Apparently, Pete Cashmore grew up in Banchurie (pronounced Banchooree) in Scotland. That’s weird, since Banchurie doesn’t exist even though Edward Stourton, that very authoritative sounding broadcaster, just said it did. Do I believe Wikipedia, which says Cashmore grew up in Banchory (pronounced Bank(uh)ree), a real place in Aberdeenshire, or do I go with Stourton’s invented place with BBC Radio 4’s editorial go-ahead? Maybe I’m being very naïve: if Banchurie exists as an online community that trains future techno-whizzkids like Cashmore, then I’m embarrassed to admit that 55-year-old Stourton is much cooler than me. But somehow I don’t think this is an admission I’m going to have to make. Phew.
At the risk of sounding like a member of a petulant nation desperately looking for any opportunity to bash the English, this is a classic example of how foreign Scotland seems to be to many outside the country. If I pronounced Syria ‘sigh-rye-ah’, I would seem hopelessly ignorant. Yet if a national broadcaster mispronounces the name of a town within his own nation, nobody seems to bat an eyelid. Surely this slightly askew sense of priorities (London regarding the rest of the world as more important than Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the rest of England) is what breeds discontent within this union. If one country seems not to care about the others, the others will start playing with other friends. Scotland’s bid for independence being a case in point. And now even England wants its own parliament, it feels so left out by the South West; if the views expressed at the English Democrats’ convention last weekend are anything to go by.
We seem to have lost our way. We can’t actually live together if we just offend one another all over the place. So, Andrew Mitchell: show some common manners. You just don’t swear in front of strangers, let alone to a policeman. Duh. Isn’t it frightening that a man who hasn’t even mastered the basics of social cohesion at the everyday level has risen to a position where he’s effectively in charge of it at a national level? Why are we surprised when we have riotous summers? ‘Charlie Hébdo’, don’t publish an offensive cartoon, just because you can, in the middle of a bit of a sensitive time. It’s just plain stupid, insensitive and callous. It’s looking for a fight: how childish. Yes, free speech is extremely important, and people cannot enforce their opinions by violently quashing all opposition. But I think respect and understanding are equally important, cheesy as that sounds, otherwise we’ll beat global warming to it and blow the planet up just because we’re in a huff with our near neighbours over a forgotten cause.
Before we can expect good relations with other countries, we need to sort our home life out. A sort of national family therapy, where our family heads (MPs) tell us directly what they find annoying, and we say the same to them. It will hurt, no doubt about it, but it would surely be better than the constant burble of back-stabbing complaints that underpin our society at the moment. This is what elections and constituency surgeries are supposed to be about. But they don’t work that way. Politics is all a game of smoke and mirrors for politicians, who seek to placate voters by telling them what they think they want to hear. This is never going to work. As any five year old will tell you, it is toe-crunchingly frustrating (as well as embarrassingly obvious) when your Mum and Dad absentmindedly say ‘lovely dear’, without even looking at your pasta crown, just to shut you up.
Nobody’s happy in this relationship: politicians want teachers to work harder, teens to work full stop, and policemen to exclude them from normal rules. Voters think that most politicians are posh-boys who haven’t done a day’s real work. Scotland seems to think that it was all a drunken mistake to begin with, and a divorce is the only way out. Then we can re-build our lives separately; we can move on by hitting the dating scene again with other countries, and start going on holidays for singles in European union countries that we are now an independent member of. But don’t worry, we’ll still have Christmas dinner with our ex mother-in-law (her connections are pretty good).
No wonder Syrians and Americans don’t understand one another, living so culturally and geographically distant, when the members of a tiny nation like Britain cannot even get on with their literal neighbours. If the Banchurie example is anything to go by, England has an unrealistic perception of Scotland. I think many of the current controversies could be ironed out if we adopted new perspectives, and tried to understand that we live in a fairground hall of mirrors, where no two people see the world in the same way. Nobody’s wrong about what they believe they see; it is possible for us all to be right at the same time. But if we want to get along, we have to accept this and try and reach a reasonable compromise, not simply plough forth with our belief continuously.