Some months ago an old chum from Oxford days rang to impart some rather frightful news. It appeared that his wife Susan had fallen for the charms of a double glazing salesman called Lief and intended to desert her aforementioned husband, their grade II rectory, three dogs, two horses and four delightful children for a new and more 'exciting' existence. Lief (an Antipodean late of Wellington) was a boastful exponent of the 'tantric arts', who dabbled in Buddhism and had plans to open a 'meditative retreat' in a mock tudor bungalow in Swanage. Poor St. John naturally felt more than a little intimidated by his 'love rival' and swiftly caved in to his wife's demands for a 'trial separation'. I shall return to Susan, Lief and St. John (and their relevance) later, for the curious arc of their modern morality tale has been much on my mind over the course of the last few days.
What is the United Kingdom if not a marriage? Admittedly with four nations involved, it is perhaps more akin to the 'continental style' relationships enjoyed by French Presidents and certain members of the Bloomsbury Group, but at its heart for more than a thousand years there has been an indelible bond between Scotland and England. It is true that as with all marriages there have been ups and downs in our long interweaving history. Indeed between 1313 and 1575 there were no fewer than forty major battles between the two countries and countless skirmishes. Later wars, culminating in the Jacobite unpleasantness, sealed together the fates of the peoples of our island with a mixture of gunpowder, despair and blood.
One might reasonably argue that the birth of our modern Kingdom, like marriage itself, was born from a kind of sacrifice and yet from that sacrifice we, the benefactors, have thrived. Indeed, as has often been noted, many of the greatest figures in British history have been Scotsmen. Without Mungo Park, David Livingstone and the oceanographer John Murray, the Empire might never have stretched further than the Isle of Wight. Without Adam Smith our modern banking system would barely exist. And without the noble bagpipe, Great Britain's contribution to musical invention would have amounted to little more than a limp pair of morris dancers' bells and the incessant 'warbling' of 'The Beatles'.
The Scots have increasingly been led to believe that there is a conspiracy at work here. That the English have somehow 'done them out' of their talent in addition to their oil. I would argue that our relationship has been symbiotic. Had Arthur Conan-Doyle remained in his native land, Sherlock Holmes would never have walked down Baker Street. John Logie Baird, the inventor of television was born in Dunbartonshire but it was to London that he came in order to make his name and crucially to find finance. Had he not done so Carol Smillie, Andrew Marr, Wee Jimmy Krankie and Lorraine Kelly might never have amounted to very much more than crofters, kelp gatherers or Presbyterian Ministers. It was the wider window on the world that England offered that made them 'global' stars.
Mr Salmond and his party wish us to throw away all we have achieved. Like an errant spouse he has made his mind up and would rather divorce than seek 'counselling'. That is his choice, as much as it was Susan's, but is it really fair to drag the labradors, the horses and the children down with him?
And so let us return to my old chum St. John. A fortnight after arriving in Swanage, Susan came home unexpectedly one afternoon to catch Lief engaged in an activity that even the twenty volume OED would be hard pushed to define. Realising her mistake she pleaded with her estranged husband to take her back, but it was too late. The damage had been done. St. John had 'moved on' (with his Lithuanian au pair as it so happens) and quite frankly, after the initial pain of being 'cuckolded' by a citizen from a junior Commonwealth nation, felt much better for her absence. Indeed, in a manner similar to the superb Augustus Leopold Egg painting above, her fate had been sealed from the moment she had allowed Lief and his window catalogues through her door.
One hopes most sincerely that Scotland shall not repeat Susan's folly and fall victim to the velvety flattery of the devious Mr Salmond.