Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Independence Debate Is Giving Me The Constitutional Collywobbles, And Not In A Good Way

Mr Iain MacWhirter
I am no longer sure who it was who advised the Scottish people to live as if they were in the early days of a better nation. I think it was Mr Alasdair Gray, but it could have been the Rev IM Jolly. Whoever it was, they deserve an award for prescience, as the independence referendum has caused all of us to enter a state of constitutional collywobbles in which everything is possible all the time, as long it coincides roughly with the views held by those aboard the Scotland United battle bus which parked in George Square in 1983, or 1987 (or whenever it was; the mass gatherings of disappointed leftists and that man with the stilts and the bagpipes tend to blur into one). 
But, frankly, I find this endless shaking of the existential kaleidoscope to be quite exhausting, not least because it involves such a peculiar mix of principle and pragmatism. On most days, the case for independence appears to be founded on a deep resentment of the politics of the Thatcher-era, coupled with an ever more bilious rejection of New Labour, this latter cause being expressed with particular vehemence by lapsed supporters of the People’s Party, who fall into two distinct camps. The larger group, which is made invisible by the reluctance of its members to identify themselves, consists of people who “bought into” the bright promises of Mr Tony Blair and now find themselves in a state of perpetual embarrassment the likes of which can only be sated by repeated latherings of the soft soap of utopian nationalism. But there is also a sub-group of entrists, who believe that independence will awaken the ghost of the merrie Bolshevik, Mr John Maclean, who is one of the only Scotsmen to have been honoured with his own postage stamp in the Soviet Union (Burns was another). Neither of these groups have much in common with traditional Scottish nationalists, the cauliflower-eared “fermers” of Angus and Perth, yet all are united in the historical, or hysterical, desire to rip everything up and start again, in the naive belief that it is possible for a nation state to start afresh with nothing but hopes and dreams and the thin twine of contradictory aspiration to hold it together.
I am old enough and stupid enough to remember the days when Edinburgh admitted to being a conservative city, but I also recall the excitable days of “Red Eck”, Mr Alex Wood, who tried to give Mrs Thatcher a bloody nose by uniting the population around the poetic slogan “Improving Services, Creating Jobs”. Mr Wood might have earned himself his own postage stamp if he hadn’t been removed in a Labour putsch, which caused much consternation at the time amongst principled Labour folk.  

All of which tells me that it is nonsense to cash in one’s constitutional chips on the basis of contemporary politics. But it is, for all that, a brand of nonsense with an appeal in uncertain times.