To the Corn Exchange with the hand of history on our shoulders. Last time I was there it was to hear Jurassic 5, a hip hop band with endearing appeal to some of us oldies because of their infectious rhythms, catchy tunes and clever way with words. Tony Blair also knows how to work the crowd, though this time the Corn Exchange is packed with suits instead of street wear and the gentlemen from the press are more interested in the sound bite than the soul.
We have been invited to swell numbers for the cameras I guess. I go along a little reluctantly – I want Malcolm Chisholm to be my MSP and I am not at all sure that having us turn out to cheer for New Labour will do him any good in the constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith. And yet, this is May 1 and Tony Blair’s ten year premiership will soon be part of history so it seems foolish to pass up the chance of seeing him in person for the first (and in this role anyway) last time.
What a performer. There is no doubting his effortless, apparently artless yet beautifully controlled way with words, plus the timing of a stand up comedian. Jack McConnell is surprisingly good too. Nervous to begin with but clearly focused on what Scotland has gained in ten years and what it stands to lose in the next four. (No word unfortunately of the environment and how Scotland could gain from rising to the challenge of climate change.)
Ironically, some of us feel that what Scotland has gained most of all (and that with thanks to Mr Blair) is devolution and a distinctive coalition government which provided protection from the worst excesses of New Labour over the border. So we have investment in education without Academy Schools, spending on the NHS without Trust Hospitals, and we have led the way on free personal care for the elderly and the ban on smoking.
With just the right quiver of emotion, Tony Blair pays tribute to all these and more then ratchets up the tempo to conclude with why the politics of nationalism is wrong: the politics of grievance, of finding someone else to blame; the politics of looking inward when the rest of the world is growing closer together; the politics of division which gets bogged down in retribution for the past instead of looking to the future – ‘give us back our oil, give us back our money’.
For a few moments of what seems to be true passion you see and feel what might have been under Tony Blair. If only it had not been for Iraq.
But you can bet that what the news bulletins will target is the short sound bite that really sets cameras flickering and flashing when the Prime Minister acknowledges that his job will soon go to another Scot. That’s Quality Control in the world of breaking news.