Political sketch: "Will ye no come back again"

As Cameron left Edinburgh, the SNP choir could be forgiven singing the famous Scottish ballad.

The Prime Minister went to Scotland yesterday and confirmed his dad's name was Cameron, thereby putting the lie to those who have spent the last 19 months claiming the illegitimate alternative.

But it was doubtful that this honest admission would be enough to dissuade the five million other inhabitants with similar claims from voting to knock the U off the UK during his time in office. Clearly SNP leader Alex Salmond had rung up Central Casting during some moment of doubt in his campaign to lead Scotland and its oil in a different direction.

How about an Eton-educated millionaire, many of whose mates sound like him but own large swathes of your country, and who leads a political party whose Westminster representation can be counted on the finger of one finger? they said. Obviously Alex thought they were joking but yesterday David Cameron did indeed turn up in Edinburgh as the spokesperson for the "Keep Scotland English" campaign.

It says something for the paucity of those who would persuade the Scots that the UK is a better brand than independence that the Prime Minister -- for whom admission to a Scottish surname may well be held against him by some of the more recidivist wing of his party that had not made the connection -- was the best on offer.

Having spent many unhappy years in Westminster having his nose rubbed in his Scottishness, the SNP leader looked overjoyed at having such a prime example of why his country should go its own way standing next to him. Not that Dave didn't make the best of the appalling hand that fate had dealt him. Apart from claiming shared ancestry he did make a passionate appeal for continued connection between the increasingly disparate parts of the UK on grounds from cultural to economic.

But a sign of the hard case to make came after he gave as an example continued membership as a veto holder of the UN Security Council. No jobs for the Scottish unemployed in that, said a gleeful Alex, who was more than happy to repeat his mantra that the days of London lording over Scotland, not to mention it's First Minister, had well and truly passed. The Prime Minister wandered around the Scottish capital for a few hours like any other day visitor, first at the Firth of Forth for the 39 Steps experience and then to the shadow of Edinburgh Castle for the ignore-the-speech experience. Earlier he had been present when Pepsi-Co announced 30 new jobs.

He finally got in to see the First Secretary after lunch having first had to slip in through a side door to avoid protests over the effects of the Coalitions cuts on public services in Scotland. Then with all the pleasure Alex could muster he met the PM sitting in front of a wall map charting the extent of the SNP's domination of Scottish politics following the last Assembly elections.

There could be more goodies for the Scots if they voted to stick with the union, said Dave, and added to Alex's glee by refusing to say what they could be. With the alleged talks going just long enough for no one to say they had been a total waste of time, they ended with the admission that no progress had been made.

As Dave left, the SNP choir could be forgiven for delivering a chorus of that famous Scottish ballad : "Will ye no come back again."

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war