It sometimes feel as though the jagged, jittery line stretching from Gretna to Berwick isn’t so much a border as a fracture in a mirror, through which things look different according to which side of it you’re standing on.
On its south side, Labour decry a Tory government as the worst thing that can possibly happen. To the north, it’s an inconvenience Scots must bear for six or seven years out of every ten despite always rejecting the Conservatives at the ballot box, because to cast them out decisively would be selfish, childish “narrow nationalism”.
Scottish Labour MSPs abstain from voting for the replacement of Trident nuclear weapons, presenting a transparent lie of opposition to the weapons of global destruction. But something about the short train journey to London persuades Scottish Labour’s MPs to advocate Trident replacement enthusiastically, demanding only to know what else can be cut to ensure there’s enough money for it.
When in Scotland, the Tories and Lib Dems in the coalition government issue dire warnings that an independent Scotland would be cast out of the European Union and into international isolation. Safely back home in England, the Prime Minister promises UK voters a referendum that (according to polls) will achieve that very end.
The Huffington Post quotes the PM today on the subject of Scottish independence.
“He questioned why people should be made to choose between Scotland or Britain when they could be part of both, adding: “Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?”“
But hang on. “Britain ain’t broke, don’t fix it” wasn’t Mr Cameron’s previous view.
“In a book about him due out on Monday, Mr Cameron pledged to heal what he called Britain’s “broken society”.” (‘Cameron targets ‘broken society” – BBC News, 18 August 2008)
“The problems we face are big and urgent. Rebuilding our broken economy because unless we do, our children will be saddled with debt for decades to come. Mending our broken society because unless we do, we will never solve those stubborn social problems.” (‘David Cameron: Together we will mend broken Britain‘ – Metro, 8 October 2009)
“Why is our economy broken? Not just because Labour wrongly thought they’d abolished boom and bust. But because government got too big, spent too much and doubled the national debt. Why is our society broken? Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility. Why are our politics broken? Because government got too big, promised too much and pretended it had all the answers.” (‘Putting Britain back on her feet’ – speech to Conservative Party conference, 8 October 2009)
“British society, Mr Cameron says, is ‘broken’.” (‘Cameron tells us Britain is broken – but not how to fix it’ – The Guardian, 24 January 2010)
“Public perceptions are often very different to the picture that emerges from the official statistics. The Tories hope that these perceptions mean that Mr Cameron’s “broken society” message will strike a chord and reinforce his “vote for change” pitch.” (‘Cameron reveals how he will fix broken Britain’ – The Independent, 1 April 2010)
“David Cameron spoke at a youth centre in Witney of a need to review Britain’s ‘broken society’. He said the “sick behaviour” was “not confined to the so-called underclass”, who lead parallel lives to the rest of society.” (‘Cameron launches war on ‘Broken Britain” – Daily Express, 15 January 2011)
“Cameron made the pledge as he reasserted his analysis that Britain is broken, but he joined Ed Miliband in drawing a link between the riots, and recent scandals in banking, parliament and journalism, his words almost precisely mirroring those of the Labour leader.” (‘David Cameron on riots: broken society is top of my political agenda’ – The Guardian, 15 August 2011)
“David Cameron has said tackling the “broken society” is back at the top of his agenda following last week’s riots.” (‘Broken society is top priority – Cameron’ – BBC News, 15 August 2011)
“David Cameron yesterday gave his ministers one month to come up with new policies to tackle Britain’s ‘broken society’ in the wake of the riots.” (‘Cameron gives ministers a month to find answers to broken Britain’ – Daily Mail, 31 August 2011)
For most of his leadership of the Conservatives, David Cameron has spoken of “Broken Britain”. Indeed, so long and so often has he done so that as early as the spring of 2010 staunchly Unionist cartoonist Steve Bell depicted the cry as a broken record:
And yet, apparently all it took to heal this “broken society” was for Scotland to threaten to walk away from it. Broken Britain now “works well”, and must not be imperilled by the selfish Scots. And oddest of all, the Westminster opposition – not normally a body given to praising the achievements of the government – agrees.
The parties of London speak with a single voice. (Though presumably not His Master’s Voice, as said business has someone managed to slip through the cracks of Britain’s miraculous overnight repair.) Britain is still Great. Scotland is Better Together, safe within the loving breast of the UK. Everything’s alright. Everything is fine.
Until Cameron crosses the border again, of course.