Well that went well, didn’t it. Despite being hailed by some random Tories, and even the Observer, as one of the most passionate and eloquent speeches Davie Cameron has ever delivered (there’s low expectations for you), the reaction in Scotland to Cameron’s plea for us to remain under his thumb, sorry, remain a part of bright and shiny Brand Britain, has been a mixture of anger and scorn.
Dave has reduced us to a brand. Marmite, that’s a brand. The difference between Marmite and Dave is that even people who like Marmite would still be nauseated by seeing Dave over the breakfast table. The guy just doesn’t get it. We’re not interested in product promotion, but even if we were the basic expectation any of us have from an advert is that it tells us what the product will do for us. Dave couldn’t even do that.
In history books yet to be written, Dave’s wee impression of a used car salesman in the echoing emptiness of London’s Olympic Velodrome will be seen as the moment when the Union was lost. What it showed was that the Westminster elite are blind to the perspective of Scotland, deaf to her voices, and do not feel the shifting of Caledonian tectonic plates.
Dave chose the venue because of the symbolism it represented, to him. All he has are symbols, there was nothing of substance in his words. He didn’t understand that the value of a symbol is in the experience of the perceiver. He thought he was stirring up an image of a common British experience, but he could not see why a Tory lecturing Scotland from afar, in front of a row of bicycles, might stir up images of other Tories lecturing us to get on our bikes. The din of a distant Olympic roar deafened him to the complaint from Scotland that our taxes had helped pay for it, yet it brought no benefit to us – like so much Westminster does. He spoke of the damage to the prestige of a Parliament that most of us believe is already too arrogant by half.
Dave still thinks it’s all about identity. That’s the mistake he’s been making since the independence campaign began. He hasn’t realised that Scotland is already quite sure of its identity, it’s an identity that doesn’t need Westminster to define or validate it. And we’re increasingly of the opinion that it’s an identity that doesn’t include Dave, a man who talks at us but never listens to us and won’t be questioned by us. And who, most certainly, is not accountable to us.
All Dave’s misjudged plea did was to confirm that opinion. How can he claim to share an identity with a country he doesn’t even begin to understand? The immense irony of this debate is that despite the accusations of Better Together that independence will turn us into foreigners, we are already foreigners to Westminster. They do not even know who we are.
For the past year and a half, Better Together and the Tories have smugly congratulated themselves that all was going to plan. But as the polls show that the no vote continues to evaporate away, they’re starting to get the awful feeling that something, somewhere, has gone terribly terribly wrong. While they’ve been talking down to us and talking us down via their total control of the mainstream media, people in Scotland have been talking amongst ourselves. We’ve been having a different conversation, a conversation about our future not our past.
The late great humourist Douglas Adams once published a book called the Meaning of Liff. Adams thought that there were many useful concepts for which the English language lacked words, and many words – in the form of place names – which have no modern meaning. So he decided to pair them up. Liff, the village near Dundee, was defined as “A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words. ‘This book will change your life.” Spookily descriptive of just about any Better Together press release. Meanwhile the Cambridge city of Ely is “The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.” This week Better Together had an ely.
This realisation seems to have dawned on Tory MP and former Eton schoolboy Rory Stewart, the one that called for 100,000 Unionists to stand along Hadrian’s Wall bearing torches so they can gaze northwards into Northumbria and ward off the advancing Picts. Not sure why he thinks that will help his cause, but it does give something of an indication of just how clueless English Tory MPs are about the Scottish referendum, even those who, like Rory, profess to be as Scottish as haggis pakora and Irn Bru.
On Friday night’s Newsnight on BBC2, Rory went to a pub in the East End of Glesga along with the BBC’s Alan Little in order to persuade a few Weegies that the Tories really get Scotland and would be diminished without us. Rory’s the Ross Kemp of the posh end of the Tory party, and he was going to lovebomb where even Ruth Davidson’s drones fear to fly. It was one of those “ooo let’s get the popcorn” moments.
What Stewart discovered, much to his surprise, was that the independence debate isn’t about identity, or even nationalism. He was genuinely perplexed. He was even more perplexed that the camera crew only managed to find a single No voter. He had the look of a general who had just discovered he’d won an overwhelming victory in the wrong war. It’s not about Scotland’s identity questions at all. It’s about Westminster’s.
Does Westminster stand for fairness, for equality? How does it express the will of the Scottish people? Does it listen? Is it accountable? Does it tell us the truth? The evidence suggests very strongly it does none of these things. That leaves the biggest concern of all, how is Westminster going to reform itself between now and September 18 to lay Scotland’s concerns to rest.
Rory didn’t have an answer. There isn’t one. That’s why Scotland is going to vote yes.