The Spectator's Notes

The silence of the Scottish unionists

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

We citizens of the small Sussex village of Etchingham are proud of our clan chief, Julie, who chaired Tuesday night’s encounter between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. So ancient is her surname that it is a chicken-and-egg question about which came first, the family or the village. The headless 14th-century effigy of her forebear, Sir William, lies in the parish church. But local patriotism must not blind us to the fact that even our Julie could not rescue the debate from its dreary game-show format, sometimes witless questions and the lack of actual discussion. It cannot be repeated too often that these shows are symptoms of TV triumphalism and not of a healthy democracy.

Much indignation on the BBC the next morning that the Conservatives had tweeted partisan comment on the debate, passing itself off as a ‘fact-check’. Compare this with the corporation’s ‘Reality Check’, which has consistently trashed Brexit for the past three years.

Visiting Scotland last week, I was struck by the vehemence of many Scots against being ruled by the SNP. Devolution in Britain has given more scope to local tyranny. The fact that Scotland has only one police force, for example, makes it much more likely that it will be the arm of one-party rule. Scottish Unionists therefore tend to stay silent lest their careers or businesses suffer. But as we know from the first independence referendum, they are in fact a majority. This leads me to suspect that the Tories will not do as badly as predicted in Scotland in the coming general election. Nowadays Scottish Labour is so weakened that it could hardly be described as a Unionist force. Jeremy Corbyn seems ready to concede ‘indyref2’ as his price for a deal with the SNP. There are probably two million voters in Scotland for whom the prospect of a second bitter contest over what was supposed to be a ‘once-in-a-generation’ issue is really frightening.

Staying with a relation there, I picked up from beside my bed Evelyn Waugh’s When The Going Was Good, a collection mainly of travel pieces written in 1930-31. In it, he describes discussions with tribal elders in Aden which centre on the King-Emperor and how pretty Princess Elizabeth is. Has it ever happened before in human history that one living person’s face and character have been known and loved right across the world for more than 90 years? This snippet helped put the Duke of York business in perspective.

Roughly once a fortnight over the past couple of years, the telephone would ring and an old man’s voice, loud and firm, would begin: ‘Charles, Dwin Bramall here. Sorry to bother you, but…’ The funny thing was that the Field Marshal was only rarely calling about the nightmare of his old age in which he was falsely accused of child abuse by ‘Nick’ (Carl Beech, later convicted of perverting the course of justice) and persecuted by the police. More commonly, he wanted to discuss current political developments, particularly Brexit (to which he was opposed). Ever since he arrived in Normandy on D-Day plus one in 1944, Dwin had interested himself in the future of his country. Shocked though he was by the fantastical lies thrown at him — and the self-promoting credulity of the police — he never succumbed to self-pity: he was always more concerned with the common good. Thanks to email and texts, it is now rather old-fashioned to be rung without warning, and I was sometimes irritated when Dwin’s calls interrupted my writing. I miss them, though. He served the nation for more than three quarters of a century, and to the end.

Lord Bramall never seemed vindictive, but his friends can be glad that he lived to see the enforced retirement of Tom Watson from the House of Commons.  Although moderate in his politics, Mr Watson is a character assassin who abused his power to promote horrible libels for political ends. Half an hour’s rigorous scrutiny of ‘Nick’s’ accusations would have warned him that they were incredible, yet he pursued them even, in the case of Lord Brittan, beyond the grave. I don’t think it is fully understood how evil this persecution was, and how unquestioningly government, MPs, police and media supported it.

Labour’s newly announced policies on animal welfare seek to double the number of police allocated to wildlife crime. Such numbers will not deal with the problem, because far larger numbers of police are already deployed every Saturday in the season to attend the meets of those hunting within the law. This is because of the violence, intimidation and trespass committed by hunt saboteurs. The antis make themselves threatening and unidentifiable by wearing masks. The police do virtually nothing about their activities, but sit amiably in their cars for a couple of hours, occasionally getting out to take a bit of film. The latest development in the saboteurs’ methods is the use of drones which they fly over private land — which raises legal issues of trespass, data protection, Civil Aviation Authority rules and so on. Perhaps needless to say, the police do nothing about this. I hear, however, that they are busily pursuing a farmer who recently shot down a saboteurs’ drone when it flew low over his land. Also needless to say, the Tories, having exploited the support of hunting people for many years, are now running away from these embattled communities. In some places, hunt supporters make up more than half the people canvassing on actual doorsteps. They will probably go on helping, because the dislike of Corbyn is so great that there is no alternative — a microcosm of the attitudes of millions to this contest.

Labour also promises to ‘expand the definition of animal to include decapod crustaceans’ in order to ‘end the practice of lobsters being boiled alive’. Under a Labour government, no sentient being will be boiled alive, except, of course, the rich.

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