No surprise if the French Consul General believed that diplomatic relations between the UK and France is being served by reporting to the Scotland Office the gist of what took place between his Ambassador and various Ministers. After all the UK and France are allies, joint members of the EU and significant trading partners.
And the Scottish Government is a small sub-central government who are threatening the stability of the UK national economy. This promises to have a negative impact on European economies. Moreover if the current Scottish Government got its way, France would be the last remaining nuclear military power standing between Russia and the USA. To make matters worse the UK would become an insignificant player in supporting military action in places which threaten our western way of life.
What is interesting, if not surprising, is why it took Monsieur Coffinier more than a week to make the call. At 60 years old, with 30 years experience, being Consul General in Edinburgh hardly marks him out a high flyer in the French diplomatic service. It is just not credible to think he didn’t get approval for what he should report to the UK Government about a visit of one of France’s top diplomats. Especially at a very sensitive time when a miss-word could upset the UK Government. His underlying message is that France does not deal directly with Scotland unless the UK Government gives prior approval. The Scottish Government was left with no room to dissemble the level of support from the French Government.
The note is prefaced that France is “struck by the Labour v SNP debate in Scotland as opposed to the Westminster dynamic”. That debate was a topic of conversation – it is not denied that the truncated discussion “focused mainly on the political situation”. Monsieur Coffinier evidently only reported what the First Minister said. Apart from the claim which is the subject of so much contention, the First Minister evidently didn’t say anything which we all didn’t know.
If the report is a verbatim report, the meeting was truncated to hand-shakes, pleasantries and less than one minute of the First Minister rattling off her opinion. No – I don’t buy that. I do think the Ambassador, herself a forceful individual by all reports, would have had her say. I also think that whoever said what, the First Minister did not deny she’d rather see David Cameron remain as Prime Minister as opposed to Ed Miliband.
In this very short note of a truncated meeting we are left with having to give meaning to how the First Minister’s feelings on the relative merits of Cameron and Miliband were obtained. The note claims she “confessed” – we are left not knowing just how the French thought she confessed.
The Labour Party should not allow itself to doubt that Nicola Sturgeon’s priority is to make Scotland an SNP State. The reality is that for the foreseeable future the SNP will be a sub-central government within the UK. But her aim is to create one with maximum fiscal autonomy and minimum fiscal rules. She wants Scotland’s devolved powers to exceed those of any other federal state within the OECD.
Whilst a right leaning Westminster Government may be happy for the SNP to destroy Labour in Scotland it would never hand over greater powers than those agreed by the Smith Commission. Even then the Block Grant would almost certainly get emasculated, something a Labour Government wouldn’t do because of the austerity it would cause here in Scotland.
Whatever Nicola Sturgeon thinks about Ed Miliband isn’t critical to anybody but the two of them. What is important to the Labour Party and the future of the people of Scotland is that the SNP’s grip on power is broken. May’s election will prove just how strong a grip they have, but like many others with a business background, I believe that the three main parties have done too little to highlight the paucity of SNP achievement in eight years and the damage they will cause to Scotland and potentially to the UK.
That’s why I and those who think like me think we understand the motives behind Monsieur Coffinier’s considered message to the UK Government and maybe to Nicola Sturgeon. We do not understand why the SNP’s rise is going unchallenged and un-checked – it endangers recovery.
As part of the election campaign Tony Blair has spoken out about the value of Europe to our economy. He could equally have spoken about the value of business. In my experience there has never been a more business savvy team than Blair and Mandelson. They developed and enjoyed mutual respect with business. Brown only diminished the Labour Party in the eyes of business in the latter part of his tenure when he lurched to the Left.
But I cannot remember a Labour leadership which enjoys as little support from business as this current one. The only party which is viewed in a similar light is the SNP. The difference being that the SNP has demonstrated such a threatening attitude to business – by which I mean those who are not Scottish Nationalists and many who are not domiciled here but employ large numbers of workers in Scotland and invest in new and replacement ventures – that there is no possibility of rapport in the future.
Whatever happens in May and before May 2016, Labour in Scotland must promote a new compact with business. Business in Scotland can assist Labour to defeat the SNP next May as they did in the referendum. Business in Scotland can assist in persuading a Tory Government to agree to fair fiscal rules to control increased fiscal autonomy. Business in Scotland can continue to invest to protect existing jobs and create new ones.
The dynamism Scotland needs is one where the Scottish Labour Party and Business in Scotland are working together on agreed aims and policies. Scotland needs more jobs. We need better paid jobs. The dormant workforce need more skills. Scotland needs inward investment to renew, replace and create jobs. We need business to make Scotland its preferred choice.