Douglas Murray derided the Scottish parliament as a “Mickey Mouse” institution, staffed with “so-called” politicians who have “not much to do”. No less a figure than Baroness Deech provided the preamble for Murray’s predictable outrage with the clumsily constructed claim that “we’re all subsidising them I think, by way of benefits and all sorts of reasons”. What had got these commentators so excited?
It was the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a decision taken by Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill. According to Deech and Murray, this decision “embarrassed” the UK and was nothing to do with humanitarianism and everything to do with Scottish ministers wanting to show just how independent they are.
Such sentiments aren’t surprising from an attention seeking rent-a-reactionary like Murray, whose previous exhortations have led to a police complaint of racism, but Deech is a former governor of the BBC and an academic of some standing. Deech also suggested a by product of Scottish independence could be the removal from Westminster of all Scottish politicians, an extreme answer to the West Lothian question, perhaps.
MacAskill and Salmond were unusually quiet in the aftermath of this incident, but many complaints were made. One thing that this debacle did not cause was an intensification in the debate on Scottish nationalism – a debate that, if anything, seems more stifled than recent times, despite (or because of?) an SNP administration and the “Big Conversation”.
So just what is the current state of play in Scottish politics? Scottish Labour seem as stilted and stifled as their English counterparts – consumed by the election of a new leader and practically off the political radar. Iain Gray was unusually bombastic in Holyrood at the unveiling of the SNP’s latest – and for this parliament, final – programme for government. Gray said that Salmond had “run out of ideas” and was fast “running out of time”.
And he may have a point, whilst Scottish Labour have a ten point lead over the SNP, only 9% of Scottish voters think Iain Gray would make a good First Minister, compared with 31% who opt for Salmond. But Salmond’s popularity is down from 53% and Scottish Labour only need to overturn a majority of one.
The Holyrood election will be interesting – and it looks possible that another coalition will be formed north of the border. Where does that leave the independence debate? Probably where it is now; shelved.