PERHAPS it is because it has existed for more than 300 years and for much of that time has been so much a part of the fabric of Scotland it was taken as a given – unchallenged, unquestioned and uncontroversial – that politicians now find it difficult to articulate a positive case for the Union that currently binds Scotland to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Leaving aside the Jacobite risings in the early years after the union of the parliaments in 1707 and the relatively recent, in historical terms, rise of modern political nationalism, for most of the past three centuries the Union was little remarked on. Britons, including proud and patriotic Scots, felt no need to define or defend it. It just was. With the coming of devolution and the coming to power of the SNP, all that has changed.
The result of this dramatic upheaval has left politicians who oppose independence struggling to find the language to articulate a new unionism that can resonate with voters by providing a counterpoint to Alex Salmond’s brand of nationalism, which the SNP leader skilfully manages to make popular, populist and positive. It is to this task that David Cameron applies himself today in his article in this newspaper and a major speech.
According to the Prime Minister, defending the United Kingdom is not a matter of strategy or calculation, it is a matter of “head, heart and soul” in which “our shared home is under threat”. Making what he claims is the positive case for the Union, he mentions in passing what he believes would be the problems of independence (dependence on oil for example), but stresses the benefits of remaining a united kingdom – from defence through the currency to the welfare state. These are reasonable points to make, which Scots should carefully consider in the run-up to the referendum.
However, as important as the argument itself, Mr Cameron is very careful to strike the correct tone. The case he makes lacks the blood and thunder, doom and gloom warnings made by a previous generation of Conservatives. In their place, Mr Cameron strikes a more humble note wisely recognising that a Conservative leader, with just one Scottish MP, joining the debate could be accused of “everything from interference to irrelevance”. Subtly, but importantly, he also has a message for those in his own party who argue that England would be better off without Scotland. His response is simple and effective: “I am not interested.”
Ahead of today’s meeting with Mr Salmond, Mr Cameron’s intervention is encouraging for those who believe Scotland should remain within the UK, but who also realise the importance of dealing with Scots voters who, understandably, bridle at being lectured by Westminster politicians – Conservatives in particular. Even after 300 years, the case for Union will not be made in a day with one speech or one article, but Alex Salmond now knows he has a real opponent.
Ibrox still whistling in the dark
IT MAY be a noble case of whistling in the dark. Or perhaps the administrators at Rangers Football Club have a cunning plan? But faced with intense speculation and scrutiny from anxious fans, deeply apprehensive creditors, international media attention and all this amid ever-louder finger-drumming by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Paul Clark and David Whitehouse have struck an unusually upbeat tone. They claim to have made “very good progress within 24 hours of being appointed”. The words “very good progress” and “Rangers” cannot be said to be natural bedfellows. The plight of Scotland’s oldest football club has attracted interest and comment worldwide, with solutions ranging from a massive whip-round among fans to a Phoenix-like emergence from debt of a Rangers “Newco” magically shorn of its huge debt to the taxman and free to pick up as before.
While there is an evident will to see the club survive, others see the whole imbroglio as a purgative moment of truth for Scottish football, bringing an opportunity for sweeping change, the adoption of financial sanity, a cap on utterly unrealistic player wages and an end to the bigotry and ugly behaviour that has marked too many of the team’s fixtures – home and away – in recent years. Most want to see the club survive in some form – and the Revenue fairly dealt with. A liquidation that left HMRC with next to nothing would cause political uproar while fuelling cries of “foul” among SPL members. Craig Whyte’s business track record does not inspire confidence in an amicable settlement with HMRC. While day one has seen “progress”, the next 30 will define the club’s fate.
Who will ride the waves to Thurso’s rescue?
It’s “Surf Thurso” no more. The strains of the tartan Beach Boys singing Caithness Dreamin’ have fallen silent on news that the O’Neill Cold Water Classic at Thurso East, the annual world-class surfing competition, has been, well, beached. In a blow to Scottish surfing, O’Neill has decided not to renew its five-year sponsorship deal, and is believed to have moved its financial support to Santa Cruz, California. In the light of this, the Scottish Surfing Federation has decided that the Caithness event will not be going ahead this year.
Thurso may not have attracted hordes of young sun-seekers, the bronzed, bikini-clad amazons of California or recreated the easy-going beach boy lifestyle. It can be, well, breezy, and temperatures can drop somewhat. But seasoned surfers were not deterred. Thurso has a well-earned reputation for being among the best surfing destinations in the world. It has long stretches of perfect sandy beach and mountainous rollers surging in from the Pentland Firth. So long as you went with windcheaters, a flask of hot drinks and plenty of warm clothing, Thurso lacked for nothing. Now the hope is that a sponsor can be found for next year. It’s the sort of event that might appeal at a pinch to a Donald Trump anger management course. But would the hair last two minutes?