ONCE, I turned up at the cinema to see a film called The Man Who Wasn't There, only to be told it wasn't showing.
"It is," I averred, "The Film That Wasn't On." The joke, as per, went right over the wee wummin's heid. This week, as so often, the joke was on Scotland, which was told it is The Country That Doesn't Exist. Already, even without this, there has been a hallucinatory, Alice-in-Wonderland feel to the debate about Scotland's future.
At Westminster, entire committees from one side of the debate, and sometimes even one side of the Border, pronounce upon our future. Sometimes, they're ermined Lords, sometimes pot-bellied careerists from our central belt. It's so ridiculously unreal that it reminds you of some issue from Victorian or Edwardian times: votes for women, say. You think: "How could they have been so patently absurd as to oppose it?"
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Landing with a thump back in the present, you find they're no longer discussing women. They're discussing "them". By which they mean us.
This week, they said we didn't exist. You peer through the looking glass to check and there, instead of you, stands a Mundell. Wanting only a loudly-checked waistcoat and fob watch to complete the impression of a bizarre figure from Victorian fiction, Wee Davey, to give him his Sunday name, is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
Well, the "Under" sounds about right. That said, he's clearly been over-promoted. Translated into American terms, it's as if Barney Gumble of The Simpsons were to become President. Not that David drinks like Barney. Nor yet does he burp loudly in public, though at times it's difficult to tell.
Let's call him instead Sideshow Mundell. On the Scotland Tonight show, he was asked if he was comfortable with the claim in a UK Government legal paper that Scotland had been extinguished as a country after the Union of 1707. Wee Davey blinked, breathed in and, on his outbreath, burped: "Yes." Let's park that unsavoury outbreath in a balloon for the moment and use our free hand to mix metaphors and put some meat on the bones. The legal paper was called Scotland Analysis: Devolution and the Implications of Scottish Independence. On page 75 it says: "Whether or not England was also extinguished by the Union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger into an enlarged or renamed England or into an entirely new state."
Bear in mind that this is legal analysis. The chaps involved are being technical. They're not having a go or winding us up.
After replying positively (hooray!) that he was comfortable with this national extinction, Wee Davey added: "I think the Act of Union isn't relevant to this. Nor is the break-up of Czechoslovakia, which is discussed in detail." Being charitable, he may have been complaining about an excess of red herrings.
But, unless he was taking the piscatorial, it sounds like he's saying the Act of Union isn't relevant to Scotland's constitutional status. And he's definitely saying he's comfortable with the idea that Scotland ceased to exist in international law after 1707, perhaps even having been subsumed in "an enlarged or renamed England".
Extraordinary? No? Have we all fallen once more down a giant rabbit-hole? Is this the week that Scotland became Notland?
Perhaps Wee Davey was only echoing that other great thinker, Freddie Nietzsche, who said: "Man would rather will even nothingness than not will." Yeah, whatever. However, telling people their country doesn't exist could sway even the "whatever" constituency that comprises a large percentage of opinion polls about independence. "Vote no get nothing" could become "vote no be nothing".
But maybe it isn't so bad. I dislike nationalism per se and perhaps it would be as well if every country ceased to exist: starting with you, Scotland.
Americans already think we're Ireland. On The Herald's website, an interesting piece reveals that our Norwegian neighbours know next to nothing about us.
Happy is the country that cannot be seen, for who'd pick wars with us? We've nowhere to go and nothing to do. So think not what you can do for your country. Think Notland.