Helen Martin: Sol or nothing in referendum

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IF anyone wants to argue about the cause of independence, Scotland’s the place.

There’s no point in taking on the average Englishman because, apart from Cameron and Clegg, most just want to be friends and don’t care whether Scotland stays in the UK or floats off up to the Arctic.

We were in that loyal little Britain known as the Costa del Sol. Mike, our next-door neighbour there, is a temporary expat who hails originally from the south of England. He’s a friendly, intelligent, well-read man. He enjoys history, keeps up with developments at home and is quite partial to a convivial debate over a beer.

Somehow, the fact that by around this time next year Scotland could be going it alone came up and Mike started the ball rolling.

“Now come on,” he said. “Why would you want independence in the first place. We [the English] give you loads . . . free prescriptions, free tuition. We don’t even have that 
ourselves!”

I said: “Well you didn’t really give these things to us. The parliament did.”

“Yes love, that’s what I’m saying. Parliament gives you lot special perks.”

Clearly we were at cross-purposes. “No, Mike, not the Westminster parliament, the Scottish Parliament.”

There was a long pause. “You’ve got a parliament?”

After he’d digested that nugget, he said: “What does it do?”

I explained that we had a different legal system, education system, a different way of running the NHS, different industries, even a different climate, but that we were still “under” Westminster for UK issues such as defence. And on that subject, the plan – should the Yes vote prevail – would be to get rid of the nuclear arsenal on the Clyde.

“Well, what you gonna do then if you get attacked,” asked Mike. “Pick up the blower to England and say ‘give us a hand mate’?”

“Why would we be attacked if we didn’t have nuke power? We’d be like Norway or Denmark. In fact, there’s no certainty you’d have it either because if you wanted to keep it you’d have to decide where to put it. Do you want it on the Thames, or the 
Mersey?”

He considered carefully, then said: “I guess just over the Border. Somewhere round Berwick maybe? 
Anyway, how are you going to be able to afford independence?”

I mentioned the oil. “Ah,” he said, as if he’d caught me out. “But the oil companies are British, like BP.”

“But the waters are Scottish,” I said. Stalemate.

“I still don’t know why they want to be independent,” said Mike. I said Scotland had a broadly more socialist outlook than England, that during the 18 years of Tory governance including Thatcher and Major, Scotland never once voted Tory, and that even now, as the overplayed joke goes, we have more pandas than Tory MPs. 
“So what’s going to happen to all these Scotch Labour blokes in Westminster if you got independence?” he asked.

I said: “There certainly wouldn’t be any role for them there. I suppose they could stand in Scotland but they probably wouldn’t want to. They’d be out of a job.”

Suddenly his confusion fled. His eyes lit up. “Perhaps this independence lark is a good idea after all. Don’t suppose the English can vote in this referendum-thingy?” he asked wistfully as we poured another San Miguel.

Poor old them

ONE in five homes in Edinburgh has no-one in a paid job. Don’t despair. Bear in mind that includes retirees on handsome pensions from the Capital’s finance, government and legal sectors.

Case or two for prosecution?

GOING to Malaga from Edinburgh inevitably means travelling with Ryanair. It’s cheap, usually on time and apart from its infernal website designed to trick you into buying all sorts of unwanted extras, I’ve always found it OK.

But on our full flight it became obvious that the firm had squeezed in so many seats there wasn’t room even for the one permitted cabin bag allowed per person.

We were forced to keep ours between our legs on the way out and refused point blank when we were told to do it on the way back as well. Can that be legal?

Ignorant sales questions are tout of order

THERE are some advantages to being Scottish when abroad, particularly when it comes to pushy timeshare salespeople who accost holidaymakers promising a free week’s holiday for attending “a presentation”.

The Costa del Sol is full of them and their standard approach is: “Excuse me, are you English or German?” They never say “British” or “Scottish”. It’s therefore perfectly truthful to reply “no” or “neither”.

Asked to elaborate, it’s best to use the French “L’Ecosse” because most timeshare touts are English and haven’t a clue what that means. If you say you’re definitely not English but Scottish, they think you’re being hair-splittingly funny and laugh, which gives you an excuse to interpret that as rudeness and walk off. I always feel sorry for English holidaymakers who don’t have an alternative nationality to hand and feel it’s impolite to spurn a fellow countryman, even when they are pinned like a butterfly with no escape route.