Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 15 January 2014
One of the striking things about the “Better Together” campaign whose positive message over the last few months has so galvanised the Scottish independence debate is how excitingly inclusive it is. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous you are, how anti-democratic, how irrelevant to the debate or how tainted by past failure; you’re still welcome to point out to the Scottish people that we’re uniquely incapable of making our own decisions, and that if we try to do so the entire planet will be torn from its axis and hurled into the void.
Take the grey, cobwebbed figure in a deserted corner of the pavilion at Lord’s that startlingly came to life shortly before Christmas and revealed itself as Sir John Major. Sir John’s affinity with Scotland is such that at the 1997 election he became the only Tory leader in history to preside over the complete obliteration of his party’s representation here. But he did leave sterling out in the rain on Black Wednesday for speculators to rip apart, so currency is kind of his specialist subject. As long as he keeps his clothes on, anyway.
It’s often hard to be sure of what Sir John is saying, because you’re so busy stabbing yourself with a pencil to stay awake. But the gist of his remarks seemed to be that after voting Yes we could forget about negotiating a sterling currency union with the remainder of the UK. Any of that malarkey and a gang of Phil Mitchell lookalikes would show us off the premises faster than we could say, “Mmm, aren't these knuckledusters delicious?” Thereafter, we’d have to rely on bawbees, pibrochs or Irn Bru bottle tops until being grudgingly permitted to join the Euro in 2099, twenty years after Ruritania.
We had little opportunity to consider what George Soros and his fellow vampires might think of a sterling zone shorn of oil revenues, for within seconds a weedy, knackered-sounding trumpet voluntary announced the arrival of the next uninvited guest. Why, if it wasn’t Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain!
When we’d last seen Mariano, he and David Cameron had been engaged in a red-faced, middle-aged shoving match at the head of a seven-mile traffic queue outside Gibraltar. But with a tiny sprinkling of “Better Together” fairy dust, they were now best buddies, standing shoulder to shoulder against slippery secessionists. It’s unclear whether they were in some sort of bromance-related clinch, or simply using each other as glove puppets.
When Mariano said that a region splitting off from a larger country would “remain outside the EU”, it’s a pretty solid bet he was talking about Catalonia, Spain’s own little pocket of troublemakers. Naturally, having the politician’s usual allergy to unambiguous statements, he didn’t come out with it explicitly, but merely left his words hanging there like a fart in a lift.
Of course, he didn’t have a scooby what would actually happen, since the EU has no mechanism for chucking out entire populations for unacceptable voting choices, but who cares? Better Together simply slapped clothes pegs on their noses and got their pet journalists to disgorge some tripe spinning his statement as a dire warning from the EU to Scotland. One suspects that shortly Dave will issue a reciprocal weasel-worded threat, expertly timed to banjax Barcelona.
Since Scotland’s untimely removal from the EU would result in Spain’s fishermen being kicked out of Scottish waters and his paella having to be made from tofu, I rather think Mariano would be amongst the first to summon us back down from the naughty step. But never mind, it’s great to see that ignorance and guardianship of a tottering economy mired in scandal aren’t barriers to inclusion in the grand Unionist charm offensive.
As 2014 has dawned it’s become apparent that Better Together have significantly ramped up their game. Perhaps they’ve been spending the NoTunes vouchers they got for Christmas. We’re promised that, just as soon as they can identify candidates with the right combination of shamelessness, cashflow problems and fake sincerity, “English celebrities” will be all over the airwaves, telling us how much they adore us and can’t live without us.
What toe-curling telly might we expect? Luvvies in “I Heart Scotland” T-shirts getting the words to Auld Lang Syne wrong? Jeremy Paxman introducing Newsnight wearing a Jimmy wig? The cast of Strictly doing a White Heather Club tribute? OR MAYBE THE BBC COULD JUST PRODUCE A WEATHER MAP WITH SCOTLAND THE CORRECT FLAMING SIZE?
This technique is known as “love bombing”, a vaguely pornographic-sounding term often associated with religious brainwashing cults. It worked a treat with the Quebec independence referendum in 1995, something Better Together think we’re too stupid to have noticed. The current retread will also feature “ordinary folk” cold-calling Scottish voters in an initiative called “Blether Together”. (That isn’t satire, folks.) If I were a candid friend, I’d advise against recruiting too many callers from the North of England, in case discussions take an unexpected turn and we end up with the border at Sheffield.
However, the “marquee signing” of the whole BT campaign is surely the one just announced… oh, all right then, denied by official sources, so obviously true. Step forward Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of Russia, tough-talking tiger-tranquillising macho man, the world’s first authentic super-hero! Yes, he’s a repressive, homophobic thug steeped in the ways of the KGB who doesn’t give a monkey’s about democracy, but protocol demands that we listen politely to him this year, because Russia has the presidency of the G8. What better time to call upon him to stem the shock waves of self-determination currently buggering up the world for bankers and oligarchs?
It’s easy to imagine Putin striding topless through the heather, the midges bouncing off his leathery skin as he pauses occasionally to wrestle a lion rampant into submission. With him around there’d be no more dissent from musicians: Eddi Reader’s behaviour on Question Time would have to be peh-eh-eh-eh-eh-erfect and the Proclaimers’ proclamations would be limited to weather forecasts for Leith. He’d win appeal, too, as the sort of guy with whom you’d happily share a pint. I mean a single pint; damned if I'd drink anything he offered unless he were drinking it too.
Still, this could all rebound on Better Together if Putin were to stumble across the nuclear base at Faslane and realise that independence will stop the warheads pointing at Moscow. Of course, the missiles are useless and Putin could personally punch each one out of the sky as they fell, but it’s the principle of the thing. And Putin’s probably drunk more toasts to St Andrew and Robert Burns than the whole UK Cabinet put together, so who can be sure he doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Scotland under that adamantine exterior?
But that’s Better Together for you: devil-may-care risk-takers in their anxiety to ensure everyone gets a proper chance to rubbish independence from their all-encompassing tent. It’s a pity they can’t attract the one figure whom voters are actually clamouring to see directly involved in the cut-and-thrust. But Mr Cameron remains forever in the background, steadfastly maintaining his unimpeachable neutrality. On what grounds? Why, that the independence debate is just “for Scots”.