The burd has heard many speeches by Alex Salmond over the years. But never one like this.
Gone was the old Eck, and in its place, a New Improved Eck. Salmond delivered a personal, passionate and powerful account of his Government’s record, his party’s opening gambit for the Holyrood election and his philosophy on independence. Activists expecting a rousing call to arms got something very different but much more significant. “I fight not for flags and anthems but for fairness and compassion”. Wow.
At the heart of his speech were two concepts – purpose and protect. The latter was aimed firmly at the SNP’s re-election campaign strategy. A second term SNP government will protect people from the worst of the cuts, by freezing the council tax, by delivering a living wage for all workers within direct control of the government, by maintaining the NHS budget, by developing not privatising Scottish Water, by putting “bobbies before boundaries”, by working cross party to protect defence jobs and by continuing to oppose Trident. “So we will protect the values that I believe are shared by all the people of Scotland”.
The idea and sense of purpose was developed throughout his speech but came into its own when explaining his party’s commitment to independence. “We must never make the mistake of confusing having a national parliament with having a national purpose”. And from that point on, he took the SNP in a new direction. Independence was not an end in itself but the vehicle by which to deliver a better nation: “I do not want independence for its own sake, but for the sake of the people here and now, and those to come”. The objective is a healthier economy and a fairer society. The referendum will not be pitched as some arcane constitutional argument but as the way to deliver more and better. It will be a jobs referendum with the implicit message that the Scottish people can choose to stay in the UK and face more cuts, fewer jobs, a more unequal society or choose “a better way, a fairer way and a fairer society…”
Other commentators have suggested that Salmond has shifted the argument from the heart to the head. I disagree. What Alex Salmond did today was move away from the hard-headed economic case for independence in order to develop a philosophy for self-determination. This campaign will be about the country we want to be, the values we want to further, the society we want to create:
“We are not helpless agents of globalisation, but free citizens of a wealthy land. We are not slaves to the banking system or vassals to the lords of high finance.
And nor are we the tartan clichés of media myth, or the historical poetry of yesterday. We are the prose of today, the facts of here and now, the truth of Scotland.
And when we look to our neighbours, we can all see the family who can’t quite make ends meet, the child you needs some extra help, the grandmother alone who needs a hand, the mother struggling with hands full, the man at the end of his tether – for we are all the people who choose to live on this land, and by our shared values, we are the welfare of everyone in our community.”
This is what the appeal to “be part of better” means.