I once read a Guardian article about a farm shop that sold exotic meats in the days before our supermarket shelves were (thank heavens, only temporarily) flooded with kangaroo steaks, rump of ostrich and crocodile paté. Their most exotic offering I seem to remember was edible doormouse, a culinary delight I’ve never been tempted to sample.
Today in the Separation Restaurant I bring you squirrel, a side of GERS and strawberries for dessert.
If you belong to that small part of the population that hasn’t heard of the metaphorical squirrel, it works like this.
You (any organisation but especially governments, for this is a technique politicians have mastered) have bad news to report, so you create or latch on to a diversion and shout
Look! A squirrel!
thus removing public and media from the bad news onto something unusual and hopefully attention-grabbing. The practice was perhaps most notoriously exemplified by the Whitehall spin doctor who e-mailed her colleagues on the dreadful day the Twin Towers were destroyed to say it was a good day to ‘bury’ bad news.
Tomorrow is the appointed day for the release of the annual GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures. They are not likely to bring good news for the Scottish government – more anon on this – so hardened cynics like me have been keeping a weather eye out for SNP squirrels that might divert attention from what promises to be a set of challenging statistics.
Today I think we’ve found our main course squirrel – the first minister has launched a Scottish government report on the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit. Her text in the government media release today is full of the usual hyperbole – ‘starkest possible terms … potentially huge cost … profound and long-lasting impact … stark picture … unacceptable … [Scotland] being dragged out of the EU against its will … possibly massive costs’ and so on. You can read it yourself and no doubt her press conference will produce more quotable quotes.
If, however, you choose to check the alternative perspective provided by the BBC’s Brian Taylor, you’ll find this:
These figures are an arithmetical forecast, with caveats … primarily – a political tool … Firstly, and most immediately, Nicola Sturgeon is seeking to some extent to pre-empt the publication on Wednesday of GERS figures.
Quite. That’s the squirrel Nicola hopes we’ll all still be chewing over tomorrow in the Separation Restaurant in the hope that GERS is relegated to a side dish, the sort of bland salad that’s hardly noticed and is returned to the kitchen uneaten.
Sorry, it won’t work chef.
The academics and partisan experts will be poring over the numbers. No doubt some will make a (spurious) link to today’s ‘primarily … political tool’ in an attempt to muddy the waters – ‘Ah, but GERS doesn’t take account of Brexit, indy, Scotland’s accession to the EU by acclamation’ and other diversions yet unthought of.
I’ll read the GERS figures and the more objective analyses and draw my own conclusions. Today’s left-over squirrel certainly won’t be on my menu tomorrow.
So we come to our strawberry dessert in the Separation Restaurant and, again, a quick catch-up if you’ve not noticed yesterday’s nationalist grievance. The details that follow may not be wholly precise and I expect a passing nationalist or two to tell me how I’ve got it all wrong, but the gist of it is right.
A Scottish customer of Tesco noticed that the packs of Scottish strawberries she bought from them no longer included in the label the saltire but – shock, horror – the union flag. She tweeted the company, whose duty rep on Twitter replied, I thought light-heartedly with a 😉 or a :), that some English customers had complained about the saltire on their berries.
Within hours, a full Twitter storm was raging culminating in the perhaps inevitable
Why do English people hate Scottish farmers?
One of the few tweeters I could be bothered to engage with on the subject was calling the English complainants ‘whinging Nigels,’ a new one on me and apparently payback in his mind for being called a ‘Jock’ once upon a time.
Of course it was all hugely amusing (another black mark for me with some nationalists) but a couple of serious points on the subject before I put today’s ‘Closed’ sign up on the restaurant.
First, what’s actually wrong with the union flag on a pack of strawberries? It’s our UK national flag and should (yes, I know, I know) be acceptable to everyone. If you’re concerned about where the berries come from, it takes about a nano-second to cast your eye over the label to see who the grower is and where they’re based.
Second and more worrying, have the grievance-mongers just stopped to think why the saltire might not be flavour of the month with some English customers? They’ve had years of reading that Scots (not true of course for the majority of us but it’s the impression given) don’t want to be part of the UK and despise most of its institutions. Why would you go out of of your way to buy something promoted so overtly with a saltire? It’s all very sad. The adjectives ‘Scottish’ or ‘Scotch’ used to be a synonym for quality in England – perhaps they still are for beef, whisky and seafood. You wonder how long that can continue.
Still, in the big scheme of things, #strawberrygate as it’s been dubbed is just a wee sideshow.
Tomorrow those government expenditure and revenue figures are published and I can guarantee blood will be spilt in the kitchen, if not amongst the diners.
Postscript – for a proper analysis of today’s Scottish Government report on Brexit see Fraser Whyte’s Spinning squirrels