Recipe for happiness

Written by on 15 October 2014 in Comment

Why is Alex Salmond looking so pleased with himself?

There has been a spring in Alex Salmond’s step of late. Admittedly, the First Minister may never have exactly been the modest type but recently he’s been strutting around like a gilded peacock.

And given the outcome of the referendum – it was a No – along with his decision to resign as FM and leader of the SNP in November, this may come as something of a surprise. 

But he looks like he’s discovered the key to happiness – even finding spare moments to write to national newspapers to mock their columnists and call up radio talk shows to settle grudges live on air.

This might not be the same as taking to Celebrity Big Brother and putting on a leotard to torture the nation with your impression of an indefatigable cat, but even if it only ranks a two on the weird scale – running from one at the bottom to George Galloway at the top – it is still odd behaviour for a head of Government. 

But at least Salmond is having fun. Johann Lamont, in contrast, looks pretty glum. Something is not right. 

At FMQs last week Salmond was enjoying himself so much he decided to make a surprise announcement, telling the chamber that the Government would “bring forward legislation to ensure that councils can take no further action to recover ancient poll tax debts.” 

He said: “After 25 years, it is about time that the poll tax was dead and buried in Scotland.”

Even on a bad day of questioning, Salmond treats the routine with the unbridled enthusiasm of a Labrador in the park and this was no different.

Even on a bad day of questioning, Salmond treats the routine with the unbridled enthusiasm of a Labrador in the park and this was no different. He visibly enjoys deflecting difficult questions and it would be no surprise if, post retirement, he finds new ways to get his fix.

One option could be to become the world’s most infuriating call-centre operator, answering questions with questions, mocking you for forgetting your password and blaming your broadband speed on Scotland’s inability to represent itself on the ‘top table’ of the EU. 

Lamont decided to focus on NHS spending. She said: “The health service that the First Minister made front and centre of his failed referendum campaign is facing £0.5 billion of cuts that his Government refuses to acknowledge. Against that backdrop, how is the First Minister’s golf handicap coming along?”

Lamont has valued the NHS ever since tests proved she isn’t ‘buttoned up the back’ but unfortunately this line didn’t stick, with Salmond just happily repeating his mantra that real spending has gone up, before going off on a tangent about an opinion poll he saw that made him look good. 

There are not many jobs in which you could get away with responding to a question on performance targets with boasts about how many friends you have – it doesn’t work at Holyrood – but then politicians do like polls.

This one from Panelbase gave Salmond a ‘trustworthy’ rating of plus 18 and Sturgeon a plus 21. Meanwhile Lamont was rated at minus 5. Nick Clegg was given a minus 58. The SNP has a 15-point lead over Labour in elections for the Scottish Parliament and has now overtaken it for Westminster too.

And this could be a clue to Salmond’s glee. With the SNP surge – getting 50,000 new members in a matter of weeks – helping it overtake the Lib Dems to become the third biggest party in the UK, Salmond may feel he is leaving a pretty good legacy in Scottish politics. 

Unless of course they are joining because he’s leaving. 

Meanwhile the only other party to see similar success is the Greens. Every leader has to find a different way of finding happiness – and votes – but Patrick Harvie’s strategy is unique. Basically, he is just really, really nice. To everyone.

Mind you, the tripling of the Greens’ membership following the referendum could bring new challenges. 

In fact it has apparently already stretched Harvie’s policy of hugging each and every new member personally. Mass membership could be calamitous. They could run out of herbal tea.  
Harvie’s happiness stems from being a man of nature – in fact he has taken to keeping a gaggle of sick baby geese in his waistcoat pockets, tending to them between committee meetings while engaging them in discussions of atmospheric warming within a non-hierarchical environment. 

He is a good guy. And though there could be a tension between the current direction and one that the new members would like to take, his style has worked out pretty well so far.

In fact the ‘be nice’ mantra is one that even David Cameron has tried to adopt, using his recent conference speech to try and appeal to lower earners (poor people) through raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500 if he wins the next General Election. 

Sadly, Tory attempts to be nice seem prone to backfiring and the feel-good factor from these measures was somewhat diluted with the PM’s threat to scrap “Labour’s Human Rights Act.”  

He said: “With us, if you work 30 hours a week on minimum wage, you will pay no income tax at all. Nothing. Zero. Zilch… that’s a Britain that everyone is proud to call home.”

Sadly, Tory attempts to be nice seem prone to backfiring and the feel-good factor from these measures was somewhat diluted with the PM’s threat to scrap “Labour’s Human Rights Act.” After all, it is kind of everyone’s Human Rights Act – that is the point of human rights. 

And scrapping it is pretty extreme, even for a party accused of reaching the cartoon-villain stage of dastardly some time ago. The news may please those in Conservative HQ – currently being rebranded as ‘Skull Mountain’ – but whether it is a vote winner is not at all clear. 

In fact the move – aimed at countering the rise of UKIP – runs the risk of angering everyone else. All except for Salmond, that is, who will be delighted to look good in comparison. And it is hard to imagine he will stop grinning anytime soon.  

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