Jings! Less than 2 calendar months till the referendum!
In a bleedin’ awful week for world news, I was sorely in need of light relief. So I spent a spiffing few days on the Moray Coast, enjoying some aquatic acrobatics from Dolphins for Yes. Oh, I know our cetacean cousins haven’t actually spoken out in support of self-determination, but, given their intelligence and positive disposition, it can be only a matter of time.
Around Nairn, say locals, the dolphins are particularly visible this year. Whenever you spot them, it looks like they’re saying, “What an opportunity to frolic in total freedom, doing algebra in our heads and adding to other species’ happiness!” You never come across one muttering, “Crap, this water’s freezing! We should have stayed in the aquarium, where the humans patronised the hell out of us but generally didn’t harpoon us.” Maybe that sort all live south of the border, waiting to be bussed in by Better Together.
Yes campaigners should regard the cheerful Moray dolphins as role models, for there’s much to be upbeat about. For one thing, we know that even if the propaganda war goes tits up - if the Daily Mail convincingly fakes a picture of Alex and Nicola hand-in-hand in a jacuzzi, smoking crack, or a conveniently unearthed Dead Sea Scroll predicts that Scottish independence will bring famine, cataclysm and a plague of midges, or the Queen’s Baton turns out to contain the message, “One is not amused by troublesome Cybernats! Orf with Salmond’s head!” - we have the consolation of knowing that on the other side of the argument stands the hapless David Cameron.
It’s only the shambolic state of the opposition that keeps us from appreciating how monumentally duff Dave’s judgement is. This is the man who must have left his truth-seeking antennae in the pub before interviewing future jailbird Andy Coulson to be his rottweiler-in-chief; who couldn’t bring himself to sack repentant-my-arse Maria Miller even as her fingernails were scraping agonisingly down the side of the gravy train; and who maintained that placing Lady Butler-Sloss in charge of the paedophile enquiry was The Right Thing To Do, even though her conflict of interest was so massive it blotted out the sun.
One of Dave’s most spectacular political belly-flops has been his opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker’s election as head of the European Commission. With a name that sounds like “country squire” in German, you’d think Jean-Claude would fit right into Dave’s Chipping Norton mind-set. But, alas, his vision of an integrated Europe jars horribly with Dave’s proposal to erect barricades and fend off foreigners with firebrands in order to make drooling bigots vote Tory instead of UKIP. Worse still, he used to be Prime Minister of Luxembourg, which is just a radio station and a few cows, unlike proper-sized countries which start with populations of 60 million.
Dave couldn’t find anything of substance on which to nail Juncker, so instead he arranged for selected Tory scandal-sheets to smear him as an alcoholic potty-mouth who drank cognac for breakfast. When the rest of the world stopped laughing at that one, Juncker was voted in by a margin of 26-2, which on the international ladder of humiliation placed Dave several rungs below the Brazilian football team.
In consequence, the normal round of photo-opportunities has been torture for Dave. His arrival at this week’s EU summit was a laughing-stock, with Juncker effortlessly parrying his attempted karate chop and creating the lamest high-five in history. In the subsequent official photograph, Juncker’s expression clearly reads “Get this plastic-faced dipstick out of my sight!” while Dave, looking glaikit even by his standards, appears anxious to tunnel out of the room with his bare hands.
As it turned out, Juncker’s appointment was less notable for Dave’s discomfiture than for the opportunity it gave our beloved media to resurrect the zombie argument “Scotland won’t get into the EU for years/decades/centuries (delete as appropriate)”. An initial round of fourth estate fist-pumping was prompted by his statement that you couldn’t join the EU simply by writing a letter, which he addressed to a Catalonian representative who had, guess what, written a letter.
As we contemplate Microsoft inventing an irritating paper-clip that says “It looks like you’re trying to join the EU! Need any help?”, it should be acknowledged that Juncker was right. If we want to be, or remain, part of the EU, we shouldn’t just write a letter. Or try to impress them with a tasty Rice Krispie traybake, or invite them to a snooker match where the pockets are mysteriously stuffed with fivers, or stand beneath their window serenading them with an out-of-tune ukulele. There’s a process to be followed, we get it. Realpolitik may or may not shorten that process, but, seriously, we’re cool with it.
All of this was, however, a mere blip on the seismograph compared with the reaction to Juncker’s later statement about holding off on EU expansion for a few years. “Take that, Scotland!” whooped Better Together, as the BBC devoted the red button channel to celebratory church bells. Then, just as hysteria began to grip the nation, newshound James Cook performed a heroic act of self-sacrifice. Remembering his vocation, and promoting himself to the head of the Beeb’s P45 queue, he decided to check with Brussels what Juncker had actually meant by “expansion”.
Lo and behold, the answer thundered back, fast enough to suggest that the new chief bureaucrat was a tad peeved at his words being spun by vested interests. It transpired he’d been referring to countries geographically outside the EU, and not to Scotland, whose accession would be an “internal” matter. So move on, folks, nothing to see here. Pity nobody advised Sarah Smith, whose BBC2 apathy-fest Scotland 2014 continued to promulgate the “hammer blow for Salmond” lie as if she’d been locked in a sound-proof tank all day.
Of course, even if Juncker had donned a kilt and sung Flower of Scotland in 27 languages, it would have made no difference. Whether Scotland is a member of the EU, and on what terms, doesn’t fall within his personal diktat, any more than it did for Andrew Marr’s bosom buddy Barroso. But we all have to pretend that it does, because we’re trapped in the Twilight Zone, where you can be asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast, especially if Jim Naughtie’s at the microphone.
Naturally Mr Cameron, even after the whole claim had been thoroughly debunked, blithely proclaimed without a trace of embarrassment that Juncker’s statement was “very important”, which was all the proof anyone could require that it wasn’t.
That’s why Yes supporters should be cheerful about Dave’s presence in this campaign. It would be even better if he had the cojones to debate Alex Salmond face-to-face, but why ask for the moon when we have the stars? He’s pompous, bereft of self-awareness and blatantly wrong 100% of the time. In all of 307 years, could we ever have chosen a better opponent?