(Picture from Facebook)
I was sitting in a pub in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, listening to some live fiddle music, when I came across a rather bewildered couple from America who’d just dropped into the Hogmanay celebrations. “You mean Scotland is thinking of breaking away from the UK?” they asked.“Exactly so,” I said, using the Mad Hatter’s phrase from Alice in Wonderland. “Well, what’s going to happen?” the couple ventured to ask. “Suppose we change the subject,” I replied, quoting the March Hare’s wise suggestion.
We have spent the first few days of the new year trying to get away from that word “Referendum” but alas without success. We’ve tried to point out that 2014 will be the year of many other things – the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the John Muir centenary, the seventh centenary of Bannockburn, the other 400 events of the Year of Homecoming. But all to no avail.So the newspapers and airwaves are full of “Yes” and “No” campaigners making their new year pitch. Their arguments seems to focus on the economy… would Scotland be wealthier or poorer as a result of independence? But to me that is not the heart of the matter. I’m sure the issue will be decided by feelings. Do we feel part of one British culture? What sort of country do we want to be? So far the Yes campaigners are the only ones to have moved onto this sort of territory but even they say the economic case will be decisive.
The economists have been popping their heads out of their ivory towers to mention that the economy appears to be growing again. Employment is up, unemployment is down. Some of the big stores have reported a good Christmas – House of Fraser and John Lewis did well. Others, like Debenhams, did not so well. But the report which stopped me in my tracks was a shocker from the Prince’s Trust. A survey it carried out among unemployed young people ( now running at about 20 per cent remember) found that nearly a third felt depressed, had nothing to live for and had contemplated suicide.I hope they were cheered up a little by the Hogmanay celebrations. To me they always have a defiant ring to them. The fireworks, the ceilidhs, visits to friends, all say “forget our troubles, out with austerity, let us make merry !” The public events went well this year. Over 70,000 people turned out for the traditional Edinburgh fireworks and there were simultaneous shows in Inverness and Stirling. The crowds behaved well and so did the weather….if briefly. We have since been battered by strong winds, rain and high tides.
One of the most unfortunate accidents over Hogmanay was in the wilds of Lochailort, west of Fort William, where a party of revellers were making their way from the local inn to a nearby house for a late night music session when they disturbed a stag in the garden. He charged out through the group and struck a woman straight in the throat. She’s very seriously ill in hospital in Glasgow.With the new year comes the usual increase in rail fares. Scotrail are putting up their prices by an average of 1.9 per cent, much lower than the average across the UK of 2.8 per cent. But it includes a sharp rise of over 3 per cent for commuters between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A peak time return will now cost £22.50. And so it should. These trains are usually full to capacity and beyond. Perhaps it will encourage more people to travel at off-peak times, when the fare remains at just £12.60, a real bargain in my view.
I want to end with a rather painful tribute to the bane of my youth, logarithms. The 400th anniversary of their invention, by Edinburgh citizen John Napier, is yet another of those Homecoming events, this time at the National Museum. It was difficult enough using logarithm tables (I still have a set somewhere to remind me) in the maths class at school. But they were also used in the punishment class after school when we were forced to work out each logarithm in turn until the hour of detention was over. My brain has never quite recovered.