21 August 2009

Bravehearts required

It would be safe to say that England and Scotland have enjoyed a turbulent relationship these last 1,000 years or so. Neither country realised its full economic or political potential until they decided to bury their differences and become a single country some 300 years ago. And ever since there have been those who have sought a divorce from this marriage of convenience.

It could be argued such voices are in the ascendant, given that the Scottish National Party now rules the recently-devolved government, usurping the Labour Party from its century-old position. And those who long for the days of full independence, when Scotland can bestride the world stage once again as a Nation To Be Reckoned With have been granted an insight into the grubby reality of Realpolitik this week.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi may or may not have murdered 270 people (and I must say, the evidence I have seen looks pretty thin), but this week the Scottish government had to make an uncomfortable decision about his future, with the world, and America in particular, watching. How Jack Straw, sat in the safety of the Ministry of Justice in London must have enjoyed saying: “nothing to do with me, guv”, when asked about Megrahi’s future.

Messy compromises and uncomfortable decisions have been the stock-in-trade of the British (not to say English) government for many years. Worldwide revulsion and outrage at the sometimes necessary defence of self-interest can be a mixed blessing for those who carry the British passport and the southern English accent around the world.

Contrast this with the worldwide affection for all things Scottish, nurtured by a wide diaspora and rivalled only by the Irish. Turn up at any city, from Bombay to Badajoz, and you’ll as likely as not find a Scottish pub (next to an Irish bar), clad in all things tartan, and misty-eyed occupants (though that might down to the whisky). Free from the burden of self-government, they fear neither recriminations nor hostility from a world brought up on Braveheart. This week has been a lesson in the often uncomfortable responsibilities of self-government, but a price to be paid to all those who would one day carry a Scottish passport.

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