When the Daily Record lost Magnus Gardham to the Herald, they made sure to call on a like-for-like replacement. Torcuil Crichton, the newspaper’s self-styled “man in Westminster” (and who has never approved a single comment on his political blog in almost five years), is Gardham’s only rival as the most virulently and overtly Unionist staff reporter – as opposed to opinion columnist – in the Scottish media.
A story under Mr Crichton’s name today, though, is unsubtle even by his standards.
In a piece trying to both keep alive the No camp’s limp “decoy dossier” of last week and pre-emptively discredit the Scottish Government’s own just-released forecasts on future oil revenues, Crichton savages both Swinney and the SNP in general, ironically using the word “bluster” no fewer than three times in the midst of a strained and rather tasteless metaphor based around the Exocet missiles that killed dozens of British sailors during the Falklands War.
Let’s take a walk through it.
SNP badly wounded by John Swinney’s friendly fire
An Exocet into the heart of independence, aimed and fired by the SNP.
Who let John Swinney into the armoury? Left in charge of Free Scotland’s defences for an afternoon, the otherwise steady Finance Minister punched his own postcode into the targeting system of the SNP’s limited arsenal.
His leaked document on the parlous finances of an independent nation sent a rocket straight through the SNP’s own letterbox.
Hold on a second, tiger. The Cabinet briefing paper did NOT describe the finances of an independent Scotland as “parlous”, nor anything remotely similar. What it actually said was that Scotland had “nothing to fear and everything to gain” from the economic possibilities of independence.
A bullseye for the Better Together brigade, no matter how much Swinney tried to bluster his way out of it yesterday.
From deep within the heart of the SNP, the truth about the cost of independence emerged through the smoke of the explosion.
Nothing in the paper described “the cost of independence” at all, but rather the financial challenges that Scotland will face in the coming years whether it’s independent or not.
The official Government paper warned that Scotland faces a £28billion deficit in the coming years, with the economy dependent on the see-saw price of North Sea oil.
The phrase “£28 billion deficit” is one that’s cropped up in several Unionist papers in the last few days. Yet it’s a completely meaningless term. A cumulative deficit built up over several years – which is what’s being referred to – isn’t a “deficit” in any sense that the word is used in economics, where it specifically means the shortfall in a nation’s finances in ONE year, so as to distinguish it from “debt”.
The only purpose of talking about a “£28bn deficit” is to make Scotland’s finances sound much worse than they are, because a deficit of £3bn or £4bn just doesn’t sound scary enough.
Swinney’s paper suggests pensions and welfare payments would have to be cut and defence spending, a perennial complaint of the party’s Westminster MPs, would be slashed.
It absolutely does not do either of those things. There isn’t a single sentence in the paper that proposes cuts to pensions or welfare, and the SNP’s proposed defence budget is considerably higher than what is actually spent on Scotland’s defence by the UK at present.
No amount of wriggling gets away from the document’s central assertion that there would be “significant” costs to setting up a new country.
The document addresses that fact head-on, including the actual projected costs, rather than attempting to “wriggle” anywhere.
Salmond had no choice but to bluster onwards, telling Parliament on Thursday that public spending will grow in “real terms” sometime after 2017. In the real world that means cuts in public spending.
This is perhaps the most extraordinary paragraph in the entire article. Crichton simply comes straight out and tells Record readers that black is white, that the Scottish Government is lying, and that when it talks of real-terms increases it means the exact opposite. No justification is offered for this extremely serious accusation whatsoever.
What SNP ministers said was “scaremongering” by their opponents was, in fact, the plain, unvarnished truth – as told to them by their own civil servants more than a year ago.
It’s hard to know what this assertion refers to. We’ve challenged a number of people in recent days to identify a single section of the briefing paper which contradicts any public claim by any Scottish Government minister, and been met so far with only silence.
The wrangling over oil finances will continue forever, but some key points emerge from the debacle. From Swinney’s point of view, why commission such a destructive piece of work without knowing you would get a favourable answer? It seems politically inept.
There are almost too many fallacies in this short passage to list. Swinney didn’t “commission” the paper, he wrote it himself. It contains nothing “destructive” – only things which have been spun destructively by the No campaign – and it had no “political” context at all, because it was a private cabinet briefing document not intended for political use.
Then why decide to present the findings formally to Cabinet colleagues? They’ve all now spent the last year in the public presses saying one thing when it appears they knew the opposite to be true.
As noted above, we await an actual example.
“If they had asked we could have written it for them,” one Downing Street aide told me, making a laughing stock of the Scottish Government. This one paper, and the fact that the entire leadership had sight of it, haemorrhages away vital trust from the current cabinet before the debate properly begins.
We’re in a kind of phoney war on independence now before the battle royale of 2014. But this financial explosion in their ship’s magazine leaves the SNP limping out of port, despite the comical attempt yesterday to insist there will somehow be an oil boom swiftly after the referendum.
The use of the word “comical” is propaganda, not analysis. Countless impartial sources predict a far better outlook for the oil industry than the OBR, and given the OBR’s poor track record in that respect it’s entirely reasonable to consider those sources reasonable and reliable.
Maybe it is just as well the information was leaked now. Had they taken the country to sea on a falsehood and been rumbled after the event, the public backlash against SNP ministers would have been enormous.
When the Scottish Cabinet meet this week they will take a hard look around the room. There will be the paranoid search for a Daniel Defoe, an English spy, in their midst.
Um, it’s not “paranoia” when you clearly DO have a spy.
It is not who they should be asking themselves, but why?
Someone with a close-up view of an SNP Government, avowedly one putting Scotland first, decided these leading politicians did not have Scotland’s real interests at heart and exposed the situation.
Someone thought: “These guys are at it and I’m going to tell the world.”
Or, someone in the civil service is against independence and leaked something they knew could be negatively spun.
All the bluster in Banff cannot hide what that alone tells us.
This much is true. It tells us how much to trust the Daily Record.