IAN SMART does some detective work on the First Minister’s conference speech, and concludes that there’s something missing . . .


I’ve got a fair bit of speechwriting experience.

It’s partly my job: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, would you wish to be sent to prison on the word of this drunken man?” etc, etc. But it is also a political task with which I have been tasked, on others’ behalf, from time to time.

Since that speechwriting has been in the cause of progress, I have undertaken these tasks for love not money. But, to be honest, if paid enough, it is probably a task I could undertake for any cause or any political party because, as you learn it, you become aware that there are certain set formulae for platform speeches.

Generally, opposition politicians are for change, for who could be against that? That, however, allows them greater liberty of discourse.

For governing politicians the task is both more difficult and the form more restricted. You always have the occasional other example: continuing to run as an outsider while actually in power or, in extreme circumstance, appealing for popular absolution as the victim of events. But these are not the norm.

The norm has five elements:

  1. A topical  introduction of some sort related to the place or time;
  2. an attack, ideally involving humour, on the opposition;
  3. a list of your achievements in office;
  4. what is, or at least purports to be a new initiative of some sort; and
  5. an inspirational peroration.

It is possible to reverse elements (2) and (3) but only at the price of restricting the humour to the introduction. You can also “baroque” it a bit by putting in trills from different bits out of sequence as you go along or even, if you’re really on the ball, have a recurring leitmotif. But the basic structure might as well have been set out by Isaac Newton.

So, paid enough, I could have written such a speech for David Cameron or Danny Alexander or, as somebody else clearly did, for Alex Salmond.

The point, however, is that in the speech delivered, if not the speech written, for the First Minister, the fourth part was missing.

If you know the trade its actually quite easy to spot the cut. It’s here, three quarters of the way through:

  • If Murdo Fraser thought such a notion was conceivable then he wouldn’t be trying to disband the party!

  • In contrast fiscal responsibility, financial freedom, real economic powers is a legitimate proposal. It could allow us to control our own resources, introduce competitive business tax, and fair personal taxation.

  • All good, all necessary but not good enough.

The cut is almost certainly before the middle para but just conceivably immediately after it.

And it’s a last-minute cut. I say that because speeches are written for two audiences: those who hear it and those (opposition politicians and journos) who only read it. For the latter it must make narrative sense so an early rewrite is gone over to ensure that the speech still “flows”. Here, however, the FM offers no previous or subsequent reference to “financial freedom, real economic powers….”. There is, accordingly, no narrative sense – the sure sign of a last-minute cut.

But you also don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out what has been cut. The newspapers were clearly heavily briefed in advance that the First Minister would be committing the SNP to a second question in their legendary referendum. Indeed, they were clearly so heavily briefed that a lot of the immediate press reaction declared that to be what the speech was about. In fact, it is not even mentioned! That is clearly what was cut.

Now, as all readers of crime literature will know, the real question is not what happened, but why.

The SNP are entitled to have a triumphant conference. Most of their senior activists have spent their whole lives being kicked to (the point of) death by the Labour Party. In May they had their revenge.

So they’ve all turned up in Inverness in party mood. I suspect very few of them will have surfaced as I am writing this. I hesitate to be a party (should that be Party?) pooper, but the problem is that they (if not, to be fair, their leadership) are labouring under the misapprehension that they are on their way to independence.

The leadership however know that they won for any number of reasons. But, regrettably for them, a popular desire for independence was not among them. Had it not been so, independence would have taken up more than one page of their sixty-two page Manifesto and indeed they would be hurrying now to accomplish it.

Now, I don’t like Eck, but he is not a heartless man.

What had been written in the original version of the speech was that there was to be a second question in the referendum. And even if he wasn’t to state it expressly, the subtext of that statement was that he had concluded that they couldn’t win the first (previously only) question – the question whose asking, in unequivocal terms, was the one towards which most of these people had devoted their lives.

So that part of the speech was cut. At a human level, I applaud him for that. Unfortunately for him however, the shattering of dreams will have to come some time. As a consolation, unless we get our act together, there is no reason the SNP will not be able to continue as the Goverrnment of Scotland and have another great day out while persuading themselves independence is imminent when they gather for their 2016 conference.

Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of  Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart. This post was originally published on Ian’s blog.

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32 thoughts on “Salmond’s latest cut

  1. I don’t get the point of the article above, so a part of the speech was missing so what.

    1. the point is that eck wants a second question about tax raising powers because ho knows he can’t win the first questio about, “independence”.

      But he doesn’t want to upset all those nats who think the snp is about “independence”, so he dropped the reference to his real aim, i.e thesecond question, about tax raising powers.

      but the nats will wake up eventually….

      1. Independence for Scotland has been the SNP’s defining policy since it’s foundation as a party in 1934. It is the first line of their party constitution. I can’t see why they would they abandon the idea of a referendum now, when it is within their grasp, and perfectly winnable. After all, they won the last one (well, the one before the last one, I suppose) in ’79.

      2. The FM has Labour on the hook and he’s playing us like a wee fish. Where is the output from the Scottish Labour review that was going to kickstart the fightback?
        The people want Fiscal Powers, but I heard Ken McIntosh say he was pro Devolution but somebody needs to tell him what it is, does he really want Salmond to own that too.

        If I must vote SNP to get control of Fiscal Powers then I will.

        If we always do what we’ve always done,
        Then we’ll always get what we always got


        1. When will Labour release details of the Devo Max/FFA alternative to the SNP’s independence proposal? I assume this requires cross-party agreement as a devo-max option can only be offered with Westminter’s permission.

          I see a lot of articles about people saying the SNP should explain what devo max is, but they can’t offer this; only add it to the ballot if it is offered by the UK government. I presume Labour is consulting with the Libs + Cons and will spell out the plans for this, being Scotlands second party?

      3. Alex haven’t you noticed that the vast majority of SNP supporters are quite cool about having the three option referendum? I know I am. If people want FFA to try things out first, then let them make that choice. Are Labour going to argue against the option that credible social research as well as opinion polls has pointed at as being the people’s choice? Good Luck with that.

        1. Strange that they wernt a couple of years ago. Then it was all “There will only be a single question”, “the referendum will only be a yes/no vote”, but then that was before Alex Salmond changed his tune…

          1. That is simply wrong. The discussions on the shape of the referemdum have been in the public domain. Anybody can trawl through the SNP or Scottish Government website and verify that what you are saying is incorrect.

          2. That is factually incorrect I remember discussions about this in 2009, that was a couple of years ago.

  2. Does Labour want a lawyer or a leader? A leader would offer leadership and vision. This is a lecture in legalese.

  3. Seriously? Is this all you’ve to say about such an important speech that has implications for Scotland and the UK?

    Please please please raise your game. Scotland needs a worthy and strong opposition party to challenge the government. This is not it!

  4. What I found conspicuous by its absence from Salmond’s speech was any mention of the labour party.

  5. I would agree that part of the Devo Max stuff has been dropped but I would guess that is because Salmond recognised that the Media would overplay it to the detriment of Independence. Was he correct? I think so, look at the response of Jim Murphy, a Labour big hitter( this can’t last,surely, his response to every situation is a state of dumbfoonered puzzlement).Murphy claimed to not know what Devo Max was and this was spun by the BEEB as pressure on the SNP, yet some on the Labour side are in favour, why wasnt he advised just to ask his friends?

  6. I wonder if these types of discussions will still be going on in 2, 3 years time? It’s all a bit odd.

    We have started campaigning you know.

    It’s totally up to the supporters of enhanced devolution if it goes onto the ballot paper. If no support is forthcoming then it won’t go on. But it won’t be the SNP that has killed off the possibility of a more autonomous Scotland remaining within the UK. It will be the Labour Party and their Tory/Lib Dem allies.

    I find it really strange that this is the road you want to go down because if anything it would suit your purposes better to portray the SNP as wanting to shut the door on extending devolution rather than yourselves. But there you go. I must suppose there is some rationale behind it though it is not immediately apparent.

    1. You’ve started campaigning, yes. For what?

      I’ve asked many indy types what the “independence” that they are keen to vote “yes” on means, and had many different answers.

      Some draw the line at fiscal independence, unconcerned by monetary policy or defence; others are adamant that defence must be key (and some call for neutrality in the constitution); some want the Queen to stay as head of state, others are adamant that the union of crowns must go; some say unless we have our own currency and central bank we would not be independent.

      It strikes me that if Salmond’s “independence” lacks monetary, defence and head of state independence, then no-one need define “Devo Max” at all. He has already done it, but branded it “independence”.

      The SNP are desperate not to put any flesh on these bones for as long as possible because they know that once people see the detail their internal consensus will be shattered. But they need to stop acting in their party’s interests and start acting in the interests of the Scottish people.

      1. We are campaigning for independence Duncan.

        If you really don’t know what it means try the SNP website or a new website called scotlandforward.net

      2. The SNP is a broad church which draws support from left, right and centre. One of the attractions for me is it is willing to offer referendums(referendi) on issues such as E.U., currency and monachy. All other parties appear to have a policy of they will decide on our behalf.

    2. Indy,
      Havnt you read the latest missive from Salmond? Only members of the SNP are allowed to debate the wording of the referendum etc. Even elected representatives arnt allowed to consider it if they are from other parties. They’re not proper Scots, you see.

      1. I think you have picked that up incorrectly John.

        To be sure I don’t think Alex is keen for Tory MPs south of the border to decide the referendum wording but it is open to everyone in Scotland to get involved. It always was you know – we did a consultation and everything. Honest. You can look it up!

        1. No, Alex has said that Scottish Labour MPs have no mandate to decide on the referendum.

          Perhaps if they were to create some kind of cross party body to come up with these things, they might avoid the appearance of arrogance, but I doubt it given that we are not to be allowed a say in things as vital as who should have oversight of the referendum – the electoral commision, or some new body set up by the SNP?

          1. Well of course they don’t have a mandate to hold a referendum or decide on its wording or anything like that – unless I missed a commitment to hold a referendum on independence in the Labour, Lib Dem or Tory manifestos lol.

            But they are as entitled to be a part of the DEBATE as anyone else in Scotland and they can consider whatever matters they choose to consider.

          2. But you havnt read your briefing from SNP headquarters properly, have you? Only the SNP will decide what happens. We dont even get the right to SUGGEST!

  7. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. The SNP can’t win an Independence referendum so they’re hoping to be let off the hook by us coming up with their fallback position for them. That’s not going to happen. They’d be better going back to the original strategy of publishing the Bill at the last minute and hoping to be delayed by the Courts. That’s what I would do if I were them. Cynical but probably more realistic. Their real internal problem will be if they win in 2016 but 2016 is a long way away.

  8. I believe that some people said the SNP could not form a government in Scotland.

    They then said that a minority government would only last months rather than years.

    They then said that the SNP would never win a majority at Holyrood.

    How are they doing so far?

    They then said that the SNP would never win a referendum!

  9. First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.

  10. John Ruddy – I actually hate to do this because it seems petty but Your Scotland Your Voice was published in November 2009 as a follow-on from the paper you posted which was published in 2007. It says this:

    10.20The Referendum Bill will be introduced into the Scottish Parliament in early 2010. There will therefore be an opportunity during the Bill process for one or more of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament to bring forward such a proposal. If it were brought forward, the Scottish Government would be prepared to consider it as a serious option for inclusion in a multi-option referendum. Accordingly the Referendum Bill will be constructed so that the Scottish Parliament can, if it so chooses, offer the Scottish people the opportunity to vote for a proposal about further devolution of other responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament as part of a multi-option referendum, even though the Scottish Government does not favour this option and will not campaign for it.

    As I said Your Scotland Your Voice was a follow-on from the various discussions and events that took place around the National Conversation. You can still access video footage and so on from this time. It was during this period – between 2008 – 2009 – that a multi-option referendum started to be discussed and the SNP formally indicated that it would allow a question on Devo Max when the white paper was published.

    You may not remember any of this but it happened and I think in fairness you should acknowledge that you are actually mistaken here. The SNP was not only discussing a multi-option referendum a couple of years ago it was publishing papers discussing it.

  11. Oh. My. God.

    The paper you have just reposted was published in August 2007. That is like 3 months after the SNP became the government! It was the first stage in the CONSULTATION.

    As a result of suggestions put forward and discussions around the referendum which as I have already said took place in 2008-2009 the idea of a question on Devo Max was floated and the Government then said that they were prepared to put that on the ballot paper.

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