Dragons and Poodles
There seemed to be something uncannily familiar about the collapse of the unionist party line which followed the recent revelation in The Guardian about the unidentified cabinet minister who broke ranks with his Westminster ‘No’ troika. Their agreed line – now somewhat in disarray – was that if Scots are foolish enough to vote Yes on September 18, then they can say goodbye to the pound sterling, leaving them wholly dependant thereafter, let us presume, on an economic system based on a mix of dark-ages barter, indentured child slavery, and cattle reiving.
Putting aside the minor fact that many of us might prefer such a fate to endless abuse by London’s banking kleptocracy and its ‘light-fingered regulation’ Westminster chums, the merits of this picaresque (or do I mean Putinesque?) threat strategy are less than convincing. Regardless of the the apostate deep-throat insider whose anonymity is now the subject of a frenzied guessing game, the threat fails dismally to stand up to any rigorous analysis worthy of the name.
After all, the Irish were allowed to hang on to the pound sterling long after they’d thrashed the Black and Tans, so why are the Scots, who’re doing everything by the book, subjected to this bullying? In any case the pound sterling isn’t English. It’s 8.3% Scottish, pro rata by population, or, if you prefer, about 30% Scottish on the basis of land mass. Come to think of it, if we were to make common cause with the Welsh, the Cornish, and a resurgent Kingdom of Northumbria, could we not drive the Westminster Norman ascendancy out of our sterling zone? It’s a tempting thought.
That said, the other day I was struggling to work out why the swift implosion of the ‘No’ camp is a case of that old feeling of deja vu all over again, to borrow a phrase from the incomparable Yogi Berra. Initially I found myself drawing a parallel with Lord North’s disastrous 1774 Coercive Acts. That, too, was an attempt to undermine a recalcitrant nation’s economy. The closure of the port of Boston was meant to isolate the rebellious faction and concentrate the minds of the moderate majority, but it turned out to be one of history’s great own goals, as that same moderate majority flocked to join the Sons of Liberty, muskets at the ready. Lord North, it turned out, was to be the Continental Army’s best recruiting officer.
Could it be that George, Ed, and Danny are about to be routed on Scotland’s version of Lexington Green?
Then it hit me – this was rerun of the 1999 slaughter in the valleys, when a cocksure New Labour establishment in London had foolishly assumed the Welsh were a simple, biddable people who would cravenly obey the diktat of the fettucine high command in London. It turned out to be a miscalculation of epic proportions. The drama began with Ron Davies’s ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common, and ended with a Labour melt-down in which the party achieved a hitherto unimaginable feat – the loss of the deepest red Rhondda constituency to the Nationalists on a 30% swing.
The journey from Clapham to Caerphilly (another safe seat which was lost) had been a rough road, and none of the pollsters had got anywhere close to predicting the outcome. London had considered Labour’s local man, Rhodri Morgan, to be ‘too Welsh’ for the fettucine tendency, and had parachuted in its own chosen metropolitan candidate, Alun Michael, in anticipation of a coronation, rather than a contest.
The trouble with the Welsh is that, not unlike their Scottish Celtic cousins, they can be bloody-minded thrawn contrarians when someone messes them around – especially when that someone is comfortably perched within easy reach of such Westminster bolt holes as Annie’s Bar and the Red Lion, and doesn’t get out much. Blair had already had something of a bad press (to put it mildly) in a celebrated psycho-biography, The Man Behind the Smile; Tony Blair and the Politics of Perversion, by Welsh Labour MP, lawyer, psycho-analyst, Cardiff rabbi’s son, and unreconstructed Socialist, the late Leo Abse, of fond, if irascible, memory. Abse had already done a demolition job on Margaret Thatcher, and was no less acerbic in Blair’s case in 1996, so the seeds of suspicion in the valleys only had to be watered to bloom again.
It would be another Labour MP, Paul Flynn, who would duly do the watering in an eminently readable denunciation of the hubris and complacency which led to electoral perdition in 1999, Dragons Led by Poodles. Mr Flynn had that rare quality amongst Labour MPs during Blair’s revisionist years – a mind of his own. Like Scotland’s Dennis Canavan, Flynn was something of an anti-fettucine rebel; unlike Dennis Canavan, he remained a member of the party, causing a rumpus from the inside. He is unlikely to be ennobled any time soon (and probably wouldn’t want to be)
As military historians should study Von Clausewitz, so should those who seek an understanding of the present disintegrating state of the politics of the United Kingdom pay close attention to Flynn. I trust Professor John Curtice is thumbing through his copy of Dragons Led by Poodles as I write this, for it looks as though history is about to repeat itself.