Barrett Deems was the drummer with Louis Armstrong’s All Stars and “the fastest drummer in the world”. Armstrong told him he was “the only guy in the world that makes coffee nervous”.
A prickly character, he was asked on tour what he made of Europe: “They should clean it up, paint it and sell it,” he replied. One could be forgiven for thinking, in recent weeks, that the attitude on this island is starting to swing the same way.
Very few people ditched lifelong personal and political convictions in the aftermath of the 1975, 1979, 2014 referendums. Why would they now? Before last June’s vote, Nigel Farage said a narrow Remain win would be “unfinished business by a long way”.
Triggering Article 50 led to positions hardening on both sides. We are just starting to realise that the 27 member states are treaty-bound to support each other. Michel Barnier, visiting Ireland, pointed out that “in this negotiation, Ireland’s interest will be the Union’s interest”.
Given our stereotype that the Union is one body, under an unelected cabal which makes up the minds of states for them, it is easy to forget that each of the 27 have long, distinct and separate histories and a range of reasons to regret the UK’s departure – historical, cultural, social, commercial and, yes, financial. Those countries are genuine in their sadness that the post-war solidarity and common working which the continent forged is being weakened or forgotten.
How else to explain correspondents to this newspaper blaming Germany for “unreasonable” financial requests? The EU is not a golf club and pulling out of agreed financial commitments is as unwelcome elsewhere as it would have been midway through Objective 1 funding to the Highlands and Islands.
Others have written to accuse the other states of Europe of having “sat back” while the UK fought to end Nazi domination. By what possible interpretation can the occupied and decimated countries of Europe be judged to have “sat back”?
Jean-Claude Juncker, a prime minister for almost 20 years, has been derided as a dipsomaniac demagogue, dancing to Germany’s tune. He has repeatedly and inaccurately been called ‘Herr’ Juncker, demeaning his own country’s language. It takes a particular kind of cruelty to accuse a man whose country was occupied and whose father was conscripted at gunpoint into the Wehrmacht – as were many of the men of Luxembourg – as a collaborator or puppet.
Why, in a small, proud country like Scotland, do we hear jibes against another small country? Why is it that Wallonia’s right to intervene in Belgium’s agreement of trade deals, as with the recent EU deal with Canada, can be treated as a laughing matter in a country where we constantly debate the sovereign powers of the Scottish people invested in Holyrood and Westminster?
Arthur Freed, the producer who came looking for locations for the film Brigadoon in 1953, reported back: “I went to Scotland and found nothing there that looks like Scotland.”
I am beginning to know how he felt.
John Edward is former head of the European Parliament Office in Scotland.