You might remember a couple of weeks back I posted a brief Twitter exchange I had with the English historian Tom Holland, who seems to be obsessed with preventing Scotland from governing itself, largely on the basis that independence would for some reason ruin his memory of a favourite jigsaw puzzle from childhood. Here's the sequel (it isn't in strict chronological order because otherwise it would be harder to follow) -
Tom Holland : Are the Scots morally superior to the English? A poll cited by Brian Wilson suggest we're all much the same.
Me : We're not morally superior to Canadians either, but that's not an argument for having Stephen Harper as our PM.
Tom Holland : You're not in a hugely successful 300 year old partnership with Canada, though.
Me : I presume you realise Yes voters don't share your view of it as being "hugely successful"?
Tom Holland : I do. Naturally, I think they're wrong.
Me : No wonder, you don't have to live with the nukes in your back-yard - and you almost always get the govt England votes for.
Tom Holland : Would the Tories have had to go into coalition without Scotland?
Me : No. Would we have noticed the difference?
Tom Holland : Probably - but that's not quite the point.
Me : What is the point? Scotland must be held hostage so that England can be dragged 0.03% leftwards by Nick Clegg?
Tom Holland : I'm sure people in Surrey were as resentful of Gordon Brown as people in Glasgow were of Margaret Thatcher. That's democracy.
Me : No, it's not democracy. It's a dysfunctional union. That problem can be sorted, and you don't seem to have a reason not to try.
Tom Holland : Nor do you share a small island with the Canadians.
Me : The UK isn't particularly small - it has almost 1% of the entire global population.
Tom Holland : Less than 1% sounds quite small to me!
Me : 1% of the world's population on a "small island"? As islands go, that's pretty big.
Tom Holland : No, by my reckoning, less than 1% is small.
Me : You need to get out more. There's a whole world of genuinely small islands out there.
Tom Holland : Your logic is devastating.
Me : But your sarcasm isn't. If Britain is a "small island", how many islands can you name with a bigger population?
Tom Holland : We are a small island relative to the large continental powers that dominate/will dominate the 21st century.
Tom Holland : The comparison is with China or the US, not Guernsey.
Me : I see. So "small island" is not a comparison with other islands, but with non-islands? We are therefore a large island?
Tom Holland : No. Australia is a large island. Greenland is a large island.
Me : Both with much smaller populations. Even in geographical terms, Britain spans one-ninth the length of the Northern Hemisphere.
Tom Holland : Your knowledge of geography is as impressive as your ability to miss the point.
Tom Holland : (responding to the 'dysfunctional union' tweet) Well, naturally, I disagree. Let's leave it at that.
Me : Yes, you always seem to leave it when the questions get difficult.
Tom Holland : You seem to me to be dealing in slogans, rather than substantive points. Doubtless you feel the same about me. So - enough.
Me : Rubbish. I asked you a substantive question about nuclear weapons last time and you instantly vanished.
Tom Holland : What question did you ask about nuclear weapons?
Me : "Inhuman weapons within 30 miles of where I live are not 'spin' - they're all too real. Who put them there, and why?"
Tom Holland : I grew up with a whole stash in my backyard. Didn't mean I wanted independence for Wessex.
Tom Holland : If any part of Gt Britain gets nuked, we're all in the s**t.
Me : The context of my question was your claim that Scotland already chooses its own govt. How can we veto nuclear weapons?
Tom Holland : Join CND?
Me : That's a pathetic response. Do you now accept that Scotland does not choose the way it is governed at present?
Tom Holland : Getting rid of nuclear weapons won't make Scotland any safer if they're simply removed to England. It's a British problem.
Me : Yes, it would make us safer. Neither is that the point - why should others choose whether Trident is located on the Clyde?
Tom Holland : It needs to be solved at a British level. I'm with you on getting rid of Trident. But it's a problem for us all in Britain.
Tom Holland : Of course Scotland chooses how it's governed. It has multiple layers of government, all elected.
Me : So how do we use those layers of elected [government] to eject Trident against London's wishes? That's my question. Joining CND won't help.
Tom Holland : I feel we're going round in circles, & TBH I can think of better uses of my time - such as doing the shopping. A bientôt.
Me : Translation: "Scotland cannot choose, I don't think it should be able to choose, but I can't admit that directly." Enjoy Tesco.
Tom Holland : A Parthian shot (at this point he links to a poll conducted by Tory billionaire Lord Ashcroft purporting to show that Scots are not as opposed to nuclear weapons as we think - an odd tactic given that it actually shows Scots are opposed to Britain having nuclear weapons by a margin of 48% to 37%)
Me : Well, let's put it to the test, shall we, and actually let the Scottish people decide? As opposed to, y'know, deciding for them?
* * *
There were a few points that I deliberately didn't respond to, because asking three questions at once would have let him off the hook and allowed him to choose which ones to 'notice'. As far as the question of whether removing Trident to England would make Scotland safer is concerned, of course the literal answer is "yes it would" - if Glasgow was the direct target of a nuclear attack, the population would be annihilated instantly, as opposed to having at least some opportunity to protect themselves from the atmospheric fallout that would be produced by an attack across the border. But that's also not the point. Having the democratic right as a country to decide whether we possess nuclear weapons or not allows us to contribute to the global drive to eliminate the existential threat posed by nuclear warfare. It's even open to question whether it would be feasible for London to maintain an independent nuclear 'deterrent' without being able to host it on the Clyde.
In any case, does the fact that London is closer to France than it is to Scotland mean that British nuclear weapons are a "Franco-British problem"? Or does nuclear fallout do the polite thing and stop at the English Channel in Tom Holland's world? And what about French nuclear weapons? Does the fact that Paris is closer to Brussels than it is to Biarritz mean that the French arsenal is a problem that must be solved at "Franco-Belgian-Dutch-German-Swiss level"? After all, all of these countries and more would be "in the s**t" if France was attacked. Where does this logic end?
Oh, and in case you're wondering, Great Britain is the third most populated island in the entire world, behind only Honshu in Japan, and Java in Indonesia. It is also the ninth largest island in the world in terms of geographical area (excluding Australia, which should properly be considered a continent). Tom Holland may think that pointing this out is silly, but if he's going to use emotive George Galloway-esque language such as "partitioning this small island", he's got to be able to justify his definition of "small".
The introduction to Tarkovsky's classic sci-fi film Stalker describes the USSR as "our small country". I laughed at that one as well.