Eddie Barnes: Darling’s dilemma as Tories applaud

ALISTAIR Darling yesterday received a standing ovation from delegates at the Scottish Conservative conference. He did not look entirely overjoyed.

The former chancellor spoke at a fringe event yesterday in his capacity as leader of the Better Together campaign. Tories and Labour (and Lib Dems) stand alongside one another in the pro-Union campaign. But, it being an original sin in Scottish politics to converse with the children of Thatcher, this public display of unity, in the lions’ den, was – well – courageous.

Thankfully, he had a friend. These are times made for Annabel Goldie, the former leader of the Scottish Tories and their all-round acceptable face.

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Darling’s appearance was, she said, “like me being in the Bolshoi Ballet – unexpected”. The tension settled, she hoped he would feel more comfortable still by remembering his great-uncle, the late Sir William Darling, Conservative MP for Edinburgh South after the war. Darling replied a tad ungraciously: “My great uncle was an MP in the days when Conservatives could still win seats in Edinburgh.” It got a laugh – Scots Tories are nothing if not well practised at laughing at themselves. The speech made the customary arguments on the Union.

While they may have their differences, he concluded, both Labour and the Conservatives agreed that the UK was the best option. He should have seen it coming: nothing gets the faithful off their seats quicker than a rousing appeal to British patriotism. Consequently, Darling was forced to watch as a room full of Conservatives applauded him to the rafters.

“I wish some Conservatives got applause like that,” continued the bushy-tailed Annabel, unhelpfully. Darling responded queasily that the ovation was sure to make it onto the evening news. He has been chancellor to Gordon Brown, he was in the Treasury when the banks went pop, he had the forces of hell unleashed upon him after claiming that Britain was facing a major recession. All these Darling has survived, but vocal public praise from Scotland’s Conservatives?