Monday this week saw joy brought to millions of Scottish football fans, not least to a generation of Scots who had known only very relative success, defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory and just plain old misery. To remember a time when Scotland actually produced really good, determined, skilful, gallus football you’d need to be in your early forties, at least.
And while I’m one of those old enough to remember, I’m struggling to recall anything that compares to the utter mauling we gave Denmark, one of the best teams in the world, this week. I mean, I’d been at games where we’d triumphed against bigger sides, but they were of the defend deep, concentrate, hit them on the break type of performance. I can’t ever recall us ever doing to anyone what we did to the Danes on Monday. “We’re going to deep-fry your pastries” sang the fans. The team went further, and decided that the best way to best the best was to outplay them. It was 2-0 going on 4-0. As a minutes silence was observed for Bertie Auld, the latest of the Lisbon Lions to pass away, it seemed fitting that the game was won by men playing what his great manager Jock Stein once described as “pure, beautiful inventive football”, and seemingly much more concerned with the future and the triumphs of here and now than burdened with failures that happened long before they were born.
You kind of get the impression that all that hackneyed “typical Scotland, they always let you down” patter doesn’t even register with them. When you’re young, life is like that. Michael Jordan’s attitude to failure was “why should I worry about missing a shot I haven’t even taken yet?”, and that’s exactly the aura around this young Scotland team. That self-belief must be tough to play against, even if your name is Kasper Schmeichel.
Last week for me was very much of the Old Scotland variety.
Having climbed the mountain – got through the pandemic, survived lockdown, got double vaccinated, stayed solvent and healthy – I tripped over the mowdiewark at the summit by catching Covid, probably in the same restaurant as my friend who caught it too. Cue much late night gallows humour from our respective places of isolation, as we reflected that any virus that had three courses of rich Indian cuisine and a Tsunami of beer and whisky thrown at it and still managed to come out on top is definitely worthy of our respect.
What it does mean, of course, is a ten day period of isolation and plenty of thinking time.
Now don’t worry. I’m not one of those folk who thinks what the world needs more than anything right now is the book I’ve always had in me. I’m with the horror fiction writer Steven King here. If you feel you’ve a book inside you, then that’s probably where it should stay.
But what I have done is follow various things happening outside my Lochans isolation shed, from the opinion polls (good reading if you’re an independence supporter, less so if you are the Prime Minister) to an ongoing sleaze scandal from Westminster encompassing everything from Owen Paterson’s £100k extra-curricular salary (which netted the people he worked for half a million pounds in Covid contracts don’t forget – he needs to up his fee), to Sir Geoffrey Cox MP earning nearly a million pounds for representing tax havens, to Douglas Ross forgetting to declare £30,000 of income from his football and other sources of income (who forgets about £30,000? And you’re the Tory leader in Scotland and a linesman? Exactly how unpopular do you want to be?), to cash for peerages. There’s a plausible theory that one of the reasons why Britain has never seen a proper, old fashioned revolution is because, as the last week has shown, the establishment has always been savvy enough to welcome new money. You can buy yourself a place at the top table, as we discovered when a Tory donor got himself a seat in the Lords and a job at the Scotland Office. So we actually have a situation where a guy you’ve never heard of, and who has never been elected, gets to pass legislation that affects our lives for as long as he lives, and in reality has more power than the people we actually entrusted to represent us – and under current circumstances we can never get rid of him.
Running concurrently to these scandals was some better news: a new opinion that put the SNP on course to win fifty-seven from fifty-nine possible constituency seats in a general election, surpassing even the landslide of 2015. Which should make me happy. But I’m not.
Strangely, I keep thinking back to the early days of devolution. Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie got his taxi fair receipts mixed up. Resigned. First Minister Henry McLeish got into a muddle over the sub-letting of a flat. Walked. Likewise Labour’s Wendy Alexander over the non-declaration of a small donation. See you later. The bar of public accountability was reassuringly high, as it should be.
Watching SNP leader, Ian Blackford, eviscerate Boris Johnston yesterday left me however with mixed feelings. In terms of positive opinion polls, the arithmetic is always against us – even if we win every seat in Scotland – and it feels like a dreadful and debilitating waste of our energy and talents trying to save another country’s parliament from a situation that it at best tolerates and at worst revels in. The deja vu I felt was the gnawing feeling I had when we were spending three years trying to stop a Brexit that England had voted for, rather than using our considerable energies and talents to do what we asked our representatives to do and bring home the normality of self-determination that we elected them, repeatedly, to deliver.
Why are we still here?
In my Covid-enabled hiatus, in my Lochans shed, I’ve been looking through the many boxes of newspaper articles I’ve collected over the years.
I found a great piece by one of my great journalistic heroes, the late great Ian Bell, who was writing about the death of Margaret Thatcher. He described her as “The last great class warrior”.
Which was an unusual way of describing her. Class warriors usually come from the left. Think Che Guevara, or the trade unions in the shape of Jimmy Reid. But Thatcher?
But that is exactly what she was. Her role was to look after her tribe. Media, big business. The rich. The powerful. The moneyed elite.
And then I realised that last week – the sleaze, the lack of accountability, the shamelessness, the second jobs – wasn’t some mad, outlying aberration. It’s what they do. It’s what they are. As Maya Angelou said, “when people show you what they are, believe them the first time”. I’m inclined to believe them.
And after a momentous week the real question isn’t what England needs to do to reform but why Scots of any or no political persuasion would choose to continue to demeaningly engage with a neighbouring country’s parliament’s corruption and duplicity when all the time we already have a parliament that could reflect our true values and aspirations if only we had the courage to enact the mandates we have and bring our democracy home forever.
In short, we are better than this.
Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.