Hugo Rifkind

A reminder for my Westminster colleagues: Scotland is bigger than David Cameron

15 May 2014

1:00 PM

15 May 2014

1:00 PM

‘It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’ So wrote P.G. Wodehouse, and he wasn’t just talking about nationalists. And right now, that thunderous cloud is me.

What I would like, you see, is for English pundits to stop connecting with the Scottish independence debate merely in terms of what it means for David Cameron. It’s an interesting question the first time, and not long ago my colleague Matthew Parris crafted a must-read column out of the idea in the Times. Otherwise smart and sensible people keep wanting to bang on about nothing else, though, and it makes me want to chew rocks. ‘Will Cameron have to go if he loses Scotland?’ they say, which is the cue for other people to say ‘Yes!’ or ‘No!’ or ‘Who cares?’ but in the bitter manner, this last one, of people who do in fact care enormously.

Stop it. Who cares? They consider the end of a 300-year-old union, and the only thing they can get a grip on — their only emotional handhold — is whether one co-alition prime minister would have to leave his job a year early? Really? This is the best they can do? Five point three million people heading off into the unknown; the birth of a new nation, calamitous or proud; who they will be, what they will think, what they will want; the voluntary departure of the United Kingdom’s largest minority; the rejection of Britishness itself; debates over EU membership; debates over Nato membership; a land border on the English mainland with a competitor nation; the first in a wave, perhaps, of many European secessions; a subsequent rise in English nationalism (which has never yet managed not to be ugly as hell); a looming fight over oil and wind and banks and money and the Army, and their stuff, and where the hell we who are left would keep our bloody ginormous submarines. All this and much, much more is available for us to fret about.

But no. Instead, they consider the departure of the birthplace of Hume and Smith, and of Britain’s best Bond and last year’s Wimbledon winner, the country that gave us television and telephone and steam train and Harry Potter and oh God, don’t make me write another list — and what do they think? I’ll tell you what they think. They think, ‘But does it mean Boris Johnson will have a better crack at No. 10?’

As annoying, and frankly similar, is the seemingly universal conclusion that yes, Cameron would have to go. Why? ‘Because if he lost Scotland…’ Lost? Lost? Scotland is not a prize to be won or lost. It is not some dominion, held tenuously by Britain proper. It is Britain proper. And David Cameron is not some modern-day Edward Longshanks, seeking to subdue the troublesome north.

He is a British unionist, as am I, and I dare say if Scotland opts to go it alone he’ll be at least as glum as I will be. But this is not some by-election or opinion poll that reflects well or poorly on his governance. It is the considered decision of a people about what sort of people they want to be, and as such there is no wrong answer. Certainly there is an unwise one, and in my view a ‘yes’ vote would be just that, leaving Scotland a far poorer and more parochial place than it is today. But it would be an unwise choice freely and democratically made.

So why should it be a personal blow to David Cameron? Why should he be seen as George III, losing America? Hell, you might just as well regard him as the PM who nobly and with restraint presided over one of the most amiable disintegrations of a nation there has ever been. Only not in Westminster they don’t. Because in Westminster, everything is about Westminster. Which is the whole damn problem. I mean, Christ, don’t they see?

I know that Scots can be chippy, and I know that I, myself, am rarely more chippy than when discussing Scotland. But the fat-tongued, rubber-footed, cack-handed, tin-eared uselessness of British political discourse on Scottish independence is beginning to give me the fear. Perhaps it stems from mere ignorance, and if it was Wales mooting independence, or Northern Ireland, or Cornwall or Norfolk, then no doubt I’d have started off much the same. But they’ve had ample time to learn tact by now. I genuinely don’t know what is wrong with them all. It’s horrifying. This is my Scotsman’s grievance, and it only grows. Nearly everything these damn people do only makes it all worse.

Buzzy neighbourhood


On a lighter note, we’ve got bumblebees in the roof. How cute is that? The council says we’re not allowed to do anything about it and nor do we need to, because they cause no damage and almost certainly won’t sting anybody, not least because the roof isn’t a place where we spend an awful lot of time.

You can see them flying in and out, though, from the little bedroom window. Apparently a bumblebee nest only has about 30 bees in it, which is particularly adorable and makes me fancy that if I watch them for long enough, I’ll eventually learn their names. Best of all, from round the corner in the bathroom, if you put your ear to the wall, you can hear them buzz. They usually sound comically furious, like Donald Duck, and don’t seem to go to bed before midnight. I’m told they’ll all leave in the autumn, and go off to live somewhere else. I’ll miss them.

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