The saying goes that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose (can you tell I’m going through my box sets of The West Wing just now?). Well no one bothered to tell the Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont or the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon when they were involved in the fourth of STV’s Scotland Tonight’s debates about the Independence referendum. Having shredded the reputations of Sarwar, Moore and Carmichael, Sturgeon was clear favourite to do likewise to Lamont. Except that’s not quite how things turned out.
The first thing to make clear is that Lamont went into this debate with one aim – not to suffer the fate of the Scottish Secretary, his predecessor and Lamont’s own deputy. It was a dirty, defensive display full of spoiling tactics which worked and ensured that Sturgeon did not land, metaphorically speaking, anything that can be construed as a killer punch. To use a footballing metaphor, Lamont was essentially playing for penalties.
That’s not to say Lamont emerged unscathed, there were several foot into mouth moments. When asked about the Bedroom tax, Lamont opined that “It could be introduced anywhere if people believed it was a good idea. We are not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions. We choose the world we want to live in”. In context it was a strange statement to make, but taken out of context (which the Pro Independence supporters have because there has been no context, period) it conforms to the narrative pro Independence supporters have built up about “Scottish” Labour ever willing to talk down Scotland. And boy have they run with it… Of course, what has been missed is that the Spare Room Subsidy itself is a New Labour invention, applied to privately rented properties by I think the Brown government.
On Trident Lamont expressed “Grave reservations” about Trident, but did not remove herself from that fence any further, twisting herself into all manner of contortions not to back Trident.
The second half of the debate was the 10 minutes questioning, where Lamont spoiled, obfuscated and generally did not answer any questions put to her, then talked over Sturgeon’s answers. In amongst the white noise, there was an accusation Sturgeon was basing an argument about Scottish People dying at a younger age (this I think was about pension age going up to 67?!?), there was a revelation Sturgeon had joined CND at a time when Labour types were burning their membership forms, there was Lamont mixing up the Salmond plan of a Sterlingzone with Sillars alternative (and my preferred option) of a Scottish Pound & oh and Lamont tried to pin the redundancies at BAE Systems on the Independence debate. I’m sure I saw a picture of Chorlton on twitter as well during the debate, so if I missed Lamont comparing Sturgeon to Fenella, sorry (it was the white noise, honest).
As someone with reservations about voting yes, this debate didn’t answer any questions. I’ve covered the holes in the Salmond Plan ad nausium (and will continue to do so). There are reservations about voting no as well, which are not going away. Rather than answer the questions, Lamont chose to obscure Sturgeon’s answers. Whether this was designed to keep the seed of doubt in many people’s head remains to be seen, and is a possible explanation of Lamont's performance. What is clear though is that Lamont, in ensuring that Sturgeon did not produce the series of killer arguments that would have won the debate, destroyed the credibility of herself and of “Scottish” Labour and thus lost the argument.