Scottish independence: The choices in a nutshell

By DAVID WOODING

MUCH has been said and written about the break up of the United Kingdom and what it would mean for the people of Scotland and the rest of these islands.

Some have claimed that a fully independent Scotland would be landed with a debt-ridden economy and others have argued over the timing of a referendum and what the question on the ballot paper should be.

Michael Gove (left) with David Wooding

But nobody has brought the key issues into sharper focus than Education Secretary Michael Gove.

In a few off-the-cuff words, he summed up the choices facing voters north of the border. He accused SNP leader Alex Salmond of ducking the big question about independence – and lacking the nerve to call a referendum on full independence.

Scots-born Mr Gove’s unrehearsed words on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning get straight to the point and are worth reading in full.

He said: “We need to have a decisive yes or no question on whether or not the people of Scotland want to be independent or not.

“Alex Salmond has been trying to play a tactical game here in order to strengthen the political position of his party. By doing so, he has avoided and dodged so far some fundamental questions.

“Do the people of Scotland want to have the same level of welfare benefits as the rest of the United Kingdom? Do they want to be part of the same nation that has the British Broadcasting Corporation and a National Health Service?

“Do they want the Royal Navy and the British Army to remain institutions that embody patriotic feeling and sentiment or do they want to sunder and separate them?

“Do they want you and I to be forced to choose between being British and Scottish, to have a narrow, exclusive, ethnic nationalist identity as our only choice or do they believe that we should be plural, multi-cultural, modern and 21st century?

“These are big questions that Alex Salmond has dodged. He shouldn’t have to dodge them for ever.”

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The Iron Lady – it’s about so much more than just Thatcher

DAVID WOODING reviews the hot new political movie

THIS fascinating movie shows Britain’s most divisive political figure in a new light – as a real human being.

If you’re a nerd, fan or critic expecting a potted history of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in power you’ll be disappointed.

This poignant film barely scratches the surface of the real-life dramas which shaped her Premiership. The Falklands War, the poll tax riots, the miners’ strike and the Brighton bomb are all a sub-plot to a rather sad but charming story about getting old.

It vividly depicts how giants of history are really just frail, ordinary people underneath. And Meryl Streep’s incredible portrayal of Mrs Thatcher achieves what the Tory icon often failed to do herself – by winning  our admiration, sympathy and respect.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady is about so much more than the rise and fall of a legend.

It’s about the tragedy of old age, the struggle by women for equal rights and the rise to power of a grocer’s girl from Lincolnshire.

Thatcher’s amazing life is seen through the prism of an old lady struggling with dementia, mourning the loss of her husband Denis and having flashbacks to the days when she ran the country.

Tories have been swift to express their uneasiness with the subject matter while Lady Thatcher is still alive – and Labour tribalists baulk simply at the idea of a film about a woman whose legacy they detest.

But you must put the political ethics to one side and watch this as a piece of pure cinema. Forget the historical inaccuracies, too. Maggie never wore a hat in the Commons, she was not with Airey Neave in the car park when he was blown up and I’ve never before heard she barked “sink it!” when generals asked  what to do about the Belgrano.

Director Phyllida Lloyd certainly knows how to use artistic licence to great dramatic effect. She once produced a quirky version of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the ENO, in which the Rhinemaidens were mini-skirted, fishnet-stockinged, spiky-heeled pole dancers and the heroine Brunhilde became a suicide bomber. I was sceptical about that – but it worked. Lloyd’s idiosyncratic style works wonders in The Iron Lady, too.

Sadness

There’s also great use of music from  Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Bach to Bellini and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?”

Meryl Streep’s portrayal spans 40 years and the flashbacks give a balanced picture of the woman – her determination, vision, weaknesses and failings – all in nugget-sized  episodes, rather than detailed analysis. The 90-minute film also takes us  back six decades to Thatcher’s childhood working during wartime in her father’s grocery shop.

The movie sends out a powerful message about the tragedy of dementia – and the sadness of loneliness endured by many in old age.

It may struggle to turn Thatcher’s critics into full-blown admirers. But if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit to feeling rather more warm towards her after seeing this.

At the very least, thousands more people will see Lady Thatcher for what she really is – a human being.