Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today’s dare: patronise a Scotsman, then run for your life. As for the Union: keep it – better the devil you know. And it’s official: winter can sometimes be a bit chilly and we might even get a bit of snow (but probably only on high ground)

I am an Englishman who spent four happy years at Dundee University in the late Sixties and early Seventies and who came to like, admire and respect much about Scotland and the Scottish. More to the point, I came to understand how completely bloody irritating it is for Scots when they are patronised by the English, and, as Canadians, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Australians and New Zealanders know only too well, no one can patronise quite as well as the English. It is almost an art form. So the rise and rise of the Scottish National Party does not surprise me and that popular support for the party has managed to get Scotland within a referendum’s vote of independence.

As for Scottish independence, I am neither for nor against ‘preserving the Union’ ‘on principle’. (In fact, I am a man of few principles and find that one or two of them go a long way. Broadly speaking, be doubly wary of anyone or everyone who loudly proclaims his or her principles. Principles are essentially a private matter and when they are noticed, it is best in how someone does or does not behave. Someone who thinks the rest of the world is just dying to hear all about his or her principles is usually very boring and most certainly bad news.)

One the question of the Union (the British one not the American one), one can take the view that all things must pass, that the time of the Union has gone and that, all things being equal, if a nation would prefer independence over the status quo, they are fully entitled to it. To clarify my view a little more: I regard it as a certain kind of nonsense to speak of any nation ‘asking’ for independence. As far as I am concerned true independence is declared and that’s the end of the matter. But, sadly, I don’t think all things are equal, and, purely on pragmatic grounds, I feel the two countries should stick together.

My reservation is that I feel Scotland as well as England would be a loser if the union between the two countries came to an end. An end to the Union would, I suspect, diminish and impoverish both. Furthermore, I rather fear that gaining independence would not leave Scotland as a promised land it might seem to some at present.

For one thing, the SNP, until now united in its common objective of gaining independence, would slowly, but surely, split into left, right and centre factions with all the petty politicking that would entail – a multitude of largely pointless skirmishes between rabid lefties, rapacious righties and treacherous centrists would still be the order of the day.
Any Scot craving independence shouldn’t imagine it will all
be sweetness and light once the nation is shot of perfidious Albion and has reached the promised land. As one famous Scot once observed, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

I should also point out that from where I sit south of the border the SNP’s leader Alex Salmond stands head and shoulders above the rest in his party and I doubt the Nationalists will benefit from the same decisive and dynamic leadership once he decides to spend more time with his slippers. If I remember, he had previously retired, but had to come back to head the party again because those who took over made such a dog’s dinner of everything. Can Scotland really be sure that might not happen again?

There is also the small, though embarrassing, point that not all Scots have have each others' interests at heart. We shouldn’t forget that Sir William Wallace was finally brought
down by other Scots who felt their own interests were best served by sucking up to Edward I of England, and that at Culloden more Scots fought under the Duke of Cumberland’s colours than fought under the Jacobite banner of Charles Edward Stuart.
These are, admittedly, two examples from the past and not necessarily representative of modern Scottish manners, but the treachery of some Scots at their fellow countrymen’s expense cannot be ignored.

I suspect that if only the English could be relied upon not to be so patronising, Alex Salmond would be on shakier ground, and his suggestion of ‘devo max’ as a fall-back position persuades me that he is already several moves ahead of the pack. Out-and-out nationalists must, of course, pray that the English continue to lord it over everyone else until it’s too late. Me, I’ll repeat: united we stand, divided we fall, even though union with those sassenach ejits does try the patience of even the most patient of Scots.

. . .

Now there’s a funny thing: it’s winter, so it gets cold and it snows. Well, bugger me! Who’d have thought it? Yet every year the Brits greet the news (December and January were mild this year, but that was exceptional. Usually temperatures are average for this time of year - low) with the kind of surprise and dismay a 12-year-old might show when it dawns on him that Santa doesn’t exist. The headlines scream (even in the ‘broadsheets’ these days, which are also known by some as the ‘serious papers’ although I really don’t know why) ‘Winter wipeout!’ ‘Country blanketed by 3in of snow!’ ‘Santa just a myth: official!’ ‘Temperatures plummet to -5c!’ Well, Lordy me. And there was me hoping that it would be so mild this weekend that I could strip off, lie on the grass in the garden and get a tan. Better shelve that idea, pronto - the might be a flurry of snow!

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