That didn’t take long


(c) Daily Record


I hadn’t expected the promises made by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to amount to the proverbial hill of beans.  I’m talking, of course, about the promises of new powers being devolved to Scotland in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish-independence referendum on September 18th; which the three Unionist party leaders made a few days before the referendum in a fit of panic when opinion polls suggested the ‘yes’ vote was nudging past the ‘no’ one.  What does surprise me is the speed with which, after the referendum returned a result of 45% in favour of independence and 55% against it, the promises of the Three Stooges, or the Three Unwise Men, or whatever you want to call them, have started to be reneged on.


(One reason for not believing any of this – which the Labour-supporting Scottish tabloid the Daily Record rather desperately splashed on its front page as THE VOW – was the involvement of Nick Clegg.  Anyone who, over the past few years, has followed the behaviour of the Liberal Party leader / facilitator-of-the-current-Conservative-government-in-London will know that any pledge with his signature on it is not worth the paper it’s written upon.  Check the following link for details:


However, barely had the last vote been counted in the referendum and it became clear that the United Kingdom was safe for a little while longer, David Cameron announced that any new powers for Scotland would have to be linked to some new powers for England: namely, an end to the anomaly whereby Scottish MPs are able to vote in the House of Commons on matters pertaining only to England, while English MPs are unable to vote on ones pertaining to Scotland – because most of those decisions are now made 400 miles north in the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.


Ed Miliband must’ve popped a few blood vessels when he heard Cameron come out with that.  If Labour win the 2015 general election, it may well be by only a slim majority, leaving Ed dependent on the 40-odd Labour MPs that are usually returned by Scotland to get his legislation passed in the House of Commons.  If those MPs are barred from voting on English matters, Ed could be in the embarrassing position of being a British Prime Minister who’s unable to legislate for 85% of the British population – i.e. the English.  (He won’t be able to legislate for Scotland either, because its parliament is currently in the hands of the Scottish National Party and will be at least until 2016.)


Now it looks like those promises are likely to disappear down a hole while the Westminster-based representatives of the Conservative and Labour Parties engage in a kerfuffle about who said what and who promised what.  It certainly wasn’t the case – as stated clearly in THE VOW on the Daily Record’s front page – that the Scottish parliament would be “strengthened with extensive new powers, on a timetable beginning September 19th.”  The 19th had come and gone and all we’ve seen is Tory-Labour squabbling.  Hardly seemly for two parties who, until a few days ago, were assuring us that we were all ‘better together’.


Actually, I expect the issue will finally be kicked into the long grass and forgotten about while the Westminster political and media establishments find other, more reassuringly-familiar things to obsess about, like the upcoming Clacton by-election and the possibility of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) winning its first seat in the House of Commons, and then next year’s general election.


By the way, I can understand English people’s annoyance at the current conundrum.  If I were English, I’d be pissed off that Scottish MPs can enjoy a say over my country’s affairs, when my own MPs have no say over theirs.  This is the old ‘West Lothian Question’, which was first raised in 1977 by the distinguished Labour Party politician Tam Dalyell and which seems more pertinent than ever today.  Old Tam is not just a rare example of a fine Labour mind, he’s also an even rarer example of a fine Scottish Labour mind.  Just yesterday, Tam told the BBC’s Kirsty Wark: “I think it would be wrong in principle for a Labour government to impose – because that’s the correct word – legislation in England using a Scottish majority, where those Scottish MPs had absolutely no say in their own place…  I think he’s (Miliband’s) got to face up to it that it is deeply wrong to try to pretend that Scottish MPs should vote decisively on English affairs.”


However, the fact remains that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg promised the Scots those powers at a time when there seemed a possibility of the ‘yes’ side winning narrowly.  It didn’t in the end, but it would’ve done with a six-percent swing of the vote.  Now I’m sure that among the 55% of Scottish voters who ultimately voted ‘no’, there were a lot, probably a majority, who felt British, wanted to stay in the United Kingdom, hated the concept of Scotland becoming independent, didn’t care about extra powers being handed over to Edinburgh and maybe didn’t want a parliament, even a devolved one, in Edinburgh in the first place.  But I’m also sure there were a number of folk swithering between voting ‘yes’ and voting ‘no’, who were ultimately swayed to the ‘no’ side by THE VOW.  As many as six percent?  Quite possibly.  Which makes the prevarications happening now in Westminster deeply wrong from a Scottish point of view.


Mind you, a lot of people voted ‘yes’ precisely because they regarded the political hacks of Westminster as a shower of corrupt, untrustworthy sleazebags whom Scotland was better off shot of.  What has happened since September 18th has probably not done anything to change that opinion.


The man with the golden teeth


(c) Eon Productions


Even Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, modern-day producers of the James Bond movie franchise, would struggle to dispute the claim that the best Bond villains – the ones imprinted on the public consciousness – are the villains whom Ian Fleming created in his original novels about the British superspy between the 1940s and 1960s.  When Fleming’s imagined megalomaniacs, psychopaths, thugs, hoods and vagabonds subsequently made the leap from page to screen, everybody loved them.  Think Blofeld, Goldfinger, Dr No, Oddjob, Rosa Klebb, Red Grant, Scaramanga and so on.


When the moviemakers ran out of Bond novels to film and started making up their own titles, stories and characters, the resulting celluloid-only villains never quite managed the same impact as the ones born in Fleming’s imagination.  Sure, there were some who were effective: Christopher Walken’s Max Zoran and Grace Jones’s Mayday in A View to a Kill (1985); Robert Davi’s Sanchez in Licence to Kill (1989); Robert Carlisle’s Renard in The World is Not Enough (1999); Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva in Skyfall (2012); and the late, great Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr Kaufman, all-too-briefly seen in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).  However, you’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone that these characters belong in the premier division of great Bond villains.  No, the greats are almost exclusively the creations of Fleming.


I say ‘almost’ because there’s one Bond villain who didn’t feature in the books and who was designed only for the screen, but whom everybody remembers.  Yes, step forward (or lumber forward) Jaws, the seven-foot two-inch henchman to Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), played by Richard Kiel.  Kiel, unfortunately, passed away on the 10th of this month at the age of 74.


Actually, I should qualify that.  The inspiration for Jaws came from Fleming because in the 1962 novel of The Spy Who Loved Me (which has nothing to do with the movie version), there’s a thug called Sol Horowitz, known as ‘Horror’, who has steel-capped teeth.  Jaws – named after a certain shark-movie directed by a young Steven Spielberg, which did rather well at the box office in the mid-to-late 1970s – doesn’t so much have steel-capped teeth as steel-plated ones that look like they were installed by a seriously-deranged dentist.  On the movie set of The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws’ metal dentures were so uncomfortable that Kiel could only bear to wear them for less than a minute at a time.


The Spy Who Loved Me was the third James Bond movie to star Roger Moore in the lead role and, although I have issues – severe issues – with Moore’s run of Bond movies, I can happily admit to liking this one.  For my money, it’s the only time between the early 1970s and the late 1980s when the Bond-movie team really got its act together and found an acceptable balance between spectacle, humour and outrageousness.  It even, very occasionally, has a soupcon of seriousness.  To be honest, Kiel’s character does push the film a little too far into absurdity because his character is not only seven-foot-two and equipped with a set of giant metal gnashers but he’s also invincible – he survives being buried under falling slabs of rock, being thrown out of the window of a speeding train and being accosted by a shark.  As the critic and Bond expert John Brosnan once noted, the Bond films have enough of a credibility problem with one character who’s superhumanly indestructible – Bond himself.  When you put a second such character in them, you’re asking for trouble.


But what the heck?  For sheer presence, physicality and menace, Kiel – who doesn’t utter a word throughout the film – is brilliant and he counts as the last of the truly iconic Bond villains.  Indeed, I’m convinced that in Skyfall there’s a little nod to Kiel’s greatness when Javier Bardem’s bad guy removes a set of dentures to reveal his real teeth, which are hideously deformed and mangled.  At that point, surely, older viewers the world over murmured nostalgically under their breath: “Jaws!”  I know I did.


Unfortunately, if The Spy Who Loved Me represents Roger Moore’s finest hour as 007, then the following movie, 1979’s Moonraker, represents him and the film-franchise at its worst.  Intended to cash in on the box-office success of another late-1970s movie, Star Wars, it’s a far-fetched tale involving space shuttles, space stations, space battles and an evil genius called Hugo Drax who plans to wipe out humanity by bombarding it from orbit with deadly nerve gas.  Mind you, the film’s silliest moment – for me the worst moment of the entire film series – is an earthbound one, when Moore escapes from some would-be assassins in Venice in a gondola that transforms into a speedboat and then into a hovercraft.


Leaving no populist stone unturned, the filmmakers brought Kiel back as Jaws, but stripped him of his menace by upping his character’s jokiness.  The nadir comes when they give him his own love interest, a petite, pigtailed and bespectacled blonde played by French actress Blanche Ravalec.  From there on, poor old Jaws starts to turn into a sentimental sap and at the end of the film he even becomes a good guy who saves Moore’s life.  He was a far more interesting character when he was biting people’s throats out with his steel teeth.


That said, Moonraker’s pre-credits sequence, wherein Moore and Kiel do battle in mid-air while they plunge towards the ground from an airplane – for much of which Moore is without a parachute – sets the pulse racing like no other sequence in the Bond films up until then.  It’s just a pity that the sequence ends in absurdity, with Kiel failing to get his own parachute open and crashing through the roof of a circus big-top, which then slowly collapses around him.


Away from the Bond films, Kiel was a regular actor in American TV shows during the 1960s and 1970s, making appearances in The Twilight Zone, Lassie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Jeanie, My Mother the Car, Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, I Spy, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, Barbary Coast, McMillan and Wife and Starsky and Hutch.  He had a semi-regular gig as a henchman on the Western / spy / sci-fi show The Wild, Wild West – which is now seen as a very early example of the ‘steampunk’ genre – but for my money his best TV role came in an episode of the old, Boris Karloff-hosted horror anthology series Thriller.  Kiel played a villain / monster in a loopy but memorably atmospheric instalment of Thriller called Well of Doom, which was set in a Hollywood-studio imagining of what a typical Scottish moor was supposed to be like – i.e. it was thickly a-swirl with fog at all times.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, fame brought him roles as a villain and / or henchman in films like Silver Streak (1976), Force 10 from Navarone (1978) and tatty Italian Star Wars rip-off The Humanoid (1979).  Perhaps his best film was Clint Eastwood’s second-last western, Pale Rider (1985), in which Eastwood overcame the threatening Kiel by swinging a sledgehammer into his nuts.  Unsurprisingly, Jaws proved to be a legacy that Kiel found hard to shake off.  He lent his voice to the character in the 2004 computer game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing and cameoed in the 1999 action-comedy Inspector Gadget as a character referred to as ‘the Famous Bad Guy with Silver Teeth’.


But there was a lot more to Kiel than seven feet and two inches of brawn.  He could also claim to be an author, for he once co-wrote a biography of the 19th-century Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay.  And fascinatingly, while he was trying to establish himself as an actor in the early 1960s, he held down a part-time evening job as a mathematics instructor.  Incidentally, I was always rubbish at maths and after studying it for five years I barely managed to scrape a ‘C’ in the subject in my Scottish Highers examinations; but I suspect I would’ve addressed it with more diligence if my maths teacher had been Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me.


Some people who are feeling disappointed today


Neal Ascherson, Derek Bateman, Ian Bell, Belle & Sebastian, Alan Bissett, Bjork, Frankie Boyle, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Kevin Bridges, Christopher Brookmyre, Tom Bryan, Dennis Canavan, Noam Chomsky, James Cosmo, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Sir Tom Devine, Winnie Ewing, Franz Ferdinand, Matthew Fitt, Frightened Rabbit, Janice Galloway, Dick Gaughan, Alasdair Gray, Chris Harvie, Patrick Harvie, Gerry Hassan, David Hayman, Greg Hemphill, Pat Kane, Billy Kay, James Kelman, A.L. Kennedy, Limmy, Liz Lochhead, Iain MacWhirter, John McAllion, Val McDermid, Alan McGee, William McIlvanney, Kevin McKenna, Kevin McKidd, Mogwai, George Monbiot, Morrissey,  Peter Mullan, Craig Murray, John Niven, Karine Polwart, The Proclaimers, Eddie Reader, Lesley Riddich, James Robertson, Ricky Ross, Alex Salmond, Captain Sensible, Jim Sillars, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Elaine C. Smith, Judy Steel, Ken Stott, Charles Stross, Nicola Sturgeon, Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh, Kevin Williamson, Ruth Wishart and Canon Kenyon Wright.


And of course, him:


(c) Eon Productions


And, if you’re to believe the reports about a tweet he sent yesterday, him:


(c) The Herald


So at least I’m in good company.


Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?




Well, the day has arrived.  Today, September 18th, is when the people of Scotland go to the polls and vote on whether or not their country should become independent again.


Nothing would make me happier than if a majority voted ‘yes’ to independence, but I’m afraid that – habitual pessimist that I am – I’ll have to stick by the predictions I’ve made in earlier blog-posts and say that I don’t think it’s going to happen: this time.  I know that recent opinion polls have said it’ll be close and one or two have even put the ‘yes’ vote in front; but I think the lead shown by the ‘no’ campaign in most opinion polls will translate itself into a majority when the votes are counted.


Considering the massive number of apocalyptic threats on one hand and massive number of wild promises on the other that’ve been flung at the Scottish electorate by the British political, business and media establishments over the past two years, it’s amazing that anyone is minded to vote for independence at all – never mind a proportion that could be close to half the population.  However, I think the sheer volume of pro-UK propaganda will, ultimately, have a decisive effect on how the vote goes.


Ever since the polls suggested a fortnight ago that the gap between the sides was narrowing, there’s been a non-stop bombardment of it: Unionist party leaders like David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (plus a woken-from-hibernation Gordon Brown) seemingly promising Scots the earth if they stay in the UK, without giving much detail about what’s on offer; and simultaneous tales of horror about how every business in Scotland, from RBS and Standard Life down to the wee sweetie-shop at the foot of Cockburn Street in Edinburgh, will relocate to England in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.  Why, it sounds like even Visit Scotland will have to move operations to London and rename itself Visit England if the Scots are stupid enough to vote for self-determination.


Also, what I think of as the ‘Gideon Mack’ factor – taken from the novel of the same name by James Robertson – may play a role in deciding the outcome.  In Gideon Mack-the-book, Gideon Mack-the-character steps into a polling booth on the day of the 1979 referendum on setting up a devolved Scottish assembly: he suddenly takes cold feet, his support for the assembly melts away and he finds himself against all his expectations putting a cross in the ‘no’ box.  The other day, hoping to inspire such last-moment jitters, David Cameron called on Scots to think carefully while they ‘stand in the stillness of the polling booth’.


However, I’m optimistic in the long term that Scotland will be independent.  Just as the failed devolution vote in 1979 didn’t prevent a devolved Scottish parliament being created in 1999, so I think a failed independence vote now won’t prevent it happening later.  One thing the referendum has succeeded in doing is making people aware of politics and making them listen to what politicians are saying.  And when they start seeing the promises made by the unionist leaders evaporate, and the threats about what’d happen in an independent Scotland materialize anyway in a Scotland that’s still part of the United Kingdom, opinions will change.


Here’s what I predict will happen if – as I strongly suspect – Scotland votes ‘no’.


Downing Street, September 19th, after the final result has been declared: David Cameron and George Osborne pop open the bottles of champagne while Cameron’s take-no-prisoners Australian spin-doctor Lynton Crosby starts planning his master’s campaign for the 2015 General Election.  In the 2015 campaign, the old Etonian will be proudly rebranded as ‘the Prime Minister who saved Britain’.  Already, Alistair Darling begins to look like the Tories’ useful idiot.


Led by the Daily Mail, the press begins a vociferous campaign to force Alex Salmond’s resignation as Scottish First Minister now that the independence cause he’s championed has been defeated.  Many London-based tabloids publish sneering pieces mocking the Scots as whining subsidy-junkies who’ve finally realized what side their bread is buttered on.  These pieces, strangely, don’t appear in the same newspapers’ Scottish editions.


This subsides after two or three weeks as Scotland disappears off Westminster’s radar again and the press hunkers down for the next big story – the 2015 General Election.  The Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun re-align their artillery, away from Salmond and towards Ed Miliband, whom they spend the next months portraying as a weak, out-of-touch socialist bumbler who’ll run Britain into the ground if he gets the keys to number ten.  Labour Party politicians start complaining about ‘bias’ in the media.  This provokes great Schadenfreude from certain people north of the border.


2014 comes to an end and the New Year’s Honours List is announced.  Certain individuals are rewarded with knighthoods, OBEs, CBEs, MBEs, etc., for their services in keeping the United Kingdom united.  There’s a gong for Keith Skeoch, Executive Director of Standard Life, the company that threatens to leave Scotland every time there’s talk of constitutional tinkering that might give the place more autonomy.  (He’s also a member of the Board of Reform Scotland, which according to author and former ambassador Craig Murray is a ‘neo-conservative lobby group which wants to abolish the minimum wage, privatise the NHS and pensions, and further restrict trade unions’.)  Lord George Roberson of Port Ellon KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC is awarded a further medal for his tireless struggle against the international ‘forces of darkness’, which would’ve undoubtedly been bolstered by a Scottish ‘yes’ vote.  Should this medal be the Grand Order of Britain (GOB) or should it be the Supreme Honour for Integrity, Tenacity and Excellence (SHITE)?  Perhaps he should get both – George Robertson GOB SHITE has an appropriate ring to it.


Elsewhere, Gordon Brown becomes Lord Brown of Shrek’s Swamp.  Alastair Darling becomes Lord Darling of Tracy Island.  And will that supposed socialist firebrand George Galloway, who’s spent the past months warning that an independent Scotland would be a hellhole of racism and sectarianism, abandon his left-wing principles and accept a peerage?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  He’s shameless enough.  He could be Lord Galloway of Nonsense-on-Stilts.


Scots who’d assumed they’d get substantial new powers from Westminster after a ‘no’ vote are perplexed to discover that those powers are less spectacular than promised: a bit more say over social care here, a bit more say over the railways there, a few additional tweaks, nothing else.  This is hardly surprising.  The stuff promised by Gordon Brown was promised by somebody – an opposition backbench MP – in no position to promise anything.  Meanwhile, on the day that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg descended on Scotland en masse (following the shock of a sudden tightening in the opinion polls) and offered everyone the moon on a stick, William Hague – deputizing for Cameron in the House of Commons – reassured backbench Tories that these promises were merely the equivalent of electioneering promises.  There was no guarantee that they’d ever be passed into law.  At the time, oddly, Hague’s comments didn’t get much coverage in the newspapers.


Whichever party wins power in Westminster in 2015, Conservative or Labour, the brutal austerity measures continue.  They come hard and fast under Prime Minister Cameron, slightly less hard and slightly less fast but painfully longer under Prime Minister Miliband.  As the money-pot gets smaller, so the share of it allocated to Scotland shrivels up too.


The Scottish Rugby Union decides to stop playing Flower of Scotland as the Caledonian anthem before international rugby matches, because the line that goes, “…we can still rise now, and be a nation again!” is attracting too many embarrassing jeers from opposition fans.


Astonishingly, Alastair Darling’s prediction that North Sea oil would run out in 2017 proves to be wrong.  The black stuff, contrarily, keeps on flowing, through the 2020s and 2030s and beyond.  However, no complaints are heard coming from the UK Treasury.


A few years from now, the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) sees the National Health Service in Britain become a lucrative new market – a veritable smorgasbord of pickings – for transnational companies whose priority is profit rather than the care of patients.  North of the border, the NHS is supposedly the Scottish NHS, a distinct and separate entity.  But when the devolved administration in Edinburgh stresses its distinctness and separateness and tries to exempt it from TTIP, which is privatising / ravaging health services elsewhere in Britain, those private companies take the administration to court.  In court, the companies win their case by arguing that Scotland and its NHS aren’t distinct or separate.  Scotland’s merely a region of a country, the UK.  After all, didn’t its population vote to confirm that regional status back in 2014?


London keeps on expanding, sucking investment and talent out of the other parts of the UK, including Scotland.


Sooner or later, the day arrives when Nigel Farage’s greatest and wettest dream is fulfilled: a UK-wide referendum on continued membership of the European Union is held and it results in a UKIP / Tory majority in southern England voting to leave the EU.  A majority in Scotland vote to stay in it, but they’re outnumbered by the anti-European brigade down south.  All those old scare stories about an independent Scotland being booted out of the EU suddenly look hollow.


Boris Johnston, a man whose concept of British geography doesn’t extend beyond the M25, becomes British Prime Minister…  But no.  It’s time to abandon these predictions before they make me suicidal.


I suspect the constant refrain in a post-‘no’-vote Scotland will be the same question that Johnny Rotten – sick to the teeth of the manipulations of manager Malcolm McLaren – put to his audience at the end of the final concert by the original Sex Pistols at San Francisco Winterland in January 1978: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”  As people in Scotland realise they’ve been cheated, I think momentum will build again for independence.  I only hope that in the meantime the place doesn’t endure the sort of punishment it received, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher, between the two devolution referendums in 1979 and 1997.


But maybe all my pessimism will prove unfounded.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in a state of shocked euphoria.  We shall see.


The dying Scotsman


(c) The Guardian 


Quelle surprise.  The Scotsman, which calls itself ‘Scotland’s national newspaper’ and has been rolling off the presses in Edinburgh since 1817, announced near the end of last week that it was supporting a ‘no’ vote in tomorrow’s referendum on Scottish independence.  Anyone who during the past two years has followed the newspaper’s shrill anti-independence headlines (which often contradict or distort what’s actually written in the articles below them) won’t be surprised by this.  Also, I doubt if anyone on the pro-independence side will be troubled by the venerable Edinburgh newspaper coming out against them.


According to the most recent figures in the Scotsman’s Wikipedia entry, the poor old thing only manages to sell 28,500 copies daily.  Lately, it’s had to lay off staff-members and reduce its number of pages and supplements and, in April this year, it admitted to a ‘downsizing’ of premises – Scotsman Publications were flitting from Barclay House on Holyrood Road to Orchard Brae House on Queensferry Road, this new home being less than half the size and a third of the rent of the old one.  Probably the SNP, Greens, Radical Independence Campaign and co., keen to promote the idea of a new, independent, dynamic and forward-looking Scotland, are not desperately bothered about failing to win an endorsement from this old Scottish institution that’s plainly dying on its arse.


The Scotsman’s sorry state is a shame because at one time it was widely read, made its points intelligently and carried some influence – as much as any newspaper published 400 miles north of London could.  For the many years that my family have lived in Scotland, it’s been the one newspaper delivered to our house every day – my Dad reads it still but grumbles that ‘it’s not what it used to be’ and I suspect he only sticks with it because of old-time loyalty and because he likes its farming coverage.  My disenchantment with it is stronger.  In my opinion, compared with the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s, much of what it prints now ranges from being shallow and vacuous to being hysterical kneejerk crap, Daily Mail / Daily Express-style.


And I’m not saying that because I disagree with its politics.  Though even the smartest newspaper in the world would be hard to love if it featured some of the columnists that the Scotsman does.  It begins each week by publishing a piece by surly old Thatcherite Brian Monteith, a man so vehemently opposed to Scotland getting even a measure of home-rule with the creation of the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999 that he led the Think Twice Campaign against it.  Then he promptly joined it as a Conservative MSP.  (When he quit the parliament after seven years, he did describe himself as being ‘a one-man band swimming against the treacly tide of collectivism’ in it, so poor Brian obviously suffered for that MSP salary.)  Meanwhile, each week is rounded off by a Scotsman column written by the gimlet-eyed Brian Wilson, the former Labour MP who’s been banging on about the evils of Scottish home-rule and independence like a broken but never-stopping record since the 1970s.


Yes, there’s some attempt to present voices from the middle and moderate parts of the spectrum in the Scottish-independence debate too, like Alan Massie, Gerry Hassan and Lesley Riddoch, but with Brian and Brian as its two weekly bookends of doom, I find the modern-day Scotsman pretty difficult to stomach.


(c) The Guardian


The Scotsman was once a keen supporter, in its cautious and genteel way, of constitutional change in Scotland to allow the country more say in running its own affairs.  But then a tragic thing happened.  From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s Scotsman Publications were owned by the media, retail and property tycoons the Barclay Brothers, who installed as their editor-in-chief Andrew Neil, formerly Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenant in the UK and now a heavyweight political journalist with the BBC.  (I always thought Neil’s This Week programme, in which Michael Portillo, Diane Abbot and him would sit in a studio and discuss the week’s current affairs whilst seemingly indulging in a gruesome three-way mutual-admiration-orgy / flirtation-fest, was the most fascinatingly dreadful thing on British television.)


In newspaper circles back in the day, Neil was truly the man with the reverse-Midas touch: everything he touched turned to shit.  He was editor of the once-respectable Sunday Times in the 1980s, helping to turn it into the snide, shrill, right-wing shout-sheet it is today, and other publications he was involved with like the European and the Business suffered declining sales and finally closed.  Although Neil didn’t have anything to do with the Scotsman after it was acquired by the London-based Johnston Press in 2005, the newspaper remained on the right – where Neil had dragged it – and basically never recovered from the dose of journalistic syphilis it’d contracted from him during his tenure.


During the Barclay Brothers / Neil era, the Scotsman saw no fewer than seven editors.  By an odd coincidence, I’d vaguely known two of these short-lived editors from my educational years.  In 2000, the paper was briefly edited by Tim Luckhurst, who’d been a few years ahead of me at Peebles High School.  The lanky, curly-haired and lugubrious-faced Tim was a well-kent figure at the school, sloping around the place in a combat jacket and a T-shirt saying LEGALISE CANNABIS – in those permissive times you weren’t obliged to wear a school uniform – and to my mates and I he was known contemptuously  as ‘Chairman Mao’.


That Tim had to attend a lowly comprehensive school in the windy wilds of North Britain, full of horrible little oiks like myself, still rankles with the great man.  Writing for the Guardian in 2010 he quoted Ellen Wilkinson, Secretary of State for Education in Clement Atlee’s post-war Labour government, as saying of her childhood in non-selective schooling in Manchester: “The top few pupils were intelligent and could mop up facts like blotting paper, but we were made to wait for the rest of the huge classes…  We wanted to stretch our minds but were merely a nuisance.”  Tim noted sourly, “Thirty years later I experienced comparable misery at my Scottish comprehensive.”


I should point out that although it denied Tim the chance to stretch his fabulous mind and soak up facts like a first-rate sheet of blotting paper, Peebles High School did manage to get him into Cambridge University.  Incidentally, I recall a couple of years back chatting to a former teacher in Peebles, now a sweet little pensioner, when Tim’s name somehow cropped up in the conversation.  The teacher suddenly underwent a startling metamorphosis, hands becoming clenched and claw-like, face becoming dark and scowling, and blurted wrathfully, “Tim is just an ARSEHOLE!”  So the disdain Tim feels for his alma mater of the 1970s is perhaps mutual.


In fact, Tim is pretty good at burning his bridges.  He was once an advisor to the late Donald Dewar, the Labour politician viewed as ‘father’ of the Scottish devolution settlement and devolved Scottish parliament, but by 2001 he was demanding (in the Guardian again) that Whitehall should threaten the parliament, Dewar’s baby, with abolition.  That article was mild, though, compared with one he wrote for the New Statesman that same year, entitled Scotland Returns to the Dark Ages, in which he blamed devolution for releasing a tidal wave of evils like homophobia, sectarianism, misogyny, racism and, er, the banning of fox-hunting.  In the civilised days before devolution unleashed the Scots’ inner beastliness, he wrote, such things had been ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Actually, Tim, who also ran as a Labour candidate in the Scottish constituency of Roxburgh and Berwickshire in the 1987 general election, seems to have moved a wee bit to the right these days.  Before his current job (Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent) he spent seven years as political editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail.  Which was clearly the best place for him.


Tim’s successor at the Scotsman’s editorial helm was a petite English lady called Rebecca Hardy, whom I’d known at a later period – she’d been in a couple of my classes when I was a student in Aberdeen.  Bubbly, self-confident, cosmopolitan and, dare I say it, ever-so-slightly affected, Rebecca seemed a bit too disconcertingly exotic to a rough, uncivilised yokel like myself and I never got to know her particularly well.  However, in the dealings I had with her, she was civil enough and I don’t bear her any ill-will.  Later, at the Scotsman, she lasted as editor for less than two years before unpromising sales prompted Neil to show her the door.  All I can remember of her editorship was that she was reported as making some uncomplimentary remarks about performers at the Edinburgh Festival, referring to them as ‘luvvies’ and ‘Marxist trapeze artists’.  I can’t comment on the ‘Marxist trapeze artists’ bit, but I have to say that Rebecca herself was probably the most luvvie-ish person I’ve ever met.


The last I heard of Rebecca, she was working for the showbiz section of the Daily Mail.  Actually, it says a lot for how out-of-touch the Andrew Neil-era Scotsman was in Scotland – a country that’s famously anti-Tory and well to the left of popular opinion in southern England – that two of its former editors ended up working for the Daily Mail.


The question now is for how much longer the Scotsman can totter on.  Personally, I can’t envision it surviving far beyond tomorrow’s referendum.  Whatever way the vote goes, as one of Scotland’s major cheerleaders for continued rule from Westminster, it will after September 18th have outlived its usefulness.  I suspect Johnston Press will be tempted to pull the plug on the Scotsman’s life-support system before it reaches its 200th birthday in 2017.


Falling out of love with George


(c) Oxford World’s Classics


In my youth, friends and acquaintances who were into literature regarded me as an oik because I couldn’t stand Jane Austen.  Those people all seemed to dote on Ms Austen’s novels of romance and matchmaking among the landed gentry, with their supposedly biting drawing-room satire – but I simply found them tedious.  Indeed, I almost cheered one day when I came across a comment that Mark Twain had made about the 19th-century authoress: “It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”*  (By the way, I assume that Jane Austen really was a ‘her’ and the assertion made by Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder the Third that she was in fact ‘a huge Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush’ is untrue.)


However, there was one riposte I could make whenever I expressed my low opinion of Ms Austen and the faces around me suddenly soured, as if I’d just farted loudly.  “Look,” I’d say, “I’ve got nothing against 19th-century women writers.  I really like the Bronte sisters.  And I love George Eliot.”


And that was true.  I had great admiration for George Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans as she was when she wasn’t using her literary alias.  I was hugely impressed by The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Middlemarch, and despite their occasional flaws – the deus ex machina flood that too suddenly and neatly wraps things up for Maggie and Tom in The Mill on the Floss, or the streak of sentimentality in Silas Marner – I believed she deserved all the praise that was heaped upon her.  (Perhaps her most notable fan was Virginia Woolf, who described Middlemarch as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’).


During the decades since, every-so-often, I’ve returned to George Eliot and gradually worked my way through her books: Scenes from Clerical Life, Felix Holt, Romola…  A friend had warned me that Romola, a hefty tome set in 15th-century Florence, was hard going but no, I found reading it a rewarding and enjoyable experience.  It wasn’t until I read Adam Bede a few years ago that I wondered if my admiration for Eliot was starting to wane.  The moralising in Adam Bede annoyed me and I didn’t like the treatment meted out to Hetty, the story’s ‘fallen woman’.  But as this had been her earliest published novel, in 1859, I thought I could put its faults down to first-time uncertainty and inexperience.


However, a few days back, I finished Daniel Deronda, which was both the last novel written by Eliot, in 1876, and the last Eliot novel I hadn’t read.  And I’m afraid it proved to be something of a plod.   I’d read a few pages, set it aside for a couple of days, return to it and read a few pages more, and so on.  There never seemed to be a sustained period when I could actually get into the thing.  Indeed, I wondered at times if Daniel Deronda would join that small group of novels that I started reading but gave up on and never finished, a group that includes The Satanic Verses, Lord of the Rings, Tristram Shandy and – another Daniel – Daniel Martin.


One issue I had with Daniel Deronda was the lack of characters whom I could engage with and who could draw me into the narrative.  The female characters were especially disappointing.  Gwendolen Harleth, the novel’s heroine during its opening chapters, is immensely irritating.  She starts off as haughtiness personified, convinced that she knows everything about life despite being barely into her twenties.  Then she gets married, which singularly fails to usher in the sort of existence she’d expected, the haughtiness leaves her and she spends the central section of the book in a massive sulk.  And then near the end she changes again, thanks to a traumatic incident during a yachting holiday, and becomes a quivering and pathetic wreck.  None of these incarnations, I can safely say, endeared me to her.


Still, Gwendolen manages to be more interesting than Mirah Cohen, the novel’s second heroine, who arrives on page 154.  Mirah is first spotted by the nice-but-dull hero, the titular Daniel Deronda, standing at the side of the Thames with a mind to throwing herself in.  Deronda saves her from suicide and for the remaining 500-odd pages of the book she does nothing to persuade us that she’s anything other than insipid.  Actually, she’s so wet that drowning herself in the Thames would have been an apt way for her to go.


However, in terms of being annoying, both Gwendolen and Mirah are minor offenders compared with the character of Mrs Davilow, Gwendolen’s mother.  This woman is so tearfully neurotic that during the scenes she appears in you wish someone would stuff her full of diazepam.  Page 66: “Then the poor woman began to sob…”  Page 113: “Mrs Davilow’s eyes filled with tears…”  Page 190: “…tears… were rolling Mrs Davilow’s cheeks…”  And so it continues, until the pages featuring her actually start to feel damp under your fingertips.


Another problem comes with the appearance of Mirah’s brother, Ezra Cohen, a mystical Jew who sees in Deronda the fulfilment of some great spiritual quest he’s been on – though I was never quite sure what Ezra’s quest was.  Ezra himself is an interesting character; and it’s admirable that, 40 years after Charles Dickens had helped to stereotype Jews as devious petty criminals in Oliver Twist, Eliot tried to portray the Jewish communities of London and Europe generally in a sympathetic and positive light.


But it takes a lot of effort to wade through the pages of prose that Eliot devotes to describing Ezra’s state of mind.  For example: “Experience had rendered him morbidly alive, to the effect of a man’s poverty and other physical disadvantages in cheapening his ideas, unless they are those of a Peter the Hermit who has a tocsin for the rabble.  But he was too sane and generous to attribute his spiritual banishment solely to the excusable prejudices of others: certain incapacities of his own had made the sentence of exclusion; and hence it was that his imagination had constructed another man who would be something more ample than the second soul bestowed, according to the notions of the Cabbalists, to help out the insufficient first…”  And on, and on, and on it goes.


At least Daniel Deronda scores in one area, which is the character of the reptilian Mallinger Grandcourt, the man Gwendolen ends up marrying.  In terms of villainy, Grandcourt doesn’t actually do much.  He seemingly spends his time in a state of malignant indolence, bored with and disdainful of the world around him.  He lounges, smokes cigars and radiates sullen hostility.  But though he isn’t particularly proactive, Eliot paints a quietly disturbing portrait of him and you can almost – almost – sympathise with Gwendolen when she realises the horror of being married to him.


To sum up, then, I’m afraid I’m no longer in love with George Eliot.  Yes, George, I’m sorry, but somehow the magic has faded from our relationship.  I’m sure it’s not your fault – it’s just me.  I’m not the person I used to be.  I’ve become older, more cynical, more difficult to please.  So I think it’s over between us.  Daniel Deronda will be our final time together.


Then again, since I’ve read all your other books already, it was going to be a last date anyway.


* I like another quote Twain made about her: “Jane Austen’s books, too, are absent from this library.  Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”


Big man in a box


(c) BBC


Imagining Northern Ireland – where I spent my childhood – without the Reverend Ian Paisley is a bit like imagining South Africa without Nelson Mandela.  Note that I’m making this comparison not in terms of virtue, but in terms of presence.  Just as Mandela (even in prison) was a colossus in South African politics, so Paisley dominated Northern Irish politics for generations.  The difference, of course, is that a Mandela-less South Africa is an undeniably sadder, sorrier place.  A Paisley-less Northern Ireland?  Probably not.


For years and years, and decades and decades, Paisley — or ‘the Big Man’ as his supporters called him — was always there in Northern Ireland.  Whether you liked it or not, he was a basic fact of life.  His name cropped up regularly in conversations among family-members at the kitchen table, among neighbours in the shops and pubs and even among youngsters in the playground.  A day rarely passed when you didn’t see his mug on the telly, usually uttering the word ‘no’ in a variety of permutations: no to the reformist policies of Northern Irish Prime Minister Terence O’Neill in the 1960s, no to the power-sharing initiatives in the 1970s, no to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s and no to the Good Friday Agreement in the 1990s.


Alternatively, or simultaneously, he’d be castigating whoever or whatever had raised his ire at the time in extreme, often Biblical terms.  The multi-state EU, or the European Economic Community as it was in the 1970s, was actually the multi-headed beast forecast to rise out of the sea in the Book of Revelation.  Paisley’s antipathy to the EEC / EU didn’t stop him from becoming a Member of the European Parliament and drawing a hefty salary from Brussels.  The Pope was ‘the scarlet woman of Rome’ and ‘Christ’s enemy and Antichrist’.  I never had much time for the ultra-conservative Pope John Paul II, but I like how, while he was visiting Scotland in 1982 and trundling along in his Pope-mobile, he noticed Paisley and some placard-waving followers protesting against the papal visit at a street-corner, smiled beatifically and blessed the old bugger.


The Roman Catholic Church generally was the ‘seed of the serpent’, reeking of ‘the brimstone of the pit’ and acting as ‘the parrot of Beelzebub’.  Homosexuals were so unspeakable that in 1977 he launched a campaign called Save Ulster from Sodomy.  Margaret Thatcher, once she’d put her signature to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, was a ‘jezebel’ – I find that insult quite funny, actually.  Moderate (relatively speaking) Protestant / Unionist leader David Trimble, who got up onstage at a U2 concert in Belfast and posed with Bono and Catholic leader John Hume in support of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, had ‘rock and rolled with Satan’.  Alcohol was ‘John Barleycorn and the devil’s buttermilk’.  Dancing was ‘an incitement to lust’, with ‘sexual gestures and touching’.  And so on and so forth.


If you were a Northern Irish Protestant between the 1960s and the 1990s, Ian Paisley was a PR disaster.  A few others were visible in the media, like actor James Ellis and the BBC’s political editor John Cole, but if you asked most people in ‘mainland’ Britain to name an Ulster Prod, in 99 cases out of 100 ‘Paisley’ was the first thing you’d hear in reply.  Therefore, when you were introduced to somebody at a party and you identified yourself as being one, you’d spend the remainder of the evening wondering if your new acquaintance viewed you as a loud, blustering religious bigot.


Indeed, comedian Harry Enfield once performed a sketch in which a Paisley-like character called ‘William Ulsterman’ attends a party and starts bellowing at the hostess.  “I have made a legitimate and peaceful request for cheddar cheese and pineapple on a stick!” he roars when she offers him a quiche slice.  After she apologises, he rants, “I totally and utterly reject your expressions of sorrow!  Let nobody be in any doubt these are crocodile tears ye are crying!  For hundreds of years my community has enjoyed cheddar cheese and pineapple on a stick and today ye have been seen to trample our demands contemptuously into the mud!  Ye vile hag, ye shall be judged unreasonable!”


It wasn’t until the 1990s, when Paisley’s influence was finally on the wane and when younger and more normal-seeming folk with Northern Irish accents were starting to appear on TV, like actors James Nesbitt and Adrian Dunbar, that it became slightly cooler to be an Ulster Prod.  Fascinatingly, when there was talk a few years ago about a film being made of Paisley’s life, it was actually a Catholic actor, Liam Neeson, who was suggested for the lead role.  Neeson understandably didn’t seem too keen on the idea; though if the project had gone ahead with him on board, he’d have been in the unique position of having played both Ian Paisley and Michael Collins.


Yesterday, at the age of 88, Paisley finally departed for the great pulpit in the sky – although a lot of people are of the opinion that he’s actually gone to a different place.  (I noticed one person on an online comment-thread express the hope that he’s currently getting ‘a red-hot poker rammed up his arse’.)  When you write about the just-deceased, it’s customary to say a few positive things about him or her, though I have to admit it’s not easy in this case.  Oh well.  I’ll have a go.


Over the years, different people have told me that, as a member of the British and European parliaments, he was assiduous in looking after his constituents, whether they were Protestant or Catholic.  Supposedly, he took good care of the economically-fragile Catholic communities that he represented, such as the inhabitants of Rathlin Island and the eel fishermen living beside Lough Neagh.  I suppose from this you could argue that he did, quietly, regard Roman Catholics as human beings and what he said publicly about Popery and the Harlot of Rome was just the stuff of knockabout street politics.  Though it was knockabout indeed if you were a Catholic and ended up on the receiving end of mob-violence incited by his rhetoric.


And finally in 2007, of course, he did do the unthinkable and sit down with Sinn Fein and agree to a deal that saw him become Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Sinn Fein politician and ex-IRA man Martin McGuinness become his deputy – thus helping to ensure a more peaceful and stable Northern Ireland where the Troubles, hopefully, were a thing of the past.  Only the previous year, he’d said of Sinn Fein: “(they) are not fit to be in partnership with decent people.  They are not fit to be in the government of Northern Ireland and it will be over our dead bodies if they ever get there.”  Though many would argue that as Paisley didn’t qualify as a decent person, he could go into partnership with Sinn Fein without contradicting himself.


Paisley won praise for this compromise, although it’s worth remembering that already he’d destroyed David Trimble as a political force by opposing power-sharing and denouncing him as a sell-out and traitor.  Once Trimble was out of the way and Paisley was established as the indisputable and unrivalled political leader of Northern Irish Protestantism, he then performed a U-turn, climbed into bed with McGuiness and co., and enjoyed all the prestige and perks of being First Minister.


I suppose one more thing we should thank Paisley for were his services to comedy.  For many years he was an absolute gift to comedians, satirists, gag-writers and cartoonists – not only just Harry Enfield, but also Dave Allen, Phil Cool, Mark Thomas, Spitting Image and so on.  I must have heard a thousand Paisley jokes over the years, although my favourite one is short and simple: “Ian Paisley has been injured in a traffic accident.  His car crashed into a tree.  The IRA say they planted it.”


Once he’d settled into that cosy, if unlikely, partnership with Martin McGuiness, the laughs at his expense inevitably grew louder.  Paisley and McGuinness became known in Northern Ireland as ‘the Chuckle Brothers’, after the bumbling, slapstick-comedy duo on British children’s TV played by Barry and Paul Elliot.  Mind you, when I see pictures of Paisley and McGuiness together, it’s a different comedy double-act I think of:


(c) Newsletter

(c) ITC / Henson Associates


So that’s him gone.  It sometimes doesn’t feel like Northern Ireland has arrived in the 21st century yet; but perhaps, with the passing of the most formidable and vocal member of the political / religious old guard, we can now make some progress from where we left off in the 20th.


Irv hits a nerve


From Bella Caledonia 


Who’d have thought it?  The man perhaps most famous for penning those charming scenes in Trainspotting, like the one where Mark Renton plunges himself into a toxically shit-stained and shit-encrusted public toilet in pursuit of some opium suppositories, or the one where Davie Mitchell has an accident with some befouled bed-sheets in his girlfriend’s kitchen and splatters her and her parents with excrement and vomit, has written one of the most thoughtful, honest and persuasive articles recently about the Scottish independence referendum on September 18th.  (He’s all for independence, by the way.)  A link to it, as it appears on the Bella Caledonia website, is here:


Among the things Welsh takes issue with is the assertion – commonly made by politicians in the Labour Party – that voting for an independent Scotland is a betrayal of working-class solidarity among the member-nations of the United Kingdom and the only way the working-class cause can be served is by those nations sticking together.  A welder in Glasgow, the old argument goes, has more in common with a welder in Liverpool or Newcastle than he does with a stockbroker in Edinburgh, so why corral that Glaswegian welder off with the Edinburgh stockbroker through the creation of a new border?


Welsh recalls how a dozen years ago he got involved with the dockworkers’ dispute in Liverpool, which “took place to the complete indifference and embarrassment of the Labour Party, who would rather have had everybody just go home.”  Near the end of the dispute, he found himself in discussion with the dockworkers’ leader Jimmy Nolan, Liverpudlian writer Jimmy McGovern and heavyweight American intellectual Noam Chomsky – Nolan told Chomsky that “they had far more support from Larry Bower’s New York longshoremen than the UK Labour Party or senior Trade Union officials like Bill (Lord) Morris.”  So borders, and indeed oceans, are no barrier to working-class solidarity.  And you needn’t expect much of that solidarity from Labour these days.


Actually, I’d suggest that a Glaswegian welder has more in common with an Edinburgh stockbroker than he does with the leading lights of the Scottish wing of the Labour party in their later careers – careers that invariably see them end up the House of Lords, where they’re entitled to don ermine, claim 300 pounds a day and give themselves such extravagant titles as Baron George Robertson of Port Ellon, Baron George Foulkes of Cumnock, Baron Jack McConnell of Glenscorrodale, Baron Michael Martin of Springburn, Baron John Reid of Cardowan and Baroness Helen Liddell of Coatdyke.  Yes, such veterans of the alleged People’s Party bear more resemblance to Lord Snooty in the Beano than they do to the members of the working class whose votes helped them board the gravy train in the first place.


Eight things I’ve learnt from the Scottish ‘no’ campaign


Less than a fortnight remains before the people of Scotland vote on whether their country should be independent or should remain part of the United Kingdom.  During the past year I’ve avidly followed the campaigns by the ‘yes’ side (i.e. ‘go for independence, Scotland!’) and the ‘no’ side (i.e. ‘don’t do it, Scotland!’) and I have to say I’ve found the information put forward by the ‘no’ one particularly enlightening.  I’ve learnt many things from it and, in several cases, I’ve had to drastically revise what I thought I already knew.


By the ‘no’ campaign I mean the official campaign-group Better Together and other unofficial ones like Vote No Borders; and the political parties who’re backing a ‘no’ vote, namely the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP; and newspapers that are sympathetic to the ‘no’ cause like the Times, Sun, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Scotsman, Herald, Daily Record, Press and Journal, West Highland Free Press…  Well, basically everyone apart from the Sunday Herald; and those many, ordinary-but-vociferous ‘no’ supporters who write to and post online in the newspapers.  So here are eight things I’ve learnt whilst reading and listening to the arguments in favour of voting ‘no’, put forward by this large and intellectual body of opinion.


One.  Scottish nationalism was invented by Mel Gibson.


(c) Paramount Pictures


I’d mistakenly believed that the desire for Scottish independence could be traced back to the founding of the Scottish National Party in 1934 and that the question of whether or not Scotland could be a self-governing country again had bubbled fitfully since then.  And I’d mistakenly thought that, in the eight decades since, independence had been supported and promoted by people like John MacCormick, Hugh MacDiarmid, Ian Hamilton, William Wolfe, Winnie Ewing, Tom Nairn, Margo McDonald and Jim Sillars.  But I was wrong.  Don’t blame me for misunderstanding Scottish political history, though.  I’d read about it in a book called The Battle for Scotland, written by Andrew Marr, who was obviously lying.


In fact, I’ve learnt from ‘no’ supporting politicians, journalists, activists, Tweeters and comment-posters (who surely know what they’re talking about) that all this stuff started only in 1995.  Until 1995, the Scots had been contented, docile citizens of the UK, happy to describe themselves as ‘British’ rather than ‘Scottish’, to sing God Save the Queen as their anthem at sporting events and to let Westminster make their decisions for them.  But then a terrible thing happened.  An agent provocateur appeared.  He roused those previously-loyal Scots and transformed them into a rabble.  Yes, an anti-Semitic Australian with a booze problem donned a kilt, painted his face blue, picked up a broadsword and charged along a muddy field screaming “FREEEE-DUUUUM!”  And that’s how this troublesome Scottish independence nonsense began.  With a film.  Called Braveheart.


You might think it far-fetched that a political movement supported by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of (clearly deluded) people could be triggered by something as trivial as a Hollywood movie, but there are other examples of this.  I’ve seen Logan’s Run, the 1976 science-fiction film about a society of rich, beautiful and privileged people who have their every wish fulfilled living in a plastic future utopia that’s basically a giant shopping mall – a utopia where anyone who has the temerity to become wrinkly, diseased, disabled, unproductive and dependent on the state (by growing old) gets vaporised by a death ray.  That was obviously the blueprint for Thatcherism.


Two.  All Scottish women live in kitchens.


The last time I was in Scotland I thought I saw a few women out on the street, but I realise now this was probably a mirage caused by unusual climatic conditions.  (The Scottish weather had been unseasonably clement – i.e. it was above freezing and not pissing with rain all day).  Scottish women never actually go outside.  This I’ve learnt from watching the recent Better Together advert aimed at ‘undecided female voters’.




Scottish women, you see, are much too busy to venture beyond the parameters of their kitchens.  And when they aren’t cooking meals, washing dishes and scrubbing floors, they sit at their kitchen tables, sipping coffee out of giant flowery mugs and complaining about their husbands, or ‘men-folk’ as we say in Scotland, who will insist on blathering on about boring things that women can’t understand, like politics.  The man whom the poor woman in the Better Together advert is married to is particularly unreasonable in this regard.  He insists on talking about the referendum during breakfast, instead of eating his cereal.  I mean, the thought of it.  What a creep!


Of course, ladies, you need to do the right thing regarding this referendum business, which is so complicated it’ll probably make your heads explode if you try to think about it.  Just vote ‘no’.


Three.  Nothing is more horrible than being related to foreigners.


I hadn’t realised how ghastly my family life was until I heard many ‘no’ supporters argue that an independent Scotland would mean Scottish people with relatives in England would see those relatives suddenly become ‘foreigners’.  That got me thinking.  Foreigners must be horrible people.  It must be absolutely dreadful to have them in your family.  And actually – oh God, no! – my family is already infested with foreigners.  My dad was born in the Republic of Ireland – a bloody foreigner.  My aunt, uncle and three cousins are Australians – more bloody foreigners.  And my girlfriend’s an American – another one of those foreign scumbags!  I can only thank the ‘no’ campaign for alerting me to the awfulness of my situation.


Actually, three leaders of the political parties supporting a ‘no’ vote have had to live with this dire state-of-affairs for years.  Ed Miliband, for example, is the son of a Pole and a Belgian, while Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage are married to a Dutchwoman and a German respectively.  So I think it’s very decent of Nick, Ed and Nigel to support the ‘no’ campaign, to spare many people in Scotland the horrors they’ve had to endure through being related to foreigners.


Four.  ‘Yes’ supporters don’t love their families.


From the


In fact, it’s just as well that ‘yes’ supporters don’t love their families.  It won’t matter to them if those families end up full of foreigners.


Five.  Hadrian’s Wall stood on the border between Scotland and England.


I once lived in the north-eastern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and I was sure that the famous wall erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian had its eastern end there, in the North Tyneside district of Wallsend.  I was also sure I’d once cycled across northern England alongside the route of the wall, from Newcastle, through places like Heddon-on-the-Wall, Chollerford and Walton, and finally to Carlisle.  All of them are a good way from the border with Scotland.  Indeed, Wallsend must be about sixty or seventy miles from it.


However, my memory must be faulty.  According to many comments by ‘no’ supporters I’ve read, about the English having to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to prevent millions of starving refugees flooding south from a bankrupt independent Scotland, or about the Scots having to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to prevent millions of political refugees flooding south from a totalitarian independent Scotland, the wall must’ve stood on the border.  After all, if the wall was in England, wouldn’t rebuilding it mean lots of English people in Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear would be imprisoned in Scotland?


Also, Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP for Penrith who’s sometimes known as ‘Rory the Tory’, recently tried to organise a cross-border stunt whereby 100,000 people would hold hands along the route of Hadrian’s Wall to show solidarity with the Scots and urge them, symbolically, to stay in the UK.  Now nobody could be daft enough to stage a massive human chain along the border between two countries to emphasise their emotional, cultural and historical links, but actually have everyone stand tens of miles inside one of the countries instead?  I mean, nobody could be that stupid?


Six.  Douglas Alexander is Jesus.


(c) The Scotsman


Douglas Alexander, Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and a man who likes to ruminate brainily on Scotland’s constitutional future within the UK if it rejects independence on September 18th, is given copious breathless coverage in Scotland’s ‘no’-supporting press.  Well, so he should be.  He’s a political genius.  After all, as David Miliband’s campaign manager in the 2010 Labour leadership contest, he steered David to triumphant, er, defeat at the hands of his brother Ed.


However, what has lately become obvious is that Douglas is not merely an MP and a political genius, but also the Son of God, the Messiah returned to earth so that “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (First Thessalonians 4:16-17).  This was ascertained by a Scotsman photographer who one evening snapped a picture of him standing by the River Clyde in a significantly crucified position.  And verily, the resulting photograph showed Douglas’s head ringed by a halo!


Unbelievers have argued that the halo is actually the curve of Glasgow’s Clyde Arc (aka ‘the Squinty Bridge’) in the background.  I don’t accept this, however.  Douglas is irrefutably the Messiah.  He can cure the afflicted with his touch, walk on water and feed a multitude with a few paltry loaves and fishes.  If he was nailed to a cross and had a sword thrust into his side, I’ve no doubt that he’d rise again from the dead three days later.  Actually, maybe we should do this to Douglas just to prove those sceptics wrong.


Seven.  Civilisation collapses when someone chucks an egg.


(c) STV


Recently, Jim Murphy, the brave, wise and noble Labour MP for Renfrewshire East has been on a speaking tour of Scotland’s towns and cities, engaging the local populations in friendly and open conversation about why it’s best to vote ‘no’ whilst standing on an Irn Bru crate and bellowing at them through an amplified microphone.  When Jim visited the streets of Kirkcaldy last week, however, an atrocity was committed by a ‘yes’ supporter.  This thug flung an egg at Jim and almost fatally wounded the gallant MP by making a bit of a stain on his shirt.  Immediately, the media was aflame with anti-independence journalists, commentators, Tweeters and posters proclaiming, quite rightly, that this marked the end of democracy and free speech in Scotland, and the beginning of an onslaught by the forces of fascism and anarchy.  Why, civilisation itself in Scotland was about to fall.


Admittedly, a few people pointed out that in the past eggs had been thrown at politicians like John Prescott, Nick Griffith and Nigel Farage, and on those occasions Kristallnacht had failed to materialise.  However, there’s an important difference this time.  Those previous egg incidents had occurred in England.  The egging of the valiant Jim Murphy had taken place in Scotland, where the entire population is liable to go into a murderous frenzy if they catch a whiff of spilt egg-yolk.


Eight.  Scottish independence?  It’s all the work of one crazed, evil super-genius.


On television you may see politicians like Nicola Sturgeon, Patrick Harvie and Dennis Canavan arguing for Scottish independence, but these are not real people.  They’re merely animatronic puppets controlled from afar by one man.  When he isn’t using remote-controlled androids to do his dirty work for him, he sits at his computer and writes, under a vast array of pseudonyms, all the copy that appears on the pro-independence websites like Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.  Using many more aliases, he posts too all those pro-independence comments on newspaper-website opinion threads.  Yes, all of them.


Any footage you’ve seen of rallies in support of independence involving more than one person is fake – he doctors the footage with computer-generated images to make it look like there were lots of people in attendance.  And you know how recently a million people supposedly signed a petition for Scottish independence online?  That was also him, clicking on his computer a million times.


Who is he, this insane, evil but brilliant mastermind, who’s been probably cloned from scraps of DNA from Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao and who’s orchestrated the whole Scottish independence campaign single-handedly in a fiendish attempt to bring the UK to its knees?


You know who it is.  It’s him!


(c) Eon Productions


No, it’s not him.  It’s him!


(c) Daily Record


Bill’s final bow


(c) Warner Brothers


In my youth I only knew Tony Hancock because he’d had small roles in a few films I’d seen on TV, such as Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965) and The Wrong Box (1967).  These were made in the twilight of Hancock’s career, after he’d grown inordinately fond of the bottle and after he’d split with the team who’d made his radio and television shows such a success in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a team that included co-star Sid James and the brilliant writing duo of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.  But occasionally at school, in the middle of a lesson, a 30 or 40-something teacher would suddenly spout a vintage line from Hancock’s earlier, happier years: “A pint of blood?  That’s very nearly an armful!” or “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?  Did she die in vain?”  This usually didn’t get any laughs from my classmates or me.  Rather, we’d just stare at the teacher in slightly uneasy bemusement, whilst wondering, “What the hell is he talking about?”


What goes around, comes around.  Nowadays, I’m sure many a teenager experiences the same bafflement and embarrassment when somebody my age comes out with a choice line from Blackadder: “I’ve got a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel!”


In the early 1980s, however, BBC Radio 4 repeated some old episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, which I listened to and was immediately captivated by.  In those days at least, Hancock had been a comic genius.  But what was also vital to the show was the troupe of performers working with him, performers who helped to put his brand of funniness into sharp relief.  Besides Sid James, these included Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and, in the role of Hancock’s hapless lodger, the Australian actor Bill Kerr.  Actually, I thought Kerr was particularly important for the show’s chemistry because the persona he created, affable, easy-going but pretty dim-witted, was the very antithesis of the harassed and acerbic Hancock.


A few days ago, I read that Kerr had just died in Western Australia at the age of 92.  This surprised me because I hadn’t known Kerr had still been on the go in 2014, long after the passing of James, Williams and Jacques and long indeed after Hancock’s suicide in 1968.  (Then again, Galton and Simpson are still with us.  Both writers are in their mid-eighties now.)


Kerr was a native of Wagga Wagga, an Australian city whose other claim to comic fame is that Dame Edna Everage is alleged to have been born there.  He arrived in the UK in 1947 and thanks to his association with Hancock’s radio show – he didn’t accompany Hancock when he made the jump to TV – he was for a while the most famous Australian in British light entertainment.  Well, I suppose Kerr probably had to share that honour with Rolf Harris, although I found Harris’s style much more juvenile, ingratiating and annoying.  (Whatever happened to Rolf Harris, by the way?  Oh…  Oh yes.  Don’t answer that.)


In 1979, Kerr returned to Australia, where he enjoyed a second wind in the local film industry as a leathery old character actor.  He appeared in two movies directed by Peter Weir, Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) – both of which starred Mel Gibson, an Aussie who’s had almost as spectacular a fall-from-grace as Rolf Harris – and he was also in the TV mini-series Anzacs (1985).


My favourite Bill Kerr movie from this period, though, is the 1984 ‘Ozploitation’ horror movie Razorback.  It’s an Antipodean version of Jaws, featuring a pig – a huge razorback boar – instead of a shark, filmed around Broken Hill and directed by Russell Mulcahy, who’d later make the Highlander movies.  Kerr plays Jake Cullen, a grizzled outback variation on the Robert Shaw character in Jaws, although unlike Shaw his interest in killing the marauding monster isn’t financial.  It’s intensely personal because at the start of the film we’ve seen the boar dragging away his infant grandson.  In an echo of 1980’s real-life ‘dingo-baby’ case (itself filmed as A Cry in the Dark in 1988, with Meryl Streep and Sam Neill) nobody believes Jake’s story and he gets blamed for the child’s disappearance.  Embittered but still kindly under his harsh exterior, Kerr’s character is the best thing in Razorback.  He’s certainly better than the shonky-looking giant boar, which for most of the film Mulcahy wisely keeps off-screen.  And it’s pretty harrowing when Jake and his loyal dog both get killed late on.


I can also remember seeing a BBC TV documentary, presumably in the 1980s too, in which Kerr went camping in the Australian outback with another old mate of his from the British comedy world, Spike Milligan.  Though I liked and admired Milligan, I have to admit that the man had his demons.  And it says a lot for Kerr’s patience that he could bear to share a tent with the notoriously up-and-down comic in the midst of the stewing heat, presumably surrounded by such members of Australia’s flora and fauna as common death adders, highland copperheads, mulga snakes, redback spiders, giant centipedes, bull ants and paralysis ticks (and probably the odd razorback boar too).


When word came of Kerr’s death at the end of last month, his son was quoted as saying that the venerable comic and actor had expired in front of his TV set, whilst laughing at an episode of one of his favourite comedy shows, Seinfeld.  I really can’t imagine a nicer way to go.