They are not a stupid nation. It may simply never have occurred to them that their ancient ceremonies are driving a wedge between the rulers and the ruled. England is now a multiracial nation, but you wouldn't think so to watch their ceremonials. The ancient rituals of India or Pakistan play no part, to take but two nations of those whose people are now the heart of England.
Official England considers the traditions of no other ethnic group than those of the rosbifs. They use ceremonials from a time when Parliament was the bullring for ignorant squires, each, as Walpole said, with his price. Each was determined to be paid it before he spoke for England, venal swine that they were. To follow the past of only one of the tribes of England must be peculiarly offensive to those other, and greater, civilisations who have come to live there.
Let me, as a Scot, a foreigner who always wishes England well, try to describe your ceremonial to you. I have an unjaundiced eye. Remember that I, too, am a member of the United Kingdom, even if it's something I'd rather not admit to on most occasions.
The State Opening of Parliament starts with an old lady being dragged through the streets of London behind horses. Everything in this absurd ceremony happens in London. Tribe-England has applied no imagination whatsoever to finding a way for other parts of the country to participate. It all happens in enclosed, incestuous London Town, and be damned to everyone else.
The horses stop. The old lady alights. We are now at the Palace of Westminster, the quaint name given to the home of democracy. But democracy is having time off. All this has nothing to do with ordinary people, who are paying for this mummery. Tomorrow, Parliament will not be passing Acts: Parliament itself will be one big act.
It is an act with a cast of hundreds. Not being privy to all the jobs and jobbery, I can only name some of the principal parts. There are gentlemen ushers, and black rods and white rods and silver rods - and perhaps the odd bewildered plumbing rod who has got there by mistake, the security among all this palaver being hellish. There are equerries, and footmen so proud of being footmen that if they bowed any deeper all the beer would fall out.
There are the ladies in waiting, some of whom, by the look of them, have been waiting for a long, long time. Among these are the ladies of the bedchamber and the women of the bedchamber, the distinction between the two being terribly important. The importance is not much discussed in Wolverhampton or Motherwell. How does one become a lady of the bedchamber, or even a woman? No such job has ever been advertised in the Oban job centre. If it were, the clerk would get a slap round the chops. Scotswomen have their pride.
But stop! The old woman has climbed the stairs. She is sitting in a big chair. She is taking her glasses out of her handbag. The show is about to begin.
Elsewhere, the function is unfolding in a different fashion. Enter a comedian called Black Rod. No! He's not a Caribbean called Rodney. Despite the multiracial nature of modern English society, there is not a black face to be seen. This is a white English tribal ritual.
Black Rod, who, poor bugger, is cast as the fall guy, knocks on a door. The door is opened, and then slammed in his face. But not for long. Behind the door, pinkie linked with pinkie, are our chaps, the ones we elected. As animals into the ark they proceed two by two to the Upper Chamber.
Now comes the really funny turn. My old friend James Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, no longer an athlete - in fact, a bit doddery - mounts the stairs and gives the old lady a sheaf of papers.
Wait for it! This is comedy: James has to walk backwards down the stairs. There are walk- on parts, and speaking parts, and being the hind-legs- of-the-donkey parts, but the Lord Chancellor of England's walking-backwards- down-the-stairs part is unique in all theatre. After that, the old lady reads the script and everyone goes home.
As a Scot I find this English tribal ritual excruciatingly funny. The Parliament that has now been opened is my Parliament as well as England's. We're there. Or supposed to be. Yet there are no Scottish benches in the chamber, and we are supposed to take part in the rituals of one of the tribes of England, the white English tribe.
What's Black Rod to me, or me to Black Rod? My countryfolk are Paisley's poor. Who are all these posh people? Are they paid? If so, how much? Even the time it's taken is time wasted. There are 10 non-controversial reforms on the shelves of the Scots Law Commission. They cannot be dealt with for lack of Parliamentary time.
But what makes me laugh above all is Westminster's claim to be a United Kingdom Parliament. What nonsense! What I have just described is one of the English tribes making a fool of itself, the white English rosbif tribe. It's they who make England always good for a laugh. With the state opening of Parliament, they never disappoint us.Reuse content