Alan Cochrane, the Scottish Editor of The Daily Telegraph, was a guest speaker at our Scotland In Union supporters’ event on 5th July.
We recorded Mr Cochrane’s talk, and it can be viewed at the link at the end of this article, but unfortunately the video and audio quality isn’t great, so we have summarised some of the main points below.
Mr Cochrane mused on personalities, presentation and partisanship. Starting with partisanship, he worried about the continued partisanship of the Scottish Civil Service, reminding the audience of the ‘disgraceful’ figures used in the referendum ‘white paper’(illustrated earlier in the SIU event by guest speaker Kevin Hague), and expressed concerns at the lack of action taken by the head of the UK Civil Service at the time.
On personalities, he worried that no-one in Scottish politics can yet take on Nicola Sturgeon. He expressed huge respect for Ms Sturgeon’s political ability, describing her as an exceptional debater and a formidable campaigner. Mr Cochrane wondered how and when the non-SNP parties might recover – the scale of Labour’s defeat in Scotland being similar to that of the Tories in 1997; though the Lib Dems might do better with the Tories off their back.
Mr Cochrane highlighted how well-funded the SNP are, and said he has never seen a party quite like the SNP, in terms of discipline and focus. The figures are clear, but they don’t stick to the nationalists, so there is a need for a personality to make the figures stick. Mr Cochrane wondered if Ruth Davidson, as a different kind of Tory, might be able to make a difference and might get through to the younger generation and promote Britishness. People do feel British, said Mr Cochrane, but we need a politician who will sell Britishness more effectively – perhaps Ms Davidson can.
He worried that if there is another big victory for the separatists, and the SNP have put a referendum in their manifesto, then there will be another referendum and the UK government might not deny it. Therefore, it’s really important that we keep asking Ms Sturgeon whether she will put a referendum in the SNP manifesto for 2016.
Dwelling on presentation of policies, Mr Cochrane mentioned the ‘ferocious discipline’ of the SNP, and how that has enabled them to shift media attention to Westminster, arguing about process rather than facing issues for the SNP government in Scotland, particularly problems in the Scottish NHS.
Mr Cochrane noted the huge amount of emphasis and resources which are devoted to nationalist propaganda – including perhaps 11 out of about 15 SNP special advisers. This has put pressure on BBC Scotland, where a source says that any slightly critical story comes under immediate pressure from nationalists, who insist on rebuttals and sometimes even get in first with ‘pre-buttals’. As a result, we never get critical comments about the nationalists on BBC Scotland now.
Mr Cochrane wondered if there is now a wee bit more backbone in the Scottish press, but described it as ‘a straw in the wind.’ He referred to The Herald, saying he thought it had a poor election campaign and an even worse referendum campaign, but that it was now beginning to represent its readers and tackle the nationalists over things like the NHS.
Bringing together presentation and personalities, Mr Cochrane said that Ms Sturgeon could be ‘the Thatcher of the nats’ because she is seen as embodying the party. Mr Cochrane said he remembered working at Westminster in the Thatcher years, when every political media story had Mrs Thatcher in it – every story began: ‘Maggie Thatcher last night stepped into whatever row was going on.’ Sturgeon is publicly the face of many issues and policies, including education and particularly land reform, on which Mr Cochrane reckons she has ‘a glint in her eye’. The biggest risk for her just now is the Named Person scheme, which people are lining up to criticise and which has the potential for civil disobedience. Mr Cochrane said the official online explanation of the scheme is completely unintelligible.
He concluded by saying that although many people wonder about a new party, including perhaps a countryside party, he thinks it would divide non-SNP voters further, spreading forces too thinly.
To view Mr Cochrane’s talk, please click: here.