CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
FEEDING THE BASE
Edward Montford felt a mixture of emotions as he watched the impact of his air strike unfold on the big screen on the Northwood Situation Room. There was plenty of exhilaration. There was also an undeniable pleasure in conjuring up a mental picture of a cowering Angus Campbell. However, he couldn't help but feel intensely annoyed by the fact he was watching exactly the same pictures as the rest of the world. Yet again Samantha bloody Keating had found a way to dominate the message.
Montford was a long in the tooth politician. He knew the images would hardly endear England to the rest of the world. Not that he was expecting to win any popularity contests. The rest of the world could collectively go screw themselves. The only people who mattered were the people of England. Which meant the only viable option on this table was to get them onside and keep them onside.
General Moore had made it perfectly clear their chances of actually killing the Scottish First Minister were vanishingly small. Fort George might have been built hundreds of years earlier, but its thick walls were still capable of withstanding any amount of missiles. Even so, a small part of Edward's mind had secretly hoped for a piece of good luck. Maybe a stray piece of falling masonry might just happen to smash Angus Campbell's skull in. Stranger things had happened.
But not today. Once the dust started to settle, the camera zoomed in on a rather dusty looking First Minister brushing away at his jacket.
Well, so be it.
These were no more than warning shots. The next day would see the real action. Moore had promised a minimum of fifteen strikes. Nearly 600 missiles. That would knock the smile off the smug bastard's face. And then all Angus Campbell would have to look forward to was the same again and again and again until he saw sense and threw in the towel.
“I need to get back to Downing St. Keep me posted if there is anything I need to know. I will be back in the morning.”
It was a blessed relief to get away from the dark room and all those judging eyes. Screw the lot of them. Outside the afternoon was still and baking hot. His motorcade glided through quiet streets. There was a small demonstration at the gates to Downing St. All the usual suspects. The peace and love brigade half-heartedly running through their well-worn play list of chants.
He gave the gathered photographers a cursory wave and tuned out of the usual ridiculous shouted questions. Once he was in his office he summoned his Chief Whip.
“Sit down Jerry. Help yourself to a coffee if you want.”
“Thanks, Prime Minister."
“How are the troops?”
“A bit jumpy. Nothing we can't handle. Most of them are shit scared.”
“Anyone looking to make a nuisance of themselves?"
“Nobody yet. Soundings from the country look pretty solid. Our supporters seem pretty well signed up to the whole idea. The killings haven't gone down so well. We're spinning out the line that the SAS had no choice. Impossible situation and all that. We've leaked reports of shots being fired from the crowd by Scottish soldiers in civilian clothes.”
“Will the media run with it?”
“Our lot will. They haven't much choice. They've been spouting off about the Scottish for months. They can hardly change their tune now.”
“Stepped so far.”
“Nothing. I'm going to address the nation tonight. Eight o'clock. Spread the word. Make sure you have plenty of reliable types waiting to give the right kind of comment.”
“No problem. I'll also make it known anyone who breaks ranks will be castrated with a blunt knife.”
“Yes. You do that. You need to keep the fuckers in line for the next four days. Maybe a week. Then the whole thing will be a done deal.”
“Leave it with me.”
The PM told his secretary “no calls under any circumstances” and loaded up with a handful of Oxys. Should he call in some help to help with his address to the people? No. Too many cooks. This would be all his own work. The time for sticking to political niceties was long past. From here on in they would all have to get used to unchartered territory.
After an hour he twitched with annoyance as the sheepish face of his secretary appeared at the door.
“I am so very sorry sir, but it is Sir Charles Lampitt. He says it's...."
“Just send him in.”
Lampitt slithered through the door and did the usual thing with his creases and cuffs once he sat down.
Montford wasn't in the mood.
“Bad news I'm afraid.”
“Why am I not surprised? Go on.”
“We've picked up whispers. Washington. New Dehli. Mainly Paris. It appears France has called an emergency meeting of the UN Permanent Security Council at nine tomorrow morning."
“To what end?”
“To call for the immediate imposition of a 'no fly' zone over all Scottish air space."
Edward Montford's face had no trace of colour to drain. But if there had been any colour, then it would most certainly have drained away.”
“Jesus. Will they get it through?”
“It rather looks as if they will. We have satellite photos showing the USS Nimitz leaving Norfolk an hour ago. It was supposed to be scheduled for a two month refit. The Charles De Gaulle changed course three hours ago and is now heading north through the Bay of Biscay. I think we are looking at a done deal."
“The fucking bastards. Oh, it's all fine and fucking dandy for Turkey and Israel and China to do as they please. I don't remember that jumped up French bitch getting all uppity about it. But when we take steps to re-establish our Union she has the fucking front to call for a 'no fly' zone. Why the hell are the others going along with it?"
“I think you know the answer to that as well as I do Prime Minister. They are doing it because it will make them popular. It will win them a few votes. Right now the whole of the world is queuing up to support the plucky Scots. We're the bad guys in this movie. We might as well get used to it.”
Montford slumped back into his chair. So much for his days of rolling air strikes. They were back to square one.
“OK. Fine. You know I'm speaking to the nation in an hour?”
“I do. I wish you all the best with it.”
“How very gracious of you Charles.”
He made a few changes and then decided it was time to stop agonising over every word. The speech would have to do. A nervous assistant said he really needed to get his make up on. He told her to fuck off. He told her fuck the makeup. The country could see him looking like shit.
Lights, camera, action.
Endless millions of people gasped at the near skeletal face on their screens. But Edward Montford still spoke with the accustomed authority of a feared Headmaster.
“Good evening. Politicians get plenty of criticism for never telling it straight. Is this fair? Probably. Tonight there is no other choice. I am going to tell it straight. There will be no pulled punches. You might well not like what I have to tell you. So be it. My fellow English men and women, tonight our country is as isolated as we were in the terrible summer of 1940. We are quite alone. Tomorrow morning the French Government will ask the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council to impose a 'no fly' zone over all Scottish air space. Our sources suggest the proposal will be accepted. Right now the USS Nimitz is heading for Scottish waters. Why, you might ask, was no such action taken against Israel, Turkey, and China when they took steps to look after their people? I am afraid I cannot give you an answer to your question. It seems like the French President has decided to apply a different set of rules to our country. The French President seems to have forgotten who liberated her country from the rule of the Nazis. Should we be so very surprised at this? I think not.
'I promised to give it to you straight, so here it is. For the last thirty years, we have been living on borrowed money. We have found ways to convince other countries to lend us what we need to run our hospitals and tarmac our roads and keep policemen patrolling our streets. Politicians like me don't like to call this particular spade a spade. We prefer to hide behind bland terms like 'budget deficit'. Well, I am sorry to have to inform you, the gravy train has left the station.
Take a pause. Sip some water. Fix eyes on the camera.
“Two weeks ago I had a rather uncomfortable meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had spent weeks trying to find anyone willing to buy our Government bonds and he came up with a big fat zero. Nobody was willing to touch us. The world's money markets have decided England is a busted flush. I have asked the Chancellor to run me through the cuts we will need to make in order to avoid completely running out of cash. Here are some of the highlights. State pension – a 30% cut. All public sector pensions – a 30% cut. A visit to the GP - £50. A trip in an ambulance - £200. An operation in hospital – you pay the first £500. I could go on for much longer, but I am not going to. You get the picture. It would mean the end of England as we all know it.”
“Well, I wasn't willing to order the end of England as we know it. So I called an emergency Cabinet meeting and put an alternative proposal on the table. I proposed the re-establishment of the Union of England, Wales, and Scotland. The new Union would have more than enough cash reserves to soothe the concerns of the bond markets. The new Union would easily be able to afford for every citizen to continue to see their GP without having to pay £50. The new Union would be able to continue to pay every pensioner on these islands enough to live on. The new Union would be fully self-sufficient in both electricity and water. I told the Cabinet the way we planned to re-establish the Union would be to launch a quick and surgical military operation: Operation Barn Owl. I asked for a vote and I received unanimous support. I will repeat this point. Unanimous support.
'As you now know, Operation Barn Owl was 99% successful. Unfortunately, it seems we had a traitor in our midst who successfully helped the Scottish First Minister to flee. Had this not happened, there would have been no YouTube broadcast and no street rioting. There would have been no need for the magnificent soldiers of the SAS to defend themselves. We regret what happened. Of course we do. But I will simply say this. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And just because we regret the unfortunate casualties does not mean we are about to alter the course we have set. Operation Barn Owl will continue. Right now, Angus Campbell is making ridiculous claims about how he will govern Scotland from Fort George. Quite frankly, these claims are laughable. Tonight I am sending a very clear message to the Scottish First Minister on behalf of the people of England. Don't be a fool. Don't let your jumped up vanity be the cause of many of your people dying. The 'no fly' zone is an irrelevance. If the English Army has to drive up to Fort George to close you down, then that is exactly what we will do. You should know there is no dent in our resolve. You can either see sense, surrender and spare bloodshed or we will have to do this the hard way. Be in no doubt, there will only be one winner in this war, and the winner will not be Scotland.
'So. My fellow English men and women. That is how it sounds when a politician gives it to you straight. The coming weeks will not be easy. At times we will feel very much alone. But we have been here before. And we have prevailed before. In a year's time, the finances of our newly re-established Union will be back on a firm footing and all of this will be long forgotten. It is my intention to do the right thing for my people. It is why I was elected as your Prime Minister. If my party does not like the course of action the Cabinet has unanimously voted to follow, then the party can remove us. And if you the people do not like what your Government has done for you, then, of course, you can vote us out of office at the next election. What is about to happen will not be pretty and I regret it. Angus Campbell can end the ugliness right now. The ball is in his court. But whether he sees sense or not will make no difference in the end. Our Union will be re-established no matter what.
'Thank you and good evening.”
I watched the broadcast in Fort George's main dining room. I guess there must have been about a hundred or so of us. I had often found it hard to get my head around Wendel's warped sense of humour. Now it was becoming clear. One of the Black Watch lieutenants had driven all the way to Inverness and back to clear one of the supermarkets out of popcorn. If Edward Montford had intended to make the men of the Black Watch cower in terror, he failed completely. Most of what he had to say was met with mocking laughter. Once he was finished someone at the back started up with what I later found out to be a football terrace favourite from the 1980's.
“Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough...."
It took about ten seconds for the whole room to pick up the thread and sing along. And yes, I sang along with the best of them. It was distinctly unladylike behaviour for a nice middle class girl from Morningside.
I interrupted a singing First Minister with a tap on the shoulder.
“Are you going to respond?”
“I suppose I better had. Jesus Sam, this guy is a bigger prick than I took him for. Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs? I mean, honestly.”
I was already set up. Time for less of the football hooligan Sam and more of the smooth TV anchor Sam.
“This is Samantha Keating of the Guardian. I am here at Fort George where we have all been watching Edward Mont........”
My words were drowned by a loud and varied selection of derisive noises which slowly morphed into another variation of a terrace favourite.
“.... Montford is a wanker, Montford is a wanker, Na na na na...Na na na na....”
It took about ten seconds for Angus's calm down gestures to bear fruit.
“First Minister, would you like to comment on what you have just watched?”
“Yes, Sam. I think I better. Wow! Where to start. Edward! What on earth have you been taking? I guess this was your version of telling us there will be no more Mr Nice Guy. Which of course begs a pretty major question. Have you at any point in your over privileged life ever been a nice guy, Edward? I'm sorry, but I just can't see it myself. Anyway, I'm not going to go on and on. I will give your tough talk some thought, Edward. And tomorrow morning at ten o'clock you'll hear from me. Oh, and by the way.... shame about the 'no fly' zone wasn't it, Eddie? Life can be such a bitch at times...."
And yes, of course, what happened next was living up to a stereotype as the whole room spontaneously burst into 'Flower of Scotland.' Of course it was. But it still brought a tear to my eye. And yes, I sang along.
Five hours later the chief navigation officer of the Charles De Gaulle reported to his captain. They had entered Scottish territorial waters. The captain thanked him for the information and ordered two of his fighter planes into the air. They flew a long circle for half an hour, just long enough to ensure they were seen by the English radar stations.
In effect, Valerie Latour's 'no fly' zone was up and running many hours before it was actually voted on.
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