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.

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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

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION

So, Scotland is to be asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”   I find it extremely interesting that the powers that be have chosen to ask the question in this form, and that the existing government, which desires a No vote, has agreed to these words.

I realise of course that I am pedantic about words and may look at the wording of the question in an untypical way, but personally I don’t see how the question could be put in a way more slanted towards the Nationalists.

Should Scotland be an independent country?   Of course it should.   Should England be an independent country?   Yes.   Should Norway be an independent country?  Yes.   Should you, gentle reader, be an independent person?  Of course you should. There is also the brevity of the question.   Six words, and the destiny of a nation – several nations – in it.

Should.   There are implications there of duty and honour and obligation.    Something to which it  might be proper to aspire.    One should do one’s duty;  stand up for right;  pay one’s debts;  act with integrity.

Scotland.   Well, thank God that’s a clearly defined entity.   Everyone knows what and where that is.   When you say, anywhere in the world, Scotland, you don’t draw a blank response of ignorance.   People smile.    The picture that they form – heather clad mountains, shining rivers, handsome men in kilts, pipe bands, tossing the caber, Robert Burns and the haggis, whisky, the thistle, Gin ye dor (translation: come on if you’re hard enough)  may not be entirely accurate – it is not wrong, Scotland is all that, but it is alot more besides – but to put it in marketing parlance, as a brand, we’ve got recognition.   We’re not the kind of country where you might be forgiven for thinking, ‘Mali?’

Be.   We can certainly BE, and perhaps it is a weakness in the question, for we undoubtedly ARE.

Independent.   Stand on your own.    Think for yourself.   Understand your separate aloneness.   Make your own mind up.    Be self reliant.   These are all characteristics of the majority of  Scots.

We all absolutely understand, more so perhaps than we do with Wales – and no disrespect to the sons of the dragon – that Scotland IS a country.   When I say to my friends, why are places referred to as ‘the North’ when they’re south of Scotland, they answer, ‘But that’s another country.’   Or in talking of the UK’s legal or educational system, people will pause in their analysis and shrug  their shoulders and say, ‘Oh as for Scotland – it’s another country!’

It’s interesting that the word ‘country’ was used and not ‘nation’.   In ‘Flower of Scotland’, the Scots democratically selected national anthem, chosen by the simple expedient of it being sung forcefully whenever any other anthem was played, there is a verse which says (referring to the time when Scotland saw off the marauding English king ):

Those days  are gone now

And in the past they must  remain.

But we can still rise now

And be The Nation again…

I find this rising to be The Nation the most moving line in the whole song.   I love the use of the  word word ‘rise’.   We don’t have to fight.    We just have to rise up and BE the nation, like we rose up and sang the song.

As I have repeatedly said, I have no idea how the vote will turn out.   I won’t have a vote, and as I no longer live there, I am content with this situation.   But I’m by no means certain that this is the question Cameron should have asked.   I thought the Tories, and especially Osborne the Sneerer were supposed to be ace at strategy?    Am I missing the subtlety of some especial cleverness here?     We could have asked Should Scotland leave the UK?    Should Scotland separate from England?   Should the union be broken up?   Should we increase the powers of devolution within the union?    Any number of questions could have been asked.   And then again, it’s surprisingly vague.   Should Scotland be an independent country?  When?  How?  On what basis?   Does the government in the south think that this opacity is a defence for its position?   Do the Nationalists believe that the theoretical nature of the question mean voters will decide without considering the consequences?

I’ve made my position clear already.   I think we should attempt to save the union, but it would have to operate on a different basis.

But of one thing I’m absolutely certain.   Were I a Scottish voter, and  the question were put to me in the form proposed, Should Scotland be an independent nation?   I’d have absolutely no option but to answer, Yes.   To answer No would be to deny our whole birthright.

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.

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.