From fifa.com


It’s World Cup time and England have been playing unexpectedly well.  They’re in the final four with a semi-final game scheduled for seven o’clock BST tonight against Croatia.


Less unexpected is the debate that flares up north of the border whenever England qualify for a World Cup, irrespective of whether Scotland have also qualified or, as has been the case these last 20 years, they haven’t qualified.  The question of this debate is: Should Scottish people support England during their World Cup games?


As usual, opinion pieces have clogged the pages of newspapers and current affairs magazines, penned by Scottish journalists adding their tuppence-worth to the subject.  Since the first kick of the ball in the first World Cup game of 2018, we’ve had Lesley Riddoch in the National, Chris Deerin in the New Statesman, Kevin McKenna in the Herald, Stephen Daisley in the Spectator and many more.


Daisley, for instance, stated his belief that Scots are obliged to support England in the competition: “If Scotland were heading into a World Cup semi-final – come now, it’s not nice to laugh – you can just picture the response south of the border.  England fans would throw their support behind the plucky 11…  Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn would discover long-lost great grannies who once had a fish supper in Portobello.  The Sun would give away novelty kilts bearing the legend ‘It’s coming hame’; the Mirror would reprint the lyrics of Flower of Scotland for its readers to sing along.”  Funnily enough, I was in the UK two years ago when Wales reached the semi-finals of the European Championship and I don’t recall Therezza, Jezza, the Sun and the Mirror being so enthusiastic about the Welsh.


© Bob Thomas / Getty Images


Back in the days of my youth, there was certainly a strong Scottish penchant for not supporting England at football and, indeed, for supporting any team playing against England.  When England took on Argentina in the 1986 World Cup, everyone I knew in Scotland hooted with laughter when Maradona showed the poor old English the door aided by his dodgy ‘hand of God’ goal.  This was despite the fact that, as part of the UK, Scotland had been at war with Argentina only four years earlier, as of course had England.


During the 1990 World Cup, the atmosphere was electric in my regular pub in Aberdeen when England played Cameroon.  This was helped no end by the entry of a group of Cameroonian students, come to watch the game on TV.  While the game was going Cameroon’s way, the students enlivened the pub by performing some traditional Cameroonian dancing, which the locals – rather atypically for Aberdonians, a people not given to over-exuberance – heartily joined in with.  And when England stole the game 3-2 in extra time, the dancing stopped and both Scottish and Cameroonian faces were long and downcast.  Later, when England went out in the semi-finals courtesy of Germany, someone in Glasgow celebrated by painting a local statue of St George in the German team colours.


Footballing-wise, it was easy to be ‘anyone-but-England’ in Scotland at the time.  Sometimes it felt like a political protest.  The UK was governed in an autocratic and centralised fashion by a Conservative government led by that most English-seeming of figures, Margaret Thatcher.  A majority of Scots were anti-Thatcherite, but their objections seemed to matter not a jot with those in power in London whose economic policies were dismantling Scotland’s traditional heavy industries and wrecking its traditional working-class communities.


Also, much of England’s travelling support seemed to consist of hooligans and / or racists.  In a recent, excellent piece about English football and English identity in the New Statesman, Jason Cowley recalls how a memorable 2-0 England win over Brazil in 1984 was, in the eyes of certain fans, a 1-0 England victory.  To them, one of the goals didn’t count because it’d been scored by a black player, John Barnes.  So who’d want to back a team supported by that unlovable bunch?


From www.soccer-ireland.com


Conversely, now that Scotland has its own devolved parliament and has at least a measure of responsibility for its own affairs, and now that the new generation of English fans have a better reputation than their predecessors, the anyone-but-England mentality seems much less pronounced in Scotland.  But I don’t see why, as Daisley thinks, Scots should be compelled to support England.  Sure, they can support them if they want to.  But it shouldn’t be shocking if they don’t want to, for a couple of reasons.


Firstly, plenty of Scottish football fans still see England as their great rival on the footballing stage – not, admittedly, that they’ve had an opportunity to compete against England in any major tournaments during the 21st century because the Scotland side has been too gash to qualify for them.  And it’s a basic law of sporting physics that rivals, especially near-neighbours, do not support each other.  Rather, they’ll happily support their rivals’ opponents.  When Newcastle United took on Manchester United in the 1999 FA Cup Final, I’d bet that very few Sunderland fans, ten miles down the way, were backing them.  And I doubt if many, or indeed any, Celtic supporters were cheering on their old Glasgow rivals Rangers when the latter were up against FC Zenit St Petersburg in the 2008 UEFA Cup final.


This rule extends to national football teams.  I’ve had Dutch people tell me that they don’t want Germany to win, and Ethiopians have said the same about Egypt.  And to other sports – I remember a long-ago rugby world cup where an Australian friend told me how disgruntled he was at hearing certain New Zealanders, whom he knew and considered good mates, cheering on any team that played Australia.  I also remember a Canadian friend asking me one time in a puzzled tone about the anyone-but-England mentality among Scottish football fans.  “So when the USA play Finland at ice hockey,” I asked her, “who do you Canadians support?”  “Finland of course!” she said immediately.


Secondly – and this isn’t the fault of the England players or supporters – the amount of hype that accompanies England’s entry into every footballing competition, generated by English-based pundits, TV stations and newspapers, puts you off them.  It’s immense and overwhelming and rapidly becomes maddening if you live in parts of the United Kingdom that aren’t England but are still saturated by England’s media.  These days, in fact, most of the xenophobia isn’t to be found among the fans, bad boys though they were in the past, but among the tabloids.  Witness the amount of gloating that went on when Germany were knocked out in an uncharacteristically early stage of this World Cup: SCHADENFREUDE declared the front-page headline in the Sun, which then provided a short definition (“Pleasure derived from another person’s dissatisfaction”) presumably because it considered its readers too dense to know what the word meant.


© Daily Express / From the BBC


No doubt the frenzied jingoistic coverage of this year’s World Cup has been ramped up in England’s right-wing, Brexit-crazed newspapers in the hope that it’ll help to bury news of the ultra-shambles, mega-shambles, hyper-shambles and total absolute omni-shambles that Theresa May’s government is currently making of the Brexit negotiations.  They probably hope too that if England win the World Cup, it’ll take people’s minds off the 1930s / Great Depression-style economic misery that’ll inevitably follow a hard Brexit.


Personally, I don’t see any reason why I should support England as it just isn’t my national football team – for me, that title is shared jointly by Scotland and Northern Ireland.  And for the reasons mentioned above, I’ve borne the anyone-but-England attitude in the past.  But I bear no ill-feeling against this current England side and I’m happy to see them do well.


Partly it’s because the current England squad seem like a decent bunch of blokes, certainly in comparison with some of the bloated egos and elephantine senses of entitlement that’ve populated past squads.  (The nadir was surely the England World Cup squad of 2006, who rolled up in Germany with their Sex and the City-style wives and girlfriends.  This led to the gruesome spectacle of Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney and co. descending regularly on the boutiques of Baden-Baden, with the paparazzi in tow, and blowing more money in a single shopping trip than most England fans earned in a year.)


I also like English manager Gareth Southgate, who has executed his World Cup duties with intelligence, humility and compassion.  I even had a lump in my throat when, after England got past Colombia in their quarter-final win game, Southgate saw a Colombian player who’d missed an all-important penalty crying and went over and gave him a hug.


And he knows how to wear a waistcoat.  These things are important.




So I can support this version of England – that is, if I embargo all English newspapers beforehand and have the TV volume turned down so that my brain isn’t turned to mush by any drivelling, hubristic English-TV-studio commentary.  But I’m still not sure I want them to win the World Cup.  I shudder to imagine the English media’s reaction.  They’d be braying and crowing about it for years.  Come to think of it, they still haven’t shut up about winning the bloody thing in 1966.


Then again, if that happens and the “We won! We won!” hysteria gets so unbearable, Scotland could be independent by Christmas.


Jockalypse now


From derekbateman.com


As the British general election approaches – 20 days and counting – I’ve tried to avoid the UK’s mainly right-wing press.  Tried to, but not succeeded.  I can’t understand why I should want to peruse the Sun, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, seeing as the opinions expressed therein usually induce in me a feeling of alarming numbness that’s attributable either to the onset of a stroke or to my will-to-live exiting my body.  Yet peruse them I do.


Maybe the reason for this is similar to the reason why motorists, approaching a serious accident-scene, unconsciously slow down and peek out of their side-windows in the hope of glimpsing some horribly mangled bodies.  It’s because of a primordial and morbid fascination with the hideous.  However, I prefer a different analogy for my inability to stop reading Britain’s right-wing newspapers.  It’s like how small boys will cluster around the edges of an open sewer, a sewer awash with rancid effluent, curious to sample its glorious yucky stinkiness.


A notable feature of this election campaign is that, so far at least, the Scottish National Party has had a substantial lead in opinion polls in Scotland.  It looks capable of usurping the Labour Party as the main political force north of the border and could win a pile of new seats in Westminster.  This raises the possibility of the SNP having a major say over who gets to form the next government of the UK as a whole – especially since UK-wide polls show the Conservative and the Labour Parties bobbing along neck-and-neck with a hung parliament being the likely consequence.  The SNP, under their new leader Nicola Sturgeon, has said her party won’t do a deal to ensure a Conservative government; but they are willing to prop up a government run by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – provided Ed rediscovers a little of the socialism that’s supposedly in his party’s DNA and tailors his policies so that they better fit the SNP’s (and traditional Labour’s) left-of-centre sensibilities.


Speculation that a Labour government might be put in power – and drawn leftward – by the SNP has not gone down well with the scribes of the Sun, Express, Telegraph and so on.  In fact, the newspapers have treated the prospect as something so apocalyptic that if there was a nuclear holocaust tomorrow and the start of the ensuing nuclear winter was marked by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding around sowing the landscape with biblical plagues of frogs, flies, boils, locusts, etc., it wouldn’t be half as ghastly.


From the Daily Record


The Sun – whose proprietor Rupert Murdoch, as they say, needs no introduction from me – got its scare story about the potential Labour-SNP socialist nightmare in early.  On March 10th the tabloid published a piece, written by Kevin Schofield, entitled TARTAN BARMY / ‘WRECKING BALL’ PLANS OF ED (sic) SNP PALS.  This was accompanied by a picture of Miley Cyrus from her 2013 Wrecking Ball video straddling the titular big steel ball, but with Nicola Sturgeon’s head and a tartan bikini superimposed on it, courtesy of Photoshop.  Presumably, this symbolises how Sturgeon and the SNP would induce Ed Miliband to demolish all the sensible policies of Conservative Britain — policies such as fiscally flaying the poorest and weakest in society with a welfare-slashing cat-o’-nine-tails whilst spending £100 billion on renewing a Trident nuclear missile system that, because of its massively destructive nature, can never be used.  (Unless we suddenly decide to take out Boko Haram by nuking Nigeria.)


The timing of the Sun’s Nicola-in-a-tartan-bikini picture was impeccable.  It appeared just two days after International Women’s Day, the theme of which this year was, according to the UN, ‘empowering women’.


Where the Sun leads, the Daily Express is sure to follow.  (The Express is owned by soft-porn magnate Richard Desmond, who in 2010 was said to be worth £950 million – although as he recently donated a million to Nigel Farage’s right-wing-loony / fruitcake United Kingdom Independence Party, he’s presumably now only worth £949 million.)  March 18th’s Express featured a piece by Chris Roycroft-Davis with the headline LABOUR PLUS SNP WOULD PRESIDE OVER ECONOMIC DISASTER.  This warned of SNP-inspired doom and devastation, of “ultra-Left bampots and crankies” dictating “how the United Kingdom is governed”.  Even Scottish people who don’t support the SNP – and there are quite a few – may have objected to the following assertion: “Many of us are already sick of the excessive subsidies English taxpayers send over the border.  Is it part of Cameron’s foreign aid policy to let Jockistan have even more?”


Now on to the pantomime villain of the British mainstream media, the Daily Mail – Hiss! Boo! – which is owned by the 4th Viscount Rothermere.  (He’s worth £720 million and is handily in possession of non-domicile tax status, which according to his Wikipedia entry means he pays “almost no UK tax on his income, investments or wealth”.)  On March 6th, historian and former newspaper editor Max Hastings penned a Mail article entitled THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF THE SCOTS RULING ENGLAND IS NOW ALL TOO REAL.  Max accuses the Scots of sinking to a new low – they’ve started to resemble French people.  And Greek ones.  The horror!  “Like the French and the Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects.  They simply challenge the Westminster parties to declare who will pay most for their support… it is deeply dismaying that a substantial part of the population of this island seem eager to endorse the fantasy economics which have become the policies of the SNP and of Labour.”


Interestingly, the articles by Schofield and Hastings didn’t appear in the Scottish editions of the Sun or Mail, only in the newspapers’ English editions.  Evidently, people in Scotland – or Jockistan – are too poor and primitive to have access to the Internet and social media, so nobody there will ever find out what the English versions of the Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail are saying about them.


Max Hastings described Nicola Sturgeon as “red in tooth and claw”, which is almost gentlemanly compared to what columnist Bruce Anderson has written about her: “It is less a question of a splinter of ice in her heart, as a few scraps of heart tissue clinging to an icicle.  She has all the human warmth of a tricoteuse waiting for a tumbril.”  Anderson is the author of two recent pieces about Scotland in the Daily Telegraph – one on March 21st entitled HOW TO CRUSH THE NATS’ HOPES FOR SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE and the other on April 4th entitled NEVER BEFORE HAS SCOTLAND BEEN QUITE THIS DELUDED – and his view of what is happening north of the border is not an optimistic one.  Not only are Scottish politics dominated by a harridan who sits knitting Liberty caps next to a guillotine (presumably set up outside Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square), but Scotland’s mood, writes Anderson, “is extraordinary.  Over the past few months, millions of Scots have been baying at the moon…  Not since the thirties has a once great nation been in the grip of so many delusions.”


From www.nvcc.libguides.com


The rabidly anti-Scottish independence, pro-United Kingdom Daily Telegraph is owned by David and Frederick Barclay, tax-avoiding billionaires who are holed up in the Channel Islands – more precisely on Brecqhou, which is the smaller sister-island of Sark.  Fascinatingly, their Wikipedia entry claims that, after feuding with the Sark government, the brothers have “expressed a desire to make Brecqhou independent from Sark – building on the research of William Toplis, the painter, and others, who argued that Brecqhou was not a part of the fief of Sark.”  So the Barclay brothers’ love of unity and hatred of separation apparently don’t extend to their own backyard.


Up until now the journalists I’ve quoted have been English (or in Anderson’s case, Northern Irish) ones.  However, plenty of right-wing Scottish commentators have been equally, if not more, determined lately to stick the boot into Scotland for its current enthusiasm for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.   I suspect this is because if you’re right-wing and Conservative in modern Scotland, like these journalists are, you’re likely to feel very lonely at times.  And loneliness breeds bitterness.  Also, I’m sure they’re encouraged by their editors to be as anti-Scottish as possible.  Because the resultant articles are penned by Scots, the publications in which they appear can’t then be accused of anti-Scottish xenophobia.


For example, the right-wing website www.capx.co  published on April 7th an article by Scotsman Chris Deerin entitled SCOTLAND HAS GONE MAD.  Deerin accused his native land of being “a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink.”  The “viewpoint that dominates our polity and media”, he claimed, is “an unholy alliance of nationalists, Greens and socialists.”  And he wailed about Scotland being populated with paranoid crackpots: “We have become a land peppered with conspiracy theorists who believe in secret oil fields and MI5 plots and rigged polls…”


Incidentally, I find claims – advanced by the likes of former MP Jim Sillars and former ambassador Craig Brown – that MI5 is meddling maliciously in Scottish politics far-fetched.  But then again, in the run-up to last September’s referendum on Scottish independence, some big establishment figures like UK Home Secretary Theresa May and Lord George Robertson of Port Ellon made dire warnings about the threat an independent Scotland would pose to national and international security.  If these warnings were true, wouldn’t MI5 be failing in its duty not to interfere in Scottish politics and thwart the SNP in its objective of making Scotland independent?


(c) AFP / Getty Images


Deerin’s article was illustrated with a photograph of a stripped-to-the-waist bloke with Pictish-style tattoos and a Scottish saltire painted on his chest.  This photo and this particular bloke seem to have adorned every Daily Telegraph article about Scotland during the year leading up to the independence referendum.  Presumably, the figure’s embodiment of the irrational – if not animalistic – aspects of Scottish nationalism was intended to terrify genteel, pension-age Telegraph readers and make them choke on their tea and crumpets in the English Home Counties.  Now the bloody thing has migrated over to www.capx.co.  Find a new photo for your articles, guys, please!


I don’t want to, but I suppose I should mention Glasgow-born Tom Gallagher, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bradford, who’s had a bee in his bonnet, a chip on his shoulder and a stick up his arse about the SNP for as long as I can remember.  On the creepy, right-wing, Muslim-baiting, trade union-bashing, UKIP-loving website www.thecommentator.com, two Gallagher-authored articles about Scotland have appeared lately.  One went up on March 3rd and was entitled SEEDS OF TYRANNY BEING SOWN IN SCOTLAND?  It likened Scotland to Russia – “once briefly… free” but threatened by “creeping tyranny”.  I have to say that since there are nearly 40 national and daily newspapers in Scotland and only one of them – the National – openly supports the SNP and its goal of independence, I suspect tyranny in Scotland will have to creep a hell of a lot further before Nicola Sturgeon is able to cow the media and run the place like Vladimir Putin runs Russia now.


The second Gallagher piece came on April 13th.  Entitled SCOTLAND 2015: TOTAL ELECTORAL POLARISATION, it announced ominously that “Scotland is convulsed by confrontation as the SNP and its supporters intimidate opponents.  Democratic civility is treated with contempt, and prejudice and disdain are the order of the day.”  Like Bruce Anderson, Gallagher sees parallels between modern-day Scotland and decapitation-crazy France just over two centuries ago: “Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon is a lawyer with a finely-tuned sense of history: Robespierre, the lawyer who led the French Revolution at its most crazily radical stage, ended up on the guillotine.”


Incidentally, look who’s pictured above Gallagher’s article on March 3rd.  Yes, it’s that stripped-to-the-waist / Pictish tattoos / saltire-on-his-chest bloke again!


I was disappointed to find the Scottish-Borders-based author and columnist Allan Massie, whom I’d considered to be an affable, reasonable and sensible Unionist, putting his name on March 8th to an article in the Mail on Sunday with a holocaustic headline: …IF SCOTLAND RULES ENGLAND, I CAN SEE THE THAMES FOAMING WITH MUCH BLOOD.  Massie, who’d evidently taken a few too many sherries at the time, warned that “the Scots do very well out of the English taxpayer and give nothing in exchange.”  To have the SNP calling the shots at Westminster, then, would spark such consternation in England that there could be trouble.  Big trouble.  Anarchy.  Slaughter.  The Thames awash with blood!


From wingsoverscotland.com 


Well, in the article itself, Massie doesn’t quite predict the apocalyptic scenario described in the headline.  “…I don’t say the rivers Thames and Mersey will literally foam with blood – but they might well do so metaphorically.  For the English regard a government dependent on the SNP as undemocratic and an insult to democracy itself.”  Actually, I don’t see how Massie’s image of rivers foaming with blood can only be a metaphor.  It’s so extreme that it suggests bad things really will happen – things like mass violence and loss of life.  Also, I’m sceptical that, in the event of the SNP ushering in a left-wing Labour government at Westminster, the River Mersey would foam with blood.  I’ve met a few Liverpool folk in my time and from their political opinions I reckon the Mersey is much more likely to run red if the Conservatives win another five years in office.


Finally, in case you ever wondered what’d happened to Gerald Warner, who for many years was right-wing-ranter-in-chief at Scotsman Publications, I can announce that…  He’s back!  He resurfaced on 15th April at www.capx.co with a feature entitled SOCIALIST SCOTLAND IS SLEEPWALKING TO BANKRUPTCY.  Even by the right-wing-loony standards of right-wing loonies, Warner is in a right-wing-loony class of his own.  He seems to hanker for the good old days before Clement Atlee ushered in the beastly Welfare State, when everybody knew their place – when the wealthy lived in big houses, went to church on Sunday and spent the rest of their time grouse-shooting, and the working class stayed in their slums, with their tuberculosis and rickets, and were grateful for it.


In his most recent missive, Warner gives us a handy summary of 20th century Scottish history.  “From the advent of the Labour government of 1945, Scotland became marinated in socialist dependency.  The land of Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie, a nation of thrifty, proud, self-sufficient wealth creators, rejected capitalism and embraced socialism…  When Margaret Thatcher came into office, Scotland had the largest percentage of population living in municipal housing of any nation in Europe, except the then East Germany…  The Berlin Wall came down – but not in Scotland.  While other countries embraced the free market, often enduring much initial pain in the process, Scots defiantly carried the Red Flag into the 21st century…  By 2009, Scotland enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the third-most state-dependent country in the world, after Communist Cuba and war-torn Iraq.  Welcome to Alba-bania.”


Be aware, though, that this is history Gerald Warner-style.  So it might be slightly biased.


There are other articles I could mention – Andrew Gilligan recently wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph that stopped just short of claiming SNP supporters in Glasgow East were murdering their political opponents and eating their entrails – but I’ll stop here.  At the start of this entry, I likened reading this stuff to standing at a sewer’s edge and inhaling its toxic fumes.  But having written about it in detail, I now feel like I’ve been swimming in that sewer.


A few final observations.  For many British people, the past five years of David Cameron and Conservative Party government have not been edifying.  They’ll remember 2010-2015 as an era of zero-hour contracts, welfare cuts, food-banks, the Bedroom tax, a crumbling NHS, exorbitant student fees, unpaid internships, tax avoidance, bankers’ bonuses, corrupt politicians, rumours of paedophile rings in Westminster, the rich getting richer and the poor getting evermore helpless.  That a coterie of journalists, like those I’ve mentioned above, can’t only get their heads around the fact that many people don’t want to be a part of modern British society as the Conservatives have fashioned it, but also go out of their way to mock such people as being “soft and sappy” and “baying at the moon”, suggests how far removed from reality much of Britain’s journalistic establishment is.  It’s locked inside its own bubble of privilege.  In fact, it’s as out of touch as most of Britain’s political establishment is these days.


Secondly, in the opinion polls Cameron’s Conservative Party is struggling to win the support of more than a third of the UK population.  Even if you factor in support for UKIP, still less than half of British people want to see a right-wing government in Westminster.  The Scots only account for 8% of the UK population, so why pick on them?  Why single them out for maligning as left-wing nutcases and fantasists?  Surely there are plenty of folk in England and Wales guilty of the same sin — if you’re blinkered enough to consider wanting to see the back of the Conservatives a sin?


And finally, this guff is self-defeating.  The more that commentators in the Sun, Express, Telegraph, Mail and so on fulminate about all things Scottish and chuck insults around about Jockistan and Alba-bania, the more likely Scottish people are to say in response: “F**k them.”  And then go off and vote for the SNP.


(c) The Scotsman


Politicians, study your history!


(c) Daily Telegraph


My apologies for posting yet another item about Scottish politics.  It’s not as if I want to, especially at the moment when I’ve just moved from one country to another country and am trying to settle into a new environment and culture.  (More about that in blog-posts to come.)


However, just when I think I’ve got the subject out of my system for a while, something else Scottish-politics-related comes along and bites me on the bum, and I have no option to give that bite a long blog-posting scratch.  But this will be my last post on the issue for a while.


Four days ago, Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, respective leaders of the Scottish branches of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, who are all campaigning for a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum on independence this September, made a joint declaration promising that their parties would devolve more powers to the Scottish parliament in the event of the referendum result indeed being ‘no’.  In other words, if you want Scotland to have more powers, you don’t have to vote ‘yes’.  Reject independence and something will still come Scotland’s way.  Just what exactly that something is, though, is unclear.  The three unionist parties are offering different packages, under the vague heading of ‘more fiscal responsibility’, and it’s uncertain who’ll be in a position to offer what if the Scots choose to remain in the UK.




Anyone who reads this blog regularly and is familiar with my political views won’t be surprised to hear that I’m sceptical about all this.  I find it hard to believe that if people vote not to assume more powers themselves, Westminster will give them extra powers on top of what they have anyway.  And there’s a precedent for my scepticism.  In 1979, Scotland missed an opportunity to get its own devolved parliament, but Margaret Thatcher had promised people beforehand that if they rejected what was on offer, her party, once it was in power, would deliver a ‘better’ devolution package.  Of course, when Auld Maggie was ensconced in Number 10 Downing Street later on, no such enhanced devolution package materialised – though I suppose over the subsequent years she did devolve certain things to Scotland, such as the right to have your shipbuilding, steel, coal and textile industries crucified and the right to be used as guinea pigs for the Poll Tax.


Incidentally, in the 1979 referendum on the proposed devolved parliament, a narrow majority – 51.6% of votes cast – was in favour of it.  However, thanks to an amendment added to the 1978 Scotland Act by Labour MP George Cunningham, this majority was deemed not enough to have the parliament established.  The ‘yes’ vote had to represent at least 40% of the entire electorate of Scotland, irrespective of whether or not that electorate had voted.  And this blatant bit of result-rigging seems to me a good reason not to trust the Labour Party on constitutional promises either.


However, what I find astonishing is the venue that Lamont, Davidson and Rennie chose for their declaration on Sunday.  They marched a bunch of young people up to the top of Calton Hill in central Edinburgh and got them to pose on the steps of the National Monument, holding up some big, blobby, blue letters that spelt out MORE POWERS FOR SCOTLAND GUARANTEED.


Now I have written before about the National Monument and what it represents in Scotland’s national psyche:


“It is monstrous in size, is fixed permanently in stone, has survived for nearly two hundred years and stands in plain view of many parts of the Scottish capital.  I’m talking about the National Monument, which occupies a prime position on Calton Hill in central Edinburgh.  Ostensibly built to honour the Scottish soldiers and sailors who’d died in the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815, this was clearly also a vanity project for Scotland generally and for Edinburgh in particular.  The fact that it was modelled on the Parthenon in Athens suggests that the capital was in the middle of an early rebranding exercise.  No longer was it content to be seen as the crowded, smoky, sewage-splattered and stinky ‘Auld Reekie’ of yore.  Rather, it was going for the more cosmopolitan title of ‘the Athens of the North’.


“To be fair, Scotland and Edinburgh had reason to feel good about themselves at the time…  (T)he later 18th century saw an unexpected Scottish renaissance.  Suddenly many areas of science, art, economics and philosophy were being heavily influenced by brainy Scots, such as Robert Adam, Thomas Carlyle, Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Lord Monboddo, Henry Raeburn, Thomas Reid, Sir Walter Scott and Adam Smith.  Meanwhile, Edinburgh had seen the development of its New Town, which today surely ranks as the most gorgeous and extensive district of Georgian architecture in Britain.


“When you approach the National Monument on Calton Hill, you see eight Grecian columns standing along its front, two more columns standing at either side… and that’s it.  The structure doesn’t have a back.  It’s truncated, incomplete, unfinished.  Yes, work on the National Monument came to a halt in 1829 because the project ran out of money – and the part of it that was left standing was soon dubbed ‘Scotland’s disgrace’.  To me, it has the effect of symbolising a nation’s neurosis.  Scotland, this laughably half-built, faux-Greek monument seems to warn, don’t get ideas above your station.  Don’t get too big for your britches.  Ken your place.  Don’t think you’re good because, in truth, you’re a bit rubbish.  Someone – possibly Tom Stoppard – made a famous jibe about Edinburgh not being so much ‘the Athens of the North’ as it is ‘the Reykjavik of the South’, but as far as I know Reykjavik doesn’t have an architectural symbol of incompetence on the same, hulking scale as this on display in its town centre.”


Yes, as the setting for their declaration that people can be confident of a bold new Scotland in the event of a ‘no’ vote, Lamont, Davidson and Rennie picked the landmark that above all other things in Scotland conveys the notion that the country is, actually, a bit shite – the great, grotesque hulk on Calton Hill whose function seems to be to deter Scottish people from feeling confident about themselves.


Even if you strip the thing of its symbolism, nobody can deny the fact that the National Monument is incomplete.  It’s an unfinished journey.  It’s in limbo.  So using it as a backdrop for these new promises, which are supposed to wrap up the constitutional question in Scotland for good, is rather stupid.  By association, the monument suggests that the constitutional question isn’t finished.  It needs more work.  It has further to go.  (Of course, Alex Salmond and co. would argue that the only way the journey can end is at full-blown independence.)


However, I don’t think the unfortunate choice of the National Monument, Scotland’s disgrace, for this particular photo op was deliberate.  I think it just shows that the people working in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are clueless when it comes to Scottish history.  So in future, people, do some research!


From digital-spy.co.uk 


Mind you, an event last Thursday suggests that the Labour Party is particularly weak when it comes to history – modern history as well as the 19th-century stuff.  UK Labour leader Ed Miliband posed for a photo with a free issue of the Sun newspaper, 22,000,000 copies of which were distributed around England to mark the start of the World Cup.  The Sun was keen to get some publicity and Ed was keen to show his support for the England team in the World Cup, and possibly, just possibly, to get the influential Rupert-Murdoch-owned tabloid to view his political party a little more favourably.  However, the moment the picture was snapped, Labour Party MPs and councillors and the Labour Party mayor in Liverpool exploded in anger.


The Sun is about as popular in Liverpool as leprosy and it’s been subject to a boycott there since its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.  The Sun blamed the deadly crush at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, on other, supposedly-drunken, supposedly-violent Liverpool fans.  It also alleged that Liverpudlians had looted and urinated on corpses and attacked police officers, including one who was trying to give a victim the kiss of life.  It has since emerged that then-Sun-editor Kelvin Mackenzie got these false claims from a local Tory MP (who wasn’t even at the match) and from senior South Yorkshire police officers, who had a compelling reason to slander the supporters – it shifted blame away from their own, criminally inadequate handling of the situation.  The Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded at the end of 2012 that the disaster was caused by a ‘lack of police control’ where safety was ‘compromised at every level’.


So what on earth was Ed Miliband thinking when he posed for that photo?  I can only conclude that he wasn’t thinking.  He and his team were genuinely ignorant of the Sun’s history with Liverpool.  And I’m sure it had nothing to do with a calculation that the sensibilities of loyal Labour-supporting Liverpudlians were worth sacrificing in order to curry favour with a powerful international newspaper magnate whose main British newspaper once accused them of being drunken, homicidal, corpse-robbing scumbags.


You can’t have your cake and eat it — unless you’re a journalist


From www.babelio.com


It may surprise regular readers of this blog to learn that, dour old leftie though I am, I actually have some time for Alan Massie, the conservative-minded novelist and regular columnist in the Scotsman newspaper.  I don’t agree with Massie’s politics but – something increasingly rare amongst those who use newspaper-pages to air their opinions – he’s usually respectful of those who oppose his views.  At times he even ventures some sympathy, though not support, for their views.


(I’ll also put in a good word for his son Alex, who’s a chip off the old Massie block – a Tory, yes, but not one who believes that everyone who disagrees with him is a communist scumbag deserving to be put against a wall and shot.  He’s one of the few commentators worth reading in that Hooray-Henry-populated magazine the Spectator.  For instance, in the following piece, he pulls no punches whilst analysing the rhetoric of Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, at UKIP’s recent spring conference.  Predictably, the comments thread below the article is packed with gibbering, reactionary Spectator-readers heaping abuse on Massie Junior’s head:




Last week, an opinion piece by Alan Massie in the Scotsman entitled ROAD TO AIRSTRIP ONE PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS caught my eye.  This was written in response to a plan by the Scottish government to provide every child in Scotland with a ‘minder’ who’ll be responsible for making sure he or she is being properly reared and looked after – watching out for “children who are neglected and others who are abused” and “some who are, quite simply, being brought up badly.”  Massie was uncharacteristically severe in his assessment of the plan.  He denounced it, claiming “(t)he assumption may be presented to us as benevolent, but, whatever the intention, the consequences are likely to be nasty in practice as the subjection of individuals and families to the state is deplorable to anyone who values freedom.”




Massie’s opinion has been shared by most people who’ve written about the plan in the press.  Similarly disdainful, for example, was Kevin McKenna writing in the Observer the other Sunday and normally McKenna’s political views are the polar opposite of Massie’s.  Elsewhere, indignant headlines have featured terms like ‘snoopers’, ‘nanny state’ and ‘Big Brother’.


But wait.  If the scheme is so detestable, why would the Scottish government want to impose it on the public in the first place?  I suspect a major reason for it becoming a government policy was the amount of media coverage given in recent years to stories of neglected children, abused children, children running loose in the streets like feral dogs and children being starved or beaten to death by monstrous parents.  Actually, if this image of ‘Broken Britain’ that the press has been so busy creating is true, it seems a miracle that any kids remain alive now to be minded.  The dire situation, newspapers would have you believe, has been aided and abetted by inept social work departments incapable of detecting such neglect and abuse before events reach a tragic climax.


Indeed, if you’re to believe the stories, the British social-work profession is full of incompetents.  Ever since most British newspapers had their great right-wing love-in with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, it’s been fashionable for them to depict public-sector workers as lazy underachievers content to live off taxpayers’ money – unlike those sexy wealth-creators who toil heroically in the private sector.  And social workers have been at the top of the press’s shit-list, despised even more than state-school teachers.  In fact, if there is a dearth of ability in the profession nowadays, it’s probably because a diet of horror stories in the newspapers has convinced new graduates that taking a job in social work is the vocational equivalent of contracting leprosy.


It’s just one example of Britain’s newspapers wanting to have their cake and eat it.  They bang on about an issue that they find disgraceful, scandalous and reprehensible.  Then, when their banging on about it prompts a reaction, they bang on about the reaction being disgraceful, scandalous and reprehensible too.  At other times, though, newspapers are full of insane contradictions because they see nothing wrong about holding two conflicting viewpoints at the same time – either out of hypocrisy or out of plain stupidity.


Here are some other examples of Britain’s newspapers wanting to have their cake and eat it:


Hammering on about the country being infested with paedophiles, who are ready to pounce on unsuspecting children from behind every wall, hedge, bush and tree.  Then hammering on about: (1) parents keeping their kids indoors with only their computers to play with, so that they become timid, unadventurous and fat; and (2) young boys becoming ‘feminised’ by having too many female teachers and too few male teachers who’d otherwise have provided positive male role models.  (Of course many men no longer want to work as primary-school teachers for fear they might be suspected of being paedophiles.)


And hammering on about paedophiles whilst loading the showbiz sections of their websites with photographs of pouting adolescent daughters of famous film stars, clad in bikinis or skimpy dresses.  Yes, Daily Mail, I’m looking at you:




Using the young, tragic face of the now-six-years-missing Madeline McCann to milk their readers’ sympathy and sell newspapers. At the same time slandering Madeline’s parents by accusing them of being involved in her abduction.  That’s the modus operandi of the Daily Express:




Deriding the European Union because it’s packed with loathsome, and foreign, bureaucrats who like nothing better than meddling in British affairs and imposing loathsome, and foreign, ideas like minimum wages and human rights.  Then cheering the President of the EU Commission to the rafters when he warns that an independent Scotland would find it ‘very difficult’ or even ‘impossible’ to join the EU.


Stoking up readers’ fears about immigration into Britain to hysterical levels.  Yet never missing any opportunity to praise London – a city choc-a-bloc with immigrants – for its entrepreneurship, economic dynamism and cultural vibrancy.


Shelling out serious sums of money for photographs – the more intrusive the better – of a certain member of Britain’s Royal Family, with the result that the paparazzi make her life a misery.  Then gnashing their teeth, tearing out their hair, printing black-edged memorial issues and generally indulging in a gigantic blub-a-thon when said Royal-Family-member gets killed in a car crash whilst trying to escape from a pursuing fleet of paparazzi.  Who were only trying to get photographs of her, for which those newspapers were desperate to pay so much money.


Making an almighty clamour when revelations of Jimmy Saville’s industrial-scale abuse of children and young women arose after Saville’s death, which coincidently was a handy way for them to make life uncomfortable for their least favourite public corporation, the BBC.  Then when other TV personalities of Saville’s vintage, such as William Roache and Dave Lee Travis, are accused of perpetrating similar abuse and brought to court and finally found not guilty, complaining about their trials being a ‘waste of money’.


Lamenting about educational standards being dumbed down.  Of course, British newspapers, with their noble tradition of intellectualism, have not contributed to the dumbing down of British society in recent decades in any way.


Both (c) The Sun


Feral kids, paedophiles, child abductors, EU bureaucrats, immigrants, predatory TV stars, mass stupidity…  The common denominator in many of these press stories is fear.  Because, often, fear is what induces people to buy newspapers.  Now that newspaper sales in Britain are in steady decline thanks to people turning to the Internet for news and information – the Scotsman, for instance, has seen its daily readership dip below the 30,000 mark for the first time ever, has cut back its arts coverage to two days a week and is generally dying on its arse – you can expect that fear-factor to be cranked up to higher levels than ever before.  No doubt that means the British press will tie itself in yet bigger knots in terms of consistency and logic.