Gosh, we are becoming an imperious nation. The mighty Scots Pine has just been declared our national tree. The Scottish Parliament is considering making the Golden Eagle our national bird. We already have the lion rampant. I hate to think what insect we might choose as a national emblem…the praying mantis perhaps. Thank goodness for the humble thistle.The Scots Pine came top of a consultation exercise carried out by the parliament’s petitions committee, well ahead of the rowan and the holly.The silver birch, my favourite candidate, came well down the list. I can only think this is because of the Scots Pine’s grandeur. They are not unique to Scotland. We don’t have that many of them, we are down to our last 250 million (around 8 per cent of our woodland). We chopped most of them down, remember, when we felled the ancient Caledonian forest.
They are only called Scots Pines because they do not grow naturally in England. But they are native to much of northern Europe, from Spain to Siberia. In Norway they are called the Norway Pine, in Mongolia the Mongolian Pine. Besides, they are not nice-looking trees. They are scraggy below and bushy on top. They don’t turn golden in autumn or light green in spring. They don’t sway in the wind or give shelter to much wildlife. And, like most of us these days, they live too long.
The Golden Eagle too is a worrying statement of national aggrandisement. The Conservative MEP Jackson Carlaw reminded us this week that the eagle was a symbol of the Roman invaders and the Nazis. He suggests we should adopt instead the cheery little Robin. The late Helen Eadie, MSP for Cowdenbeath, once championed the cause of the pigeon, though she called it the “dove of peace.”The merciless Golden Eagle came top of a poll carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, not just as our favourite national bird, but our favourite animal, beating the red squirrel, the red deer, the otter and the harbour seal. And, again, way down the list came some of my favourites, the puffin, the pine marten and the wildcat.
I’m left wondering if this is the sort of country I want to live in. It’s a question constantly on the lips of the referendumistas these days. And there was plenty for them to obsess about this week. The Governor of the Bank of England (and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland incidentally ) came north to meet the First Minister to discuss his plans for a currency union after independence.This cool Canadian, Mark Carney, hinted vaguely that Scotland would have to sacrifice some of its financial sovereignty if a sterling zone was to avoid the problems the euro zone had been experiencing. The pro-union side took that to mean that an independent Scotland would have to accept whatever interest rate, debt level and tax-and-spend plans the Treasury in London might dictate. Mr Salmond read it rather differently – it was the Governor of the Bank of England accepting that independence could happen and that “technical discussions” could get under way about how a sterling zone would work. There would be no question however of an independent Scotland having its tax or spending plans dictated by London.
The Scottish government has meanwhile been making economies of its own this week. It announced that the number of police control rooms are to be cut from 11 to 5 and fire control rooms from 8 to 3. The fire brigade union said it will be “a disaster” for the north of Scotland but the government says it will lead to a more efficient service. The changes will be phased in over the next five years and there will no compulsory redundancies.The education secretary Mike Russell also breezed into the independence debate this week with a tirade against the UK immigration rules. He said they were preventing Scottish universities attracting valuable graduate students from India, China etc. He accused the Westminster government of being driven by xenophobia and the fear of UKIP. But an opinion poll in The Scotsman earlier in the week showed that more than half of Scots favour new limits on immigration. And I havn’t heard the Scottish government offering to take in refugees from Syria.
While on opinion polls, it’s perhaps worth recording what looks like a decisive shift in favour of independence. An ICM poll in Scotland on Sunday shows the Yes camp on 37 per cent, up 5 from last autumn. And when the 19 per cent undecided are excluded, the figure rises to 46 per cent. It’s being seen as a vindication of the SNP’s white paper putting the emphasis on child care.
I hope the children of Shetland were safely tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, as the Up-Helly-Aa celebrations saw the streets of Lerwick invaded once again by the Vikings. The Jarl Squad, a fearsome looking bunch of men in beards, threw their flaming torches into the traditional longboat and pushed it out to sea. Apparently in Norse mythology, the eagle was a symbol of strength and I guess the longboats were built of good Norway Pine. So perhaps our choice of national emblems is a sign that we are following our North Sea neighbours and heading for independence.