Making sense of Johann Lamont is a very trying task. I can imagine that in years to come there will be course units on Understanding Johann. Or at the very least some learned Phd theses on the subject. One hopes, so far in vain, to unearth something insightful or even sensible in Johann Lamont’s utterances. Perhaps it is just the way she tells them. She seems to have an unerring knack of not quite saying what she (apparently) means to say.
A classic example was on display last night during her TV debate with Nicola Sturgeon, when she, Lamont, came away with the now infamous line – We’re not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions. Now in fairness to Johann I think that she just left out a few words here. Her point, as is clear from the context and the rest of her answer, is that no-one is programmed to make particular choices and decisions. Not just Scots, but English, French, Germans, whoever. If you want a particular political outcome you have to argue for it and win popular support. So far so good, at least for the beleaguered Johann. Alas this is as good as it gets for Johann.
For throughout last night’s debate, which was more of a rammy than a debate, Johann was pretty much incoherent most of the time. Unable or unwilling to provide any answers she was reduced to cries of I’m amazed! I’m astonished! Was this a pre-determined strategy? When she did try to give a reasoned answer, as in the response referred to above, her argument was badly let down by sloppy, incoherent delivery. Just a slip of the tongue? She seems to make rather too many of these to be a valid excuse. As her performances at First Minister’s Questions regularly show, she seems unable to hold back her anger and frustration at her opposite number. As a result she seems programmed to making a mess of the English language. She also does not show much evidence of being able to think on her feet and react to what the other person has said. She tends to just stick to her pre-arranged script. Not a good sign in the leader of a political party and makes one wonder, yet again, just why she won the Herald’s debater of the year award.
When we return to the substance of Johann Lamont’s response – that constitutional change does not in and of itself guarantee particular policies – she is also on rather shaky ground. While her claim is true in principle, when it comes to the reality on the ground, (a favourite Johann expression) then on a whole range of policies, the reality is that Scotland has already decided which way to go. On the bedroom tax, tuition fees, trident, opposing privatisation in the NHS etc, the arguments have already been won here in Scotland. We just need independence to turn them into real change on the ground. Furthermore on all these issues, the argument has been lost in England. Waiting, like Godot, for Ed Milliband to win over a majority of English voters is not much of a political strategy. Apart from the bedroom tax the Labour party at Westminster is just as committed to tuition fees, trident and privatisation of the NHS. After all it was Labour governments which started all of these policies.
The fundamental flaw in Johann Lamont’s position is that she is unwilling to admit that on many important issues Scotland is already on a different course from the rest of the UK. And on many other issues Scotland would like to be different – getting rid of nuclear weapons for example. While in theory the whole of the UK could vote to change course and adopt policies more in tune with opinion in Scotland, the reality is that it has hardly ever done so. Certainly never since 1979. If Johann Lamont really wants to change Scotland for the better now, and not in some fairytale future, she needs to support independence.