You’d have thought the usual routine for newbie journos would be covering parish bring and buy sales or worse – the courts. Not for me. It was the deep end, and all because I happened to be the only boots on the ground.
“Alex Salmond will be delivering the Ivy Day oration at Parnell’s graveside, maybe you should be there for that.” That was the phone call on Friday, and Ivy Day – the annual commemoration of the burial of Charles Stewart Parnell at Glasnevin – was on Sunday, today. At this news I leapt on Twitter to see what Mr. Salmond’s plans were, and sure enough he was in Dublin. He and his wife were off to listen to Andrea Bocelli at the 3 Arena. Things went well for him there I saw, there he was right outside the jacks with the Bocelli.
After a wee chat with his press people in Edinburgh I booked myself in with the Parnell Society for a ring side seat and an interview. Everything was set to be pretty mundane. Other than the wonder of a one-to-one chat with a hero of mine, all I had in mind were a few questions on his “arc of prosperity” for a piece I’m writing for the November issue of iScot Magazine. That was the plan until Saturday night. Avoiding the criminally boring telly that Ireland offers over the weekend I decided to have a gander at Twitter. Rumours were flying that Theresa May was about to drop a Brexit bomb in the morning, and didn’t she just. Sunday has become a favourite day for political brass to empty their septic tanks. They know that fewer of us are watching.
By the time I was awake in the morning the rumours had proven to be true. There was Theresa on RTÉ, sporting a lovely wee SNP yellow belt (very clever I thought), laying down the law that us “divisive nationalists” would be leaving the EU with the rest of the UK by the scruff of the neck if needs be. Wasn’t this going to be a great morning for a word with Alex?
The former First Minister of Scotland’s address at Parnell’s 125th memorial was brief and – for those mindful of the meaning of nationhood and freedom – altogether touching, and worth quoting here in full:
Well fellow Parnellites, a hundred and twenty-five years is a fair spell that’s just a passing moment in the life of a nation. What Charles Stewart Parnell gave Ireland was leadership of the highest calibre. What he gave other nations was the inspiration of example. The first of these carries on, the second of these is timeless. Charles Stewart Parnell deserves our gratitude – in Ireland and internationally. For a life well spent in a noble cause he has our thanks, as well as our memories.
– Alex Salmond, 2 October 2016, Dublin
Once the national broadcaster had gotten its teeth out of him I was lined up for the next chitty-chatty, and it was all Brexit. Well, the other things we discussed you can read in iScot. Theresa May, he said, was all “flimflam.” Her great constitutional bill that would make the UK a sovereign and independent nation again betrayed the fact that when she was campaigning for Remain – albeit in a “submarine, behind-the-scenes, hardly-noticeable capacity” – she didn’t already think Britain was independent. Flimflam right enough.
Her ultimatum to Scotland and her refusal to listen to the reasonable proposals set out by Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government had to force the hand of the country. England’s decision to leave the European Union and this morning’s démonstration de force from May was the “material change in circumstances which would justify another referendum.”
In spite of myself I sort of stopped listening after this. The voice inside my head was already chanting “hashtag-indy-ref-two.” He’s dead right of course. Brexit changes everything. We – or rather many of the Naw voters – voted against independence two years ago on fears over losing rights and access to the common market. Now staying in Little Britain’s version of the Trump campaign means a definitive split from Europe, a “British Bill of Rights (ahem),” and being locked out from our European market and social connections. A No vote in the coming referendum can mean nothing but national suicide for Scotland. I had better get flights booked.