Friday, September 10, 2010
The Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond, Does Not Believe The Scots Are Ready To Vote For Independence. Is This The Last Midge Bite Of Scottish Nationalism?
Living in the Borders has its advantages, not least the ready availability of Hawick Balls, and a plentiful supply of knitwear at reasonable prices. Less obviously to the outsider, we Borderers are blessed with an independent spirit, and a refusal to be swayed by flim-flam, tomfoolery or nonsense.
Perhaps this explains my antipathy towards the Palatul Parlamentului in Holyrood, and my inability to take seriously the windy ejaculations of the Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond, who leads a party whose main political impulse is to suggest that the accumulation of power in Edinburgh would solve everything, when the natural tendency of all Scots is to fear a future in which the nation is responsible for its own mess. Far easier to suggest, as Mr Salmond does repeatedly, that the country's problems are rooted in the fact that A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away.
To be fair, Mr Salmond is acknowledged as the finest Scottish politician of his generation (though his achievements, and his global impact, are minor compared to those of Mr Gordon Brown, whose misfortune it was to be raised in the Manse with the manners of a Fifer; a recipe too glum for the English electors, who prefer to be patronised by their social superiors).
But what are the achievements of Mr Salmond's period in office? Certainly, Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi has reason to be thankful to the compassion of the Senior Retainer and his bewildered justice secretary Mr Kenny MacAskill. No doubt the lives of both politicians were made more exciting by their decision to thumb-nose the US Senate, and the thrilling realisation that every ring of the telephone might signal a verbal blast from Ms Hillary Clinton, calling on behalf of the relatives of the Americans who were killed by the Lockerbie bomb. How intoxicating it must have been to deal with an agent of real power, rather than trading glum platitudes over the blonde pews of Holyrood.
Compassion is a virtue. Still, the whole affair had the strange whiff of vanity's pomade, and reminded me of that other great moment of Scottish statesmanship, when the leotard-wearing pussycat from television's Big Brother, Mr George Galloway, saluted the indefatigability of Mr Saddam Hussein.
Even so, I find myself confused by the Senior Retainer's latest piece of fancy-footwork. He has announced that there will be no referendum on independence ahead of the Scottish parliamentary elections of 2011. Why has he done this? Well, clearly, Mr Salmond is acting from a position of weakness, and does not want to have his proposals for a referendum defeated by the hostile majority in the parliament. Yet, previously, this was a risk he was happy to take, as the scenario fitted perfectly with the SNP's core principle (the aforementioned Big Boy, and his habit of running away).
So, something more profound is at work. Could it be the realisation, rather too late in the day, that devolution, and more specifically the endless wittering about independence which it has spawned, have been bad for the country? Consider the nation in the years before the establishment of the parliament - we had a vibrant and diverse newspaper industry, and a football team which, while incompetent, could at least qualify for the rituals of humiliation at international tournaments. Now both of these things are but a shadow of a memory. The showpiece cultural event of this year's Edinburgh International Festival was Caledonia, a piece of agit-prop from which the agitation had been surgically-removed, and the propaganda replaced by an amputee itch for the lemming-leap of Darien or its modern equivalent, the national hallucination of Ally's Tartan Army, Argentina-bound in bathtub boats.
Scottish nationalism is a strange virus, carried by sheep-tick and midge. We are all bitten by it from time to time. We may never learn to stop scratching at the rash. But I wonder, momentarily, whether we may be getting close to discovering penicillin.