The real reason for all that stuff in the papers about Andrew Marr

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By Kenneth Roy

I have had a vision – a sort of nightmare. It threatens to be a recurring one. In the first half of ‘An Audience With James Naughtie’ – coming soon, to a theatre near us – the former chief political correspondent of the Scotsman (James Naughtie) interviews the former parliamentary correspondent of the Scotsman (Andrew Marr) about the latter’s opinion of Scottish affairs.

There is an interval for the consumption of strong drink. In this nightmare, I’m having a large one.

After the interval, the roles are reversed. The former parliamentary correspondent of the Scotsman (Marr) interviews the former chief political correspondent of the Scotsman (Naughtie) about the latter’s opinion of Scottish affairs. The stupefied audience is then released into the community.

It’s only a nightmare. But part of it appears to be true. According to a leaflet which fell out of a local newsletter, there really is to be ‘An Audience with James Naughtie’ at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr next month. I asked our deputy editor, Islay McLeod, whether she would be willing to attend this event on behalf of the Scottish Review. She replied that, as it happened, she was washing her hair on the evening in question. We are thus destined to be unrepresented. (For I too will be washing my hair.)

I have heard of an audience with the queen. I have even heard of an audience with Billy Connolly. But the idea of an audience with a Radio 4 presenter is something new. It elevates the humble trade of current affairs broadcasting to a new level. It confirms what I had begun to suspect: that the people who ask the questions have become more important – or self-important – than the luckless sods who are expected to answer them.

The other half of the nightmare, the guest appearance of Andrew Marr at the Ayr Gaiety, being interviewed by and in turn interviewing James Naughtie, supported by Sydney Devine, Chic Murray (and Maidie), and the May Moxon girls – that bit I have made up. Yet it is all too credible. If it were possible to revive Scotland’s vanished tradition of music hall, one senses that, failing the unexpected apparition of the late Jack Milroy, Andy and Jimmy would be just the boyos to do it.

Last weekend, Andrew Marr addressed some tent at the Edinburgh Festival. It was billed as his first public appearance since he fell ill in January. Presumably his television interview with the departing David Miliband (the right Miliband, as he is better known) did not qualify as a public appearance.

Mr Marr, despite his disabilities, would not expect to be beyond criticism, particularly as he intends to resume work on his Sunday morning television programme. So I feel entitled to say, without risk of accusation that I am being nasty to a sick man, that his observations on anglophobia were shallow, out-of-date and tiresome.

Perhaps he was unaware of the wonderful atmosphere in Wembley Stadium a few nights earlier, when Scotland met England in a resumption of the home international. It was a splendid game, with nothing at stake beyond national reputations, and the crowd responded in a good-natured way. The celebrations of the usual Scotland loss continued in Trafalgar Square, where the cheerful visiting fans sprinkled blue washing-up liquid into the fountain. Anglophobia? I think not.

‘There is a very strong anti-English feeling [in Scotland], everybody knows it, there always has been’, said Mr Marr. He went on to suggest that this phobia was as well-established in the past as it is now.

Anglophobia in Scotland, as Mr Marr ought to know, was led by that giant of the Scottish literary renaissance, Christopher Grieve (who wrote as Hugh MacDiarmid). It would be difficult to exaggerate the damage done to the home rule cause in the 1940s and 50s by Grieve’s rabble-rousing, which became so bad that the Scottish National Party formally dissociated itself from its most celebrated supporter. Grieve remains a hero to the sort of people who frequent Edinburgh tents in August. He thought as little of Edinburgh as he did of the English, but if he turned up at the festival tomorrow no doubt he would be a pull to rival the second coming’s.

Anglophobia these days, if it exists in any form, is mostly anonymous, internet-driven, back-bedroom stuff. When Mr Marr draws a parallel between these illiterate outpourings and the well-honed invective of Grieve and his friends in the Scottish literati, he is telling us more about himself than he is about the present situation in Scotland. Mr Marr, like Mr Naughtie, has been gone a very long time. He lives in London, works in London, mixes socially in London. But if, from this distant perspective, he has any evidence to support his claims, he missed a rather obvious opportunity to produce it.

The most revealing thing about his Edinburgh appearance was not his casual references to anglophobia but the prominence given to them by the Scottish media. The Herald splashed them across the front page. Can it be true that there was nothing of greater significance happening anywhere in the world last Friday than Andrew Marr’s wittering about anglophobia at some book festival? Not a bit. The explanation lies elsewhere.

The reason for the over-the-top coverage was Mr Marr himself. He is more interesting than almost anyone he interviews on his programme. He took out a super-injunction to prevent his fellow journalists from reporting an extra-marital affair, paid paternity allowance needlessly for a child who wasn’t his, withdrew the super-injunction (and the allowance), wrote a history of the world (no less), was photographed in a compromising position in a Soho street, took to vigorous exercising on a rowing machine, suffered a massive stroke as a result, and is now preparing to return to work.

Compared with this fascinating telly person, what do such pygmies as the Milibands – right or wrong – have to offer us? In contrast to Mr Marr, most people lead extremely dull lives. The reverence of the reception for him in his native Scotland suggests that a weekly prime-time slot, in which he interviews himself, would be a ratings hit. I suggest it should be called ‘An Audience with Andrew Marr’. The journalists of Scotland, who are easy pleased, can be depended upon to take the appropriate approving notes.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy and the Scottish Review
Kenneth’s new book, ‘The Invisible Spirit: a life of post-war Scotland 1945-75’, will be published in October