I have thought of a way of saving the Union


by Kenneth Roy

Easy, of course, to mock the pretensions of Murdo, especially now that he appears to be back-tracking like mad.  Yet the scale of his personal accomplishment must be recognised. He has achieved more in a week than most politicians manage in a lifetime: suddenly, he a member of that exclusive club of rare birds of exotic plumage who are known by their first names.

We have had (so to speak) Edwina, who is soon to enjoy a second coming as a ballroom dancer; and in the dim and distant there was Enoch, master of the cataclysmic metaphor.  We are currently enjoying Boris and Ming, neither of whom requires further introduction.  Apart from Ming, Scotland has contributed Tam and Margo; even Donald.  Nicola is waiting in the wings, if not quite on the stage.  Alex doesn’t cut it somehow, and Wee Eck feels like cheating.  From an open prison somewhere in Angus there is the popular hero Tommy, whose release should be imminent if there is any justice in the world.  To this select crew we must now add the founder of the Iconic Party (as the Scottish Review insists it should be called, unless Murdo decides it it too subtle and that the Toxic Party will strike a stronger chord with the electorate).

What is Murdo’s destiny?  It is to save the Union; nothing more, but nothing less.  If he fails in this ambition, we will cease to think of him as Murdo and be compelled to refer to him by his last name, if anyone can remember what it is; only the distinguished political historian David Torrance will write of him then, and possibly only in regretful footnotes.

The next question is whether Murdo will succeed; whether Murdo can save the Union.  I wish him well, if only because he is taking on a job that no one else in Scotland seems to want to do, with the possible exception of the first minister, whose ultimate intentions remain ambiguous.

Alternative persons of destiny are thin on our stony ground.  Every party needs a Willie, and it seems that following the abrupt and unnecessary resignation of Tavish (another with first-name potential), the Scottish Liberal Democrats have a leader of that name.  Nevertheless, I do not see this Willie as the saviour of the Union.  Perhaps we should look to the People’s Party instead.  Perhaps not.

The People’s Party, which once boasted such men of vision as Tom Johnston, is reduced to a state of clinical paralysis; it really ought to be hospitalised as soon as possible.   What would Johnston, or Donald, or the Kilmarnock dominie Willie Ross have made of this pitiful, leaderless shambles?   The Union will be dead and buried, and Scottish Labour will still be convalescing from its near-fatal train crash in the early hours of May in the long-ago year of 2011.   The party is content meanwhile to take one day at a time.   To borrow from a joke at the Edinburgh Festival, this is how time is organised.  Yet the People’s Party in its present heavily sedated condition is not a pretty sight.  We might as well forget it.

There is always next year’s grant to think about, or the possibility of a paid place on some board, or the half-dream of a visit to the palace dressed in a morning suit.

The next question is whether, should Murdo fail, there might be another way of saving the Union. I have a suggestion.  That puts it too grandly.  I have a thought.  It is simply this.  Since the opposition parties in Scotland offer no opposition worth talking about, and the case for the Union is going by default, the business of saving it should be done by a new body outside politics, bringing together all those friends of the Union who wish to see a preservation order slapped on the dear old thing.

The purpose of this body would be to promote the cultural, economic and political benefits of the Union: in short to give it a coherent intellectual voice that it lacks at present.  In theory, it should be possible to attract a large number of prominent people from the civic and professional life of Scotland, the arts and media, business and showbiz, who would be prepared to put their names to such a prospectus.

If anyone runs with the idea, I ask for no reward.  Indeed I may well claim that I thought of it in a moment of temporary mental incapacity.

The next question – this is a column full of questions; I hope this is the last – is whether such an initiative, giving the rampant nats a run for their bawbees, is likely to happen.  My answer is that it is most unlikely, for two very good reasons.

The first is that most of the people who might reasonably have been expected to come to the aid of the cause are feart.  They have too much to lose by offending a commanding political establishment with its enormous powers of patronage in this small, still relatively insecure society.  There is always next year’s grant to think about, or the possibility of a paid place on some board, or the half-dream of a visit to the palace dressed in a morning suit.  I have written before of the Scottish reluctance to rock the boat.  It rocks less than ever these days.  It merely bobs gently in the water, lapping up any passing CBE.

The second reason is that the moment may already have passed.  There is a growing sense of inevitability about the dissolution; most of the smart money is now on it.  Who would want to be seen backing a losing horse?  Possibly the clever bet these days is to adjust to the reality of the situation, protecting one’s back.  My colleague Walter Humes believes that, in the New Club, where most of the decisions are made, the thinking is already of advancement within a post-independence Scotland.  He may be right.  So, although a coalition of pro-Union great and good would be enormous fun, and yield lots of good copy, I suspect it is only a mischievous fancy.

We are back where we started. Over to you, Murdo.


Published with kind permission of the Scottish Review