There's a lot of division talk going around at the moment. It seems division is the latest 'new black'. The Brexit division between the UK and the other 27 is in the process of dividing England and Scotland and the Labour Party and essentially every man and his dog. Thank goodness we have a Prime Minister who has the vision to see these widening divides must be healed once and for all. On the morning of June 9th our country will be united as never before and ready and raring to once again put Johnny Foreigner firmly back in his box. The skies will be filled with Lancasters and Spitfires and 'Land and Hope and Glory' will be sung before morning assembly in every primary school from John O'Groats to Lands End.
Once Mother Theresa is duly anointed, I for one will be dropping any thoughts of such nonsense as an independent Scotland. I will see the light and stand meekly in line with my fellow 60 million tearfully proud Brits. I will throw darts at a picture of Angela Merkel. I will drink my morning coffee from a 'made in China' mug bearing a picture of the Queen. I will read the Daily Mail and mutter under my breath when I pass Muslim types in the supermarket.
Two world wars and one world cup, do dah, do dah, day........
We Scots have been in the frontline of the nastiness of division for a while now. Haven't you noticed? Well if you haven't, you best get yourself a copy of the Daily Mail and start watching a DVD of Ruth Davidson's greatest hits. It's hell up here. Families are divided and everything. People are knifing each other in Spar shops and anyone with an English accent stands about as much chance of seeing it through to the end of the day as a Rabbi on a Tehran street corner.
If we fail to listen to the words of Ruth and Theresa RIGHT NOW the division will descend into civil war and we'll all be doomed and Germany and France will invade us and all of our pet dogs will be forced to wear the Hijab.......
Yeah, yeah. Division, right? Same old, same old. Same very old.
The instinct to divide and rule is almost as ingrained into the British psyche as blaming the French. And so once again the Tories are wooing the dumbed down, celebrity obsessed masses with dark threats of wicked Scots pulling the strings in any other Britain than one ruled by Mother Theresa and her lackeys. We're the new enemy within. The dividers. The bad guys.
Division doesn't tend to happen on its own. It needs nurturing. It needs tending. And this is an area of expertise where the London Establishment is in a class of its own.
I spent most of the day yesterday thinking about division. The coming divide between Scotland and the Single Market means smokers like me need to engage in some serious forward planning. The glory days of driving to Belgium and back to stock up on Single Market tobacco might be drawing to a close. I doubt it will be forever for us Scots, but it might be for a while. So I am in the process of making like a squirrel in the face of the coming winter. I reckon five years worth of Virginia's best should be enough to see me through to an Independent Scotland rejoining our band of European brothers whilst at the same time waving bye bye to our London masters.
It is worth noting the customs duty I would be sending south to our lords and masters in HM Treasury in the those five years would be kicking £20,000 and that just ain't about to happen.
So this time I have come to Cyprus to add a few days of sunshine to cheap baccy. Oh the joys of Easyjet. Yesterday I drove up to Nicosia on an errand for a mate. I won't go into a whole bunch of detail. This pal of mine needs a specific medication which costs £300 a month for the NHS to prescribe. As in £3600 a year. Not surprisingly this isn't a sum the NHS is willing to stump up for my pal as the condition falls short of being of the life and death variety.
Fair enough I guess. Times are hard and even though the Scottish NHS is about twenty times better than the English version, the pennies still need to be counted.
Anyway. Here's the thing. The very same medication can be had on the Turkish side of the UN buffer zone for rather less of an eye watering cost. You ready for this? I picked up a three year supply for £35. £10,800 in the UK versus £35 in Turkey. Thank god for strong and stable government where multi national pharmaceutical companies can write cheques big enough to guarantee exactly the kind of government they need to make those lovely share options happen.
A road sign on the brow of a baked hill told me I was ten miles from the city. The crest of the ridge line revealed Nicosia set in front of a backdrop of mountains. As I drew nearer my eyes were drawn to the mountainside which provided a backdrop to the city. There was something weird about the the colour. Then I saw it. The Turkish Cypriots had painted the rocky slopes red and white to create a truly ginormous Turkish flag. Christ it was huge. Umpteen football pitches worth of pure and unadulterated division. It takes a lot of hate to want to turn a whole mountainside into a giant 'Fuck you'.
I wasn't particularly shocked. The night before I had YouTubed myself some history. Back in 74 the military leaders in Greece started to crack down ever harder on the Turkish Cypriots and so the Turkish Government dropped in their Paras. Cue war, ethnic cleansing, lots of disappeared families and finally a hundred mile UN patrolled 'buffer zone' to keep the warring factions from each other's throats.
The Green line.
In some places it is twenty metres wide. In others it stretches to seven kilometres. It contains what was once the international airport and the ghost resort of Farmagusta where the likes of Oliver Reed and Richard Burton sought oblivion in the swinging sixties.
So how come the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots got to hating each other which such a deadly passion? Ah. Well that would be our fault. In the 50's the Cypriots were reasonably united in their desire to be shut of the Brits. Well we weren't having any of it. We did all the usual stuff. We locked them up and hunted them in the mountains. We knew the writing was on the wall for our control of the Suez canal and there was no way we were about to give up Cyprus. But whip cracking on its own didn't work. So it was time for a bit of divide and rule. 80% of the island were Greek Cypriots whilst 20% were Turkish Cypriots. We started throwing sweeties and the Turks. We paid them top dollar to be our baton swinging riot policemen and we gave then all the best civil service jobs. Slowly but surely we turned Greek against Turk and Turk against Greek. And we made one hell of a job of it.
Basically, we did our thing.
Then in 1960 Harold McMillan grew tired of getting it in the neck from the Americans. OK, OK, enough already. We're off, OK? Happy now? Of course before leaving we made sure Cyprus signed on the dotted line of a contract giving us 90 square miles of their newly independent land for two huge bases for the British Army.
And what did we leave behind? Two communities at each others throats. The catastrophe of 1974 was more or less an inevitability.
For forty years you couldn't cross the Green Line at all. That has changed now and there are six crossing points. I went through the one on Lehdra St in the heart of Nicosia's walled city.
Slowly the streets narrow in on themselves. Half of the shops are long closed. Angry graffiti and peeling walls. Skinny cats and hard faced old ladies wearing black. Until every sun baked street ends in sand bags and barbed wire. Young soldiers messing with their phones, gleaming weapons waiting close by. Just in case....
Just a small queue at the border. A scan of the passport and a nod through. First the Greeks, the the Turks. An to keep you amused whilst you are waiting your turn, there is a blown up copy of the original UN mandate from 1974 on the wall of the border post.
On the north side of the line things feel different. All of a sudden there are lots of young African guys wandering about killing the empty hours. Stall holders grin and hit you with their sales pitches instead of glowering and looking completely fed up. I found a pharmacy and duly completed my meds mission. A coffee and a fag and a chance to watch the groups of German retirees being guided along the sights of the Green Line. Then it was time for a haircut and a shave because there really is no barber like a Turkish barber.
He was wary when he asked me where I cam from. And then his face lit up when I said 'Scotland'. Just like it always does. Funny that, don'y you think Ruth? He was polite enough not to rub in the fact that Cyprus managed to kick out its London rulers back in 1960, the date of my birth. Oh the joys of being a citizen of the last colony of Empire 1.0. I was polite enough not to tell him that if Mother Theresa and Boris have their Empire 2.0 way, then Cyprus might well be getting a sky full of British Paras next.
As I sat back and felt the glide of the razor I got to thinking about all the other divided cites I have seen in my fifty something years.
First there was Belfast as an eighteen year old. A squatting grey town with a Brit soldier on every corner and metal 'peace' walls protecting the locals from themselves. Was this another divided city of our creation? Sure was. When you inject a bunch of loyal Prods into a Catholic island and give them all the best jobs, it doesn't tend to end well. It ends with the IRA and UDA and 20,000 British troops trying to keep them from each other's throats.
Next up was Berlin in the dark days of the 80's when we all kind of figured the last thing we would ever hear would be the nuclear attack warning sirens. The Berlin Wall was a very different animal from its Nicosia counterpart. There were no ramshackle sandbags at the end of narrow streets. Instead it was watchtowers and barbed wire and ferocious ark lights. Standing on the western side, our side, was almost like standing on the edge of the world. I crossed the wall into the German East three times in the 80's there was nothing about the place to make me nostalgic. Mother Theresa might be bloody annoying, but Eric Honecker she ain't. East Germany was an ugly, vicious grey place and it was a pure delight to be in Berlin on the night after the wall came down and see what freedom looks like in the flesh.
The Berlin Wall wasn't our fault. We played our part of course. The misjudged, vindictive Treaty of Versailles made Hitler all but inevitable and we of course had a seat at the table when Berlin was carved up in 1945. But the wall was all down to Moscow.
Jerusalem next in the febrile days after the first Intifada of 1990. There was no wall back then but there were soldiers everywhere you looked. They patrolled the streets in fours and they behaved much like the skinheads of the NF. A few hours in West Jerusalem was more than enough to fully understand what 'occupied territories' actually means. Occupied means occupied. Occupied means a rifle butt in the face if you happen to look at a soldier in a way he doesn't like. The Israeli occupation of West Jerusalem was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. They did everything they could to dissuade us from crossing the line into Palestine. They said it was filled with dangerous, vicious terrorists. They lied. Instead we found West Jerusalem was home to the most hospitable, brilliant people I have ever met.
Was divided Jerusalem our fault? Oh yeah. Lock, stock and barrel. Balfour sold the Palestinian lands from under their feet when he made his Declaration in 1917 offering a homeland for the Jews. Back then the British were flat broke and about to call in the receiver. The up coming battle of Passchendaele needed paying for and the only show in town was to borrow money from the big Jewish banks on Wall St. So we made our devil's bargain. We sold out the Palestinians for a lousy few miles of Belgium and hundreds of thousands of corpses.
Then in the nineties it was my home town of Blackburn as racial tension deepened with every passing day. The Muslims battened down the hatches in one half of the town. The whites did the same on the other. There were no Belfast style 'peace' walls but there might well have been. It was no place to bring up two mixed race boys. We weren't 'White Flight'. We were 'Mixed Race Flight'. We got out of Dodge and headed north.
Then in 2003 it was Portadown as part of the research for my book 'Terrible Beauty'. In theory there was peace in Northern Ireland, but it didn't feel that way. Lots more 'peace' walls and every kerb in town was lovingly painted up. It was either red, white and blue for the Loyalist areas or green, white and gold for the Republicans. Every lamp post carried a flag and you knew exactly when you passed from one area and into another. A local drove us around and gave us the tour. It was about eight o'clock on a rainy winter's night and within a matter of minutes we were being tail gated by a Police Service of Northern Ireland Land Rover. Any vehicle crossing the lines of the divided town stuck out like a sore thumb. Peace? Aye right.
And finally Nicosia with its sandbags and shops frozen in the time of platform shoes and the Bay City Rollers. Another divided city.
Maybe my last?
Maybe not. A still our London rulers are using divide and rule to achieve their ends. Sadly there still seem to be plenty among us who are lapping it up.