(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)
With less than a year to go before the referendum on Scottish independence and with support in Scotland running at a reported 25%, I though it would be interesting to ask London-based Scots stand-up comedian Del Strain for his opinion.
“We all need to decide,” Del told me, “and the Prime Minister Mr Cameron is making it so easy for the Scottish people to decide where they wanna go. “
“I think they’ll vote No,” I said. “Devo Max sounds a good alternative.”
“That’s not how Scotland works,” Del told me. “You’ve got 40% of people who love Ireland. You’ve got 40% who love England. And then you’ve got the 20% like me who despise both sides and think it’s everything that’s held us back a thousand years. That’s the way it is.
“It has been said on the grapevine that a lot of the southern (English) comedy acts have been finding it hard when they’ve gone up to play in Scotland this last two years because of this (British) government and the way it affects society in general. People have not taken to southerners.”
“But that’s ever since Braveheart,” I suggested. “I think the combination of Margaret Thatcher being Prime Minister until 1990 and then the release of Braveheart in 1995 followed oddly by the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996… That all stoked Scottish nationalism and anti-English sentiment.”
“It’s not necessarily anti-English,” argued Del. “I saw a thing a couple of months ago which said the Geordies and people in Northumberland and even North Yorkshire said: If Scotland gets independence, can you draw the border with England further down, please?
“It’s that southern English guy in a Hugo Boss suit telling people it’s not a something-for-nothing society, even though the only time that southern man’s ever broke sweat in his life wasn’t with a shovel: it was wearing a gimp mask.”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Coke-snorting, hooker-shagging (NAME OF A POLITICIAN CENSORED IN CASE I GET SUED),” said Del.
“I remember,” I said, “that, in 2008, ITV did an opinion poll in Berwick-upon-Tweed in England and a clear majority of people said they wanted to be in Scotland. And my Indian-born optician from Carlisle told me people in Carlisle want to be in Scotland.”
“Well,” said Del, “a Geordie is more like a Scotsman than someone from Surrey. Even people from Yorkshire or Liverpool don’t class themselves as being English. If you’re from Liverpool, you class yourself as being Scouse.”
“There’s a historical thing about the North being Danish, isn’t there?” I agreed. “The Anglo Saxons were only in the southern part of what is now England.”
“Celts and Picts are what Scotsmen came from,” said Del, “and then a wee mix of Scandinavian later on.”
“So, you reckon Scotland is going to vote for independence?” I asked.
“Through the looking glass,” said Del, “the sums don’t add up. All the problems we’ve got: dependencies and alcoholism, the ageing population of the baby boomers… I don’t see where the money is there to do it and fly solo. If it was 30 years ago, Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But to hand us over to the European Union now and become what Ireland was? Another puppet? That’s treason in my book. To do that just to get a ‘Scottish’ thing in the front of a passport is treason.
“But I hear that possibly there’s more oil that we haven’t declared to the English state and that’s why we’re doing it. So, if that did happen, maybe England and Scotland would even to go to war again. Who knows what could happen? Who knows?”
“You’re saying that with some excitement,” I said.
“I would get evicted, I suppose,” laughed Del. “I’d have to move back over the border!”
“But,” I said, “if Scotland got independence, England would never, ever have a Labour government – because of the voting patterns.”
“But I think the three party system’s dead,” said Del. “I think what people should do is… The Solidarność movement brought Communism down in Poland.”
“You’re not mellowing with age,” I suggested.
“Not really,” said Del. “The way it’s unravelling is phenomenal.”
“The whole world. Comedy. Life. The way it is in America. The currencies.”
“How’s comedy unravelling?”
“That little revival we were hoping we would get because, during the last Conservative government, comedy went mental with alternative comedy and it was actually good for it because people need a laugh… It hasn’t worked like that this time. The economics, the way I see it, is that people are going out and spending pounds on comedians in big theatres as opposed to going out to clubs… Clubs are closing all round the country and the trend is slightly worrying. You don’t need a degree from the London School of Economics to work out that, if there are less gigs and more comedians, something;s got to give. It’s not even new acts. Twenty years veterans are worried.”
“So what’s your future in comedy?” I asked.
“I don’t know. For me it was part I get a buzz off doing it, part I didn’t want to break the law any more, part positive affirmation of my son who’s just about to be 16. It was all a package of everything. I don’t know what the next five or ten years hold. I could end up living in the mountains in Ibiza in that beautiful little village they’ve got where they grow their own pot and grow their own food. I could end up driving around all over the country in a Winnebago. Or a could grow a Mohican. I really do not know.”
“In the meantime, you’re doing a mini-tour of Scotland in November,” I prompted.
“Yeah,” said Del. “Shotts, Dundee, Aberdeen twice, Liverpool.”
“Alright,” I corrected myself. “A mini-tour of Scotland and part of Ireland.”