Stumped for words when you meet one of Scotland’s new political obverlords? Never fear – JOHN McTERNAN has some sage advice


Next time you meet a nationalist, ask them what independence is for. You’ll have to ask two or three times and after a lot of flapping gums you’ll finally hear the following: “Well, at least we wouldn’t be taken into an illegal war… And we wouldn’t have any Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

So that’s it then, the longest lasting and most successful union of two countries anywhere in the world has to be broken because of the Iraq War. Well, here’s a newsflash – the war is over, and we’re never going to invade Iraq. As for the deterrent – for that is what is meant by WMD – it is noteworthy that what is never said is that independence would allow Scotland to close Her Majesty’s Naval Base on the Clyde. But that’s what is meant by getting shot of WMDs. Why the obfuscation? The 11,000 jobs that would move to England.

But, please, don’t be tempted to mock or tease. Having listened to the desperate emotional spasm, press on. Say: “Fine, but what else? Maybe something a bit closer to home. How about the economy?”

When they finally talk about controlling tax, nod in a respectful fashion and ask: “So, if you controlled corporation tax what would you actually do?” When they confess that they’d like to cut the rate, gently remind them that they must be the only people in Scotland who think that big business pays too much tax.

But don’t be cruel. Don’t ask: ‘Whaur’s your social democracy, noo?” That would be to intrude on private grief.

Finally, get to the heart of the matter and ask how will schools, hospitals and universities get better. Sit back, and relax while you hear a litany of free-dom – free this and free that. A sprinkling of anti-private sector rhetoric. (Resist the temptation to interrupt and ask how this squares with business-friendly corporation tax cuts.) And a bold statement that it’ll all be so much better than England. Nod enthusiastically, and ask: “Yes, but how is that any different from now?”

Use the ensuing stunned silence to tiptoe away.

John McTernan was head of policy to First Minister Henry McLeish, a senior advisor to Tony Blair and special advisor to Jim Murphy MP when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. He now writes for the Telegraph and the Scotsman. He doesn’t seem to like nationalists much. Follow John on Twitter at @johnmcternan.