PRINGLE’S departure is a big loss for the SNP, writes David Maddox
If there was any sign of hubris within the Nationalist ranks about the SNP’s control over Scottish public opinion, it was a response this writer received after bemoaning the announcement of the departure of Kevin Pringle as the party’s head of communications.
An SNP supporter tweeted back: “The SNP don’t need spin doctors. We speak only the truth.”
For a historical perspective, the comment resonates with those famous 17th century Scottish political insurgents the Covenanters who defeated Oliver Cromwell in 1650. After this famous victory, the Covenanters leaders decided that what they needed to finish Cromwell off was to rid themselves of the ungodly, which included the mercenaries who had won them their victory. The result was a devastating defeat at the Battle of Dunbar at the hands of Cromwell.
Almost 365 years later and the lesson of those times should still be true for those who see Scottish Nationalism as a sort of article of faith where only the undiluted truth is needed for victory. Just like the Covenanters needed mercenaries to defeat Cromwell, the SNP, even in this high tide of support, needs top class spin doctors.
Pringle is possibly the best purveyor of the art of spin in recent times in these islands. Even names like Alastair Campbell arguably follow in his wake.
An example of what could go wrong when Pringle was not around was in 2009 when he took his first week’s holiday in years at a time when he was senior special adviser to Alex Salmond as First Minister. After a gaffe-free first two years of SNP government, Mr Salmond managed to get himself embroiled in a mess over Diageo’s departure from Kilmarnock.
First, Salmond used some distinctly anti-London rhetoric at a rally, and then declined an invitation from Diageo’s chief executive for talks so he could appear on Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics instead, where he had the important task of drawing the ticket for the winner of the daily mug. The point of the week was that only Pringle was respected enough and had the antenna to persuade Salmond to save himself from himself. He didn’t take a holiday for a long time.
What makes Pringle a great purveyor of the so called “dark arts” is that he knows how to kill a story without lying, he always gets back to journalists, he is exceptionally well briefed, always calm, always friendly and was able to give the inside track without harming his party.
He is the reason that many of the Better Together arguments on issues like the pound were nullified.
The SNP are on a high at the moment and they may not miss Pringle immediately, but when times get tough, they might be begging him to return.