The reaction of some Scottish nationalists in bombarding the police and East Sussex County Council with allegations that the prospect of igniting an effigy of their leader, Alex Salmond, at the annual Lewes bonfire celebrations, would be tantamount to a ‘hate crime’ and a ‘racist attack on the Scottish people’ serves as a timely reminder that the first casualty in the quest for political independence is a sense of humour, closely followed by tolerance, perspective and truth.
Such was the collective zeal of the complainants that one could be forgiven for thinking that a blasphemy was being contemplated against one of the world’s great religious icons rather than a fairly innocuous bit fun being poked at a relatively minor political figure – not necessarily in the best possible taste but light-years away from a hate crime.
Dozens of other political and public figures (including David Cameron, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin) have had their effigies burned with hardly a murmur of descent from their countrymen or supporters.
Most had the good grace (and common sense) to accept their ‘burning’ as the price of public notoriety and, not wishing to be too unkind to Mr Salmond, this is probably the only time that a German Chancellor and US President will share the same platform as a relatively obscure nationalist politician whose only claim to fame is that he managed to lose a pro-independence referendum despite the advantages bestowed upon by David Cameron’s complacency and the most inept of opposition from Alistair Darling and his Scottish Labour colleagues.
It is becoming increasingly clear that David Cameron’s attempt to pacify the aspirations of the Scottish nationalists has seriously backfired, leaving the country more discontent and bitterly divided than before, and I suspect that in his attempt to subdue a backbench rebellion and stifle the threat of UKIP, by promising a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union, he has – perhaps unwittingly - opened another Pandora’s box of nationalist fervour, which will almost certainly subject England (and the rest of the UK) to a similar fate at a time when the major problems still facing the country are essentially internal matters that have nothing to do with our relationship with Europe.
I have no doubt that Mr Cameron is beginning to realise that the more extreme Tory Euro-sceptics and their UKIP soul mates, in common with Alex Salmond and his supporters, will only accept the result of a referendum if it delivers what they want, and the attempt to pacify their nationalist aspirations has simply put Europe at the top of the political agenda, distracting attention from the more pressing issues of health, education, welfare, housing, transport and debt.
The challenge now awaiting Mr Cameron is, when all the votes have been counted, how will he put Pandora back into her box?
De Cham Avenue