To say that David Cameron's speech on Scottish independence has had mixed reviews, is to put it mildly. I don't suppose he has a clue how patronising it sounded to Scots who have rather a better grasp of Scottish history than Mr Cameron, or whoever wrote the speech for him. He could have quite usefully led those present, in a final toast to the Scottish nation, and what more appropriate toast than the one we use ourselves, when we are feeling cynical. His address reminded me of the occasion when a good friend of mine was recounting how, when he criticised his son's effort to write a history of the SNP, his son, a professor of politics, was forced to exclaim, "How do you know so much about it that you can correct my version so much?" My friend responded, "Because I was there."
It was the second time I had heard that line put to good effect. The first was as a mature student in 1967, in a history class that was dominatd by mature students, all of whom had more experience of life than the lecturer. That it was in Dundee and the students were almost all local, added to the lecturer's difficulties when the discussions included economic history and he attempted to convince us that the 1930s were not as bad as is sometimes made out. We had one student who was considerably older than the rest of us and who kept his opinions to himself for much of the time. During one of those lectures, which had digressed somewhat from the topic, the lecturer talked about Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and the author's presence in Spain at the time of the civil war. Three times, the student interrupted him to say, "That's not what happened" or, "No, it wasn't quite like that". After the third interruption the lecturer in exasperation, said, "How do you know?" The response of "I was there", closed all further discussion and earned the student an aura that had not been there before.
Cameron's quick romp through Scottish history was adequate enough, if slightly inaccurate in places, and most of the great heroes he mentioned were aw deid. His approach was certainly different from the usual derision and disdain with which any mention of Scottish independence is greeted by the London political and social elites and, if this is the start of a charm offensive, Nationalists may find it will be better appreciated by Scots than what has gone before. It will be no less patronising for all that. What Cameron, and any others who have a mind to follow suit, will have to take on board, is that it will be too little and too late. There are far too many of us who "were there" during the Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown years, particularly Thatcher and perhaps Cameron is at last, beginning to realise why the very word "Tory" is still so toxic in Scotland.
When he threw in the line, "From Waterloo to the Second World War our servicemen and women have fought and won together", I don't suppose he thought for a moment of the state murder of Farquhar Shaw and the McPherson brothers, followed by the deportation of 200 of their comrades in the Black Watch, for attempting to force the British government of the time to hold to a prior agreement the regiment would not be sent to serve overseas. I don't suppose he is aware that on the first day of the Battle of Loos, which he did mention, on September 25th 1915, of 69 infantry battalions that went over the top, 35 were in Scots regiments, that 24 of those Scots battalions, in two Scottish divisions, suffered 44% of the total deaths and that there were another 11 Scottish battalions in the three other divisions which took part. Would he be aware that many of the sons of those men were in the 51st Highland Division, so treacherously betrayed by Churchill in 1940, or had he ever heard of Wolfe's dictum, "they are little mischief if they fall? If Cameron wants to dabble in Scots history, then that and a great deal more, is an integral part of it.
He really should have thought twice before saying, "The Union helps to make Scotland stronger, safer, richer and fairer." When the university lecturer was trying to tell us that the 1930s were not as bad as sometimes made out to be, he was a young Englishman, lecturing in Dundee, where men were given the sobriquet "kettle bilers" because throughout much of the 1930s they had no work and stayed at home, while their wives worked in the mills. As the PPC in Dundee West in the 1970s, I met many people whose father's first job in the 1930s was when they were called up in 1939. Whatever improvements were felt in the 1930s took some time to reach Scotland. The Scottish steel industry was a part of the price Heath was prepared to pay, to gain entry to the Common Market, just as the Scottish fishing industry is the price all Westminster governments have been prepared to pay, for continued membership.
Not only has Scotland received very little benefit from the discovery of oil but instead of the revenues being used to create a manufacturing sector in downstream activities, to replace those older industries which were struggling with foreign competition, our indiustry was allowed to die while the revenues were used to restructure the English economy or simply wasted in current consumption. Neither Wilson's and Callaghan's Labour nor Heath's and Thatcher's Tories, showed any concern for what was happening in Scotland, while exploiting Scotland's oil as fast as it could be taken from the sea. The currency union, which Cameron seems to believe was so advantageous for Scotland, imposed interest rates which were concerned with the inflationary pressure being generated by the South East of England, rather than the lack of economic growth in Scotland, and which were therefore totally unsuitable. That is likely to continue under the SNP's current intention to keep sterling, if there is a Yes vote in the referendum.
If this Union has been such a benefit to Scotland, why do we regularly lag behind in terms of economic growth; why is our health record so much worse than England's and why is our life expectancy so much worse? The history of Cameron's Union was selective to say the least and for obvious reasons, ommitted all of the above. But perhaps the most important omission, in the context of the referendum campaign, has already been noted by Alex Salmond, and that is Cameron's failure to see the parallel between his offer to the Scottish people of "more powers" if they voted "No" and that of his illustrious predecessor, Sir Alec Douglas Home, who made exactly the same offer- and then reneged. Sorry, Mr Cameron, we have heard it all before because we were there, and we have no wish to be there again