12 July 2014

Nigel's Big Day Out

Nigel is a passionate Highlander. He likes current affairs. He follows politics. He cares deeply about the outcome of the referendum. As good luck would have it, he discovers that Britain's flagship current affairs show is coming to his home town.  Now's the moment, he thinks, to take my case for independence to the British people. Here's the ideal stage, to make my heartfelt case for the United Kingdom to change utterly.

Sitting quietly in the draughty hall as the first few questions are asked and answered, he waggles his hand with increasing urgency, bursting to speak, desperate to catch Dimblebumble's wandering gaze. At last, the ancient compère's eye alights upon him. "You sir," he says. Nigel's gorge rises. His heart pumps, eyes dazzle. At last, he finds his voice, uncertain at first, but then growing in vigour and conviction. He speaks:

"I am born in Inverness. I am a passionate Highlander. And I love Scotland. And I will take a stand to break up this United Kingdom. I will give my life for my country as my grandfather did in the First World War, and his brother Charlie. Highland Regiment! Scottish Army! I am Scottish forever. We will never, never change. We will end this Union, in the name of Jesus. I will break - if it's my own life - I will break up this country with my blood."

Afterwards, he feels cleansed, like he's got something off his chest. The volcanic energies which had been building up in him - temporarily released. Resolving to carry on with his struggle for independence tomorrow, he says a prayer for the departed souls of his grandfather and his brother. That night, he sleeps soundly. "The sleep of the just," he thinks to himself, as he stirs, cheerful and refreshed the next day. A wan sun shines early that morning. A sign that the man upstairs is not displeased, he thinks fondly, as he deposits the kettle on the aga and waits for it to bubble with a welcome peal.

The first sign that all was not well was the incessant ringing of the land line. It starts after breakfast. Usually, the phone's grating trill only disturbed the peace one or twice a week. Now that terrible grating sound bounced endlessly through his cottage. When he gingerly plucked up the receiver, it was little better. Hectoring voices - journalists' voices - at the end of the line. "Are you prepared to answer some questions, Nigel?" "Would you care to comment on your hateful outburst, Nigel?" "Nigel, would you say you are a blood and soil nationalist?" "Where do you hope to be martyred for Scotland, Nigel?" "Does Jesus tell you to do anything else, Nigel?" "Do you use twitter or facebook, Nigel?"

He never lets them beyond the first or second question, planting the receiver down firmly, double-pressing the button at the back to make sure he'd cut off the call. But he couldn't disconnect the line entirely, or just let the phone ring out. His sister might call, or a neighbour, needing something urgently. So he sits, answering each time, each time reluctantly cutting short the ringing. It was around this time that the men arrive outside of his cottage. They seem to be carrying some sort of camera equipment. They skirt the house. He ignores them. Tourists probably, he thinks, on a walking holiday. Nervous he sits in his kitchen, answering the phone, bemusement mounting, drinking cup and after cup of tea. The milk runs out. He can't take tea without milk. He's been taking milk in his tea since his schooldays down in the big city.

A run to the shop, he thinks. Just what I need to clear my head and get me away from this confounded phone. A paper too, perhaps. Yes, definitely a paper. To keep abreast of the affairs of the day, he thinks, as his old father used to say when cracking his morning eggs and reading the financial section of the Times with a judicious merchant's eye. Donning gilet and tie, spruce, he steps out into the sunshine. A burst of photography. Flash, flash, flash. Brighter than the sun.

The tourists, he thinks, shielding his eyes, hurrying into his clapped out old landrover. Just an eagle. Or a deer. The keys won't fit in the ignition - just too much tea, the trembling hands, he thinks - more milk, more milk. With a scoosh of relief, the key sinks home and turns. The engine coughs into life. He pulls out of the driveway and scuds down the single-track road, the gravel thrumming of the ancient engine somehow reassuring.


The keys fell with a dull clatter from his numb, trembling hands. His temples throb. Back in Nigel's cottage, the phone rings incessantly. Another dazing burst of photography erupts from nowhere. Nigel shields his rheumy eyes, barely able to focus. Milk, he thinks, milk, trying to keep hold of something tangible - to keep the thread - as he lollops into the local shop, pulling his wax hat down low over his brow.

Miles south, in Glasgow, Rob Shorthouse puts the finishing touches to his press release in the Better Together HQ, crackling with unveiled glee."The Yes campaign has hit a new low. This kind of language is completely unacceptable but all too common from those trying to break up Britain. The mask has slipped. The true face of the separatist movement is revealed. Salmond must act. We will consider referring these hateful and sinister comments to the proper authorities." In Hope Street, a nervous Yes Scotland official reassures the skeptical reporter on the other end of the line that Nigel is a lone eccentric and not really part of the campaign at all.

In newspaper offices across the land, in a fug of instant coffee and perspiration, time-taxed hacks squabble over whether "Cybernat" should be capitalised and put in inverted commas in their copy. Bored journalists phone around old work colleagues and neighbours for choice anecdotes about how Nigel always seemed like a nutter liable to leak his bodily fluids in pursuit of independence.

Peals of laughter rise from Scottish political staff in the Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Express as they gleefully put the boot in with thundering editorials about the evil spirits unleashed by this referendum and the "dark heart" of the case for separation. Labour press officers ponder creative ways to link a lone Highland weirdo to the First Minister's office. "Have they ever met? Can we find out?" Paul Sinclair rubs his hand, as he sits down to write Johann Lamont's script for FMQs. "This'll be an easy week," he thinks, gratefully.

And Nigel sits in his cottage, with the lights off, curtains pulled, phone tolling a constant judgment. He never did buy a paper that morning. Or the next.


  1. excellent ,sarah smith will just repeat cyber nat thou

  2. I'm not sure about this. It didn't really matter whether Nigel was a Nat or a Unionist - the point of him was that he competely outclassed the four bores on the panel. If you were a conspiracy theorist, you might reckon that the show had been deliberately planned to underwhelm and to expose Scotland's provincialism. "The best ever BBC Question Time audience member" (Huffpo) was the only thing about that show which wasn't second rate. Paradoxically, Nigel ended up saving the day for the Nats.

    1. Did you actually watch the same programme as the rest of us? Joan Burnie and Ricky Ross were excellent.

    2. 'the four bores on the panel.'

      This seems a not uncommon reaction and it mystifies me, I thought all four were fine and the contributions from the audience were for the most part intelligent - I especially liked the lady who made the point that the Yes camp have no monopoly on compassion.

      As for Nigel, well he shows the Yes camp don't have a monopoly on passion either.

  3. I have never actually met a "highlander" called Nigel... or one who has an Ulster accent... but the minute he mentioned his friend in the sky... he was living in a world divorced from the majority of Scots.... so if he has been taken in by that element then BritNatz will easily appeal...

    1. Robert Bruce, borderer though he was, had a brother Nigel, and a brother Edward.

    2. Also a brother named Thomas. I'll be nice and not mention what happened to them.

  4. A simple reversal of Mr Harlin's sympathies shows the grotesque hypocrisy in lionising a man who issues a war cry (his own words according to the Press & Journal) that he would give his life and blood for the Union - for the circumstances in which that martyrdom would happen do not mean his life and blood would be the only ones lost.

    The militaristic, jingoistic language has been ramping up in concert with the upcoming commemoration of the outbreak of World War 2. So to has the concerted attempts at divide and conquer, pitting Catholics and Protestants, Scots-born and New Scots, Secular and Religious, against each other.

    If it's all the same to Nigel, I'd rather people *didn't* die for their country any more. Too many have already.

  5. Sounds like he was making a threat. And the point is not that he's going to die but (as Bertrand Russell would say) he's apparently asserting his readiness to kill what he personally rules are enemies of the state.

    Fanatics are cute *most* of the time.

  6. I'm prompted to recall the only other Scot called Nigel ah ken.

    His patronym, being 'Black' and his christian name being 'Nigel' he had a very non PC nickname.

    We were bikers, the long haired, leathered, tattooed and earinged type, not the great thewed lycra clad bikers of today.

    Young Nigel didn''t like the produce of certain breweries, so when we dismounted from our iron steeds,stretched our backs and spat the bugs out of our teeth, we chose a pub that might, might, have something he would drink.

    Pushing through the door, I shouted "What are you wantin here Nigger!?"

    To be faced by a dozen black American stokers with arms like legs.

    It was interesting...

  7. I knew a Nigel once. He was a medical student at Glasgow uni, one of the top group in his class who was selected to do an additional science degree. He was also an accomplished violinist, and was a member of the National Youth Orchestra. I don't remember him ever getting any stick about his name.

    There's a Nigel in our group of Yes activists, but I don't think he's Scots.

  8. Interesting this...

    On the night (and QT was unusually good, the panel were a lot more connected than the usual rabble of politicians) I dismissed Nigel the Highlander as a nutter.

    Its true though, had it been as described above, the press would have done no such thing. Even confirmed no voters would probably accept that with varying degrees of shame & brass-neckery.

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  10. I saw this the other day on Wings. What we witnessed probably left us all with a range of emotions; embarrassment, shame, annoyance even. But at the end of the day, this wasn't Nigel's fault; it was Darling and Better Together. They have promoted British Nationalism in such a way, pretending that it is under threat, that it has led to some to come out who are perceived as oddities ...as well as the despised. For Nigel, he falls into the former; a person who believes in being British and is now scared that he will lose that identity. The latter is the Orange Order. Thanks to Darling and Co, this lot have come out, taking up the battle standard and determined to save the Union. It was of no surprise that Darling bleated in a panicky statement that the OO had nothing to do with Better Together. The only problem is ...no one believes Mr Darling. The fox is definitely in the hen house and it ain't going anywhere fast! I hope in time should independence happen, that Nigel realises that he hasn't lost anything. He will still be British, and he will see that Scotland and England will still be very much tied at the hip. For Alistair Darling ...well ...he must be bricking it as to who else is going to come out and try to save the Union - JLT

  11. A desperate article from a losing argument - hopefully :) I am in fact acquainted with the Nigel you write about as he lives in Nairn, where I live too (I too was born in Inverness, curiously enough). There are many Nigels in Scotland, indeed there is one in my family, although not this one.