Two birds with one stone.
By choosing the cavernous, Bond-like setting of the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena as the venue for its election manifesto launch, the SNP was happy to let the medium be the message. Large posters outside the centre advertised “Embrace the fear: aerial assault”. We now know both that the SNP come in peace and how they will arrive. Helicopters at dawn.
Except this wasn’t really a manifesto launch. Nor was it even a political rally. It was the coronation of Queen Nicola. When the warm-up music faded, Stewart Hosie , deputy leader of the SNP, took to the stage to acknowledge the applause. He held his hands up for several moments in a “Shucks, guys, it’s been lovely, you can stop now” before realising that the applause was only getting louder and none of it was for him.
Nicola Sturgeon has learned a thing or two about working the red carpet in recent months, and she was still on the stairs some 50 metres away. She gave a wave that struck the perfect balance of coyness and majesty – Princess Di in her prime – and then walked, ever so slowly, towards the platform. Long before she got there Hosie was suffering from rigor mortis.
Queen Nic surveyed the arena. “I’m in charge,” she said, as if there was any doubt. There were a few of the more prominent women SNP parliamentary candidates filling the front row, but of Alex Salmond – every Westminster politician’s favourite bogeyman – there was no sight. It was possible he was hanging from an iffy carabiner somewhere near the top of the wall, but he didn’t even make it into a group photograph in the manifesto. Drinking pink champagne is not quite the image of the new SNP and the former leader is being airbrushed out. Come 8 May, he may not exist at all.
“If you vote SNP, we will make your voice stronger and louder in Westminster,” she said. This wasn’t just an appeal to Scots but to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. She wanted to unify the whole of the UK in a way that was both responsible and constructive; it’s the sort of message the Queen herself gives on Christmas Day, except delivered with rather more passion and conviction. And to a considerably larger audience.
Scotland did get a few mentions in Good Queen Nic’s speech, but at its heart was a plea to the UK that she could be loved and trusted. Not by the Tories, obviously, but by anyone with a liberal bleeding heart. There was no deal to which she wouldn’t come with Labour. She wanted a minimum wage of £8.70; Labour wanted £8.00. So they can settle on £8.35. Trident, Schmident. Obviously it was a bad idea, but she wasn’t going to hold Westminster to anything so demanding as a promise. All she wanted was an end to austerity – and love, love, love. She didn’t even seem particularly bothered about Scottish independence. With this much influence, she may not need to be; though that might give some of her supporters pause for thought a few years down the line.
But that is then and this was now. And all was well. Good Queen Nic could even beg her courtiers to be polite to any members of the media who might ask tricky questions. What did she think of Tory plans to scrutinise Scottish spending? “A bit of a cheek from a government who hadn’t met any of its own monetary targets when Scotland always had.” Genius. What about Boris Johnson’s statement that an SNP/Labour partnership would be like putting Herod in charge of a baby farm? Good Queen Nic demurred at that. Though given the amount of extra money she had already promised towards childcare, Boris must be under the impression she is fattening kiddies up for foie gras.
Finally the Queen took leave of her subjects with a further paean to hope, prosperity and constructiveness. Not Queen Bess but Queen Better. Salmond’s voice still echoed, unheard in the void and many Labour supporters began to wonder how the election might have panned out if Good Queen Nic had been their leader.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010