British Beauty Parade

Mike Small
17 April 2010

“Nick Clegg may have won but the Scottish people certainly lost”. So says this blogger and few would doubt it this side of the Tyne.The stark cleft nature of the bizarre debate format has awoken even the most somnolent commentator, prompting Vernon Bogdanor to write: "Who governs Britain? That is the question being put to the voters on May 6. But two other questions lurk uneasily in the background. The first is: how is Britain to be governed? The second is: will there remain a Britain to be governed, or will the election give a further push to the forces of Scottish separatism?" You’ll note the routinely pejorative use of ‘separatist’ as if to determine your own affairs would cast you adrift in the Icelandic ash hopelessly lost to the world bar for the global thread of that renowned font of internationalism, England.

Over at the Guardian Timothy Garton-Ash was waking up too: “Most people in England have not fully woken up to this (devolution)  yet, but they – we – are waking.” Well wakey wakey. But obviously not fully awake yet. He continued:

“The other mould-breaker was revealed not by any of the three would-be PMs, but by ITV's rather twitchy moderator, Alastair Stewart. As the discussion turned from health to crime to education, he kept reminding viewers that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own policies in these areas – and would have their own separate debates. In other words, half of what matters most to most voters has been devolved.”

No, in other words what was being broadcast was irrelevant to the people of three nations involved, that wasn’t made clear at all.

Over at Left Foot Forward, they do little better stating:  “For the first time, the general election could result in different parties, each with competing visions, leading each government in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Westminster.” Then outlining the manifestos of the three, except Plaid and the SNP. Second, if your going to refer to Calman, refer also to the fact that having cobbled it together none of the unionist parties can agree on what, when or if to implement it. This is crucial to know.

Let’s be very clear about this as everyone gets very excited about the fact that Nick Clegg can string a sentence together. This was a debate stitched up by the three Unionist parties and the TV corporations. Having been plucked from obscurity (Lib Dems track at 12% in Scotland and came 5th in countless constituencies votes in 2007) he has been anointed by the political establishment, and in this golden opportunity, he shone. Of course much of it was pure deception. Its easy to look radical next to the Labour and Tory dinosaurs, and the Lib Dem policy on Trident isn't to abolish them, it’s to reduce them, a bit. It's moral equivocation on a par with Travis Bickle going out with ONE of his handguns under the pillow.
It’s difficult to tell how much impact this will have in Scotland. To those aware of the issues and intricacies it will likely have confirmed and hardened views. It will have toughened up the SNP vote with feelings of resentment at exclusion confirmed, and maybe even some stragglers appalled at the way the devolved issues were referred to and sidelined. Issue after issue came up which were clearly devolved and the programme rolled on with a cursory and confusing reference from the chair. On health someone Tweeted: "Incredible that Brown doesn't mention Scotland as being in vanguard of personal care. Is he ashamed?"

For many though it will just be downright confusing. One young friend, a first time voter commented on his Facebook: "I’ve looked at the manifestos of the three parties and I'm still not sure how to vote." To that extent this is a victory for the unionist parties. Job done. But many may more have been shocked by how this was essentially an media event for an election for and about England, England as Britain?   

I’d sue if I were Plaid / Cymru, and they may yet. This is the equivalent of the hanging chads that lost Gore the election in Florida.

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