It’s been a big week for Scottish politics.
The question of Scotland and the referendum on her independence from Britain was firmly placed at the top of the UK’s national headlines until Wednesday. That was before the conversation was relegated in favour of video showing US army personnel urinating on dead Taliban and an Italian cruise ship disaster. The world does keep on spinning after all.
It became obvious what David Cameron’s new year resolution had been, as he emerged like a rabbit out of the traps, seemingly calling the SNP’s bluff, questioning why Alex Salmond needed to wait until 2014 before asking his people whether they wished their country to secede from the United Kingdom. However, his initiative-seizing didn’t last long. Before a day and a half had passed the noises coming out of Westminster, repeated ad nauseum by Scottish Labour MPs, consisted mainly of veiled threats and filibustering; what would be Scotland’s share of the UK’s national debt?, would Scotland be able to keep the pound?, would Scotland become bankrupt? All too quickly (and all too predictably), Cameron’s argument was reduced to little more than the tired old rhetoric of fear and the “impossible to prove a negative” campaigning that the people of Scotland have become all too used to.
Purely and simply, because of the personalities involved.
Alex Salmond is by far the separatists trump card and is arguably the only reason why the battle lines for independence from the UK are being drawn at all. Love him or loathe him, everyone admits he is a supreme political animal. His voice is fluent, measured and calm, especially when faced with an accusatory Englishman or woman, throwing half-baked, half-hidden abuse and throw-away racist attacks in his direction. That’s when he really comes into his own. Any tired argument put to him by a misguided and mis-educated English commentator is always met with a risible smile and a twinkle behind the eyes. He knows that all he really needs to do is stand in front of a bust of William Wallace while playing the “Scotland won’t be bullied by a Tory government in Westminster” card, and you can hear the whole sordid history of Empire reverberate between his words. He may as well just play a clip of Mel Gibson prostrated on the gallows with his innards hanging out crying “Freedom!” on repeat. That always does the trick. But there is something else Salmond understands, something else behind the satirical smile…
David Cameron. Anyone who really wishes for the United Kingdom to remain united should lock him in a cupboard and prevent him from going anywhere near the question of Scottish independence. It is simply a fact, quite possibly beyond the understanding of the English political machine, that the more Scots are treated to images of Cameron, with his plum Eton-educated dialect and his Jemima Puddle-duck features, the more the Tory toff does the SNP’s job for them.
You would think Cameron’s advisers would have cottoned onto it by now. The more the English establishment meddles and attempts to cajole, the more distant and alienated Scotland becomes. Back in May last year, exactly 7 days after the wedding of Catherine Middleton and William, Prince of Wales (heir to the throne of the United Kingdom and all its subjugated dominions), the Scottish people returned the SNP to government north of the border, with the first ever working majority in the newly devolved Holyrood parliament. This was no aberration. It was precisely the sight of continuing English herditary power, I believe, that motivated Scots to vote in this way. And now, we have an increasingly chunky, clunky Conservative Prime Minister in London mouthing off about Scottish self-determination, at a time when the Tories have all but disappeared from the landscape of Scottish political life.
No wonder Alex Salmond is giggling under his breath.
Perhaps the SNP should invite Cameron up to Edinburgh? Keep him centre-stage. Let him prance around like a prig for all he’s worth. You get where I’m going with this, right?
Throughout the week, and moreso this weekend as the various broadsheets attempt to digest and explain this sudden heightening of the frisson between the two neighbours, commentators and lauded experts have begun to suggest that Cameron may be playing a wily double-bluff? They raise the thorny question of English subsidies and ask, quite rightly, if the English argument is correct and Westminster does subsidise the Scottish economy as heavily as is claimed, why on earth would Cameron be so staunchly opposed to removing Scottish reliance on the English to balance the books? They suggest that Cameron is all too aware of how he (and various other Shire-folk) are perceived anywhere north of Gretna, and is cannily using it to foster independence, while publicly de-crying it.
Personally, I just can’t see it. Firstly I can’t see Cameron or his ilk as being that politically savvy. Tories very rarely are. By their very nature they are stubborn, self-righteous creatures, deluded in their intractable vision of Britannia – the war-winner; of an influence that is worldwide, of a nation to be envied. In their eyes, it is a land of rolling green fields, of cricket on the lawn, of inestimable courage and fair play. It is the nation that brought modern democracy to the barbarians. Why would anyone seriously wish to leave?
That’s the truth of it. It is this peculiar English fantasy, this continuing imperial daydream which perpetually blinds England, and her rulers to how she is really perceived. You can see it in their sport. Whenever a world cup of any description comes around, to the English, it is practically a given that they will progress, and win. There is always something in the under-current of comment that balks at the idea of there being a contest at all. Of course the English will triumph – they are world leaders at absolutely everything after all!
But they are not. Everyone else knows that. Unfortunately, they (still) don’t. For proof of this, you need only have watched Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun newspaper on Question Time this week. He is well known for his derogatory outbursts towards the Scots, but it was his reference to letting the “Jocks” go their own way and lose the pound so that they could adopt the “Skinto” which really grated the most. It was his casual, throwaway racism and general demeanour of natural, self-inflated superiority which best illuminates the problem with the English attitude. And he bellowed and guffawed without even realising he was doing it. Such sleight of hand, sarcastic triumphalism may play well to the gallery south of the M4, but you can bet your life, no one in Scotland was impressed whether they believe in independence or not. I was surprised Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy Leader of the SNP) didn’t call him up on it. Alex Salmond certainly would have. But then, Sturgeon didn’t exactly do herself any favours during that particular round-table discussion. She stumbled into, as far as I can see, the only weakness in the SNP’s argument. It has to evolve. It has to become just a little bit more layered. Sooner or later, simply repeating that she “believes in Scottish independence”, that she “believes in an independent Scotland”, or that she “believes in the right of the Scottish people to choose” is not going to be enough. It was David Dimbleby who rightly intervened at one point to suggest to her that “we know that, we aren’t beginners in all of this”.
Then there is Labour’s position, personified by Douglas Alexander during the same edition of Question Time. Oh yes, they did indeed have not one, but two Scottish politicians on the same show! His view, and the view of his Party, is that Scotland and England are stronger together, and weaker apart. He believes wholeheartedly in the Union. As well he might. It is the Union that has fostered Labour’s political dominance of Scotland throughout most of the last hundred years. It is the English right of centre preference for government that has naturally led to its Scottish antithesis. It is only since devolution that Labour’s star has begun to wane. Of course, he wants the Union to remain, not because he thinks it’s best for his people, but because it is in the best interests of his Party. Labour need Scotland joined forever to England’s conservative hip. To remain the only (so-called credible) vote of opposition to English Toryism, Labour must keep itself hamstrung to it. This, to my mind, is the worst of motives. Alexander and his ilk are sycophants, entombed within a cage of their own design. They are financial and philosophical adulterers and I have absolutely no time for them.
So how will things progress during 2012? Well, we’ve got the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s succession to the throne to look forward to, as well as the London Olympics. Basically another highly visible exercise in English pomp and pageantry followed by a long pretentious, media-imposed gawp at the United Kingdom’s capital city frenetically masturbating itself in front of a worldwide audience.
I wonder if Alex Salmond need even bother getting out of bed?
A handbag, a chair, and the historic tale of an unparalleled majority
The simple case for Scottish independence