Since the Scottish Borders is not a nationalist stronghold, we don’t often see Alex Salmond in these parts. But the SNP leader was in Melrose recently as the Scottish Government (as his ministry styles itself) held a Cabinet meeting in the town. Such events are dressed up as ‘outreach’ and an ‘opportunity’ to hear from ‘other voices’ but, in reality, are really campaign events. This was followed by a public meeting — part of Salmond’s grand National Conversation on Scotland’s constitutional future — at which, for once, more than 100 people turned up. The First Minister boasted that there had been 40 such events across the country, attended by more than 4,000 people. Many of these constitutional scholars must be SNP activists, one feels. Evidence of the people’s thirst for constitutional change remains elusive. Nonetheless, Salmond presses on, campaigning for an independence referendum next year. This campaign, it must be said, amounts to little more than stirring up indifference across the country. Since all polling evidence suggests that Scotland would vote to retain the Union, Salmond would be wise not to ask the question, lest he be disappointed by the answer he receives. This lends the entire affair an impressive level of fakery. But what else are SNP ministers to do? As a minority government in Edinburgh they are, blessedly, unable to pass much legislation. Hence this constitutional rigmarole: often pointless, but rarely harmful. And how often can one say anything as cheery as that?
Calvin Coolidge, the last truly conservative American president, understood this. ‘The people cannot look to legislation generally for success,’ he warned. ‘Industry, thrift, character are not conferred by act of resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil.’ In fact, Silent Cal has plenty of good advice for David Cameron and George Osborne.