Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Drunk Welshman Looks at the Thistle

One of the many services The Daily Mail provides is a sort of rave environment for excitable Tory historians. One minute we have Dominic Sandbrook deriving a little too much pleasure from the prospect of another European war, the next it's "Max" Hastings and visions of China clattering its rice bowls through the Outback.

The latest and best comes from shiny-faced Kiplingite Andrew Roberts, who lives up to his flummery-stirring Welsh name with an nightmarish vision of horror that is an independent Scotland.

Dr Roberts certainly puts the Pollyanna Picts in their place with a trim timeline that takes Scotland from the uxorious bosom of England to a freezing Chinese fiefdom in five paragraphs, shedding Shetlands and Highlands as it sinks into satrapy.

Unlike his beef-cheeked stablemates, Roberts allows himself the odd jocularity: He coyly wonders why the Scots should scramble for freedom in 2014 before blithely slipping in a mention of "Britain's Prime Minister George Osborne".

Nonetheless, the good doctor is clear that the only people in the world who might want an independent Scotland are the Scots and the rest of Britain, so that can never be allowed.

This idea of "divide and rule" has been cropping up everywhere since the Romans tried it on with the Greeks, and we in Wales know it well. The English have at various time essayed:

  • The artificial division of Wales into North and South, whereas true tension teems between land-dwellers and amphibians;
  • Irridenta in Monmouthshire and the Welsh Marches, while the English Marches have little enough room for footpads and rustlers in Shrewsbury jail as it is;
  • The settlement of Flemings in Pembrokeshire and Normans in Radnor, Trustafarians in Trawsfynydd and Scousers in Rhyl, only for us to assimilate the first pair and couple the second to our rude ploughs; and
  • The cunning portage of BBC Drama to Cardiff. This, in a manner similar to the move of BBC wireless to the rickets-racked slums of Salford, was meant to sweep the Cambrian capital clean of tar-footed locals on a four-wheeled wave of WC1 mediocrats.

But our own glorious S4C television channel pre-empted this move through two decades of nurturing staff capable of braying about raclette grills in three degrees of Welsh, thank you very much.

So Wales endures, though Westminster still covets our petrified forests and access to the gods.

The poor Scotchmen face a tougher task, for the English have noted that, like Lincolnshire, Scotland is divided into three geometric parts:

  • The Lowlands, or "Lollards" in the ancient Scotch tongue, are a truculent plateau of reeking cities and broken vessels, inhabited by the descendants of the more enterprising Geordie tribes;
  • The Highlands and Islands, or "Mickle Rourkes", make up a twilit thanage populated by giant flying insects, suicidal English "downsizers" and the scions of Irish clans keener than most to share their religious disputes with deserving neighbours; and
  • The Northern Isles, or "Breeks", were a guano-caked graveyard for Viking longboats until John Knox expelled the entire female population of Scotland there for the sin of knitting ("whereby they have weaven tootwixt the phibres of sheepe and fyshe in Babylonnian gaudie"). These mated endlessly with Knut Baumann, the remaining Norse watchman, to produce a kelpie brood of peat-dowsers.

A crypto-Celtic creature like Roberts has read a book or two as well as writing them, and knows the English can play the Teuchter tectonic plates to their fey advantage. "You, I say, you there!" they will wave in the general direction of the Highlands, "These Lollards will swap your skirts, offal and homebrew for 'track' suits, fried 'tatties' and opiates. They've done it to us - don't let them do it to you."

This may not succeed, as Highlanders, like the Welsh, are suspicious of human contact. England may be on firmer ground, albeit not literally, with the Orkney and Shetland islanders - or "Arcadians and Shedsevens" as they put it in their putty-lipped pretence at Danish.

The Northern Isles have historic links with Norway, in that the Norsemen got rid of them as a dowry for one of the pallid child brides their royalty would send Scotwards in leaky boats. And the Roberts Gambit is based entirely on the Orkneys and Shetlands' escaping from the clutches of Fu Man Salmond into Oslo's rollmop embrace.

This all depends on whether the Norwegians want the Isles. After all, they already have enough oil to provide a tugboat for every troll, and more crinkly coastline, gamey sweaters and bad-tempered fish than modesty requires.

Nor do the Northern Isles have much else to recommend them to prospective conquerors. The modern Shetlands and equally unappealing Orkneys are little more than a dreary pointer for bum-crazed Russian trawlermen that Aberdeen and its ample supply of raw spirits, non-seagull-based cuisine and bipedal womenfolk are not far away.

The nearby Faroe Islanders have virtually no booze or telly, speak a cleft-palate form of Norse, and club whales to death with their own weirdly misshapen members for entertainment of a rare summer evening. Yet they have a government and distinct culture.

What do the Northern Isles have? Single nostrils, the odd auk, swan-guzzling tunesmith Sir Peter Maxwell Davis and the occasional burning boat. Their habit of voting Liberal-Democrat hasn't looked so cute since the coalition government took over in Westminster, either.

Before applying for admission as Norway's second overseas empire, the Isles might ponder why Norway can't be bothered to wrest the fun-loving Faroes from Danish hands in the first place.

In short, there is little evidence that Oslo would want to take on Scotland's dangliest archipelago.

My guess is that an independent Scotland would hold together fine. Bear in mind that, however inept its government might be, all Europe, much of Britain and some of the larger beasts will lend Scotland every assistance for the sheer devilry of annoying the Tory Party. Who knows, Scotland may one day rival the Isle of Man as the Celts' least chaotic polity.

As for the Orkney and Shetland, despite the disadvantages that geography, eugenics and the fickle Christian god have rained upon their salty skulls, they will always find a way of using that direct line to Ragnarǫk.

A friend once told me of a government decision to start charging schools in the Northern Isles postage for sending their examination papers to Edinburgh for marking. There were complaints, so the Scottish Office agreed that they could send the papers to the nearest city for free and then the government would pay postage from there.

So the local schools posted all their exam papers off to the nearest city. Bergen.


Jon said...

"...will lend Scotland every assistance for the sheer devilry of annoying the Tory Party."

That's certainly why I am putting my shoulder to the wheel. I await the day when the chinless wonders are stripped of their grouse moors and salmon beats with eager anticipation.

I appreciate that the above may then be sold on to the Chinese to help settle Scotland's staggering debt mountain, but the look on the face of their former owners would be a picture.

No Good Boyo said...

Too right, Jon. It worked for Samson, it works for me.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Scotland is a polarity of Rab C. Nesbitt and Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, just as England appears to be (but maybe that's just the telly) a polarity of Shameless and Jane Friggin' Austen. I suggest moving the first named types together and the last named types together. And though I know that I really should care where, I'll be staying here in Transylvania where the legacy of communism and mutual petty larceny has ensured that everybody remains equally poor and miserable. Good day to you.

No Good Boyo said...

Splendid idea, Gadjo! Stalin tried something similar when he kept Russian cities for gruff proletarians, the Caucasus for himself and packed all the remaining toffs, farmers, god-botherers and smart alecs to dumps like Siberia and Tartary. The Coalition needs to be open to old ideas.

Ron Combo said...

One of my former wives was half Scottish. Says it all really.
Sorry to abuse your hospitality Mr Boyo, but does anyone know what has happened to Clarissa Pouncer? Not a peep anywhere as far as I can fathom since late spring of last year. I do hope she is alright.

No Good Boyo said...

Dear Ron, dare I asked what happened to the various ex-Ronettes?

Mrs Pouncer is very present on The Facebook, and has allegedly married the fearsomely Glaswegian Dr Maroon, whom Gyppo called the "rudest man I've ever met". I can only hope that Mrs P has blunted his edge on her magnificent curves.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ron is Duke Bluebeard, Boyo. I also hope that Mrs. P is alright and has found (though hopefully in sensible moderation) the fantasy-based excitement that she craves.

No Good Boyo said...

Ron should stand for the US Republican nomination. He'd get both my votes.

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