Tears before Midnight

At 11 pm on the 31st of January, did you celebrate, or perhaps commiserate, with a glass of bubbly? Personally, I didn’t. But I still had an hour to run of my dry January. Horlicks, and to bed with a book. Earlier in the day I’d heard Nigel Farage and Kenneth Clark in conversation on the Jeremy Vine show. They were terribly affable. In fact, the arch-Remainer congratulated the arch-Brexiteer on his political victory and paid him an extraordinarily fulsome compliment in saying that he had been the key player in the whole Brexit movement. But then, there is nothing to be gained at this stage from point-scoring. Kenneth Clark has retired; and who knows, maybe Mr Farage will suffer an existential crisis in seeing the withdrawal of his whole raison d’être. What now? Yet I suspect neither a man who enjoys a good cigar nor a man who enjoys a good pint will suffer much. It was even a bit of a relief to hear a couple of politicians not tear strips off one another.

But the European flag is still flying over the Scottish Parliament. I suspect it won’t be long before the Westminster government accuses the SNP of being like the Japanese soldiers in Manchuria in 1945, who didn’t know the war was over, and who disappeared into the jungle, unaware of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Actually, as I write, there are rather a lot of EU flags fluttering outside Holyrood. But it’s not really a Remain rally; it’s an IndyRef2 rally. Here, “going forward” as they say, IndyRef2 will become, has become, the next big constitutional debate. A significant constituency within the SNP will clamour for a second referendum, binding if the PM allows it, consultative if not. I suspect the First Minister will resist this. She wants to persuade all Scotland of the political case. She wants to move when she is convinced she will win. She has work to do.

Meanwhile the Cabal of Nat-bashers who write regularly into the letters page of The Herald continue, well, unabashed. They have two themes. One is that the Scottish Government should stop beating an antique drum, should recognise that they lost the referendum in 2014, and should “concentrate on the day job” – schools, health, education, policing, transport… The other is that both Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alec Salmond, said that the 2014 referendum was a “once in a generation” opportunity, and that therefore they should, at least for a generation, drop it. These points are iterated and reiterated, and I sometimes wonder if members of the Cabal get in touch with one another to ask, “Whose turn is it to write to The Herald?”, because such letters don’t always appear in reaction to any specific political utterance or event. Perhaps there is a belief that if you state something often enough, the message will be taken as read. So in fact, the two points are conflated: the SNP should recognise they have lost the argument, and get on with running Scotland.

I’m not convinced by either argument. It seems to me that when Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon invoked the “once in a generation” mantra, they were arguing as follows: “You may be apprehensive about voting ‘Yes’ with your heart because you are scared of the risk, specifically, of becoming poor. On some subsequent occasion you might be minded to vote ‘Yes’ when you are persuaded of the economic argument. But not now. Not in this uncertain and dangerous world. But you need to realise that this might be the only chance you will get. The next chance will fall to a future generation.” That is really what Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon were saying. They anticipated Mr Johnson’s intransigence.

Then there is this business of the day job. As far as health, education, policing etc. go, it would be perfectly easy to argue that Scotland does rather better in these departments than other parts of the UK. But indeed the idea of politicians “running the country” strikes me as being rather absurd. The job of government is to introduce legislation and the job of parliament is to debate, and occasionally pass legislation into law.  Politicians don’t run the country. You and I run the country. The running of the country is the Grand Integral of the myriad human interactions taking place on the beat, at the chalk face, in the doctor’s surgery, at the waste disposal tip, at the shop counter, in the nursery, in the care home, and in a million and one other locations. If I were the First Minister I would want to persuade the electorate that they as individuals have the knowledge, skills, wisdom, arts, sciences, culture, coherence, eloquence, and above all self-confidence to run the country.

But a lot of professional Scots think of “The Nats” as a bunch of highly strung, highly excitable and intoxicated individuals in faded plaid waving saltires and airing grievances on the fields of Bannockburn and Culloden. All these doctors and lawyers and bankers and accountants look upon those campaigning “all under one banner” with horror, much as Colonel Talbot looked upon the followers of the Chevalier Charles Stewart in Scott’s Waverley.

Now all this was mere spleen and prejudice in the excellent Colonel, with whom the white cockade on the breast, the white rose in the hair, and the Mac at the beginning of a name, would have made a devil out of an angel; and indeed he himself jocularly allowed, that he could not have endured Venus herself, if she had been announced in a drawing-room by the name of Miss Mac-Jupiter.

Colonel Talbot berated Ms Sturgeon last Tuesday at my German class. “Once in a generation she said! Why doesn’t she get on with the day job?”

I said, “Ich komme hier, nur Deutsch zu sprechen und lernen.”


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