LEAVING aside the stuff about a "healing" economy, most of George Osborne's speech to the CBI Scotland annual dinner this week could have come straight from the mouth of Alastair Darling.
We're better together, the Chancellor said. Scotland is stronger as part of a top 10 world economy and the UK is enhanced by Scotland's contribution. And as for Alex Salmond's plan to keep the pound, entering a monetary union with a "foreign" UK while pursuing fiscal and political independence, well, forget it. Higher interest rates would be the reward. You have been warned. It's an argument Mr Darling has rehearsed several times before but, of course, it wasn't he who was making it this time over the smoked salmon and Highland rack of lamb.
So when Mr Osborne concluded: "Our argument is not that Scots could not go it alone; it's why would you want to?" the response was rather different. Er, you George, was the collective answer in most quarters.
Whatever the merits of his case, Mr Osborne's manner tends to grate on most Scots. Every time he ventures north of the Border he has the air of man trying desperately to disguise his discomfort. For most he fails, and comes across as if he is lecturing a bunch of idiot schoolkids with as much patience as he can muster. Which isn't much.
The CBI do, a convivial enough black tie schmooze-fest for the nation's movers and shakers if you've never had the pleasure, is one of the few platforms in Scotland where he could be guaranteed an appreciative reception. Even very senior figures in the Scottish Conservative party, people who genuinely admire Mr Osborne, admit privately this is an issue. You don't have to be a Malcolm Tucker, then, to work out what Alex Salmond makes of it.
Well aware the Chancellor was on headline-grabbing manoeuvres in Scotland, the First Minister peppered his question time responses with references to Labour's "alliance" with the Tories in the referendum battle. By the end, distracted observers could have been forgiven for thinking Johann Lamont, not Nick Clegg, was deputy prime minister in a twisted new anti-Scottish coalition.
It's grotesquely opportunistic coming from a First Minister who was happy to forge an unofficial coalition with the Scottish Conservatives during his term in minority government. Or so Labour will seek to remind us. But Eck's love-in with Annabel feels like ancient history now and Ms Lamont faces a simple, clear and persuasive line from the SNP – that Scotland is at the mercy of a Conservative-led Government it didn't vote for; the economy is not "healing;" it's time to leave the UK behind.
Labour's counter argument–- that, in the long-run, an integrated UK is much better placed to deliver progressive, redistributive policies –- has been set out by Gordon Brown and Brian Wilson recently. Despite their thoughtful contributions it's fair to say the idea needs work before it's a full-blooded rallying cry.
An unpopular Tory Government at Westminster was always going to be helpful for Mr Salmond. But perhaps his opponents should highlight that, rather than try to ignore it.
The gist of Ms Lamont's response to the First Minister's programme for government was that he is failing to use the powers at his disposal to mitigate Tory cuts. Why would he, she might have added, if it's in his interests to portray David Cameron and George Osborne as reasons to leave the UK?
Labour flirted with this line of attack during the last election when Mr Salmond was dubbed "Cameron's little helper". The man who grabbed the cudgels with the greatest gusto was Ed Balls, whose enthusiastic performances on the stump clearly irked the Nationalists. The Chancellor had his say this week. Maybe Labour should now call up his Shadow.
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