I’ve been asked to post the full transcript of Ian Bell’s article in Saturday’s Herald as some readers are having problems accessing the paper.
Forget the postcard Dave, it’s time to pay us a visit
I can call you Dave? It turns out we're friends, after all. From what you say, we could even be family. This alone is exciting news. We've never had a Tory in the family before, least of all one even slightly worried about what we might think or do. But I digress.
That was quite a speech you gave there, Dave. I'm sorry I couldn't attend, but you know how it is. Paying a visit is next to impossible if you're on a busy schedule. In any case, the border is all but impassable, by all accounts. These days even a Prime Minister can't find his way north to deliver an affectionate speech, or refresh himself with an invigorating debate.
It's a pity. A lot of us would really - I mean really - like to see you. We could catch up. You could tell us all your news and your plans for next year and beyond. It would be a lot more fun, I promise, than fighting your way to the Olympic Park through that hellish London traffic. As ever, you can be assured of a warm welcome.
Still, we read your postcard with the speech on it very carefully. (The kisses at the end were much appreciated.) Parts of it seemed a little familiar, like one of those chain letters, but our French Canadian friends assure us this is nonsense. Your completely original thoughts bore no resemblance to the slogans of the 1995 Unity scheme cooked up when Quebec looked like voting for independence. Pure coincidence.
True, the stuff about getting people to show how much they care did the trick in Canada. They also told Quebec at the last minute how much it was appreciated, needed and wanted. There was even talk - quite a bit of talk, actually - of Canadians being better off together than apart. But really: who would cynically copy someone else's campaign tactics when there are deeply personal emotions needing to be expressed? Spontaneously, of course.
We're a bit confused, though, Dave. If we read your Wish You Weren't Thinking of Not Being Here card right, we can expect a lot of phone calls on those friends and family tariffs. Thanks to you, we're about to be up to our armpits in endearments. But it's not as if we really need introductions to these folk, or reminded of what they think. They were not strangers last year and they won't be strangers next year.
And what's this "We want you to stay?" We're not actually going anywhere. If you would just tell your Chancellor and your other ministers to stop messing about, visitors in a couple of years will hardly notice the difference. What we might notice will be - as you are kind enough to remember - our affair. But you'll still be able to go around the world "banging the drum" for whisky. If you value your balance of payments, that is.
We hope you had fun at the Olympic Park, Dave. Clearly, that was some of our money - well, freightloads, to be accurate - well spent. You're obviously attached to the place. A less imaginative politician might have decided the games have been over for a bit. He might have wondered if the symbolism wasn't a tiny bit overused, or asked himself what sport can really tell you about countries. A less brilliant politician might have said it was all getting a bit tacky.
Don't let us put you off. You were born to wear red, white and blue. That is, of course, your privilege, but it's not a look we can all carry off. You won't mind, in the meantime, if your line about "the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sun" pops up again in a few months? No-one can teach you anything about nationalism and optimism, Dave, and you surely wouldn't object to a bit of plagiat, as they say in Quebec.
Here's the thing, though, that's giving us a few problems over your invitation to join you on the sunlit uplands. You tell us we're at the heart of "a vision". You reckon the United Kingdom will be "deeply diminished" without Scotland. You paint the rosiest of pictures of worth, esteem and partnership. But be honest, Dave: that's not exactly what we hear from those who speak on your behalf, is it? Your reports don't quite match what we hear day in and day out from your personal Team GB.
Perhaps they didn't get the memo. These things happen. But while you talk about shared values, about freedom, solidarity and compassion, some of your friends don't do positive. Instead, they tell a story you didn't manage to mention.
That's the one about chaos, ruin and economic degradation, worthless currencies, bankers fleeing to the border to claim new passports, pensions unpaid, jobs lost, food unaffordable, and international ties severed. Lately, they've been taking the veils off the threats, Dave, and it's all getting a bit tiresome. If more of us believed the tale we could use it to frighten children. Still, it's a shame you forgot to say in your speech that the nonsense has to stop. Did you lose a page?
By the sounds of things, it might have been more than one. You said a bit through your Olympic Park loud-hailer about the kind of country you want to see, the sort of UK that you and your government have in store for us if we follow your advice on September 18. But then there were a couple of tiny gaps in that inspiring narrative.
We weren't taken aback to notice that you didn't go into details about social security, bedroom taxes and the like. You didn't find time to explain why your Chancellor's austerity programme rolls ever onwards when things are going so swimmingly: that was understandable, even predictable. But, no offence, your enthralling vision didn't include the answer to a question that has bothered a lot of us: what happens when the society you mean to create is not one we would consent to inhabit?
We get the news up here. We can see what you intend for the welfare state. We've a pretty good grasp now of how you regard the NHS, education, or the rights of working people. A lot of us don't find it congenial. When we see how things are going, many of us don't believe that the partial protections of devolution are enough.
It's hard to know how to put this nicely, so I'll just say it: exactly how did you become our Prime Minister in the first place, Dave? Your speech was addressed to us among the peoples of these islands. You do remember how the vote went here last time, and you know how it will go next time if we follow your guidance on September 18?
One last thing. That stuff about "the brand", Dave? Drop it, there's a good lad. It's embarrassing. As to the rest, if this is what we can expect should you visit over the next seven months, the best of British.