Watch out – David Cameron's about. So all the big political beasts of the jungle are in Edinburgh today. I spent this morning in the BBC's Edinburgh studio hopping from a radio studio with Times Scotland Editor Magnus Linklater for a piece at the tail end of the Today programme to a TV studio to do the same thing on BBC World. Having just come back from the deep snow of sub-zero in Munich last night I wasn't exactly dressed for the piece – sweltering away under the TV lights in my fur lined boots. But it's exciting to be in the midst of it all. Cameron is apparently off in a not-to-be-disclosed location in Fife at the moment which could be the Quaker Oats factory in Cupar (porridge – Scots geddit??) and will come back for a press conference in a Grassmarket hotel which overlooks Edinburgh Castle (where Big Lec launched the independence referendum document a fortnight ago – geddit!)
Clearly symbolism is us today. Or – as Scotsman Assistant Editor Peter McMahon observed after a Sky interview outside the Scottish Parliament (see the folk you meet sailing past on your bike?!) he's meeting cheese with cheese. A wee reference to Alex Salmond's predilection for slightly corny venues. Anyway I'm not sure how easy it will be for an independent, freelance journo to get into the Cameron gig, but I'll give it a go. A few things strike me about the Cameron visit so far. If Alex Salmond doesn't get smug or act belligerently towards Cameron today then it's bound to be a victory for him – however Cameron performs. The status the Prime Minister's visit gives the cause of Scottish independence is immeasurable. The unionist strategy of ignoring "separatism" until it goes away is now clearly over. In the long march of ideas, another phase generally follows. As Gandhi observed "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
Now the rather rotund Alex Salmond is now Mahatma Gandhi. Scotland is not India. Colonial rule in the subcontinent last century (often presided over by Scots) is not the same as devolved governance here in the 21st. But I'd say Cameron is definitely trying to match ideas with ideas.
Look at his choice of words today. He's suggesting the British people are "better together" –obviously derived from "we're all in this together." Strange that he thought it worked forst time around – but there you go. His other choice of words is more interesting. A "shared home under threat," is a direct lift from the Swedish, Folkhemmet (the people's home) -- a political concept that helped Sweden emerge from WW2 as the world's most successful social democratic nation. Ironic isn't it. But when Goran Persson (the last Swedish SD leader) came across to London a few years back during the dog days of the Brown government it was Cameron and his entourage and Not Labour who spent time talking with the former Nordic leader and learning about the "Middle Way" Sweden's conception of a folkhemmet underpinned as midway between capitalism and socialism. The basic vision is that the entire society should act like a small family, where everybody contributes – ring any bells? Big Society anyone??
I've a feeling the Tories have taken more than Free Schools from the Swedish model – just as Alex Salmond has taken his Oil Fund from the example of Norway. Sadly there is so little working knowledge of our Nordic neighbour's recent history that the Nordic connections go largely unobserved and unchallenged.
But a couple of things are for sure. Firstly, you can't just copy the odd policy or slogan from another society – Nordic feelings of family-like solidarity and involvement in governance are not accidents. Actions speak far louder than words, and the Swedes and Norwegians acted in the 1920s and 30s to make equality the lynchpins of their society, changing tax structures, pay rates, the welfare state and educational systems to make sure that happened. Do David Cameron – or indeed Alex Salmond – plan to copy that? Every Swedish workplace is part run by a works council composed of trade union, co-operative and management reps who meet every week at least. Do Dave and Lec want that? Hmm. Thought not. And what about grassroots power – the key feature of Nordic life – where meaningful local communities (of between 3-20k people) largely run themselves. Their tiny but powerful municipal government contrasts with our big, clunky and remote "local" councils whose average size is a whopping 162,500.
Sorry – ranting again!
Anyway – not sure Scots will agree with Cameron that they are safer in a UK that conducted an illegal war in Iraq or insists on spending £100 billion on a replacement for Trident. The idea of leaving the "economic success story of Britain" ought to be equally laughable. The UK maybe the 6th wealthiest nation on earth in GDP – but who is at number one? Not massive China but tiny independent, oil-rich Norway. And yet the banking collapse and Alex Salmond's Arc of Prosperity parallels with Iceland scared the living daylights out of everyone in Scotland. Particularly the sober, sensible folk who were brought up in the traditional Scottish way never to be in debt.
Och it's a long complicated business trying to figure out the mood of a nation, isnt it? Anyway, I'm off now to try and gatecrash the Cameron gig. I'll pass on the cheese.