Today in 1320 the Scottish nobility issued the Declaration of Arbroath, with its ringing line about fighting not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
And the contemporary response is Frenchgate. Nicola Sturgeon says she didn’t say it. The French Ambassador says she didn’t hear it. The French Consul-General says hedidn’t report it. And the irony is that if Sturgeon had said that Ed Miliband isn’t prime ministerial material, no-one, except possibly Miliband himself, would have any reason to disagree.
Miliband – the same goes for Cameron, his equal in competence – is one of the last generation of old-style Westminster politicians, unable to understand why the political world no longer revolves around them. They push the buttons and pull the levers that used to deliver power, only to find that the wires have been cut.
The Big Two keep trying to convince us that this election is about which of them we’d prefer as PM. It isn’t. It’s not about them at all. You can’t tell the difference, so it really doesn’t matter. Either of them would be equally good or equally bad at heading up the next administration. The important question is what kind of administration they will lead. If you want the Blue Tories, vote Cameron. If you want the Red Tories, vote Miliband. If you want something else, vote for something else and see it in coalition, applying pressure where it hurts. Never before have the smaller parties had logic so firmly on their side. It’s so frighteningly true that a grand coalition of the Blues and the Reds still looks a definite possibility as the way to head off irreversible change for the better. Proportional representation. Real localism. And real regionalism.
Sturgeon said that last week’s televised debate between seven of the party leaders illustrated that “two-party politics at Westminster is over”. A ripple of surprise ran through the commentariat that interesting things are being said outside the rigidly controlled London circle. England wants to vote SNP/Plaid in its millions, and it can’t. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? And all because the media have been so obsessed with Farage and his twilight band of empire-loyalists that they failed to spot where the future really lies, in a Europe not looking back to the 19th century but forward to the 21st. Plaid Cymru have put out a splendid little poster bearing the slogan ‘Don’t vote Labour for your fathers’ sake; vote Plaid for your children’s’.
We would have liked to be there in Salford. Our invitation was presumably lost in the post. (So too was Mebyon Kernow’s; they haven’t even been invited to the BBC South West regional debate in Plymouth, despite fighting every seat in Cornwall.) The Twittersphere may have been too busy swooning over Leanne Wood’s Welsh accent to notice her policies but Wessex has a lovely accent too, and lovely policies to match. Next time, will the regionalists will be joining the nationalists on stage? That depends on how fast the decentralist trend now accelerates.
Last week saw the launch of the Northern Party, a pan-Northumbrian movement that has grown out of the relaunched Campaign for the North. Its claimed territory overlaps with those of Yorkshire First and the North East Party. Is that good or bad? Lack of agreement on areas and boundaries is surely bad if it slows down the debate, but not if it brings it to the fore. If regionalists up north can afford the luxury of disagreement then they must be making very good progress indeed. And, for this election at least, there will be no clashing candidacies.
The Northern Party’s top team includes Harold Elletson, former Conservative MP for Blackpool North. Its registered Leader is Michael Dawson, nephew of Hilton Dawson, the former Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre who leads the North East Party. Yorkshire First is led by Richard Carter, ex-Labour, and its candidates at this election include a former FibDem MEP. Across the political spectrum then, devolutionary aspirations are being unlocked. Those who have devoted their political lives to the unresponsive London parties are emerging, blinking, into the light. We watch, fascinated and vindicated, as northerners cast off time-wasting pressure groups buzzing around the London leaderships and make a bid for actual, unfettered control of what goes on in their areas. If that’s a universal trend, we can look forward to a few defections in Wessex too.
What the desperate London parties simply cannot grasp is the extent to which their rule is increasingly hated as London takes more and more and gives less and less. What we loathe above all is the way we’re expected to feel grateful that London thrives on our taxes, yet treats us as ignorant peasants who need to be told what to think, even about ourselves. There are some real shocks to the system coming up. The 7th of May marks the day they start, not end.