Monday, 6 February 2012

Bannockburn, Murrayfield, Scottish glory and the stirring call for Devo Max

Relations between the English and the Scots are going to provide plentiful entertainment for at least the next two years. 

That's how long it's going to take to get to the proposed referendum on whether Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom or leave it. Or something in between. Because there is an intermediate choice,or ‘Devo Max’ as it is catchily called. 

It offers maximum devolution of control over its own affairs to Scotland, leaving only foreign affairs and the military in the hands of the United Kingdom. My view is that this is the option that Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, is really seeking. There just isn’t enough support for full independence in Scotland, and Salmond is much too canny not to know it. 

As a result, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the threatened United Kingdom, has completely ruled out including Devo Max in the referendum. This uncompromising stance by Cameron almost certainly means that the option will be on the ballot paper. Cameron has a glowing track record for taking strong positions in public and then backing down from them in private: he made a lot of noise telling our European partners they couldn’t use the Union’s institutions to tackle the Eurozone’s problems, but is now much more quietly letting them get on with it.

Similarly, because it is Salmond who wants to hold the referendum in 2014, Cameron has again issued a firm and resolute ‘no’ to that timing. That more or less guarantees that the referendum will take place to Salmond’s schedule. 
Salmond is keen on 2014 because it will be the 700th anniversary of the great Scots victory over the English at Bannockburn. Not, of course, that the referendum is in any way anglophobe.

Personally, I don’t begrudge him celebrating a Scots victory over the English. It's not as though there have been that many of them. In fact, on Saturday I watched them failing to achieve another. On the opening day of the Six Nations rugby championship, Scotland lined up to take on England, on their own iconic turf at Murrayfield, outside Edinburgh. England have a lamentable record of defeats at Murrayfield, particularly in the rain, so I was a little relieved to see that the weather was fine. 

What then followed, however, was an English performance of such stultifying mediocrity as to reduce even me, committed supporter that I am, to despair. I watched the other matches over the weekend and saw some fine games played by France, Ireland and Wales — the last two in the best match of them all, swinging from one side to the other right up to the last whistle. It was clear to me that had England faced any of those teams and played as they did against Scotland, they would have been, to use the technical term, stuffed.

So how come they didn’t lose to Scotland? Because Scotland showed an unerring capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They had much more of the ball, they made some excellent opportunities, they played with great skill — or at least they played with great skill until they got within a few seconds of actually scoring points, when they would inevitably collapse and let England off the hook. Again.

Great run. Going nowhere
What a contrast to the independence campaign! Salmond exudes complete confidence, sure of the rightness of his cause and of his own ability to deliver its goals. He sidesteps and weaves round the sluggish, uninspired and untalented Cameron, always a step ahead, turning to his own advantage every ploy the Englishman launches.

It’s as though Scotland had wisely reserved all its ineptitude for the rugby field. All the skill and competence that would have been necessary to beat the English on Saturday has been sucked out of the rugby team and recycled to the nation’s statesmen. It’s the only way I can explain the cack-handedness of the team and the sure-footedness of the politicians.

So I suspect the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn will be marked by another victory of agile, quick-witted Scots over sluggish and dull-witted English opposition.

Paris is worth a mass, claimed the future King Henry IV of France. And Devo Max must be worth a lost rugby match.

Even if ‘Devo Max’ itself sounds like nothing other than some kind of toilet cleaner.

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