Lallands Peat Worrier: "I see no ships" She's not up to it. The Normandy Hotel in Renfrew, before the referendum. The Pakistan Welfare dinner. The Vale of Atholl pipe band have filed out, having smashed out renditions of the Flower of Scotland and the national anthem of Pakistan. The room is thronging with respectably dressed folk, the men abuzz with handshakes and gossip, the kids on their best behaviour, the tables piled high with iced lassi. The minutes tick by slowly. Proceedings run long, and are punctuated by long breaks during which this conviviality boils over, chairs and tables abandoned.
An officious major domo in a red coattee and medal, loosely - and with mounting irritation - structures proceedings with booming passive aggression. The top table - indeed the whole room - is crammed with familiar faces. But look. Her speech is respectable, the delivery workmanlike, if not inspiring. I have an inexplicable soft spot for Johann Lamont. The disastrous thing is, there is no gravitas to any of this. There's no replacing Margo. When my grandmother went to her grave, an SNP symbol beamed out from the cover of her order of service. It was a pleasing touch of the absurd in the kirk, reflecting the dead woman's true religion more accurately than the God and Saviour invoked by the Church of Scotland minister officiating. In life she never had much time for the Christian god, but perished, her belief in Scottish independence undiminished.
As we draw closer than ever before to realising these dreams of national independence, these losses sting with an acute sense of injustice. Today yields up another, with the tragic news of Margo MacDonald's death this afternoon, her work unfinished, the campaign unwon. A Biblical parallel seems apt, recalling Moses who, after his decades and travails in the desert, gave up the ghost on the boundaries of the Promised Land, leaving the Israelites to trek on alone. Tributes are already being written. There will be an empty chair in the chamber when Holyrood next reconvenes. Ed's energy-freeze: “something for nothing”?
"Something for nothing culture. " (Scots) Political Idiom. Usage limited to a small, isolated community of Scottish politicians. Origins: A Labour critique of universalism, with specific reference to "middle class welfare". Invoked to justify the introduction of means-testing. These definitions in mind, what do you think Johann Lamont makes of Ed Miliband’s proposals to freeze energy prices for all domestic and corporate consumers, if elected? You may remember, last year, the Scottish Labour leader railed against Scotland's “something for nothing culture”. Whatever you think of the merits and demerits of these policies, whatever costs you might think they impose on the public purse, only the wrongheaded would imagine – or argue – that taxpayers are getting “something for nothing”, having 40% income tax levied on earnings over £32,011 a year. But let's take you at your word, and assume you're an intellectually honest, consistent soul.
Equal marriage & the passionate mode of politics... Regular readers may not readily associate my prose with the passionate mode of politics. Law school is where warm hearts go to be extinguished. There's a certain truth to that. If you've a mind and disposition kiltered towards abstractions, chances are, it'll tell in your political writing. On the equal marriage debate thus far, I've been a more or less cool partisan for the equal marriage side of the spectrum. The first was an otherwise inconspicuous conversation with a friend and colleague in an Oxford pub. In anticipation of the quiz, the usual team (which I habitually christen "Ann Widdecombe's Steel-Reinforced Colostomy Bag", when permitted) nattered away about this and that, supping cheerily. The designated political bore, at my instigation the conversation in one corner happened to turn to the second reading of the same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Lords.
The second incident was grander, a marriage. I'm not suggesting that marriage is for everyone. "And yet we all would wish to feed on certainties..." It is probably unwise to take Francis Urquhart, of the House of Cards, for a moral and political tutor, but the old villain had a fine line in insight into the allure and peril of denying contingency. "So hard to know who to trust in these suspicious days. Does passion engender trust? Not necessarily. And yet we all would wish to feed on certainties. To hear the word "always", and believe it true. She trusts me absolutely, I believe. In politics as in life, it matters what you are pessimistic about. On twitter this afternoon, Deputy Editor of the Scotland on Sunday, Kenny Farquharson laments recent Nationalist responses to the latest devolutionary wheeze from Alan Trench for the IPPR, with David Mundell claiming yesterday that all three pro-union parties would come up with another batch of proposals to wing more financial powers Holyrood's way, if independence is defeated in 2014.
Real change in tone in past couple of months. I can understand Kenny's frustrations on many levels. "My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me. "Speak to me..." "Our job is to link the individual issues to the concept of independence..." Blinded by the Westminster prism... On the theme of significant political images, yesterday afforded another telling little scene, courtesy of the BBC's midday Daily Politics. Jo Coburn was sitting in for Andrew Neil and the discussion, understandably, turned to the issue of Scottish independence, and Cameron's jaunt up to Edinburgh to subscribe to the deal.
In an earlier segment of the programme (starting about 7:00 minutes in), Coburn interrogated SNP local government minister, Derek Mackay, about the Nationalist position on a range of topics, opening with the gambit that "the terms of trade have been agreed, but we don't yet have a question. What would you like the question to be?
" Now, I don't object to this style of interviewing, which poses, as if from a position of ignorance, critical questions, permitting politicians to make their views plain. But I wonder if there might be more to it than this. For the nationalist, the gripe about the political balance of the piece composes itself. Preliminary thoughts on being "Better Together"... A crony recently made an interesting point. Today, the anti-independence campaign – Better Together – launches at Napier University in Edinburgh. A clanjamfry of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and politically unaligned Unionist opinion, the campaign is being fronted by former chancellor, Alistair Darling.
While it remains a little unclear who the prime movers and characters from the other parties might be, folk like Annabel Goldie and Charlie Kennedy have been mooted as likely Tory and Liberal Democrat contributors. And one can see why. Dame Bella of Doily has mastered the impossible trick of being a personally likeable – if electorally unsuccessful – Tory character, spiced with humour and not beyond the odd matronly single entendre. Indeed, of the three, the one I’d etch a hard question mark against is Alastair Darling. And here’s a potential snag. Ed Miliband: British nationalist. The name may not be familiar, but most of you are likely to have come across some permutation of the “Moreno scale” in your time. An attempt to measure national identities where dual loyalties may obtain, the Moreno measure sets the two potential identities against one another, obliging respondents to reject or give priority to one over the other, or in the alternative, hold the pair in balanced equilibrium.
In Scottish surveys, the focus has been Scottishness and Britishness, and the options usually take the following form: For my part, I’m decidedly of the leftmost extreme. I do not and have never felt British. It is a concept which seems to address other people: I can’t find myself in it. In his "Defending the Union in England" speech this week, Ed Miliband applied himself to these sort of concerns. What is interesting and curious about this account of the referendum is that it relies on an argument Miliband explicitly denigrates elsewhere. Just how "religious" is marriage in Scotland? Today is your last chance to contribute to the Scottish Government's consultation on same-sex marriage. To put you in the mood, I thought it might be of interest to pose a simple question: just what is the state of marriage in Scotland anyway?
It is often suggested or implied that religions enjoy or ought to enjoy a sort of priority when it comes to defining marriage. As I've remarks on a number of occasions, the basis for religious bodies making such claims are various. Some will seek authority by dint of divine command. Others will make their case based on their apprehensions of the content of the natural law. Still others will speak about a Judeo-Christian leeching of the bride-and-bridegroom concept of marriage into Scotland's the general culture, which they contend should be jealously preserved, whether out of generic conservatism, or fears of social calamity if popular understandings of marriage are permitted to expand.
None of this particularly heeds the simpler question. Lallands Peat Worrier.