A Fluffi-shambles

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From the National

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Last week was not an auspicious one for politicians who’ve served as Member of Parliament for Peebles, my hometown in Scotland. 

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Firstly, Lord David Steel, who was the town’s MP from 1965 until 1997 (while it was part of the constituencies of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and then Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) and who is also a former leader of the Liberal Party (now the Liberal Democrats) found himself in some severe shit.  He admitted in a hearing for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that in 1979 he’d ‘assumed’ his fellow Liberal MP Cyril Smith was guilty of child abuse at a hostel in Smith’s constituency of Rochdale.  Not only did Steel appear to turn a blind eye to this matter at the time, but nine years later he recommended Smith for a knighthood.  Since Smith’s death in 2010, police have uncovered ‘overwhelming evidence’ that he was an abuser of young boys.  By Thursday last week, it’d been announced that “the office bearers of the Scottish Liberal Democrats have met and agreed that an investigation is needed.  The party membership of Lord Steel has been suspended pending the outcome of that investigation.”

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Then there were the desperate and undignified squirmings of David Mundell, the Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, a constituency that Peebles got lumped in with in 2005.  Since 2015, Mundell, or ‘Fluffy’ as he’s commonly known, has also served as Secretary of State for Scotland in the Conservative governments of David Cameron and Theresa May.  He didn’t win this position because of the possession of a stunning intellect, abilities or personality but because in 2015 he was the only Conservative MP left in Scotland.  (Back then, at the yearly Agricultural Show held in Peebles, the Conservative Party would invariably set up a tent and Mundell, aka The Only Tory MP In Scotland, would sit inside, ready to press the flesh with his constituents, should any present themselves.  Passers-by would invariably point and crack the well-worn joke: “Look, there’s the Rare Breeds Tent.”)

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Last week, it became clear that the UK government and parliament were in omni-shambles mode.  The parliament managed to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, against the holding of a second Brexit referendum, against the UK leaving the European Union without a deal, against the so-called Malthouse Compromise and against parliament being allowed to take control of the whole sorry Brexit process.  But even in the midst of this omni-shambles, Mundell’s behaviour stood out as particularly shambolic – his was the Fluffi-shambles. 

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He found himself caught between the rock of his party’s enthusiasm for Brexit and the hard place of knowing, quietly, how damaging Brexit is likely to be for Scotland (which voted overwhelming against leaving Europe), for his heavily agriculture-dependent Scottish constituency and for his own re-election prospects.  Finally, he defied the government whip when the vote was called on ruling out an economically disastrous no-deal Brexit.  The Conservative government demanded he voted against it being ruled out, whereas Mundell wanted it ruled out.  Being spineless, though, he chose to abstain rather than vote the other way from his political peers and masters. 

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In ordinary times, even Mundell’s abstention would be treated as a defiance of government policy and a resigning matter for a minister.  However, in these extraordinary times, with Theresa May exerting about as much authority as a wet paper bag, Mundell got away with it without resigning.  Happily for him – the basic salary for an ordinary MP was £77,379 in 2018, but as Secretary of State for Scotland he can claim £67,505 on top of that (well, going by 2017 figures). 

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A subsequent interview saw Mundell give a less-than-polished account of himself: “I’m not, er, resigning because I support the Prime Minister in her course, er, of action.  Her course of action is, er, to leave, er, with a deal, er, in an orderly Brexit but I just… I’m very clear that I don’t support, er, a no-deal, er, Brexit and I’ve made, er, I’ve made that clear on numerous occasions, the House has made its view clear, and the government is responding and taking forward, er, the decision of the House today…  There are a number of cabinet ministers, ministerial colleagues, er, who didn’t wish to oppose what was clearly, er, the will of the House on not leaving, er, without, er, on not leaving with, er, in a no-deal, er, Brexit…”

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I’d say that during the interview Mundell looked like a rabbit frozen in some car headlights, but that would disparage the courage, grit and determination displayed by rabbits frozen in car headlights everywhere.  Indeed, Mundell’s snivelling performance would make the average rabbit frozen in car headlights look like Mel Gibson leading the Scottish forces into action at the Battle of Stirling in Braveheart (1995).

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Oddly, the ‘numerous occasions’ when Mundell made it clear he was against a no-deal Brexit didn’t extend to an amendment tabled in parliament in late February to rule out that very thing.  Mundell refused to support it, or even abstain on it, because those tabling the amendment were the Scottish National Party.  He dismissed this as a ‘stunt’ and claimed that the SNP actually want the chaos that a no-deal Brexit would cause.  Which is evidently why they proposed an amendment calling on the UK government to prevent a no-deal Brexit from happening…  What?

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From twitter.com / @scottishlabour

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When it comes to tying himself in knots like this, Mundell has form.  In October last year, he and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson threatened that they “would resign if Northern Ireland faces new controls that separate it from the rest of the UK” in some new Brexit deal.  Officially, this was because they feared it would “fuel the case for Scottish independence.”  Unofficially, I suspect they were playing to the hard-line Protestant, Glasgow Rangers-supporting gallery in the west of Scotland that has strong ties with the pro-British Protestant community in Northern Ireland, a gallery whose votes they’ve benefited from in recent years.  A few days later Mundell turned round and declared that he hadn’t intended to resign at all – and by mid-November May had indeed proposed a Brexit deal that might involve separate arrangements for Northern Ireland.  At least his £67,505 ministerial top-up salary was safe.

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In fact, whenever I see yet another cringing turn by David Mundell, I wonder why there’s any point in having a Secretary of State for Scotland at all.  After all, responsibility for the running of Scotland’s domestic affairs doesn’t lie with him but with the Scottish government, at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, which was set up in 1999.  But the real reason why there’s a Secretary of State is obvious – the Scottish government is run by the pesky SNP and London feels the need to have the likes of David Mundell hovering in the background, looking on and harrumphing disapprovingly, like history’s crappest colonial governor ever. 

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And I sometimes wonder too if Theresa May, whose empathy, emotional intelligence and people skills are not thought to be large, even knows who poor old Mundell is.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she believes he’s some fluffy-faced Caledonian footman who’s on hand to tend to her whenever her advisors decree that she visits the God-forsaken northern regions of her domain. 

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Still, awesomely hapless though he is, at least last week Mundell didn’t vote to leave the door open for a no-deal Brexit, even though by abstaining he didn’t vote against it either.  That’s more than could be said for most of his dozen fellow Scottish Conservative MPs, who cravenly ignored the pro-EU wishes of their electorates and voted with the government.  These include such specimens as Kirstene Hair, the intellectually-challenged MP for Angus, who once admitted to not voting in the Brexit referendum because she found the choice on offer ‘very difficult’.  Or the splendidly unhinged Ross Thomson, MP for Aberdeen South, who last month got involved in a stushie in the UK parliament’s Strangers’ Bar, where he was accused of groping a number of people’s bottoms.  Thomson’s defence was that he’d been drinking for five hours and was merely grabbing those bottoms in order to stop himself falling over, like they were handles or ledges.  From this, I can only surmise that there are some very peculiarly shaped bottoms in the pubs of Westminster.

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Actually, should Mundell decide that he can’t take it any longer, don’t be surprised if Mad Ross ends up as the next Secretary of State for Scotland. It’s not as if he’ll have to live up to the reputation of a distinguished predecessor.

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From the Evening Times

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How to talk Scots to Trump

 

© Stewart Bremner

 

Well, following last night’s 2-1 defeat at the hands (or feet) of the Croats, England are now out of the World Cup.  And today, what can the heartbroken people of England look forward to as a way of cheering them up?

 

A visit from US President Donald Trump, that’s what.

 

At least the English need to grit their teeth for barely more than a day.  Tomorrow evening, provided everything goes according to plan – i.e. Trump can refrain from grabbing the Queen by the pussy when he meets her at Windsor Castle – the most ignorant, obnoxious and morally bankrupt American Commander in Chief since James Buchanan will fly north of the border to Scotland and it’ll be the turn of the Scots to have to share their sovereign territory with the slobbering orange tyrant.  There, he’ll devote yet another wodge of his presidential time to playing golf, on one of his Scottish golf courses.  I suspect this is more likely to be Turnberry, as the breeze coming in from the offshore wind-turbines that Alex Salmond cheekily planted close to his course at Balmedie runs a serious risk of playing havoc with his combover.

 

Anti-Trump protests have been organised across the UK, with Scottish ones planned for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeenshire.  I look forward to seeing the placards that the multitudes of Scottish demonstrators will be carrying because (a) they will surely be highly derisive about President Chump and (b) they will no doubt draw heavily on the Scottish vernacular to be derisive.

 

To my mind, there is no language more suited to insulting people than the Scots one.  Ice-T once rapped: “Words thrillin’, so real they’re chillin’, the hit author / Getting’ louder than a gunshot…”  But Ice, if the words in question were abusive Scots ones, they’d not only be louder than a gunshot, they’d be louder than an atomic bomb-blast.

 

For example, I expect there will be signs and placards at the Scottish protests referring to Trump as an arsepiece, an arsepipe, a balloon, a bampot, a bawheid, a chugmerchant, a cockwomble, a diddy, a dobber, a dunderheid, a fanny, a fannybaws, a fud, a jobby, a lavvyheid, a numpty, a nyaff, a plaster, a poultice, a puddock, a roaster, a rocket, a shitgibbon, a spoon, a tadger, a toalie, a tool, a tube, a walloper, a wankstain, a weapon and, of course, my favourite abusive Scots noun, a bawbag, which strictly speaking translates as ‘scrotum’.

 

Bawbag has already been successfully deployed in the struggle against alt-right nincompoop demagogues, because a few years ago a group of protestors laid siege to then UKIP leader and now shameless-brownnosing-Trump-cheerleader Nigel Farage while he was visiting Edinburgh.  Chanting “Nigel, ye’re a bawbag!”, they forced Farage to take refuge in the Canon’s Gait bar on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which in turn prompted a priceless tweet by comedian Frankie Boyle: “Nigel Farage tried to escape Scottish protesters by hiding in a pub. Which is like trying to hide from a lion by putting on a zebra costume.”

 

I hope that this weekend someone has an extra-big sign that not only calls Trump a bawbag, but prefaces it with some choice Scots adjectives too, i.e. declaring Trump a barkit, boakin, bowfin, clarty, doaty, foostie, glaikit, hackit, howlin, mawkit, mingin, reekin, sleekit bawbag.”

 

There are also some inventive and graphic Scots phrases for insulting people.  If anyone needs inspiration for what to write on their anti-Trump placard, here are my top ten:

 

Awaw an bile yer heid.”

Awaw an shite.”  (Or even better, “Awaw an take yer face fir a shite.”)

Hope yer next shite’s a hedgehog.”

Ye look like a dug lickin pish aff a nettle.”

Yer bum’s oot the windae.”

Yer da’s yer ma.”

Yer da sells Avon.”

Yer heid’s foo o mince.”

Yer ma’s got baws an yer da loves it.”

Ye’ve an arse like a bag o washin.”

Ye’ve a face like a meltit wellie.”

 

However, that’s not to say that English English – as opposed to Scots English – is incapable of mustering the vitriol necessary to deal with the horror-show that is Trump.  In fact, back in December 2015, when Trump still seemed like a buffoonish comedy candidate who had no chance of ever winning the presidency, I seem to remember someone tweeting a memorable insult that quoted lines from Henry IV, Part 1 by England’s greatest bard, William Shakespeare: “Trump’s a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch, right?”

 

That 2015 tweeter was Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson, whose boss Theresa May will be welcoming Trump to the UK today and will no doubt be kowtowing to him in the hope that, amid all the off-message humiliations and embarrassments he heaps upon her, he’ll grant her some sort of dubious post-Brexit US-UK trade deal; and whose Conservative colleague and Secretary of State for Scotland, the hapless David Mundell, has the job of greeting him / acting as his doormat in Scotland tomorrow.  So I expect to see the always principled, unyielding and truthful Ruth Davidson wielding a placard calling Trump a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, etc., at one of Scotland’s anti-Trump protests this weekend.

 

© Stewart Bremner

 

The illustrations accompanying this post are by the graphic artist Stewart Bremner.  Free downloadable, printable versions of his anti-Trump designs are available here.  And to purchase other examples of his craft, please go here

 

The most embarrassing MP in history

 

In 1977, when my family moved to the town of Peebles in the Borders region of Scotland, I discovered that the Member of Parliament for our new constituency, which was Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (later to become Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale), was one David Steel.  39 years old at the time, Steel was the relatively young and fresh-faced leader of the Liberal Party, which is now the Liberal Democratic Party.  Initially, the knowledge that I was represented in Westminster by the leader of the UK’s third largest political party made me feel a bit important, even if I didn’t have a clue what his party’s policies were.  I suspect that a lot of the people who voted for him didn’t have a clue either.

 

In the 1980s, however, the Liberals entered a political alliance with the Social Democratic Party, led first by Roy Jenkins and then by Dr David Owen, in the hope of creating an election-winning centrist alternative to Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government.  This hope was never translated into reality; and Steel’s reputation, meanwhile, went downhill fast.  This was largely due to the satirical puppet TV show Spitting Image, which in the mid-1980s decided to depict Steel as a pompous but ineffectual squeaky-toned midget who was constantly manipulated and bullied by a Machiavellian and contempt-dripping David Owen.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwGvgC-r4IE.)  Steel is on record as saying that his Spitting Image puppet became so embedded in the British public’s imaginations that it seriously harmed his credibility among voters.

 

At www.capitalbay.com

 

Ironically, despite the uselessness of his puppet caricature, it was the real David Steel’s ruthlessness that ended Owen’s political career.  In 1988, after disappointment in the previous year’s General Election, he forced Liberal and SDP members to vote on a proposed merger of their parties, against Owen’s wishes – and when majorities in both parties approved the merger, Owen was finished.  However, Steel was by then yesterday’s man too.  He stepped down as leader of the newly-created Social and Liberal Democrats later that year and gave up his Westminster seat in 1997.

 

During the height of Spitting Image’s popularity, it was slightly embarrassing to have as your MP someone whom most people knew as a pygmy-sized, pipsqueak-voiced latex gargoyle who was browbeaten and tormented on TV every week by David Owen.  However, that was nothing compared to the embarrassment that befell Peebles following the fifth review of the Boundary Commission for Scotland, which in 2005 saw fit to transplant Peebles and its hinterland from the Borders region and onto an area to its immediate west, creating the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency.  A rural territory populated by obviously rightward-leaning farmers, this new entity elected to Westminster the Conservative politician David Mundell.  It was the only Scottish constituency to elect a Conservative MP.  That’s right, there’s only one Tory MP in Scotland and he’s representing me.

 

Now, each summer at the Agricultural Show held in Peebles’ Hay Lodge Park, the Conservative Party invariably sets up a tent and The Only Tory MP In Scotland sits inside it, ready to press the flesh with his constituents, should any flesh present itself.  Passers-by at least have the opportunity to point and crack a well-worn joke: “Look, there’s the Rare Breeds Tent.”

 

However, being represented by The Only Tory MP In Scotland is not the biggest embarrassment in the political history of Peebles.  The other day I was doing some research on the Internet and I happened across the incredible story of Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, who became MP for the town in 1931, while it was part of the Peebles and Southern Midlothian constituency.  In that election Ramsay’s majority was nearly double that – 17,435 votes to 9,185 – of his closest opponent, the Labour Party’s Joseph Westwood, who’d been the sitting MP.  (By the next election, however, Ramsay had obviously lost much of his lustre for the victory-margin over the Labour candidate was reduced to less than 1,500 votes.)  Ramsay was a member of the Scottish Unionist Party, associated with but not properly a part of the Conservative Party in England and Wales – only in 1965 would it become the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and turn into a regional branch of a Britain-wide Conservative Party.

 

Scottish-born but educated at Eton and then at Sandhurst, Ramsay entered the army in his late teens, was seriously injured during World War I, and after leaving the military in 1920 became a company director.  He also became involved in conservative politics.  Deeply religious, Ramsay may have crossed the line from being merely right-wing to being extremely right-wing in response to what he saw as the terrifyingly atheistic and anti-Christian nature of communism.

 

During the Spanish Civil War, reacting against the anti-Catholicism of the Republicans (who were getting support from the Soviet Union), Ramsay became an ardent supporter of General Franco and founded a right-wing organisation called the United Christian Front, which confronted “the widespread attack on the Christian verities which emanates from Moscow.”  Alongside this growing horror at godless communism was a growing anti-Semitism.  He became leader of the British branch of another organisation, the anti-Jewish Nordic League, which operated as an upper-class counterpart to the more proletarian British Union of Fascists.  By the late 1930s, Ramsay had well and truly entered a paranoid fantasy land where all bad things in life were the result of Jewish conspiracies funded by Jewish money.  In parliament, he agitated against the then war minister Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Jew, whom he claimed would “lead us to a war with our blood-brothers of the Nordic race to make way for a Bolshevised Europe.”

 

By 1939 he’d launched another organisation, the secretive Right Club, which attempted to bring together under one roof all the extreme-right groups in Britain – “all the patriotic parties” as he described them.  The club’s logo consisted of a picture of an eagle killing a snake and the initials P.J., which stood for ‘Perish Judah’.  Among those in Ramsay’s orbit at this time was the Irish-American fascist William Joyce who, later as a naturalised German, would become the Nazi propagandist known by the nickname Lord Haw-Haw and would hang for treason in 1946.

 

Ramsay, who’d been a guest at London’s German Embassy in 1938, was not happy when Britain declared war on Hitler’s Germany on September 3rd, 1939.  The following day, he wrote a poem (which was then printed and distributed to sympathisers by the Right Club) that began: ‘Land of Dope and Jewry / Land that once was free / All the Jew boys praise thee / Whilst they plunder thee.’

 

While he made increasingly anti-Semitic outbursts in parliament, the wartime MI5 took an interest in the Right Club’s activities.  Their interest was particularly piqued by Ramsay’s knowledge of the New British Broadcasting Service, a German radio station beaming Nazi propaganda into the UK – in a speech in parliament, Ramsay announced the station’s exact broadcasting times and wavelength, thereby giving it free publicity; and by a scandal involving the interception of messages between Churchill and Roosevelt and the possible passing of information to the Italian government.

 

It was no surprise when in May 1940 Ramsay was arrested under an emergency statute, Defence Regulation 18B, and placed in Brixton Prison alongside other potential pro-Nazi subversives like Oswald Mosley.

 

After four years of confinement in Brixton’s F wing, where he spent all but two hours of each day in a small cell, Ramsay was finally released in September 1944 – the authorities waited until after the D-Day landings before letting him go.  He returned to Westminster and took his seat again in the House of Commons as if nothing had been amiss.  However, according to Ramsay’s Wikipedia entry, the only thing of consequence he did during the remainder of his career as an MP was to table a motion calling for the reinstatement of the infamous Statute of the Jewry, originally enacted in 1275 by King Edward I.  Among other things, the 1275 statute had decreed that all Jews in England should be identifiable as Jews by having a yellow badge attached to their outer garments.

 

Ramsay’s constituents in Peebles, it should be said, had long since lost patience with him.  Back in 1939, when Ramsay’s anti-Semitism had finally bubbled up in public view, eleven Church of Scotland ministers in County Peeblesshire had sent a letter to the Scotsman newspaper denouncing his views.  After the outbreak of war, letters in local newspaper the Peeblesshire News were questioning the MP’s integrity, to put it mildly.  One correspondent opined that his speeches “might have been written by Dr Goebbels himself.”  And although Ramsay’s local Scottish Unionist association in Peebles and Southern Midlothian disowned him at the time of his arrest, the Peeblesshire News still had strong words for them: “This stain on the constituency should have been and ought to have been averted by Peebles Unionists.  In this hour of national trial, we ought to have been saved from such dire calamity.”

 

While Ramsay was incarcerated, the constituency’s needs were attended to by another MP, David Robertson, who for some reason represented the constituency of Streatham in London at the other end of the island.  And it was no doubt a relief for the town, which had lost some 70 inhabitants in the war, when Ramsay didn’t contest the seat again in 1945 and it was won by the Labour Party’s David Pryde.

 

The main event in Ramsay’s post-political life was the publication in 1952 of his autobiography, The Nameless War.  In it, he makes lunatic but typically Ramsay-ian claims such as that John Calvin, expositor-in-chief to the Presbyterian churches, had actually been called Cohen – and guess what religion he’d really been; or that Oliver Cromwell had been a Jewish agent who’d executed Charles I in order to facilitate the Jews’ return to England.  Ramsay died in 1955.

 

At www.npg.org.uk

 

For more information on a figure from my town’s political history whom most folk would prefer to forget, check out these articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_Maule_Ramsay,

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRramsayA2.htm

http://vnnforum.com/archive/index.php/t-25392.html