Nobody likes an underdog - but we all like to have one

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THE SCOTS and the Welsh are going to the polls this week, so today I am conducting a master- class in Celtic politics to keep my English readers in touch with what is happening up there.

Is there really such a thing as Celtic politics?


Oh. Is that the end of the master-class, then?

No. Try another question, till we find one with an answer.

If there is no such thing as Celtic politics, what is there?

There is an increased perception at Westminster that regional aspirations must be given their own voice in an age of increasing globalisation.

What does that mean, in plain English?

It means that the Government wants to pretend that it is giv- ing Wales and Scotland more autonomy.

But it isn't?

Oh no. By making sure that Welsh and Scottish power stays in the hands of faithful Labour hacks, Blair can control the Celtic fringes.

Isn't that rather cynical?

On my part? Or Blair's part?



But surely the Welsh and Scottish are getting their own parliaments? And thus are being given real power back?

Parliaments and real power do not go together. For the last 15 years the parliament at Westminster has slowly been drained of power, as MPs become lobby fodder, decisions are taken by government- appointed quangos and ministers become dictators in their own realms. By giving the Welsh and Scottish their own parliaments, Westminster is giving them a poisoned chalice.

Isn't "poisoned chalice" an ill-chosen metaphor? Wouldn't alcohol-free lager be better ? Or a gun loaded with blanks?


So why are the Welsh and Scottish so keen on these assemblies, if they're not getting real power?

Actually, they are not particularly keen to have their own assemblies - what they are keen on is not to be mucked about by the English. People in Scotland often speak contemptuously of "the English government" or "London", meaning the British government.

Does it annoy them that this freedom from the "English government" has been given them by the "English government"?

Yes. Still, with any luck it will stop them talking about "the English government".

What will they talk about?

They will talk contemptuously about "the Edinburgh government". What keeps the Scots united is resentment of the English. The English have at last woken up to the fact that the best way to divide the Scots is to give them more responsibility, thus setting Highlands against Lowlands, Glasgow against Edinburgh, everyone against Donald Dewar and so on.

But if you devolve power downwards, don't you get more local democracy and honesty?

On the contrary, you give more people more chance of getting their fingers in local pies and hence more corruption. Welsh local government has always had a reputation for good quality corruption.

Why specially the Welsh?

George Walden was asked by Jeremy Paxman why he thought British politicians were less corrupt than most foreign ones. He said: "Because they haven't got the imagination." Well, the Welsh have got a great imagination...

Hmm. Do you think the English are aware of how resentful the Scots and Welsh are of them?

No. The big dog is never very aware of how the underdog feels. The English are underdogs too, of course - they have the same feelings about Brussels as the Scots have about London. They also have strange feelings about America. Blair looks down on Edinburgh from a height, while Washington is looking down on Blair.

Does Blair resent this?


Why not?

It does seem strange that a grown man should be so anxious for Clinton's approval, to the extent of going out and bombing Belgrade to get it, but psychology is not my field.

Does anyone play underdogs to the Scots?

Yes. The inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland.

Does anyone resent the Welsh?

No. And the Welsh resent that.

Are they quite sensitive, then?

Quite. They don't like to be reminded of the fact that only 50.3 per cent of those who voted in Wales actually wanted an Assembly, and that not many people voted anyway.

So the Welsh are sensitive AND apathetic, are they?

I think we'd better stop before we get floods of Welsh letters again.