Alistair Darling, the head of the “No” campaign for the vote on Scottish Independence, has compared Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond to the former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il – and went on to describe “Yes” supporters as driven by “blood and soil nationalism”. During an interview with the New Statesman, the former Labour chancellor was also accused of agreeing that “blood and soil nationalism” was “at [the] heart” of the independence campaign.
The phrase “blood and soil nationalism” describes a belief in borders based on ancestry and a connection to the land, and as “Blut und Boden” it has become widely associated with the rise of the Nazi party in 1920s and ‘30s Germany.
Quite a statement from Darling!
The New Statesman originally quoted Mr Darling as saying: “At heart it is blood and soil nationalism. If you ask any nationalist, ‘are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no.”
The New Statesman later issued a correction stating that the phrase was “raised in conversation but not used directly by Mr Darling”, and a transcript was included where, asked if the Scottish National Party (SNP) represents “blood and soil nationalism?”, the MP allegedly replied: “At heart … [inaudible mumble]”.
The words of Darling have created a storm of criticism and anger from the Yes camp. Quite understandably so, given that Darling has been very quick to criticize the Yes camp in indulging in less than savoury campaigning. In the Observer he was quoted as saying, “The cyber-nat activity is disgraceful. “They will trash anyone who disagrees with them. Their intention is to make people keep their heads down. Salmond could stop it, but he doesn’t choose to.”
So claim and counter claim.
As an avid follower of the Independence debate I know the truth of the matter. The greatest amount of bile comes from the No side and it’s not restricted to ordinary supporters. High profile media commentators and Unionist politicians regularly indulge in insulting comments about the Yes campaign and they particularly single out Alex Salmond for abuse.
Darling is seeking to personalise the debate and to probably bait Yes supporters with his inflammatory language.
So let’s look at these two key politicians. What do I, a fairly typical observer, see as their respective achievements that have brought positive change to Scotland?
Let’s start with a brief look at Alex Salmond.
Under Alex Salmond’s leadership the Scottish Government has introduced a steady stream of genuinely positive changes into Scottish life.
Freezing council tax must be seen as a real help to thousands of hard up citizens across Scotland. In an economic climate where everyone is feeling financially under the cosh it’s not often that a Government actually brings in a policy that actually puts ready cash back in the hands of the voter. But that is exactly what the council tax freeze has done. It deserves accolades from all shades of opinion.
The boosting of police officer numbers is another real and tangible policy that has been achieved by the Scottish Government. Community safety has rightly been seen as of importance to the electorate, with all the benefits that the increase in police numbers will bring to actually preventing and dealing with offences.
As a parent I can personally vouch for another prominent policy, namely scrapping student charges. The signal sent out by the Scottish Government that education is of paramount importance for Scottish society was received loud and clear. The message that Scottish society is aligned, through a change in Government policy, to honour and support education should be an example set for all future policy makers.
Perhaps most importantly, the Scottish Government, under the leadership of Alex Salmond, gained the trust of the Scottish electorate and achieved a landslide election victory in 2011, which of course, has brought Scotland to a referendum on Independence on September 18th 2014. Talk about honouring and sticking to election pledges!
Whatever the result of the referendum it will be a win-win situation. If the Yes vote prevails it will usher in a new chapter in Scotland’s long history.
If No wins, then it will be seen as an endorsement of the Union and the continued participation of Scotland within the United Kingdom.
Democracy will be the big winner whichever way the result goes and that has got to be a positive for all those who participate. In the event of a No vote, then it will be the leadership and members of Better Together who will take the laurels.
Again it will have been because of the leadership of Alex Salmond, and his government actually delivering on promises, that the Scottish people will have made their choice.
Which brings me to Alistair Darling. How does he compare?
Let’s start with a very brief biog.
Alistair Darling has been a Labour Party member of parliament (MP) since 1987, currently for Edinburgh South West. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007 to 2010. Darling was one of only three people to have served in the Cabinet continuously from Labour’s victory in 1997 until its defeat in 2010.
Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Darling was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1997, moving to become Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 1998. He became Secretary of State for Transport then Secretary of State for Scotland. Prime Minister Tony Blair moved Darling for a final time, to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 2006, before Gordon Brown advanced Darling to Chancellor in 2007.
Quite a CV!
I must admit that I cannot think of any single, momentous achievement that could be defined as life changing, from that long list of jobs in High Political Office. If I’ve missed something then I’m happy to be corrected, but I suspect that any achievements by Darling were wiped out by later events (see below).
Darling is the leader of the Better Together cross-party group that are campaigning for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Unbelievably he addressed a fringe meeting at the Scottish Conservative Conference in June 2013. The Tories applauded their man loudly and enthusiastically.
We should also point out that Darling is in effect being employed by the British Government and working directly for his boss David Cameron. What ever way the Better Together management pyramid is sketched, it’s hierarchical model always leads back to the man in charge; one David Cameron, Conservative Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Darling is now working for the Tories!
In May 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Darling changed the designation of his second home four times in four years, allowing him to claim for the costs of his family home in Edinburgh, and to buy and furnish a flat in London including the cost of stamp duty and other legal fees. Darling said that “the claims were made within House of Commons rules”.
My personal view on the expenses scandal is that an offence was committed. I don’t buy the excuse that the claims were made within House of Commons Rules. Darling manipulated the system for his own financial gain. It was as immoral as it was wrong.
His peers within the Westminster System were in agreement.
Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, criticised him by saying: “given that very unique responsibility that [Darling] has [as Chancellor], it’s simply impossible for him to continue in that role when such very major question marks are being raised about his financial affairs”.
On 1 June 2009, Darling apologised “unreservedly” about a mistaken claim for £700, and had agreed to repay the money. He was supported by the Prime Minister, who referred to the incident as an inadvertent mistake. The Prime Minister was Gordon Brown. Says it all really.
The Financial Crisis
Alistair Darling was the Chancellor when the UK economy went into meltdown. There have been vast amounts of words devoted to the Crisis, which basically boil down to a simple question.
Was the Labour Government, with Darling as chancellor, responsible?
Here’s one way the argument is framed from the Darling’s camp;
The large increases in the deficit in 2008/09 and 2009/10 were not wholly due to higher levels of discretionary spending. The public finances were then being squeezed by the effects of the international recession on tax revenues (with the UK being particularly affected because of its large financial sector) and consequent increases in social security payments. At the time, it was also thought that demand had to be maintained in order to avoid an even deeper recession than might otherwise have occurred.
A quick dissection of this can run thus;
…. with the UK being particularly affected because of its large financial sector. Don’t be stupid enough to have a one trick pony of an economy. Diversify. Did Darling do this? No, he didn’t and so he is complicit in the shambles that followed.
…. it was also thought that demand had to be maintained in order to avoid an even deeper recession than might otherwise have occurred. Darling at the helm just employed bad planning and forecasting, if indeed he employed any meaningful intelligent foresight at all.
Darling got the UK into eye watering debt that has hit virtually every citizen within the UK, never mind those suffering in Scotland.
Even the rest of Europe saw the UK’s debt as a matter to be concerned about. During the General Election of 2010 the European Commission waded into Britain’s election debate on the eve of polls warning that British public debt was expected to be higher than any other European Union country that year. Darling was at the helm.
Brussels economic forecasts predicted that debt would account for nine tenths of the British economy’s total value by the end of 2011. Guess who as the helm?
The UK was predicted to have the highest deficit in the EU at 12 per cent of GDP at the end of 2010 and the figure was expected to decline “only slightly” due to the weakness of housing and financial markets. Do I need to remind you who was at the helm?
If you’re interested, the legacy of Darling is still with us. Not only did he open the door for a Tory led Government but the debt keeps climbing.
I know which of these two politicians, Salmond or Darling, get’s my respect.
Despite all the problems that Darling brought us, he’s still out their unashamedly making a few quid on the side, despite the ill tempered language, the insults, the failed economics, the financial disasters and the expenses scandals.
If you’re looking for a motivational speaker for your barbecue or daughter’s wedding, you can always book Darling;