Prestonfield House has been the location for some grand moments in recent Scottish politics. It was here in November 2004 that Baron Watson of Invergowrie set fire to the curtains in the Yellow Room – following the Scottish Politician of the Year awards, for which he was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment. He’s now their spokesman on education in the Lords. It was here too that Alex Salmond gave his victory speech in 2011 after securing a historic landslide victory at Holyrood. After his helicopter landed in the grounds, Salmond gave a speech that concluded: “Our eyes are on the future – and the dreams that can be realised.” Here too Nicola set off on her own campaign in 2015.
It was the location too for Scotland in the Union’s recent grand fundraising dinner [the Union obviously refers to the Union between Scotland and England, not the European Union, which we’ll be leaving swiftly].
Scotland in the Union claim to be ‘a non-party movement which unites people around a positive view of Scotland in the UK, and assists them in taking action’ (!) They aim to ‘help people understand the reality of Scotland’s situation and history’ and ‘showcase the positive aspects of shared kinship and economic ties within the UK’.
We’re told that Alistair Darling and Willie Rennie were in attendance at the dinner which seemed to have some sort of Colonial Revival theme.
Snipe and Woodcock
The Times reported one bashful guest: “The event felt more like saving the British empire than saving the UK.” Among the touchtones of colonial icons – the ‘prizes’ included: a four-day “extravaganza of polo and amazing parties in Jodhpur for two . . . rubbing shoulders with the maharajah”, a Swiss skiing holiday (including chalet girl), deer stalking at Fort William, salmon fishing in Glen Lyon, the chance to bag some snipe in Argyll and “holiday of a lifetime” in a private game reserve in Botswana for 10 people.
If this sounds like something out of a John Buchan novel, the event is said to have raised £300k. While the Edinburgh branch of Made in Chelsea might be completely unconscious of the propaganda gift their lifestyle-bash creates, they probably don’t care. This is hard cash. Someone is getting organised.
It suggests that the next time the referendum lands like a salmon coaxed onto the riverbank, the lairds and the hedge fund managers, the double-barrelled and the ermine-clad will be ready. It’s worth those of us living happily within the indy-bubble to clock these people as the unreconstructed elite glories in newfound victories and takes relish at the prospect of sealing the deal.
As Christopher Silver writes in Newsnet: “…the great strength of the networked social movement is also its weakness. The deep emotional conviction, the bringing of everything, doesn’t afford much room for calculation or critical distance…so great is the sense of euphoria juiced up on rediscovered agency that it can obscure basic political judgement. Older and less sincere movements: like the eurosceptics, have the major strategic advantage that the right has always had – damaging the lives of working class people is a price worth paying, the ends justify the means.”
Those attending the Prestonfield fund-raiser have deep pockets and shallow convictions.
Our movement has the reverse, but the more passionate we get the more we are likely to lose the plot. Silver concludes:
“In 2014 the Yes campaign lost. It didn’t lose because of a hostile media. It didn’t lose due to UK government duplicity at the eleventh hour, nor because of frightened pensioners. These were all contributing factors to the final result: but the Yes campaign lost because its case wasn’t compelling enough. The sheer level of commitment might make this hard to thole, but if we don’t separate out the case and the movement, there’s a risk that we become isolated in virtuous defeat.”
If this all seems like some kind of weird return to the 1950s, when we were sticking it to the Mau Mau and Princess Margaret was boozing it up on Mustique then Jake Berry’s idea that the Royal yacht should be restored as ‘a floating embassy for ‘trade talks’ might feed the fear.
The Tory MP for Rossendale and Darwen claimed that £500million was ‘secured on behalf of the City of London’ aboard Britannia in 1980 while she was in the Bay of Naples, and added business leaders would be ‘unable to resist’ the opportunity to discuss proposals aboard the exclusive yacht.
Michael Heseltine has said: “She was a symbol of many things about this country we have now not got.” Indeed she is.
This sort of fantasy used to be the subject of Jilly Cooper novels and Jeffrey Archer’s idle moments in Belmarsh – but now it’s our new reality as Westminster takes us out of contemporary Europe and back to Britain They Yearn For.
If it all seems far-fetched apparently our Foreign Secretary loves the idea. The Telegraph reports he sees Britannia as “a great symbol of global Britain” and that MPs in favour of the plans believe it would boost links with the Commonwealth.
MPs will debate the new plans on October 11 with a feasibility study also to be conducted.
This is actually happening.
“Our eyes are on the future”.
It’s been an instructive week and I think we are all nearer Scotland in the Union’s key aim of helping ‘people understand the reality of Scotland’s situation and history’.