the electorate would decide, not MPs (as some have suggested would be a possible way of stopping Brexit). He had harsh words about Jeremy Corbyn for being frozen in a 1970s mindset of Socialism in One Country, according to which the EU is dismissed as a capitalist club that inhibits nationalisation and certain types of state intervention. But he was also highly critical of the way David Cameron and George Osborne handled the EU Referendum Campaign; Project Fear just did not resonate and actually backfired. Vince defended his own record in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, saying he had got several good things through and stopped some bad things from happening. But he felt the British public had not really been ready for coalition politics when the situation arose, being too tightly wedded to tribal politics.

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Michael Moore’s Scottish Answers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th April, 2013

Michael MooreNext year the voters of Scotland will have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to opt for independence. Opinion polls consistently show that unless there is a significant shift in mood between now and then the response will be a firm “no”. The SNP would have preferred at least two questions on the ballot paper, but the government in Westminster put paid to that and the Electoral Commission (which will quite rightly supervise the referendum) made the in-or-out question less slanted. This gives the Liberal Democrats a golden opportunity to shoot at an open goal by coming out as the party of “devo max” (significant further devolution of powers to Edinburgh) coupled with a “no” vote in the referendum. I made this point to the Secretary of State for Scotland, my old pal Michael Moore, at a pizza and politics evening in Islington this evening. I’m sure I won’t be the first or last person to do so. He meanwhile had given a very coherent and appealing presentation to the assembled groups of party activists and supporters, starting out by declaring that home rule was a very Gladstone sort of thing. Indeed, while the Conservatives have been very unsound on this matter (until the Scottish Tory leader had to do an inelegant u-turn after David Cameron’s more conciliatory speech) the LibDems have been consistent for generations. The party has of course suffered badly north of the border since 2010 because of the Coalition agreement with the hated Tories, but that was inevitable. The last Scottish parliamentary elections were dire for the LibDems and even managed to deliver a majority SNP government, even though the system was designed to avoid such one-party dominance. But now is the time for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to rebuild. I believe Alex Salmond has peaked too early. He has often shown himself to be a master politician — for example taking a risk by standing in the LibDem area of Gordon yet comfortably winning it — but as Michael pointed out this evening, Salmond’s case does not really add up. He wants to retain EU membership for a putative independent Scotland, yet doesn’t want to join the euro (or Schengen). And why would the rest of the UK necessarily give a free pass to a sterling area to Scotland? Besides, as part of the UK, Scotland has a voice at the top table of the UN and other fora, whereas an independent Scotland would be out of the loop — even worse than the situation of Norway, which is of comparable population size but has built up a huge sovereign wealth fund on the back of decades of oil and gas production. As Michael rightly said, it is rubbish to suggest that one can only express one’s nationhood by being an independent state. The Scots are more Scottish than they have been for generations and they are a welcome constituent part of the UK for a’that.

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I’m Starting to Feel Sorry for Gordon

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th July, 2008

Since becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has had a hangdog expression that is painful to behold. And as P.G. Wodehouse memorably remarked, it is never difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. Gordon has taken quite a kicking from the bumptious Alex Salmond at Glasgow East and now looks positively terminal. Wouldn’t it be kinder to put him out of his misery? No wonder David Cameron is leaping around like an eager young puppy, snapping at his heels, calling for an election. Labour MPs are for the main being desperately loyal in public, of course, though privately even some Cabinet members are gnashing their teeth and wishing the Prime Minister would fall on his sword. The trouble is, Labour has never really developed a tradition of regicide, unlike the Tories, who swiftly shoved both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher aside, once they’d decided they were past their sell-by date. Does Labour have the courage?

In the meantime, the Liberal Democrats need be pouring effort into Labour-held seats, especially those in which the LibDem candidate moved into second place last time. While there may be slippage to the Tories in some parts of southern England, there should be rich pickings to be had in the North and parts of London, especially.

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