Monday, 15 October 2012

Poem for the day, read before you sign David.

Whitehall 1212 is stretching its legs after the conference season and has arrived in Edinburgh for the today's great signing deal between Alex Salmond and David Cameron.

Well, they've got a good day for it. St Andrews House, the Scottish government headquarters, is caught in a sharp rays of Autumn sunshine this morning.

Last night, when I arrived, all the windows in the building were a blaze of light, as if the civil servants were shuttling through the late hours in final preparation for the historic day. The scene reminded me of the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, which was always lit up at night during the early stages of the Afghan invasion, and probably every other conflict that followed.

I was also reminded, while in Sandy Bells (where else?) of how David Cameron mis-quoted, or at least mis-pronounced, Robert Burns last January when he cornered Salmond into naming the date, or at least the season for the vote.

The SNP cabinet, you'll remember, announced 2014 by tweet at 6pm on a dark January Monday, a week ahead of the Burns Night announcement Salmond had planned. This was simply so that the SNP leader would steal the lead on the BBC News that evening. The bulletin was due to be dominated by the UK government's plans to create a Section 30 Order transferring legal powers for a vote on condition that it was a one question referendum within a set time frame.

And so it has come to pass. For all the bellow pumping we'll hear today about this being a great victory, you have to remember that we'd still all be guessing the date and whether it would be one question or two if the Westminster government had not put pressure on Salmond's windpipe.

At the time Cameron goaded the SNP leader from the Commons dispatch box as being a "wee sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie"; though he managed to mis-pronounce the next line, "O, what panic's in thy breastie!". Salmond offered him elocution lessons

At last orders in Sandy Bells my Edinburgh friend was able to recite the entire poem, a feat in itself.

But she did so to make a point with the last two verses where the poet considers how the future cannot be predicted; how the mouse, a simple animal, lives in the present while he, the poet, lives in a nostalgic past with no idea what the future will bring.

Burns is appropriate for any day. Both Alex and David should consider the lines as they prepare to sign:

"But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!"

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