My dad used to say 'if you have a reputation for getting up at 6am you can sleep in until noon'. I am reminded of that advice when I hear hired media 'luvvies' extol Alex Salmond apparently unassailable political 'shrewdness'. Today he 'threw in the towel' on his long awaited Bill promising a referendum on Independence. The decision is even admired in some media quarters as 'statesmanlike and strategic' as it avoids certain defeat. However his announcement comes the same day a BMRB-TNS opinion poll shows the SNP trailing New Labour by 10 percentage points. This would see Iain Grey, sorry that should be Gray, become the next First Minister!
When you look at the mess the Labour Party in Scotland got into on the referendum issue, being against it, then for it, and then against it again under three consecutive leaders, it is perhaps even more remarkable how poorly Alex Salmond has played his hand here.
Last year he 'pulled' the Bill to abolish the Council tax in Scotland despite having a majority of public opinion behind him. And this year SNP Councils across Scotland have made cuts to services as bad as any other party despite being elected on a 'no cuts' platform. His claim in 2007 to be Scotland's 'progressive' alternative to New Labour lies in tatters.
Salmond's abandonment of the referendum comes as no surprise of course. It was certainly long anticipated 'in this parish', but it is still a humiliating climbdown. The polls suggest only 30% of Scots support independence, it's true, but that's not the point. Salmond did little these past 3 years to inspire and lead that constituency preferring a 'managerial' reign as First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon [tipped to take over as SNP leader within the year] is today left to claim that dumping the referendum allows for even greater democracy. Her blusters that now 'the people get to decide' the matter in the 2011 elections are palpably ridiculous. The referendum was supposed to offer the 'people' their chance to decide the matter free from all other competing issues.
The 2011 election will be dominated by the impact of the most savage economic recession in 80 years and the consequent cuts to jobs and services. The unionist parties will claim that Scotland will again be 'bailed out by the UK Treasury.'
All this affords the Scottish Socialist Party the chance to make the case for independence with renewed vigour and to tap into the mood for independence, albeit a majority, with a vision and a passion for a socialist Scotland where Scots have control of our own finances and destiny and where working people will be economically, socially, politically and culturally better off.