Scorpion tales

 

From wikipedia.org / © Eva Rinaldi

 

Here’s a hypothetical question I’ve heard many times. If you had a time machine, would you travel back in time, find the young Adolf Hitler and kill him?  In Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone, for instance, the hero puts this question to an old man who lost his son in World War II.  The old man replies that he’d stick a knife in Hitler’s heart “as far as she’d go… and then I’d twist her… But first, first I’d coat the blade with rat poison.”

 

Recently, whilst looking at the dire state of the world and feeling fearful about the future, I’ve wondered about a variation on the time machine / Hitler question.  In the future, after manmade climate change has decimated the environment and pig-ignorant ‘populism’ (i.e., fascism) has run society into the ground, who would the remnants of humanity choose to eliminate if they had a time machine and could send an assassin back to, say, the late 20th century?  Who would they remove from the timeline in the belief it’d change history for the better?  The young Donald Trump?  The young Vladimir Putin?

 

Neither.  I suspect those guys would be considered small beer compared to the guy the time-travelling assassin from the future would really go after… Rupert Murdoch.

 

Murdoch’s media operations have, over the last five decades, caused massive damage to human well-being.  He promoted the voracious, greed-is-good, market-über-alles destructiveness of neoliberalism with his support for Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.  He’s done his best to ignore, distort and discredit the overwhelming scientific evidence for manmade climate change.  Via Fox News, he’s created in the USA a paranoid, xenophobic, extreme-right-wing ecosystem whose millions of inhabitants believe Donald Trump’s lies and will probably vote him again, or someone even worse, into power in 2024 and turn the world’s biggest superpower into an authoritarian state.  Yes, Murdoch has seemingly had a finger in everything shit that’s happened in modern history, in everything’s that propelled humanity further down the road to hell.  No wonder Murdoch’s son James resigned from the board of News Corp in 2020, sick of the oceans of toxicity created by his father.

 

It says little for Britain’s newspaper industry that Murdoch owns a swathe of its national titles: the Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Sun and Sun on Sunday.  These played a prominent role in influencing the 2016 vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union, which led to the economic, diplomatic and cultural shambles of Brexit.  No surprise there, either.  The ghoulish old Antipodean tycoon once famously remarked that he could intimidate one country’s leader, in No 10 Downing Street, into following his wishes, whereas he couldn’t intimidate the combined might of 28 countries’ leaders represented in Brussels.

 

From dailysabah.com / © Sun

 

But Murdoch constitutes just one head of the hydra that is Britain’s predominantly right-wing press.  Among the newspapers sold nationwide, only the Guardian, Daily and Sunday Mirrors and Sunday People could be described as having a political stance leaning any way towards the left.  Elsewhere, the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, right-wing and totally honking mad, are owned by the billionaire Frederick Barclay.  Resident on the island of Brecqhou, which is administered by Sark in the Channel Islands, Frederick and his late twin brother David once tried to avoid Sark’s tax-inheritance laws by having Brecqhou declared independent of it.  That’s ironic considering the Telegraphs’ vehement opposition to Scottish independence.

 

Another billionaire, the non-domiciled Viscount Rothermere, owns the equally right-wing Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.  About the Mail, I once wrote: “…you might just view the never-ending diet that the newspaper serves up of ignorance, prurience, grubbiness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, small-mindedness, snobbery, racism, misogyny, Little Englander-ism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, immigrant-bashing, anti-intellectualism, tittle-tattle, curtain-twitching, pseudo-scientific quackery, petty-bourgeois fulmination and general all-round barking right-wing insanity and conclude there’s no hope left for the human race and try to book yourself a one-way passage on the next space probe to Mars.”

 

And let’s not forget the Daily and Sunday Express, near-clones of the Mail titles, though aimed at an even more demented readership who are additionally obsessed with Madeleine McCann, Princess Diana and the British weather.  These used to be owned by millionaire and one-time porno magnate Richard Desmond, but are now the property of Reach plc, which publishes the Mirror.  Presumably, Reach hasn’t tinkered with the Express formula because it’s decided to milk those barmy readers for money while they’re still alive.

 

Over the past few months, Britain’s right-wing newspapers have been fighting the corner of Boris Johnson, ever since they realised the fragility of his premiership.  As PM, Johnson hasn’t been so much skating on thin ice as clog-dancing on it.  It’s transpired that during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the UK had been put in lockdown, Johnson and his cronies turned No 10 Downing Street into an endlessly partying, boozing frat-house that paid zero heed to the strict non-socialising rules imposed on everyone else.  (Intriguingly, Murdoch’s Sun, usually the gobbiest of Britain’s tabloids, has kept relatively quiet about ‘Partygate’, as it’s been dubbed.  This may have something to do with James Slack, the Sun’s deputy editor, being Johnson’s Director of Communications at the time when No 10 was boogieing away the lockdown blues.)

 

The self-serving, scurrilous, mendacious Johnson is a creature of the self-serving, scurrilous, mendacious British press. He started off working at the Times, until he was sacked for fabricating a quote, then found employment as the Telegraph.  Max Hastings, then-Telegraph editor, has since said of Johnson: “…he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”  As the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Johnson wrote wildly exaggerated pieces on how the evil EU was imposing spiteful and stupid regulations on plucky little Britain.  These helped fuel the Euro-scepticism that birthed the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and eventually won the 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit.  No wonder the right-wing press barons love Johnson – he’s one of their own.

 

From twitter.com/bbcnews / © Daily Mail

 

Unsurprisingly, their coverage of Partygate, in which they’ve tried to defend and big up the lawbreaking blond oaf, has been nauseating.  First, there was the insistence, made most forcibly by the Daily Mail, that Johnson’s breaking of his own Covid laws was unimportant because Russia had just invaded Ukraine and, well, DON’T THEY KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON?  More recently, they’ve dedicated their front-page headlines to ‘Beergate’, the hoo-ha over the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer – or, as he’s known in the right-wing press, ‘HYPOCRITE STARMER’ – having a beer and curry at a constituency office in Durham last year while lockdown rules remained in force.  Starmer claimed no rules were broken, but the local police have, under pressure from the media, launched an inquiry into the incident.  The assumption in the editorial offices of the Mail and the rest is that if Starmer is found to have broken lockdown rules too, their beloved Boris will get off the hook for his own, proven misdemeanours.  (He’s already had to pay one fine for a lockdown breach and more fines are likely on the way.)

 

Starmer has just declared that he’ll resign as Labour Party leader if the police do issue a fine to him over Beergate.  This was evidently intended to put some clear, blue, moral water between him and Johnson, already fined but not resigned.  However, if he thought this would earn him some credit from the newspapers, he was mistaken.  The Mail promptly responded with the headline: STARMER ACCUSED OF PILING PRESSURE ON POLICE.

 

The more I think about these rags, the more I think of the fable about the frog and the scorpion.  The scorpion stings the frog to death, even though this will condemn it to death too, because it’s in its ‘nature’.  It’s what it does.  It can’t not sting.

 

The poisonous right-wing nature of much of Britain’s press is a headache for the Labour Party.  How can they ever get a fair hearing when those newspapers are programmed to blindly support their Conservative opponents no matter how corrupt, venal and idiotic they become?  A quarter-century ago, Tony Blair’s policy on this was to cosy up to them.  He got so thick with Rupert Murdoch, the Scorpion King himself, that he became godfather to one of Murdoch’s kids.  In return, the headline THE SUN BACKS BLAIR appeared on the front page of Murdoch’s number-one British tabloid prior to the 1997 general election, which saw Blair win power.  But such sycophancy has its downside.  If you get too close to the likes of Murdoch, you end up either stung to death, like the frog in the fable, or with so much poison in your own system that you become toxic yourself.  The latter outcome happened to Blair.  I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind describing ‘El Tone’ as a paragon of virtue in 2022.

 

Still, I don’t have much sympathy either for the supporters of the last Labour Party leader, the atypically left-wing Jeremy Corbyn, who blamed negative British press coverage for all their hero’s woes.  Yes, aware that Corbyn represented a threat to the wealthy, powerful interests of their owners, those newspapers bombarded Corbyn with every slur going, that he was a terrorist sympathiser, an anti-Semite, a traitor, whatever.  But Corbyn, whom I’ve always regarded as a decent bloke, engineered much of his own bad luck.  He was a hopeless communicator.  He seemed to be living still in the 1970s, when he’d been a compadre of old school socialist Tony Benn, and never responded to the attacks made against him with the imagination and agility necessary in the changed media landscape of the early 21st century.

 

Actually, there’s proof close at hand that, to be successful, a political party doesn’t need to be backed by the majority of newspapers, and can triumph despite most newspapers stinging at it continuously with their scorpion-tails.  In Scotland, only one newspaper, the National, supports the Scottish National Party’s policy of Scottish independence.  The other Scottish newspapers – north-of-the-border editions of the right-wing ones I’ve just discussed, such as the Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail, and locally published ones like the Scotsman, Herald and Daily Record – oppose the SNP and leap at any opportunity to excoriate it and its leader Nicola Sturgeon.  (It’s noticeable how, in the headlines of the utterly wretched Scottish Daily Express, the British PM is always referred to as ‘BORIS’ whereas the Scottish First Minister always gets a contemptuous, misogynistic ‘STURGEON’.)

 

From bbc.com/ © Daily Express

 

Yet the SNP have been in power in Edinburgh for the past 15 years and have topped the polls in eight Scottish elections in a row, most recently the council ones on May 3rd that saw them increase their number of councillors by 22.  A large part of this is surely down to Nicola Sturgeon herself.  Whatever you think of her politics, it’s hard to deny that – unlike Johnson – she speaks like a normal human being, communicates her meaning clearly and generally exhibits some semblance of empathy and integrity.  Obviously, this influences a sufficiently large number of Scottish voters, who choose to believe the evidence of their own eyes and ears over the crap they read in the newspapers.

 

Let’s hope that, when the time comes, British voters as a whole choose to do the same.

Tears of an ermine gown

 

From the Daily Record

 

For reasons of preserving my sanity, I’ve avoided writing about politics lately.  That includes the politics of my old homeland, Scotland.  However, I feel compelled to type a few words on the topic thanks to the coverage given to a recent interview with Jack McConnell.  Oops, sorry, I’ve misnamed him.  It should be Baron Jack McConnell of Glenscorrodale.  The twitter handle he’s given himself is @LordMcConnell, so evidently these titles are important to him.  Baron McConnell was First Minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007 and the last First Minister to belong to the Scottish Labour Party.

 

Last week, Baron McConnell was interviewed in the Scottish current affairs magazine Holyrood and had plenty to say about the current state of Scottish politics which, since he was nudged out of power by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party in 2007, have been dominated by the SNP.  The Baron is not happy at what he sees.  He laments that nothing has changed in Scotland since the 2014 referendum on independence (which, of course, his side won), laments that modern Scottish politics has ‘no public debate and no public accountability’, and pines for the good old days ‘of ministers doing their jobs well’.

 

Indeed, so strongly does he feel that at one point the interviewer notes, “McConnell’s voice starts to break and his eyes well up.”  “Sorry,” he says, “I’m feeling quite emotional about it right now…  I genuinely feel like we are stuck in treacle and I don’t know how we get out of it.”

 

Commentators in Scotland’s (heavily unionist) mainstream media have seized upon the article as both an articulation and confirmation of all that’s ghastly about modern-day Scotland, which has had the SNP in power for the past 14 years now and is currently under the First Ministership of Nicola Sturgeon.  In the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times, for instance, pundit Kenny Farquharson wrote, “I challenge anyone, of any political stripe, to read this interview with Jack McConnell and not find themselves agreeing with at least some of his analysis of where Scotland finds itself right now.”  And in the New Statesman, Chris Deerin opined about Jack – sorry, Baron! – McConnell’s outpouring, “Coming from a politician who is known for his optimism and problem-solving approach, and who rarely lacks a twinkle in his eye, the anguish is all the more powerful.  And it is very hard to disagree with anything.”

 

Incidentally, Deerin has form in lambasting Scotland’s prevailing political orthodoxy.  In 2015, in the right-wing online news outlet CapX, he wrote that the place “has become a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink…  It is certainly the viewpoint that dominates our polity and media – an unholy alliance of Nationalists, Greens and socialists. I’m sure many consider themselves to be all three.”  I find it mind-melting that the left-leaning New Statesman saw fit to make him its Scotland Editor.

 

Baron McConnell apparently bewails a lack of vision in modern Scottish politics, though I’m surprised that someone with his broad vision doesn’t acknowledge the fact that in the last decade, by way of being part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has had to deal with the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron and George Osborne, and then the vote to leave the European Union (powered by anti-European votes in England – every part of Scotland voted to remain in the EU) and its ongoing, toxic legacy, and the Covid-19 epidemic.  Not to mention that the UK as a whole is currently governed by a set of Conservative politicians whose moral compass seems to be the same one that Al Capone referred to in the 1920s.  I doubt even a Scottish government with impeccable Unionist / Labour credentials headed by the noble Baron himself would appear particularly dynamic having all that to contend with.  So, it seems a bit myopic of him to overlook it.  Unless, of course, he’s just being disingenuous.

 

From angelfire.com

 

Also, when I think back to the supposed golden age of public debate, and public accountability, and ministers doing their jobs well, and not being stuck in treacle – i.e., Baron McConnell’s tenure as First Minister – I can’t remember much that was outstanding.  Well, apart from the ban on smoking in public places, the first such ban implemented in one of the constituent nations of the UK, which made life pleasanter and healthier for non-smokers like myself who liked to visit the pub sometimes.  But otherwise, I just remember him making an arse of himself by wearing a pinstriped kilt to a charity fashion show in New York in 2004.  (Even my old Dad, not normally one to get worked up about Scottish politics, exclaimed, “Christ, what an embarrassment!”).  Oh, and a stushie about him and his family holidaying in Majorca with Kirsty Wark, a senior journalist at the supposedly impartial BBC.  And his enthusiasm for promoting Public Finance Initiatives which, by 2016, were projected to cost Scottish taxpayers some 30 billion pounds during the decades to come.  And the fact that one year he returned 1.5 billion pounds of devolved money to the London treasury, when there were clearly things in Scotland he could have spent it on.

 

Still, Baron McConnell must have fond memories of those years.  A staunch Blairite, he had the satisfaction of knowing his smiley, warmongering hero was ensconced in Number Ten, Downing Street.  Also, the Labour Party was massively powerful in Scottish local politics, and it held the lion’s share of Scottish seats in the Westminster Parliament too.  Labour were the top dogs in Scotland.  This was their territory.  No wonder political commentators joked that Labour votes in Scotland were weighed rather than counted; and in Glasgow you could stick a red rosette on a monkey and it’d get voted into Westminster.

 

Actually, looking at the evidence, the red rosette / monkey scenario must have actually happened in a number of cases.  I’m thinking of such specimens as Lanark and Hamilton East’s one-time Labour MP Jimmy Hood, who once declared he’d oppose Scottish independence even if it made the Scottish people better off – the fact that as an MP he was busy claiming £1000-a-month second-home expenses in London no doubt had something to do with his keenness to keep Westminster running the show.  And Midlothian’s David Hamilton, who in 2015 did his bit for the battle against sexism by describing Nicola Sturgeon (and her hairstyle) as “the wee lassie with a tin helmet on”.  And Glasgow South West’s Ian Davidson, who charmingly predicted that after 2014’s referendum on Scottish independence the debate would carry on only “in the sense there is a large number of wounded still to be bayoneted”.  This shower became known as the ‘low-flying Jimmies’ because of their lack of ambition in anything other than being cannon-fodder for Labour at Westminster and enjoying all the perks that came with being MPs.  And with numpties like these populating the Westminster opposition benches during the 1980s and 1990s, it’s no surprise Mrs Thatcher’s Tories had a free run to do whatever they liked in Scotland.

 

Yes, I know, in 1999, early in Blair’s premiership, Labour did set up the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.  But I’m sure it was seen as a means of keeping additional numbers of loyal Scottish Labour Party hacks in lucrative employment and was designed not to rock the boat in any way for London.  The Scottish parliament was organised so that no party (i.e., the SNP) could never win an outright majority in it and its ruling executive would always have to be a coalition.  And the biggest party in any coalition, Blair and co. assumed, would always be the Scottish Labour Party.

 

It was a shock for Labour when in 2007 the SNP won the biggest number of seats in the Scottish parliament, eschewed coalitions and ran Scotland for the next four years as a minority administration.  It was an even bigger shock for them when in 2011 the SNP achieved the impossible and managed to win an overall majority of seats there.  Hadn’t Labour’s finest minds arranged things so that this would never happen?  And things got even worse in 2015 when, with the Scottish party led by the hapless Jim Murphy, Labour lost 40 of its 41 MPs to the SNP in a Westminster election.  Yes, it must’ve been tough for poor old Labour to witness all that.  There’s nothing worse than having a sense of entitlement and then not getting what you believe you’re entitled to.

 

From unsplash.com / © Serena Repice Lentini

 

Baron McConnell is a good example of a particularly rotten aspect of the Scottish Labour experience.  Secure a seat in the London or Edinburgh parliaments, follow orders, doff your cap to your masters, and after a few decades of loyal service you’ll get the ultimate reward – a peerage.  Scotland was meant to be not only Labour’s stomping ground, its fiefdom, but also its station of departure for a gravy train running all the way to the House of Lords.  These days, in the Lords, the second largest legislative chamber in the world after the Chinese National People’s Congress – which is about as democratic – the good Baron of Glenscorrodale gets to rub ermine-clad shoulders with such other Scottish Labour luminaries as Baron George Foulkes of Cumnock, Baron George Robertson of Port Ellon and Baron Alastair Darling of Roulanish.

 

No doubt he also enjoys a chinwag with the Margaret Thatcher-worshipping former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, who was supposedly booted out of power in 1997 – I can’t remember his title, but I assume it’s something like Lord Freddy of Krueger – and another of Chris Deerin’s heroes, the former Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson, whom I believe nowadays calls herself Baroness Colonel Davidson of Jar-Jar Binks.  Obviously, there are plenty of former Conservative Party treasurers to fraternise with as well.  Accountability, eh?

 

In the Holyrood interview Baron McConnell talks about how in the Labour party “there was an absolute commitment to the redistributive nature of the UK.”  But isn’t that the real reason for mediocrity and poverty of imagination in Scotland?  Isn’t it the message that Scots have to stay in the UK because their country is a basket case and their wealthy neighbour – well, part of it, London – has to continually redistribute money to them?  Wouldn’t it be wiser in the long run to remove the dependency set-up, through independence, and give Scots the powers to make their own decisions, implement their own courses of action, make their own mistakes and hopefully learn from them?  But that would necessitate dismantling the cosy British constitutional system that the Baron and his friends currently do so well out of.

 

Ironically, there is a part of the UK where the local Labour Party doesn’t feel obligated to kowtow to London and is prepared to do its own thing.  I refer to the Labour Party in Wales, whose leader Mark Drakeford bucked the dismal losing trend set by Labour in England and Scotland and won the biggest number of seats in the Welsh Senedd election earlier this year.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, Drakeford has won plaudits by refusing to work in lockstep with London – which I suspect Baron McConnell would have done, had he still been Scottish First Minister.  Instead, Drakeford has followed his own instincts and implemented health measures he thinks are appropriate for Wales.

 

From wikipedia.org / © Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions

 

Just the other day, it was announced that Drakeford’s party has come to an agreement with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh pro-independence party, so that legislation can be passed smoothly in almost 50 policy areas.  Could you imagine a similar agreement being reached in Edinburgh?  No way.  Not with the idiotic ‘Bain Principle’ still holding sway, and Scottish Labour being so obsequious to their head office in London, who would frown on any moves by Labour in Scotland that might not play well with voters in England.   Plus, some Scottish Labour members would sooner chainsaw off their legs at the knees than have anything to do with the hated SNP, those frustraters of their sense of entitlement, those derailers of their gravy train.

Scotland or Not-land?

 

From unsplash.com / © Stewart M

 

Most people in Scotland last week were disappointed, though probably not greatly surprised, to see their national team get a drubbing in the first round of the Euro 2021 tournament.  However, I suspect not everyone in Scotland was sad to see the team fail.

 

One person I’m sure was delighted was the Scottish, but very British-nationalist, blogger Effie Deans, who before the start of the tournament had tweeted a picture of a past Scotland-England football match and demanded angrily, “Why are there international matches between parts of the same country?” Similarly, I imagine certain fans of Glasgow Rangers, a football club whose culture revolves around such British symbols as the Queen and the Union Jack, weren’t sorry to see the Scottish national team flop.  Indeed, an article in the Daily Record newspaper on July 8th confirmed that some Rangers fans were unwilling to support Scotland during Euro 2021.

 

For Deans and a certain segment of the Rangers faithful, the belief seems to be that if you regard your country primarily as Britain, then you can’t support Scotland.  In fact, acknowledging Scotland on an international stage is damaging to your sense of Britishness and shouldn’t be encouraged.  Scotland?  No, it’s Not-land.

 

It’s not just in sport.  The idea that Scotland might have its own culture and languages is anathema to some people.  The right-wing Spectator magazine has printed pieces by embittered Scottish Daily Mail columnist Stephen Daisley and uptight Scottish composer James MacMillan complaining that (a) Scottish culture is infantile and embarrassing; but (b) if you’re stupid enough to be into Scottish culture, you’re somehow a Mussolini-type fascist too.  Amusingly, after MacMillan complained – falsely, because the man has actually won a number of Scottish awards – about Glaswegian novelist Andrew O’Hagan being cold-shouldered by the Scottish arts establishment for not being sufficiently supportive of Scottish independence, O’Hagan began, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, making favorable noises about Scotland becoming independent.

 

Particularly nasty has been the abuse aimed at the Scottish Gaelic and Scots languages.  Right-wing unionist twitter in Scotland is a constant whinge-fest about road-signs having names printed in Gaelic as well as in English.  Effie Deans again, complaining about travelling to Fort William last year: “The number of times I missed my turning made me wish the signs were in one language or the other, but not both…”  Well, dear, maybe try reading the parts of the signs that are written in the language you understand?

 

Meanwhile, dodgy, right-wing Unionist political carpetbagger George Galloway – at least, he’s right-wing when he’s in Scotland trying to hoover up Conservative votes; when he’s in England he campaigns as a left-wing man of the people – recently caused a pile-on on Scots-language poet Len Pennie after he made disparaging remarks on twitter about her and the medium in which she works.  And a few years back, Jackie Kay, Scotland’s Machar (poet laureate) received brickbats when one of her Scots-language poems was among the items given to new mothers as part of Scotland’s ‘baby box’ initiative.  “A woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel,” sneered Ian Smart, prominent social media presence and self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’.

 

Again, among many Scottish people who don’t see Scotland as a country but as a region, or as a big glorified county, of the mightier and more majestic entity that is the United Kingdom, there’s a conviction that Scottish culture can’t be real.  Accepting the existence of Scottish culture implies the place being different from the rest of the UK.  Therefore, culturally, there’s no such thing as Scotland either.  It’s Not-land.

 

From youtube.com

 

Predictably, the fact that there’s now a Scottish parliament in existence, separate from the parliament in London, is something that drives many British-loyal Scots to distraction, especially when the past 14 years have seen it run by a party, the Scottish National Party, dedicated to pulling Scotland out of their beloved UK.  Particularly guaranteed to make them gnash their teeth and froth at the mouth is any suggestion that the Scottish government, like the Scottish football team, might be recognized on an international level.  The moment First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pronounces on some international matter or dares to show her face at some international conference, Scottish twitter is raging with indignant people who have Union Jacks in their profiles (and usually the words ‘Rangers’ and the acronym ‘WATP’, which a Glasgow-Celtic-supporting friend assures me stands for ‘We adore the Pope’) slavering about her having ‘ideas above her station’ and being just the head of a ‘wee parish council’, and not knowing ‘her place’.  Can’t she see that she isn’t the First Minister of Scotland, but that of Not-land?

 

This desire to erase the concept of Scotland from everyone’s consciousness is, it has to be said, one that’s been exhibited lately by the British government too.  British diplomats have been ordered to stop talking about the ‘four nations’ of the UK and talk about it as a single country only, while supermarkets have seen a recent craze for plastering Union Jacks over foodstuffs made in Scotland.  Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that symbol of everything decent, moral, honest and faithful about dear old Blighty, was heard bragging that at the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow he was going to slather the event in Union Jacks and wouldn’t allow Nicola Sturgeon anywhere near it.

 

Just last Friday, Johnson’s education minster urged schools across the UK to honour something called One Britain, One Nation Day, wherein schoolchildren were made to sing a song, specially composed for the occasion, that ended with the four-times-repeated refrain: “Strong Britain, great nation!”  Though considering what’d come to light by Friday, I suspect the savvier kids had changed the words to: “Matt Hancock, penetration!”  Unfortunately, hopes that this would convert all Scottish children to worshipping Winston Churchill, Spitfires and the Union Jack were dashed by the fact that in Scotland most schools had broken up for the summer holidays the day before.

 

This strikes me as ironic because I’m old enough to remember a time in Scotland when it was perfectly possible for many people, possibly even a majority of people, to wear their Scottish identity as proudly as they wore their British identity and segue effortlessly from one to the other even when it involved expressing contradictory sentiments.  This meant they enthusiastically supported Scottish sports teams, enthusiastically recited Scots-language poetry by Robert Burns and, generally, enthusiastically indulged in all things Scottish: golf, whisky, tartan, ceilidhs, Highland games, etc.  Simultaneously, though, they thought the Royal Family were wonderful, cheered on the British Olympics team and got misty-eyed with nostalgia about how ‘we’, meaning Britain, had fought off the Nazis during World War II.

 

They also voted for anti-Scottish-independence political parties, mainly the Labour Party, although there was support for the Conservative Party too.  Scotland’s Tory MPs, incidentally, were experts at broadcasting a dual Scottish / British identity.  See Albert McQuarrie, MP for Banff and Buchan, who loved whisky and called himself the ‘Buchan Bulldog’; or Nicholas Fairbairn, the tartan-swathed representative of Perth and Kinross.  Although McQuarrie worshipped the ground Margaret Thatcher walked on, I think he was at heart a decent bloke.  Fairbairn, however, was a vile specimen.

 

When I look at Scottish right-wing / pro-British twitter, I see a common sentiment expressed in many of the profiles: “Hate what the SNP have done to Scotland!”  Which suggests that in the old days, before the SNP achieved political dominance, Scotland was a kinder, less partisan place.  But I remember it being far worse when there was no parliament, the SNP had only a handful of MPs and independence was regarded as a crazy pipe-dream.  In the 1980s, I recall crowds of Scottish rugby fans in pubs in Edinburgh, after international rugby matches, coming out with vehemently anti-English abuse that would probably get them arrested today.  Indeed, English rugby skipper Will Carling has terrible memories of playing in Edinburgh in 1991, when the Scottish Rugby Union decided to air the anthem Flower of Scotland, with its references to sending the English ‘homeward, to think again,’ before the start of the match.  There was, he claimed, “more noise, more patriotism – more hatred – than I have ever experienced”.  Yet many of these Scottish rugby enthusiasts were well-to-do and would have voted Tory. The prospect of an independent Scotland would have horrified them.  Evidently, feeling British for a good part of the time was no barrier to you wanting to stick it to the English.

 

Incidentally, before the SNP took power in Scotland and even before the Scottish parliament was created, Scotland was still allowed near the international stage occasionally.  This was despite it being an era when Margaret Thatcher and then John Major ran Scotland from London with what at times seemed an imperious disdain you’d associate with a colonial governor.  For instance, in 1993, while I was living on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, I remember the Scottish Office sending a group of officials there for a special Hokkaido-Scotland link-up.  I blagged an invitation to the event through a Japanese colleague with political connections who’d later serve in the House of Representatives in the Japanese Diet.  Obviously, the Scottish group had the delicate job of talking up Scotland without commenting on the running of the place by their bosses, the British Conservative government, whom few Scottish people had voted for.  They remained impeccably straight-faced, non-committal and evasive when, during a panel discussion, my colleague raised the possibility of a devolved Scottish parliament being set up.  (Actually, I’d primed her to mention this.) Their masks only slipped, from blandness to dismay, at the reception afterwards.  Some hapless Hokkaido bigwig gave them a speech of welcome and told them how he loved “that great Scottish song, Danny Boy.

 

© James S. Kerr

 

I suspect the comfortable co-existence of Scottish and British loyalties was fostered largely by the military. The British Army’s Scottish regiments were canny in exploiting soldiers’ sense of Scottishness, decking them out in tartan and having them led by pipe bands, even while they defended and promoted Britain, the Crown and the Empire (an empire that, admittedly, the Scots did very well out of).  I found it fascinating in my youth to see how normally uppity and cantankerous Scotsmen would suddenly become deferential and forelock-tugging at the sound of a posh, officer-class, English accent.  However, cuts to the military budget have left the 21st century British Army a shadow of its former self and the old Scottish infantry regiments have been reduced to just one, the Royal Regiment of Scotland.  So that influence barely exists now.

 

Another thing that once made Scots feel proudly British, certainly working-class ones, was the existence of many nationalized industries that provided them with employment and had the name ‘British’ in their titles: British Coal, British Gas, British Rail, British Steel and so on.  These encouraged the idea that working-class Scots were toiling alongside their comrades in England and Wales for a common cause, for the good of a benign, fair, welfare-state-supporting UK.  Of course, that idea died a death when Thatcher, with her zeal for privatizing the British economy, arrived in power in the 1980s.

 

I’m not sure how this will end.  It may be that Scotland gets another shot at an independence referendum in the future and votes to go its own way.  Or it may be that the stringent British nationalism / unionism of the 21st century prevails and Scotland becomes merely a Union-Jack-swathed province at the rump-end of right-wing, post-Brexit Britain.  If the latter option happens, I expect Westminster to abolish the Scottish parliament at some point.  Not-land indeed.

 

But what’s isn’t an option now is the comfy middle-ground, the old fashioned, dual-loyalty, at-ease-with-both-worlds, Scottish / British identity.  As far as that’s concerned…  Well, to quote a well-kent Scottish anthem: “Those days are past now, and in the past, they must remain.”

 

From unsplash.com / © Kristina G.

Don’t play it again, Salm

 

© Slainte Media / RT / From archive.org

 

On March 26th, six weeks before the elections for the Scottish Parliament, former Scottish First Minister and former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond launched his new Alba party to contest those elections.

 

In response to the news, George Galloway – a man with a lengthy political CV himself, having been Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and Bradford West and leader of the Respect Party, and now leader of the Alliance for Unity party, which he launched last year in anticipation of the Scottish parliamentary elections too – tweeted: “So it’s me and Alex Salmond in the ring.  Heavyweights.  Him for separatism, me for the union.  Seconds away…”

 

In the event, neither Salmond’s Alba nor Galloway’s Alliance for Unity got enough votes to send any of their representatives to the Scottish Parliament.  The former amassed 44,913 votes and the latter managed 23,299 out of a total of 2,716,547 votes cast.  So that tweet, as they say, aged well.  Both heavyweights got their arses kicked.

 

I’m not shedding any tears over Galloway’s humiliation.  He’s a politician whose couple of good deeds – his involvement with the Scotland United campaign for the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament in the early 1990s; squaring up to a US Senate committee investigating the Food for Oil programme in the aftermath of the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2005 – have been obliterated in the public memory by the tsunami of crap things he’s done in his endless quest to promote himself.  These include dishing religious-related dirt on his political opponents during his campaigns with the Respect Party; defending the execution of a gay man by the Iranian government whilst working for Press TV, funded by the same government, in 2008; climbing onto the Nigel Farage bandwagon by endorsing a vote for Brexit in 2016; hugging extreme right-wing strategist and evil incarnate Steve Bannon in 2019; and, let us never forget, pretending to be a cat slurping cream off Rula Lenska’s lap on the 2006 series of Celebrity Big Brother.

 

Meanwhile, lately, Galloway’s antics during his doomed campaign to get into the Scottish Parliament via the second-vote / proportional-representation ‘list’ system have included him urging voters to give their first vote to the Conservative Party (the former left-wing firebrand had declared a few years earlier, “If you ever see me standing under a Union Jack shoulder-to-shoulder with a Conservative, please shoot me”); causing a twitter pile-on, intentionally or unintentionally, against Scots-language poet Len Pennie; making unsavoury references to the ethnicity of Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (“You are not a Celt like me”); making a hilarious video where he sucked up to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and promised to end Green Party ‘tyranny over rural communities’ whilst resembling a cast member from Last of the Summer Wine (he obviously believed gamekeepers had short memories considering that in 2002, as an MP, he’d supported a hunting ban); and generally trying to reinvent himself as a true-blue, Union Jack-waving, Churchill-and-spitfires-obsessed slab of gammon.

 

Now that he’s torched every left-wing principle he once professed to have for the sake of self-promotion, it’d be nice to think that this beyond-disastrous election result will make Galloway slink off beneath a rock and never show his face again.  But of course he won’t.  He’ll be back.  The creature knows no shame.

 

I’m not shedding tears for Alex Salmond either, but I’ll admit to feeling at least slightly conflicted.  For the last 35 years, since the dark days when Margaret Thatcher ran Scotland with the imperious disregard one would give a colonial possession, Scottish politics have felt like a rollercoaster with both giddy peaks and despairing troughs.  And Salmond has been a constant presence on that rollercoaster.  I know plenty of people who loathe him but I’ve seen him as a force for both the good and the bad, the good earlier on and bad more recently.  It’s the memory of the good things that gives me a twinge of sadness to see him end up like this, even if he brought most of it upon himself.

 

From en.wikipedia.org

 

I remember when I first saw him.  One afternoon in early 1987, while a fourth-year undergraduate student, I was nursing a pint in the Central Refectory building at Aberdeen University.  I noticed from the corner of my eye a group of students whom I knew as members of the campus branch of the SNP – Alan Kennedy, Val Bremner, Gillian Pollock, Nick Goode – enter and wander over to the counter.  They were in the company of a young, round-faced bloke in an un-studenty suit, shirt and tie.  I identified him as an up-and-coming SNP politician whom Alan Kennedy, a good mate of mine, had told me was standing in the next general election in nearby Banff and Buchan against the incumbent Conservative Party MP Albert McQuarrie.  He’d come to the university that day to address the SNP group and this was the SNP students showing their visitor some post-talk hospitality.  The politician, I’d been assured, was one to watch.  Indeed, Alan said something along the lines of: “He’s going to do great things.”

 

A few months later, on June 11th, the general election took place and this rising SNP star wrestled Banff and Buchan away from Albert McQuarrie and became its new MP.  I recall McQuarrie, a doughty old-school Scottish Tory MP who revelled in the nickname ‘the Buchan Bulldog’, bursting into tears during a subsequent interview at what he saw as the unfairness and indignity of losing his beloved constituency to an SNP whippersnapper.  He was perhaps the first politician, but certainly not the last, to have his nose put out of joint by Alex Salmond.

 

By the early 1990s, Salmond was SNP leader.  I lived in London at the time and occasionally I’d drink with a Labour Party spin doctor, also from Scotland.  He had no inhibitions about telling me, at every opportunity, what a detestable creep he thought Salmond was.  With his appropriately smart-Alec manner and habitual smirk, which frequently expanded into a Cheshire-cat grin, and a general arrogance that no doubt came from knowing he was intellectually streets ahead of the numpties making up the majority of Westminster’s Scottish Labour MPs, you could understand how much of an annoyance Salmond was to his opponents.  But back then the SNP had just three MPs, so at least he could be dismissed as a minor annoyance.

 

How long ago that seems now.  In those far-off days, the Labour Party controlled much of Scotland at council level, provided the lion’s share of Scottish MPs for Westminster and, when it arrived in 1999, dominated the Scottish parliament too.  If their party also happened to be in power at Westminster, which it was occasionally, Scottish Labour-ites surely felt like masters of all they surveyed.  If the Conservatives were in power at Westminster, which they were most of the time, those Scottish Labour-ites grumbled a bit, but diplomatically kept their heads down while right-wing Tory policies were imposed on Scotland.

 

Then in 2007 the sky fell in.  Salmond’s SNP won the biggest number of seats in the Scottish parliament and he became Scotland’s First Minister.  The SNP have remained in power there during the 14 years and three Scottish parliamentary elections since.  They also won the majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats in the UK general elections in 2015, 2017 and 2019.  They lost the independence referendum in 2014 – an event that led to Salmond resigning as First Minister and making way for his deputy and supposed protégé Nicola Sturgeon – but the percentage of the vote they got, 45%, was still far more than what anyone had expected at the campaign’s start.  They upended the cosy old tradition of Scottish deference to the London-based overlords.  Thank God for that, in my opinion.

 

© William Collins

 

This stuck in many craws. Not just in those of the Scottish Labour Party, with its historical sense of entitlement, but in those of the majority of Scotland’s newspapers, whose hacks had enjoyed a close relationship with the old political clique and liked to see themselves as part of Scotland’s establishment. It must have horrified them to discover that, no matter how negatively they reported the SNP and its performance in government, a significant proportion of the Scottish public ignored them and kept on voting SNP.  Meanwhile, the grin of Alex Salmond, the bastard who seemed emblematic of their good times coming to an end, grew ever wider, his mood grew ever merrier and his girth grew ever more Falstaffian.

 

However, from 2017 onwards, Salmond’s many foes scented blood.  2017 saw him lose the Westminster seat that, after quitting as Scottish First Minister, he’d been elected to in 2015.  That same year, he put on at the Edinburgh Festival a chat-show called Alex Salmond: Unleashed, which from all accounts was a graceless, self-indulgent and ego-driven mess.  Soon after, he developed his stage-show into a programme called The Alex Salmond Show, which was broadcast on RT, Russia’s international English-language news channel.  Associating himself with Vladimir Putin’s televisual voice to the world was not a wise move.  Salmond hadn’t just given his detractors ammunition to use against him.  He’d handed them a whole arsenal.

 

I’d always assumed there was no dirt to dig up on Salmond, for the simple reason that if there had been, his enemies in the old Scottish establishment would have dug it up and used it to wreck his reputation long ago.  Thus, it was a surprise in 2018 when the Daily Record newspaper reported that Salmond faced allegations of sexual misconduct while he’d been First Minister.  This had lately been the subject of an inquiry by the Scottish government and its findings had been passed on to the police.  Although Salmond made sure there was a legal review of this, which resulted in the Scottish government admitting that its investigative procedures had been flawed and paying him half a million pounds in legal expenses, the police still charged him with 14 offences, including two counts of attempted rape, in 2019.

 

One year later, Salmond was cleared of these charges. The prosecutors dropped one charge, the jury found him not guilty of 12 more and the final charge was deemed ‘not proven’.  Nonetheless, Salmond’s defence admitted he’d acted inappropriately, had been overly ‘touchy feely’ with female staff and ‘could certainly have been a better man’.

 

Meanwhile, the Scottish government and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, now totally at odds with Salmond, were subject to both an investigation by a Scottish Parliamentary committee and an independent investigation by Irish lawyer James Hamilton about how they’d handled, or mishandled, the affair.  The committee concluded there’d been both individual and corporate incompetence but these conclusions weren’t enough to topple Sturgeon.  Hamilton judged that Sturgeon hadn’t breached the ministerial code, something that Salmond and his supporters, convinced of a conspiracy against him in high places, maintained she had.

 

From facebook.com

 

Salmond claimed his new Alba Party, supposedly more gung-ho in its desire for Scottish independence than the cautious SNP, was not another attempt to undermine Sturgeon.  But it was generally perceived as an effort to diminish her party’s vote in the May 6th Scottish election – Salmond’s revenge as a dish served cold, a year after his acquittal.  Whether Alba’s purpose was malevolent or benevolent, it didn’t succeed.  The SNP ended up with 64 seats in the new parliament, with the Greens bumping up the number of pro-independence MSPs to 72, compared with the Unionist parties’ tally of 57 MSPs and Alba’s tally of zero.

 

It didn’t help Alba’s cause that it attracted a lot of fringe-dwelling dingbats in the independence movement, dingbats whom I’m sure Sturgeon’s SNP will be glad to see the back of.  These included one vocal faction who seemed to spend all their time baiting and frothing against trans people.  It also didn’t help that Salmond showed little contrition for his past misbehaviour.  Fair enough, that misbehaviour hadn’t been enough to warrant a court conviction and prison sentence.  But it did make him come across as a sleazebag whom no young woman would want to be around.

 

One thing I will say in Salmond’s defence.  While I find claims of a conspiracy against Salmond in the upper echelons of the Scottish government, legal system and police force fanciful – conspiracies imply objectives, strategies and clear thinking, and to me the messiness of Salmond’s investigation and trial simply suggests witless blundering – I agree with his supporters that the Scottish press was pretty disgraceful in how it reported the case.  From columnist Alex Massie trumpeting at the investigation’s outset that ‘whatever happens, it’s over for Salmond’, to the Herald previewing the trial with a ‘Big Read’ feature that it illustrated with pictures of the Yorkshire Ripper, Fred and Rosemary West, the Moors Murderers, Dennis Nilsen, Charles Manson and Adolf Eichmann, to a dodgy, nod-and-a-wink post-trial documentary by the BBC’s Kirsty Wark, the tone of the coverage didn’t suggest that a person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  Rather, it suggested that a person is ‘guilty because we want them to be guilty’.

 

But that’s the only thing I’ll say in his defence.

 

Meanwhile, post-election, Salmond has announced his intention to become an influential Twitter presence, just as a certain former US president once was.  “I am going to unleash myself on Twitter,” he said the other day, “now that Donald Trump has created a vacuum for me.” No, Alex, don’t.  Just don’t.  Call it a day for Christ’s sake.

 

It isn’t so much that the Salmond Rollercoaster has reached the bottom of the deepest dip yet.  It’s more that the Salmond Rollercoaster has run out of track.

 

From the Jersey Evening Post