Owen Dudley Edwards: Book Review

Owen Dudley Edwards How David Cameron Saved Scotland, and May Yet Save Us All, Luath, 9781910021699, £9.99

This book will not sell well in the Home Counties. I’m as assured of this as Owen Dudley Edwards is assured that the voting population of Scotland ticked the wrong box in September 2014. He sets his store out early on. At the start of this extended open letter to David Cameron, he alludes to the fact that the Union of England and Scotland was abolished by its own Act of Union in 1801 (which ushered in the United Kingdom), but that Mr Cameron was sophisticated enough to conceal that from the hapless voters, who patently cannot think for themselves. Ouch!

He then goes on to state quite categorically that an independent Scotland will be a country divested of the nuclear deterrent and that it will be a shining template for the world to follow into a utopia of peace and harmony (or something like that). A bit of a leap, but the reader is starting to get the picture.

I toiled on in anticipation of some balance and some shade to the light, but was ultimately left disappointed and ashamed at myself for being taken in by the beguiling Mr Cameron. Home Counties readers will leave this on the coffee table open at page 2, which is a pity. If you can manage the bias and Owen Dudley Edward’s right to be right you’ll find 275 pages rich in facts, opinions traded as facts, humour and a peppering of the type of quotes we all like to stick in the bank for later.

The core of the book follows a series of chapters entitled ‘The xxx Education of a Prime Minister’. For xxx substitute sequentially Etonian, Oxonian, Scottish and National. As a concept this sounds like a nice vehicle to drive the story along, but in practice many of the topics visited have only a tangential connection with the phases of Mr Cameron’s learning.

The narrative is dense, but delivered with a light and elegant touch which makes the book an easy read. An unexpected bonus is that you’ll learn a bit about the history of the two Irelands along the way. It’s a satire so we can expect some sneering, with politicians being fair game, of course. For example, Thatcher is described as ‘crass, vulgar and stupid’ (fair enough), Blair as Thatcher’s ‘disciple’ and Ruth Davidson inexplicably as ‘the little Colonel’. However, you feel an undercurrent rising that Owen Dudley Edwards might just be having a wee pop at us too. Wait a minute, is that me he’s talking about?

He knows his stuff, that’s for sure. However, to enjoy the book it’s first advisable to be endowed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish and Scottish politics or, like me, with Google on tap to understand what or who he’s talking about.

The disparagement heaped on the ‘no’ campaign is as expected, but some of the language exercised is questionable. Of the tactics employed by Messrs Osborne, Balls and Alexander the author asks ‘What is this behaviour but terrorism?’ Really? In the world we live in now many will find such utterances hysterical, possibly objectionable.

The book extolls at length Mr Cameron’s intelligence, craftiness and political genius, carefully masked by his success in cultivating an image of cossetted mediocrity. All is delivered tongue in cheek, but it does make the reader wonder if one individual can possibly have masterminded the ‘yes’ campaign with the completeness and delicacy attributed to him. The book’s sleeve notes wonder if David Cameron might be too busy to reply to this letter. Well, if he expends the same the time and effort in all other aspects of his Prime Minister-ly duties as Owen Dudley Edwards suggests he invested in the ‘yes’ campaign, then it’s a sure fire certainty he won’t, unless every day has about 500 hours in it.

Who will buy this book? I suspect only likeminded folk who will end by punching the air, exclaiming ‘Aye! See!’ then shaking their heads in sorrowful agreement that, indeed, the Scottish voter hasnae a clue. But collectively and democratically they ticked another box, like it or not. This book is worth reading for many reasons, but don’t expect it to change your opinion. If you buy it, I suspect you’ll already have one.

Finlay Smith is a manager in part of the aviation business, an ex-RAF officer and an atypical lifelong Labour fan.