Ahh – irony. That heady bourne from which no reader, or voter, may return unscathed or uneducated. And what was the natural home of irony, the modern fountainhead whence it sprang and continues to sweetly nurture us, if we will but open our minds and our hearts to its rich and scalding lessons? Why, the eighteenth century, of course, and, one might equally answer, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: the seat of the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave rise to the American and French Revolutions and a new freedom of political thought throughout the ‘civilized’ world; the home of Hume and Henry Cockburn. Curious that in the eighteenth century men like Joseph Knight were granted their freedom by other men like Dundas and Monboddo and both Boswells, and stranger still that in that same eighteenth century Scotland lost its independence and freedom to a ‘ruthless conqueror’, as Jane Porter put it.
How David Cameron Saved Scotland, and May Yet Save Us All is a brilliant feuilleton ostensibly addressing ‘our’ Prime Minister in the only language in which he really deserves to spoken to, since he, or his office, acceded to power in the eighteenth century, when Scotland lost its real identity and became just another part of the bland, struggling little corporation that is the United Kingdom. To address the Prime Minister in the language of the eighteenth century is apt – taking the debate back to the last time of serious ruction between the two nations. The book is a series of essays on the various stages of the Prime Minister’s ‘education’, all addressed to David Cameron in the language of a wily, flattering courtier. The larger question being examined is: who are these people who rise to power? What is someone who becomes a Prime Minister really aware of? What does he know?
The crucial, most daring and amusing chapter concerns itself with what David Cameron knows of Scotland. What does he know, for instance, about Cameron of Lochiel? What does he know of Keir Hardie and Cunninghame Graham? And what the hell does he know about the ancient and inalienable concept of political power in Scotland, specifically that it is given by the people to the monarch or the government, and not the other way around? Dudley Edwards goes into this fully, carefully, and cruelly, and the answer would appear to be that Cameron knows doodly squat. Is a Bullingdon Club-educated man, no matter what claims he can make for his Scots ancestry, is a Tory, qualified to be the leader of Scotland? No. He isn’t. Whatever he may ‘Vow’.
Satire can be scary. It’s a risky, almost unbelievable thing to assert that David Cameron is very intelligent, and that he is deliberately hiding it from us in order to accomplish his questionable ends. Edwards presents Cameron, on evidence, as something of a scholar of politics, guided as he was by some smart teachers at Eton and Oxford (Andrew Gailey and Vernon Bogdanor), although at several crucial junctures in his career he stopped listening to these men and went his own weird, obtuse and flabby way. It’s pretty amusing to think of Cameron as a guy who has the time to sit around reading books, although some modern leaders have done just that. Richard Nixon was one of the most astute pupils of modern political history, from all accounts. But that did not stop him from screwing up entirely and it didn’t show he was ‘intelligent’, whatever that means, and it certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t evil.
This book is full of hugely enjoyable, rageful insights which are beautiful and true: at one point Dudley Edwards asserts that Margaret Thatcher got the whole of her conception of Scotland from the seaside postcards of Donald McGill. There is little doubt that How David Cameron Saved Scotland is, and will be, the definitive, robust and necessary book on what happened to us all – or, to put it in a Freudian and more accurate way, what we did to ourselves – September last. Dudley Edwards kicks, as they would say in America, some serious Tory butt. And belabours Labour arse, too. This is the political book of the year, if we the people (apologies to Thomas Jefferson) will deign to read it in its properly cantankerous, hell-for-leather ornateness. Will it be read in England? Of course not. They don’t deserve it.
(This review first appeared in the National, February 23, 2015)