PARTIES ARE SWELL but come at a cost. The hangover is part of the price paid for the previous evening's merriment. As with drink, so with the Olympics. Already the sound of special interests pleading for their post-Olympic lobbying to be rewarded is matched only by the rising sound of political axes being ground. Such is the way of things in a mature democracy but the contrast between Britain en fete these past two weeks and the dreary prospects for the rest of the year now that politics has returned is as depressing as it is acute.
Not the least of the many pleasures afforded by these splendid games has been the manner in which they have put politics in the shade. True, Boris Johnson has, by common consent, enjoyed a "good" Olympics while Alex Salmond has, according to the pundits, been put in the shade by the successes of "Team GB".
Perhaps. But the political consequences of the Olympics is the kind of thing liable to be exaggerated by excitable pundits always swooning for the next big thing or persuaded that present trends will continue indefinitely. But the next big thing generally underwhelms while extrapolations or other predictions for the future based on small samples of data are close to pointless. Present trends never continue indefinitely; all bubbles burst.
All good things come to an end, of course, and politics can only be banished from the land temporarily. Even so, politicians keen to seize a last piece of some reflected Olympic glory might do well to consider the extent to which the public has welcomed this two-week holiday from politics. Can anyone recall anything significant said or done by David Cameron, Ed Miliband or any other politician since the Olympics started? For a fortnight we've enjoyed a tantalising glimpse of a world without politics and the people have savoured their release from the mundane witlessness of so much political discourse.
Even the circus, however, cannot continue forever. The fantasy of a life without politics is just that. Yet who can honestly claim to be enthused by the prospect of politics returning as usual? Please, can't we stay on holiday just a little longer?
What, after all, is there to look forward to?
The eurozone remains mired in a swamp of its own creation. No good can come of it, nor is there any painless solution to its troubles. Meanwhile, in Britain the coalition government will limp unhappily along as Cameron and Nick Clegg pretend something may be salvaged from the wreckage of recent months. Alas, it cannot and it is a matter of when, not if, the partnership between the Conservatives and Lib Dems goes the way of all flesh. Nor can one expect any great inspiration from the opposition benches. It has become fashionable in some quarters to insist that Ed Miliband ought not to be under-estimated. It has never been clear to me how this is even possible but, if anything, the danger of over-estimating the Labour leader's ability seems much greater.
As for Scotland, stands she where she did? Pretty much, is the answer. The First Minister returned to Edinburgh yesterday, doubtless refreshed by a golfing holiday at Castle Stuart. He will have earned his rest. But what lies ahead? It is six months since he launched his campaign for an independence referendum and only the most indefatigable political obsessive can really welcome the thought there's another two years of wrangling before the matter is put - or is supposed to be put - to the vote. Even anoraks have their limits.
It is not as though anything else is going to shove the referendum campaign aside. It seems improbable there will be many other major government offensives or pushes to reform under-performing public services prior to the plebiscite. In education, the new Curriculum for Excellence needs time to establish itself while the NHS has been elevated to idolatrous status preserving it from significant reform or improvement. Nor, I think, should we expect important initiatives in other departments either.
So the constitution it is. What else is being discussed in Scotland, let alone proving a matter for controversy? This is fine as far as it goes but it does not go as far as some suppose and must, in any case, be subject to the laws of diminishing returns. You can have too much of a good thing and a thirty month campaign must try everyone's patience.
In one sense, of course, a prolonged war of attrition at least ensures the decision will not be taken without adequate time for the issues to be contemplated sensibly. Nevertheless the way in which every political act between now and 2014 will be viewed through the optics of how it impacts the independence referendum is itself a way of further distorting politics in ways that are not always useful and are bound, frequently, to be tedious in the extreme. This campaign will be an exhausting business.
So the Olympics have been a welcome distraction. But summer's coming to an end boys and girls and it's time for the usual political games to begin again. If they prove less magnificent or entertaining than the Olympics then that's because real life is a messier, more complicated business than the idealised competition on display in London these past two weeks. That may be a pity but it's the way it is too.
The holidays are over and grim reality is back.