Monday/ Tuesday. 85 days of campaigning to go…
It was generally agreed that the independence debate was lacking a bit of magic, so The Herald and its fellow rags duly arranged for two practitioners of the mystic arts to materialise in a puff of headlines.
First Harry Potter, mounting a late bid for the prefect’s badge that had eluded him at Hogwarts, declared his support for No. Salivating editors immediately opened the bidding for J K Rowling’s 1,486-word essay entitled “That’s my boy!” In fairness to Harry, he did mention that he trusted Scots voters to do the right thing, which, going by the 20% over-production of referendum ballot papers and the current activities of Glasgow City Council’s voter-cleansing department, is not necessarily a view shared by the authorities.
Then Mr Majeika, in his human guise of octogenarian theatrical legend Stanley Baxter, was featured in the state propagandist’s house journal Radio Times, expressing his own hope that canny Scots would vote No. It was great to see the word “canny” used as an adjective for once, but no amount of magic hair-waggling could disguise the tell-tale parp of “Braveheart” and “anti-English sentiment” klaxons elsewhere in the interview. This suggested that Mr Baxter’s 55-year residence in London might have somewhat clouded his view of day-to-day reality in Scotland. Or, as aficionados of his classic Parliamo Glasgow sketches might have observed, “Izziaffiz bliddichump?”
Could this be a game-changer, we wondered? We thumbed the White Paper in vain for the word “sorcery”, and shuddered at the unanswered questions that lay ahead. Would Narnia still be accessible from Scottish wardrobes after independence? Would broomstick riders in Newcastle be unfairly hit by Scotland abolishing Air Passenger Duty? Would it benefit Alistair Carmichael’s public image if he were transformed into a frog? Was there enough magic in the world to make Scotland 2014 watchable?
It turned out that HM Government’s in-house wizards had also been at work, mysteriously transforming £720,000 of our cash into a pile of pea-brained piffle that materialised unstoppably on the doormat of every household in Scotland. It was described as “information about the referendum”, although the main information it conveyed was that Westminster really does think we all button up the back.
Even opposition politicians, whose memories for inconvenient facts make a goldfish look like Einstein, will no doubt recall how they lambasted the White Paper seven months ago. It was, they girned, daylight robbery on the taxpayer, a casual frippery compared to hospitals, schools, A9 dualling, bedroom tax abolition, eternal human happiness and all the other things the Scottish Government should have been simultaneously prioritising.
And this effort? Ooh, they’ll say, it’s crafted by Rolls Royce minded Whitehall mandarins with Oxford PPE degrees papering their walls, not just the wee pretendy Scottish civil service, so it’s clearly worth every last bawbee, purr purr. Go on, Johann, ye wee ray of sunshine, prove me wrong.
To be fair, the White Paper was a tad more expensive than £720,000, but after you’d read it you could use it as a makeshift brick or a support for a wonky table, so it gave you added value. This, by contrast, was a 16-page Ladybird book produced by somebody who couldn’t be arsed to finish it, and decided to add bits of clip art to pad it out. On page 13 (unlucky for some) it even managed to annexe the Isle of Man by erroneously showing it on a silhouette map as part of the UK. This drew a snippy response from the Manx Government, forcing the week’s second scrambling of Downing Street’s overworked apology team to grovel its way back into favour.
Despite the pose of the hand-holding children on the front and back, there was no way to run from the leaflet. However, some Yes supporters did discover a magic dimensional gateway, known as “Better Together’s Freepost address”, which they used to transport it, plus any other waste paper lying around, back to its spiritual home. Others plastered the leaflet with handy red-ink annotations for use in doorstep canvassing, and still others relentlessly Tweeted the piss out of it. The rest of us, noting that it’s a load of pants which shows signs of being combustible, are saving it to use as a firelighter in winter.
One of the No campaign’s favourite magic tricks is making shipbuilding jobs disappear if we don’t “do the right thing” in September. Morally speaking, this is no better than cocking a revolver and saying, “Vote Naw or the fluffy bunny gets it”, but, practically speaking, it fits snugly in line with Johann Lamont’s basic philosophy that after independence Scotland will be impoverished and we’ll all have to eat worms. So Monday saw Johann and Margaret Curran out and about on the Clyde, spreading little stink-bombs of doom all over the shipyards.
I’d respect their apocalyptic vision somewhat more readily if (a) they articulated it constantly and urgently, instead of just chucking it on the baggage carousel of scare stories and using it as a cuddly-toy photo-opportunity whenever it comes trundling into view, and (b) they didn’t seem on the verge of breaking into the Hallelujah Chorus every time they mention it.
At the end of the day, whatever the Secretary of State for Portsmouth may think, the UK has already effectively switched the lights off on its only viable alternative to shipbuilding on the Clyde. If push comes to shove, Westminster may be slippery, larcenous and entirely unscrupulous, but it ain’t bloody dense.
The only event during the period genuinely deserving the description “rabbit out of the hat” came from the National Theatre of Scotland, which ran a 24-hour Yes, No, Don’t Know online extravaganza of live 5-minute plays from teatime on Monday to teatime on Tuesday.
It featured a whole crateload of new work, took several outrageous risks and, from a logistical perspective, must have given various creators and directors the complete heebie-jeebies. One piece was even filmed on Prestwick Beach in the morning with the tide coming in, which must have required some sort of mystical cure for frozen tootsies.
You want magic? You’ve got it right there.