ONCE upon a long time ago I had a wee problem as a young politician. Nothing serious in the scheme of the world, but mildly upsetting none the less.
I needn’t rehearse the story here, but a speech I had given got me all over the front pages of all the papers and criticised from many sides.
The matriarch of my wider family wrote a short note to me, as she does from time to time, with the benefit of a keen and giving intellect and a near century of life behind her. In it she quoted Kipling’s most famous poem If: “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools. Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, stoop, and build ’em up with worn out tools.”
For a range of reasons I was reading that again this week. I commend it. The whole poem is of course remarkable and must be read by all. But these lines should be close to any heart in hard times and to politicians all of the time.
You see, I know politicians. And I know they have hearts despite all rumours to the contrary. Quite large ones in fact. Most are striving to better their community and the wider world. They may be wildly mistaken and bereft of ideas but their core motivations tend, more often than not, to be honourable.
Many have flaws as individuals because, well, they are individuals. It is in the nature of the individual to have flaws. This much I have noticed in my life so far. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t.
What often happens with politicians though is that the intensity of the scrutiny they bear and offer one another magnifies the whole circus and creates an unreal world that exists quite apart from real life. I remember once visiting Durham Cathedral and sitting in wonder at the evening mass which was being practised by a far smaller number of adherents than the large group of tourists gawping at the architecture and ceremony. It was like religion happened “over there, not here”.
Devolution of course was meant to change that to some extent. Demystify the whole show and make it real – “Scottish solutions to Scottish problems” hammered out under our own noses. Alas, however, it sometimes seems that the frenetic battle for our hearts and minds is happening in caricature rather than reality.
How else to explain what is possibly the single most absurd argument in the referendum lead-in which reared its head again this week. The normally sane and “well brung up” Michael Moore repeated the quacking canard that on independence there will need to be border posts at Gretna and Berwick. “Absurdiosa” would seem to be the spell cast on erstwhile sensible brains. As with all these things, the highly trained minds of Whitehall have long been able to invent a coherent justification for the argument which is then loyally reported by a loyal media. We, the public, can only watch in bemusement as this farce unfolds.
There is no border post now. There is none between the UK and independent Ireland. The Nordic countries have enjoyed a passport union since the 1950s allowing citizens of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland to move, live and work freely amongst the countries without passports.
Something tells me that it is probably achievable and likely for this to be the case between the two closest countries anywhere (for all our occasional sporting and cultural squabbles), Scotland and England.
But no. We are to believe that we will be forced (by the EU inevitably) to erect turrets, fences and new administrative systems to ensure we need to carry passports to see our aunts and uncles.
I humbly suggest that there is a very strong and legitimate argument for why Scots should be persuaded to vote No in the referendum. It is anchored in the case for political union continuing. I disagree with it, but I could make a better fist of it than we are hearing to date.
This debate is very important. But it won’t properly engage the innocent citizen who has the choice to make until it grows out of idiocy into reality.
If Scotland chooses a more welcoming immigration policy than the rest of the UK then that will need to be worked at to ensure it is administered with modern ease and I am sure it shall. Why is it that the case for the Union has to be made from an anchor in the assumption that the goal of the rest of the UK (and Europe) will be “beggar thy neighbour” rather than neighbourly? I have a much higher regard for the body politic on both sides of a largely invisible border than that. Our countries have been through too much together for too long for a healthy co-operation ever to be lost.
The people of Scotland are not fools and our politicians are not knaves and it is high time the twisting and trapping of the truth that is going on ended. «