Friday, April 20, 2007

To Paraphrase Mrs Thatcher's Willie, The Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, Is Guilty Of Stirring Up Apathy

The other morning, as I was laying down the Spam and the tins of Marvel in the coal hole, in anticipation of the calamity which will follow independence, I found myself puzzling over the logic of the current election. There is, you may have heard, an election campaign underway in Scotland, although I have not, as yet, set eyes on a candidate, or been able to attend a public meeting, as elections these days are "virtual" affairs in which all attention is focused on the personality of the leader, or - as in the case of the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell - its absence.
Mr McConnell, in my view, has never recovered from the "reddie" he got from wearing a pinstriped kilt to a social event in the United States; a mistake that it is hard to imagine being made by the Father of the Nation, the Great Gannet, Mr Donald Dewar, who preferred antiquarian books to clothes, and was unwilling to invest in an overcoat when his funds could be invested instead in a slightly-foxed hardback.
But, even with the failings of the Senior Retainer in mind, I find the rush towards independence slightly perverse. As I understand it, the logic is as follows: devolution has been a failure, because it has not been able to stop the American-led invasion of Iraq, Mr McConnell's kilt, or the entertaining humiliation of the suntanned firebrand, Mr Tommy Sheridan. In its early months, the Executive was powerless to stop the decline of the Scottish football team under the command of the German, Herr Berti Vogts. The broadcasts of Mr Fred Macaulay have continued unabashed on Radio Scotland. The manufacture of Hillman Imps has not resumed at Linwood.
In short, the parliamentarians have been unable to live up to the grandeur of the parliament building, which is compared by its supporters to the Sydney Opera House, and by its detractors to the Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest. (In fact, it resembles the regional outpost of a Gardening Supplies Company.) The one big achievement of the Parliament, is the ban on smoking in public places, which has had the effect of forcing people to smoke in even more public places, and has caused many bars and restaurants to install patio furniture in the mistaken belief that Scotland is a suburb of Benalmadena. It would not surprise me if the health benefits of the decline in cigarette smoking have been offset by a corresponding increase in hypothermia.
There are, I'm sure, many other issues of concern, but the great achievement of the Parliament is its promotion of a sense of stasis. The Conservatives' main contribution to Parliamentary affairs may be related to the production of taxi receipts, but the blue corner may take some satisfaction from the fact that the Executive seems to have adopted as its manifesto the phrase used by Baroness Thatcher's "Willie", Lord Whitelaw, who famously accused Mr Harold Wilson of "stirring up apathy".

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Whither Scotland? The Last Days Of Mr Jack McConnell Are A Like A Wistful Nuclear Winter

The nation, apparently, is in ferment. An election is underway. Rosettes are being ironed, and freshly-laundered babies delivered to party headquarters, so that they may be kissed by strange men - a fate which would prompt a lynch mob in any other month.
Looking out from the windows of the Old Manse, it is hard to imagine that revolution is in the air. The weather, as usual, is like a nuclear winter, where wistful mist turns to tearful smog. There is a little less traffic - the schools are on holiday - but the roads still hum with HGVs and angry cars amber-gambling and playing jungle drums as their drivers shout into tiny phones and programme computers to guide them home, like lost astronuats, to the executive bantustans on the edge of town, where life is a cobbled cul-de-sac of saddened bankers planning fraud, adultery, and a timeshare at a golf resort in Portugal. Or death. Whichever is easier.
The buses still run late; the peaceful chug through the upholstered slag of Midlothian is still as relaxing as a practice run with the Jamaican bobsleigh team. The mail is still junk. The pavements are still sticky with a carpet of gum, spat out by people chewing mindlessly to ease their stress, or mask their breath, which is rotten with the sulphur of pointless commerce, imbibed in anxious gulps of filter coffee which taste like earth trowelled from the grave of hope, or Burke and Hare's petunias.
These, it seems, are the last days of the spring-heeled Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, a politician who has met the demands of office by shrinking to fit the space. He looks, in the dying days of his regime, like a seal pup praying for the quick release of a hunter's club, hardly daring to imagine a better future, but dreaming, in his more feverish hallucinations, of a retirement to the pebbled shores of Scottish commerce, the shale and flotsam of Edinburgh lunchers, that nest of fearties with nuts on trays and brains battered by drink and rugby into yesterday's mince.
I have more to say about this election, and will return to it when I am suitably scunnered. In the meantime, I will eat one of Mr Tunnock's excellent teacakes and wonder how we got here, to a place where it is possible to be nostalgic for the dynamism and charisma of the butter-fingered ex-goalkeeper, Mr Henry McLeish.