I had no idea when I agreed to do a stand-up show about the Scottish independence referendum at the Glasgow Comedy Festival that it would clash with the West End run of Noël Coward’s Relative Values, in which I play the butler. The stand-up show was moved to Sunday – my night off – but, nonetheless, my preparation for a foray into the choppy waters of Scottish politics consisted largely of dressing up every night in black tie and tails for a dinner party in an aristocratic country house. I imagine it’s the same for George Osborne.
He and David Cameron don’t make it north of the Border that much – in Cameron’s case, it’s usually to collect the rent – but when they do, it stirs memories of 1990, when England rugby captain Will Carling and his officer-class chaps came to Murrayfield as the living embodiment of English oppression – Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax had recently been tested on the Scots, much as you try a new paint colour on the wall behind the sofa. On that memorable March day, brilliantly described in Tom English’s book The Grudge, the Scots, led out dramatically by David Sole, really did rise up and sent proud Edward’s army – or at least proud Will’s team – homeward, tae think again.
There is, very deep in the Scots psyche, a part of us that won’t be told what to do by the English. It goes back centuries, probably as far as 1073, when Malcolm III greeted the visiting King William the Conqueror with the words, “Ye’ll have had your tea?” William, being French, would have been doubly confused. But there we have it. Even now, Alex Salmond is in no mood to be lectured on keeping the pound by an Englishman. So it was at least canny to send Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, north to fire the first shot earlier this year.
Just as Macbeth feared no man of woman born, only to be undone by Macduff (delivered by Caesarean), so Salmond found himself confronted, not by a man of English woman born but one from Canada’s womb untimely ripp’d. In seriousness, we need a definitive answer to this currency question, and soon. The spectacle of Salmond and Alistair Darling – two Scotsmen fighting over a pound – does little to get us away from our national stereotype.
Meanwhile, after a jittery week for the No campaign, I wonder whether Cameron is considering a Putinesque Crimea strategy. While there hasn’t yet been a revolution in Scotland – it’s all been relatively civilised, no sign of what you might call an Arran spring – if the country does fall to the nationalists, Cameron may feel the need to protect the English-speaking population of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, the sole Tory constituency north of the border. There is also the Trident base at Faslane, home to the prime minister’s Black Sea Fleet (you can see where I’m going with this). Will we see English troops massing along Hadrian’s Wall and naval exercises on the Solway Firth aimed at safeguarding the key strategic fishing port of Kirkcudbright?
Well, truth is stranger than fiction. Even as you read this, according to the Royal Navy’s website, HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy’s helicopter and commando carrier, and the Type 23 Frigate HMS Kent have made their way from Portsmouth to take part in a major naval exercise “off the coast of Scotland”. It gets better. The exercise will also see 1,300 commandos undertake “a large scale amphibious assault on a beach in Luce Bay”. Commodore Jerry Kyd, who will lead the Royal Navy Task Group from sea on HMS Bulwark, said: “Joint Warrior provides excellent training within a complex political-military scenario [my italics].” Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha added that he hopes the exercise will provide “confidence that the RAF is ready to deploy wherever and whenever required to defend our sovereign territory and national interests.”
To quote home secretary Theresa May, I’m not making this up. Be afraid, Alex Salmond, be very afraid.
More distressing headlines this week as the neuroscientist Bruce D Perry arrives in Britain from Houston, apparently claiming that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) “is not a real disease”. This can only cause further despair to half a million families in Britain – it is estimated, in many people’s opinion underestimated, that ADHD affects 1 in 20 schoolchildren here. Just because there is some over-diagnosis of ADHD, and medication is overprescribed or often given without further support, does not mean that the condition does not exist, which gives further ammunition to those who blame bad parenting. Like other disorders on the spectrum – from dyslexia and dyspraxia to Asperger’s and autism – it is a very real and devastating condition that, with recognition, understanding and treatment could transform that one “problem child” in the class into a Will.i.am, or any of the other sufferers who have harnessed ADHD into creative and productive talent.
It was a coincidence that I arrived in Glasgow as the first gay couples south of the border were celebrating the right to get married. Last year I agreed to speak at Muirfield’s dinner on the eve of golf’s Open Championship and had failed to realise it was an all-male club. As fate would have it, that was the week the Scottish parliament sanctioned same-sex marriage, so members were able to toast the fact that a married couple could at last join the club, so long as they were both men. Although, even then they still wouldn’t be able to play on the beautiful links, as they would technically constitute a four-ball.
Rory Bremner is appearing with Patricia Hodge and Caroline Quentin in Noël Coward’s ‘Relative Values’ at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London