The Spitting Image of David Owen: or, into every ‘Yes’ life, a little ‘No’ must fall….

I flew back to China today – the usual cheap flight via Amsterdam. Well, I say cheap, but £111 ticket plus almost £400 taxes? I’d like to see what that looked like without Air Passenger Duty, I can tell you…did you know that the UK’s APD is the highest in the world? Well, number 139 out of 140 (ahead of only Chad) for competitiveness of ticket taxes and airport charges: apparently constituting a £94 charge on one-way economy tickets over 6,000 miles. But I digress…anyway, to my pleasant surprise, I recognised another traveller clearing security at the same time that morning. Alex Salmond was his usual conversational and ebullient self with the airport staff, getting his usual positive reaction, and I became struck by that pathetic fanboy confusion, as I tried to focus on tying my shoelaces (which suddenly seemed even longer than usual), furiously trying to think what I would say to him if I could catch him up. It was not as bad an attack as some I know have had – I remember a good friend of mine, Debbie Poole, telling about how she had worked in a record shop in London, and because of A&R links had got a backstage pass for David Bowie in the late seventies. The pressure and worry and stress of actually meeting him eventually got too much for her and she flushed the pass away down the toilet, to her immense relief.

No such traumas for me, as I grabbed my bag and hopped off, to see if he was just ahead of me…then I realised that my first words, perched on my tongue, were going to be ‘First Minister…’ – and that was wrong straight off, and out of date by several months. Around about the time I got into the main concourse, I was beginning to be relieved that he was nowhere in sight.

But I had come up with a question for him. A half-decent one, too, I thought.

“Alex” (‘Mr Salmond’ just seemed like it would be so wrong…like a smarmy and insincere journalist), I would have said “how does it feel to be the new Dr. David Owen?”

The new attack posters released by Saatchi and Saatchi in London last week featured a tiny Ed Miliband snug in the top pocket of a colossal Alex Salmond’s jacket, and are of course highly derivative of a representation of David Steel in the pocket of David Owen, representing the eighties Liberal/SDP Alliance, as seen on the latex puppet show ‘Spitting Image’. Steel famously was bitter about the representation, and felt that the pastiche had done very real damage to the image of him and his party. Many poo-pood the idea of such an impact on his credibility at the time…yet here comes the Saatchis (again, Maurice and Charles were famously portrayed on Spitting Image, which shows how much they were seen as being crucial to the Conservatives tenure at Downing Street – anyone remember the ‘Saatchi Rap’?), appropriating just such a ‘failed strategy’ for their new attack.

Let us just leave to one side the somewhat sinister aspect to this campaign, where the posters released throughout England feature the predominant image of an SNP candidate, who is no longer either First Minister (sorry, Alex, my mistake…) or party leader. Fair enough, it is undermining the Labour Party by suggesting that they will not be in control of any government (and let’s ignore the stupidity of that assertion right away), but in the process it is demonising a party that is not standing anywhere in the area the posters are distributed through. (The Saatchis are probably smart enough to realise that, the way the wind is blowing, such a poster might boost the SNP prospects…but then, I guess they would be happy with that, in terms of weakening Labour, anyway?)

Anyway, back to smug, self-satisfied rubber Dr. David Owen, with the tiny little David Steel in his pocket – ‘oh, thank you, David!’ – but Alex had gone, and the question went unuttered.

Given that I nearly called him First Minister, I cannot say that I was exactly gutted that I did not get to ask him anything (for fear I might have called him Jim, or worse…), but as I settled down to wait in my seat in that early morning stupor on the tarmac at Edinburgh Airport, who should slide into my row as the plane was about to leave, but the odious Malcolm Macleod. As much as I managed to blank him (after his initial greeting) for the entire flight, he caught up with me on the bus to the terminal at Schiphol. Regular readers may recall Malcolm from an earlier post (Student Politics And The Microcosm: The true story of Pontius Pilate and Professor Malcolm Macleod (Neurology)) – and I do confess that much as I wanted to say ‘ever Googled yourself Malcolm? I’ll bet you do – next time add the words Pontius Pilate to the search – I came across a really interesting blog about you the other day…’ – my overriding desire was to restrict conversation and get away from his snorting laugh at the earliest possible opportunity.

I blame the early morning flight. Oh, and probably Air Passenger Duty, too. Damned Smith Commission.


“Whatever Labour Party politicians say before the General Election, one thing can be said with certainty about events after the election. If the only way to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street is by signing on the bottom line with the SNP, they won’t waste any time in picking up the pen.” (Richard Walker, Editor, The National, 30/1/2015)

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