Not liking the water is one thing. Poisoning the well for everyone else is quite another. This seems to be the UK Government's approach post-Brexit to the Erasmus programme, which gives young people the opportunity to study and live abroad. A brilliant initiative now down the plughole in favour of a back of the fag packet idea: the Turing scheme.
Erasmus could quite easily have been kept on – it was never a great sticking point even for the most ardent Brexiteers. Instead, this has been a deliberate choice, articulated by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. In a radio interview, he invoked wartime fighting spirit in the name of codebreaker Alan Turing. It was excruciating. Awful.
But it has not always been like that with Gove. His finest broadcast hour came 30 years ago, as a trainee reporter on The Press and Journal
. He was a spokesman for the National Union of Journalists' (NUJ) chapel (office branch) during the bitter year-long strike in Aberdeen.
The BBC TV report started with a long tirade by the Aberdeen Journals
' managing director, Alan Scott, who berated the NUJ as a bunch of ranting, raving lefties. Next on was Michael. He was asked about his own past and said he had recently left Oxford where he was a member of the university Conservative Association and president of the Oxford Union. I can't recall a more devastating response as he then laid out an eloquent case for his NUJ colleagues – the dispute was about the right to be in a trade union.
Later at STV, Govey was a popular addition in the newsroom – fearless and funny. He was once sent on a job to speak to a family who were keeping a polecat as a pet. Undaunted, he picked up the animal for a piece to camera, asking if it was really as dangerous as people said. The polecat didn't bite.
It's been all downhill since: leader writer on The Times
then the greasy pole of politics.
I used to think the Brexit debate was a bit like the boorish bloke storming out of the golf club in a huff over the committee. Now he's come back with a wrecking ball to trash the members' lounge and pour acid over the trophy cabinet. It's not just Erasmus – the same destruction is happening elsewhere from a Cabinet which demonstrates all the intellectual acumen of a pickled egg and all the political subtlety of a demented dingbat.
I pity the poor civil servant charged with writing a credible narrative for the Turing scheme. Don't expect any references, for example, to the Polish cryptographers who first broke the Enigma code, nor Polish pilots in the RAF without whom the Battle of Britain would have been lost, nor all the other linguists, mathematicians from all over Europe who contributed to Bletchley Park's success.
The point is that Britain did stand alone against Hitler. But much more importantly, it provided critical leadership and resources for the whole of Europe to defeat Nazism.
Bizarrely, Gove claimed Turing would be less elitist. Erasmus is just as much for apprentices and college students (and lecturers) as well as for those from university. Turing has no such provision. It also has unique distinction of being a one-way exchange – British youngsters will go abroad but the stop sign is up for European students coming here.
Educational autarky only breeds ignorance. It's all too familiar now in other areas – we get soundbites not substance, posture not policy, and by the time it is finished, serious and long-term will have been done. This is very offensive to history. Scotland and Erasmus go back more than 500 years. Erasmus himself was very good pals, from their time at the University of Paris, with Aberdeen University's first principal, Hector Boece.
Everyone gains from fresh insights and knowledge through a year abroad. Generations of Scottish doctors have headed off to Europe for post-graduate study. It is how we learned about bacteria, X-rays, aseptic surgery, and diseases like tuberculosis.
It also spits in the face of past Conservative leaders who worked hard to secure Britain's entry into the European Economic Community, now the EU. They had experienced the alternative when young people were sent abroad to kill each other. Harold Macmillan was wounded three times in the First World War and bore the scars for the rest of his life. Ted Heath was an artillery captain from the Normandy landings to the fall of Berlin.
It was a different Gove in 1990. NUJ chapels across Scotland levied members to support their locked-out colleagues in Aberdeen. We also ensured they were well-victualled on their travels and stop-offs. My good pal Iain Campbell, the FoC, and Govey arrived in Edinburgh. We took in a few pints at Mathers and a Chinese banquet at the top of Leith Walk. It was a good night, and they made their flight the next day... to lobby members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Chris Holme is a former
Herald reporter and Reuters Foundation fellow in medical journalism. He now runs the History Company