The piece below is due to appear shortly in the Scots Independent. As the noise against the SNP reaches a shrillness unparallelled since Gordon Brown's baseball-bat approach of 1999, it's time to start returning a few of these serves with interest...
Winter's Here – So Let's Get The Gloves Off
Summer, according to the Rolling Stones, was the time for fighting in the streets. Clearly no-one had bothered to share this information with the student demonstrators in sleepy London town just before Christmas, as a minority opted to vent their anger by rioting against the coalition government's plans to lift the cap on tuition fees in England's universities.
As the debris is cleared up and a winter of discontent falls upon us as surely as snow which the BBC fails to forecast, the time is right for the SNP to get the gloves off. For make no mistake, a thoroughly competent and responsible SNP Government which has played scrupulously by the rules since coming to office, needs to start punching back hard against a political and media establishment which seems willing to stoop to any level of misinformation in order to try and discredit it.
In all the talk of enhanced powers for Holyrood, who amongst us knew that weather and the freezing point of salted water had been secretly devolved to become the responsibility of the Scottish Government? The ministerial demise of Stewart Stevenson, together with the nonsense over the readiness of Holyrood's pocket money tax powers which no-one planned to use, has given us an object lesson, as if any were needed, in the willingness of the Holyrood opposition and the Westminster government to grandstand when it suits.
All's fair in love and politics, though, and thanks to the talents of the SNP ministerial team, navigating the choppy waters of minority government has been made to look rather easier at times than it actually is. The opposition has, of course, always been able to bring proceedings to a grinding halt whenever they wanted. Increasingly, the temptation will be, as over minimum alcohol pricing, to try and do the same in the remainder of this parliamentary session, trying to claim as many apologies and ministerial scalps as they can along the way, whether justified or not.
The overhet nonsense over Holyrood's useless tax powers, just as with the Megrahi release, allowed the opposition to pull together motions compiling a list of grievances against the government, while declining to put forward the alternative proposals which would have surely fractured their little coalitions of convenience. Parliament can unite to pass a motion declaring the moon is made of cream cheese if it so desires. It doesn't make it so, yet the resulting fall out from these occasions generates headlines for days afterwards, which our friends in the media are then only too happy to try and draw wider inferences from.
The election will be won outside parliament, but it can certainly be lost in the television studios. The ridiculous slant of certain BBC Scotland presenters over the weather was as nothing compared to their partisan fanning of the flames over the 'lapsing' of the tax powers. No thanks to the BBC, we now know that the powers had been mothballed by the previous Lib/Lab coalition, long before the SNP took office. We also know that the Secretary of State for Scotland was on maneuvers, as he tried in vain to cut the feet from the SNP critique of the inadequate Calman tax proposals, while attempting to circumvent long-standing Treasury funding statements to leave Holyrood with the bill for paying to administer them.
However, the willingness of an obedient BBC Scotland to run after this particular stick the instant that Moore bellowed 'fetch!', ought to give any remaining supporters of the licence fee pause for thought about whether the Corporation can any longer be trusted to report impartially. Mike Russell's recent demolition of Gordon Brewer on Newsnight had nationalists cheering into their cocoa - we need to see more of this in the weeks and months ahead, and to tackle square-on the confrontational approach and apparent determination of certain programmes not to give the SNP position a fair crack of the whip.
The opposition, as well as the BBC, is in danger of crossing a line in public credibility. Whether over Megrahi, tax powers which no party intended to use and which are soon for the chop anyway, or indeed the weather, voters can spot nonsense and opportunism a mile off. As they decide who to praise and who to blame in May, we need to be making our case vigourously, without giving any of the quarter that our opponents are clearly not prepared to give to us.
As well as robustly defending our positives, the SNP also needs to rediscover the ability to showcase the paucity of its opponents. Writing of First Minister's Questions recently in The Herald, Rab McNeil put it superbly in describing the way Labour members conduct themselves: “Every week, starey-eyed, purple-faced, vein-straining hatred abounds.” And that's before you even consider averting your gaze from the supposed better performers on Labour's front bench to what lies beyond.
The SNP government has a great story to tell about how it has protected services and prioritised public investment in the face of deep Westminster cuts. However, a record of competence and mild-mannered pointing out of the error of the ways of others will not be enough to defend this against a sea of belligerence, feral opportunism and lack-wit populism. To get our message across and advance next May, we need to leave the emollience of the civil service briefs behind more often and start putting to good use the cold political steel we developed from years of hard opposition slog.