Britain’s broken astroturf


by Paul Kavanagh

It’s party conference week.  Although you can be forgiven for not noticing, as our national broadcaster has decided that live coverage of the Unionist party conferences was quite enough and doesn’t want to burden us with an alternative opinion in case we get confused.  It’s a public service.

Question Time from Glasgow once again managed to get through the entire show without acknowledging that Scotland exists.  It’s too much of an imposition to expect David Dimbleby to learn that there are four main parties in Scotland and not just three.  That would use up the total number of fingers he has available for counting – the other is firmly stuck in his ear as he goes “La-la-la I’m not listening to Scottish questions.”  So instead we heard all about Oliver Letwin and Liam Fox.

Oliver Letwin got off fairly lightly after he dumped official documents.  No one minded that much because he was only throwing away bits of paper.  However if it had been the Downing St cat he’d been caught dumping in a park bin, the entire Conservative government would have been hounded out of office before you could say cruelty to animals and uploaded the video to YouTube.

It’s a salutary thought that all that stands between Scotland and independence is the reliance of moggies on the kindness of Conservative MPs.  But you can get a Tory MP to do pretty much anything you want if you make a donation to a charity run by his best man.  If we could only find a willing suicide cat we could bribe a Tory MP to stick it in a bin, put the footage on YouTube, and we’d be independent the next day.  

Liam Fox didn’t take any bribes, cat-related or otherwise.  He put country before career and resigned of his own free will because he’s a thoroughly principled fellow who really is a close personal friend of Natalie Imbruglia and was Mother Theresa’s penpal.  And if you believe that there’s probably a cat in your bin.

But Liam did admit to an overly close relationship with his bestest pal and karaoke partner Adam Werritty, who apparently had free run of Liam’s address book despite not having any official position or security clearance.  The two formed such a close bond as both know what it’s like to belong to an oppressed and vilified minority, forced to hide in secret in case the neighbours find out and mock you publicly, and finally driven to seek your own kind in the bright lights of London where you can do what you like without it getting back to your mammy.  It’s a tough life being a Scottish Tory.

Adam’s career has mirrored Liam’s closely.  When Dr Liam was Tory health spokesman Adam was director of a private health care company in which Liam was a major investor.  When Dr Liam became Dr Death in charge of the UK’s nuclear weapons of mass destruction, Adam became professionally entangled in the world of arms dealing.  It makes sense really, the arms trade and private health care are two sides of the same supply-demand coin after all.

Meanwhile, as the careers of Scottish Unionists on the make fell apart, the UK continued to fall apart as Westminster ploughed on with its dual strategy of looking the other way and pretending it’s not happening whilst simultaneously trying to find sticks to poke in Alex Salmond’s renewable energy wind turbine. 

The biggest stick was pulling the plug on the Longannet carbon capture and storage project.  Westminster needs the money to build a nuclear power station, and might kindly let us store the waste from it.  See how the Union is always giving?  Helpfully, Westminster told us that some of the cash might be spent on a carbon capture project in Middlesborough instead, or possibly it was Scarborough.  Whatever, it was somewhere oop north which is practically in Scotland anyway so what are you complaining about?

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee decided it would poke not one but two sticks into Scottish independence with enquiries into things that are none its business anyway.  Blythely unaware that the Labour party is supposed to be dropping the negativity, the Labour dominated Scottish Affairs Committee decided to spend more public money looking for new things to say no to.  Magrit Curran is Shadow Scottish Secretary now, and it’s one of the few words she knows how to say.  Two confirmed others are “haw” and “youse”.

The first stick is the enquiry dealing with Michael Moore’s six questions, the ones that were answered by the Scottish government in a consultation paper several years ago.  Perhaps Michael and the Committee are just slow readers.  They’re probably still only halfway through the second Harry Potter novel, so we should give them a break.  

But everyone else has already heard the answers to the questions and debated them to death.  The questions have been answered by just about every pro-independence Scots blogger on the planet, repeatedly.  The Gaelic medium under 5s playgroup in Nairn made plasticene models of the answers, and the Auchterarder Amateur Theatre Players have answered them through the medium of interpretive ceilidh dance.  

But none of this was ever reported on the BBC or mentioned on Question Time, so as far as the committee is aware it hasn’t happened, and they’re still struggling with some of the bigger words in the Commons Chamber of Secrets.    

For those who haven’t been paying attention, like MPs, one question the Westminster committee has is what the future defence policy of an independent Scotland would be.  Westminster needs to know this in case they decide to invade us again.  They’re also hoping that we might say: “Oh go on then.  We’ll let you keep your nuclear warheads in Scotland.”  Like it was really a cat they’d rescued from a bin and needed to find a good home for.  They’d love to keep it themselves, but the Home Counties are allergic to cat hair and nuclear devastation.

The other inquiry will be to discover whether the Scottish referendum is legal and moral.  Westminster knows a huge amount about illegality and immorality, so we can be certain that they know what to look for.  

Meanwhile back on planet Earth the shifting tectonic plates of Scottish politics have continued to cause tremors.  Even some within Labour in Scotland have realised that the Calman stitch up is a bad idea.  According to Malcolm Chisholm two senior Labour figures told him that they’d rather have independence than be stuck with Calman.  Sadly Mr Chisholm did not name names but we can probably bet that George Foulkes wasn’t one of them.  He’s been too busy looking for sticks to insert in the spokes of the Scotland Bill along with arch-Tory Malcolm Forsyth.  It’s also unlikely to have been Jim Murphy, as it would have meant finding him first.  Dougie Alexander has been put in the frame by some.  He’s been looking a bit shifty recently, but then that’s nothing new.

A grassroots movement like Scottish self-determination is a natural process, it grows of its own volition.  It cannot be halted by diktat or clever clogs clauses snuck into the Scotland Bill.  Even the token Scottish contributors to the English press are starting to notice.  Alan Cochrane is reduced to bewailing in the pages of the Telegraph how hard it is to be a Unionist these days.  Poor lamb.  And Kevin McKenna has had a damascene conversion and discovered that independence is going to happen whether the Labour party likes it or not.  Independence is half-way down the birth canal, and no amount of questions from Westminster about the baby’s legitimacy is going to shove it back up again.  

In desperation, Tory and Labour party hacks got together to launch a professionally designed corporate funded grassroots movement of their very own.  Just like normal Unionism, grassroots Unionism is directed from above and tells you what you can talk about.  Grassroots Unionism aims to defeat Scottish aspirations by painting a cosy picture of happy Westminster togetherness, like Liam Fox and Adam Werritty in matching outfits.  

The real problem for those few (self) interested parties who want to foster the green shoots of grassroots Unionism is that historically grassroots Unionism consisted of singing songs about killing Irish people whilst walking up and down in a bowler hat and asking job applicants what school they went to.  The green shoots of grassroots Unionism were as orange as David Dickinson after an explosion in a fake-tan factory.  

The Unionist astroturf gardener needs to create grassroots Unionism from scratch.  You can’t do it by laying a few gaudily painted strips of plastic and calling it a movement.  Astroturf does not make a meadow, it kills the life beneath it.   

Perhaps a new grassroots Unionism could be developed if Orange walks took a lesson from Gay Pride and made it a party with lots of big burly men dressed up as queens.  A gyrating Apprentice Boy Band could play the Sash at a techno beat dressed in nothing but body oil, a Union Jack thong and the boa their father woa.   

But it wouldn’t work. It’s not just that Catholicism offers a better line in sparkly frocks and nun costumes, the Scottish gay community is about as likely to welcome an association with the Orange Order as the Pope is likely to consecrate an order of lesbian bikers.  The addiction to polyester displayed at your average Orange walk is a heinous crime against humanity that can never be forgiven.  

And that’s Unionism’s problem.  Like cheap polyester it’s yesterday’s glad rags, it fits poorly, smells bad and causes a nasty rash.

David Cameron campaigned on the slogan Broken Britain, but it was the Unionist parties who broke it.  Now they’ve broken themselves.  The Labour party’s leadership is the job no one wants because whoever gets the poisoned chalice will take the blame for the gubbing the party is going to get at next year’s council elections.  The Tories are experiencing an existential crisis and are no longer sure if they should really exist.  And the Lib Dems are already dead, having leapt off the cliff when they allied themselves to David Cameron, we’re just waiting for the splat.

The Unionist party is long since over, and now it just looks tawdry.  Not even Gok Wan could make the Union look good naked.

But Scotland’s got an invite to a new and better party, one that’s modern, forward looking and fit for the 21st century, a future with nae limits.