A closer look at Scotland’s prophets of doom


by Kenneth Roy

Jings, crivens … auld Scotia’s done.  While we were moving office, distracted by BT’s attempts to deny us contact with the outside world, by cardboard boxes zipped up in angry brown tape, and by all those aircraft suddenly on our doorstep, landing and taking off as they do, we were unaware that it was all in vain – that we might as well have stuck around in our John Finnie Street slum and waited for the inevitable end of Scotland.

I sensed that the hole in the ceiling at the former HQ portended something, and now it seems it was more than just the odd pigeon. The final chapter of this small nation was being written while we were in transit. It was the usual wretched timing.

The death of Scotland was announced by two experts of whom, I confess, I had not heard before. There was a Douglas McWilliams. There was a John McTernan. I suspect, even fear, that we shall be hearing more of them. When the funeral takes place, they will be the chief pall-bearers, lowering the remains of the old country to the accompaniment of that stirring Scottish lament, the Tweet. We can look forward to the dropping of a sprig of heather by the new leader of the Murdo Party, Murdo Murdo of Murdo, who arrived a few days too late to save the patient.

Och, aye. A good send-off. We may depend on it.

It remains only to thank Mr McWilliams and Mr McTernan for their services. Though it is probably necessary to introduce them first.

Mr McWilliams is founder and chief executive of a London-based economics consultancy. He predicts that our economy will so sharply detriorate that, within 19 years, Scotland will have descended to the level of a third-world tourist destination in the same category as South Korea, Poland and Turkey, only two of which are allowed the indignity of entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.

Mr McTernan, meanwhile, is a commentator-at-large, as comfortably at home in the Scotsman as he is in the Daily Telegraph, whose most recent contribution to political thinking is headed: ‘Let’s tell the truth – Scotland has been indulged for far too long’. Mr McTernan claims we are ‘delivering’ lower exam results than England – ‘delivering’? – oh, please; that our hospitals have longer waiting times; that we have fewer police officers per head of population.      In short: ‘Scots don’t inhabit a land of milk and honey’. Somehow, despite this evidence of Scottish inequality, we are ‘doing very well, thank you’ and should be forced to surrender some of our excessive share of the national cake to the East Midlands.

Unlike Mr McWilliams and McTernan, who claim to be Scottish themselves, I have been living here constantly, without ever leaving the place, and would be sorry to see it go; I would almost feel responsible for Scotland’s demise.


We shall overlook the intriguing notion that a land of milk and honey is to be equated with the number of police on the streets, and instead try to locate the whereabouts of that centre of intellectual enlightenment, the East Midlands, where they are positively gagging for milk and honey, more police on the streets, and all that ill-deserved Scottish loot.

When I first read these depressing prophecies, I was tempted to enter a period of mourning. Unlike Mr McWilliams and McTernan, who claim to be Scottish themselves, I have been living here constantly, without ever leaving the place, and would be sorry to see it go; I would almost feel responsible for Scotland’s demise.  But then I had a closer look at the pall-bearers and a more positive outlook suddenly became possible.

Mr McWilliams has just completed a week-long diary for a journal called Public Service Europe, of which I happen to be an avid reader for all the obvious reasons.  A week ago, he was back in his native land, in ‘vibrant Edinburgh’, where ‘accommodation can’t be got for love or money’.      Accommodation was indeed so scarce in the capital of third-world Scotland that he was ‘grateful to have parents to stay with’.  He was captivated by the festival – in particular a ‘wonderful play by a son of a friend’ and by the ‘brilliant’ Elizabeth Blackadder retrospective at the National Gallery.  To round off this South Korean experience, he travelled all the way to disadvantaged Gullane, where he enjoyed a ‘delightfully Scottish meal’ at La Potiniere. For a country halfway down the plughole, it all sounds relatively civilised.

After this, the return to riot-stricken London was something of a worry.  ‘The phone hasn’t been ringing much for the past month,’ he confides to his diary.  He wasn’t sure why.  He wondered if a business downturn might be about to hit him.  By Friday he was bemoaning the ‘parochial’ nature of Scotland and ‘irritated’ by the coverage of his Scottish doomsday report.  ‘But I can’t really complain about the publicity’, he adds.  Quite so.  If there is anything calculated to arouse the interest of our impressionable press, it is the latest ‘survey’.

Mr McTernan’s track record is a source of even greater consolation.  I learn that the champion of the East Midlands is not only a former political secretary to Tony Blair, but that he helped to run Frank Dobson’s campaign for London mayor, was special adviser to former first minister Henry McLeish, and masterminded Labour’s Holyrood campaign in 2007.  Blair took Britain into an unpopular war, Dobbo was comprehensively rejected by the electors of London, McLeish resigned over some unfortunate expenses confusion, and Labour in 2007 went down to its first defeat in Scotland in half a century.

With such soothsayers as Mr McWilliams and Mr McTernan leading informed opinion, it is hard to feel other than cautiously optimistic about the future of Scotland.

This article was firt published in Scottish Review and appears here with kind permission from the author.