12 June 2009

Gordo the Saxt...

To the political imagination, history is a straw hamper, sagging with costumes. Feather bowers form fluffy serpentine coils around the gurning masks of Greek tragedy. Military uniforms are crawled into, caps are perched at jaunty angles. Stalin’s moustache snags in the leather of a Guy Fawkes guise, and both are tumbled up in a toga as media and politicians alike rummage and rampage after apt comparisons. Various Members of Parliament specialise in this sort of thing, alluding to some obscure past crisis in their analysis of contemporary problems. They’re usually arch “parliamentarian” types, personal repositories of the nation’s occult lore, and invariably crashing bores. They can also usually expect a knighthood at the end of their long and unyielding service. Their funerals will be well-attended. They will sink in Lethe, and sonorously historicise no more.

The press are somewhat different. Theirs is generally wikipedia history, fudged to sound broadly intelligent, judicious to demonstrate the benefit of one’s higher education. In determining the dominant historical characters which our present political luvvies will play, central casting is preferred. Mr Brown has benefited from this plodding insistence on such old archetypes – Stalin, Thatcher, Major – and so on.

Alex Salmond, the Maximum Eck, did something a little more interesting by first characterising and then incessantly repeating the idea that the abolition of the graduate endowment represented restoring the principle of free education in Scotland. It’s a clever way of putting it, as people feel comfortable when nestled in a soothing stream of historical connectedness. Some of the daft ceremony invented around Parliamentary openings at Holyrood is similar. Insisting on the historical continuity of things like the Riding of Parliament structures the present and gives it purpose, constituting it as authentic. In respect of education policy, the grittier implication of Salmond’s styling of his argument is that it constitutes those who opposed getting rid of the endowment as being outside of their tradition, or on another analysis, somehow un-Scottish.

However, after Caroline Flint dissipated last week, I was sure that someone, somewhere would follow the frayed threads of imagination to one obvious comparator for James Gordon Brown – Jamie Saxt, James the 1st and 6th, Mr Regal Union. King Gordo Saxt liked his books as a young man, cutting a parchmenty and industrious figure with a head for abstruse theorising. In his personal life, he showed little interest in women until an appropriate wife was identified and imported.

After the departure of his predecessor – who bore no issue – Gordo Saxt was surreptitiously punted into the Government of England by the smooth backhanding of the officers of state, making for a tidy but awkward succession. Nevertheless, he showed his commitment to unity between the Scots and the English, requesting the title King of Great Britain, which was, alas, rejected by the English Parliament. He would remain, ultimately, the Fife witchsmeller. His governmental style being driven by personal favour, Gordo Saxt would surround himself with tartan-coterie of male favourites. Philosophically commited to divine right, as King the Saxt was the Lord’s anointed. One Guy Fawkes threatened Gordo Saxt with explosion and death, but the plot was defused and he soldiered on. Widely credited as an intellectual figure, who nevertheless was not empowered and improved by that bookishness, the Saxt was afflicted by a sort of cognitive stammer, and is forever remembered as the wisest fool in Christendom...

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