I can’t seem to find the Oracle of Delphi’s complete works. The libraries remain shut and when I go to Google I find the search engine inadequate in the matter of the ‘Complete Pythia’. So I throw the following story out there unsourced in the sure and certain knowledge that next week’s letters page looks set to be a bloodbath for me. Spectator readers are among the most learned readers around, and I know my fate if I relay any of this inaccurately. Nevertheless, here we go.
Several years ago an utterance I’m pretty sure came from the Delphic Oracle lodged in my head. A foreign king (I hear you tapping ‘Dear Sir’ as I type) wanted to know whether he should go across the river and invade a neighbouring kingdom. The Oracle, whose utterances were famously ambiguous — not to say Delphic — proclaimed: ‘If the king crosses the river, a mighty realm will he destroy.’ The King took this to mean that he would have a great victory. He gathered the army, crossed the water and lost his own kingdom back home. We might pause here for a moment to note that the Oracle of Delphi could be a right bastard.
Anyhow, this stuck in my mind because of the history of our own country during recent years. There were moments in the Theresa May years in particular when the Delphic story seemed especially pertinent. The British public had made this great statement of intent. The path seemed clear. Then the politicians engaged in a spot of their own bloodletting. We ended up with a minority government. You know the rest. The point is that we had tried to make our great leap and instead looked set to lose everything. We voted to be an independent nation and lost our own kingdom. Happily the fear receded.
But now, thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, it is reignited. For those still embittered by the electorate’s 2016 decision it is — you must grant — a stunning way to punish us. ‘Oh you thought you were so clever, wanting to be an “independent country”. Well how do you like this?’ are roughly the words spoken by the figure of death, or Lord Mandelson. It is a threat from the same school as that which gleefully mooted the possibility of a return to the Troubles or Irish unification. You silly Brits voted Brexit and then lost your own kingdom. That’ll teach you.
Yet nowhere could this vengeful wish be more deeply satisfied than if Nicola Sturgeon got her way. As a British unionist I loathe Sturgeon and remain confounded by the fact that all forms of nationalism are viewed as abhorrent in this culture unless they come wrapped in tartan. Sturgeon’s politics are of the most noxious kind: calculatedly divisive, fantastical, entirely reliant on stirring up hatred. Look at the first adverts for Alex Salmond’s new Alba party and you’ll see that the most rank ethno-nationalism sits not far behind its pretend-progressive exterior.
And now Sturgeon has decided to kick off again. Having run a campaign for the recent elections in which she insisted that another independence referendum (IndyRef2) was not the issue, she got her narrow victory and promptly announced that it made the logic for IndyRef2 irrefutable. Of course the logic of another referendum will always be irrefutable for the Nats. It is the great advantage that monomaniacs have. For everyone else, the answers to the questions of the day change depending on events. For the Nats the answer is always the same.
The country may just be emerging from a pandemic, but Sturgeon and co. have decided this is the right time to have another bitter, costly, energy-sapping independence vote. ‘But the EU vote changes things,’ they say. Nonsense. The Nats would still be calling for Scottish independence had we voted Remain.
There are those who think that Boris Johnson should call Sturgeon’s bluff on this, call a referendum fast, win it and then put the matter to bed. But apart from the worrying number of variables in that, the problem is that the Nats will never put this matter to bed. They will always have a reason to rip the United Kingdom apart. They won’t put it to bed until they have their way and destroy a union they have no right to destroy.
Ah, I hear some residue Remainers say. But wasn’t that exactly what the rest of you did when you voted for Brexit? It is a charge that some people — not least the continental papers — now delight in levelling. Still the answer is ‘no’. Our relationship with the EU was not an ancient treaty forged centuries ago. It did in fact go down the middle of our country far more than some of us realised. But consider the impact it had, and the fact that it was about a deal made in the lifetime of most people in this country: a deal whose nature changed while we were inside it, and which as a result we got out of. And then compare it to the bitterness and hatred caused in these islands if the nationalists got their way. There may be many good things to be said about the EU. But it is not one of the most successful political unions in history. The United Kingdom is.
In the support for Sturgeon from some surprising quarters and her building-up as the great counter to Johnson, a clear air of vengeance can be heard. Sturgeon is a great opportunist and seems perfectly happy to be used as a weapon of violence against a union which she hates. The story is already laid out for her and anyone else who hates this country. The UK voted to leave the EU, and then fell apart at home. What a wonderful story that would be to tell children across Europe, and everywhere else, for generations to come. To make them behave and stay in place, to agree to whatever they are told and not object to whatever comes their way next. It would be told as a great tragedy. And it would be. But it can be avoided. And it must be. It is not written.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10