Perhaps it will come to be known as the Rockall Rammy and feature occasionally in future modern studies Higher papers. “Discuss Scotland’s seven-day period of imperial aggression towards Ireland in 2019 with reference to the island of Rockall.” You could fill your boots and make it up as you go along, just as the SNP did.
When the Scottish government announced a few weeks ago that we were sending a patrol boat to shoo away Irish fishing vessels from the waters around Rockall, many Scots were intrigued. Rockall is an uninhabitable block of granite in the North Atlantic Ocean that was annexed by the British in 1955. It lies 163 miles distant from North Uist, making it around 30 miles closer to Britain than to Ireland.
No one is quite sure why Britain seemed so keen to acquire this craggy lump beyond a suspicion that the colonels were getting a bit twitchy about the erosion of their empire. Having conquered Rockall, Westminster then decided sensibly to give it to Scotland after realising it was of no earthly use to anyone.
The fish in the waters around Rockall are reckoned to be worth millions to the economy, but it’s doubtful that this could have been the real reason for worrying the gannets. If the Irish were giving a toss about Britain annexing Rockall they weren’t telling. They had been accustomed to more than 300 years of British cruelty in Ireland and had finally managed to chase them out from most of their country three decades before. They were probably just relieved that the Brits now seemed to be reduced to occupying ghost rocks. Irish trawlers have subsequently fished in these waters for more than 30 years without anyone asking to see their credentials… until the other week.
That was when Scotland said it was sending something called a “patrol boat” to protect the interests of the multimillionaire cartels that dominate the UK fishing industry. In the absence of a foreign secretary, poor Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, became our war minister for a week or so. Presumably the decision to send in a patrol boat was regarded as belonging to the “external affairs” part of her ministerial brief.
Hyslop is a very decent and refined soul and a quietly effective culture secretary who is actually interested in the arts. I wonder what was going through her mind when she was told to give the Irish something to think about. Did the Scottish cabinet have a game of musical chairs to decide whose responsibility it was to send in the boat?
And what does a Scottish patrol boat look like? Has anyone ever seen one? Does it have guns? Maybe the plan was to fit it with an extra-strong loud-hailer and shout aggressively at the Irish. “Haw youze; get your arses to fuck away from that rock.” Perhaps it was told to play the greatest hits of Capercaillie and Runrig on a loop until the Irish fishermen finally surrendered and turned their boats around and headed back to Donegal. There, they would tell tales of how they were involved in a skirmish with the Scots and stir the echoes of the giant Finn McCool and the ocean pathway he was said to have built between Ireland and Scotland.
I think we should now be keeping an eye on the Firth of Clyde. Some Irish fishermen, perhaps howling with the bevvy, might take matters into their own hands and decide to occupy Ailsa Craig as an act of retaliation. In 1982, in the South Atlantic, a band of scrap-metal workers decided to occupy another equally useless and unimportant scrap of the British empire and that didn’t end well either.
Did anyone tell Nicola Sturgeon about this? Perhaps she was away for the day when the cabinet decided to get all Genghis McCann. One minute, she’s fawning over the Irish, telling them they are our natural allies as we stand united in the face of the mad Brexiters. The next, she’s taking a patrol boat to their fishermen and telling them to keep their greasy mitts off Rockall.
I wonder, though, if another reason lay behind Scotland deciding to get all belligerent in the North Atlantic. Last month Scotland picked up yet another international award for being beautiful and docile. In the past decade, it seems that hardly a month passes without some travel company or website handing us a gong for being the best-looking country in the world or having the friendliest and most contented people on Earth. Sometimes Scotland feels like a wee furry dog that gets petted whenever its owner takes it out for a walk. If Time magazine were to hand out an award for most patronised nation on Earth, Scotland would win it hands down.
Maybe our first minister had simply had enough of all this billing and cooing too and just wanted to show everyone that there’s more to us than the standing stones of Callanish and Edinburgh Castle. By sending in a patrol boat to harry the Irish, it sent out a timely message that Scotland can be a badass country just like all the rest of them.
At the very least, those Irish republican grievance-monkeys will now be forced to change the chorus of one of their wretched rebel songs:
Oh rock on Rockall you’ll never fall
Into Scotland’s greedy hands
Or you’ll meet the same resistance
Like you did in many lands
May the Seagulls rise and pluck your eyes
And the water crush your shell
And the natural gas will burn your ass
And blow you all to hell
• Kevin McKenna is an Observer columnist