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.

TRAVELLING HOPEFULLY

I seem to be very weary this week.   Occasionally, I fall into these moods.  It’s not a depression.   It’s more a need for  time to myself, to reflect and recharge one’s batteries.

We set off on our travels North fairly soon.    We’ll be seeing Joanna and her family, visiting friends , going to the Ryder cup, meeting (but not sailing in) the Arran ferry.   We’ll be in Scotland when  they vote for the Referendum, but without a vote.

I am anxious about the vote.   Not about the actual outcome.   If they vote No (every expert opinion declares this will be the outcome) – well, it will be a grave disappointment in some quarters, but we’ve managed well enough for 30o odd years.    We know how to survive in a union.   If they vote Yes, I am confident that we’ll be able to make a go of it.

What I’m anxious about are the feelings of the losers of the vote.   If the Better Together side wins, the movement for Independence will be extremely disappointed to have come so close and to have failed to inspire their fellow countryman to take their courage in their two hands and come.   If the Yes campaign wins,  the No campaigners will be unable to believe that they lost and such sweeping changes will be made from a small majority.   They will also be afraid for the future.

Whatever the outcome, some damage has occurred.    Some of the views of disrespect and dismissal expressed by some English commentators have taken my breath away.   One wonders, if they hold us in such contempt, why they would not welcome the opportunity to  be rid of us.     Also the lack of understanding of many of the English as to the differences between themselves and the other three nations is quite astonishing.     There appear to be two polarities on Scotland.   One view, supposed by its holder to be flattering, is that Scotland is a pretty country, mountains, lochs, Balmoral, heather, whisky, tartan, tossing the caber, the pipes, and it would be a nice place to go on holiday if only the weather were more reliable.     The opposite view is that Scotland is a cold, wet, windy, midgie-infested country, with unfriendly natives you can’t understand, troublesome socialists who demand too much of the national budget and aren’t in the least grateful, silver tongued rabble rousers, and a population that is largely work-shy, fat, violent and drunk.    While some evidence for all of these views can be found in Scotland, that is not what it actually IS.

I could write comments, favourable or unfavourable about the English.   But I don’t think that’s helpful right now.   Suffice it to say that I have lived in the beautiful England for 26 years and have been kindly treated and made welcome wherever I have gone, and have come to love the English like a brother.    One gets irritated by siblings from time to time, but when all is said and done, they’re still nearest and dearest, and you can never be indifferent to them.   You want them to live and prosper.

The Scots are famous for their generosity and big heartedness (the allegation of meanness is a calumny);  the English for their tolerance and sense of fair play.   Whatever the outcome of the vote, we need to express our very finest qualities.   The winning side should not crow over the losers, but express genuine sympathy for their disappointment and see what can be done to ameliorate their losses.   A fair and just settlement should be sought for all the nations.      We share a small island.    We should be kind to one another and remember our joint triumphs, what we’ve achieved together, our kindnesses to one another.       We’ll always be neighbours.   Let’s try to ensure, whatever the outcome, that we’ll always be friends.

I wish we could stop talking and vote now.      I’m going to fall silent for a few weeks and I’ll talk to you in October.

 

 

 

 

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.