Creeping separatism puts fear of God into Hart

John Osmond says that in going for the man rather than the ball the Carmarthen West MP risks falling over

The oldest game in politics is to characterise the policy or views of your opponent beyond all recognition, create an easy target and then knock it down. In sporting terms it might be compared with going for the man rather than the ball.

There was a pretty breath-taking, actually hysterical example in the Carmarthen Journal last week. In his column in the paper, which can also be viewed on his website here, Simon Hart, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, cries at full throttle that the forthcoming referendum on further powers for the Assembly spells the end of the UK:

“I believe we are at the top of the slippery slope to full independence. It’s time to pull back before it’s too late.”

And in a warning reminiscent of former Prime Minister John Major’s devolution wake-up call to the United Kingdom during the 1997 general election campaign he declares:

“Once again we could be sleepwalking into a situation from which there is no return – make no mistake this is creeping separatism we are witnessing.”

Once again? Oh yes, it’s the  referendum on what was then known as the Common Market he’s bringing up:

“The Yes campaigners would have you believe that this is merely a minor adjustment to the way things already exist. A little ‘tidying up exercise’, they say, ‘nothing to worry about’. But the last time we heard this sort of argument was in the 1970s when we voted to go into Europe”.

The 47-year-old Simon Hart would have been only 11 or 12 in 1975 when the referendum on Europe was held, so it’s understandable that his recollection is a bit hazy. As someone who reported on it at the time I can tell him that no-one thought of it as some kind of ‘tidying up’ exercise. Figures such as Tony Benn, Michael Foot and Enoch Powell tried to put the fear of God into their audiences, with dire warnings that the sovereignty of Parliament was at stake and the end of the United Kingdom was nigh.

When I last looked the Houses of Parliament was still upright in Westminster. Indeed, only last week the Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow, dressed in a sheet at a window overlooking Big Ben, told the Evening Standard that living under it was something of a turn-on.

Get real Simon Hart. Aren’t you talking some of your opponents in your constituency up a bit? Here you go again:

“I like the Assembly and think by and large it does good work but it seems many people are afraid that the referendum is being hijacked by Nationalists who won’t rest until Plaid’s ultimate aim of an independent Wales is achieved.”

Suddenly, I have an image of Plaid leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, the epitome of a safe pair of hands, hardly the type of personality to hijack the UK.  I rest my case.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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