Leaders: Game’s afoot and SNP is facing a red card

Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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TODAY marks the official end of the Scottish football season, when the national team takes on the Republic of Ireland in an important European qualifying match. But we can be sure of plenty of sport at Westminster over the next few weeks, when we substitute SFA for FFA.

“Full fiscal autonomy” might sound decidedly dull to the voter who has more interest in the Scotland Football Association, but it is the only game in town, now that the consequences of the independence referendum and the general election are playing out. The debate is working its way into the wider public consciousness, reaching parts of society that had never before been moved to pay attention.

The fun and games started earlier in the week, when the SNP was taunted by Prime Minister David Cameron and his Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, for failing to follow up its manifesto commitment to full fiscal autonomy. The SNP accepted the challenge, and put the policy back on the table with an amendment to the Scotland Bill. It was a bold move, but it was never going to be the end of the matter. More like the start, in fact.

On Thursday, the Office for Budget Responsibility offered the SNP’s opponents an open goal when it forecast a dramatic fall in North Sea oil revenues over the next 25 years. Mr Mundell & Co didn’t miss, highlighting the damage this would inflict on the SNP’s fiscal plans.

Yesterday, there was a further attack from the Scotland Office, when Mr Mundell claimed the basic rate of income tax would have to be doubled from 20 to 40 per cent to cover a £10 billion spending gap under FFA.

Yesterday also brought an intervention from Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh, who has tabled an amendment for immediate delivery of full fiscal autonomy, forcing the SNP to take a position on an ultimate aim that the party doesn’t really want right now. Can it afford not to back it? There is more than an element of fun and games here. No-one seriously believes income tax will be doubled, even if the figures can be made to say so, and Sir Edward’s strategy was rejected by Mr Mundell earlier this week as not in the Conservatives’ interests.

But at the same time, legitimate and difficult questions are being asked of the Nationalists’ fiscal responsibility; questions that are made all the more valid by dissent we have heard from within the SNP ranks.

The Nationalists have been out-manoeuvred, and if they are not to be overwhelmed by waves of attacks, they need to deliver a convincing response. They could start with providing clarity on their position. If, as it seems, they do not believe Scotland is ready for FFA, they should have the courage to say so. Until they do, they continue to be fair game, and an easy target.

A voice of decency that will live on

THE sunshine glinted on patches of snow atop Ben Nevis as mourners gathered in Caol to say farewell to Charles Kennedy yesterday. Family, friends and rivals were united on the kind of summer day that would have had the man himself blessing his beloved Highlands. A piper played, children from the local school sang psalms, and the tributes were warm and rich. If there is such a thing as a good way to depart this life, this must be it.

Mr Kennedy never did climb the impressive peak that dominates the landscape around his home town, but he scaled plenty other mountains in a political career that took him to the top of his chosen party. Unusually for one who held a position which can be naturally divisive, Mr Kennedy had appeal beyond his party, and beyond Westminster. His sudden death at the age of just 55 brought grief to every corner of the United Kingdom.

In a eulogy, his long-term friend Brian McBride asked if any politician other than Winston Churchill and John Smith had been so universally mourned. Possibly not. Mr Kennedy’s appeal was clear in the tributes that have been paid to him: modest, wise, helpful, loyal, witty, compassionate and measured. Talented, too, of course. And, as Sir Menzies Campbell said, a man of “humour and fun, but a man who knew when it was time to be serious”.

Mr Kennedy, we heard, hated the sound of silence. All who knew him, and all those who felt they knew him, will share that same sentiment today.

Charles Kennedy, a decent man, was one of us. His voice, and the message it carried, is assured to live on.