Andrew Wilson: Damned with fulsome praise for a Liberal you can do business with

Michael Moore: formidable operator and Motherwell FC fan. Picture: Jane Barlow
Michael Moore: formidable operator and Motherwell FC fan. Picture: Jane Barlow
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I ONCE told a selection panel that not only did I have no skeletons in my closet but that I didn’t even have a closet.

I don’t know if that is still true, but you don’t reach your fifth decade without having much to be proud of and much you’d rather forget. We are but flesh and blood and to err is human after all.

But I’d like to take the opportunity this week to clear the air on one personal matter and confess to one of the darkest possible secrets. In fact it’s probably the lowest, grubbiest darkest one of all.

It will have friends and foes alike reaching for the sick bag. I know it will possibly finish me off, but I can live a double life no more. Truth will out and it must: “I have long liked and admired many Liberals”. There I said it, it’s out.

David Steel was a particular favourite of the Wilson family when I was growing up: intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable man who rarely seemed to say anything other than constructive things.

And what’s not to like about Charles Kennedy? Affable, articulate, passionate and human, yes human. Menzies Campbell? An unusually talented man who has had three adult careers as Olympian, advocate and politician. He also has more letters after his name than I have in mine.

And then there is Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness. He would be at the Ultra-end of the broad church of liberals when it comes to the national question. But a lovely intelligent man who served very capably as First Minister three times and surprised all by how well he coped in ­often painful circumstances.

I will spare the blushes of the younger generation closer to mine save for one that reminded me of my dirty secret this week. Step forward Michael Moore, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

In my estimation he has grown in comfort with the public gaze with each passing month and is a capable, funny and formidable operator. He also happens – like me – to have spent some of his formative years in the sleepy Lanarkshire country town of Wishaw and supports Motherwell FC. So my bias is complete.

So why this pantheon of praise to a group of individuals whose party and politics have often infuriated me?

What prompts it is an interview given by Michael Moore on BBC Scotland this week. He was given a hard time, quite rightly so. But he was making what struck me as eminently sensible points that ­begin to help us all imagine what the world would look like in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum.

He also eschewed the idea that the UK government should negotiate in advance of such a vote, arguing that many of the detailed outcomes would need to wait until the people’s intent had been determined. Then tough negotiations would begin, but crucially, he and all of his Scottish colleagues at Westminster would be on Scotland’s side.

Michael’s was a pretty matter of fact point of course. But my advice to him would be that at times the shriller arguments seeking to sow fear and doubt around the case for reform often risk sounding like some might have an intent to damage the Scottish interest (remember, for example the “we won’t let you use the pound” line). So let’s trust that the forthcoming Whitehall papers are positive in intent and don’t seek to place any damaging negotiating stakes in the ground. We shall see.

They’d deny it now, of course, but how unifying and enthusing will it be to see a team Scotland of Salmond, Sturgeon, Darling, Moore and Alexander (Douglas and Danny) securing the terms by which the early days of the new nation will set its course? If we are to have a written constitution then a cross-party commission of the best should write it.

Whatever the outcome, we know that when the sound of political fire is quietened and the people have expressed a democratic view then a reasoned, friendly and pragmatic solution will be sought. I am not for a minute suggesting the negotiations won’t be tough and vigorous, but they will be adult as no “beggar thy neighbour” policy ever worked anywhere. Least of all across these islands where we have been through too much together for too long for anything other than a constructive atmosphere of mutuality to be the order of the day.

The evidence of this reality of how things work in the end was clear this week, when the Holyrood referendum we were once told was illegal was legitimised by Westminster’s Section 30 order. Albeit the powers were sent on their way with some bitter words in the wind from the Lords and Commons who much prefer to centralise their grip rather than loosen it.

So the Liberal Michael Moore has done all a favour in an interview that I hope history will make a mental note of and return to when the record requires to be written.

A passionate debate about the road Scotland can take must resound. But in the end, whatever we choose, the country has to unify and take its step with optimism and belief in itself.

What is not in doubt is that we have people of talent and ability across the ­parties who are up to the job of delivering. Have faith. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW