Alex Salmond is still a snake oil salesman

While Salmond landed some blows in the debate about Scottish independence last night he was still unable to answer the crucial questions

While Salmond landed some blows in the debate about Scottish independence last night he was still unable to answer the crucial questions

In some ways it is rather heartening that there is an audience left for the utopia Alex Salmond is trying to sell Scotland. One in which the cuts agenda will not give way to the bedroom tax, nor draw money away from the National Health Service. This is the kind of society I want to live in.

And clearly the way Salmond sells it is working. After his lacklustre performance last time round he has, according to a snap poll of 505 voters in Scotland for the Guardian by ICM, the backing of some 71% of viewers compared with 29% who backed Darling.

But as Darling said last night in the debate, a good line is not always the good answer.

Indeed Darling, the more critical and analytical of the two, was correct to pursue answers to questions that had not been previously answered. Is Scotland safe in Salmond’s hands given the estimates of oil barrels in Scotland? Has the currency question been sufficiently settled yet?

Darling was right to say that in the 670 page white paper, Scotland’s Future : Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, there was just one page of numbers for just one year, and as it turns out estimates were lower than originally thought. Without the right data it is fair enough to accuse the Yes campaign of “gambling children’s future.”

This is backed up by a recent interview with Energy Voice, where Sir Ian Wood pointed out that Scotland’s oil reserves had been “massively overestimated” and the prediction that 24 billion barrels remain in the North Sea is “45% to 65% too high”. Rather, Sir Ian estimates there remains between “15 billion and 16.5 billion barrels.” This requires significant alterations to the economics Scotland’s future.

Once again showing that the letters pages in The Scotsman provides better analysis than debates between campaign leaders, Paul Wright of Edinburgh last month said:

When we read the small print of Scotland’s Future we discover that the claims of vast oil wealth are built on a flimsy foundation. They are based on a hypothetical economic model which assumes a geographical distribution of reserves. This in turn relates to a principle (the median line principle) that has been established for purposes of economic analysis and determining zones of civil jurisdiction (but not for distribution of oil and gas reserves).

Salmond fell flat again on currency (three plan-B’s is an idiotic line to deliver, obviously making Plan-A sound impossible) and scare-stories about hospitals in the UK, whereas the blows that landed were on an odd statements about the shared platform of his campaign (though the Yes vote has support from various political parties, including Labour, as well), and a point about the cost of replacing Trident, which while relevant, in context of the evening (Darling was pressing Salmond on his own number crunching at the time, and winning) was classic smoke and mirrors.

The truth is that an independent Scotland would still face the same struggles to deliver quality public services as the rest of the UK does. While of course we must accept the political dimension of this within the cuts agenda, there are other external factors that must be appreciated, for example an ageing population that will require more investment money into a national health service.

And we mustn’t forget that the SNP themselves are given to short-term strategies that are contrary to the social-democratic tradition. We hear less and less of, for example, the party’s desire to lower corporation tax in Scotland.

Salmond is happy to criticise Darling for sharing platforms with the Tories, some fuss had even been made in the past about the Better Together campaign accepting money from a major Conservative Party donor, but the SNP does not exist only from the good willing of normal people off the street of Scotland. It also has multimillionaire backers such as Brian Souter, the owner of Stagecoach.

Working people, who it has to be said have been more pro-independence throughout the campaign, should not have to put up with the grotesque policies of the coalition government, sure. But an independent Scotland will not exist in a utopian vacuum. Even the SNP woo millionaires for funding and doth their caps at rich businessmen by promising to lower corporation tax.

The point is we have to tackle this crisis, perpetrated by establishment politicians of all colours, together. Alex Salmond remains a snake oil salesman.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.