Cressida Connolly: It's time Scotland did its own thing with the clocks

We can change our watches as we cross the border
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nothing presages the end of summer like the nights getting longer, and the children going back to school for the autumn term. By eight o'clock now, it is getting dark: no more languid, sunlit strolls after supper; no more children complaining that they can't get to sleep because it's still light outside. Given how unreliable the weather is (we were lashed by hailstones in York the other week) the hours of daylight - and when the nights draw in - are the only reliable indication of the season.

Nothing presages the end of summer like the nights getting longer, and the children going back to school for the autumn term. By eight o'clock now, it is getting dark: no more languid, sunlit strolls after supper; no more children complaining that they can't get to sleep because it's still light outside. Given how unreliable the weather is (we were lashed by hailstones in York the other week) the hours of daylight - and when the nights draw in - are the only reliable indication of the season.

Some people profess to love the sky at night. It is fashionable for city dwellers to complain that light pollution prevents them from seeing the stars, but they don't know how good they have it. OK, so the heavens over Soho are not the rich velvety black that we country folk enjoy. The metropolitan night sky is more Lucozade than Guinness, but that's because the sky is ablaze from all that fun going on below. We in the provinces can see the constellations - at least on the rare occasions when it's not too cloudy - but, believe me, they are a poor substitute for cinemas, theatres, cafés and restaurants. We've got stars but no Starbucks. Meeting a friend for an evening staring at Orion's Sword has nothing on a balti and a new Coen brothers film. Especially in winter.

Which gloomy thoughts lead inexorably to the question of British Summer Time. Benjamin Franklin thought up Summer Time in 1784 when he wrote a whimsical article advocating its introduction. No one welcomes the shorter days at the end of summer, but the poignancy they occasion is a luxury compared with the Strindbergian misery of the clocks going back in October. Townies at least have the compensations of street lighting and company and cheery, brightly illumined shops; but out here in the sticks it's pitch black by four. It's just you and the night and the cowpats.

In France they have Double Summer Time in the summer and Summer Time in the winter. Their citizens still manage to get an education and manufacture dairy products - French cheese sounds vaguely familiar - but apparently we would not be so lucky. The argument has always been that Britain needs light in the early mornings, and only a strict adherence to Greenwich Mean Time from October to March can achieve those.

Winter GMT, the argument goes, means that (a) our nippers can walk to school without getting run over on ill-lit lanes and (b) our farmers can milk their herds in daylight. Since parents are too rushed and/or neurotic to let children walk to school these days, the former hardly obtains any more: under the present system they get driven home in the dark, anyway. And a government that has all but ruined the farming industry would be hypocritical to concern itself with the pleasant waking conditions of a handful of dairymen. Milk is now cheaper than mineral water, with the result that 75 per cent of dairy farmers are predicted to go bust in the next 12 months: the few who remain will be too enfeebled to grumble about the dark.

There is a third reason why we have not kept Summer Time in winter. It is called Scotland. Without GMT in the winter, parts of north-west Scotland would remain shrouded in blackness until mid-morning. The people who live up there don't fancy that, and time was when Westminster was so desirous of their votes that they had to be accommodated.

Not any more. Now that Scottish devolution is established, it is time to let them fix their own clocks. We are all accustomed to changing our watches when we cross the Channel: from now on we can do the same as we cross the border.

Comments