WE ARE STILL STANDING

WE ARE STILL STANDING

John and I, at the end of a long and quite tiring though interesting journey through the UK, were seated in the cafe of Chedwood Roman Villa in the Cotswolds, It had mosaics of better volume than quality, but even so it was of course interesting although it struck me as being the equivalent in Romano British society of what a house owned by Jeffrey Archer might be in ours.

Right beside us at the next table were seated two elderly Englishmen and the wife of one of them, having a discussion on the result of the Scottish referendum. They were frankly exultant about the defeat of the movement for Independence. They hailed Gordon Brown as the hero of the hour. Alastair Darling was severely criticised for not having made a better defence for the No campaign. I can’t repeat here what they said about Alex Salmond. They were jealous of the concessions made to the Scots and did not wish them to be honoured. I heard the word ‘parasites’ being used of the Scots. John, listening to them but watching me, said, ‘They are having a private conversation.’ I replied, ‘You’d better get me out of here, then.’ As we prepared to go, the least pre-possessing of the unlovely triad declared, ‘I must say I’m relieved we’ve won. Thank God it’s all over and we can go back to normal.’ John’s hand was firmly in the small of my back as he ushered me out.

It was wonderful being in Scotland in the lead up to the referendum. The vote was the single topic everywhere and everyone spoke to everybody expressing a range of views but it was all polite and good-humoured. Given the level of engagement – there was an 85% turnout – we were surprised that we did not see more Yes and No flags, but the Scots seemed to take the view that everyone’s vote was his own business.

It has never been entirely clear to me that Alex Salmond’s ultimate goal was actually full independence. That he has Scotland’s best interests (as he sees them) at heart I have no doubt, but I have wondered if he said Independence because then Devo Max would be a relief instead, since you were unlikely to get the whole of what you asked for. (He has of course denied this.) But if I can contemplate ostensibly pursuing one goal while actually manoeuvring for another, you can be certain that the much cleverer Alex Salmond can do so also. I do not suggest of course that he was not disappointed in the result, but I do not think he was surprised.

In the event 45% of Scots voters said Yes, but I do not believe they all actually wanted Independence. Some of them had done, but others had voted thus as the only way of jolting the Westminster government to listen to the desire for change of at least some of its citizens. 55% of the vote was No, and again although some had said No and meant it, some had been Yes voters influenced by the Devo Max package offered at the last provided they voted No.

I felt low in the days following the event, though John was proud that his city, Glasgow, had stuck to its guns throughout. I felt that the cause was just, the leader true, but we had failed to be the people. But I had also felt very sad in the days leading up to the 18th at the potential loss of our fellow nationals, and part of me was relieved that we did not face immediate drastic action.

So, where do we stand now?

The SNP’s membership has increased since the vote (without any appeal by them) by 50,000 persons up to yesterday and they are now the third largest party in the whole of the UK. Alex Salmond will resign, as is fitting, but he is not going anywhere. He’ll still be there, the most capable politician, wily strategist and powerful speaker we presently have in the UK.

So if the Scots have any sense – and I believe they do – they will return as many SNP MPs to both Edinburgh and Westminster parliaments as possible. Meanwhile the SNP, heartened no doubt both by this unanticipated show of support and the boost to its finances, will regroup and it will watch and wait to see if Westminster delivers as promised. It will accept anything given, but will continue to apply pressure for the whole of what was offered. In my view, Cameron, or whoever else may be in power, will find it impossible to deliver what they said they would. Someone said (was it Dr Johnson?) that it was not difficult to distinguish between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance, and I think we may see evidence of the truth of this in the months to come. Another potential flashpoint would be if there were a referendum on EU membership and the English voted to leave.

So contrary to the hopeful view of our apology-for-an-Englishman sitting in the second rate Roman ruin, the ‘war’ is not over. That was a preliminary skirmish; perhaps the first round.

One of the things that has given me greatest comfort throughout this whole process has been that there has been not a whiff of anti English sentiment in Scotland; and since the result and our return over the border, we have been greeted only with warmth and kindness.

I believe it will be in all our interests to renegotiate our system of government. We need to recognise the aspirations of three of our nationhoods for greater control of their own affairs in a new system which also recognises the rights of the English nation. We need to progress carefully towards a new position, discussing these matters between us with kindness and consideration for one another. We have been fellow countrymen for a long time, and there is no reason why we should not continue to be so; although it will need to be on a different basis. There are many difficult decisions ahead of us. But as for the bellicose sentiments of our ignorant Englishman at the next table, he is wholly misinformed. Firstly, this is not a war and we should all of us do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t become one. It is a long and delicate negotiation. There is no going back to ‘normal’. What he pleases to regard as normal has gone forever, swept away.

Stands Scotland where it did? Not exactly. But one thing is certain. We’re still standing.

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AMEN FOR DARLING

I recently watched, with John, a re-showing on the BBC Parliamentary Channel of the Referendum Debate between Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling in Edinburgh. It was lively and interesting. Neither party was victorious or vanquished. The chairman, Bernard Ponsonby, was formidable and excellent. I felt like weeping at the end of it.

As a young woman, I used to feel sorry for any organisation or place where my father took up a temporary Residence because he would walk in meekly, concealing his real identity as an avenging angel. For some weeks or months he would go quietly about his business while observing the local corruptions. Then his cooperation would be required. My father would politely refuse. The issue would rapidly be escalated until the main man stood before him. Only then would my father plant his standard and cry Justice! He would advise the main man to repent and make restitution for all his sins, otherwise ruin and destruction awaited him. As you can imagine, the local Big Mick would be incredulous. Who was this unknown stranger, this nobody, to challenge him, Big Mick of generations of Micks Big who had run the affairs of Tinpot Yokelery without opposition for decades? He would threaten to call out his dogs. My father would very politely advise him to think carefully before committing himself to so unwise an option, and withdraw. Then would follow a period of siege, where hoodlums would be sent to beat him up, local cars would seek to involve him in accidents, other harassments. My father would endure all this without retaliation other than that required for self defence and by a combination of cunning, forethought and amazing good luck would survive unscathed. When I think about these experiences now, I am reminded of the Roman proverb, Fiat justitia ruat caelum. (Let justice be done, though the heavens should fall.) My father explained that there were two ways to overcome an enemy. One way was to study his weaknesses, lay traps for him, and lure him to destruction. If you were clever and patient enough, you would probably succeed – but how were you any better than him? The other was to behave as near to perfection as you could, wait until a suitable opportunity came along, make a stand, cry Justice and stand in your place until the heavens fell. I saw the heavens fall in more than one place. People would die in accidents; go to jail; their farm which their family had owned for generations would be sold at auction to pay for their debts. (None of these things were directly linked to my father.) We would enjoy the peace of the place for a little while, and then my father would be off, whistling, to slip quietly into the next unsuspecting place. It was very educational, but in truth one eventually became tired of living in a war zone.

Months ago I began watching the Referendum debate with a neutral stance, desiring an option which was not offered and was neither Yes nor No. But the behaviour and attitude of the No campaign has annoyed me. Why didn’t Cameron go to Scotland, state his credentials as PM of the United Kingdom and therefore bound to serve what he saw as the best interests of the 4 nations. He could have said perhaps the Scots did not feel valued enough within the Union and then list some of the strengths of Scotland and where it has made a valuable contribution to the UK. Then he could enumerate the benefits to Scotland of remaining in the UK. (There have to be some, I suppose). He could then outline his alleged measures to devolve more power to the four nations and pledge that he would carry these out to a stated timetable irrespective of what the vote was. He could say he had absolutely no doubt that Scotland could make its own way successfully in the world, but he commended the union. However they voted, he would do his utmost to assist them. He hoped that he personally would be counted as a friend of Scotland, and it had been an honour to serve as their prime minister.

Had he been able to lead the campaign as a man of honour and with the conduct of a gentleman, what a different position we might be in. But had he said that the Tory party, whose members are not averse to getting rid of Scottish labour MPs (bearing in mind there are more pandas in Scotland etc etc) – would promptly have expunged him from the record and then he wouldn’t have been Prime Minister.

Anyway enough of him. I’ve discovered something astonishing. The Press doesn’t always tell the truth! The newspapers almost uniformly report a Darling win. This debate could not produce a ‘winner’ but in my view it certainly wasn’t Darling. The view of the Press was that Darling had ‘won’ because Salmond declined to detail his plan if England was successful in denying Scotland the use of the UK (Note: the UK) pound. I think his refusal to do so was wise. It is not tactically recommended to answer hypothetical questions designed to put you at a disadvantage especially when you may have a delicate negotiation to conduct eventually. Incidentally, for what reason would England seek to appropriate the UK pound? Since it would be advantageous to all parties to come to an agreement, surely Westminster and Osborne would not pursue a policy of attempted denial merely through spite and malice? Would they?

But the question that Salmond asked Darling – Did he agree with Cameron that Scotland could be a successful and independent nation, was more revealing. Darling proved unable to answer Yes – even though it is obviously the case. He became upset and annoyed in the process. I felt really sorry for him. Darling is a good man and he will have Scotland’s best interests at heart as he sees them, but he has thrown in his lot with crocodiles. Presumably he felt unable to be quoted as saying ‘Scotland could be a successful, independent nation.’ He reminded me of Macbeth: Wherefore could I not pronounce Amen? I had most need of blessing and Amen stuck in my throat.

Salmond, on the other hand, remained calm throughout. Some ignorant, arrogant businessman, in disappointed headmaster to troublesome pupil mode, chose to declare himself displeased with Salmond’s conduct during the debate. Not only was this untrue, unfair and inappropriate, it was also extremely impertinent: Salmond is First Minister. Salmond did not react to or acknowledge this statement by so much as the flicker of a muscle. He also, once he had made his point, did not press Darling unkindly. He did not wipe the floor with his opponent.

I was thinking, that the Westminster lobby holds up Ireland as an example of the difficulties that can beset a small country which chooses to go it alone in the world. But I’m sure that the vast majority of Irishmen would gladly face these difficulties and be a free and independent nation than return to being an occupied English territory. (Erin go bragh.)

As for Alastair Darling, I fear he is fighting for the wrong side, but he is a good man for all that; so we will say Amen on his behalf and wish him every blessing. Scotland in the difficult time to come will have need of every good man it has.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. We’re in for a rough ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GAMESMANSHIP

One always watches Opening Ceremonies (of countries about whom one cares) with slight anxiety. If it all goes horribly wrong, it doesn’t bode well. If it’s all incredibly slick, but vastly expensive and boastful, that’s not good. There’s a huge potential for error. Then there’s the messages – the overt and the hidden. So I commenced watching Glasgow’s Welcome to the Commonwealth Games with trepidation.

Glasgow is a very distinctive city. It comes high on my list of Ten Favourite Cities of the world. It’s scarred but still lovely. It’s full of contrasts. It has a tendency towards self pity and drowning its sorrows in drink; it can lurch with startling speed into violence; and it also has an amazing resilience and capacity for endurance and regeneration. It can be stylish and witty and fun. It’s people are big hearted, generous and friendly. But they also have a strong sense of egalitarian self belief, consider themselves the equal of anyone, have (mostly) little time for snobbery or pretension and they have an assassin’s keen eye, swift hand and cruel tongue. I cannot claim to be a daughter of the city of Glasgow, though I know it quite well and have always loved it; but I know to tread carefully. I briefly went to school there, and a wee local toughie of a schoolboy said to me, (I translate) ‘When you came here first, I thought you were a right wee snob: but I see now that you’re not.’ In its bluntness, directness, acuteness and generosity that’s a very Glaswegian remark, and I was highly complimented.

So, Glasgow’s lovely; Glasgow’s friendly; but it’s definitely Not for Messing With.

In the event, I thought the ceremony a triumph. It obviously had a modest but adequate budget which I thought was entirely appropriate. It mastered modern technology successfully. It was self mocking about its cliches. The tartan uniform was not old-fashioned kitsch but up to date and edgy. The pipes were played but in a modern funky style. There were in jokes. Dancers were dressed as Tunnocks Tea Cakes (of which this Scot is also inordinately fond.) They showed quick camera shots of the statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head. (Students had traditionally placed traffic cones on the head of the statue, and Glasgow City Council proposed raising the statue out of reach on a plinth, (though there is no height that would be unscaleable by a drunken Glaswegian) at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds. In a matter of hours, tens of thousands of signatures were obtained on an objection, and some pundit declared that the City of Glasgow cared more for the traffic cone than for the statue. The Duke remains, with a traffic cone on his head.) Billy Connolly appeared and spoke affectionately of the city and its people, and reminded us that Glasgow was the first city to name the street which held the S African consulate, Nelson Mandela Street… So Glasgow said, with all its warmth and openness: Welcome to the Games. But it also said, And all will go well, so long as you remember: Do not mess with us.

The crowd was well behaved and good natured. (It couldn’t believe its luck that it sat out hot and dry as darkness fell.)

There’s always a Daddy-O of games – some recently retired, very high achieving athlete of impeccable reputation who seems to steady everything with his very presence and is everywhere at once. For the Olympics, it was Steve Redgrave; for the Commonwealth Games it’s Chris Hoy. (Is this an official position? Is the athlete approached and asked: Are you willing to be the Daddy-0 of these games?). Chris Hoy did everything asked of him with modesty, grace and charm.

The crowd – oh, they were magnificent. They stood in absolute pin dropping silence in honour of the dead in the Malaysian plane. They applauded each and every entering team, including the English.

The tension which the Queen, with all her experience, displays these days at any major Scottish event, shows that she does not fall into the trap with English politicians and consider the whole referendum issue to be one of minor relevance, a provincial matter She knows that if things go badly wrong, her heirs (though not herself) stand to lose a quarter of their kingdom. The Queen herself was received with great warmth. It was noticeable however that when the National Anthem was played, the crowd stood politely, but it did not sing.

The Provost of Glasgow spoke with passion of his city and from a working class perspective and why should he not? Billy Connolly spoke warmly of the city but reminded us that Glasgow was the first city to name the street with the South African consulate, Nelson Mandela Street. Alex Salmond, class act that he is, scored no political points but swiftly discharged his duty as First Minister of all Scotland. The Queen was gracious. The Games were open.

Magnus Linklater in his article in The Times of July 26 drew entirely different conclusions to mine. He said the crowd sang the National Anthem with gusto. Is he joking? Has he never heard the rugby crowd at Murrayfield roar through a second verse of O Flower of Scotland, unaccompanied by the orchestra – because it will sing what it likes and won’t be dictated to? That’s gusto and you could almost hear them in Glasgow.

And he said the crowd cheered the Queen and only rendered polite applause to Alex Salmond. The Queen, an elderly lady, much respected, who has treated the Scots with cautious respect over the referendum issue, (which they have observed and will remember) will be welcome in Scotland, irrespective of the outcome of the vote, for as long as she lives. Why ever did he think they might not cheer her when she graced the Games with her presence?   They have better manners than that.   And she’s not just Queen of England, after all.

As for politely applauding Salmond, that’s appropriate too. This was a sporting occasion, not a political one. Besides, we don’t need him to be Daniel O’Connell. (Not yet anyway.) But I felt Salmond was moved and relieved as he drew his brief remarks to a close, and it is rare for him to show any emotional reaction. The people of Glasgow, on behalf of Scotland, had done him proud. They’re not stupid. They know how to behave as a dignified and modern nation should. With their own voice they had welcomed everyone in the spirit of warmth and hospitality for which their city and our country are famed.

Let Glasgow flourish.

WILL YE GO, LASSIE, GO?

John and I watched This Week recently, with the pugnacious Andrew Neil, and his two political guests were Alan Johnson, whom I’ve always liked, who talks sense, and is also a dangerous assassin when he chooses, and Michael Portillo, a man of parts and secrets, but not without a certain grace and charm.    (He’s not nearly as quick thinking or fast in the draw as Johnson, however.)   The issue arose of Scottish independence, and Johnson I felt was reluctant to be drawn, but pressed, he spoke gracefully for the Together campaign.    Portillo was asked for his view, and I listened, stunned and horrified.   Scotland, he said, was a nation of benefits culture;  it depended on handouts, and it would be totally unable to survive in the modern world.   Johnson shifted in his seat but he kept his face blank.

I thought, to hell with pleasant train journeys, and charming perambulations through Spain, and my being stupid enough to think he was a better sort of English Tory.   This was the real Michael Portillo speaking, insulting, threatening and dismissive.    Like Cameron.   How dare they?    Is that really who they think we are?    If so, do they want to retain us as an act of charity, so they can continue to sustain our feckless and improvident nation against hardship and injury?   This is very kind of them and we should indeed be grateful (not.)

A few weeks ago, I was oddly disappointed when the document outlining the bid for Scottish independence was launched by Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.   It took me a few hours to work out why, and I think it’s because the case for voting Yes should not be decided upon economic issues.   If the Scots are only going to be persuaded to vote Yes by a belief that they’ll be financially better off, I suggest they move South and live in England.   That’s not to say I don’t think Scotland would prosper on it’s own.   We can do whatever we set out to do, and Scots skill and drive in commerce, work ethic, aggression and determination was part of what built the British Empire.   But Economics is  a doubtful art, and who knows what the future will bring, what challenges may arise?

What is it to be a Scot?   It’s to be part of an independent nation.   Wherever you go in the world, when you say you’re a Scot, people know who you are, and that you come from a beautiful country.  It’s one of the great privileges of being a Scot, that you are welcome wherever you go.   As a generalisation, a Scot is proud to be a Scot and would be reluctant to change his nationality.   We are bold, enterprising and industrious and we can go and live anywhere in the world and make a success of it, and Scotland is still ours.

When it comes to the day before the vote Alex Salmond has to make the speech of his life.   I think if they run a collection of these insulting and condescending speeches from the likes of Cameron, Osborne, Hague and Portillo, one after the other, they can use the mealy-mouthed negatives as a positive incentive.   If the Scots vote No, they accept the role that these bullies allocate them.   On the morning of the vote, every man and woman has to look in the mirror and say, who am I?   Will I accept the view of the Together campaign that I’m too feeble and dependent and lesser and useless to be in charge of my own destiny, and go crawling back to Westminster saying, we’re sorry we aspired to be a nation, please let us come back in, we won’t cause any more trouble, and can I have some more gruel now please?

I still think that the best solution would be the four nations in a federal reformed government under the crown, but the Better Together campaign actually acts for me on behalf of the Yes vote;   and one thing is absolutely certain, if the Scots do not have the courage to stand up and vote Yes, no progress will be made on reforming any of our out-moded government arrangements.

As for the threat that the EU  would not accept Scotland, who are the English to solicit this view when they themselves – and especially Cameron’s party – are forever hovering on the brink of exit?   Scotland was historically friendly with Europe when England was not.

There’s a lovely Scots love song (can be heard on You-tube) called, Will ye go, lassie go.    I won’t be accompanying that despiser of his ancestors, Portillo (his grandfather came from Kirkcaldy in Fife), on any more journeys.   But if Alex Salmond were to ask me, were I a Scottish voter, Will ye go, Lassie: I wouldn’t hesitate.

COMETH THE HOUR?

COMETH THE HOUR?

 

I’ve written from time to time on the issue of Scots independence and of the prince who came riding to lead the challenge, Alex Salmond.

Neil Oliver at the commencement of a series on the history of Scotland, recounts a tale concerning one of the Roman Emperors who ventured into Scotland.   I’m not certain which one it was – more than one made the attempt – but in this tale as you will see it matters little.   The natives were employing guerrilla tactics, harrying the army in lightning raids, using their knowledge of the terrain and the weather, and avoiding head on conflict (which they were bound to lose.)    One day, emerging out of the mist to stand in a beacon of sunshine on a rock before them – but out of reach of their weapons, a warrior appeared.   He hailed the Roman Emperor by name, raising his voice so that the entire army could hear him.   He informed them that he was the flower of his tribe’s  manhood, their principal warrior, and he had been concealed in these mountains by the gods for the express purpose of defeating the tyrant (naming the Emperor) and stopping his cruelty and greed.   Though all the world was conquered by Rome, his country would never surrender, and the Emperor would be well advised to take his miserable lackeys back to wherever they came from before he and the gods dealt them a worse fate.    Then he disappeared again into the mists before they could get at him.   As we all know, the Romans never succeeded in conquering Scotland, and if the Emperor was Septimus Severus it is said his incursion into Scotland cost 50,000 men and nothing to show for it.

However, it was largely Rome who wrote the history of the world, and their historians denounced this account as merely  an ornamentation, an exaggeration by the historian several centuries later, who, they alleged, was actually a Celt and therefore biased, unlike Roman historians who, as we all know, only dealt in truths.

So there is no proof that this taunt was ever made:  but it sounds highly probable to me.   The use of guerrilla tactics, the Never Surrender attitude, the physical courage, the celtic oratory, the clever PR, the exploitation of the drama, the personal vanity, the aspiring to a heroic vision, the wit and the derision, the bold assumption of equality and disdain of rank, the sheer glorious effrontery of it,  makes it sound very like many of my countrymen to me.   Of course the Roman historians would deny it.     It makes the so called glory of their conquests seem tawdry and grasping and enslaving, instead of as they prefer to present it, the bringing of civilisation to the world.

Returning however to our modern-day hero…

I had the privilege of meeting Alex Salmond and exchanging a few words with him while we were in Scotland.   e was taking part in a Por-Am Golf Day on the golf course at Culloden, prior to tH

He was taking part in a Pro-Am golf event on the golf course at Culloden, prior to the Scottish Open.   John and I attended.   I sat reading in the shade of the hospitality area for much of the morning (it was a very hot day) while John followed Salmond’s party (which included Phil Mickelson, who went on to win the Scottish Open.)   John saw that the players would have to pass through a very narrow passage in the sand-dunes on their way to the 13th, and he took me there in advance of the golfers coming through in the afternoon.

I always find that famous people look much less impressive in the flesh.    We saw Padraig Harrison (small, like an amiable leprauchaun), Graham McDowell (shorter than I expected), Phil Mickelson, (an impressive and courteous figure) and finally, the man himself.

Alex Salmond is one of those rare people whose appearance is absolutely neutral.    That is to say neither positive nor negative values can be applied to his looks.   He is not handsome;  neither is he unattractive.   There is nothing about the look of him that would cause him to lodge in your memory.   His face was one you would never notice in the first place, and secondly would never recall.   Of his Machiavellian intelligence, his brilliant strategy, his long term planning, his well thought out plans, his knowledge, his intuitive understanding of people, his cunning – nothing at all showed on his face.

John asked for his autograph in order to stop him (he was too polite to assume that the crowd was interested in him, though in general it was him  they were following).  He asked where we were from.  We said, Sussex, and I added that I found myself all the time in a position where I had to defend his position.   Then he looked at us swiftly.   He did not appear to discount support as being of no value because it was not accompanied by a vote.   He knew that we were not interested in him as either a golfer or a celebrity, but as a politician.   He explained that he was having to attend meetings over the course of the golf weekend.  Were we there all weekend?   We assented (in fact we were going on to scatter my mother’s ashes but we were not going to burden him with so time-consuming a conversation.)    Then he looked forward to seeing us again on Sunday, he said, taking my hand and adding what a pleasure it had been to meet us.   Then he went on his way.

I thought, what hard work that must be.   He was playing tolerable golf;  he was exchanging with everyone who wished to exchange with him on whatever level they chose;  and he was keeping to the timetable.   He seemed able to judge exactly how to pitch each exchange.   He had as I said a bland, pleasant, unremarkable face but he had great charm.   He did not seem either arrogant or distant, but warm and accessible (although this must be in part an illusion.)   Although we are quite  sophisticated enough to understand that our cordial exchange is one he has with many people all the time, he never the less gave the impression that he would genuinely have liked to talk with us for longer and see us again.   Since this is unlikely, given the pressure on his time, one has to conclude that his mastery of a politician’s necessary skills is first class.

I recalled his dismissal of George the Sneerer on Question Time some years ago over the incident of Osbourne’s visit to some oligarch’s yacht in  the Meditteranean and the  ensuing bad publicity.   (I paraphrase.)   “If George”, he began with deceptive mildness, “wishes to be mistaken for a man of the people, he should not  be a guest on a Russian oligarch’s yacht, and in particular not at the same time as Peter Mandelson, who is a master of  the black art of politics vastly superior to himself.”   Salmond himself is evidently a master of all the  arts politic second to none.

It would be my guess that a man as clever as Salmond, who seems to have  a well thought out position on any question laid before him, must spend quite a lot of time actively thinking.   By this I do not mean meandering idly through the meadows of memory, but the hard work of considering and concluding about issues and problems.   This needs solitude, or at the very least, an absence of other demands on the intellect for a period.   For such a man, I would presume that these exchanges are undertaken by him as a necessary part of his job-  that he is not naturally extraverted.   Such skill, though apparently effortless, must cost him an expenditure of energy.

An interesting man, I thought, and all the more so because so much  about him is hidden.    Here’s a man who has gambled his entire career on one throw of the dice.    Yet, in my judgement, he, as an individual,  can afford to lose.   His personal resources would be sufficient to withstand the disappointment.

The question is, can Scotland afford to lose him?

Photograph courtesy of John Armstrong

 

SAVING THE UNION

After the great unifying success of the Opening Ceremony and the Olympic Games, I have read at least 3 articles in the press (Hugo Rifkind, Richard Morrison, and some shrill woman whose name I don’t recall) opining with greater or lesser degrees of rejoicing that Scottish Independence and Alex Salmond were dead in the water.    Whether this is true or not we must all hope to live and witness, but personally I think to hold this view is to miss the point.

I reflected how as the ceremony unfolded I was at first concerned, and then reassured as the designer recognised our four different nations and to highlight those common factors which we all value.   Never the less, I was puzzled by the order of the playing of the nations’ anthems – first the English, well, you would expect that – and then Northern Ireland’s?   But then I realised they were being played in alphabetical order – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales – and who could disagree with that?

I agree wholeheartedly that the Olympic Games were a great success and it was wonderful to be received in London with warmth and welcome, and to watch Andy Murray draped in the Union flag thank the ‘home crowd’ for its support.   So far did our joy and goodwill extend that we converged on London in our hundreds of thousands, (my husband amongst them) to cheer on runners in the Marathon  and to recognise their effort and achievement, when this was an event where there was no hope of a British runner winning.

So  – of course we’re stronger together than apart.   Yes, the Union is worth saving.   But I don’t think the dissolution of the union has ceased to be a danger.

We’ve been watching an excellent series by that wonderful wizard of  a presenter Michael Woods, on the history of the British.   It is striking how none of the would be invaders – Rome, the Edwards I and II, William the Conqueror, were  able to conquer Scotland, partly due to the resistance of the natives, and partly also to geographical good fortune.   It is moving for Scots to see that the borders of the Roman empire are stopped at Hadrian’s Wall and to read that Septimus Severus advanced further into Scotland, but did not succeed in holding the territory, and his incursion cost him 50,000 men.    Yet Scotland was betrayed by the greed and perfidy of its king, and by its poverty at that time, into an inferior position within the union.

The Scots are long of memory.   I recall discussing these issues with a friend, who complained that they had all happened centuries ago, and when would that slate be wiped clean?   I in my turn was astonished by her attitude.   Things once done or said stand forever and can never be nullified.   They can be forgiven, but the Scots are not good at that.

The union of the crowns, and later of the parliaments, was like an arranged marriage with the people of  Scotland (but not its king or aristocracy) an unwilling and coerced participant.   The marriage has endured – to mutual benefit it has to be agreed – but Scotland’s dissatisfaction has not diminished.   The present position seems to be that at least some Scots (about half as we stand at present, I would estimate, but rising) are dissatisfied with the marriage and wish to change, if not to end it.   England on the other hand, declares itself quite happy with the present arrangement.   In national unions, as in marriages, this state of affairs could not be described as either welcome or stable.

I believe that the people of Scotland would wish to preserve the union if England were also to accept that it too was part of a federation comprising 4 nations of equal status.   The English would have to recognise that English and British were not the same thing.   They would have to accept that the Union flag belonged to us all, and sport their own flag, St George’s on all occasions that weren’t British.    They would have to choose a national anthem for themselves;  and I think Britain needs to get a new one too, for no Scot is going to feel entirely comfortable with the present national anthem, God Save the  Queen, not from any disaffection with the Lady, but because it contains a prayer for the crushing of rebellious Scots.   England would also need to accept that it must have a government for itself, and the ignoble post of Secretary of State for any part of our islands must be abolished.   Then we would need to define what were properly British matters to be dealt with in a British place of government, and what would be handled by the federated states.   Of course I cannot speak for opinion in Wales or Northern Ireland, but it is my belief that they too would accept these terms |(and Scotland would help them negotiate if necessary.)

But will England accept this view?   I see little evidence that it has even spotted the approaching clouds.   These issues are not going to go away.   The rising (not yet voting) generation has been brought up on Scottish history and is more pre-disposed to view Scottish independence as a ‘done deal’.   Even if the question is put, and we do not meet the criteria at this precise moment;  the question will not vanish.     The question will just stand there, like the elephant, and wait for Fate to overtake it.   It can always be asked again.

Our enjoyment of our British identity together over the last few weeks shows us what we could achieve.   We can rejoice in our own nationhood, and be British as well;  and we can gather in under our British  flag all our diverse and valued populations.

I’m for the Union.   But it is England who can save it.   If England can extend that warmth, tolerance, fair play and generosity of spirit that it has displayed along with the rest of us British – for the last few weeks, to its own brothers and sisters, there is no limit to what we could achieve together.    Saving the Union will be difficult and costly, but I think the prize is worth the price.

THE PIED PIPER?

THE PIED PIPER?

 

Following our return from a visit to Scotland, I’ve had the opportunity to take another look at contemporary Scottish politics.

I have long observed and appreciated the cunning and long sighted strategy of Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party.   Apart from all his other qualities, he has a deadly wit, and I really enjoyed his dismissal of George Osborne after the latter’s ill-advised holiday on some oligarch’s yacht in the company of Peter Mandelson.    “If George wishes” he began with deceptive amiability, “to be mistaken for a man of the people, then it might be preferable not to accept hospitality from a Russian oligarch – but certainly he should avoid doing so in the company of Peter Mandelson, who greatly outclasses him in his mastery of the black art of politics’.      We all laughed and Osborne for once could not come up with a smart reply, but I thought Salmond himself was no mean practitioner of the black art.

Salmond is what my brother would refer to as a ‘gradualist’ inching the Scottish people along by gentle degree to whatever his eventual goal happens to be.     With Salmond being so clever and so devious, you can never be entirely sure.

He has a well thought out approach to the monarchy and professes to wish to retain the Queen as Head of State.    But when you see him in her presence and you watch his body language – though I am quite sure he is scrupulously polite and correct –   I’m not so sure she can rely on him.   He describes the Queen as ‘a very astute lady’, so no doubt she has the measure of him.

I had not realised until recently that IF Salmond’s goal is genuinely independence, then not only does he need a Scottish majority vote in favour; the English would also have to vote.    I suspect he’s pursuing a two pronged strategy – giving the Scots things they – indeed everybody – would want – free prescriptions, free care for the elderly, no tolls on bridges, free education for everybody but the English, to please the Scottish voter; and using these same policies to annoy the English so that when it comes to the vote, the English say, Go then; we’re better off without you.   I do find it very funny when he says, England should not worry about having to go it alone;  they’ll manage fine;    but he is being deliberately insulting, though he can’t be charged with this intent.

I saw him on a recent Question Time, surrounded by Secretaries of State for Scotland past and present.    In comparison with him all the Secretaries of State  look like school boys in short trousers and cap, apart from Malcolm Rifkind, who however looks extremely cautious.     They were urging him to hold a referendum now (believing he would lose.)    He doesn’t intend to hold it now because he similarly isn’t confident of victory (yet).     But they should be careful what they ask for.    There is a perverse quality about the Scottish voters, who might just say Yes out of spite and malice and because they are expected to say No.

I would guess – but it is many years since I lived in Scotland – that the majority of Scots – provided they would suffer no personal loss – would prefer greater independence from England, even if that falls short of a complete secession from the Union.    But one wonders whether Salmond’s silvery eloquence and guile are not enticing them along a path whose ultimate destination is undisclosed;  or if not undisclosed, whose potential gains and losses are difficult to calculate.     When the Labour party brought forward devolved government for ‘the provinces’ it did not foresee that this would help, rather than reverse, the cause of nationalism.

The Scots are a shrewd and canny people.   The Queen herself said, at the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament that she had confidence in the judgement of the Scottish people, and who would be so bold as to disagree with her?   However, the Scots should make quite sure that they are not like the children of Hamlyn, blindly following the Pied Piper through that briefly opened door in the hill, from which no-one could ever return.