By Paul T. Kavanagh
Some people never learn, especially those who see themselves as the towering intellectual and political giants of Westminster. Mind you, it's not that difficult to become a towering intellectual giant in Westminster. If you can tie your own shoelaces and know that the big hand is for minutes and the little hand is for hours, you're halfway there. Then you'll be hailed as an intellectual and political giant by a supine media which is every bit as desperate to fend off the evil Scottish splittists as you are. Ian Davidson MP - I rest my case.
And thus it is with Alistair Darling MP, one-time UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, serial house-flipper and claimant of tax-avoidance advice on expenses. (Obviously. Who gets tax advice so they can pay more?) At one time his expenses claims were considered so bad that his future in government was in serious doubt. But then fingers got pointed at Jim Devine and his phantom electrician and everyone forgot about Alistair.
Alistair now acts as front man for the Butter My Expenses Claims Together band, in which role he is still repeating the same trumphery he did six months ago, and still getting lots of headlines and attention like he'd made a novel contribution to the independence debate.
As befitting donkeys who aspire to lead lions, Alistair has decided to embark upon the WW1 solution to fighting the independence campaign. He's dug himself into a trench. This is different from digging yourself into a hole in that trenches acquire a larger quantity of thick sticky glaur, which is handy for when you want to fling some mud.
The mud he threw this time is pretty much the same he was flinging when he launched the Better Together campaign and watched it soar skywards like a deid doo that's been kicked up the keister. His arguments, such as they were, have already been thoroughly mocked. It was so long ago that jokes about Jimmy Savile could still be made in front of children.
There's no point in going over his speech again and rehashing old jokes, although someone really ought to have pointed that out to Alistair. But amongst an oiltanker load of whataboutery, it turns out Ali's very exercised by the idea that everything will change after independence. The sky will be pink and grass will be purple. Gravity will work in reverse. David Mundell will become a sex symbol. It will be the End of the World As We Know It, but we won't feel fine - and certainly not after seeing Paddington Mundell on page 3 in a coy pose in a revealing duffelcoat.
Here Alistair is indulging in a spot of what psychologists call projection. For most of us, this is a debate about Scotland's government, do we want our own government, or do we want to keep sharing one with Tory voters? It's not a vote on an existential crisis, it's not about identity, it's not about culture. It's a vote of confidence in Westminster - is it or is it not a waste of space.
Ali's made his whole life and built a career out the belief that Westminster is not a waste of space, but rather a source of tax breaks on properties. For him, everything really will change after independence. He'll be out of a job and a cushy retirement seat in the Lords for starters. So he's determined to assert that this independence lark is going to be as traumatic for the rest of us as it's going to be for him. Alistair and his merry band of Scottish Westminster Labour MPs can't distinguish their own personal wants from Scotland's interests. That's psychological projection.
According to Alistair independence is terrible because it's irreversible, or it's terrible because it's reversible. It depends on which day of the week he's speaking. It's hard to tell with the Naw campaign, six months ago we were told the independence puppy was for life not just for Christmas, but now Ali tells us we'll be taking it back to the Westminster kennels before you can say Central Bank lending rate. So it's reversibly irreversible, and it's going forward except when it's back-tracking. Or something. By now the casual observer will have guessed that once again Ali is doing that projection thing that psychologists warn us about.
Worst of all, allegedly, is that English, Welsh and Northern Irish people will find that Scots have turned into foreigners overnight. Apparently this would be a very bad thing, because Alistair believes a vast gulf of comprehension separates us from foreigners, and if you have non-British passport holders in your family, they don't really love you. Foreigners pull low down dirty tricks on unsuspecting British citizens, like declaring an entire country's oil reserves as "ex regio" for tax purposes to make the balance sheet look like it needs a subsidy from a friendly neighbouring Westminster. Och naw, hing oan ...
It must be that foreignness leads to French speaking and an excess consumption of garlic. Perhaps Alistair is merely hinting that his breath is mingin as it is, but it would be cruel to speculate further.
However his fears are very real - at least if you've consumed large quantities of hallucinogenic drugs. Before you know it, Coatbridge will be full of beret wearers saying zut alors and twiddling imaginary moustaches as they invade Asda for bottles of Bouquefaste premier cru, square slice that will fit in a croissant, and copies of the Côtebrige et Airdrie Advertiseur.
But there are some plus points. My family includes an English teenage girl and a Scottish teenage girl. Both are equally foreign to me, on account of the workings of the teenage female mind being profoundly alien to an adult man. However after Scottish independence, when my English relative says she's becoming a vegetarian even though she won't eat vegetables, I'll be able to say: "Ah! It's because she's foreign and has strange and inscrutable ways." Still doesn't explain the Scottish teenager, but hey, half an answer is better than none. Cheers Alistair.
Yet again, missing from the foreignfest is any mention of Irish people. That's Irish people without the qualification of Northern. Seemingly Northern Irish people aren't foreign to Scottish people or English people, but Southern Irish people are O'Foreigners - although Southern Irish and Northern Irish people aren't foreign to one another. I'm not entirely sure how that works, and neither is Alistair.
But it turns out that Southern Irish people aren't foreign either, despite that independence thang they've got going on there. Alistair doesn't seem familiar with UK legislation, that very same UK legislation he's so convinced is better for Scotland. You'd imagine that the heid-bummer of the Naw campaign would know what it is he is defending, but sadly not.
So to help him out, here's a quote from a real live Westminster law which remains in force today. The Ireland Act 1949, Section 2.1 which reads:
Republic of Ireland not a foreign country. It is hereby declared that, notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of His Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom or in any colony, protectorate or United Kingdom trust territory, whether by virtue of a rule of law or of an Act of Parliament or any other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, and references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, to foreigners, aliens, foreign countries, and foreign or foreign-built ships or aircraft shall be construed accordingly.
Perhaps Jim Murphy will take note of that the next time he tells us that the British armed forces would never commission foreign built ships and threatens Scottish shipbuilders with doom if we get independence, but don't go holding your rivets.
The Ireland Act was passed by the Westminster parlie just after its Irish equivalent had declared that the Irish Free State (then a Dominion of the Crown) was to become the Irish Republic. The Brits weren't best pleased. The new Westminster Act was passed into law not long after WW2, during which the Irish Free State had pissed off the Brits by remaining neutral. All this in turn came just a few short years after a bitter war between Irish independence supporters and the British state which saw partition, pogroms, and the liberal application of bullets and bombs as methods of debate. So it's fairly safe to suggest that when the Ireland Act was passed, Westminster was not especially disposed to do Ireland any favours out of an overflowing of bonhomie and goodwill.
Scottish independence will be achieved by a different route, through the ballot box. It will be negotiated and peaceful. Therapists and counsellors will be on hand to explain psychological projection to Alistair and to support former Scottish MPs as they grieve for their lost John Lewis lists. Specially trained teddy bears will be available to give cuddles and provide reassurance to bereft members of Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee who need someone to try and impress. A punch-bag stuffed with shredded Better Together leaflets will be provided for Ian Davidson. The only casualty in this campaign will be the embarrassed representative in the independence negotiations who finds that the chicken tikka pizza brought in for a snack causes flatulence - and even then everyone will just blame Nick Clegg, no harm done.
So why then will cuddly consensual independent Scotland, which will be a part of Her Maj's Dominions, will still stick her mug on stamps, and will still use the pound, be deemed furren pairts? Does not compute, Alistair. A bit like yer economic argument against independence, come to think of it.
There are only two possibilities here. Either Alistair Darling and the Gaunie-No-Dae-That campaign are blissfully unaware of the existence of the Irish Republic, and its legal status as a not-at-all-foreign supplier of national icons like Sir Terry Wogan (KBE, OBE, Deputy-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire), Sir Bob Geldof (KBE), Daniel O'Donnell (MBE), and Father Ted (Bronze Swimming Certificate), or they're just trying to throw some of that excess mud that's clogging up their case for the Union.
And by and large, the Scottish media is perfectly content to act as a mud delivery system.
After leaving politics, Alistair should spend his retirement making good use of his experience in the Naw campaign and write a series of advice books for children. It's the only way he'll rescue anything positive from his hauf-airsed +ve case. Titles in the series could include:
[Yes, yes, I KNOW I've not updated the A-Z for ages. Life and stuff gets in the way, and I've got to earn a living somehow. But updates will be made, along with an announcement about our plans to bring the A-Z to a wider readership. Watch this space.]