Scotland's newly-minted majority government has to come clean with electorate about the road ahead
OPTIMISM, we are told, is the currency that bought this election. Well, it's counterfeit. There is no basis in reality for the Pollyana mood that the SNP is trying to spread. The effects of the world recession continue to threaten economic stability. Public sector provision, employment and real wages are being cut. International terrorism threatens atrocities on our doorstep.
The generation of groundless optimism has been one of the major factors in the discrediting of politics and politicians. Unrealistic expectations are raised. They go unfulfilled and the public feel cheated, resentful and stupid for falling for it. Barack Obama is just the latest national leader to win on a positive campaign. He needed a murder to restore his popularity.
The reality that governments can do very little in the short run to make things better leads to voter disappointment and resentment. Yet because the public forgets and because they thirst for hope, optimism is always worth trying as an election gimmick. Voters always fall for it, especially voters who have been trained by TV talent shows to expect a glibly happy outcome. But for a party that wants to embark on the complex and uncertain course of breaking up a stable and successful political and economic union, it is dishonest.
Much of the emotion on display since last week is not, in fact, optimism. It is the elation of winners. And that is fair enough. Those organising the spectacularly successful presidential campaign are entitled to rejoice in pulling it off. What they are not entitled to do is peddle the line that the feel-good factor will lead inevitably to separation. There is a long, hard road to go. The SNP is going to have a helluva job keeping us all smiling as the costs of its extravagant promises begin to bite. Mind you, London will blamed when this majority government starts to muck things up.
Those of us determined to preserve our link with England can effectively point out that the election results produced no verdict whatsoever on policies. Everyone agrees that it was the personality and competence of Alex Salmond that produced such sweeping gains. Logically, then, if Labour and the SNP had swapped leaders, the Nationalists would have been routed. Not much of a mandate for unpicking 300 years of positive history. Unfortunately, politics is not like football. You can't strengthen your team by going into the transfer market in the middle of the campaign. Unfortunate, because it would be a lot cheaper and safer for Scotland in the long run if the unionists could just buy Salmond.
The other aspect of this campaign which invalidates any claims separatists can make about its indicating a surge towards them in Scottish opinion was the disastrous Tory campaign.Annabel Goldie's stance of talking up the danger man but arguing that she could put the hems on him were pure appeasement. Have the Tories still not learned the lessons of Munich? Four years ago, the Tories handed Salmond the platform on which he build his reputation for competence. This time they still wanted him rather than Labour. Going forward, the Tories must abandon playing party politics with the Nats and stand side by side with Labour in defeating their regressive idea.
And what of our wonderful business community, Annabel's fellow appeasers? This lot, who spectacularly fail to create sufficient employment, fell for the competence argument too. Navely they thought their endorsement was going to lead to another minority government that wouldn't bother them too much as they tried to restore personal fortunes eaten into by the crisis caused by their fellow entrepreneurs in the banks.
They're lucky. In the economic blizzard that would follow separation those not already there can follow Sean Connery into offshore tax exile, taking their firms with them.
Much criticism is made of Labour not learning what devolution is all about. But it shows how significantly the Nationalists have manipulated the media agenda when Scots living here but working at Westminster can be described, unchallenged, as being "parachuted in from London". Jim Murphy lives just up the road from me, not in Islington. In fact, it is the SNP that refuse to play the devolution game. They were expected to be nice boys and girls and co-operate with the other parties to let the new institutions and constitutional arrangements settle down and prove their worth. Naturally, for a party which didn't want anything to do with it in the first place, it has spent the whole time since 1999 criticising, carping and pressing for more powers. Greedy bastards.
Well, that's in the past and in the past it must remain. Now we must prepare for the referendum. The SNP wouldn't have won it last week and it wouldn't win it next week. Which is why it is in no hurry to hold it.
This is not going to be some sober assessment of what is best for Scotland. Not if the SNP can help it. It is going to be one of Salmond's all-singing political rallies. That astute Nationalist MSP Kenny Gibson, who learned rough politics in Glasgow's George Square, let it slip; "it will be held when we can win it".
So we can look forward to at least two years, not of sound and stable government in Scotland's interest - there wasn't much done before - but of the political manoeuvring and posturing that is Salmond's strong suit.
He may try and get away with one Yes-No referendum. But that would be ludicrous. Alec Douglas Home once described a Labour manifesto as "a menu without prices".Taking a decision on independence without knowing the terms that had been negotiated with the UK would be equivalent of being asked to order with even knowing what was on the table d'hote menu.
The Scottish people may be stupid. But they're not daft. If it ever gets to the stage of their being invited to swallow the Nationalist deal, they will find it indigestible. Of that I am not just optimistic. I am confident.