‘YOU campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The famous dictum from 1985 by New York governor Mario Cuomo chimes with most people I know who have been privileged to serve in government at any level.

It speaks to the tension between the lofty, hopeful and upbeat drive of a campaign that wants to win and reform rather than preserve and scare. Poetry appeals to the heart through the head and back round again.

The prose, of course, speaks to the realities, the constraints, the difficulties and compromises of actually managing reform, change and leadership.

In the last months and years, we have enjoyed neither poetry nor prose from the UK political scene or indeed in the US or elsewhere. For the politics of the moment the dictum should be: “You campaign in slogans. You govern in soundbites”. But maybe even that is too generous? Perhaps “You campaign in lies. You govern in dishonesty” would be more accurate. And it stinks.

But closer to home, in their 13th year in government, the challenge for the SNP is to campaign and govern in both poetry and prose at the same time. Because the party has to both govern as well as it can with a minority administration, while campaigning on many fronts; for independence and a return to Europe and the world community and against Brexit and the descent of UK politics. This is no easy task, of course it isn’t.

It is made easier by the qualities of their current political opponents, but they must not allow that to lower their standards, vigour, vitality or hunger.

And of course, these fundamental campaigns are not about ends in themselves but about means to ends. There is poetry and music in the idea of independence and an internationalist welcoming strategy as a country, of course there is. But that is not enough. Passion is not enough. Hope is not enough. Not only to win, but to make good that win.

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Because independence is a means to an end not an end in itself. Governing devolved Scotland as well as can be is always the best first foundation stone of the case for full and normal independence. This means compromise and bearing risk in reform. That is difficult and weighing up the political consequences for the longer-term campaigns is a difficult judgement for the First Minister and her team. But they must dare to dare.

Her decision to create the Sustainable Growth Commission was a very good example of her leadership qualities in this regard. She appointed me as chair with an outstanding team, resourced it and backed it to think for itself. We gathered evidence and insight and used it to challenge easy orthodoxy, create new ideas and identify gaps for further work.

Despite the strategic centrality of this work to the SNP’s very raison d’etre she did not interfere or meddle once in the fundamentals of what we were doing. She gave us a brief and trusted us to report back in candour which we did. The party then adopted that report in its recent Spring Conference in Edinburgh and at that event the First Minister announced the creation of a new commission to build upon that work. Appointed this week, the Social Justice and Fairness Commission has been tasked to show “how, with full powers, Scotland can tackle poverty and create a fairer society. The new body will build on the extensive work of the Sustainable Growth Commission and deliver a route map to the real prize of independence – a truly rich society with wellbeing at its heart”. Bravo.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

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Shona Robison is a superb choice to chair an excellent team. With senior Cabinet experience she is also now on the backbenches allowing her to think and act with freedom. The First Minister will trust her as she trusted me and that is very important.

In our report we noted that the gap between rich and poor in society is at its highest in three decades and that this increase in inequality has significantly curbed economic growth.

The chief reason for this is that people from less advantaged backgrounds are discouraged from investing in their own development and the state doesn’t either. There are many, many roots and causes and contributing choices that make this situation as it is.

What we conclude is that tackling social justice goes hand in glove with economic success. It is emphatically not enough to think we should grow and then distribute the proceeds. Trickle or hand down has not worked. That is the evidence of history. We have to focus on both at the same time.

I am excited to see where Shona and her team now take their thinking. They join a number of hugely important initiatives, including last year’s report on the UK from the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and this year’s launch of the Deaton Review on Inequalities.

The SNP’s new commission allows Scotland to make a contribution to a global crisis that is deepening and provides a parallel threat to the world alongside climate change. Indeed, the two are connected.

My encouragement to Shona and team is to do three things; first learn from the societies that get this right and understand in full candour what that has taken. Second, then start with a blank sheet of paper and dare to be completely different, radical and new in the recommendations to Scotland.

Third, then think about how to get it actually done. Managing the transition from where we are now to where we seek to be is the prose. That is always the hardest part and being honest about the trade-offs, choices and timescales is critical.

This is a hugely important initiative. Do well.

Tony Blair’s remarkable admission on nationalism 

IT would be churlish not to recognise the immense strengths and abilities of Tony Blair, just as it would be foolish to deny his downsides not least in the disastrous policy and prosecution of the war in Iraq.

The National: Tony Blair

On Scotland he often lost his otherwise steady sure footing as he never seemed at ease in the Byzantine complexity of the political debate here. That said he was far more popular here for most of his time as Prime Minister than either UK or Scottish Labour leader is now.

He was in Scotland this week to promote his perspectives on Brexit and spoke to the Reform Scotland think tank in Edinburgh. Its director Chris Deerin is an old friend and colleague of mine and hasn’t hidden his admiration for Blair. Indeed he could be regarded as something of a long-standing Blairite apostle or, well, fan-boy.

He was also a passionate Unionist in 2014 and one of the few who bothered to make the effort to articulate a positive case for Britain in the midst of Project Fear.

I don’t know exactly what his views are now but reading what he writes can tell anyone that his own loyal Unionism is being severely tested by both the fact and the manner of Brexit and the collapse of Britain’s statecraft and governance. As his mind opens so do many others and this is interesting, or it should be. (Hint: the best way to get people over the line probably does not involve shouting about where they stood five years ago.) This possibly explains the remarkable statement from Tony Blair this week on Scottish nationalism about which, hitherto, it would be fair to say I hadn’t heard him utter a fair, non-partisan or balanced word.

Not now though. This is what he said earlier in the day while addressing the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association at Holyrood: “I don’t agree with the SNP’s position, but I think that nationalism is a perfectly legitimate cause around the world in various different countries. Think of Canada, think of Spain, this not something that is just relevant to these recent times.

“I define populism as having a grievance that you want to exploit rather than answer effectively, riding the anger rather than providing the answer. Brexit is a classic example of populism because it is the answer to nothing.”

In doing so he made the perfectly reasonable and accurate correction to the disgracefully partisan canard that Scotland’s civic nationalism is the same as Brexiteer extremist populism.

The dogs in the street know that this is a silly lie. But that hasn’t stopped some politicians stopping that low. Jo Swinson may like to learn from Mr Blair in that regard, but she is not alone.

What we need more than anything right now if we are to emerge from the burning swamp of public discourse now is for adults who disagree to do so with honour and respect for the alternative point of view.

Tony Blair has moved on in that regard and this is to his credit. All sides must consider their own approach. We have to be better than Trump, Farage and Johnson and the tub-thumping, hollow-drum, strong-man populists like them around the world. Much better.