Martin and 'Kitten Kong' a.k.a. 'The Plastic Pig'
On May 1st 1707, ignoring strong opposition voiced by the Scottish people, Scottish politicians entered a union with England for pragmatic financial reasons. After 300 years of complaining about that union, the Scottish people have now voted for the same union, for pragmatic financial reasons.
The referendum was a thrilling race, which the SNP’s visionary leader Alex Salmond might have won, were it not for that ubiquitous political trope: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
The dreadfully named ‘Better Together’ team had to wheel out Gordon Brown to fill the charisma black hole left by Alisdair Darling and Ed Miliband, but who knew the old grouch would morph into such a passionate and exciting orator?
His years away from Tony Blair’s radiation fallout have served him well.
But it wasn’t Gordon who won the day. It is brutally ironic that after such a display of pure democracy, the true winners of this referendum are the Conservative Party, despite there being no collective more overtly detested by the Scottish people.
So deep is the Scottish loathing of the Conservatives that for many traditional Labour voters, independence became less important than the chance to rid themselves of the Tories forever. Feeling completely detached from Miliband’s Labour leadership they joined up with the SNP to recover some old-fashioned Socialist ideals.
Much as I admire the Scottish people’s compassion and sense of social justice, what I really love about them is this abhorrence of the political party once described by Aneurin Bevan as “Lower than vermin.”
So what a tragedy it is that now David Cameron can deliberately thrust Britain into a constitutional minefield, for which only he has the map. Suddenly he espouses English laws for English people, snatching words out of UKIP’s mouth, wrenching his recently-lost voters from the arms of Farage, while the Labour Party, which signed up to the vow for greater devolution, is now staring at its own corpse. Of the 58 MPs representing Scotland in Westminster today, 41 are Labour.
In a devolved union, Labour will lose all those seats from Westminster. It might never form a government again. So those Scots who feel they’ve lost independence can console themselves that they’ve very probably condemned the English to perpetual Conservative rule!
Great times for the Tories indeed, so let’s move away from them and celebrate Scotland instead.
It says something for Scotland that each of the three occasions I’ve visited the country were outright adventures. The fact that all three trips involved the copious consumption of alcohol says as much about me as it does about Scotland.
In August 1978, on the day my good friend the satirist Martin Rowson passed his driving test, he arrived at my home.
“We’re driving to John O’Groats for Sunday lunch. Just backroads. I’ve asked Neil and he’s in. You coming?”
“Now. This instant. Pack a bag pronto and we’re out of here!”
“Where we gonna sleep?”
“Who cares? In the car? In a tent? Who cares?”
Most of you are familiar with the Reliant Robin, the 3-wheeled homicidal monstrosity that Del Boy drives around on ‘Only Fools and Horses.’
Unbeknownst to many however is the Reliant Kitten, a 4-wheeled version of this abominable car. Just like it’s funky stablemate, ‘The Plastic Pig’ as we called it was a fibreglass impostor posing as a car.
So off we went, three fully-grown young men inside a space barely large enough for both a grannie and her thermos.
Two days later we crossed the border into Scotland, only to discover the petrol tank had a hole in it. Brilliant - you design a rust-proof car and then its only metal part rusts, leaking fuel onto Caledonian tarmac.
Petrol stations were few and far between in the Highlands, so in a bid to save fuel we only used the accelerator to climb hills, freewheeling downwards.
“Right! That’s it!” grumped Martin, impatient about yielding to others at passing places on the narrow roads. “I’m not giving way to any more rich bastards! The next one’ll pull over for us!”
Inevitably this game of Road Russian Roulette proved unlucky. Ten minutes later a van driver’s chin dropped as he watched myself and Martin effortlessly lifting ‘Plastic Pig’ out of a ditch.
Did these Sassenachs possess mighty strength?
No, just a fibreglass car!
That night, in a very friendly pub in Drumnadrochit I hit the whisky hard, it hit me hard and then a policeman was waking me up by shining a torch on the car window, into my bleary beetroot eyes.
“You alright in there?”
I explained that we were sleeping in the pub car park, so as not to drink and drive.
“We? Who’s we?”
The lads, both comatose in the back of the car earlier, had disappeared. The copper swung his torch around, illuminating a completely collapsed tent. Under the Turin shroud-like flysheet, two human forms were visible.
“Would that be the ‘we’, sir?”
“That would be them, er us, er we, yes, officer.”
“I’ll let you get back to sleep now, but don’t go driving until your breath smells a lot sweeter than that!”
Eventually we made Sunday lunch at the John O’Groats Hotel, where we celebrated with roast beef and fat cigars.
Three years later, during a miserable night on the ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, I met a beautiful lass from Dundee. She had eyes that sparkled like beacons of hope through that hot diesel-infested air and she drank me under the table, pint for pint.
A month later we enjoyed a bawdy night of beer and bacchanalia in Dundee, brief but blissful.
My last adventure in Scotland occurred just before leaving England. By way of farewell, my friends Malcolm and Liz took me off to stay at an Outer Hebridean lighthouse, off an island, off an island, off an island.
I fear this noble rag would not carry the debauched details of our lighthouse sojourn, several miles from the nearest humans.
It was extraordinary, as is Scotland.