Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Big Man

So, Alex Salmond has announced he will step down as First Minister of Scotland.  This is, of course, being presented as throwing his toys and peevish behaviour following the independence referendum and the defeat of the 'Yes' campaign.

Which is an odd reaction, given the blind panic that has been the defining feature of the 'No' campaign for the last fortnight or so, ever since the polls started to narrow and it became to look like 'Yes' might just make it.

Credit where it is due. His goal was to give the people of Scotland a chance to decide if they wanted to be independent or not. He achieved his goal. He could have continued to lord it over the Scottish parliament for years to come, but has decided to step aside. He's shown himself to be what, in Scotland, we'd call a big man.  Not just a tough guy or a hard man, but someone who can take knocks as well as giving them out.  William McIlvaney wrote a book with that title, exploring the strange permutations of Scottish macho.

Salmond's dignity in defeat an example David Cameron might consider following in victory.  Only, it is unlikely Cameron has half an iota of Salmond's principle.

But Cameron, of course, has shown he has neither principle or backbone.  He used to glory in a 'Flashman' reputation.  He tried to play the big man, as a Tory would imagine a big man - acting like a strutting peacock, a loud-mouth bully at PMQs, scoffing at anyone who dared to, you know, ask him a question that wasn't about how fabulous David Cameron and his shabby government was.  it was a disgaceful display of arrogance but it allowed the clueless Cameron to bluster his way out of tight corners the uselessness of the his ministers and his own blinkered inadequacy got himself into, week after week.

(Aided, it must be acknowledged, but the profound uselessness that is commonly referred to as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.)

Cameron's Flashman alter-ego dominated the early stages of the referendum debate, trying to rig it by insisting on a Yes / No option because he was feart (good Scots word) of the likely widespread support for enhanced devolution.  But when that seemed to be about to blow up in Flashie's face, the swaggering toff revealed his true colours, magnificently soiled himself, blubbed (while muttering threats) and ignominiously rushed into offering the things he had tried to keep off the negotiating table in the first place, promising at all sorts of new powers for the Scottish parliament and ponies for everyone.

Such unstatesmanlike behaviour might have been worth it - just - if it had bought time for Cameron to lick some wounds and rebuild his shattered reputation and credibility.  But Cameron, having been humiliated in the North, has another arduous electoral ordeal to endure.

He must now face the UKIP in the south, where Douglas Carsewell's defection and resignation (another man of principle, Mr Carsewell) means the UKIP will likely gain their first MP and Cameron will have to deal with a devastating defeat.

Like King Harold of Hastings fame (only less noble and impressive and without that man's legitimate claim to power) Cameron must charge from one end of the kingdom to the other to fight swarming enemies intent on his destruction. Like Harold, he has been fatally weakened by the battle in the North and will meet nemesis in the south.

Unlike Harold, he won't be remembered in history as a bold man brought down by overwhelming odds, but as a fool who engineered his own destruction.

Salmond - a bit of a joke for as long as I can remember - proved himself to be a big man in the end, both in delivering on his promises, fighting a brave campaign, and accepting the dashing of his life's hopes with dignity.  Cameron has been revealed to be very, very small, and the process of reduction of Flashman to Flash-in-the-Pan is not even over.

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