Over the Christmas week, CapX is republishing its favourite pieces from the past year. This was first published on April 4.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote an article for CapX that got me into a spot of bother. I wasn’t responsible for the rather provocative headline boldly declaring that “Scotland has gone mad”, but the opening sentence – “It’s a strange thing, starting to think that your homeland may be a bit dim” – I now admit, was rather asking for it.
The general thrust of the piece was that a nation that had once been the cradle of the Enlightenment was in its modern-day guise much diminished, populated by unhinged, spittle-flecked conspiracy theorists who believed in secret oil fields, MI5 plots and rigged polls; and that its relentless, exhausting constitutional self-obsession squeezed out any debate about public policy that might make an actual difference to people’s lives.
Said spittle-flecked psychos responded in kind and my Twitter feed was for a time not a place for the faint-hearted. A column was written in The Herald denouncing me and all my works. It was suggested by one prominent Nationalist politician that no self-respecting Scottish company should ever consider employing me.
That was then, of course. Today, Scotland has moved on and no longer obsesses about independence referendums and the fruit-loop cybernats are nowhere to be seen and the schools and hospitals are all brilliant. But there seems to have been what we might call an unexpected contamination, a toxic spillage that has leaked south. Yes, England has gone full-bore whacko.
We’ll all remember where we were when we heard about the 2017 War with Spain, inspired by unlovely Gibraltar, declared by Michael Howard and passionately taken up by the kind of right-wing Tory who lovingly displays decommissioned weaponry on their living-room wall. I was on a long train journey passing through some of England’s finest countryside when the news broke. How sad, I thought, that one day this would all be patatas bravas fields and manchego trees. We’d have to learn how to pronounce “chorizo” the right way and to pass a football properly. I worked through the maths – at 43, was I too old for the frontline? I checked my conscience – I’d happily write racist propaganda from home, but would rather avoid having to shoot Andres Iniesta in the face.
Now that the war is over and we survivors are making the best of the aftermath, a much more serious issue dominates the national debate, namely whether Cadbury and the National Trust have removed the word “Easter” from their Easter egg hunts. The answer to this is “no”, but in loopy England that hasn’t stopped the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition and the Church of England expressing strong condemnation.
An incandescent Theresa May, daughter of an Anglo-Catholic clergyman, denounced this thing that hadn’t happened as “absolutely ridiculous”. The Archbishop of York said Cadbury were “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s founder, John Cadbury, leading one of his descendants to point out that “as a Quaker, he didn’t celebrate Easter”. Finally, with the timing and political acumen for which he is renowned, Jeremy Corbyn weighed in to opine that this was “commercialisation gone a bit too far”. For your info, the website address for the egg hunt is easter.cadbury.co.uk, while the National Trust has gently pointed out that there are more than 13,000 references to Easter on its website.
Is it Brexit? It is Brexit, isn’t it? It’s done something to the English brain, like political bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Judgment, perspective and a sense of humour were once regarded as being among the finer qualities of the people of St George. Increasingly, for us Scots, it’s like having a drooling auntie living down below who shouts racist abuse out the window at random passing strangers.
There’s only one thing for it. Everyone English must immediately shut up until the disease passes or a cure is found. Theresa May: zip it. Church of England: double you double you double you dot shoosh dot com. Jeremy Corbyn: please please please just go away forever. Cancel PMQs until further notice. Shut down the tabloids for a year. English people: stop talking about “freedom” and “independence” – you sound bananas. Stop calling everything that happens a variant on Brexit, like Scexit or Lexit or Greggsit or whatever. Stop being the kind of zoomer who gives a toss about the colour of your bloody passport and stop talking about going back to imperial measurements. In fact, stop using the word “imperial” in any context.
I offer this advice more in sadness than anger. It took us Scots a while to move on and become the serious-minded, stable and mature nation that we are today. It’s heartbreaking to see our southern neighbour transform itself into a grotesque mix of Millwall and Broadmoor. Look, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. And don’t @ me.