I often dine in company. This is less a claim of social indispensability, and more an admission of my inability to cook for myself. During a recent engagement I was at a table with a mixed batch of strangers. The sole mainland guest, fresh off the ferry, stopped all conversation by asking “So what do you lot think about this fixed link idea, eh?” He was bemused by the sharp intakes of breath and lack of response around the table, until eventually the Islander who had invited him came to his rescue and gently explained that such discussions were probably best left until later in the evening, if at all.
It occurred to me then that we Island dwellers have got our very own taboo topic. It was as if our well-meaning but clumsy guest had stepped off the plane in Belfast and demanded of his hosts “Are you folk Protestants or Catholics?”; or rolled up in Jerusalem and asked what they all reckoned about those pesky settlements. Our own localised argument about the fixed link question seems to bring forth passions in equal force. Families are split between ‘linkers’ and ‘non-linkers’, and friends soon learn to avoid the topic if they wish to remain friends. Outsiders remain baffled over the excitement demonstrated by the locals.
In fact, the fixed link debate is probably second only to Brexit in its capacity to outrage. After all, the debate on both issues has been so far characterised by a huge amount of hot air and little, if any substance. But perhaps the non-linkers should be wary of dismissing the more outlandish conceits of the link-proponents. After all, it was only a few years ago that a senior Conservative figure called those in favour of leaving Europe “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, and we know where that ended up. Even if we shy away from discussing the matter in person, there seems to be no end to the windbaggery on both sides of the argument online and in the pages of the County Press. The lack of anything to consider seems to be no bar to debate. “Just what will the fixed link be?” one might enquire. “Fixed link means fixed link!” seems to be the best answer one could hope for. Perhaps we won’t acknowledge the truth until somebody writes it on the side of a red bus and drives it around Coppins Bridge for a bit. It’ll promise free tickets for all pensioners, and a mid-crossing Nando’s on Spitbank Fort.
In today’s post-truth discussion it really doesn’t matter what is possible, practical, or even comprehensible. It’s about who can get the most likes on Facebook. As the anti-link brigade haven’t really managed to get their social media act together so far it’s probably enough to just put a load of pictures of cats on Instagram to get a democratic mandate to dam the Solent with stacks of devalued £5 notes. I might suggest that next time I’m out for dinner.