Why Alex Salmond Has Lost the Argument

Alex Salmond is no orator. Oratory is the art of persuasion through open discourse. Salmond closes down debate. He attacks, but doesn't engage. He shouts rather than argues. These are not the techniques of an orator.

It has now been almost a week since Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond engaged in a debate over the most important issue facing the United Kingdom for decades - Scottish independence. The second debate comes on the back of the first, in which Salmond's performance was judged to be lacklustre. This surprised many, and was certainly not the impression he wanted to leave at the end of the second debate, which he subsequently won.

My interest in this debate comes from the kind of communication and oratorical devices are being used by those taking part. To do this I analyse not what is being said (although that provides the context) but rather how. How a message is constructed and then communicated affects the manner in which the audience receives it. It is the difference between resonating with an audience or leaving them blank. In so doing, politicians and others can advance their perspective by pushing specific buttons which will produce carefully crafted results. Recently I have applied to this Ed Miliband for a forthcoming book, Nigel Farage, George Galloway, and Harold Wilson (for academic journal articles). Each of these - despite their varying communicative issues - are strong orators because they engage with their opponents rhetoric. They talk about what the other side is saying in a manner which 'takes it to pieces'. Even Ed. These are, in their own ways, orators.

Alex Salmond, however is no orator. Oratory is the art of persuasion through open discourse. Salmond closes down debate. He attacks, but doesn't engage. He shouts rather than argues. These are not the techniques of an orator. By doing so he is able to dodge the issues that make Yes campaigners yawn. They make them yawn because they are real-world issues, rather than the politics of utopian promise. In Salmond's independent Scotland everything will be paid for by oil revenues and an export-driven economy which will be constructed by state intervention. How will this be achieved? That doesn't matter, it'll just happen through his desire to make it happen. Those who point out are shouted down, if not by Salmond but by an army of Yes supporters who have been programmed not to hear reality. (This post may have attracted a few examples in the Comments section).

Currency is the most important issue because it determines the strength of the economy, how wages are paid, how pensions are maintained, and how infrastructure is made. It is vital not just to business, but also the social services, the NHS, and the welfare state. Salmond has not addressed the currency issue in a meaningful manner. Granted, he may have provided an answer sufficient to get him out of a debate question by shouting, but in the cool, calm rooms of fiscal reality he has not. But before going further, it is not a question of whether Scotland CAN use the pound (queue howls from the Yes campaign) but rather HOW it can use the pound. These are not the same thing. If Scotland shadows the pound (ie: Plan B) then Scotland has no economic independence. Decisions that affect Scotland's economy will be taken in London. The key difference to now is Westminster would not have to listen to any concerned raised in Holyrood because it would not be within its mandate to do so. What kind of independence is it that has no control at all over its currency? This is also the problem with Currency Union (ie: Plan A). Salmond has argued that he will have the sovereign right of the Scottish people to demand Union. Other than utterly destroying independence again, this whole idea has already been written off as unworkable for the UK. Why should the UK enter Currency Union with a foreign country simply because they demand it? The UK government has the sovereign right of over 55m people to say No. For the same reason the UK has proven highly resistant to the Euro, it does not want to enter union with any external body. And even if by some strange subversion Salmond convinces the UK to enter Currency Union, it would have to be put to a referendum comprised of an English, Welsh, and Northern Irish electorate.

This is just one issue which has not been addressed. I would discuss the others (border controls, EU, relations with NATO, nuclear weapons, the BBC, National Insurance...) but that would take too long and prove meaningless to argue my point. Which is this. Alex Salmond's avoided these issues by being highly divisive. Salmond has had two opportunities to step forward as a unifying national leader. This is not the same (as some of the Yes campaigners have suggested to me) simply being elected First Minister. A unifying leader brings opponents and supporters together by promising cooperation. Salmond has in fact pushed away opponents who will still be in Scotland after the referendum, regardless of the result. Certainly in his second performance, Salmond has failed to persuade, failed to unite, and failed to explain his case. He instead shouted, hounded, and effectively undermined his opponent because he has no answers to the important questions. By doing so, he may have won that debate, but he did so by losing the argument in spectacular fashion. This will leave Scotland - be that in or out of the UK - in an unfortunate position, both socially and economically.

To conclude, Alex Salmond is no orator. That is a title I am happy to afford to Nigel Farage, George Galloway, Harold Wilson, and even Ed Miliband. But not Salmond. If the final debate proves anything, it is that Salmond is not a national unifier. Nor is he able to engage in serious debate with an opponent. Rather, he is the inevitable product of nationalism - closed minded, inward looking, and narrow in his world vision. It is an unfortunate position for Scotland (and the UK) to be in. But I guess this is where bitterness about Thatcherism gets us...


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