Normality at last – or as close to normality as one can get in the UK these days. At the micro-level, a week spent with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters at a hired cottage in Kenmore, at the northern end of Loch Tay. A week spent exploring the area (all travelling in the same car!); canoeing on the loch and watching the family swimming; enjoying the Olympics on a very large television screen on the rare occasions when it rained (very much less frequently and persistently than we would have been subjected to had we stayed in York); and playing games with the grandchildren. We spent a fascinating morning at the museum at the Scottish Crannog Centre, which was, paradoxically, all the more interesting because the crannog itself (an iron age dwelling built out over the loch to avoid building on land that could be cultivated on the shore) had caught fire and burnt to piles and ashes in six minutes just four weeks before our visit.
At the macro level, everyone was calmly going about their business as though the sensible requirements to keep wearing masks and maintain respectful social distances were perfectly normal. They had avoided the headline-catching grandiosity and sheer stupidity of Boris Johnson’s much bruited ‘Independence Day’. When Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, appeared on television, one had the sense of having arrived in a serious country whose leading politicians actually cared about the people they governed. Throughout the six-hour drive up to Kenmore – which turned into an eight-hour drive on the way up as a result of a two-hour hold-up on the motorway resulting from a bad accident – I had a relieved sense that I was driving away from badly-produced and singularly unfunny comic-opera country. By the time we came back, I found myself wondering what I was missing that was preventing roughly half the population of Scotland from being desperate to shake off their subjugation to the idiocies and incompetence of the Westminster government as rapidly as possible by attaining a genuine independence.
Even in Scotland the only way to escape footage of our Honourable Prime Minister lumbering around in a hi-viz jacket, with the straw-like ends of his storm-ravaged haystack of hair sticking randomly out from the brim of a hard hat, was by avoiding turning on the television. The point of a hi-viz jacket is in the name: high visibility. ‘Look at me, look at me’ it demands, like a three-year old desperate to show its mother that it can almost do a somersault. Whoever manages Johnson’s diary appears have been instructed to ensure that he visits at least one factory, workshop, laboratory, ship-yard, building-site, or anywhere else he can get away with wearing a hi-viz jacket, at least once a day. It is as if the man was born wearing a small, ill-fitting hi-viz jacket and now, like Linus Van Pelt with his security blanket, can’t feel wholly comfortable without one.
Johnson, whose minders have somehow managed to keep him away from Scotland for many months as a 100% guaranteed vote-loser for the Tories north of the border, travelled up to pay a two day visit immediately after we arrived back. His visit was characterised, first, by his lying about not having turned down an invitation from Nicola Sturgeon to visit her in Edinburgh. But that wasn’t unusual as Johnson tells lies much of the time. Second, by his refusal to self-isolate when he got back in spite of the fact that one of the aides who had travelled with him has tested positive for Covid-19. This merely reinforces the widespread recognition that it is ‘one rule for us and another for them.’ Third, he ‘joked’ about the lead Britain and the Conservative Party took in combatting climate change under Margaret Thatcher by having the foresight to close the coal mines in the 1980s: ‘Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.’
This throw-away remark, made, almost unbelievably, on a visit intended to woo support for the continuation of the union, produced an immediate backlash. Alan Mardghum, secretary of the Durham Miners Association, said: ‘Johnson has again shown utter contempt for the people of former mining communities. The wilful annihilation of the coal industry caused social and economic devastation in our communities that is still felt to this day. It was an ideological assault.… It is no joke.’
Shortly after we arrived back from Scotland the BBC News covered the visit of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled leader of the opposition in Belarus, to London where she was inevitably shown being ‘entertained’ by Johnson in Downing Street. My reaction to the coverage can only be described as one of embarrassment. Here was a person trying to lead the opposition to a brutal dictator, who was coming to our country looking for support in her efforts to do so, and all we could do as one of the richest and formerly most powerful countries in the world was present her with a clown for her to have to pretend to take seriously. Johnson is a supreme narcissist, a racist, a serial liar and philanderer, a wholly immoral man capable of the crassest of misjudgements, and he is, it would seem, the best leader our England-dominated political system can come up with.
It is difficult to know precisely what the long-term economic effect would be were Scotland to gain its independence, shake the dust of Westminster off its shoes, and rejoin the European Union. The Scottish Crannog Centre, which reflects five thousand years of Scotland’s history, is due to be rebuilt on a larger and better site immediately across the loch from its present location. Scottish Independence could not possibly wreak as much damage to Scotland as last month’s fire did to the crannog, and a fresh start, as far as possible from the taint of the little-England mentality that currently dominates UK politics, might well be the best way Scotland could start its next five thousand years.