It’s time Putin’s pals were put in the bin (Part 2)

 

© Cold War Steve

 

Continuing my rant about miscreants who support Putin and / or are generally making arses of themselves during the current crisis in Ukraine – this time miscreants in the United Kingdom.

 

Vladimir Putin – presently stuck in a big, bloody hole he’s dug for himself in Ukraine, but still determinedly digging, using thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives as his shovel-blade – has never been short of pals in Britain.  Back in 2001, soon after Putin had won his first presidential election in Russia, and not long after the start of the second Chechen war, which saw the deaths of at least 25,000 civilians, a third of Chechnya deemed a ‘zone of ecological disaster’, and most Chechens left suffering ‘discernible symptoms of psychological distress’, then-British Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair jetted out to Moscow and cosied up to Putin.  El Tone praised him for showing ‘real leadership’ and giving ‘strong support’ in the ‘fight against terrorism’.

 

Even today, Blair is hero-worshipped by certain centre-right politicians and commentators in Britain.  Ironically, while later Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is commonly loathed and belittled as a traitorous, anti-Western, lefty scumbag, it’s worth recalling what Corbyn said about Blair’s visit to Moscow in 2001.  “When the Prime Minister… meets President Putin this evening, I hope that he will convey the condemnation of millions of people around the world of the activities of the Russian army in Chechnya and what it is doing to ordinary people there.  When images of what is happening are translated into other parts of the world, many people are horrified…”  Exchange ‘Ukraine’ for ‘Chechnya’ and you realise how Corbyn’s words resonate in 2022.

 

No doubt nowadays Blair keeps his mouth shut about Putin’s supposed statesmanship.  But another well-known British politician is less reluctant to express his admiration for the warmongering Russian ogre.  Right-winger, Europhobe and wannabe broadcaster Nigel Farage has said of him: “I wouldn’t trust him and I wouldn’t want to live in his country, but compared with the kids who run foreign policy in this country, I’ve more respect for him than our lot.”  Meanwhile, the donkey-faced, and full-of-donkey-shit, Farage has made copious appearances on Russia Today, coming out with such gems as the claim that Europe’s modern democracies have been run ‘by the worst people we have seen in Europe since 1945’.  Worse even than Putin?  Yes, I’m sure Nige thinks so.

 

By the way, let’s not forget Aaron Banks, Farage’s compadre in the Vote Leave campaign that managed in 2016 to tear the UK out of the European Union, possibly helped by a wee bit of Russian funding.  In 2017, Banks did his bit for the Putin cause by tweeting: “Ukraine is to Russia what the Isle of Wight is to the UK.  It’s Russian.”

 

Elsewhere, there’s multiple evidence suggesting that Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, if not totally in love with Putin’s habit of inflicting atrocities on neighbouring countries that annoy him, is certainly in love with the wealth of the Russian oligarchs who surround the man.  Recent claims about the amount of donations the Conservative party has received from such oligarchs have ranged from 1.93 million to 2.3 million pounds.

 

Johnson seems particularly enamoured with members of Russia’s mega-wealthy elite.  In 2018, while he was serving as Theresa May’s foreign secretary, he was seen stumbling about an Italian airport suffering from a hangover, and lacking his security detail, after attending a shindig thrown by Russian media magnate Evgeny Lebedev at his castle near Perugia.  Lebedev subsequently received a peerage and now, technically, is ‘Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation’.  Johnson has sheepishly denied allegations that he used his influence to secure the peerage for his buddy.

 

© Private Eye

 

Though late last week the British government announced it was freezing the assets of seven Russian billionaires (including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich) with close ties to Putin, this only came after weeks of prevarication.  Originally, it looked like the UK wouldn’t be clamping down on dodgy Russian money until late in 2023, which would have given those likely to be affected a good year-and-a-half to sell their assets and move their money off British soil.  Even with this new change of heart, Abramovich and co. have already had a fortnight’s grace-period to shift some of their wealth.  Basically, Johnson’s regime is reluctant to do anything that might sully London’s reputation as a haven for dodgy money.

 

Summing up the absolute state of the Conservative Party on this issue is its wretched co-chairman Ben Elliot.  Simultaneously, Elliot’s been sourcing donations from super-rich Russians and been offering services to them in Britain through his ‘concierge’ company, Quintessentially.  “Quintessentially Russia has nearly 15 years’ experience providing luxury lifestyle management services to Russia’s elite and corporate members…”, ensuring that from “restaurant bookings to backstage concert access, a bespoke lifestyle is at our clients’ fingertips.”  So drooled the blurb on Quintessentially’s website until recently.  Then, suddenly and mysteriously, this obsequious drivel was deleted from it.

 

While we’re heaping abuse on the British government, we shouldn’t overlook the smirk-faced Priti Patel, who – until another apparent U-turn last week – seemed determined that the Ukrainian refugees Britain was allowing in should be vastly outnumbered by the Russian oligarchs it was welcoming with open arms.  At one point, while other European countries had taken in Ukrainian refugees in the tens of thousands, the UK had dished out a mere 50 additional visas to them.

 

Besides Patel, it’s worth castigating government minister Kevin Foster, who advised people fleeing Ukraine to apply to Britain’s ‘seasonal worker scheme’, which would allow them to spend their time in the country picking fruit.  Such humanity, Kev!  Also, some hatred should be directed towards whatever nasty piece of work in the Home Office complained to the Daily Telegraph that Ireland had allowed in too many Ukrainian refugees.  All those shifty Ukrainians, claimed the anonymous source, would “come through Dublin, into Belfast and across to the mainland to Liverpool”, thus creating “a drug cartel route.”

 

Needless to say, Britain’s resident community of publicity-seeking, rent-an-opinion gobshites have fastened onto the Ukrainian crisis like flies fastening onto a cow-plop.  George Galloway, that fedora-wearing gasbag whose rhetoric seems to weave between old-school socialism (when he’s in England) and hardline British nationalism (when he’s in Scotland), and who’s a fixture on the Russian-owned Sputnik radio channel, tweeted recently: “Me, Farage, Hitchens, Carlson and Rod Liddle are a pretty broad front of people who think NATO expansion to the borders of Russia was a pretty bad idea.  Maybe pause and think about that?”  When I paused and thought about it, my immediate thoughts were: “George Galloway, Nigel Farage, Peter Hitchens, Tucker Carlson, Rod Liddle…  Wow, what a team!  Couldn’t Marvel make a superhero movie about them?  Maybe call it Arseholes Assemble?”

 

Hilariously, Galloway’s Putin-sympathetic stance has ended all unity in the All for Unity party, the staunchly pro-UK outfit he set up in Scotland prior to the last Scottish parliamentary elections.  Jamie Blackett, the party’s former deputy leader, and also the Deputy Lieutenant for Dumfriesshire and a Daily Telegraph writer, recently disowned his old boss and announced the disbanding of the party.

 

Meanwhile, Neil Oliver, the alleged Scottish historian and talking head on right-wing outlet GB News, lately delivered a bewildering monologue, the gist of which was: “I’ll be honest.  I don’t know what’s happening in Ukraine.  I don’t understand it either.”  Oliver’s professed ignorance of the situation didn’t stop him talking about it for nine minutes, however.  It’s also strange that when it comes to Putin and Ukraine Oliver is so hesitant to climb off the fence, considering how quick he’d been in the past to condemn, say, the Scottish National Party (‘disastrously incompetent’, ‘small’, ‘not worth bothering about’), or the Black Lives Matter movement (‘anarchists and communists’ eating ‘into the built fabric of Britain’).  Very strange indeed.

 

One other thing bugging me about Putin’s current horror show is how certain people have pounced on it and tried to use it to promulgate the right-wing agendas they’ve been pushing for years already.  Take the ‘culture wars’, in which Putin’s ‘anti-woke’ position had until recently won accolades from Western pundits on the right of the spectrum.  Well, now that Putin is officially a Bad Lad, they can’t praise him directly anymore.  Instead, they’re pushing the narrative that woke stuff no longer matters during the crisis that good old Vlad, sorry, bad new Vlad has created.

 

Here’s the absurd Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, recently opining: “The outbreak of war has shone an unflattering light on our society… Watch issues like LGBT, net-zero, Partygate, Black Lives Matter and farcical ‘Stay Safe’ Covid restrictions all fade into well-deserved insignificance now that war is back.”  According to Pearson, in other words, now that Putin’s behaving like a c*nt, we should all stop fretting about being civil to our fellow human beings, about preventing them from dying of Covid, about preventing the planet from burning up, and about our leader Boris Johnson being a lying, unprincipled sack of shite.

 

And here’s the barmy Spectator pundit Lionel Shriver, writing: “Decolonisations, contextualisations, gender-neutralisations – it’s all a load of onanistic, diversionary crap, and the West having shoved its head up its backside is one reason that Putin feels free to do whatever he likes.”  Though I suspect Putin would still have attacked Ukraine if fewer people on Western social media had been using the pronouns ‘they’ / ‘them’ in their profiles.

 

One last thing for which Britain’s right-wingers must be thanking Putin is the attention he’s diverted from the looming issues of manmade climate change and the dire state of the environment.  Thanks to the headlines being dominated by Ukraine, not much attention has been given to, for instance, the apocalyptic floods that have stricken Queensland and New South Wales.  And, somewhat inevitably, the afore-mentioned Nigel Farage is currently trying to relaunch his political career by demanding a new national referendum – this time, not about the UK’s membership of the European Union, but about the British government’s supposed adoption of Net Zero policies to combat climate change.  Farage, of course, wants us to vote against them.

 

I wonder why he’s doing this.  Could he be thinking of a country that helped finance his previous, successful referendum campaign?  Or could he be thinking of an oil-exporting country that would stand to gain if Britain gave up on green energy and became wholly dependent on fossil fuels again?

 

I can’t possibly think of a country that falls into both categories.

 

© The Jewish Chronicle / twitter / @ VirendraSharma

Things get frosty for Tiger Tim

 

From durham.academia.edu

 

The other day I discovered that my old alma mater, Peebles High School in the Scottish Borders, had a Wikipedia entry.  Near the end of it was a ‘notable alumni’ section.  I reacted with a disgruntled “Oh God, him,” when I saw listed among those notable alumni ‘Tim Luckhurst, journalist and academic’.

 

Minutes later, I headed over to the Guardian’s website to check the news headlines.  It seemed a mighty coincidence when I started reading a story under the headline DURHAM HEAD STEPS BACK AFTER CALLING STUDENTS ‘PATHETIC’ AT ROD LIDDLE EVENT and discovered that the head in question, the principal of Durham University’s South College, was none other than Tim Luckhurst – that distinguished journalistic and academic graduate mentioned in Peebles High School’s Wikipedia entry.

 

During the mid-to-late 1970s, Tim was a few years ahead of me at school.  He was a well-kent figure, lanky, curly-haired, lugubrious-faced and sloping around the place in a combat jacket and a T-shirt saying LEGALISE CANNABIS – in those permissive times at Peebles High you weren’t obliged to wear a school uniform.  To my mates and I he was known contemptuously  as ‘Chairman Mao’.  I think he spoke to me just once, at a careers evening being held in the school.  I was about to go into a classroom where the affable Atholl Innes, then editor of local newspaper the Peeblesshire News, was dispensing advice to young people who were interested in becoming journalists.  Out of that classroom emerged Tim and, to me, he declared emphatically, “Well, I know what I want to be!”

 

Probably Tim had already resolved to become a journalist and Atholl Innes had been preaching to the already-converted.  But I sometimes wonder if he hadn’t made up his mind until entering that classroom and his meeting with Athol Innes had been a moment of revelation – “Yes, newspapers,” Tim had cried, “that’s the life for me!”  If the latter is the case, I can only say, “Atholl…  You created a monster.”

 

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

 

From the Peeblesshire News

 

I should point out that although it denied Tim the chance to stretch his fabulous mind and soak up facts like a sheet of super-absorbent blotting paper, Peebles High School must have done something for his education.  In fact, it was good enough to get him into Cambridge University.  At Cambridge, incidentally, according to one Luckhurst-bio I’ve found online, “…he played bass guitar in Tony Tiger and the Frosties.”  I know it’s wrong to judge bands by their names alone, but Tony Tiger and the Frosties sound like the most horrible thing to have strutted onstage on the Oxbridge music scene since the early 1970s, when a student band called the Ugly Rumours featured one Tony Blair as their frontman.

 

I suspect the disdain Tim feels for his alma mater in Peebles is mutual.  I recall several years back chatting to one of my old teachers, now a sweet little pensioner, when Tim’s name somehow cropped up in the conversation.  The teacher underwent a startling metamorphosis, hands becoming clenched and claw-like, face dark and scowling, and blurted wrathfully, “Tim is just an ARSEHOLE!”

 

During the 1980s and 1990s, Tim served as press officer for the Labour Party’s then-sizeable cabal of Scottish MPs, including Shadow Secretary State for Scotland Donald Dewar; stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate in Roxburgh and Berwickshire in a general election; and worked for the BBC.  I’d forgotten that the guy existed until February 2000, when he was announced as the new editor of my Dad’s favourite newspaper, Edinburgh’s venerable and respected Scotsman.  Actually, by then, the Scotsman was a lot less respected.  It’d been acquired by the Barclay Brothers’ Press Holdings Group and for several years had suffered under the crass stewardship of Andrew Neil, the Group’s editor-in-chief.  Tim lasted as Scotsman editor only until May that same year, when he was replaced by Rebecca Hardy, whom I knew from a previous phase of my life too – but that’s a story for another day.

 

© BBC / From the Guardian

 

In 2013, Tim and his old boss at the Scotsman, Andrew Neil, had a rammy on twitter.  Tim contradicted Neil on something and Neil replied, “And I made you Editor of the The Scotsman.  Most stupid decision ever.  But at least I fired you six days later.”  When Tim countered with, “Would you care to retract that statement, Andrew?  It might be wise,” Neil retorted, “Bring it on.  And let me pay to straighten your teeth.”  For the record, I’ll print what the Evening Standard said about the row: “…Professor Luckhurst was not ‘sacked after six days’ from the Scotsman, as Neil claims, but resigned due to ill health after four months.”  And I assume that, following the debacle of his involvement with GB News, Andrew Neil now considers giving Tim the Scotsman’s editorship only his second most stupid decision ever.

 

Following the Scotsman, Tim spent seven years as political editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail (which, with hindsight, was surely a good fit for him).  Then he entered academia with a job as Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, and then joined Durham University in 2019.  Despite having been a one-time backroom operative with the Labour Party, his politics by this time had clearly shifted rightwards.  However, I’ll hazard a guess and say he views himself as a moderate, old-school Tory rather than a ranting, frothing, hard-right one.  From the occasional glances I’ve had at his twitter feed, he seems impressed neither by Brexit nor by the antics of Boris Johnson.

 

That said, his moderate Tory-ness stops at the English-Scottish border.  One step north of that border and his moderate Tory-ness changes to rabid Unionism.  He might once have worked for Donald Dewar, viewed as the ‘father’ of the Scottish devolution settlement and the devolved Scottish parliament, but by 2001 he was demanding in a Guardian opinion piece that Whitehall consider abolishing the parliament, Dewar’s baby: “Scotland needs Whitehall at least to threaten repeal.  To demand less in the present climate would be unpatriotic.”

 

That article was mild, though, compared with one he wrote for the New Statesman that same year.  Entitled SCOTLAND RETURNS TO THE DARK AGES, he used it to blame devolution for releasing a tsunami of evils like homophobia, sectarianism, misogyny, racism and, er, the banning of fox-hunting.  In the civilised days before devolution unleashed the Scots’ inner beastliness, he wrote, such things had been ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Strangely enough, that article is no longer available on the New Statesman’s website.

 

Meanwhile, his twitter feed has been punctuated by tone-deaf pronouncements on Scotland that surely only appeal to a minority of ultra-Unionist Scots for whom 1690 is as important a year as 1707.  I remember him expressing horror at the Scottish government punting a few million pounds towards the promotion of the Gaelic language; or retweeting a video of Ross Thomson – the demented hard-Brexiting, Boris-worshipping Tory ex-MP for Aberdeen South – professing his undying love for the United Kingdom amid a thicket of Union Jacks.  I wonder what will happen if Scotland becomes independent.  Poor Tim’s head will probably explode like the guy’s head did at the beginning of David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981).

 

But onto 2021.  Tim landed himself in hot water when, as head of South College at Durham University, he invited his old mate and colleague Rod Liddle to give a speech at a ‘college formal’ event in early December.  He and Liddle have known each other since 1985 and worked together on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  Indeed, in 2010, Tim wrote a Guardian piece in support of Liddle’s candidacy to become editor of the Independent newspaper.  This was a prospect that alarmed many readers of the reasonably-liberal Independent because Liddle had earned himself a reputation for being misogynistic, homophobic and racist.  Pretty much all the things Tim once accused the Scottish parliament of being.

 

From twitter.com/sunapology

 

Liddle is a ‘columnist’ – i.e., gobshite-provocateur – with the Spectator, Sun and Sunday Times and even by the standards of the gobshite-provocateurs that infest the pages of Britain’s mostly right-wing press, forever seeking new ways to upset people, the charge-sheet against him is disproportionately long.  Here’s just a few of his low-points.  He was a pig towards Labour politician Harriet Harman.  (“So – Harriet Harman, then.  Would you?  I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.”  In his Guardian puff-piece about Liddle, Tim euphemistically described this remark as ‘not gallant’.)  He mocked another female Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, for speaking out about verbal abuse and humiliation she’d received from a former partner – “the sobbing and oppressed Rosie ‘MeToo’ Duffield”.  He’s complained about the Conservative party not being Islamophobic enough and suggested that elections be held on days when “Muslims are forbidden to do anything on pain of hell.”  He’s raved about “black savages”.  He’s dismissed Welsh language activists as “miserable, seaweed-munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill-tribes”.  He’s explained: “…the one thing that stopped me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids.”  And so on, and so forth.

 

When Liddle stood up at the event and launched into a speech filled with his predictably reactionary schtick – jokes about sex workers, comments about trans-women having ‘long, dangling penises’ and the charming hypothesis that British colonialism never did anyone any harm because its subjects weren’t intelligent anyway – members of the student audience started walking out.  Tim, tigerish about defending everyone’s right to freedom of expression, and everyone’s right to have Rod Liddle inflicted upon them, reportedly shouted at them that they were ‘pathetic’.  There’s also video footage in circulation on twitter showing Tim arguing with students after the event.  Meanwhile, his wife Dorothy Luckhurst, who might have been slightly over-refreshed at the time, can be seen shouting at those students things like, “I think you are an arse…  Arse, arse, arse, arse, arse…!  Arse, arse, arse, arse, arse…!”

 

From twitter.com/RDuskedd

 

Did Tim honestly believe that he could invite Liddle onto a university campus and there wouldn’t be trouble?  He must be a bit thick.  Or maybe he was deliberately trying to stir up a hornet’s nest – which, if that was the case, he succeeded in doing.

 

I’m actually not a fan of censorship by the left, in the form of ‘no-platforming’, ‘cancel culture’ or whatever you want to call it.  That’s because I’d always assumed censorship was an instrument used by the right and there was no excuse for the left to use it too.  But there’s a time and place for debates where extreme views, offensive to many, can be aired and argued with.  And the event at South College was clearly neither the time nor place.  For one thing, the attendees had paid ten pounds a head to be there and hadn’t been warned in advance that the entertainment included Rod ‘shag the kids’ Liddle.  If I’d been present, I’d have walked out too when Liddle started spewing his crap at me – just as I’d have done in the 1980s or 1990s if I’d bought a ticket for what I expected to be a mild-mannered comedy night and then Bernard Manning had lumbered on stage and started cracking jokes about ‘darkies’ and ‘poofs’ and ‘Paddies’.  And incidentally, isn’t walking out a legitimate form of expression in itself?  Especially when, as with Liddle’s audience, you don’t have access to a microphone.

 

It’s fascinating how Tim, and the whole media / political establishment that he’s a member of, claim to be champions of free speech when there’s a danger that people might stop listening to right-wing establishment opinions.  Yet it’s pretty difficult in Britain, if you interact with the media in anyway at all, not to be assailed relentlessly by right-wing opinions.  There’s the front-page headlines of reactionary rags like the Sun, Mail and Express screaming at you daily from the newsstands.  There’s the now completely cowed and broken-backed BBC parroting the right-wing agenda of the press when it does its morning newspaper round-ups.  There’s a seemingly endless parade of right-wing pundits from Nigel Farage downwards (and Farage is pretty far down already) getting platforms on TV news channels.  If Tim and co. are so desperate about promoting freedom of expression and making people experience views they wouldn’t otherwise hear, shouldn’t they be trying to expose hardcore readers of the Sun, Mail and Express to the opinions of Owen Jones, George Monbiot, Laurie Penny, John Pilger, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky?  Well, they should, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

Currently, following a storm of Liddle-related protests, Tim has been parked on the naughty step at Durham University while his employers decide what action, if any, should be taken against him.  But even if he’s shown the door, I’m sure that a lucrative future awaits him at one of Britain’s countless right-wing news and / or opinion outlets, which will take him to its bosom as a martyr to the cause of freedom of (right-wing) speech and as a blameless victim of horrible, lefty, woke, cancel culture.

 

Now that his old nemesis Andrew Neil has left the building, I could even see him ending up at GB News.  He could form a double act with Neil Oliver, where they both whinge and gurn about the ghastliness of modern-day Scotland under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and how the Scots need their uncivilised natures to be ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Meanwhile, Tim’s better half could get a gig there as well.  Perhaps Talking Pints with Nigel Farage?

Favourite Scots words, A-C

 

From the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

 

Today, November 30th, is Saint Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland.  To mark it, I’d like to post something about a favourite topic of mine, the Scots language.  And yes, the way that non-Gaelic and non-posh Scots have spoken for centuries has been classified as a language, a separate one from ‘standard’ English, by organisations like the EU and linguistic resources like Ethnologue.

 

Sadly, I think that Scots is now living on borrowed time.  It’s not likely to expire due to the disapproval of educators who dismiss it as a debased dialect (or accent) of standard English and regard it as the ‘wrong’ way to speak, although their hostility certainly didn’t help its status in the past.  No, the fatal damage to Scots has probably been inflicted by television, exposing Scottish kids to a non-stop diet of southern-England programming and conditioning them to speak in Eastenders-style Mockney or, worse, in bland, soulless ‘Estuary English’.

 

Personally, I love listening to and reading Scots.  Here are my favourite Scots words starting with the letters ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ that I’d be sad to see slip into linguistic extinction.  Most of the definitions given come from my heavily used copy of the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary.

 

Agley (adv) – wrong, askew.  The saying, ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (which provided John Steinbeck with the title of his second-most famous novel) is an anglicised version of lines from the poem To a Mouse by Scotland’s greatest bard Robert Burns: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”

 

Aiblins (adv) – perhaps.  The late, great Glaswegian writer Alasdair Gray borrowed this word for the surname of the title character in his short story Aiblins, which appeared in the collection The Ends of Our Tethers (2003).  This is about a creative writing professor being tormented by an eccentric student called Aiblins who is, perhaps, a literary genius or is, perhaps, just a fraud.

 

Avizandum (noun) – a word in Scots law meaning, to quote the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary, ‘a judge’s or court’s consideration of a case before giving judgement’.  Avizandum is also the name of a bookshop on Edinburgh’s Candlemaker Row specialising in texts for Scottish lawyers and law students.  Not being a lawyer, I’ve never had cause to go into Avizandum-the-shop, but I do think it’s the most majestically titled bookstore in Scotland.

 

 

Bairn (n) – a baby or young child.  I once saw an episode of Star Trek (the original series) in which Scotty lamented, after Mr Spock had burned out his engines in some ill-advised space manoeuvre, “Och, ma poor wee bairns!”  So I guess this Scots word is safe until the 23rd century at least.  Also, the Bairns is the nickname of Falkirk Football Club, so it shouldn’t be dying out in Falkirk anytime soon, either.

 

Bahookie (n) – rump, bum, backside, ass or, to use its widely-deployed-in-Scotland variant, arse.

 

Bampot (n) – a foolish, stupid or crazy person.  During the documentary Big Banana Feet (1976), about Billy Connolly doing a stand-up tour of Ireland, Connolly responds to a heckler with the gruff and memorable putdown, “F**king bampot!”

 

Bawbag (n) – literally a scrotum, but normally, to quote the online Urban Dictionary site, ‘a derogatory name given to one who is annoying, useless or just plain stupid.’  Thus, when former United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage steamed into Edinburgh in May 2013 in a bid to raise UKIP’s profile north of the border, he ended up besieged inside the Canon’s Gait pub on the Royal Mile by a horde of anti-racism protestors who chanted, “Nigel, ye’re a bawbag / Nigel, ye’re a bawbag / Na, na, na, hey!”

 

Bertie Auld (adj), as in “It’s Bertie Auld tonight!” – rhyming slang for cauld, the Scottish pronunciation of ‘cold’.  Bertie Auld was a Scottish footballer who played for Celtic, Hibernian, Dumbarton and Birmingham City and whose finest hour was surely his membership of the Lisbon Lions, the Celtic team that won the European Cup in 1967.

 

Bide (v) – to live.  Derived from this verb is the compound noun bidie-hame, which refers to a partner whom the speaker is living with but isn’t actually married to.

 

Blether (v) – to talk or chatter.  Journalist, editor and Rupert Murdoch’s one-time right-hand-man Andrew Neil used this word a lot while he was editor-in-chief at Scotsman publications.  He was forever fulminating against Scotland’s blethering classes – the equivalent of the ‘chattering classes’ in England who were so despised at the time by the English right-wing press, i.e. left-leaning middle-class people who spent their time holding dinner parties, drinking Chardonnay and indulging in airy-fairy political discussion about how Britain should have a written constitution, proportional representation, devolution, etc.  Then, however, Neil started working for the BBC in London and suddenly all his references to blethering ceased.

 

Boak (v / n) – to vomit / vomit, or something unpleasant enough to make you want to vomit.  One of those Scots words that convey their meaning with a near-onomatopoeic brilliance.  In his stream-of-consciousness novel 1982 Janine, Alasdair Gray – him again – represents the main character throwing up simply by printing the word BOAK across the page in huge letters.

 

From pinterest.co.uk

 

Bowffin’ (adj) – smelling strongly and unpleasantly.  Once upon a time, mingin’ was the favoured Scots adjective for ‘smelly’.  Now, however, mingin’ seems to have packed its bags, left home and become a standard UK-wide slang word – with a slight change of meaning, so that it denotes ugliness instead.  It has thus fallen upon the alternative Scots adjective bowffin’ to describe the olfactory impact of such things as manure, sewage, rotten eggs, mouldy cheese, used socks, on-heat billy goats, old hippies, etc.

 

Breenge (v) – to go, rush, dash.

 

Bourach (n) – sometimes a mound or hillock, but more commonly a mess or muddle.  Charmingly, this has recently evolved into the term clusterbourach (inspired by the less ceremonious ‘clusterf*ck’), which Scottish politicians have used to describe the absolute hash that the London government is making of the Brexit process.

 

Callant (n) – a lad or young man.  The Common Riding festival held annually in the Borders town of Jedburgh is called the Callant’s Festival.  Accordingly, the festival’s principal man is called the Callant.

 

Carlin (n) – an old woman, hag or witch.  Throughout Scotland there are stone circles, standing stones and odd rock formations that are known as carlin stones, presumably because people once linked them to the supernatural and imagined that witches would perform unsavoury rituals at them.

 

Carnaptious (adj) – grumpy, bad-tempered or irritable.  For example, “Thon Belfast singer-songwriter Van Morrison is a right carnaptious auld c**t.”  There’s a lot of carnaptiousness in Scotland and another common adjective for it is crabbit.

 

Chib (n/v) – a knife, or to stab someone.  Considering the popularity in modern times of wearing Highland dress at Scottish weddings, and considering the custom of having a ceremonial sgian-dhu (i.e. dagger) tucked down the side of the hose (i.e. socks) in said Highland dress, and considering the amount of alcohol consumed at such affairs, it’s amazing that Scottish weddings don’t see more chibbing than they do.

 

Chitter (v) – nothing to do with the sound that birds make, this means to shiver.

 

Clarty (adj) – dirty.  A dirty person, meanwhile, is often called a clart.  And a pre-pubescent boy who avoids soap, shampoo, showers and clean socks and underwear, like Pig Pen used to do in the Charlie Brown comic strips, would undoubtedly be described in Scotland as a wee clart.

 

Cleek (v) – to hook, catch or capture.  It’s also a noun denoting a large type of hook, especially the gaffe used by fishermen, and poachers, when landing fish.  At least once, in my hometown next to the salmon-populated River Tweed, a cleek has also been used as an offensive weapon.

 

From en.wikipedia.org

 

Cloots (n) – a plural noun meaning hooves.  By extension, Cloots came to be a nickname for the world’s most famous possessor of a pair of hooves, Auld Nick, a.k.a. the Devil.  In his poem Address to the Deil, Robert Burns not only mocks Auld Nick but brags that, despite his wild and wanton behaviour in this present life, he’ll escape the fiend’s clutches and avoid going to hell: “An’ now, auld Cloots, I ken ye’re thinkin’ / A certain bardie’s rantin’, drinkin’ / Some luckless hour will send him linkin’ / To your black pit / But faith! he’ll turn a corner jinkin’ / An’ cheat ye yet.”

 

Clype (n) – a contemptible sub-species of schoolchild, i.e. the type who’s always running to the teachers and telling tales on his or her schoolmates.

 

Colliebuckie (n) – a piggy-back.  Scottish playgrounds once echoed with cries of “Gie’s a colliebuckie!”

 

Corbie (n) – a crow or raven.  The knowledgeable Australian musician / singer / writer Nick Cave uses this word at the beginning of his gothic novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, which has a couple of ‘sly corbies’ circling in the sky above the dying hero.

 

Cowpt (adj) – overturned, fallen-over.  Often used to describe sheep when they fall onto their backs, can’t get up again and run the risk of breaking their spines.  Around where I live, there’s a story of a young farmer who was about to get married and, just before his stag party in Edinburgh, was collected at his farmhouse by a coachload of his mates.  As the coach was driving away from the farm, someone on board spotted a cowpt ewe in one of the fields.  Jocularly, the young farmer told the coach-driver to manoeuvre the vehicle off the road, into the field and across to the spot where the unfortunate beast was on its back, which he did.  The young farmer got out and put the cowpt ewe on its feet again; but meanwhile all the other sheep in the field, seeing the coach and not knowing the difference between it and a tractor carrying a load of hay, flocked around it expecting to be fed.  That left the stag-party and their transport marooned amidst a sea of woolly white fleeces.

 

I’ll return to this topic in this blog and cover further letters of the alphabet.

 

© Viz Unicorn Entertainment / Brent Walker

The sound of silence

 

From unsplash.com / © Vienna Reyes

 

Having perused the British media for the past week, I’ve reached the conclusion that the song that best sums up late-August Britain in this coronavirus-stricken year of 2020 is The Sound of Silence, recorded by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in 1964, although not a hit for them until two years later.

 

But it would have to be The Sound of Silence played with the volume turned down.  No sound.  Just silence.

 

The first silencing I’ve read about is one that’s caused the latest stramash in Britain’s seemingly never-ending culture wars.  Previous instalments in these culture wars have seen a statue of a notorious slave trader in Bristol get chucked into the sea and ridiculous long-haired historian Neil Oliver react to the deed by wailing about ‘anarchists and communists’ trying to destroy the British way of life…  Shaven-headed right-wing thugs giving Nazi salutes in London whilst attempting to protect another statue, one  of Winston Churchill, a man revered in Britain for, er, standing up to Nazis…  And a great deal of red-faced spluttering when the BBC, on its UKTV streaming service, temporarily suspended a 1975 episode of Fawlty Towers in which the dotty old Major character uttered some offensive racial epithets.

 

The BBC is also at the centre of the newest storm.  It’s decided to have the patriotic British songs Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia performed at this year’s Last Night of the Proms concert in the Royal Albert Hall without vocalists there to sing the lyrics.  The BBC claims this is to reduce the number of people onstage and allow for social distancing.  It detractors allege it’s because the lyrics have been deemed inappropriate in these overly sensitive, politically correct times.

 

In the clips of Last Night of the Proms concerts that I watched on TV in the past – in the distant past, because even as a teenager I found it a gruesome spectacle and never wanted to look at the thing again – most of the singing was done by the audience.  And the audience was a sea of drunken, Union Jack-waving Hooray Henrys and Hooray Henriettas making a cacophony that was as pleasant to listen to as a burning chicken-shed.  Due to Covid-19, the audience won’t be present this year.  That’s got to be an improvement, whether or not the songs are performed as instrumentals.

 

Predictably, the BBC’s decision to de-vocalise the songs was greeted by howls of outrage from the right-wing shit-sheets that make up much of the British national press, i.e. the Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express.  It was also seized upon by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, after performing a veritable Gordian knot of humiliating U-turns recently, was desperate to direct attention away from his governmental crapness.  Johnson declared that it was time to ‘stop our cringing embarrassment’ about being British.  Actually, at this stage, the best way to stop people feeling embarrassed about being British would be to build a time machine, pop back in time 56 years and persuade Stanley Johnson to wear a condom.

 

Also climbing onto the anti-BBC bandwagon was publicity-seeking hybrid human-donkey mutant Nigel Farage, who promptly tweeted footage of himself singing a lusty rendition of Rule, Britannia at some pro-Brexit rally.  This in turn prompted comedian David Baddiel to remark: “There might be some who feel a little sad about Rule, Britannia, seeing it, now divorced of triumphalist origins, only as a Proms tradition.  Watching this, however, makes it clear how it’s still basically a C*nts’ Anthem.”

 

Well, I wouldn’t be quite as severe as Baddiel in his assessment of Rule, Britannia, though I too have difficulty thinking positively of it and Land of Hope and Glory when I see the likes of Nigel Farage belting them out.  But apart from that, in terms of actual musical quality, I’ve always thought Rule sounded a bit cheesy and Land was a pompous dirge.  I say that as someone who spent his childhood in a fairly Protestant part of Northern Ireland, where the air often reverberated with the sound of people singing patriotically pro-British tunes.  While these tunes were frequently offensive to Roman Catholic ears, they, unlike Rule and Land, at least managed to be catchy.

 

(I remember one good friend from a quarter-century ago, a university lecturer who was a skilful pianist.  His university would sometimes rope him into providing live background music at official receptions.  He confessed to me that during one such event, bored stiff with ‘tinkling the ivories’, he felt a sudden powerful urge to start playing The Sash.  When I pointed out to him that he was a Glaswegian Catholic, and had a cousin who’d once been skipper of the Glasgow Celtic football team, and therefore wasn’t supposed to be a fan of The Sash, he shrugged and said, “Aye…  But at least it stirs the blood.”)

 

© Warner Music Group – XS Music Group

© Victor

 

However, it hasn’t just been Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory that have been silenced lately.  Reading a separate news story, I learned how restauranteurs in Scotland have been complaining about a ban on music on their premises, prompted again by the current Covid-19 pandemic.  The Scottish government implemented the ban on August 14th, afraid that if eateries were full of loud music, people would have to tilt their heads close together and shout and thereby increase the risk of spreading the virus.  The restauranteurs have dismissed this thinking as ‘ridiculous’, ‘nonsense’, ‘a disgrace’ and having ‘no logic’.  One even complained that “We need background music to kill the deathly hush as people feel they have to start whispering when a restaurant is quiet.  Diners want to eat out in a place with atmosphere, not a library.”

 

This set me thinking of the half-dozen restaurants that my partner and I most often go to in Colombo, Sri Lanka, our current city of residence.  I can’t remember hearing music played in three of them.  If it was played, it was at such a low volume as to be unnoticeable.  One restaurant plays music but softly and unobtrusively – I recall Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man (1965) getting an airing there the other week.  The fifth used to play some weird 1960s Euro-lounge / psychedelic / jazz stuff, like what you’d hear on the soundtrack of a Jess Franco movie, but they seem to have stopped that since the venue reopened after Sri Lanka’s two-month Covid-19 curfew.

 

In fact, only one of the six restaurants plays music at a distinctly discernible level and that makes it problematic for us.  Although the staff are lovely, the décor is charming and the food is decent, the music is often naff and intrusive.  Commonly featured on its aural menu from hell are Phil Collins, Robbie Williams, Coldplay, the Corrs and 1970s / 1980s-era Fleetwood Mac.  Come to think of it, there’s only thing I can think of it that’s more horrible than the Corrs and Fleetwood Mac, and that would be the Corrs doing a cover version of a Fleetwood Mac song.  And – oh yes! – the restaurant sometimes plays that puke-inducingly twee version of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams that the Corrs did in 1998.

 

So in other words, the only restaurant we have an issue with is the one that plays music at any volume.  And the reason we like to eat in a quiet environment, or in a near-quiet one, is so that we can generate our own noise by indulging in the basic human art of conversation.  We like to communicate while we eat, and I certainly like to communicate without having to shout and risk spraying mouthfuls of grub into my dining companion’s face.  Also, I assume that any half-decent, welcoming restaurant will be one where the customers feel relaxed enough to strike up conversation immediately.  The afore-mentioned ‘deathly hush’ where people feel ‘they have to start whispering’ would suggest a venue that’s snobby and inhospitable.

 

The same news story contained one quote that made sense to me, however.  It came from a spokesman for a chain of pubs who snorted contemptuously, “We don’t go with the crowd so we don’t have music in any of our premises.  Our customers are used to it and like it.  We have shown you don’t need music to run a pub.”  Quite right.  Just let the punters chat to one another and create their own entertainment.

 

Alas, that spokesman represented the JD Wetherspoon chain, which run 75 pubs in Scotland.  It’s also the property of Tim Martin, who’s a well-known Brexit-loving, Faragist nincompoop.  Martin’s the sort of bloke who probably thinks Covid-19 is a leftist-woke conspiracy to stop patriotic folk from properly singing Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope of Glory by forcing them to wear facemasks.

 

Thus, realising that I’ve just agreed with a statement issued by Tim Martin’s outfit, I think I need to have a wee lie-down now.

 

© The Irish Times / Alan Betson

George, where did it all go wrong?

 

© The Belfast Telegraph

 

Last Thursday saw the Prime Minister of England – sorry, Prime Minister of Britain – Boris Johnson arrive in Scotland for a one-day charm offensive.  This was intended to remind Scottish people of how lucky they were to be part of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ‘mighty’ union as Johnson grandly put it, and dissuade them of any mad notions of voting for Scottish independence, which, according to recent opinion polls, 54% of them are now minded to do.  Determined to press the flesh with the maximum number of Scottish people during his visit, Johnson flew into the bustling Caledonian metropolises of the Orkney Islands and RAF Lossiemouth.  A little unfortunately, the Orcadian mainland is home to a small settlement called Twatt, which led to some unkind quips being made on social media about there already being ‘one Twatt in the Orkneys’.  It was also slightly unwise for the PM to parley with some local fishermen and pose for photographers holding a pair of clawed, antennae-ed crustaceans, as social media was soon heaving with comments about how he ‘had crabs’.

 

But Johnson isn’t the only British political chancer to have foisted himself upon Scotland recently, proclaiming the message that red, white and blue unionism is good while Saltire-waving indie is bad.  For July 2020 has seen the return to Scottish soil of one George ‘Gorgeous’ Galloway.  Or to give him the title that immediately appears when you type his name into Google, ‘George Galloway cat.’

 

It’s hard to believe now, but once upon a time I considered Galloway one of the good guys.  Well, one of the goodish guys at least.  This was while he served as Labour Member of Parliament for Glasgow Hillhead, later Glasgow Kelvin, from 1987 to 2005.  For many years Labour MPs formed the bulk of Scotland’s representation in the House of Commons, but apart from a few high-fliers like Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and George Robertson, destined for cabinet jobs under Tony Blair, they were an uninspiring lot – a big, grey Scottish-accented blob whose only function was to shamble through the voting lobbies at their party’s bidding.  They were nicknamed the ‘low-flying Jimmies’, though to my mind they were a living, if barely sentient, definition of the Scots word ‘numpties’.

 

However, the Scottish Labour MPs contained a small but interesting awkward squad.  The squad included the admirably his-own-man Tam Dalyell; and the very leftward Ron Brown (who shocked the British establishment by heading off to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and then on his return warning that it probably wasn’t a good idea for the West to fund the Mujahideen, later to morph into the Taliban); and the trio of Dick Douglas, John McAllion and Dennis Canavan, all of whom would later end up estranged from the Labour Party and end up supporting the cause of Scottish independence.  Plus, of course, the ultra-awkward George Galloway.

 

Galloway was too left-wing for traditional mainstream Labourites’ liking, which was fine by me.  I also approved of his constitutional stance.  Though he didn’t go as far as espousing independence for Scotland, he advocated a large measure of home-rule for the country within the framework of the UK.  And when John Major’s Conservative Party won the British general election in 1992 and dashed hopes of a devolved Scottish parliament being set up for at least another half-decade, and a campaign movement called Scotland United was formed to maintain pressure for the creation of such a parliament, I wasn’t surprised when Galloway became one of the movement’s leading lights.

 

From twitter.com/thoughtland

 

To keep the issue in the public consciousness, Scotland United held rallies in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  I participated in a couple of these, though I can’t remember Galloway addressing the crowds.  I do remember, however, one Saturday marching down to Leith Links in Edinburgh where, after speeches, we were treated to a gig by the Scotland United-supporting pop / soul band Deacon Blue.  At one point, singer Ricky Ross pointed out the nearby premises of Leith’s Conservative and Unionist Association and started singing a cover of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, which contains the pertinent lyrics, “…how does it feel / To be on your own, with no direction home / A complete unknown…?”  The memory makes me nostalgic.  Trying to establish a Scottish parliament by having Deacon Blue sing Bob Dylan at the Tories.  Those were the days.

 

Still, it was already clear that Galloway had a dodgy side.  From 1983 to 1987 he’d served as general secretary of the British charity War on Want and stories of his antics during a conference in Greece – Galloway confessed to getting to know some local ladies ‘carnally’ – led to embarrassing tabloid coverage.  I seem to remember one newspaper reporting his attempts to justify his behaviour with the headline I BONKED FOR BRITAIN.  This presumably helped give rise to Galloway’s nickname ‘Gorgeous’.  Meanwhile, his simultaneously smooth and self-righteous manner caused a lot of people I knew, even ones who shared his politics, to profess that they hated his guts.

 

During the next two decades, following Galloway’s exploits was a seesawing experience.  He’d do something crap, then redeem himself by doing something impressive, then blow his restored credibility by doing something crap again.  At the crap end was his grovelling to the Iraq despot Saddam Hussein, which in 1994 saw him utter the famous line, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”  Later, Galloway claimed, not very convincingly, that he’d aimed this line at the long-suffering Iraqi people rather than at Saddam himself.

 

But he deserved kudos for his opposition to George Bush Jnr and Tony Blair’s misguided, mendacious and ultimately catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He denounced Bush as a terrorist, got himself expelled from the Labour Party, sued and won against the Daily Telegraph after it claimed Iraqi agents had secretly paid him with cash from the United Nations Oil for Food programme, and then squared up to a US Senate committee investigating the Food for Oil programme in 2005.  The senate confrontation was probably his finest hour.  He gave those senators a mauling.  “…(I)n everything I said about Iraq I turned out to be right,” he declared, “and you turned out to be wrong.  And 100,000 have paid with their lives, 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies.”

 

Though he’d  torched his bridges with the Labour Party, Galloway managed for a time to defy Enoch Powell’s famous adage that ‘all political lives… end in failure.’  He formed the Respect Party, stood for election in the London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and won it from Labour.  He stood down as MP there following a schism in the Respect Party, but in a 2012 by-election pulled off a similar stunt by winning Bradford West from Labour.  Both constituencies had sizable Muslim communities and there were copious allegations about Galloway dishing religious-related dirt on his opponents – that in Bethnal Green he’d played up the fact that the Labour incumbent, Oona King, had a Jewish mother; that in Bradford West he’d raised the issue of the Labour Party’s Muslim candidate drinking alcohol; and that in the run-up to the 2015 general election he’d accused his Labour challenger, another Muslim, Naz Shah, of supporting Israel and lying about an arranged marriage.  But Shah had the last laugh because she won Bradford West back for Labour.

 

© Channel 4

 

True to form, Galloway’s 2005 triumph in Bethnal Green was soon negated by his idiotic decision to take part in the 2006 series of Celebrity Big Brother.  This resulted in such colossally cringy moments as George, no longer so gorgeous, dancing in a leotard beside the late Pete Burns of the band Dead or Alive, or pretending to be a cat and licking cream off the lap of actress Rula Lenska.  Hence the word ‘cat’ popping up beside his name on Google searches.

 

More seriously, Galloway secured a job as a host on the Iran-government-funded Press TV in 2008 and that same year earned himself the ire of gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for claiming that a gay man executed in Iran was punished for ‘sex crimes’ rather than for being gay.  He landed himself in more hot water in 2012 when he defended Julian Assange against rape charges by describing having non-consensual sex with a sleeping woman (after consensual sex with her when she was awake), which Assange was accused of doing, as ‘bad sexual etiquette’ but ‘not rape’.

 

Galloway’s support for Assange was evidence that, as the 2010s progressed, he was increasingly happy to clamber onto any bandwagon that he thought would boost his profile.  So he campaigned vociferously for a ‘no’ vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence – ‘just say naw’.  Mind you, he was scathing of his ex-comrades in the Labour Party who’d joined forces with the Conservatives in the anti-independence Better Together movement.  “If you ever see me standing under a Union Jack shoulder-to-shoulder with a Conservative,” he told Prospect magazine, “please shoot me.”  Remember those words.  Prior to the referendum, I watched him in a televised debate and discovered that, like a cartoon character, he’d now acquired a costume, a rarely-off-his-head fedora, and a catchphrase: “That is nonsense on stilts!”

 

© The Jewish Chronicle / twitter/@VirendraSharma

 

Perhaps upset that his contribution to saving the United Kingdom didn’t result in ennoblement by a grateful David Cameron – he could have been Lord Galloway of Nonsense-on-Stilts – George then threw his lot in with the Brexiteers and campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in 2016’s referendum on that matter.  This spawned some nauseating photographs of him, a supposed socialist, posing with Nigel Farage, ex-City of London spiv, immigration dog-whistler and Donald Trump’s biggest British fanboy.  That said, pictures of Galloway embracing the extreme right-wing nutjob Steve Bannon at a debate in Kazakhstan in 2019 were even more mind-melting.

 

The increasing number of causes that Galloway hitched himself to seemed in inverse proportion to the number of votes being cast for him in elections.  A 2011 attempt to get into the Scottish parliament saw him win a less-than-awesome 3.3% of the vote in Glasgow.  His performance in the 2016 London Mayoral contest was even worse (1.4%) and attempts to run in English constituencies in the 2017 and 2019 general elections had equally dire results.

 

Now George has a new wheeze, which is to run in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections as head of something called Alliance for Unity, of which he says: “We have only one goal – to get the SNP out.”  To this end, Galloway has declared himself willing to work with even the Conservatives.  Yes, this is the man who a half-dozen years ago invited folk to shoot him if they ever saw him do that.

 

He intends to stand in the south of Scotland, a rural, down-to-earth area where I can’t see many people falling for his self-serving, narcissistic brand of bullshit.  Maybe he figures he stands a chance because he shares a name with one of the regions there, Dumfries and Galloway.  And who does he really expect to vote for him?  Not Scottish independence supporters, obviously.  Labour supporters will hardly vote for someone so willing to climb into bed with the Tories.  And the hard-line loyalists / British nationalists who increasingly form the main support for the Scottish Conservative Party these days will hardly be enamoured with someone who’s said of Northern Ireland: “There is no Northern Ireland.  It is six counties in the north of Ireland.  It should have never been in the British state in the first place.”  Nor will his urging of Arabs to kill British troops in Iraq in 2003, one of the final straws that got him chucked out of Labour, win him their admiration either.

 

George Galloway may still look, talk and act like the cat that’s got the cream.  But I suspect he’s now used up the last of his nine lives.

 

© The Sunday Mail / From pressreader.com

Edinburgh’s statues – keep, erect or chuck in the Forth?

 

 

It’s been an exciting week for Britain’s civic statues.  Normally, these often antiquated, discoloured and birdshit-splattered lumps of sculpted stonework, which adorn town and city centres across the land and commemorate important figures and events of bygone eras, go cruelly unnoticed by 99.9% of the folk who trudge past them.  Well, that’s changed after what happened a week ago.

 

On June 7th, in Bristol, a statue of the 17th-century Bristolian merchant and Tory politician Edward Colston got hauled down by a crowd protesting the police’s murder of George Floyd in the USA and was tossed into the drink at the nearby harbour.  It’s ironic that this monument of Colston’s time on earth should end up underwater, for that was where many of the victims of Colston’s business activities ended up too.  During his involvement with notorious slave-traders the Royal African Company, the company shipped an estimated 84,000 Africans across the Atlantic and 19,000 of them died en route and were thrown overboard to the waves and sharks.

 

Suddenly, everybody’s eyeing up the statues that, at some time or other and for some reason or other, have been erected in Britain’s public spaces.  Suddenly, everybody’s wondering about the virtue, or lack of virtue, of those statues’ subjects.  Do they deserve to occupy public space?  Or, like the representation of Colston, do they deserve to be dumped in the nearest body of water?

 

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the city I know best, Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh, and the chunks of stony civic artistry that decorate it.  In the manner of the old, risqué question-and-answer game kiss, marry, kill? (which was known in the less genteel parts I hail from as shag, marry, kill?), here’s an evaluation of Edinburgh’s existing statues and potential statues under the options keep, erect or chuck in the Firth of Forth?

 

The first statue many people see when arriving in Edinburgh – when they walk out of the bus station into St Andrew Square – is a strong candidate for being chucked into the chilly waters north of the city.  Perched on a 150-foot-high column in the middle of the square is a statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville.  Melville started off as a lawyer and became Lord Advocate (Scotland’s chief public prosecutor) at the age of 33, but then moved into politics.  It was as Secretary of State for Britain’s Home Department in the 1790s that he was responsible for delaying the abolition of the slave trade.  By the time it was abolished, a decade-and-a-half later in 1807, a huge additional number of Africans had ended up in slavery, a half-million according to Dundas’s Wikipedia entry.

 

According to his descendent Bobby Dundas, 10th Viscount Melville, Henry Dundas was actually an abolitionist who’d been forced to be pragmatic.   He’d supposedly “provided the word ‘gradual’” so that abolition “would get through legislation and became law, and without that, it wouldn’t have passed for decades.”  But while there is something good to be said about Dundas during his time as a lawyer – which I’ll describe later in this entry – by the time of his political career I doubt if he was anything more than what J.M. Barrie described as ‘a Scotsman on the make’.  He saw his fortunes bound up with the rise and reputation of the ‘second’ British Empire and spent, for example, eight years as Director of the Board of Control over the East India Company.  Concern for the hundreds of thousands whose lives were blighted or ended by slavery was surely not high in his list of priorities.

 

I suppose you could make a case for Dundas remaining in St Andrew Square (with a giant plaque providing information about his misdeeds) as a rebuff to those Scottish nationalists, still too many in number, who kid themselves that Scotland was only ever a subject, a victim even, of the British Empire.  As the historian Tom Nairn memorably put it in 1968: “Scotland is not a colony, a semi-colony, a pseudo-colony, a near-colony, a neo-colony, or any other colony of the English.  She is a junior but (as these things go) a highly successful partner in the general business enterprise of Anglo-Scots imperialism.”  Dundas’s statue is an uncomfortable reminder of this.

 

From the Brown digital repository at Brown University Library

 

Meanwhile, another statue I’m not fond of stands close by, that of George IV at the intersection of George Street and Hanover Street.  This annoys me because it embodies the grovelling, forelock-tugging attitude that a certain, bourgeoise section of Scottish society has always shown to the British Royal Family.  In 1822 George arrived in Edinburgh on what was the first visit to Scotland by a British monarch in two centuries and was greeted by a grotesque, over-the-top display of kilts, bagpipes and tartanry stage-managed by that great Caledonian romanticizer Sir Walter Scott.  This helped cement the tartan-swathed Brigadoon image that the outside world has had of Scotland since (though of course Scott’s novels helped cement it too).

 

The fact that it went bonkers over a king as unappealing as George IV is rather humiliating for Edinburgh in retrospect.  George is best-known today as the vain, idiotic Prince Regent character played by Hugh Laurie in the TV comedy series Blackadder the Third (1987).  (“Someone said I had the wit and intellect of a donkey.”  “Oh, an absurd suggestion sir, unless it was a particularly stupid donkey.”)  However, Hugh Laurie was at least slim.  By 1822 George had become grotesquely obese after years of gluttony and drunkenness.  His vanity remained, though, and according to the artist David Wilkie would spend three hours getting dressed and corseted up but still resembled ‘a great sausage stuffed into the covering’.

 

Of course, the depiction of George IV on George Street / Hanover Street is a highly flattering one.  Perhaps the absurdity of 1822’s pageantry should be highlighted by having the current statue of George replaced with a more accurate one.  I’d like to see a statue of him as he really was during the visit – crammed into Highland dress with, under his kilt, his swollen gout-stricken legs wrapped up in flesh-coloured tights.  A sight for sore eyes, in other words.

 

Over in Edinburgh Old Town, within the precincts of Edinburgh Castle, you’ll find another statue that’s problematic.  This is of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the 1st Earl Haig and commander of the British Expeditionary Force during the latter three years of World War One, who was born in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square in 1861.  Haig’s reputation as a military commander and tactician has taken a battering posthumously, notably with the publication of Alan Clark’s damning historical volume The Donkeys in 1961 and the release of Richard Attenborough’s equally damning film Oh, What a Lovely War! In 1969.  These helped create the present-day image of Haig as a deluded mass-murdering incompetent, worthy of the nicknames ‘Butcher Haig’ and ‘the Butcher of the Somme’.  His reputation also got a kicking in 1989’s Blackadder Goes Forth, in which Geoffrey Palmer appeared as Haig, using a dustpan and brush to nonchalantly sweep up fallen toy soldiers from a battlefield diorama and toss them over his shoulder.  Yes, Edinburgh has cornered the market for statues of people who were in Blackadder.

 

But I wouldn’t throw Haig’s statue into the Forth.  It really belongs in a museum – a museum that illustrates the historical ebbs and flows of reputation as time moves on, events become distant, viewpoints shift and opinions change.  It’s easy to forget today that up until his death, Haig was massively popular among the British public, which included the many ex-soldiers who’d served under him, and his funeral in 1928 was marked by a day of national mourning.

 

And problematic too is the statue in Parliament Square, behind St Giles’ Cathedral, of King Charles II.  After he came to the throne in 1660, Charles and his brother, the future King James II, set up the Royal African Company of which Edward Colston was a key member.  During its operations, the company was responsible for the transportation of more slaves than any other institution – an estimated 212,000, of whom 44,000 died before they reached the Americas.  However, Charles II’s statue has just been the subject of a thoughtful article by Alan Ramsay in the web magazine Bella Caledonia, so I won’t say any more about it.  Here’s a link to the article.

 

However, not far away, in the New College Quadrangle on the Mound, you’ll find a statue of a slave.  The subject of this statue spent two years toiling in a galley.  According to his Wikipedia entry, he and his fellow slaves ‘were chained to benches and rowed throughout the day without a change of posture while an officer watched over them with a whip in hand’.  Wow, you’re probably thinking, well done, Edinburgh!  You made the right choice with one of your statues!  Well, don’t get too excited.  For that slave was none other than the minister and theologian John Knox, who led the Reformation in Scotland and founded the Church of Scotland.  Earlier, from 1547 to 1549, he’d been a galley slave under the French.  Obviously, Knox is someone whose views on women (in 1556-58 he penned the memorably titled treatise First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) and on practitioners of other religions (he described the Catholic church as ‘a synagogue of Satan’ and a ‘harlot’ that was ‘polluted with all kinds of spiritual fornication’ and full of ‘pestilent papists’) are ones most people find unpalatable today.

 

From the National Library of Wales

 

I really don’t know about Knox’s statue in Edinburgh.  He established Scotland’s national church and indirectly shaped the nation’s character for centuries to come, so you can’t really not have a statue of him there.  But it’s like have your reactionary and slightly Alzheimer’s-addled granddad at the table for Christmas dinner.  He may be coming out with a stream of racist inventive, but you know you owe your existence to him.  So you just smile at him and pretend not to hear what he’s saying.

 

To be more positive – there are statues in Edinburgh I like too.  Unexpectedly but pleasingly, the Old Calton Cemetery on Calton Hill has one of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, the man who delivered the Gettysburg address and preserved the American Union during the Civil War, and surely a contender for the title of Most Awesome US President Ever.  (Not that he’s had much competition for that title recently.)  Honest Abe’s statue stands magisterially atop a memorial to Scottish-American soldiers.  Nearby in the cemetery is an obelisk – okay, not quite a statue – erected in memory of the members of a universal suffrage group called the Friends of the People, who were persecuted in 1793.  Nowadays, of course, their ideas are seen as the stuff of basic Human Rights, but to the establishment of the time the Friends of the People were unspeakable subversives.

 

I like the fact that Edinburgh has some statues of writers.  So it should do, as it was designated the first ever City of Literature by UNESCO in 2004.  There’s one of Sir Walter Scott on Princes Street, at the bottom of the Scott monument, and one of Robert Burns at Leith (in addition to the Burns Monument on Calton Hill), and one of Robert Louis Stevenson at Colinton, and one of Sherlock Holmes commemorating the Edinburgh-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at Picardy Place.  A few less well-known scribblers have statues too.  For example, the poet Robert Fergusson has one pacing past the entrance to the Canongate Cemetery, the poet and playwright Allan Ramsay has one in Princess Street Gardens, and the 19th-century children’s novelist Catherine Sinclair has a gothic, tapering structure in her memory standing on the corner of North Charlotte Street and St Colme Street.

 

 

I’m also glad the city has paid tribute to its most famous philosopher David Hume, who has a statue on the Royal Mile, to its most famous economist Adam Smith, who has a statue on the Royal Mile too, and to its most famous mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who has one on George Street.  And let’s not forget James Braidwood, who created Edinburgh’s – and the world’s – first municipal firefighting service and is honoured by a statue in Parliament Square.

 

And what statues should be erected?  Well, it seems a no-brainer to have a statue somewhere in Scotland’s capital city commemorating the man who established the illegality of slavery in the country.  This was Joseph Knight, an African slave purchased in Jamaica by the sugar-plantation owner Sir John Wedderburn of Ballendean, 6th Baronet of Blackness.  Wedderburn brought Knight back to Scotland as a servant in 1769 and when Knight protested his freedom, the pair of them ended up in court.  A final decision went in Knight’s favour in the Court of Session in 1777, when it was decreed that slavery was not recognised under Scots Law.   Indeed, a statue of Knight in Edinburgh might even improve Henry Dundas’s reputation by a smidgeon, for it was Dundas, Lord Advocate at the time, who acted as Knight’s counsel in the Court of Session.  According to the famous lawyer and biographer James Boswell, Dundas gave a stirring speech in support of Knight’s cause.  Which makes his subsequent actions regarding the abolition of the slave trade seem even more depressing.

 

From the statues I’ve listed so far, there’s obviously a dearth of female ones in Edinburgh.  So I’d also like to see a statue of Elsie Inglis, the Edinburgh-educated, late 19th century / early 20th century doctor and surgeon who founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and did much to improve healthcare for female patients.  She was also involved in the Suffrage Movement and during World War I set up Scottish Women’s Hospital units to care for injured soldiers in Belgium, France, Russia and Serbia,  That last country awarded her the Serbian Order of the White Eagle a year before her death in 1917.

 

© Penguin Books

 

The great Edinburgh novelist Muriel Spark should be honoured too.  Why not have a statue of her most famous literary creation, Miss Jean Brodie, swanning around Marchmont, where Spark went to school and supposedly got some of her inspiration for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) from a teacher there?  Mind you, I could see people objecting to the statue on account of Brodie’s politics, for in the novel she was a fan of Benito Mussolini and an admirer of fascism.  Finally, I don’t see why the much-missed parliamentarian Margo MacDonald shouldn’t be commemorated with a statue outside Easter Road Stadium in Leith, home of her favourite football club, Hibernian.

 

And now for a few more personal choices…  If his hometown of Salford doesn’t get around to honouring him with a statue, why can’t Edinburgh stick up a statue of Mark E. Smith, the driving force behind the great punk/post-punk band the Fall?  Smith lived in Edinburgh in the late 1980s, wrote a song about the city, 1991’s Edinburgh Man, and is rumoured to have supported Heart of Midlothian Football Club.  Meanwhile, two of Edinburgh’s greatest bands, the Exploited and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, could be jointly honoured by a statue of the man who played in both of them (as well as performing briefly with Nirvana), guitarist Big John Duncan.  Yes, a statue of Big John would be… imposing.  I’d also like to see a statue in Morningside of the Scottish trade unionist Alec Kitson and the young Sean Connery delivering milk on a cart together, as they famously did there in the 1940s.  And while I hate the man’s politics, I’d like to see a dynamic statue of Nigel Farage fleeing into the Canon’s Gait pub on the Royal Mile in 2013, to escape protestors who were chanting, “Nigel, you’re a bawbag.”

 

However, for visitors to Edinburgh, there’s one statue that’s famous above all others.  This is of course the one of loyal wee Scots terrier Greyfriars Bobby, which stands on the corner between Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, outside Greyfriars Kirkyard.  Poor Bobby has had it rough lately because a modern custom has evolved whereby sightseers rub his bronze nose to bring themselves good luck.  As a result of continued, countless rubbings, the nose has been gradually eroding away.  If Henry Dundas is ever removed from the top of his column in St Andrew Square, we’ll know where to move Greyfriars Bobby for the sake of his health.