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7 November 2018

It’s going to have to be the SNP, if I’m still in Scotland the next time there’s an election

I wasn’t pro-independence when there was a referendum on it, but now I’m here I begin to see the attraction, especially as England seems to have gone mad.

By Nicholas Lezard

So here it is: my completed voter registration form. For Scotland. I’d had it hanging around the place and had been dithering about filling it in, for it represented quite a leap, almost as if I was going to be taking on Scottish citizenship.

And of course it may even come to that. My vote in London was always a wasted vote, because my constituency had always returned a Conservative MP by whopping margins. (I heard a lovely rumour, which cannot possibly be true, that the sitting MP was at Oxford with Cameron and hated his guts so much that he released the story about the pig’s head to a delighted press.) And if I still lived in the Hovel, and if the seat were marginal, I’d be feeling a bit iffy about voting Labour, largely because of the party’s craven and disastrous attitude to Brexit. (Anyone suggesting I vote for the Lib Dems will have my eyes rolled at them.) 

In Scotland, it’s another matter, and especially in my new constituency. I checked the results for the 2017 election and found that the Tory vote had jumped to within 21 votes of the SNP’s. So it’s pretty dicey up here.

Of course, voting for the SNP would be voting for Scottish independence. Wouldn’t it? I wasn’t in favour of independence when there was a referendum on it, but now I’m here I begin to see the attraction, especially as England seems to have gone mad. And I mean really mad, the way a rabid dog is mad.

Scotland does not seem mad. In fact the only representative of Scottish government that I have met, an elderly but enormous man (not as in fat: as in built along the lines of an oak tree) who came to my door and made me fill in my registration form in front of him, suggests that they are not going to muck about when it comes to getting you to the polls. This is in direct contradistinction to the US, in whose elections I am theoretically entitled to vote, but they keep coming up with very fishy-sounding reasons why I can’t. I wonder what that’s all about.

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My new friends A— and L— took me through the vagaries of Scottish politics over lunch at the Strathmore Golf Club. (It was the only place serving Sunday lunch in the area. I’d never been in a golf club before. Funny how the word “club” also means the thing you hit the golf ball with. It’s like calling a cricket club a cricket bat. Or a football club a football football.) Over our scampi and chips – I’ve eaten more scampi in Scotland than I ever have in my life – it was explained that the Scottish Labour Party could contain some of the most appalling misogynists and racists, that Protestant/Catholic sectarianism was still a problem, the whole Celtic/Rangers thing is still not history, that the SNP was a church broad enough to contain both liberal herbivores and people teetering on the edge of fascism, and that the country was a place where quite a few Labour voters voted Tory for tactical reasons.

I am beginning to realise that things are far more complicated than they appear up here. But it’s going to have to be the SNP if I’m still around the next time there’s an election, and as I write these words it is by no means certain that there won’t be one in the near future.

A—  and L— came back to the MacHovel with me and brought me a bottle each of Lagavulin and Veuve Clicquot. How did they know that these were my favourites? Was it my reply – “unbelievably expensive whisky” – to A—’s question the night before, “what’s your favoured tipple?” It might just have been. I put the champagne in the fridge (it is about half the size of the fridge) and cracked open the whisky for A— and me. (L—  was driving, so she had to sit it out while my and A—’s narratives became more and more maudlin. The next day, she told me that by the end of the evening we were beginning to sound like Pete and Dud, so I suppose it could have been worse.) 

As he left, A— gave me Hamish Henderson’s Alias MacAlias, which is apparently the book on Scottish folk songs, and 1996’s New Scottish Writing. I’ve been using the latter to bone up on the notion of Scottishness. In the introduction, Harry Ritchie tells of an English friend who became exasperated by the repeated boasts of the achievements of the Scots on a visit north of the border (inventing television, radio, tarmac etc). “I think he finally cracked near Blairgowrie, where he was required to admire the planet’s tallest hedge.” (He’s right, it is.)

And then there’s Angus Calder, quoting Tom Leonard’s explosion of the notion of a Standard Scots’ language: “MAKARS’ SOCIETY/GRAN’ MEETIN’/THE NICHT/TAE DECIDE THE/SPELLIN’/OF THIS POSTER.”

But the best thing about the place is the answer to How To Be Scottish: you just turn up. I like that. 

This article appears in the 07 Nov 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the nation state