Time’s up for Tam

 

© BBC

 

It’s fair to say that the state of modern British politics is dire.  Desperate for a trade deal that might punt a little money the way of post-Brexit Britain (and desperate to show that the country still has friends on the international stage and isn’t a global Billy No-Mates), our Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has just hobnobbed in Washington DC with President Donald Trump.  Trump is a man whose idea of a successful trade deal is to make sure he ends up with all the money in his pockets and the other guy is left with a big, fat, humiliating zero – he wrote a book with Tony Schwartz in 1987 called The Art of the Deal but it should really have been titled The Art of the Steal.  So I suspect that Theresa’s attempted wooing of the Trumpster isn’t going to end well.

 

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is an oaf whose ideas about how to make friends and influence people involve such antics as going to France and cracking jokes about World War II punishment beatings.  And the British Labour Party seems to have given up on providing any meaningful opposition to May, Johnson and co and has gone from setback to disaster to catastrophe to apocalypse.  Instrumental in this has been the woeful leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.  Ethically, I don’t think Corbyn is a bad bloke, but he seems to have the management skills of a drunk chimp.

 

This makes me nostalgic for an older era of British politics when at least a few politicians managed to combine intelligence with conviction.  One such person was Tam Dalyell, Member of Parliament for West Lothian and then Linlithgow for over forty years, who died a few days ago at the age of 84.

 

Tam had a privileged background.  He spent his childhood in a grand Scottish mansion near the Firth of Forth and inherited a title, the Baronetcy of Dalyell, from his mother’s side of the family.  He got much of his education at Eton College and Cambridge University, whilst doing national service with the Royal Scots Greys for a period between the two institutions.  Significantly, he didn’t get through officer training and ended up serving as a common soldier.

 

Later, he taught for three years at Bo’ness Academy, near to his family home, and he also wrote a column for the New Scientist magazine.  This interest in science was just one example of his eclecticism – he’d started off studying mathematics at university, then changed to history and then done an additional degree in economics.

 

Despite his well-heeled origins – which gave him a rather languid, aristocratic air – Tam was left-wing in his politics and when he became a Member of Parliament it was for the Labour Party, not the Conservatives.  Not that Labour Party leaders had less reason to curse him than Conservative Party ones had, for when it came to being a contrarian Tam was in a league of his own.  Whenever he got his teeth into an issue he felt was worth fighting for, he didn’t release it in a hurry and didn’t give a damn whom he annoyed.

 

An early cause was the injustice wreaked upon the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, whom the British evicted between 1968 and 1973 to clear the way for the establishment of an American military base there.  He was also a thorn in the side of the 1970s Labour government when it tried, then unsuccessfully, to introduce devolved governments for Scotland and Wales.  Tam’s argument was that the devolution proposals made Britain’s system of government unfair and unbalanced.  It would be wrong to still have Scottish MPs present in Westminster influencing decisions that affected England, if there was a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh making decisions affecting Scotland that English MPs had no influence over at all.  Four decades later, the UK has a devolved system of government and the conundrum identified by Tam – which became known as the West Lothian Question after the name of his old constituency – has never been satisfactorily addressed.

 

Elsewhere, Tam’s role as a one-man awkward squad knew no bounds.  He spent years hounding Margaret Thatcher’s government about the General Belgrano, the Argentinian warship sunk with heavy loss of life by British forces during 1982’s Falklands War.  The Belgrano had been torpedoed outside, not inside, the 200-mile-radius Exclusion Zone established by Britain around the Falkland Islands as the war’s official combat zone.  He also questioned the verdict of the Lockerbie Bombing trial, the legitimacy of the first Gulf War and of military intervention in Kosovo, and the justification for invading Iraq in 2003.  Indeed, the Iraq fiasco prompted him to brand his then party leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair a war criminal and he came close to having the Labour Party whip withdrawn, i.e. he was nearly kicked out of the party.

 

Needless to say, Tam blew his chances early on of being considered for a ministerial position and high office.  He got as far as being Parliamentary Private Secretary to the minister Richard Crossman in the 1960s.  But I suspect he was happier sitting on the back benches, being a pain in the neck.

 

After retiring as an MP in 2005, one way in which Tam kept himself busy was by writing obituaries – often for people from Scottish political backgrounds such as Sam Galbraith, Bruce Millan and Albert McQuarrie – for the Independent newspaper.  His obituaries were erudite and gracious towards political friends and foes alike.

 

I recall one obituary Tam penned a few years ago about Margo MacDonald, the formidable one-time Scottish National Party MP (and later an independent Member of the Scottish Parliament).  Tam concluded by sheepishly admitting that he’d liked Margo so much that, despite his credentials as a long-time opponent of Scottish self-government and her credentials as a long-term supporter of it, he’d gone and voted for her in the last Scottish parliamentary elections.  More evidence that right to the end Tam Dalyell was his own man.

 

© The Independent

 

The multiple personalities of Ruth Davidson

 

From caltonjock.com

From zimbio.com

(c) BBC

 

I’m looking forward to the new movie Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Ever since Shyamalan made his name in 1999 with the spooky classic The Sixth Sense, he seems to have frittered away his talent with a string of increasingly disappointing films like Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), but early reviews of Split have been largely positive and suggest Shyamalan has retrieved his mojo.  What has particularly impressed the critics is the film’s central performance by Scottish actor James McAvoy, who plays a man with multiple-personality disorder.  In fact, McAvoy’s condition is so extreme that he’s inhabited by no fewer than 23 different, competing and sometimes conflicting personalities.

 

But James McAvoy isn’t the only Scot who’s displayed symptoms of multiple-personality disorder recently.  If you examine the pronouncements of Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, it’s clear that poor Ruth isn’t a single psychological entity either.  Rather, she’s a walking battleground where various, often diametrically-opposed personalities fight for supremacy.

 

For example, there’s one personality within Ruth that’s staunchly pro-European Union.  This personality was in control, temporarily, when she took part in a debate before last June’s vote on whether or not Britain should leave the EU.  Railing against the Brexiting likes of Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom, she declared, “The other side have said throughout this debate that they don’t like experts but when it comes to keeping this country safe and secure I want to listen to the experts.  So when the head of GCHQ says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When five former NATO chiefs say we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of Interpol, who is a Brit, says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of MI5 and MI6 says we are safer in the EU I listen.”  Even the left-wing, anti-Tory New Statesman magazine was sufficiently impressed to call her a ‘stand-out performer’ afterwards.

 

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/eu-referendum-debate-sadiq-khan-and-ruth-davidson-give-remain-punch-it-needs

 

From politicshome.com

 

Presumably it was the same pro-EU version of Ruth who, before the referendum, posed with other Scottish political party leaders of in support a ‘remain’ vote.  And the same version again who, two years earlier, had urged the Scots to vote ‘no’ to independence (and ‘yes’ to remaining part of the UK) for the reason that this would guarantee Scotland’s place in the European Union: “No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

But fast-forward to today.  The British public narrowly voted to leave the EU and suddenly a new personality has wrested control of Ruth Davidson, one that’s in favour of Britain quitting the EU too; one that sees juicy economic opportunities for post-EU Britain; and one that opposes everything the Scottish National Party, which runs the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, is trying to do to preserve Scotland’s place in the EU.  Britain – though admittedly not Scotland, which voted by 62% to 38% to stay – chose to leave the EU, barks this new Ruth.  So get over the result and get on with Brexiting!

 

Admittedly, Ruth’s new pro-Brexit personality has at least expressed support for the UK, and by extension Scotland, remaining in the EU’s single market.  It’s something she believes Scotland should have “the largest amount of access to.”   Though Theresa May, British Prime Minister, Tory supremo and Ruth’s big boss in London, ruled this out in a speech a week ago when she declared that Britain “cannot possibly” remain in the single market because it would mean “not leaving the EU at all.”

 

Oops again.  That didn’t work out well, did it?

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-38555683

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38641208

 

I suspect a third personality might surface in Ruth Davidson soon.  One that’s totally hard-line in its support of Brexit and rejects the single market as much as it rejects every other aspect of the EU – you know, sort of like what Theresa May’s been saying.  I don’t know why I think this.  Call it a hunch.

 

There’s yet another personality lurking inside Ruth that manifests itself occasionally – one that loathes the USA’s new president, Donald Trump.  This personality was clearly in control of Ruth last year when she borrowed a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and trolled the ginger-skinned tycoon on Twitter: “Trump’s a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch, right?”

 

Yet two days ago, her boss Theresa May arrived in the USA to meet President Trump and suddenly another personality took hold of poor Ruth – one that seemed a lot more sanguine about the clay-brained, knotty-pated, whoreson, obscene, greasy, etc. businessman-cum-world-leader.  This new version of Ruth believed May – who described Trump’s presidency as dawn breaking “on a new era of American renewal” – just had to open her mouth and talk a wee bit of sense into him and everything would be okay.  May’s first speech in the USA, tweeted this new Ruth, “promotes liberal internationalism, warns on Putin, defends Muslims and makes case for democratic leadership in the world.  Bravo.”

 

Actually, Ruth’s words about May defending Muslims were perhaps a bit premature seeing as soon afterwards Trump slapped a ban on refugees entering the USA from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  On Holocaust Memorial Day of all days, too.

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

Some people would argue that Ruth Davidson doesn’t have a multiple-personality disorder at all – that her situation as a Conservative with reasonably liberal instincts and something of a social conscience who runs the Scottish branch of her party but who has to take orders from a considerably more right-wing regime in London means that during her pronouncements she needs to do more twisting and turning than a whirling dervish.  But I don’t believe Ruth could be as supine and pathetic as that.  I think there’s something genuinely, seriously wrong with her.  She ought to see a psychiatrist immediately.

 

But who’s going to have a word with her?  Who’s going to take her aside and give her this well-meaning but unpleasant advice?  Probably not her many sycophantic fans in the mainstream Scottish press, who kiss her arse as enthusiastically as Theresa May’s been kissing Trump’s arse recently.

 

© Blinding Edge Pictures / Blumhouse Productions

 

Glorious international foodstuffs 1: haggis

 

From donaldrussell.com

 

Food is something I’d like to write more about on this blog – especially since I’ve eaten a lot of unusual and occasionally mind-bogglingly strange varieties of food in different parts of the world.

 

And where better to start this new series of postings about glorious international foodstuffs than with Scotland’s national dish, haggis?  After all, today is January 25th, 2017: the 258th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard.  And tonight, the devouring of haggis will be one of the main activities (alongside the reciting of Scots-dialect poetry, the playing of bagpipes and the downing of industrial quantities of Scotch whisky) at Burns suppers held in honour of the great man the world over.

 

Haggis is a mash of oatmeal, suet, onion, salt, spices, stock, sheep’s lungs, sheep’s heart and sheep’s liver, traditionally (though not normally these days) boiled inside a sheep’s stomach.  The fact that the main ingredients of haggis are offal has earned it a lot of abuse over the centuries.  For example, someone called Lils Emslie once wrote a famous piece of doggerel that went: ‘One often yearns / For the Land of Burns / The only snag is / The haggis.’  More recently, in the 1990s, I remember the London-published Q magazine describing haggis inelegantly as ‘a bag of shite’.

 

Well, the ignorant may sneer.  But in my experience anyone adventurous enough to try haggis for the first time usually ends up enjoying it.  The Wikipedia entry on it describes its taste as being ‘nutty’ (as in ‘nut-like’, not ‘crazy’); but I can’t say I’ve ever thought of it like that.  ‘Spicy’ is the adjective I’d use – though spicy in a dark, subtle, slightly teasing way.

 

Culinary historians have argued about where haggis originated, although I’m sure it wasn’t in Scotland itself.  I’ve seen the invention of the dish attributed to northern England, to medieval Scandinavia and to ancient Rome and Greece.  Personally, I suspect the basic format of haggis dates back in history to soon after humans started hunting and killing their food.  Once you’d tracked down and slain a big animal like, say, a stag and removed the best cuts of meat, there’d still be a fair amount of flesh in the carcass that you couldn’t let go to waste – especially not when there was no guarantee when you’d be getting your next meal.  So you’d gather up the squelchy bits too – the heart, lungs, intestines – and find something to put them in.  And handily, there was another squelchy bit you could use as a container – the stomach.  Then you’d cook all this before the contents went off.  Hence, haggis.

 

And that’s one reason to cherish it.  Haggis, or the original concept of haggis, is the meat dish of the common man.  You can bet that by feudal times it was the aristocrat or wealthy landowner who was carting off the best meat from the big game animals he’d hunted down.  Whereas it was the serfs – who’d done all the hard work, looking after his horses and hounds, carrying his weapons, chasing the wild animals out into the open – who’d be stashing the left-behind offal into left-behind stomachs, boiling them and tucking into them afterwards.

 

© Daily Record

 

Appropriately, Robert Burns, of humble origins himself, appreciated a good haggis and wrote a poem in honour of the dish – Address to the Haggis, customarily the first poem to be recited at a Burns Supper, with the carrying in and cutting of haggis the first thing on the schedule.  It begins: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race!” Though it’s usually around the third verse that things get exciting and the reciter-cum-haggis-cutter starts waving a big blade in the air: “His knife sees rustic labour dight / An’ cut you up wi ready slight / Trenching your gushing entrails bright / Like onie ditch / And then, o what a glorious sight / Warm-reekin’, rich!

 

Not that haggis has remained unchanged since the time of Burns.  It’s evolved.  As culinary tastes and habits have developed, so has the way it’s been eaten.  It’s possible now to get haggis burgers, haggis pakora and haggis-topped pizza.  Vegetarian haggis – with the squelchy meaty bits replaced by nuts, lentils, beans and other vegetables – has been on sale for many years and it’s also been a long time since I munched my first-ever bag of haggis-flavoured crisps.  If someone hasn’t already invented haggis-flavoured ice cream, I’m sure they’re working on it.

 

From guff.com

 

And of course, the deep-fried haggis supper has long been a fixture of Scotland’s many fish-and-chip shops.  One admirer of haggis in its deep-fried form is New York chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who’s presented the TV shows No Reservations (2005-2012) and Parts Unknown (2013-present).  In one episode where he visited Scotland, he identified it as his favourite Scottish dish and described it as “battered and floating adrift in a sea of mysterious life-giving oil, the accumulated flavours of many magical things as it bobs like Noah’s Ark, bringing life in all its infinitive variety…”

 

A tribute to haggis that’s almost worthy of Robert Burns in its eloquence.

 

The Dear Green Place

 

 

During the five years I’ve produced this blog, I’ve made little mention of the city of Glasgow.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve written about Glasgow at all.

 

Nothing against the Dear Green Place, which is the meaning of the Gaelic version of its name, Gleas chu.  (The Dear Green Place was also the title of a 1966 novel by Archie Hind, one of the finest works of Glaswegian literature ever.)  I just haven’t been there lately.  Come to think of it, I’ve only made four brief visits to Glasgow in the 21st century, three of them to attend concerts and the fourth to pick up a new passport at the Passport Office on Milton Street.

 

However, on December 30th and 31st, 2016, my partner and I got an opportunity to spend a day-and-a-half in the city.  Here’s what we did there.

 

Just before noon on the 30th we got off a train in Queen Street Station and, not wanting to waste time, went out of its southern exit, down the side of George Square and into the Gallery of Modern Art.  The gallery was hosting three exhibitions at the time, though only one made much impression on us – a display about the work of the eclectic Scottish filmmaker John Samson, responsible for documentaries “covering topics such as tattooing, amateur railway enthusiasm, clothing fetishism, professional darts and the sex lives of disabled people.”

 

But the building is handsome, especially the lobby and the spaces above it.  Oval-shaped openings with ornate balustrades on each floor allow you to look all the way up from the lobby to a gorgeous glass dome with a spider’s-web pattern of panes in the roof.

 

 

Maybe the most famous work of art at the gallery is the statue on a plinth outside its entrance, of the Duke of Wellington on horseback.  What makes the statue iconic is how the old warrior’s head has, for many years, disappeared into the interior of a Glaswegian traffic cone, perched on top of him like a dunce’s cap.  Any attempts by the city council to remove the thing have prompted an outcry – the common argument being that the statue and cone constitute a Glaswegian landmark and symbolise the city’s healthy disrespect for authority.

 

In the early afternoon we checked into our hotel at Pacific Quay on the River Clyde.  Once the site of the commercial docks Plantation Quay and Princes’ Dock Basin, Pacific Quay is now a redeveloped area serving as (to quote its website) “Scotland’s most important location for broadcasting, media, digital and creative industries.”  Its attractions include the headquarters of BBC Scotland, housed in a six-storey glass box; the Glasgow Science Centre, whose building is a truncated hemisphere with a slanted-back glass façade; the Clyde Arc bridge, whose most prominent feature is a big steel hoop above its main span; the SSEC Hydro, a concert and conference arena shaped like a giant bucket; and another concert and conference venue, the Clyde Auditorium, whose segmented shell has earned it the nickname of ‘the Armadillo’, though looking at it across the river from our hotel-room I thought it looked more like a giant woodlouse.

 

 

One relic from the old days is the hulking Finnieston Crane, which loaded and unloaded ships from 1932 to 1969.  Rather sadly, it’s marked on Google Maps with a little medieval-tower symbol that denotes a ‘historical monument’.

 

Despite there being crowds of kids hanging out around the SSEC Hydro and Clyde Auditorium, most of the quay felt oddly bleak and empty – like a post-industrial ghost town.  Perhaps it was because of the grim end-of-year weather.  A vaporous ash-grey sky seemed to press down upon the tops of those architectural boxes, hemispheres, hoops, buckets and shells and it drained the scene of life and colour.

 

In the mid-afternoon, we walked north from the quay to Kelvingrove Park and then to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  In contrast to Pacific Quay – a study in grey – the park seemed on this wintry day to have been coloured with a palette containing nothing but shades of brown.  It was populated with brown leafless trees and littered with fallen brown leaves.  Even the gothic Glasgow University Tower that rose above the park’s far edge looked like an extension of its brown foliage.

 

 

The gallery was hosting an exhibition by Alphonse Mucha, about which I’ll write in detail in the near-future.  Meanwhile, part of its foyer floor was devoted to the Glasgow Boys, the two-dozen-or-so artists who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered the celebrated Glasgow Style of painting – about whom I’ll also write more in future.  By the time we’d viewed Mucha and the Glasgow Boys, the building was ready to close, which meant there were still many parts of it we hadn’t seen.  Which means we’ll need to make a return visit someday.

 

 

Incidentally, I appreciated the fifty or so disembodied heads hanging above the foyer.  Devised by Sophy Cave in 2005, these heads are bald and albino and variously yawn, smirk, grimace and gurn.  They’re simultaneously funny and creepy.

 

 

After stopping off at a branch of the craft-beer pub-chain BrewDog opposite the gallery – which, pleasantly, seemed to cater for a range of ages, including grumpy old farts like myself, and not just the loud young hipsters who often seem to fill BrewDog pubs elsewhere – we headed back to the city centre.  There, we ate at an Italian restaurant on Hope Street and then retired to a rock-music-themed pub further up the street called Rufus T. Firefly.  It happened to be showing Joe Dante’s anarchic Christmas movie Gremlins (1984) on a big screen – yay!

 

The following morning, my better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, resolved to do some shopping in the Argyle Street branch of Next.  I left her to it and took a wander around Buchanan Street.  The first time I ever visited Glasgow, I was with my family, I was eight years old, we lived in Northern Ireland and we were over in Scotland on a holiday.  I was a big fan of Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who and one of my main memories of that visit was spotting what looked like the Doctor’s Tardis, i.e. an old blue police box, standing on the corner of Buchanan Street and Gordon Street.  More than 40 years later I discovered that the thing is still there, though the sign at the top now says HOTDOGS instead of POLICE.  I wonder if the current Doctor, the Glaswegian actor Peter Capaldi, goes to that corner whenever he’s back in town and plays jokes on passers-by by leaping out from behind the police box and accosting them in character.

 

 

Later in the morning, we walked to Glasgow Cathedral, which is nearly nine centuries old and is a rare example of a Scottish medieval church that survived the Reformation wholly intact.  The hill behind the cathedral is home to the city’s famous Necropolis and bristles with stone crosses, columns, plinths, sepulchres and stelae, but we didn’t have enough time to explore it and besides, the weather was turning wet and wintry again.  Instead, we contented ourselves with looking around inside the cathedral itself.  And again, this may be the basis of a future blog-entry.

 

 

That was all we had time for, save for lunchtime drinks in the Horseshoe Bar on Drury Street, famous for its 104-foot bar-counter that’s supposed to be the longest in the UK – although since it’s an island bar rather than one than runs in a straight line, you may not notice its great length.

 

And so ended my first substantial visit to Glasgow in many years.  My verdict?  There’s plenty to see and do, the people are hospitable, much of the city is handsome and it won’t be long before I’m back.  Though I hope next time the Dear Green Place really is green, as opposed to grey or brown.

 

Caledonian culture war

 

© Channel Four Films / PolyGram Pictures

 

Many people may be puzzled by the title of this blog-entry.  After all, if you’re to believe the pronouncements of certain Scottish Labour Party heavyweights of yesteryear, there isn’t any culture in Scotland to have a war over.

 

George Galloway, one-time Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead and Glasgow Kelvin and now widely-known as a preening, egotistical jackanapes, once declared that no such thing as Scottish culture existed.  Supporting him in this assertion was George Robertson, former Labour MP for Hamilton South, former Secretary of State for Defence and now known by the socialistic, man-of-the-people title of Lord Robertson of Port Ellon, KT, GCMG, PC, FRSA, FRSE.  Comparing the campaign for Scottish independence unfavourably with similar campaigns in Flanders and Catalonia, he said that unlike the Flemish and Catalans the Scots have “no language or culture or any of that.”

 

Despite George and George applying their mighty intellects to the matter of Scottish culture and ascertaining once and for all that the very notion of it is as ridiculous and chimerical as the Loch Ness Monster, a few people have not yet seen reason.  For example, the Scottish National Party, which forms the current Scottish Government.  And Jackie Kay, the current Makar – i.e. Scottish poet laureate – for another.

 

Recently the SNP / Scottish government launched a scheme whereby the parents of every baby born in Scotland receive a ‘baby box’, a collection of items handy for those taking care of a bairn during its first few months of life: a blanket, bedding, play and changing mats, a towel, fleece, reusable nappy, sponge, thermometer and so on.  The boxes these come in can also double as cribs.  The idea originated in Finland, where the boxes / cribs are believed to have contributed to a fall in the number of cot deaths.

 

What has raised the ire of many a commentator – mostly, it must be said, of the same unionist / pro-British / anti-Scottish independence mindset as Messrs Galloway and Robertson – is the decision to include within these baby boxes a poem written by Kay called Welcome Wee One.

 

The poem begins, “O ma darlin wee one / At last you are here in the wurld / And wi’ aa your wisdom / Your een bricht as the stars…

 

That’s right.  The poem isn’t written in proper standard English, but in Scots – the Scottish dialect of English that some misguided souls believe to be a separate language, to constitute a separate Scottish linguistic culture.  No wonder people who agree with the two Georges are having seizures of rage just now.  The Scottish government is propagating Scottish culture, something that doesn’t, shouldn’t, can’t exist!

 

Okay, enough of the sarcasm.  From now on, I’m writing seriously.

 

Among the many tweeters and posters expressing their scorn at Kay’s poem was Ian Smart, self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’, who dismissed her as “a woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel.”  A reader posting below a report on the baby boxes in the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, brought up the fact that Kay is of what used to be called ‘mixed parentage’ to question her right to pen the poem in the first place: “…Jackie Kay has produced Welcome Wee One in what is supposed to be local dialect…  according to her Wiki entry her father was Nigerian.  I wonder what she’s like at Igbo?”

 

© The Guardian

 

As far as this baby box / Welcome Wee One stushie is concerned, I find myself agreeing with the Scottish journalist Kenny Farquharson.  Writing in the Times a few days ago, he claimed the antipathy towards the poem and the Scottish government’s distribution of it in the baby boxes was down to the ‘Scottish cringe’.  This cringe is the commonly-held belief that any manifestation of Scottishness in Scottish people is something to be embarrassed by, something you need to shed and disown in order to get on in life.

 

In an article headlined SPEAK UP FOR SCOTTISHNESS AND BAN THE CRINGE, he observed how the cringe’s “symptoms were easy to spot: an involuntary shudder at the sound of a glottal stop; an onset of the vapours when confronted by a fluttering saltire; a pursing of the lips at any manifestation of Scottish working class culture.”

 

However, many Times readers didn’t share his opinion.  The comments thread below his article was soon ablaze with Farquharson-bashing (“really just a closet nationalist…” “he seems to have a chip on both shoulders…”) and with further Kay-bashing (“fake, rubbish art…” “the great majority of the recipients of the baby box will take one look at the poem and assign it to the recycle bin…”), Scots-language-bashing (“no one, in 21st century Scotland, would ever express themselves in this way…”), and Scottish-government-bashing (“the box and the poem are intent on branding babies Scottish the moment they gulp their first breath…”  “As a government, they are totally incompetent…”)  No wonder that a few days later Farquharson tweeted, “Have to say, I’m fair ferfochan at some of the responses to my Scottish cringe column.”  (‘Ferfochan’ is a northeast Scottish word meaning ‘tired’ or ‘troubled’.)

 

Well, I think the baby boxes are a good idea in any society that claims to be civilised and anyone railing against them is showing himself or herself up as a Grade-A mean-spirited numpty.  The people complaining about them containing a poem written in Scots seem ignorant of the fact that since the medieval era of Dunbar and Henryson, through Robert Burns to the present day, an awful lot of Scottish poetry has been written in Scots.  So what’s the big deal about this poem being written in it?

 

© The Herald

 

Regarding the argument that the Scottish government is playing identity politics, trying to ‘brand’ youngsters as Scottish so that, somehow, they’ll be more likely to vote for Scottish independence from the UK when they’re adults – I suspect that if the baby boxes had contained some Union-Jack-waving verse by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, the right-wing readers of the Times and Telegraph would have expressed less indignation.  It seems we’re now in the midst of a culture war, Scottish culture being aligned with the SNP and the Scottish independence movement at one end of the battlefield, and British culture aligned with unionism and the status quo at the other end.

 

Oh, and in response to one of Farquharson’s detractors at the Times – I’ve just spent the past fortnight in the Scottish Borders and I’ve heard plenty of people speak ‘in this way’.  (Although the word ‘een’, for ‘eyes’, does seem obsolete now.)

 

What I find astonishing about this is that Farquharson himself is a Unionist and often writes scathingly about the Scottish government and its long-term policy of achieving Scottish independence.  But the moment he attempts to show some reasonableness and writes favourably about a policy by that government, he’s torn apart by people who are supposedly on his own side.  (I should declare an interest here – I knew Kenny Farquharson, slightly, for a year or two when we were students at Aberdeen University in the early 1980s.  I don’t much agree with his politics, but I found him to be a decent bloke back then, full of Dundonian congeniality, and I’m sure he continues to be that way now.)

 

From youtube.com

 

With all this yelling about the SNP / Scottish government using Scottish culture to play identity politics and further their agenda, you’d expect them to have established the post of Makar too.  After all, giving Scotland its own poet laureate is another way of separating it from the United Kingdom, which has long had its own national poet laureate.  But in fact the post was created by the previous regime at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition – Unionist politicians to a man and woman.

 

And if you’re going to employ a Makar for Scotland and not have them write a short ode of welcome to its new-born citizens – why employ one at all?

 

Tartanising Trump

 

© BBC

 

Almost immediately after the news that Donald Trump had won the US presidency, I had a depressing thought – admittedly, one of many depressing thoughts.  How long would it be before the scribes of Scotland’s unionist media and the orators of its unionist political parties started using Trump’s victory as a weapon against the Scottish National Party, and against SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and against everyone who voted for Scottish independence when there was a referendum about it in 2014?

 

Answer: not long.  Writing recently in the Scottish Daily Mail, journalist Paul Sinclair – once an advisor to former Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont, now a contributor to one of the most right-wing newspapers in Britain – compared Nicola Sturgeon to Hillary Clinton.  “The public don’t seem to like husband and wife – or indeed wife and husband – teams any more… Miss Sturgeon may turn out to be Scotland’s Hillary-plus – utterly defeated without the consolation of even Hillary’s plus points.”  Sinclair’s reasoning seems to be that Sturgeon is a woman, which is what Hillary Clinton is; and she’s married, which is also true of Hillary Clinton; and her husband is involved in politics like Hillary Clinton’s husband is (although Nicola’s hubby, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, is possibly a wee bit less in the public eye than Hillary’s one); so all that makes her a Scottish equivalent of Hillary Clinton, who has just lost an election and is a loser.

 

Therefore, Nicola = Loser.  Though the equation that the article suggests to me is Paul Sinclair = Tosser.  I’m not providing a link to the article, by the way, because it’s published by the Daily Mail and for me Daily Mail = Wankers.

 

A more popular narrative that’s surfaced among Scottish unionists over the past week, though, is one equating the independence movement not with Hillary Clinton, but with Donald Trump – and for that matter, with that previous example of extreme electoral nuttiness back in June, Britain voting for Brexit from the European Union.

 

The reliably and wilfully ignorant Scottish Labour commentator Ian Smart tweeted two days after the Trump victory that “it’s increasingly clear we resisted a worrying rising tide in September 2014.”  This was echoed in a tweet by Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament Murdo Fraser: “If it was mostly poorly-educated working-class males who voted Trump, wasn’t it the same demographic that largely voted yes in 2014?”

 

Actually, I will digress for a moment about Murdo Fraser, who only last month declared on Twitter, “I’m British and I’m staying that way.”  I remember him as a fellow student during my college days at Aberdeen in the 1980s, where he was a member of the FCS, the Federation of Conservative Students.  The FCS were an organisation so obnoxiously right-wing that they embarrassed even Norman Tebbit, who was then Conservative Party Chairman and not much left of Vlad the Impaler in his own political beliefs; and he had them disbanded in 1986.  When Murdo and his FCS mates weren’t strutting around the campus waving the Union Jack, they were behaving like pillocks towards gay students, singing “Hang Nelson Mandela!” at discos whenever the DJ played the Special AKA anthem Free Nelson Mandela, and making nuisances of themselves in pubs yelling “F*** the Pope!”  But I guess that for Murdo, white, Protestant British nationalism is all good; whereas Scottish nationalism is unspeakably bad.

 

© The National

 

The same theme was reiterated in a slightly subtler form by Scottish Daily Mail journalist Chris Deerin, who wrote on November 12th: “Trump’s triumphed, Britain’s Brexiting, Le Pen’s close enough to being La Presidente…  The three most powerful words in politics are Take Back Control.  The world is engaged in one of its cyclical bouts of disaggregation, having bumped up against the reality, yet again, that our species is intractably tribal, pre-dominantly self-interested and, when it comes down to it, pretty psychologically basic…  why, in 2014, did Scotland buck the trend?  Put another way, what’s wrong (or right) with us…?  How the SNP’s leaders must curse their luck that they were forced to go first.”

 

Again, I’m not providing a link to Deerin’s article because it’s in the Daily Mail.  And again, Daily Mail = Wankers.

 

Well, this may be news to the likes of Ian Smart, Murdo Fraser and Chris Deerin, but in 2014 Donald Trump was on their side.  He wanted Scots to vote against independence, not for it, and after the result was announced in favour of ‘no’ he hailed it as “a great decision”.  The ‘no’ side also enjoyed the backing of UKIP’s Nigel Farage, who since Trump’s victory seems to have become the orange-skinned ogre’s new British best pal and appointed himself as unofficial go-between for Trump Tower and Downing Street.  Also backing a Scottish ‘no’ was British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who’s recently claimed that there’s “a lot to be positive about” Trump’s presidency and berated Europeans for whingeing about him.  All the right-wing newspapers who backed Brexit and are now warming to the prospect of a Trump presidency, such as the Daily Telegraph and that odious scum-sheet the Daily Express, were vociferous ‘no’ supporters as well.  As were the UK’s equivalents of the Trump-endorsing Ku Klux Klan, like the National Front, British National Party and English and Scottish Defence Leagues.

 

Thanks to the rejection of independence in 2014, Scotland is now locked inside a Brexiting and increasing xenophobic Britain that looks set to carve out a new international role for itself as a loathsome wee sidekick to the big-mouthed, ignorant, bigoted, misogynistic Trump.  Incidentally, those who wanted Scotland to become independent in 2014 were also keen to remove the nuclear submarines and their cargoes of Trident missiles from their home at Clyde Naval Base, 25 miles from the city of Glasgow, and expel them from the country.  But because of the ‘no’ vote, these weapons of mass destruction will be based in Scotland for the foreseeable future and from next year their usage will depend on the whims of a belligerent ignoramus in Washington.  (Only a British nationalist as deluded as Murdo Fraser would believe that Britain’s supposed nuclear deterrent is actually controlled from London.)

 

Voting ‘no’ in September 2014 was the equivalent of voting ‘leave’ in June 2016 and voting for Trump in November 2016.  And if you can’t see that, you need your head examined.

 

The other ‘N’ word

 

(c) Hat Trick Productions / Channel 4

 

When, near the end of last week’s Scottish National Party conference, party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to open a new Scottish trade base in Berlin and so strengthen Scotland’s ties with the European Union, I had a depressing thought. 

 

“Who,” I wondered, “will be first to make a reference to the Nazis?”

 

You see, Berlin is the capital of Germany.  And Germany is where the Nazis used to live.  Meanwhile, many anti-Scottish independence, pro-United Kingdom posters on social media would have you believe that the Scottish National Party is where the Nazis live now.

 

That might seem a bit harsh on the SNP, considering that lately Nicola Sturgeon has gone out of her way to stress her party’s inclusiveness and promote a vision of Scotland that is welcoming to refugees and “progressive, open, outward-looking”.  This was in contrast to the recent Conservative Party conference, at which some shockingly xenophobic rhetoric was spouted – none worse than when UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd promised to get British firms to publish lists of their non-British employees.  (A promise, incidentally, that was dropped after the backlash it provoked.)

 

But the SNP, its detractors claim, wants Scotland to be independent of the United Kingdom, which means it doesn’t like English people, which makes it racist.  And if you’ve read your history books, you’ll know that racism was one of the Nazis’ main hobbies.

 

In fact, the first person I saw make that Nazi reference was Mike Elrick, who at various times was an advisor to the late Labour Party leader John Smith, to the former Labour cabinet minister Dr John Reid and to the former Scottish Labour Party leader Wendy Alexander.  “To think,” he tweeted two days ago, “75 years ago some Nats were looking forward to permanent trade representation in Berlin too.”

 

I was surprised to read this comment because only a week earlier Mike Elrick had lambasted the SNP MP Mhairi Black for making another Nazi analogy.  Black had described the mood of the aforementioned Conservative Party conference as being “reminiscent of early 1930s Germany.”  At the time Elrick tweeted indignantly: “MP Mhairi Black thinks Tory policies like Nazis.  Insulting, pathetic, juvenile and just plain wrong on every account.”  Obviously, getting one over on your political opponents overrides taking a principled stand on an issue.

 

(For the record, I should say that I knew Mike Elrick slightly, through a mutual acquaintance, while I lived in London in the early 1990s.  We had several furious arguments but overall I thought we were on reasonably friendly terms – at least, when we were talking about films and music and not talking about politics.  He may not have felt the same way about me, though.)

 

But then, in turn, Mhairi Black has had the ‘N’ word directed at her.  In February 2015, before she became an MP, she was described in a tweet as “the wee Nazi candidate in Paisley” by Ian Smart, a lawyer, blogger, political pundit and staunch supporter Labour Party supporter.  Smart has also called the SNP ‘racist’, ‘fascists’ and ‘fascist scum’ on Twitter.  A year-and-a-half before 2014’s referendum on Scottish independence he even tweeted: “Better 100 years of Tory rule than the turn on the Poles and the Pakis that would follow independence failing to deliver.”

 

Well, in 2014, the Scots voted to stay in the UK, which now looks like it will be ruled by the Tories for a hundred years, especially as Smart’s Labour Party is such a dire shambles.  So the Poles will be relieved about that.  It meant that nobody turned on them.  Oh…  Oh wait.

 

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/09/killing-polish-man-shook-town-harlow-could-more-trouble-be-coming

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/27/brexit-polish-centre-london-reeling-after-graffiti-attack

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/sep/14/four-teenagers-arrested-attack-polish-man-leeds

 

(c) Scottish Political Archive

 

Fuelling much of Elrick and Smart’s SNP / Nazis invective is the historical case of Arthur Donaldson, who joined the Scottish National Party in 1934 and led it from 1960 to 1969.  In May 1941, Donaldson was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks for activities subversive to Britain’s war effort – he argued for Scottish neutrality and opposed conscription.  More seriously, an MI5 informant alleged that Donaldson had been earmarked by Nazi Germany to be head of a puppet Scottish government once it’d invaded and conquered the UK.  Also, MI5 claimed that it’d unearthed a cache of weapons at Donaldson’s home.

 

His Wikipedia entry notes that “Donaldson was never charged, and no evidence for the MI5 allegations has ever been produced.”  Nonetheless, many of the SNP’s detractors still cry: “Their former leader was in cahoots with the Nazis!  He was a Nazi!  So all SNP supporters are Nazis now!”

 

Well, I certainly think Donaldson was stupidly naïve in not, for the sake of the common good, setting aside his political principles and joining the struggle against Hitler.  But if Donaldson really had been conspiring with the Germans and hiding weapons at his house, wouldn’t the authorities have kept him banged up for an awful lot longer than six weeks?  Actually, wouldn’t they have hung him for treason?

 

The way Donaldson is still talked about contrasts with the case of Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, whom I’ve written about before on this blog.  He was MP for the Scottish town I’m from, Peebles, when it was part of the Peebles and Southern Midlothian constituency.  He stood for the Scottish Unionist Party, which was associated with but not properly a part of the Conservative Party in England and Wales.  (In 1965 it became a regional branch of the Britain-wide Conservative Party.)  During the late 1930s Ramsay was a leading light in various extreme right-wing, anti-Jewish organisations like the United Christian Front, the Nordic League and the Right Club.  In May 1940 he was arrested under an emergency statute and he spent the next four years in Brixton Prison alongside other potential pro-Nazi subversives like Oswald Mosley, founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists.

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=1452

 

You never hear much about Ramsay these days – certainly not in Peebles, where local historians seem to suffer collective amnesia regarding their town’s old wartime MP.  But if you’re going to formulate the equation Arthur Donaldson + Nazis = SNP are Nazis now, you could equally formulate the equation Archibald Maule Ramsay + Nazis = Tories are Nazis now.  Actually, you could do something similar with Ramsay’s fellow inmate at Brixton Prison, Oswald Mosley, who prior to leading Britain’s fascists was a Labour MP.  Indeed, by the late 1920s, he was a minister in Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet.  So there you go: Oswald Mosley + Fascists = Labour Party are Fascists now.

 

I’m sure the SNP has attracted its share of bigots over the decades – Scots who genuinely do hate the English and fantasists who believe in the racial superiority of the Celts.  But then again, nutters occasionally find their way into the ranks of every political party.  And there are other things I could mention in response to the modern-day SNP being called Nazis.  Like the fact that extreme right-wing organisations such as the National Front, the British National Party and the English and Scottish Defence Leagues lined up against the SNP and alongside the Labour and Conservative Parties in their opposition to Scottish independence in 2014.

 

(c) Daily Mirror

 

Or the fact that the day after the Scottish-independence referendum, independence-supporters in Glasgow’s George Square were attacked by a crowd of ‘no’ supporters who, to quote the Guardian, were “draped in Union flags… chanting the words to Rule Britannia.  Some shouted loyalist slogans and racist abuse, and appeared to make Nazi salutes.”  Even the Daily Mail – the Daily Mail! – described them as “Nazi-saluting thugs.”

 

Or the fact that the modern-day Labour Party has been caught in a shit-storm of accusations about that most Nazi-ish of activities, anti-Semitism.  No doubt the likes of Mike Elrick and Ian Smart would retort angrily that this was due to crass remarks made by people on the left wing of the party, such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, who certainly don’t represent their Labour Party.  But hey, surely the distance between them and Livingstone and Walker is no greater than the distance between Nicola Sturgeon and Arthur Donaldson, who’d stepped down as SNP leader before Sturgeon was even born.

 

But maybe it’s simply worth recalling Godwin’s law, the observation made by US attorney and author Mike Godwin that “(a)s an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1”; i.e. in any argument, sooner or later, someone will liken his or her opponents to the gang running the Third Reich.  Which obviously demeans the memory of the millions of people who were victims of that Third Reich.

 

Political discourse in Scotland would be a lot saner and more edifying if commentators, politicians and social-media posters were just banned from using the ‘N’ word and from making ‘N’ analogies.  I say that not just about Mike Elrick and Ian Smart on the Labour Party side but also Mairi Black on the SNP side – I thought the Conservative Party conference was pretty revolting, but nobody there was proposing the Final Solution.

 

Mind you, if the people you’re arguing with really are wearing swastikas (and caps with skulls on them)…  By all means, go ahead and call them Nazis.

 

From matthewjamesbloggs.wordpress.com 

 

Make-your-mind-up time

 

From leftfootforward.org

 

“What is the basis for removing our EU citizenship?  Voting yes.”  So warned a tweet on September 2nd, 2014, a fortnight before the Scottish electorate voted on whether or not their country should become independent of the United Kingdom, sent by the anti-independence, pro-UK campaign group Better Together.

 

Better Together wasn’t the only entity to try to frighten Scots who might be thinking of voting for independence with the prospect of a newly-independent Scotland getting kicked out of the European Union.  Plenty of pro-British newspapers were happy to splash big scary headlines across their front pages every time a senior EU official – such as then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – hinted darkly about the Scots losing their EU membership if they opted to shed their UK one.

 

Well, the Scots duly did what the British establishment urged them to do.  They voted to stay in the UK by a majority of 55% to 45%.  Which also preserved their status as citizens of the European Union.  Right?  Wrong of course.  Less than two years later, by a narrow majority, the British electorate followed the advice of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry other right-wing nincompoops and voted for Brexit, i.e. leaving the EU.

 

Actually, nearly two-thirds of the turn-out in Scotland was in favour of remaining.  But the Scots are heavily outnumbered by the more Brexit-enthused English and so they’ve ended up being dragged out of the EU against their will.  What they were told two years earlier about staying in the UK in order to stay in the EU too has proved to be so much flannel.

 

Predictably, the same right-wing newspapers who played up the threat of an independent Scotland getting booted out of the EU were among the noisiest campaigners for a ‘leave’ vote in the run-up to this June’s EU referendum.  And they’ve been in seventh heaven since their side pipped it, enraptured by a vision of a future Britain free of EU labour, environmental and financial regulations (and free of ghastly, smelly foreigners): a vision of Britain as Airstrip One, Sweatshop Two and Tax Haven Three.

 

For a telling insight into the mind of the British right-wing press regarding Brexit, you should look at a video released by the Daily Telegraph on September 30th called 100 Reasons Why Brexit was a Good Thing.  To the strains of William Blake and Sir Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem, that paean to England’s (not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland’s) ‘green and pleasant land’, it reels off such heart-warming reasons for leaving Europe as NO CLINICAL TRIALS RED TAPE, END WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE and NO EU HUMAN RIGHTS LAW.  Yes, Britons should give thanks that they’ve been freed from such horrible injustices as new drugs getting stringent safety checks, employers being restrained from working their employees into the ground and – shudder! – human rights.

 

Meanwhile, if the environment-related reasons for which the Telegraph is applauding Brexit come to pass – NO MORE WIND FARMS, NO EU LANDFILL RULES, PROPER WEEDKILLER, FEWER CHEMICALS RESTRICTIONS, OLD FASHIONED LIGHT BULBS and DROP GREEN TARGETS – it’s debatable for how much longer England’s, and indeed Britain’s, green and pleasant land will actually be green and pleasant.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/30/100-reasons-to-embrace-brexit/

 

This past weekend, at the beginning of the 2016 Conservative Party conference, those newspapers had a collective right-wing orgasm when Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to trigger Article 50, the clause necessary for starting the Brexit process, by the end of March 2017.  A typical reaction was that of Margaret Thatcher’s old hatchet-man Norman Tebbit (now looking more than ever like Mr Barlow, the chief vampire in the 1979 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot), who gushed about it in a Sunday Telegraph article headed REJOICE, FOR THERESA MAY HAS STARTED THE AVALANCHE WHICH WILL SET BRITAIN FREE.

 

From thesteepletimes.com

 

One of the first things May did on becoming prime minister after Brexit and the resignation of her predecessor, the pig-penetrating David Cameron, was to visit Scotland, meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and assure her that she wanted “the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations” and would “listen to any options that they bring forward.”  Her comments about the Scottish government at the Tory Party conference have been slightly different in tone: “There is no opt-out from Brexit and I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union of the four nations of our United Kingdom.”  Which is rich coming from someone heading a party of divisive British nationalists who’ve undermined the union of the 28 nations of the EU.

 

The past months have been uncomfortable for those Scots who voted ‘no’ to independence in 2014 but voted ‘remain’ in this year’s EU referendum.  “But,” they protest, “we want to be Scottish, and British, and European!”  For example, Scottish Labour Party leader Keiza Dugdale told the Guardian on July 11th: “We just don’t know whether Scotland can remain part of Europe and part of the United Kingdom.  I, like the vast majority of Scots, want to be part of both.  That’s what I want to fight for.”  To Dugdale, 55% apparently counts as a ‘vast majority’.

 

Then there’s the columnist, broadcaster and author Muriel Gray, who tweeted on June 29th: “So Scots who don’t want tribalism.  Want to remain part of everything: UK, EU, libertarian world, humanity in general.  Who’s their champion?”  Her fellow author Irvine Welsh nailed it when he tweeted back, “Santa Claus.”

 

Well, I sympathise with anyone wishing to be Scottish, British and European.  Even though I supported Scottish independence in 2014, I still feel British myself, at least in the way people in a politically independent Sweden or Norway can still have a cultural and geographical affinity with the larger entity of ‘Scandinavia’.  And I can understand their dismay at what happened on June 24th, even though they’d allowed themselves to be sold a pup about the EU two years earlier.

 

But now they can’t have it both ways.  With a second referendum on Scottish independence looking likely, they’ll soon have to decide between the ‘British’ bit and the ‘European’ bit.  This is especially so given the sympathetic noises Europe has made towards Scotland since the EU vote.  For instance, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, appointed as the European Parliament’s lead negotiator in the forthcoming Brexit talks, has said: “If Scotland decides to leave the UK, to be an independent state, and they decide to be part of the EU, I think there is no big obstacle to that.”  Incidentally, the odious and hysterical wee right-wing tabloid the Daily Express has dubbed Verhofstadt ‘the most dangerous man in the EU.’  Its odious and hysterical wee right-wing Siamese twin the Daily Mail had previously dubbed Nicola Sturgeon ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’, so it all has a nice symmetry.

 

Like it or not, Keiza Dugdale, Muriel Gray and co. will soon have to decide between sticking with an increasingly insular, increasingly stunted Britain where, with Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour Party tearing itself to pieces, the Conservatives look likely to reign in perpetuity and the political and cultural agenda will be set by the likes of the Daily Telegraph, Express and Mail; and taking a deep breath, going for the Scottish independence option and being part of something new and hopefully better.

 

Yes, folks, it’s make-your-mind-up time.

 

(c) BBC

 

Nothing but the Ruth

 

(c) Channel 4

 

Imagine what would have happened if during my schooldays I’d arrived home one afternoon and told my mum in a jubilant voice: “Mum!  I had a big test today and I got 22% of the answers right!  And thanks to my superb result everyone now thinks I’m amazingly clever!  Even the principal’s so impressed by my brilliance that in future she’s going to defer to my judgement in all decisions affecting the school!”

 

Actually, this is what would have happened.  My mother would have promptly whacked me around the lug for being a lazy waste-of-space who hadn’t done any studying for an important test and had got 78% of the answers wrong.  After that she would have taken me to a psychiatrist to have my disturbing narcissism and delusions of grandeur treated.

 

Yet the mainstream media has adopted a similar attitude in its reporting of the Scottish Conservative Party’s performance in the Scottish parliamentary election on May 5th.  Leading the Scottish Conservatives is 37-year-old Ruth Davidson, a politician who’ll do anything for a scrap of publicity.  The gregarious Davidson will ride a tank, sit on top of a bull, dress up in Highland dress and pretend to play the bagpipes.  She’ll do anything, in fact, except stick the word ‘Conservative’ on her party’s promotional literature.  Scottish Tories like Ruth, you see, are a wee shy about identifying themselves as Conservatives.  That’s because since the reign of Margaret Thatcher Conservativism in Scotland has been, to borrow a simile from Billy Connolly, “as popular as a fart in a spacesuit”.

 

(c) Daily Telegraph

 

What happened in last week’s election was this.  The Scottish National Party got 46.5% of the votes, up 1.1% on their previous performance, though they finished with 63 seats, six less than last time, and narrowly missed getting an overall majority in the parliament.  Labour got 22.6% and 24 seats, 9.2% and 13 seats down on last time.  The Greens and Liberal Democrats won six seats and five seats respectively.  And the Tories, traditionally loathed in Scotland?  They actually showed some improvement.  They increased their share of the vote by 8.1% to 22% and their number of seats by 16 to 31, making them the second-biggest party in the parliament.  Though thanks to the vagaries of the Scottish electoral system, they finished seven seats ahead of Labour, who got 0.6% more of the vote than they did.

 

So the Tories did reasonably well – but only in terms of expectations and compared with their dismal performances in Scotland in the recent past.  And let’s put things in perspective.  In the UK general election of 1987, the Tories polled 24% of the votes in Scotland – and that was with another female figurehead, the aforementioned Margaret Thatcher.  In fact, by 1987, it’d become common knowledge that most Scots hated old Maggie’s guts and the feeling was no doubt mutual.  This was when the satirical TV show Spitting Image was doing gags about Thatcher slashing a map of Scotland with a razor-fingered Freddy Krueger glove and Number 10 Downing Street having a secret laboratory where men in white coats administered Tory policies to struggling, squealing rats that wore kilts.

 

So last week Ruth and her gang still fell two percent short of what their party achieved in Scotland in the last election that they were led by Margaret Thatcher, the great bête noir of late-20th-century Scottish politics.

 

Mind you, as soon as I heard about Ruth Davidson’s result, I grimaced.  I knew what was coming next.  No matter what the reality, the Scottish mainstream press – which consists largely of right-wing rags like the Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Scotsman and Scottish editions of the Times and Daily Telegraph – was going to have a gigantic right-wing orgasm.  It was going to give us Ruth, the whole Ruth, and nothing but the Ruth.  And it did.  The Daily Mail proclaimed her better-than-expected showing with the headline THE ROAR OF MIDDLE SCOTLAND.  (Because its volume was turned down to 22%, I assume it was a very quiet roar.)  The Express’s front page shrieked SNP INDYREF 2 PLAN IN SHREDS, in the belief that because Ruth has less than a quarter of the seats in the Scottish parliament and less than half the seats of the SNP, she can now boss First Minister Nicola Sturgeon around.  Starting by ordering her not to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.  Aye, that’s you told, Nicky.

 

Meanwhile, Scotland’s legion of right-wing journalists, columnists and commentators seemed to come in their venerable tweed breeks.  The Spectator’s Alex Massie, for instance, penned a piece about the Scottish Tories’ supposed revival entitled THE UNION STRIKES BACK, which was accompanied by a picture of Ruth Davidson’s head photo-shopped onto Princess Leia’s body.  Someone should remind Massie that the folk who did the striking back in the celebrated 1980 sci-fi fantasy movie were the Empire, who were space-Nazis led by Darth Vader – probably not the analogy he was looking for.

 

Time for a reality check, guys.  The SNP may not have enough seats to be a majority in the Scottish parliament but there is a pro-Scottish-independence majority – the Greens support the cause too and if you add them to the SNP you get a total of 69 seats, nine more than the combined number of pro-unionist Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat ones.  And even if this wasn’t the case, the Daily Express’s claims about a second independence referendum being thwarted would be disingenuous.  It’s well-known that Nicola Sturgeon has no intention of holding a second referendum anytime soon.  She intends to wait a few years until she feels confident that independence has enough support to win the next referendum.

 

And somehow I don’t think the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats will be in any hurry to line up behind ‘Team Ruth’ and launch a great unionist uprising against the SNP government.  Both parties now have bitter experience of getting humped at the polls after becoming too closely associated with the Tories.  Labour suffered badly after they shared the same platform as them during the referendum campaign, as did the Liberal Democrats after they formed a coalition with them at Westminster in 2011.

 

In fact, if I was a moderate voter in Scotland who wanted to maintain the link with the United Kingdom, I’d feel very uneasy about Ruth Davidson and co. now being the main voices of unionism in the Scottish parliament.  Unionism will now be associated more than ever with the Toryism that prevails in Westminster and all that that entails: a posh Eton-educated Tory Prime Minister who’s worth millions and who benefited financially from a Panama offshore trust; a ruling Tory cabal who in their youth would strut arrogantly around Oxford dressed in tailcoats, waistcoats and bowties and smash up restaurants; a Tory health minister whose policies have sparked the first full walkout in the history of England’s NHS;  a Tory London mayoral candidate whose campaign against the eventual winner Sadiq Khan was a revolting exercise in anti-Muslim racism; a Tory government whose intention to cut £4 billion from disabled people’s benefits was deemed so ‘morally indefensible’ by its Work and Pensions Minister that he quit in protest; a Tory government that scrapped child poverty targets and wanted to turn away 3000 abandoned Syrian children; a Tory government that’s outsourced the country’s nuclear industry to China and bowed and scraped to Saudi Arabia, the world’s most notorious financer of terrorism.

 

Ruth Davidson might try to play down the fact, but at the end of the day she’s still Scottish branch manager for the unpleasant outfit calling the shots at Westminster.  And underneath her grin and her big bubbly laugh and her general veneer of bonhomie, I can’t help suspecting there’s lurks a nasty little right-wing homunculus that looks a bit like this:

 

From order-order.com

 

Or perhaps like this:

 

(c) The Guardian 

 

Or perhaps even like this:

 

(c) The Guardian

 

The strife of Brian

 

(c) Daily Record

 

At the end of March we said goodbye to the great Edinburgh-born comic performer Ronnie Corbett, one of whose catchphrases was: “And it’s good night from him.”  One month later, on April 29th, we bade farewell to another great Scottish comedy talent.  For the journalist, political commentator and former Labour MP Brian Wilson penned his final column for the Scotsman newspaper.  It was good night from him too.

 

When I call Wilson a Scottish comedy talent, I’m thinking of a particular strain of Scottish comedy.  I’m thinking of Walt Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, and John Laurie’s Private Frazer in the much-loved wartime sitcom Dad’s Army, and the Reverend I.M. Jolly, one of the characters essayed by the late Rikki Fulton in his sketch show Scotch and Wry.  Like those three, Brian Wilson is dour and crabbit and negative, traits commonly attributed to the Scots, but is so over-the-top about it that he becomes hilarious.  Though there’s a slight difference.  The actors and animators who created Scrooge McDuck, Private Frazer and the Reverend I.M. Jolly weren’t being serious.  When the glowering, gurning, face-like-a-skelped-arse Wilson sits down at his computer and thumps out another thousand-word missive of misery and more misery for the Scotsman, he is being serious.  He means it.  That’s the real him.  Which usually makes me fall off my perch laughing.

 

Before I continue, I should say that Scotland’s Brian Wilson is no relation to the American Brian Wilson, the singer-songwriter responsible for the sunny, upbeat tunes of the Beach Boys during the 1960s – though somehow, sinisterly, his work also inspired the murderous hippy cult-leader Charles Manson.  Our Brian certainly has none of his American namesake’s sunniness.  In fact, he calls to mind the famous quote by P.G. Wodehouse that it “has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and ray of sunshine.”  Wilson is so immersed in doom and gloom that he’d make even the weakest, wateriest ray of sunshine appear as coruscating as a gamma-ray burst from a star turning supernova.

 

And while American Brian had the dubious honour of influencing Charles Manson, Scottish Brian will tell you that anyone who disagrees with his politics – especially members of the Scottish National Party and other folk favouring greater autonomy or outright independence for Scotland – is Charles Manson.

 

Wilson has opposed the transfer of political power to Scotland for a very long time.  Back in 1979, for instance, he chaired the Labour Vote No Campaign during the debate about the establishment of a devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.  No doubt he was happy, or at least a shade less grim than usual, when the proposed parliament came to naught thanks to a rigged referendum whereby a majority of Scots voted in favour of it but, the rules decreed, not enough of them voted for it.  Subsequently, during the 1980s, the absence of a Scottish parliament left Margaret Thatcher free to have her wicked way with Scotland from her base in Westminster.  Even when his own Labour Party, finally back in power in 1997, moved to create that long-delayed Scottish parliament, Wilson was still harrumphing and huffing about it.  Small wonder he became known as the Abominable ‘No’ Man.

 

From twitter.com/dalriadan39

 

In his final Scotsman appearance on April 29th, Wilson claimed there were two reasons for his long-standing opposition to a Scottish parliament.  Firstly, he feared that decision-making would become unfairly centralised in Scotland, i.e. in Edinburgh – though how that’s worse than the old set-up, when big decisions affecting Scotland were made 400 miles south in London, is beyond me.  Secondly, and what I suspect was Wilson’s real reason, he predicted that a Scottish parliament would sooner or later stop being run by the Labour party and start being run by the SNP – which happened after the Scottish election of 2007.  “Since 1997, Scottish Labour might have done better through a more acute awareness of having constructed – with the best of motives – its own potential scaffold.”

 

Wilson, it’s fair to say, hasn’t been impressed by the SNP regime that’s run Scotland since 2007 (and is set to continue running it after yesterday’s Scottish parliamentary election, in which the SNP won 63 seats and the Labour Party won only 24).  In his valedictory column he blasts it for “a constant agenda of grievance and betrayal”, for “self-inflicted timidity and under-achievement”, for “a poverty of ideas”, for “a spiral of decline”, for “a cruel hoax”, for “a con trick”.  All of which have put Scotland not on “a mythical motorway to independence but a slow road to mediocrity”.

 

Well, there are several things I think Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government should be criticised for.  But it’s a bit rich for this abuse to come from a former stalwart of the Scottish Labour Party.  For if you want a lesson in what mediocrity, under-achievement and creative poverty are about, you need look no further than the bad old days when Wilson’s party dominated Scotland.  This was the era when political commentators joked that Labour votes in Scotland were weighed rather than counted; and in Glasgow you could stick a red rosette on a monkey and it’d get voted into Westminster.  Actually, looking at the evidence, the red rosette / monkey scenario must have actually happened in a number of cases.

 

Among the mediocre, under-achieving and creatively constipated Labour MPs that Scotland had representing it were such specimens as Lanark and Hamilton East’s Jimmy Hood, who once declared he’d oppose Scottish independence even if it made the Scottish people better off – the fact that as an MP he was busy claiming £1000-a-month second-home expenses in London no doubt had something to do with his keenness to keep Westminster running the show.  And Midlothian’s David Hamilton, who in 2015 did his bit for the battle against sexism by describing Nicola Sturgeon (and her hairstyle) as “the wee lassie with a tin helmet on”.  And Glasgow South West’s Ian Davidson, who charmingly predicted that after 2014’s referendum on independence the debate would carry on only “in the sense there is a large number of wounded still to be bayoneted”.  And Renfrewshire West’s Tommy Graham, who was chucked out of Labour in 1998 after he allegedly smeared fellow MP Gordon McMaster about having a homosexual relationship – McMaster had committed suicide the year before and in his suicide note he named Graham as a tormentor.

 

Among this shower – who became known as the ‘low-flying Jimmies’ because of their lack of ambition in anything other than being cannon-fodder for Labour at Westminster and enjoying all the perks that came with being MPs – any Scottish Labour politicians who dared to display minds of their own were either politely side-lined, like Linlithgow’s Tam Dalyell, or unceremoniously forced out, like Falkirk’s Dennis Canavan.  With numpties like these populating the Westminster opposition benches during the 1980s and 1990s, it’s no surprise Mrs Thatcher’s Tories had a free run to do whatever they liked in Scotland.

 

Unlike most of his Caledonian compadres, Brian Wilson at least had a brain.  And under Tony Blair he served as a Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, for Industry and Energy and for the Scottish Office.  No doubt for him those years when Labour, or New Labour as they’d been brightly rebranded, were back in power was a golden age of enlightenment and progressiveness.  Though many would disagree.  The Guardian’s environmental correspondent George Monbiot, writing in response to something Wilson himself had penned for his newspaper, described New Labour as an outfit for whom the important things in life were “keeping faith with the banks, the corporate press, the banks, a tollbooth economy and market fundamentalism” and “voting for the Iraq War, for Trident, for identity cards, for 3,500 new criminal offences, including the criminalisation of most kinds of peaceful protest.”

 

http://www.monbiot.com/2014/09/09/england-the-brave/

 

Wilson was a big supporter of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and he subsequently became Tony Blair’s special envoy for the country’s ‘reconstruction’.

 

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/10644/brian_wilson/cunninghame_north/divisions?policy=1049

 

But I’d hate this entry to be a complete hatchet job.  Is there anything good I can say about Brian Wilson?  Well, he can at least string a proper sentence together.  He’s had enough journalistic practice – as a young man he co-founded, published and wrote for the respected newspaper the West Highland Free Press.  His columns in the Scotsman have been mercifully free of the gibberish filling the pieces that his former-fellow-Scottish-Labour MP and ex-Scottish-Labour leader Jim Murphy writes for the New Statesman these days.

 

He’s campaigned tirelessly for the promotion of the Gaelic language in Scotland and for me anything that preserves cultural diversity is to be applauded.  That said, most of the Gaelic speakers I’ve known – and I knew a lot during the years I lived in Aberdeen – didn’t really trust him and any respect they had for him was grudging at best.

 

He’s had a sane attitude to energy policy, favouring a combination of renewables and nuclear power.  I don’t like the idea of nuclear power, but I think with global warming hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles we don’t have any choice now but to continue using it.  Mind you, I suspect Wilson’s opinions on the subject are coloured by his private financial interests.  From 2003 to 2004 he was director of a company called Virtual Utility Limited, which supposedly was involved in windfarms; while in 2005 he was appointed non-executive director of AMEC Nuclear Holdings Ltd, the ‘nuclear services arm’ of AMEC plc.

 

Oh, and while he was special envoy to Iraq, who won part of a half-billion-pound deal to reconstruct the country’s water and sewage systems?  Why, AMEC did!  Funny, that.

 

http://powerbase.info/index.php/Brian_Wilson