In the entire global history of the political campaign, has any been more misconceived, wretchedly executed and potentially self-defeating than the one designed to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom?
Until categorical proof is found of a Eugene Terre’Blanche run for mayor of Soweto on the Apartheid Now And Forever platform, the assumption must be not.
With every week that passes, the No campaign’s once lavish and seemingly impregnable lead evaporates. And as it dwindles, its scare stories continue to deluge the debate in the curious belief a) that Scotland, a proud and bellicose nation, is a wee, timorous beastie; and b) that if you double down on a tactic of transparently counterproductive idiocy for long enough, it will metamorphose into one of purest genius.
This week’s attempt to spook the Scots into holding on to nurse - in succession to “you’ll lose the pound/ the BBC/ your embassies around the world”; “you’ll come under Brussels' iron yoke/ be blackballed from the EU”; “you’ll starve to death when the oil runs out”; “you’ll be crippled by mobile phone international roaming charges the second you cross the border” and all the others - concerns defence.
Not long ago, Lord (George) Robertson, the one-time Labour defence secretary and former Nato secretary-general, gravely warned his compatriots that “the loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our enemies”; and that Scottish independence “would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms”. Well, wouldn’t it just? Without the Scots Dragoons under the Union banner, China would nuke Taiwan, the Americans would annexe Mexico, and the third battalion of the Swiss Army Knives might very well invade Guam.
The one novelty about the latest defence scare story is that it is the first from a serving military chief. Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord, warns the Scots that independence would grievously weaken their defences. While the surviving UK would adapt well enough, he posits, “the deeper impact would be felt in Scotland, which would no longer have access or right to the security contribution of one of the finest and most efficient navies in the world.” Ooooh, recalling the efficiency with which a British naval vessel meekly surrendered to the Iranians a few years back, they’ll be quaking in their Glasgae boots over that. What will become of them when an armada of Orkney supremacists sails down the Clyde? Let alone when crazed Scandinavian geneticists find a way to clone the Vikings?
Passing over Sir George’s compellingly relevant reminder that, at the exceedingly recent Battle of Trafalgar, five of Nelson’s 27 ships were under the command of Scottish officers, the wider political point is this. Scotland, if it chooses independence and then resists all the maritime powers hell bent on capturing it, will be fine. It is a left-leaning country with a character that would not be changed by becoming a sovereign state. England, on the other hand, would be transformed, and in no way for the better.
Without the 58 of the 59 Scottish MPs who attend Westminster in other than the Conservative interest, and the electoral counterbalance they exert, a dystopian nightmare looms into view. It is not so much that a Labour government could never be elected again, as some believe, though the loss of several dozen MPs would massively lengthen the odds. It is that to counter the inevitable release of latent English shrill intolerance, and the Tories’ regression into a party of the Thatcherite hard right, Labour would have no choice but to reinvent itself as a party of the centre-right. We tried that experiment before, as I recall. It was called New Labour, and for all its electoral success, pretty it was not.
Were David Cameron a less traditionalist kinda Conservative, you would take him for a Scottish independence sleeper, planted at the heart of the English establishment under deep cover long ago with the mission one day to destroy the Union and what passes, south of the border, for the centre left. Without tripling VAT on Irn Bru to 60 per cent and having another crack at using Scotland as a poll tax pit canary, he and George Osborne could be doing no more to assist Alex Salmond than by targeting this unending torrent of imbecilic warnings at people whose instinctive reaction is to go “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, and give the finger in response.
As so often in smug and tone-deaf England, her hearing still distorted by the echo of Empire, rampant arrogance drowns out an obvious fact. It is not the Scots who have the faintest reason to fear leaving the English. It is the English who should be on their knees in terror begging the Scots, though God alone knows why they would give a damn, not to forsake us.
Welcome to the repulsive boys’ club, Sarah
No strain of vinegary rage is more intense, as the Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has discovered, than the loathing reserved for the honourable whistle-blower. Dr Wollaston alerted various authorities to complaints about Nigel Evan’s sexual advances. Following his acquittal, she writes in the Daily Telegraph, she has been “truly shocked by the rank hostility” of those at Westminster who feel that allegations of serious criminality are best ignored in the cause of protecting their colleagues.
Wollaston is one of those rare and precious MPs to whom politics is a noble vocation. If she mistook that perspective for the rule at Westminster rather than the exception, her naivety does her credit. And if, on being abused by tribal fools for not evading her duty, she asks herself why she sacrificed a career in medicine to become an associate member of the most repulsive boys’ club in town, who could blame her for that?
Of course Spidey is Jewish. So’s the Queen
As we Jews celebrate Passover by recalling how Moses parted the Red Sea to lead our forebears to freedom, the claim is made that the age of the Jewish superhero endures. The Spider-man actor Andrew Garfield, himself half-Jewish, claims the human arachnid for the Children of Israel. “He can’t just switch off,” says Garfield. “He never feels like he’s doing enough … He ums and ahs about his future because he’s neurotic. He’s Jewish. It’s a defining feature.”
This theory, predicated on the Jewishness of Spidey’s creator Stan Lee as well as Peter Parker's angst, is not new. But it is so engaging that it would be churlish to mention the Jewish penchant for recognising all manner of unlikely candidates as brethren. An old friend once assured me that the Queen is Jewish. “And Princess Margaret,” I muttered. “Not that shikseh,” he snapped. “Look at her face. But Her Majesty? Not a doubt.”