Now clockThe interminable debate about British Summer Time and the alternatives to it comes around as regularly as the time switch itself. The arguments about milking cows in the dark and the gruesome early morning demises of school children contend every year with the vision of Britain as a European-style evening paradise, with people effortlessly enjoying glasses of rosé at outside tables – and with those same school children felled on their way home.

Like most non-ideological political questions, the essentialist arguments are undermined by history, a history which goes back beyond Ben Franklin. As recently as a century ago there was no such thing as British Summer Time at all. We just took what the clocks gave us, until the need to save coal forced the Government’s hand during World War 1, in a way that rhymes with the 10:10 campaign’s energy-saving support for change. The Second World War saw more movement in the same direction, with the summers on Double Summer Time, and the winters, confusing, on British Summer Time.

Side note of irony on that: the Daily Mail currently lambasts “Berlin Time“, presumably because it implies some sinister German plot to harmonise our clocks as well as our currencies, yet (to put it into the only language they understand) Churchill defeated Hitler with British clocks all set to “Berlin Time”.

Even the news today that Tim Yeo, consistently one of the most interesting Conservative MPs, is proposing separate timezones for Scotland and the rest isn’t really news – he made the same call in 2007. Still, you’d have to assume this is an argument the SNP would be instinctively sympathetic to. For one thing, it would add a little more division from the rest of the UK. For another, if both sides really do want different times, the alternative is Scotland that makes decisions for the English on their timezone, which is surely against the ethos of self-determination.

Attempting to step back a little, some things we do are necessarily synchronised or “clock-dependent”, and some not. Whatever our timezone, we can only ever watch the same football match live at the same time. No amount of political wrangling will change that. However, all other things being equal, the time at which a farmer gets up to milk the cows isn’t “clock-dependent”. In fact, if you milk cows at the same hour on the clock it’ll surely be pretty disruptive for the herd when the clocks change in either direction? Not that I know the first thing about farming.

As you may know, I’m about to step out of formal politics for a while to get into business, and I intend to follow the daylight myself. My productive hours are later in the day, and why I’d set the alarm in the depths of winter to get up in the blackness of the night, goodness only knows. It’s a luxury of self-employment, for sure, but if I lived in the Highlands I’d be arguing for schools and workplaces to follow the daylight too as far as possible – recognising that many people will always continue to have to work shifts, not just those employed by essential 24-hour operations.

Surely, aside from those jobs that require shifts, working hours are just synchronised for convenience, not because everyone has to be at their desk by 9 and away by 5 (does that still apply to anyone?). Would it not be easier if we treated those standard hours as a guideline for the working day, not a uniformity to be ruthlessly imposed?

We’re supposedly part of a single European market that spans a wide range of time differences, so why do people living in Lerwick have to get up at the same time as those living in Hawick, or Chiswick, or even Wick? Local employers and councils being more responsive to their latitude seems a better option than the disruption of different time zones, and also a better option than the endless bickering which unnecessarily sets up the interests of the Highlands and the Home Counties as in conflict.

Beyond that, and leaving aside the safety arguments for now, the argument as currently fought is primarily a matter of preference, not principle. Are you a lark who loves to get up for a run round the park? You’ll prefer the current arrangement, replete with light mornings. Are you an owl who doesn’t know what on earth to do with a morning hour but who loves to the social evening time? Then, like me, for all those clock-dependent activities, your instinct will probably be for DBST. But wouldn’t it be better not to have to argue about it?