The SNP's brilliant psychological tactic of forcing five lengthy parliamentary votes while England were playing a World Cup knockout match is surely destined to become the stuff of legend. Labour abstained on the votes, as is the Labour Way, but nevertheless the Tories couldn't all go home or head off to the pubs because there needed to be enough of them around to outvote a few dozen SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs. In the end, well over 100 of them saw it through, which probably means that a great many Tories who would very much like to have seen the England match missed a large part of it.
A lot of sanctimonious drivel has already been spoken and written about this episode, but what I found truly contemptible was the revelation that Tory minister Margot James had physically approached the SNP during the votes and demanded that they think of Westminster's staff. It was as if she truly believed she was looking at a political party that had completely taken leave of its senses, and that needed to be snapped back into self-awareness about the consequences of its irresponsible actions. Er, hello? It's only a matter of weeks since Margot James' party destroyed Scotland's devolution settlement after just nineteen minutes of parliamentary 'debate', during which no Scottish MPs were permitted to speak. The settled democratic will of the Scottish people, as overwhelmingly expressed in the 1997 devolution referendum, was casually overturned by the imperial authorities in the manner in which a fly might be swatted away and instantly forgotten about. Until an independence referendum is called, the only way that Scotland's elected representatives can fight back against the squashing of our country's democracy is by clever use of the parliamentary rulebook to cause small amounts of disruption, thus making the London government realise that its actions do at least have some bothersome consequences - which in this case meant that a limited number of highly-paid staff missed part (and only part) of a game of football. Oh how frightful.
Yes, Margot, there is one political party that has lost all sense of perspective about what is happening, and that needs to be forced to belatedly confront reality. But that party is not the Scottish National Party.
* * *
We're about to see a second day of clever parliamentary tactics from the SNP, because they've called an opposition day debate on the Claim of Right. The motion that MPs will be asked to vote for or against notes straightforwardly that the Scottish people have the "sovereign right...to determine the form of government best suited to their needs". The simplicity of the motion presents all other parties with a dilemma. Can Labour and the Liberal Democrats really abstain on a Yes/No vote about the founding principle of their own Scottish Constitutional Convention? Will the Tories be able to come up with an explanation for saying that the Scottish people do not have the right to determine the form of government best suited to their own needs? The way each unionist party votes, and justifies how it votes, will be taken down and used in evidence against them - particularly in the next independence referendum.
* * *
Purely by virtue of a freakishly favourable draw for England, we're now suddenly staring down the barrel of a 1966 scenario. And the fact that an England victory from 52 years ago is still being insufferably rammed down our throats on a daily basis is a useful clue as to why we might, on the whole, be better off not having to deal with a much more recent repeat performance. But we may have to face the fact that if The Catastrophe is yet to be averted, it's now most likely to happen in the final. England probably have a slightly better than even chance of beating Croatia - their toughest potential semi-final opponents.
I've always thought the best way of countering the mythology of 1966 is to promote the truly concrete past achievements of the Scotland team - as opposed to clinging to relatively meaningless single game triumphs such as the 1967 win against England, or the 1978 win against the Netherlands. By 'truly concrete' I mean the fact that any retrospective world rankings going back to the start of international football would put Scotland in the number one position for long spells, and also the fact that Scotland won the defunct British Home Championship - the oldest and for a long time the most prestigious international tournament - on a remarkable 41 separate occasions.
On that theme, I was browsing through some of Wikipedia's articles about the British Home Championship a few hours ago, and just by chance I landed on the article about the 1979/80 edition of the tournament. Now I've seen some brazen Anglocentric wording in my time, but just take a look at this effort...
"The tournament also finally marked the end of a decade of extremely poor international football results for all the Home Nations. Apart from disappointing Scottish performances in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups, no British side had been represented at a major football tournament since England were knocked out by Germany at the 1970 FIFA World Cup. In 1980, England finally qualified for the 1980 UEFA European Championship and although their performance was unspectacular it did lay the groundwork for the appearance of three of the Home Nations at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. The Home Championships thus allowed spectators and coaches an impression of the reorganised British sides and their capabilities in competitive football."
It's almost exquisite, isn't it? England's qualification for the 1980 Euros was the first time a British team had qualified for a major tournament since England in 1970, unless you count Scotland qualifying in both 1974 and 1978 but obviously you won't count 1974 and 1978 because Scotland are not England. That complete gibberish actually made sense in someone's head.
I was initially a bit daunted by the major surgery that would be required to make the article less risible, but after a bit of thought I edited it to read as follows...
"The tournament also marked the end of a decade-long era in which Scotland had been the only British side that managed to qualify for major international football tournaments, in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups. In 1980, England finally ended that Scottish dominance by qualifying for the 1980 UEFA European Championship and although their performance was unspectacular it did lay the groundwork for them to join both Scotland and the revitalised Northern Ireland at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. The Home Championships thus allowed spectators and coaches an impression of the reorganised British sides and their capabilities in competitive football."
I may have gone a bit to the other extreme by talking about a "decade-long era" of "Scottish dominance", but sometimes you need to go to the other extreme just to balance out the nonsense.