Someone once said that a Scotsman would do almost anything except harm his career. That is certainly true of Scottish unionist politicians – Scotland and the Scottish people have always come a poor second for most of them in their scale of priorities, with the high road to England and Westminster and a place on the gravy train way up front.
In fairness, some have not started out that way: the insidious lure of preferment, high office and money, money, money has come later, then that ultimate flight from all things Scottish - ennoblement, the ermine and the Lords - and freedom from the tedious business of getting elected every so often, not to mention listening to constituents. And the strange satisfactions of the title – Lord Poodle of Auchterselloot …
A tiny number have believed in Scotland, albeit within the Union, and have consistently stood up for their ain folk. Wha was like them, but maist o’ them are deid. But among the living I would certainly number Henry McLeish and he is not alone.
But the rest of them are now looking at a career abyss when independence comes – they would say if it comes. The political agenda in Scotland has been totally dominated by the Scottish National Party and its vision and values since 2007: the unionists have moved through stunned denial to vitriolic opposition, but now, faced with the stark reality of the May 2011 election result, to moving inexorably towards a reluctant recognition of the inevitability of change.
It is astonishing to consider that the Scottish Labour Party is only now at the point of electing a new leader seven and a half months after the resignation of Iain Gray. What was left of the Lib/Dems at least got off their erses and elected a leader, and the Tories, having almost rent themselves apart in the process, managed to get someone in post. Neither of these two leaders exactly looks like the kind of leader their respective parties needed if they were to have any hope of restoring their fortunes.
Consider the fate of Scottish unionist MPs after independence.
At a stroke, they cease to be MPs. Those among them who are ministers – a single Tory and some LibDems – will probably cease to be ministers, although being an MP is not a requirement of being a government minister. The Scottish Lords are in a strange no-man’s land. The Queen is still the Queen, and in theory at least they owe their position to her, instead of the sordid reality of a political appointment.
But can they sit in a chamber that no longer has any relevance to Scotland, part of the democratic process of UK Minus?
How will the English, Welsh and Northern Irish people regard the Lairds of Auchterselloot voting on legislation and drawing their expenses?
The Scottish MPs who lose their seats - among them some very significant individuals for their parties - could look to the party managers to find them a safe seat. But who will have them? The good electors of England are unlikely to look kindly on having a Scot parachuted into their constituency, and the risk for the party of putting a Scot up for election in the period immediately after independence would be to great an electoral risk.
It is even less likely that some obscure but worthy English MP is going give up his or her seat to make way for a big Scottish beast. It will be difficult enough in all conscience for Scottish MPs in English constituencies if they face re-nomination and a campaign soon after independence – or perhaps before it.
But some might take comfort in the fact that if an independence referendum in say 2015 resulted in a YES vote, it would take years to reach that bright day when Scotland will again be a nation.
However, another spectre looms for the Scottish unionist MPs …
As yesterday’s PMQs demonstrated very clearly, David Cameron’s coat is on a very shaky nail over Europe. The future of the Coalition looks increasingly uncertain, and the LibDem mice, while not exactly roaring, did emit a cheeky squeak in their recent Commons vote against the Government. Not quite a rebellion, but certainly a fart in church …
If the Coalition falls, especially in the context of global uncertainty, most of the nightmare for Scottish unionists MPs would come early, and the Douglas Alexanders, the Murphys, the Tom Harrises, the Danny Alexanders - and the sole Mundel - would risk being oot on their erses in a general election.
So all of this brings me to today, and that extraordinary manifestation of the Union, Michael Moore, the Scottish Colonial Governor. If there is a figurehead for Scotland in the UK, it is oor Michael. But his job – and his MP status – both end with independence, as does the Scottish Office. In a general election, he might well lose his seat as a Scottish LibDem. Lordships will be hard to come by for such as he in the present climate.
And so to the Herald’s astonished headline - Surprise as Moore says that he is not a ‘Unionist’.
Is the Pope not a Catholic? Is King Billy not an Orangeman?
In the tones of Peter Kay and garlic bread, I say “Not a unionist? Not a unionist?”
Be kind to the man – as a kind of Scot, one who will do anything rather than harm his career, he is simply gearing up for his exit strategy, as is Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy, Auld Uncle Tam Harris and all.
Because there is nothing so terrifying as being alienated from your ain folk, and finding that you have nowhere to go. Being on the wrong side at a pivotal moment in your country’s history is not a happy place to be.
But don’t despair, guys – somebody will have you. The new Scotland won’t keep you out – it’s an inclusive, forgiving nation. You may have to spend some time in the wilderness doing penance in sackcloth and ashes, but you have talents and experience and providing your contrition is genuine, Scotland will find a place for you.
But don’t submit yourself to the electorate for say, twenty years or so. After all, we haven’t forgiven Maggie, and she wreaked her havoc on Scotland a generation ago. Scots have long memories …