Thursday, May 07, 2009

After Ten Years Of Devolution, The Scorrish People Are Fat And Tanned, Which Is A Success Of Sorts For The Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond

Suspicious as I am of anniversaries, it has not escaped my notice that it is now ten years since the election of the first devolved Scottish parliament. How long ago that seems, and how near. This great experiment in representation without taxation has changed the country, but left it exactly the same. If I were an optimist, I might construe that as progress.
What has changed? Well, the other morning I had to visit the airport at Edinburgh to meet my literary agent. I am not fond of aeroplanes, unless they are in the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, and my visits to Turnhouse are rare. I was there in 1964 when Miss Marlene Dietrich touched down for her appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, and at that point it was possible to construe some glamour in this airstrip by the Forth. Subsequent visits have been less inspiring, not least because of the airport's proximity to a Chunky Chicken factory, which ensures that all visitors to our glorious capital are forced to breathe the air of a fowl crematorium. You may call me old-fashioned and I would thank you for the compliment, but I have never been of the opinion that the smell of dead chickens can be equated with a warm welcome.
The airport has changed. It is bigger, and has a minaret-like watchtower and carparks which stretch all the way to Ingliston showground. On one of these carparks, directly opposite the main exit, there is a large sign, which welcomes visitors to Edinburgh, "the home of RBS". The smell of dead chicken remains.
Ten years ago, the road signs on the fringes of Edinburgh featured a logo proclaiming the Scottish capital to be the "Festival City". This was a bold claim for a town which used to take pride in its joylessness, but not without merit. Rare is the month in the Edinburgh calendar when a festival of some sort is not taking place. But these days, the road signs have a different slogan. Edinburgh, they say, is "Inspiring Capital". Not, please note, "an inspiring capital". This slogan, I assume, refers to the golden years of the economic boom, when Sir Fred Goodwin and his merry bandits were making unwise investments with imaginary money and building monstrous headquarters' and bridges to nowhere on the western fringes of Edinburgh. I think, in the interests of decency, the council should come up with a new catch-phrase.
I am, I realise, digressing. But at the risk of turning metaphysical, there is a different energy in Edinburgh these days. The cold architecture of the banking boom now looks jaded and unwelcoming, while the centre of the city has been reduced to roadworks in the service of the tram. In glamorous Dumbiedykes, Mr Donald Dewar's Casa Popurului has bedded in nicely, and is now indistinguishable from the award-winning council schemes which surround it. The architect, Mr Miralles, is posthumously-revealed as a master of stained concrete. (I would have preferred pebbledash, but no matter).
On questions of substance, I am less sure. The Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond, seems comfortable as the Ego of The Nation, and does a good job of cheerleading and empathising with the victims of catastrophes, natural and man-made, for which he is never to blame. He inhabits the role in a way that Messrs McLeish and McConnell did not, despite his belief that speaking in the vernacular is a valid substitute for substantive action. Still, a decade-on, it is a matter of regret that the parliament has failed to cultivate a politician of serious standing. Miss Wendy Alexander is retired and tending to her twins. Mr Tommy Sheridan awaits further examination in the courts, and has exhausted his popular appeal in the Big Brother house. About the rest, I know little, except that when they speak I am possessed by the urge to run, toot-sweet, for the Pentlands. It is, I think, a failure of devolution that its political class can, on a good day, be classed as jumped-up cooncillors, and, on a bad one, numpties.
And what of the electorate, those poor fools known by Mr Salmond's diminutive deputy, Miss Nicola Sturgeon, as "the Scorrish people"? Well, the Scorrish people seem happy with the glottal-stopping gobstopper of Scorrish nationalism, as long as they do not have to pay for it.
This nationalism is not imaginary, the Scorrish really are coming. There are kilts everywhere, and the people are fatter, physically and metaphorically. Edinburghers now look like Glaswegians, with their nuclear tans and their designer clothes stretched tight over lardy frames. The national football team has lost all ambition, while the nation has abandoned its newspapers, which themselves have lapsed into localism, with predictably dire results. Radio Scotland is in decline, though no one in broadcasting has yet dared to suggest that this might be related to the fact that its output is similar, if not inferior, to an eavesdropped mobile phone conversation on the number 27 bus. River City continues, and the posthumous reputation of Garnock Way is enhanced.
On that note, I will pause. I have more to say, but lack the energy to say it.