Seeing Ian Blackford speak is like watching as a steam engine chugs towards you.
It’s a nerve-wracking experience but you assume, always with vindication, that this thundering behemoth will career off the tracks and into a ravine soon enough.
Blackford is the pretendy SNP leader at Westminster, or, rather, that was the role of his predecessor Angus Robertson. Blackford pretends to be the pretendy leader but nothing can mask the marionette strings that stretch all the way to Bute House.
He was rolled onto the stage in Aberdeen first thing. They can’t stop him speaking but they can schedule him to coincide with the point where delegates are still switching off their mobile phones and offering each other mint imperials.
Blackford’s purpose was simple: toss a hearty chunk of red meat to the rank-and-file. And was it ever red. His carmine coupon registered pale salmon by comparison. Boris Johnson ‘aspires to be his own Etonian version of Donald Trump’ and runs a ‘dysfunctional, dangerous administration’. Oh, and ‘I say this to Boris Johnson… Bring it on.’
The improbable Rambo of Ross-shire ramped up the tough talk, revealing that the SNP was preparing a confidence motion against the Government and putting the Labour and Lib Dem leaders on notice to back it.
Blackford narrowed his eyes and lowered his starchy timbre to an ominous rasp: ‘Jeremy, Jo. The clock is ticking. The SNP is ready to act. Are you?’
It sounded more like an invitation to a clandestine enterprise involving balaclavas than a canny attempt to forge parliamentary alliances. (Mind you, this wording might have been designed to get Jeremy on board.)
Independence racked up ten mentions. This was a speech with more panders than a Chinese zoo. Blackford got an easy applause by pointing to a poll in the morning newspapers showing support for a split at 50 per cent. Of course, this survey didn’t ask the Yes/No question and was down on the 52 per cent recorded in August by Lord Ashcroft’s poll, which did. Still, everyone seemed fair excited and one doesn’t like to be a spoilsport.
Neither Boris, nor someone he called ‘Joromy Corbyn’, had a ‘democratic right to block that decision from being made’. ‘Joromy’ could have been a slip of the tongue, though given John McDonnell’s apparent takeover of much of the Labour leadership, it could just as easily be Comrade Corbyn’s new Party-issued name.
He regaled the hall with his group’s many achievements against the Prime Minister: ‘Every move he has made, we have been there. Every trick he has pulled, we have been there. Every lie and falsehood he has perpetrated, we have been there.’
This prompted three thoughts. First, the SNP seems to have recruited Sting to the speech-writing staff. Second, it might not be a good idea to draw attention to the fact that, for every move Boris makes, the SNP has been there. After all, he’s still in Downing Street, so it’s not much of a testament to their effectiveness.
Third, and most pivotal, I doubt Boris could pick Blackford out of a line-up unless he was wearing full Highland regalia and holding up a sign that read: ‘That jolly Scottish chap from PMQs’.
Edinburgh-born Blackford is cursed with strangled tones that betray his many years as a City trader and make him sound like a hedge fund manager from Basildon five minutes after setting foot in his six-bedroom but’n’ben in Lochaber. You know the sort: they sound so indecipherably Scottish, it’s a wonder BBC Scotland hasn’t given them their own show yet.
Anyway, one of the quirks of Blackford’s itinerant vowels is that his e’s sometimes sound closer to i’s. Ordinarily, this passes you by but yesterday, unfortunately, he had worked up a metaphor about Boris appearing to hold all the cards on Brexit. ‘We must remove the deck from his hands,’ he flourished, oblivious.
By far the heartiest cheer came when he pilloried ‘the Brexit cult’ that had taken over government and whose central aim ‘would be a catastrophe for Scotland‘.
‘The Tories do not care about the cost of Brexit, the cost of jobs…’ Blackford boomed. ‘No price is too high for the Brexit fanatics.’
Reader, he growled every word with a straight face. At least his vowels aren’t the only thing he’s oblivious about.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: email@example.com. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.