STANDS SCOTLAND WHERE IT DID?

STANDS SCOTLAND WHERE IT DID?

Stands Scotland where it did, Macduff asks in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.     Not exactly, I think would have to be the answer now.

It was our impression  when we visited recently that the suggested statistic of 60+% of people wanting an increased form of devolution is probably about right;  the Unionists (Tories) are rabidly opposed, and the English resident in Scotland are concerned.    The civil service who would have to administer any such change seem anxious and uneasy about it.    What also seems probable (and we heard various people in different groups voice this) is that if the Scots are forced to choose only from a choice of Yes/No to full independence and secession from the Union, many of them will vote Yes, even though that would not have been their first choice.    (Of course this is a personal impression only and hardly scientific.)

I don’t think the English actually understand the basis for Scots desire for independence (or greater devolution.)    In the first place, the Scots were never conquered, not by Rome nor by England, and the union of the Crowns was agreed to by James VI of Scotland and lst of England to satisfy hIs own ambition.   In those days kings had not yet been brought to heel sufficiently to understand that they are the servants of the country and not its masters and considered themselves appointed by God as fit to make decisions without consultation.   Even the salutary example of what happens when you try the patience of the English too far, in the unhappy fate of Charles 11 (later in history than James of course) did not appear to modify their arrogance for some considerable time.

It seems doubtful that England alone could have created the empire without the freedom from domestic dispute it enjoyed, plus the manpower and the special skills contributed by each of the four nations who comprised Great Britain.   We have all benefitted from the wealth and power that the empire brought us;  the Scots are not suggesting that they are an oppressed people.    But the English have always regarded ‘English’ and ‘British’ as being one and the same thing, whereas they are not at all.    I am proud to be British, but I can never be English.

So I posit that the other nations feel that whereas they made an equal contribution to our wealth and prosperity,  their equality of status has never been recognised by England, who dismisses them as ‘the provinces’ and is impertinent enough to appoint a Secretary of State for each ‘province’ as though these countries were dependencies that had to be ‘governed’ instead of independent and equal partners with themselves, the English.  (  These particular Secretaries of State are generally loathed as traitors in the countries where they hold office, and perhaps symbolically they should be escorted to the borders and requested to return to whoever employs them;  or else to accurately represent Scotland and the other nations’ interests, instead of ‘ruling’ Scotland etc in England’s name.)   Why is there no Secretary of State for England?

This view is borne out by England’s complete rejection of any devolved parliament for them.   Why should they need this, when (they suppose) Westminster is theirs anyway?

I live in England and love Sussex and the English.    There is no country on the planet more beautiful than England, and the people of England are a fine people with many virtues of their own.     We need to handle this transition –  which I believe will come to pass – with tolerance and kindness for one another.   We the British have lived and worked together for centuries to our mutual benefit.   Our kinship and friendship circle is intertwined.    To tear this apart, to turn our backs on one another, would be a disaster for all concerned.   In this case, we truly are all in it together, and personally I hope we stay that way.   However, in my view. there is little possibility of maintaining the status quo.

I hope that in say ten year’s time, we have a British Federation under the Crown (initially anyway.   If future monarchs follow the exemplary conduct of the present Queen, there should be no difficulty;  but this remains to be seen.)    The English can keep Westminster for their parliamentary affairs, but it should handle purely English business on exactly the same basis as the other countries of the UK govern their national affairs.   The House of Lords, elected only and reformed at last, could, with equal representation from the constituent countries handle the UK’s agreed commonalities:  foreign affairs, the defence of the realm, etc.   (We could call it The House of the Nations?)

Cameron needs to get his act together.   His condescending and bullying treatment of these issues, his contempt for the people of the countries apart from England, could jeopardise our whole future together.     He has to stop meddling in the affairs of the other British nations (and certainly in Scotland he has no mandate other than that he is Prime Minister of the Union, which is the point at issue)  and address himself urgently to the task of explaining to the English the choices before them, and guiding them along a peaceful path to our future British cooperation and prosperity.

On this journey, which now it has been started, cannot I believe be aborted, the English have by far the longest way to travel.     We, the British, want to remain friends and allies;  we do not want to happen to any of us what happened in Eire.

This is presumably not  at all one of the principal  tasks that Cameron thought was facing him when he took office.   But Harold McMillan, when asked what was the most difficult thing to deal with as Prime Minister, replied, Events, dear boy, events.     This issue is not going to go away.

Although I have no time for the Tories and have never been an admirer of David Cameron, I wish the Prime Minister good fortune in this endeavour, for all our happiness depends upon it.

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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.