Yesterday morning I watched Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne being interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show.
My first comment is about his new hairstyle, allegedly an attempt by his PR and other advisers to shift his image somewhat from this traditional ‘arrogant toff who’s enjoying inflicting austerity upon us’ image in advance of the 2015 General Election and/or his subsequent fight with Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership.
It hasn’t worked.
To my eyes, Osborne now resembles most an arrogant Roman senator who’s enjoying inflicting austerity upon us. Granted, it helps to make him look marginally younger, but simultaneously a throwback to about 2,500 years ago with its brushed forward kiss-curls. Sending him to a toga party accompanied by a couple of Nubian slaves and (Bingo!) it would be game, set and match.
Not a good look for the 21st Century.
Plainly, his reason for being there was to threaten the Scots with dire consequences if they prove to be so mad as to vote ‘Yes’ for independence. “No ifs, no buts – Scotland will not be allowed to use the £” was the sound-bite for the cameras. He didn’t address at any length the option that, like Panama or wherever that uses the US$, Scotland could potentially also use the £ (without any power to affect the UK’s economic policy as it might affect Scotland). He just made some dismissive aside effectively querying just how independent Scotland wished to be if it was content to be run financially from Westminster.
Two points upon this. Firstly, particularly at this stage, as night follows day the very act of threatening Scottish voters will tend to have the reverse effect to those the speaker desires upon their intentions on 18th September. In this sense, Alex Salmond and the SNP have now got the edge.
Secondly, Osborne was there to throw the negotiating baby out with the bath-water. His message, as I understood it, was “Look, over the next ten days we’re going to set out a long list of goodies which we’ll lob you loonies north of the border if only you’ll only come to your senses and vote ‘No’ to independence”.
Again, I sense this will have the opposite effect to that intended, i.e. the average Scottish voter will think “Ah yes, now that you’ve suddenly woken up, smelt the coffee and realised that we’re possibly going to vote ‘Yes’, you’re going to shower us with baubles in a desperate attempt to bribe us. Why didn’t you offer us these a decade, or even a century ago, you tosser … It simply confirms what the SNP has been saying all along – Westminster doesn’t pay any attention to Scotland, that is unless there’s a crisis like this one …”
Separately, on the UK’s relationship with the EU, in the time-honoured fashion of politicians down the ages, Osborne offered bland verbiage by the shed-load.
He opened by stating that he was right behind David Cameron’s vow to renegotiate the UK’s terms of engagement with the EU, including the repatriation of an unspecified list of powers, and then (when successful) put the question of the UK’s membership of the EU to a simple ‘In/Out’ referendum.
Andrew Marr played a straight bat, asking Osborne the two obvious follow-up questions, viz. (1) What specific changes to the UK’s terms of engagement was he talking about?; and (2) What happens if you aren’t successful in your negotiations – also, how bright a future do you see for Britain if we pulled out?
Inevitably, Osborne had no intention of answering either question. We – the general public – all know why. Because the Government has no idea of what will be included in its EU ‘shopping list’ for its EU renegotiations … and, on top of that, since the Government wants the UK to remain in the EU come what may, it doesn’t want to state to publicise where the ‘red line’ is, failure to achieve which will signal a ‘failure of negotiations’ and thereby a Government recommendation to pull out of the EU.
And why is that? Because the Government doesn’t have one, of course!
Its negotiating strategy is going to be telling the EU that they’ve got to give the UK some (enough) concessions sufficient for them to be able to turn round to the UK electorate and say “We’ve won! We can now recommend the UK stays in the EU where, from this point forward – thanks to our tough stance – everything will now be hunky-dory!”
And so Osborne blathered on, repeating again and again that he was not going to address hypothetical questions (e.g. how would the UK fare if outside the EU and/or what concessions from the EU are you looking for?) until after the negotiations had actually happened. He droned on for five minutes and more on this theme, achieving little more than causing this viewer to begin shouting at the television screen a variety of long and colourful words suggesting that he should answer the bloody question or get off.