What did Maggie Darling put in their tea that fateful afternoon?

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By Kenneth Roy

Nothing against him personally. Well, not really. It is true that he did once borrow my Artline pen – a brand by which I still swear, though advertising strictly not allowed within these pages – and failed to return it. He used it to write his Christmas cards, did our Tony. But you probably knew that already; I’ve been dining out on the Tony Blair stole my pen story for years.

By Kenneth Roy

Nothing against him personally. Well, not really. It is true that he did once borrow my Artline pen – a brand by which I still swear, though advertising strictly not allowed within these pages – and failed to return it. He used it to write his Christmas cards, did our Tony. But you probably knew that already; I’ve been dining out on the Tony Blair stole my pen story for years.

People say he did a lot worse afterwards. He was only leader of the Labour Party at the time, a position in which the capacity for damage is limited.

I dread to think that he kept my Artline pen for Christmas cards for years afterwards and that he may have scrawled, ‘Hi George, Happy Holidays from Your Best Buddy Tone’, with that same pen of mine. Come to think of it, it may well have been indirectly responsible for the Iraq war and other atrocities signed off by our Tony.

Anyway, now that he’s sorted out the problems of the Middle East and secured a lasting peace in that troubled region, Tony is proposing to take my Artline pen on a new mission. Together they will save the union. Not any old union. Not ASLEF. The Union with a capital U. Yes, that one. According to the Scottish Daily Mail, Alistair Darling – nice chap, lives in Edinburgh – ‘has called for the former prime minister to play his part in a call to arms to keep the UK together’.

It’s the ‘call to arms’ bit that worries me slightly. History suggests that, when our Tony receives a call to arms, he responds with missiles fresh off the production line. I shall be watching the sky over our office at Prestwick Airport with a keener than usual interest in the months to come, as the battle to save the Union gathers pace. I can only hope that it is fought mainly on the ground.

For readers unfamiliar with the plan to save the Union, the story so far: it seems a ‘secret summit’ – it is never enough to call anything a meeting these days – was held in the home of Mr and Mrs Darling at which political foes came together to ‘thrash out the campaign to save the United Kingdom from the SNP’s separation drive’. Among those present were posh boy’s director of political strategy, Andrew Cooper; our old friend David McLetchie; Douglas Alexander (the one with the intelligent sister) and Jim Murphy; and someone named Euan Rodden, ‘special adviser’ to the secretary of state for Scotland, Michael Moore.

‘It feels odd sitting down with people you have spent your whole life opposing,’ said one un-named source, ‘but we have to pool our resources to save the Union’.

But Tony? I mean, do they really think he is such a good idea, with or without my long-lost Artline pen? What on earth are this lot on?


But for a thoroughly modern woman like Maggie – evidently the only woman in the house at the time – to be consigned to tea-brewing duties in the kitchen while the men laze around in the living room plotting how to save the Union is, I suggest, not the best possible opening image for the ‘No’ campaign.


At this point I should introduce Mrs Darling. She used to be better known as Margaret Vaughan and was a journalist with the Glasgow Herald. Her friends call her Maggie. I have a tremendous soft spot for her, but for a very selfish reason. Many years ago, a year after she married Alistair, she wrote a glowing review of a book of mine; rather pathetically, I kept the cutting and treasure it even now. From all accounts she is a good sort, and she has never failed to return a pen of mine. Not that she has ever borrowed one. In fact, I’ve never met her or, for that matter, her husband Alistair.

Michael Blackley, the political reporter of the Scottish Daily Mail, claims that the secret summit lasted all of three hours and that the guests were ‘fortified’ by tea and sandwiches provided by Maggie. Oh, is that so? I suppose that, in 1707, it was common practice in polite Edinburgh society for the man of the house and his mates to be served tea and sandwiches by the little woman – not that sandwiches had been invented in 1707, the man who invented them wasn’t born until 1718, so forget the sandwiches – and tea wasn’t widely popular in 1707 either, so forget the tea as well – so it’s more than likely that Maggie Vaughan, if she had been around in 1707, would have been serving coffee to the visiting David McLetchie.

But for a thoroughly modern woman like Maggie – evidently the only woman in the house at the time – to be consigned 305 years later to tea-brewing duties in the kitchen while the men laze around in the living room plotting how to save the Union is, I suggest, not the best possible opening image for the ‘No’ campaign. It would be comforting to learn that the mysterious Euan Rodden did the washing-up, though somehow I doubt it. Did Maggie remember to make Jim’s sandwiches vegan? Or did he bring his own?

I do, however, sense the makings of a plot, one that has eluded Michael Blackley of the Scottish Daily Mail. The decision of the secret summit to enlist Tony Blair as a leader of the pro-union campaign is best explained – there can be no other rational explanation – by an unexpected act of subversion on the part of Maggie Vaughan. Either she is in league with Eck and Joanie, an under-cover convert to the ‘Yes’ side, or she simply decided to rebel against her abject status as her indoors, scone-making for victory.

Either way, I believe that Maggie put something in the tea that fateful afternoon, a supplement which induced a temporary delirium, leading those present to the incomprehensible conclusion that the man who borrowed my Artline pen all those years ago is someone so widely respected in Scotland that he can be relied upon to save the United Kingdom.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review

Image by Bob Smith – http://bobsmithart.com