And this time we’re not being sarcastic. We were bemused yesterday when a number of people on Twitter started swapping referendum-based jokes about Stanley Baxter, who for younger readers used to be some sort of pantomime star and vaudeville performer. The jokes were explained today when it was revealed, to our considerable surprise, that Mr Baxter was in fact still alive and urging a No vote in the referendum.
Baxter, who left Scotland 55 years ago and told the Times that he now returns only for “the odd funeral”, nevertheless felt able to assert from these occasional visits that support for a Yes vote was founded in hatred for the English from simple-witted Scots who “don’t know any better” caused by “Braveheart” and hey, stay awake at the back there because we’re coming to the important bit.
And that’s that the comedian, who made a career out of telling TV viewers that the people of Glasgow had hilarious incomprehensible accents in need of translating into proper English, also went on to (no doubt impeccably) articulate the real reason, never previously spoken aloud, that the No campaign wants Scotland to stay part of the UK.
“I’m very happy in London. South of the border’s been very good to me.”
Those, readers, are the words at the forefront of every single Scottish Labour MP’s mind when contemplating the prospect of Scottish independence. We have no quibbles with anyone who votes No because they feel British, consider Britain to be their country and want to keep it that way. That’s an honest, legitimate view which deserves neither scorn nor pity.
But the campaign for the Union is being conducted almost solely by people with massive personal and financial vested interests. That’s something which isn’t true in the other direction – SNP Westminster MPs are trying to put themselves OUT of a job, and those at Holyrood will gain nothing from independence other than more responsibility and more competition for their seats.
But the 53 MPs of all the Unionist parties in Scotland will lose their livelihoods. They’ll lose their feather-bedded salaries, their gravy-train expenses, their gold-plated pensions and their hopes of a lucrative ermine-clad retirement in the House Of Lords. And perhaps even more than all that, they’ll lose their exalted place in the glamorous surroundings of Westminster and Whitehall.
Stanley Baxter is at least honest enough to admit that “the positive case for the Union” is “the positive case for Stanley Baxter”. He likes London, and a career in London mocking the Scots has provided him with a very good living, for which he’s understandably grateful.
Many before him and many since have carved out similar niches as Jock Jesters at the court of the state broadcaster, and good for them. We’re hardly about to look down from Bath, after all, on anyone who had to venture south to seek gainful employment.
It would be refreshing, however, if just once a Labour MP (or indeed a Lib Dem or the Tory) stood up with the same honesty as Baxter and said “Look, I’ve got a good thing going here and if you vote Yes you’re going to screw it right up for me. Gonnae no?”
The closest we’ve come so far is “Better Together” communications director Rob Shorthouse, who told a public meeting in Dunoon in March that what the independence debate meant to him was that “it pays my mortgage”. But at least Mr Shorthouse’s mortgage is paid by a private company financed by willing volunteers.
MPs’ mortgages are paid by the taxpayer, and it’d be nice if occasionally some of them admitted that the reason they want Scots to vote No is that they’re very happy with and thankful for that arrangement, and they’d very much like it to continue.