Wednesday 5 March 2014

Scotland: England's Ukraine?

I am doubly fortunate to be married to someone who loves Art Deco above all other styles, and to be the son of parents who married in 1936.

So the wedding presents with which they furnished their first home, and then passed on to me, are cherished as things of beauty; rather than resented, as they might so easily be, as someone else’s cast-off tat.

Mrs Hann’s excellent period taste also enabled me to score some easy points by taking her to a restaurant famed for its Art Deco ambience to celebrate our own fifth wedding anniversary last Friday. 

The sense of living in the 1930s was equally powerfully reinforced by the supporting cast of mainly elderly fellow diners and by the day’s rolling news.

An elected dictator holds a famously lavish Olympic games designed to impress the world, then invades a neighbouring country “to protect his own nationals”, while other states collectively tut and wrings their hands ineffectively.

Sounds awfully familiar, does it not? It just needed people digging trenches in the London parks as rudimentary air raid shelters to complete the effect.

The most telling difference seems to be that Hitler was seeking to re-draw a map of Europe created by the victorious allies in 1919, while many of Mr Putin’s little local difficulties have been caused by Russia herself, most notably by Khruschev’s quixotic decision to hand Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. 

What can he have been thinking of?

It’s almost as though Churchill, after a one late-night whisky too many, had signed a decree to hand Hampshire or Devon to Scotland.

At the time the Unions of the USSR and the UK looked equally imperishable, so why not?

Anyone who thinks that such a crazy scheme would have been stymied by vociferous local opposition in Britain might like to consider how meekly we all rolled over in the face of the ghastly Heath-Walker local government reforms of 1973, which obliterated several historic counties and arbitrarily redrew the boundaries of many others, including Northumberland and Durham.

It does seem extraordinary that any major power would cheerfully hand over territory containing one of one its principal naval bases (Sebastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet) to an entity that might have the temerity to secede one day, and even dream of joining a completely different power bloc.

But then with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it probably wasn’t the smartest move to base Britain’s nuclear deterrent at Faslane in Scotland, either.

The UK declared 20 years ago that it had “no selfish strategic or economic interest” in Northern Ireland, whose shipyards, airfields and anchorages had come in so handy during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.

Presumably the men in Whitehall who know best feel equally relaxed about allowing the Scots to vote on their independence in a few months’ time, despite the fact that our naval shipbuilding as well as Trident are based up there as part of our long-standing benevolence in the matter of public sector job creation for the Jocks.

Mr Salmond says he wants to keep the Queen, the pound and Scotland’s membership of NATO and the EU, but we already know he doesn’t really mean some of what he says, and has no hope of getting his way in other areas.

We keep thinking that the world has moved on and we have learned from the past. Armies mobilising, tanks rolling across frontiers, people being rounded up and murdered because of their ethnicity or their religion: that was the dark side of the 1930s and its lovely Art Deco. It doesn’t happen now. Yet sadly it does and it will because human nature does not change. And, depressingly, almost certainly never will.

It was widely believed in 1914 that nearly a million “Russian soldiers with snow on their boots” had landed in Scotland and were being transported through England to join the fight on the Western Front in France.

I would dearly like someone to tell us just what strategic plans have been drawn up for the defence of England when the spurned and bullied Prime Minister of an independent Scotland turns for fraternal aid to his new best friends in Moscow.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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