HISTORY, according to Mark Twain, “doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. For those following the poetry (ahem) of Scottish politics, the rhythmic incantation of old lines echoing from the whispered voice of dead ideas is like a constant beat.
“Can’t, shouldn’t, shan’t”. “Won’t, couldn’t, mustn’t”. Or: “We will not allow, they will not allow”.
The people who told us that the very idea of a referendum was illegal now deploy the same logically grounded illogic on every policy area they can think of. You’d think there would be a senior leadership voice among them somewhere checking the political insanity of it, but “No”.
Have any of them even begun to twig that the chances of them getting anywhere in the next Scottish election grow more remote with each passing day of negative attacks on Scotland’s sense of self?
The risks of taking the electorate for fools in the referendum are equally grave, but then they already think they have won that and only worry about “winning big”.
The Tories have almost certainly written their chances off with respect to votes in Scotland. Which is a shame. Scotland needs a confident, free-market, right-of-centre voice challenging the consensus view. But the party brand was holed below the water line by the consistent sense that they stood against Scottish progress, not behind it.
A colossal political error from the party that once commanded the overall majority of the country. And the same mistake is being rhymed out right now by their compadres in the campaign for No.
Labour is full of good people born of the best intentions, but their collective voice seems urged to define itself by what it is not, rather than what it is for. The laughable, less than pathetic and ultimately withdrawn motion from the Labour-Tory joint team in Stirling Council about flag waving last week was a case in point. Older selves may replay the recordings of their interviews in later life and shudder.
Across the board the tenor, content and conduct of the national debate scrape the gutter, and it is licensed by the tactics from the top.
I can visualise the rooms in Whitehall staffed by some of the country’s best public service brains thinking up wizard wheezes and brilliantly deduced policy arguments to show the laughably ambitious Scottish electorate not that they “shouldn’t” but that they “couldn’t”.
So first: “Tell them they can’t have their vote.” Turns out they could.
“Okay, tell them they can’t stay in Europe, or Nato, or anywhere.” Laughable.
“Okay, let’s deny them the right to use the currency we already share.” Meanwhile, back on Earth, a dog barks and the caravan of normal people move on.
This form of politics echoes from a past none of us want to return to. It is the politics of fear, uncertainty and doubt. It drips half-truths and full lies from the mouths of people who would lead. And it fails at every turn to tell me why I should; it only tells me that I can’t.
The latest claim to enter the fray, from London defence secretary Philip Hammond, was almost like a giant spoof of the whole campaign. It seemed like a large lampoon of reality until it dawned on us all that, no, they were actually arguing it with a straight face.
In turn: Scottish military jobs and contracts will be lost with independence. Reality: we have lost 28 per cent of defence jobs in the first decade of the century, compared with a UK average reduction of 11.6 per cent.
The UK wouldn’t buy anything from Scottish manufacturers. Reality: in the last five years, Scotland received nearly £2 billion less than a proportionate share of such contracts. And in 2011 the Royal Navy signed a £452 million contract with South Korean firm Daewoo.
In the other direction, BAE Systems sold three ships, including two Clyde-built, to the Brazilian navy.
So, Hammond will do business with independent South Korea but not independent Scotland. And other countries will do business with independent UK but not independent Scotland.
Odd. Very Odd. And just the sort of odd that has left his party with only one MP in Scotland. Lousy, lousy politics.
And where did the minister who – lest we forget to join the dots – committed to voting to exit the EU in a referendum make such claims? At the Edinburgh site of an Italian firm, Finmeccanica, best known for making components for the Eurofighter and that exports to the United States, Greece, Kuwait and elsewhere.
But he had more: the regiments we won’t allow to join the Scottish forces. Ah no, hang on, we got ahead of ourselves there in briefing the newspapers – we have to volte-face on that one. We just mean the soldiers won’t want to. Laughable. Lamentable.
Whatever will they think of next? Annexing part of the country? No, they have already thought of that. Good grief.
Breezing into town to drip haughty contempt reminds us all of the 1980s Tories and must make those struggling to resurrect their party’s corpse shudder.
And those in Labour and the Lib Dems lining up to applaud this stuff should pause at just what they are doing to their own party brands.
As Mark Twain might have said if he was British: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of parliament; but I repeat myself.” Funny, clever man Twain. «