Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 1 January 2014
As a special New Year treat, here’s an advance extract from my blog dated 1 January 2064!
(Yes, it’s quite a leap to suggest that in 50 years’ time I’ll still be gabbing on like this, or even that blogging and the Internet will exist in their current form. But, hey, the Institute for Fiscal Studies can predict a black hole for Scotland’s finances 50 years hence without being universally derided as a bunch of scaremongering charlatans, so how’s about cutting me a bit of slack?)
Although I’m now just a brain kept artificially alive in a jar, I well remember the excitement and trepidation we all felt as the bells rang for New Year 2014. Little did we suspect how momentous the events of that year would turn out to be!
The first unusual turn came during a Newsnight Scotland broadcast late in January. Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael was sounding off about a General Medical Council prediction that, sadly, the population of an independent Scotland would fall victim to a plague of boils. Suddenly, breaking off with an anguished cry of “God help me, I can’t go on spouting this guff a second longer!”, he ripped off his microphone, leapt to his feet, bounded over to the studio window and leapt out. Fortunately, his fall was broken by a large pile of manure, which had just been delivered to the BBC to form the basis of the following day’s news bulletins.
Carmichael’s career might have ended there, except that no potential candidate to replace him could stand the prospect of being duffed up in a debate with Nicola Sturgeon. So he was packed off to Harley Street for repairs. Following his return, he was invariably flanked at public appearances by engineers carrying screwdrivers and WD40, and his voice took on a raspy tone best described as “Dalek”. The Scottish press complimented him on his new robust approach, and declared his frequent outbursts of “Exterminate!” to be a neat sound-bite summing up the positive case for the Union.
It was at about this time that Alex Salmond discovered the cure for cancer. This was a low point for the “Yes” campaign, as their opponents made hay with potential job losses in NHS oncology departments and the pensions black hole created by people living longer. Anyway, scoffed the Scotsman, what use was a cancer cure when the real threat was obviously a plague of boils?
The 16 weeks leading up to the referendum constituted a formal campaign period, when the BBC was bound to observe strict impartiality. As the subsequent public enquiry established, they did try ever so hard, but staff shortages over the summer holidays contributed to a number of regrettable errors. These included the addition of a laughter track to “Yes” campaign broadcasts, a keynote speech by Nicola Sturgeon being interrupted by extended live coverage of Prince George’s first birthday party, and the broadcast of a previously unseen edition of Balamory, where the village bank is held up by a robber in a Salmond mask.
Four weeks before the vote, the “No” camp finally came up with its killer campaign document, fully setting out its position. It was a tarpaulin draped over the Forth Rail Bridge, spray-painted with the words “WE CANNAE DAE IT”. The Herald called it “a masterstroke” and the Telegraph described it as “a comprehensive rebuttal of Alex Salmond’s vanity project.”
One week before polling day came the campaign’s most sensational development. Alistair Darling, who’d been going steadily downhill since the launch of the White Paper, when he’d blown a fuse by attempting to speed-read all 670 pages in 30 seconds before giving his reaction on TV, finally snapped. When a punter at a public meeting asked him about the consequences of a “No” vote, the accumulated cognitive dissonance of several months spilled out of his head and randomly formed itself into an honest answer. “The bagpipes, kilts and the Saltire will be banned and the Duke of Cumberland will be installed as viceroy of Scotland in perpetuity.”
The press blamed a “mole” amongst Darling’s special advisers for providing a fake briefing, but the game was up. He was blackballed from gentleman’s clubs in London and Edinburgh, the House of Lords seat reserved for him was destroyed in a controlled explosion and he had to flee the country dressed in a burqa. As we all know, he subsequently rebuilt his life and found fame in Hollywood, where his facial tics and paranoia were put to good use in Pink Panther remakes, as Clouseau’s tortured boss Inspector Dreyfus.
Apart from voters streaming in steadily, referendum day itself was unexceptional until five minutes before polls closed, when a fleet of Royal Mail vans suddenly appeared, carrying half a million postal votes, all mysteriously postmarked “Brigadoon” and voting No. All, it transpired, except for the very last, where the voter had unaccountably failed to tick the “No” box but had instead scrawled beside it, somewhat mechanically, the single word “Exterminate”. The ballot paper was declared void and - yikes! - that made the referendum a dead heat.
The UK Establishment always knows the right thing to do at such times. A civil servant produced some Tipp-Ex and drafted an amendment to the Edinburgh Agreement, stating that in the event of a draw Her Majesty the Queen would have the casting vote. Immediately David Cameron, accompanied by as many lickspittles and poltroons as he could find, set off in a motorcade for Buckingham Palace. “Cameron’s midnight dash to save civilisation,” cooed the Dundee Courier.
There followed the scene that appears in every child’s history book. Cameron and his parcel of rogues strode into the Palace, gold-edged ballot parchment in hand, only to find Salmond and Sturgeon already there, sipping tea with Her Majesty. It turned out that Nicola had cornered HMQ several weeks previously at one of her garden parties and swung her round to the idea of independence. She’d even helped her choose how she’d like to appear on the new stamps. Quite a charmer, that Nicola. Cheeky wee besom, of course.
And so Scotland began to write its own history. And, though we were still unaware of it, so much excitement was still to come.
London declaring its own independence in 2017, commencing its journey to the military dictatorship we know today, ruled over by a dynasty of increasingly loopy Johnsons.
The smooth absorption of Britain’s entire land mass outside the M25 into Greater Scotland, and the establishment of the Scottish Pound as the world’s reserve currency following the collapse of sterling and the US Dollar.
The discovery that a combination of midge bites, gale force winds and drizzle is the perfect tonic for the human immune system, leading to the Scottish tourism boom of the 2030s and the Ardnamurchan Lido becoming the world’s prime holiday destination.
Catalonia achieving its own independence in 2016 and its football team winning every World Cup since then. Of course, to commemorate our respective independence struggles, they insist on playing Scotland in a friendly every year and handing out the most embarrassing gubbing.
What a future, eh, folks? Of course, it’s only one of a number of alternative timelines, so the precise facts may diverge ever so slightly. But if you hear that Carmichael is being lined up to talk a load of boils on Newsnight, it will be well worth watching. However, if you can't watch it live, I’d set the video if I were you. I doubt if the BBC will put it on iPlayer.