A Letter from the Clearances


The Glencalvie Clearance, from the hand of one, etched on chapel glass

In my essay The Sorrow and the Shame ( the link is at end of this piece) I discuss some of the issues that caused and helped protract the infamous Highland Clearances, an attempt at ethnic cleansing in any dictionary, by the systematic removal of peoples and their culture from their land no matter the cost to health or life.

As expected, essay barely published, up popped the usual suspects to claim it was Scot against Scot, implying England and the English had nothing to do with the Clearances, Highland or Lowland, the same suspects who tell Scotland in the same breath our history is bunkum. They employ the same argue over Ireland’s potato famine though Ireland was under British rule. That logic is the reasoning of madmen.

Scots did drive Scots off land they and their forefathers had toiled for centuries, but it was English policies that gave them the motivation and the legal right to do it. Miserable strangers to compassion feel confident telling us English rule in the 19th century had nothing to do with land clearances. The Clearances were passed off by many at the time –  and many since – as simple agricultural improvements.

Authenticated evidence is sparse. There are few  first-hand records from victims and causalities. Evicted from their homes, herded like cattle away to anywhere, how do you stop for a reflective moment to scribble a recollection, or diary an overheard remark?

The poor had no need nor money for letter writing. A visit to the tiny Croick Free Church in Glencalvie, Sutherland, will offer up a sorrowful solitary line of evidence. Croick Church owes its origins to the 1823 Parliamentary Act for Building Additional Places of Worship in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This voted the sum of £50,000 to build 40 churches and accompanying manses to standardised designs produced by Thomas Telford. Croick Church was built during the years 1825-1827.

Scratched on a window by a few wretched souls of about eighty people, shepherds, cattlemen, peat diggers, stonemasons,  blacksmith and carpenters, their wives and children, there are discernible words. How do we know there were that many souls? Because  a Times journalist was in the area and took note of the human catastrophe.

The people were sheltering outside from the cold and rain, barred from inside. They left a few pitiful messages etching on the glass panes of the east window.  Inscribed on its diamond-shaped panes, the messages are simple, the resonance powerful and ageless.

Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here May 24 1845” and most poignantly, “Glencalvie People -the wicked generation Glencalvie”

The wealthy land owners kept records, usually in account books, conscious of the wealth sheep would bring, wealth much greater than rents from tenants, the dregs and refugees from the orchestrated dispersal of the clan system by English decree. Obtaining those records is difficult for obvious reasons, getting hold of a record of a village clearance almost impossible. Though most Scots could read and write to an extent, and many a Gael could speak English-Scots, life in a farming community wasn’t about keeping a journal, or writing love letters to be read by the recipient and hidden under a flagstone in the floor. We can only guess at the myriad heartaches, terrors, and deaths the Clearances caused.

The best records that exist tend to lie in the courts for those who tried to use that route, and with Customs and Excise at harbours where the homeless poor congregated to board a sailing ship to a life in Canada or the Americas.


A typical Highland turf house, the family milk cow was usually kept at one end

By chance and the good direction of a reader, I tracked down a group of letters written by Donald McLeod, a man, wife and children caught up in the Sutherland Clearances. His letters are in the collection of the Library of the University of Toronto. (Canadian and Americans take greater care of our historical artefacts than we do!) Rather than describe the content of the letters, I’ve chosen one indicative of the tragedy when Scotland was subjected to official brutality. It is slightly abbreviated. It speaks for itself.

“On that day a messengers with a party of eight men following entered my dwelling. (I being away about forty miles at work.) My wife, at meal with the children, was seized with a fearful panic at seeing the fulfilment of her worst foreboding about to take place.

The party of men allowed no time for parley, but having put the family out with violence, proceeded to fling out the furniture, bedding and other effects, extinguish the fire, nailed up the door and windows in the face of this helpless woman and children, she with her sucking infant at her breast, the eldest under eight years at her side.

How shall I describe the horrors of that scene? Wind, rain and sleet were ushering in a night of extraordinary darkness. My wife and children, after remaining motionless a while in mute astonishment at the ruin that had overtaken them so suddenly, were compelled to seek refuge for the night under a neighbour’s roof, but they found every door shut against them.

Messengers had sent warnings to all around of the perils of affording shelter, or assistance, to my wife, my children or animal belonging to me. The poor people were aware of the vigour such edicts were carried into execution, and so durst not afford my distressed family any assistance as much as an enemy’s dog.

After a fruitless time seeking shelter from any hovel, my wife returned to collect some of our scattered furniture, and erect with her own hands a temporary shelter against the walls of our residence, but this proved in vain.  The gale wind dispersed her possessions so fast she could not gather them back. She was obliged to bide the pelting of the pitiless storm  with no covering but the frowning heavens., and the cries of her starving children in her ears.

Death seem to be staring them in the face for by remaining where they were until the morning it was next to impossible even the strongest of them would survive, or if seeking safety not fall off a precipice or into sea in the dark.

My family were driven from our home on a pretended debt, for which I paid and held the receipt in payment. The factor was bother pursuer and judge.

The only means left to my wife and children were to perish where they lay or make some perilous attempt to reach distant habitation where she might hope for shelter. Buckling up her children, including the one she held to her breast,  she left them in the charge of the eldest, and prepared to take the road to Caithness fifteen miles away, leaving them such victuals as she could. And for a long while she held the cries of her children of whom she had slender hopes of seeing alive again sounding in her ears. This was too much to bear.  No wonder she has never been the same woman again.

She had not proceeded many miles when she met with a good Samaritan of the name of Donald MacDonald, who disregarded the danger he incurred from the Sheriff’s men and the factor, opened his door to her, refreshed her with drink, and then accompanied her to the dwelling of William  Innes, of Sandside, Caithness, and through his influence, that gentleman  took her under his protection, and gave her permission to occupy an empty house at his Armidale sheep farm only a few miles from the dwelling, though it was owned by the Duke of Sutherland. There she took some rest notwithstanding her deep concern for the fate of her children.

At this time I was working in Wick and was full of unease and apprehension of something wrong, so I set out for my home, and there, to my agreeable surprise I found my children still alive. The eldest in pursuance of his mother’s instructions had made great exertions to keep his brothers and sister warm by the light of a small fire and some kindling. My children took hold of my eldest by the kilt and with me this way they travelled to a place of safety in darkness, in rough and smooth, bog and mire, till they arrived at a grand-aunt’s house, and finding the door unbolted took the infant to her.

Relating my narrative, my experience of this terrible event, should be a future warning to Highland tyrants of the resolve of good people to survive the injustice imposed upon them.

The extracts taken from this letter illustrate two things: raids on homes were planned carefully when factor’s henchmen were certain husbands were not at home or were abroad. (As they are in my Highland Clearance screenplay, Gruinard, the men abroad fighting in the Crimean War.) It was the women who held the fort, so to speak, in so many homes and villages. Secondly, forced eviction was often carried out by faking debts, and paying  drunken lawyers to draw up false papers. Readers can compare that tactic with the false promises made in the VOW, powers promised if Scotland chose to surrender its birthright. And to state the obvious, not all clearances had a relatively happy ending like MacLeod’s family. It was a living hell for the majority who survived.

If MacLeod’s experience is anything to go by, the resolve of Scots to govern their land once more chimes loud and clear with modern times, and reminds us that when that day comes, we had better have our land held fast in public ownership no matter who is given approval to use it or to till its soil. The land belongs to us all, each and every one of us.

NOTE: The Duke of Sutherland was an English politician, diplomat, and patron of the arts, a member of the Leveson-Gower family. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, the eldest son of the Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford. He was the wealthiest man in Britain during the latter part of his life, a great deal of his wealth accruing from his Sutherland estates.

This is a companion piece to The Sorrow and the Shame: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-mxZ

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 17 Comments

BlacKKKlansman – a review


In plot and pose Adam Driver and John David Washington give us a buddy movie

Well, this unusual subject is a very pleasant surprise. After the Cannes Festival premier I’d heard through the grapevine co-writer-director Spike Lee was ‘back on form’, but his film is a lot more than a personal success.

The plot is based on a true story, how a black cop infiltrated the KKK, it’s biographical. The film’s story, set in the ’70s, has Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) completing his job interview to become the first black cop in the Colorado Springs police department, a momentous occasion, and one fraught with confrontational racist cops.

The real-life Ron Stallworth on whose book the film is based, said:

“The film is a good portrayal of the actual events that took place. It happened exactly as it is portrayed, with some minor creative license. It speaks to the idiot in the White House who is responsible for a lot of the racial tension in this country. Spike did a wonderful job weaving the historical context from the confederacy to The Birth of a Nation to Alec Baldwin’s character [in BlacKkKlansman], which was a play on the White Citizens’ Councils from the ’50s and ’60s, to David Duke to Charlottesville to Donald Trump. He used that historical thread very well. The only criticism I had was that I didn’t have an afro like they display in the film. My afro was only about an inch high.”

It gets my four stars because underneath all that send up humour and wink, wink tone, there’s a deadly serious study of racial intolerance and violence that works on a number of levels. I don’t award five stars because the pacing is odd, the dialogue uneven, the music a washout, and except for the lead role, nobody has a backstory. The love interest never develops beyond the love interest.

What is understood, by me at least however, is why everybody is a stereotype. Lee has made a deliberate choice to present his characters almost cartoon-like.

Except for the finale, a chase and an explosion, characters amble from one scene to the next, from one set piece to the next. Lee seems to have shot the film from a comfy recliner while sipping a Mojito, a deliberate choice. Man, it’s so laid back, ya gotta jive to stay alive. And yet it holds together and hits its targets.

Lee gives the film a low-budget look, one camera, actors moving in tight, confined areas, no tracking shots, almost like a television comedy show where a lot of action talks place from a well-used sofa facing the fourth wall.

Lee offers us a reverse good techniques strategy, and manages to get every conceivable white-racist rant and nigger-word played for laughs. You’re kept smiling, and the tension never lessens for over-two hours length.


Topher Grace plays David Dukes, chief of the Klan, a man easily hoodwinked

One of Stallworth’s first tasks is to infiltrate a public appearance in the town by Stokely Carmichael to gauge the militancy of the local black population. We see Carmichael’s rousing Black Power speech in its entirety, the first of many instances in which Lee inserts fictionalized tributes to black history into the comic framework of the film.

At the Carmichael rally Ron Stallworth meets Patrice (Laura Harrier), an Angela Davis lookalike, and love blossoms.  Davis  was one of the many female radicals of the day, but here she talks a lot but doesn’t do much more. She acts as his devil’s advocate, causing him to lie about what he does for a living as if a modern day undercover Special Branch cop sleeping with a Ban the Bomb protestor. Once he’s unmasked she says, rightly, “I can’t sleep with the enemy”, and walks away.

Stallworth is a clever, ambitious police officer, keen to do the right thing by his department, a favour to Black Power, and ease his conscience. He offers to investigate the local KKK. Surprisingly his boss agrees. It sounds a good idea; Colorado has had too many fiery crosses lit on too many good folks front lawns. Time to halt the rot.

Putting on a white-man’s voice, he succeeds in contacting the Klan, tripping out a line of racist lingo music to his contact. He’s invited to meet the local group, a bunch of society’s weird and weirder no hopers and indolent losers.

Herein lies the problem. How can a black man gain the company of white supremacists without getting tossed into a river, concrete tied to his feet? Stallworth hits on the idea of sending his cop buddy, Flip (Adam Driver) into the mouth of Hell, an easy going Jew – though not remotely orthodox or much of a believer – who just about looks as if he’s construction worker until he shoots a gun like Wyatt Earp.

To the Klan, Jews are as much loathed as blacks. The plan is laid out: Stallworth does the organising and the phone calls and the oversight from the safety of his departmental desk, when not recording conversations at a distance from his car, a microphone strapped to Flip’s chest. Flip takes the risks, Stallworth takes the kudos.

From then on it’s full tilt into the mind of the Klu Klux Klan – if one can describe blunt force bigotry espoused by racists a ‘mind’. Buffoonery abounds, a KKK plot to initiate race warfare foiled, a KKK member’s overweight wife exploited as if a suicide bomber, and everybody’s plans go awry.


Harry Belafonte relates the true incident of a lynching

The best one-line ripostes can’t be repeated in print. Nor can some of the documentary retelling of incidents when Lee switches from drama to documentary, in one instance the graphic lynching of an innocent black man by a white mob, told to us by an elderly, thin-voiced Harry Belafonte.

Lee sneaks a lot of contemporary political commentary into the narrative. I’d like to say the device elicited rueful laughter from the multiplex auditorium I was in, but in sorrow, I was one of only three people watching the film.

In the States a $15 million budget, including promotional advertising, grossed to date almost £50 million at the box office, here … not so much. That’s to be expected, but cinemagoers in Scotland will miss out on fine and informative entertainment if they choose another film at their multiplex.

“The people of the United States could never elect someone like David Duke to be president,” says Stallworth. “Coming from a black man, that’s pretty naïve,” answers his white fellow cop.

BlacKkKlansman” concludes with a series of false endings, including a fantasy scene in a bar of cop camaraderie where the bad cop gets his comeuppance, but what could have been the ending has Lee leave us with a sting in the tale.

The film’s coda presents footage from current events including a 2017 ‘White Lives Matter’ rally at the University of Colorado, the Charlottesville tragedy where a white thug drives his car into a black crowd of protestors interposed by Trump’s subsequent speech. Lee leaves us with a dedication to the one victim killed – a white girl, Heather Heyer.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Ashley Atkinson
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Writer: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, based on the book, ‘Black Klansman’
  • Cinematographer: Chayse Irvin
  • Composer: Terence Blanchard
  • Duration: Two hours 15 minutes
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?
Posted in Film review | Leave a comment

Car News: EU Licence Gone

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits


The UK-European Driver’s Licence, no good, not even for opening locked doors

One inevitable consequence of English telling Europeans they’re meddling foreigners looms on our man-made dystopian horizon. UK driving licences are likely to be invalid on the continent from April onwards, so warns Westminster’s fearless Tories.

In a phlegmatic technical note released by the Department for Transport, (DfT) officials say a no-deal Brexit means “Your driving licence may no longer be valid by itself when driving in the EU.” The DfT also warns: “If you move to another EU country to live, you may not be able to exchange your licence after the UK has left the EU.” Oops!

In some countries this is certain to mean you won’t be able to hire a car at the airport. Worse, you’ll see your British car impounded by the police if you don’t have the requisite licence when stopped. An unknown number of expats don’t bother to get their British bought vehicle MOT’d, or taxed. Not having the correct licence will be sudden death.

If you’re planning a European trip or you live there, purchase an International Driving Permit (IDP). IDPs are currently sold at just 90 Post Office or by two private companies. (I am allergic to online private companies – you have no rights when things go wrong. Stick to a good old Post Office.) The Permits are valid for 12 months and cost £5.50, but expect that to rise as Brit agencies are overwhelmed by applications. From 1 February 2019, the number of Post Offices selling IDPs will increase to 2,500 what’s in a number? – and the two mail order companies will cease to sell them.

And just when you thought it safe to go on the road … complications arise given there are two types of IDP. One is governed by the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, while the other is covered by the 1968 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.

Year 1968 IDPs won’t be sold until 1 February, post-dated to start on 28 March 2019. This is because the UK ratified the 1968 convention to start on that date in preparation for the UK leaving the EU.

Ah, yes, our English cousins are about to make anything traffic orientated and European highly complicated, frustration and cries of anger just a simple matter.

No apologies for another Brexit article; there will be lots more as consequences unfold.


Rip off airport fees

Just when we thought motorists couldn’t be hit with any more spurious car-related costs, fines, fees, taxes or other financial penalties, some of Britain’s airports are now charging Saudi Arabian fees for those of us who have the temerity to drop off or pick up loved ones outside departure or inside arrival buildings. Whether you’re forced to spend £3 for five minutes at Manchester Airport, or you’re hit with a £1-per-minute charge at Edinburgh, your shirt and first born for longer, you’re being comprehensively and cynically fleeced. Not long ago I misread a long-stay parking sign thinking its said £35 for Friday to Monday. On my Monday return I was charged £35 a day! Lesson: Take a taxi!”

Edinburgh Cycle Hire Scheme

Feet of fire cycling hero Mark Beaumont helped launch Edinburgh’s brand new cycle hire scheme- 200 ‘Just Eat’ bikes. (Corporate domination marches on!) Cycles are available at nineteen locations across the city for everyone to use- well, not everyone, one-legged grannies and dogs are not encouraged to participate. (Dogs don’t have fingers to ring the bell.) Later this year the fleet will increase to 1,000, with further hire points to be added over time. A quick circle cycle on one tells you the saddle will fit most bum cracks. The bikes are comfortable and easy-to-use. Drivers will be pleased more cyclists will  be on the road diving in and around them to honk at or harass.

Jaguar on 3-day week

That barometer of the pseudo-British car industry Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has indicted stormy weather ahead.  It has put more than 3,000 staff  on a three-day week at its Castle Bromwich plant in the West Midlands, only hours after the carmaker was accused of “scaremongering” about the impact of Brexit by Colonel Blimp, the Brexit-Tory MP Bernard Jenkins. JLR said it had made the decision to reduce production because it’s wrestling with papier-mâché heads in the Cabinet Office- sorry, I’ll write that again: because it’s wrestling with the impending folly caused by Brexit and dead-as-a-doornail sales of diesel-powered cars. For staff, Christmas has come too early.

Posted in Transportation | 9 Comments

The Power of the SNP


This is a picture of power.  The SNP has almost none.

Open a newspaper any day, any week and you’ll read any number of right-wing inspired news smears of the SNP claiming it an authoritarian party, so right-wing it’s fascist. Since newspapers are predominately right-wing you’d think they be very happy about that.

The list of accusations includes cabinet members under threat of expulsion to the Outer Hebrides if they depart from the week’s approved narrative, (exactly what that is nobody knows) power is deliberately centralised, (let’s not talk about London) SNP membership is ignored in favour of Sturgeon’s hobbyhorses, (how do you ignore almost 150,000 members?) and the latest, Salmond is Alex The Barbarian.

The power elite are never short of a hare to set us running to catch it.

The SNP inhabits a parliamentary system rigged to ensure no party has an overall majority, especially not the SNP. Fine for other parties, crippling for the  champions of Scotland’s rights. Theoretically a Unionist party has more power running Scotland by the fact its ideologically locked into British rule, harnessed to nurture a British colonial agenda. A Union party can achieve consensus simply by telling people a new law or tax they’re wary off is actually a good thing, welcomed by the ‘rest of the Great Britain’.

No matter what the SNP does to mitigate neo-liberal economic policies forced on Scotland, better known as austerity, opposition politicians can and do portray the SNP’s efforts as wasted, or inept, or not what the majority want. Their tactic is uncomplicated- constant, relentless negative carping creates a climate of acceptance, a conventional wisdom. The public begin to feel there is some truth in the criticism.

As a nation’s elected administration, in a parliament where MSP’s are given seats who were rejected by voters, the SNP has very little power … with one important exception.

Power to the people

The one ability the SNP has to influence the behaviour of others is the one feared most by Unionist parties – it can hand power back to the people of Scotland, overnight, in a single vote. Citizen power is everything in a democracy.  That’s the big weapon people have against state authoritarianism. Be advised, democratic power is a very fragile thing.

If the Tory Party in London get their way the SNP will be emasculated once Brexit’s power grab hands a veto to Westminster. The Tories will have successfully taken all power back into its hands, reduced the United Kingdom to a group of vassal provinces, and ensured Scotland won’t regain its independence this century. The British right-wing plans to block the electorate’s right to remain associated with Europe and European culture and ideals.

In that event, like William Wallace, Scotland will be hung drawn and quartered. A second referendum is as good as dead.

On the other hand, the SNP can never morph into an authoritarian party because it has no giant corporate support, no financial institutions in its pocket. The SNP commands no army to impose order. Our regiments went south a decade ago.

The enemy is not the SNP

Real power lies with the wealthy and the politicians who do their dirty work. No wonder we take an instant dislike to them. It saves time. The arrogance of the rich and multinational corporations who stashed almost £20 trillion in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and now demand that their respective governments impose an austerity agenda on the rest of us is astonishing.

You can tell an authoritarian regime a mile off. To begin with they never offer referendums. The notion the people can overturn anything is at odds with the doctrine of absolute control. They share other key hallmarks: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, (Scotland does not have a free press, it has an owned press) intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit from their own selfish financial interests. That sounds like Westminster to me. It has gangster toff Jacob Rees-Mogg written all over it.

Tory ideology is deeply connected to a network of multi-billionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything, self-made men who worship their creator.

The rise of the far-Right

The right-wing has been very successful getting governments to introduce draconian laws to limit free speech, travel, and in Scotland’s case, the right to vote.

Ten years ago political scholars expressed concern about austerity as a means of control, ignoring the unemployed, the withdrawal of state welfare, running down state health services, disenfranchising whole sections of the populace. Who would have imagined the rise of far-right groups in Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Hungary or Turkey to the extent some adherents now hold positions of office in governments? They don’t hold power yet, but they are able to infiltrate and influence the democratic process to their own ends. We have to drive them out. It is dangerous to tolerate their existence.

Who would have foreseen the rise of Nigel Farage exploit the disillusioned by invoking the spirit of Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell, or be aided and abetted in his goals by the nice genteel British Broadcasting Corporation?

The far-Right is a contagion

On the international stage we laughed when a Ronald Reagan, a B-list actor, got to be president of the United States of America, and Arnie Schwarzenegger became governor of California. No surprise, then, that a class narcissist and congenital liar is now president at the United States. We failed to notice they were scouts for what was to come.

It’s also hard to imagine only a year ago that Israel’s cowboy regime of Netanyahu would have moved to pass the recent “nation state law”, which essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. Of course, he’s very confident of getting away with racist policies. He has Trump’s support.

In Hungary, the far-right authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán is openly sooking up to Putin. It’s not clear to what extent Putin supports him, but he is listening to him. In China, an inner circle led by Xi Jinping has steadily consolidated power, clamping down on domestic political freedom while it aggressively promotes authoritarian capitalism.

Look carefully at Britain and ask yourself if there is a difference.

The SNP is no one’s performing monkey

The SNP is not in close contact with any of those nations. But those nations, or at least those far-Right groups within them, are in touch with each other. They share tactics and, as in the case of European and American right-wing movements, even share some of the same funders. The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the nefarious Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News.

While the very rich get much richer, people are working longer hours for stagnating wages. We fear for our children’s future. Authoritarians exploit those economic anxieties creating scapegoats which put us at each other’s throats.

Where stands Scotland?

Scotland is surrounded by a cesspool of financialised capitalism. Old school capitalism that believed in the redistribution of wealth where it was made, that was philanthropic, is dead. The only reason to give a portion of your wealth away is to enhance your standing in society, to gain a knighthood, or reduce your taxes.

Where is the SNP’s power its enemies are so keen to disperse? I can answer that. It’s us. We can turn Scotland into a bastion of democratic progress, a contrarian society where endeavour is rewarded, the weak protected, and greed condemned.

It was that socialist turned independence supporter, Jimmy Reid who said he wanted to live in a land where the teacher asks, if you buy ten apples at a £1 each and sell them at £3 pounds each, what do you get, and a pupil answers, three months in jail for profiteering. That’s the society I’d like to live in.

The SNP is a party of all persuasions. Like the way society functions, it takes all sorts. It brings together people from all walks of life. It is collaborative and collegiate. We share a vision of prosperity, security and dignity for all.

Above all, the SNP is our only hope of banishing the bastards from our door.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 16 Comments

Car News: Brexit Bad

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits


Jaguar-Land Rover boss, Dr Ralph Speth. He isn’t smiling now

It was inevitable sooner rather than later one of the UK’s biggest car manufacturers would break ranks and scream ‘bollocks!’ at Theresa May. Jaguar-Land Rover stepped forward. Jaguar was among the first to warn of doom, or at least the parent company, the Indian steel conglomerate Tata, did the deed. Will we have to say ta ta tae Tata?

The company’s boss made a blistering criticism of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, condemning the xenophobic utterances of Tory Party leading Euro-sceptics who claim there’s “nothing to fear” about tumbling out of the EU without a deal.

Ralf Speth, the chief executive, spelled it out in big turbo-charged letters. He told the prime minister that the company’s factories faced grinding to a halt and “tens of thousands” of jobs in the sector lost if she failed to reach an agreement with Brussels. Speth was reacting to various Tory ministers preparing the Brit public for a no deal Brexit exit.

Readers will remember Theresa May’s first reassurances over leaving the EU was not to us, the electorate, but to car makers. She stated there would be no tariffs, or if there were, the UK government would use your and my taxes to compensate car makers. (I don’t recall voting for that!) The manufacturers went home mildly mollified but grumbling. That was when the Tory Party were ultra-confident the smelly, nasty non-black pudding eating Europeans would cave in and offer merry England all the deals it wanted, free of charge.

Ralph Speth’s full name is, Dr Ralph Dieter Speth, KBE FREng, German born, previously a successful BMW executive, no lover of English racism. He is unconvinced by English good mannered diplomacy where you don’t say what you mean, preferring to speak his mind when his company’s future is at stake.

In a surprise intervention at a car industry summit organised by the government, (no summit for you Scotties!) he described the prospect of a cliff-edge break with the EU as “horrifying”. Insiders say he got very animated and didn’t waste words. He sees Brexit as the “worst of times” for the UK. Germans caring for British economic health. How times have changed.

I can imagine Speth banging the table with his fist as if the Russian army was at the gates. Job of a lifetime, living away from home, and a crazy, deadbeat government is putting his sacrifice at risk. Moreover, he will have to lay off workers. Who wants to preside over failure imposed by a dumbass government?

Speth warned that a hard Brexit would cost his company £1.2bn a year, wiping out profits. He argued that getting car parts from Europe was in jeopardy. “What decisions will we be forced to make if Brexit means not merely that costs go up, but that we cannot physically build cars on time and on budget in the UK?”

Speth’s anger follows similar outpourings from industry chiefs, including Airbus and BMW. They are concerned about the potentially damaging consequences of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. He told the conference that friction at the border could jeopardise production to the value of £60m a day. He warned speed of production and delivery to sales outlets was essential – “Put bluntly, we will not be able to build cars”.

Reminding May’s cabinet of their blindness to the obvious, Speth added: It is cheaper for the company to make cars in Slovakia than Britain. “Six months from Brexit and uncertainty means that many companies are being forced to make decisions about their businesses that will not be reversed, whatever the outcome, just to survive.”

Well done, Tory Party. The wrecking ball is all yours now.

PS: (Slovakia? That wee country? Whit’s wrang wi’ Sco’land, ya numptie? Oh aye. Ah furgoat. Wur still in the stewpit cawd Yookay fir oor sins. Aye, we-urr tha’ real bampots.)


Fifth Gear back on screen

For a long time Top Gear’s mix of banter, laddite chat, casual right-wing colonialism, celebrity interviews, and sneer dominated  car  issues on television to such an extent broadcasters were reluctant to give the green light to other types of car programmes. In my television executive days I managed to see four car programme ideas turned down: classic car renovation, the corrupt world of car lobbying, a history of car design, and a consumer series devoted to car and garage complaints. Car nuts and petrolheads will be pleased to see ITV’s rendition of lads in cars canter and banter back again. Fifth Gear, the thinking man’s Top Gear has a new series, and, contrary to Clarkson’s whine women are useless with cars, Fifth Gear actually has women drivers doing some of the presentation. Fab Four, Vicki Butler-Henderson, Tiff Needell, Jason Plato and Jonny Smith are joined by guest presenters such as snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. The New series is shown on Quest freeview channel 37 in Central Scotland, and HD channel 114 Thursdays 9pm repeated Fridays. Enjoy.

Tesla woes

The motor industry hates Tesla, and Elon Musk specifically for upsetting the their monopolistic lazy, pile ’em high, sell ’em quick, ways. His company has had rotten press coverage since Musk announced his ambitions to electrify the planet’s highways. No wonder Tesla doesn’t use press advertising. What with alleged problems on assembly lines, fallout with executives, poor staff morale, Musk smoking pot while interviewed, sending a car into space tied on a rocket, Tesla on and off the Stock Market, and now keyless entry that’s easy to decode. Security researchers at a mouthful of a company called Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography – phew! – claim they were able to attack and clone two Tesla S cars, and so able to drive off with the vehicles. To be fair, they did the same on other high-end brands but only Tesla gets the publicity. Months back Tesla previously released a ‘pin to drive’ in response to concerns but the news is just as valid now to print by a hostile press.

The farmer’s friend

The honest old Landie, that hen house on wheels with panel gaps seen from space, is no longer produced by Land Rover. The company has announced they will produce an entire family of the mud-plugging, pig pulling, chicken carrying, stump lugging, jumped up army jeep to the motoring market. There will be a basic one with rubbers carpets, a van, a four and a seven seater, a luxury version, and a shiny short-wheelbase one for the aspiring young couple who like to wear green wellies most of the day. Cars are all about advertising your lifestyle, very little about getting from A to B.



Posted in Transportation | 4 Comments

Defoe the Union Spy


Daniel Defoe pilloried for seditious libel in 1703. Today’s Internet serves a similar purpose

Daniel Defoe left his mark on the world in two ways. Among many novels mostly forgotten with the exception of ‘Moll Flanders’, and an entire recycling plant of political pamphlets largely forgotten, he wrote the much filmed novel Robinson Crusoe. More’s the pity for Scotland, he laid the architecture of Unionist reasoning still exploited to this day.

English nationalism

One strand of Defoe’s thinking chimes with England’s current feverish search for cricket and warm beer purity. Defoe considered Englishness – heterogeneity – eradicated. This is a good place to start before analysing his influence on current politics.

In ‘General History’, a book in which Defoe expounds his theory that a union will see Scotland ‘regulated according to plan’, he compares Scottish hegemony with England’s.

“Tis true, England is more mixed in blood. The reason for this is plain, in that being a nation powerful in wealth, fruitful in soil, and above all, increasing in commerce, more nations have sought to settle among them, more people have flowed in upon them, from all parts of the world, blending their blood with the most ancient families, and have destroyed all that can be called National….” (‘General History’ p2)

A regular riposte from British Unionists today in arguments over immigration is the one about Scotland not suffering as England has and does from “uncontrolled immigration”. (No matter where they settle, colonial English tend not to see themselves as incomers.)

In the same treatise Defoe points out how Scots have somehow managed to preserve their ancient families. Paradoxically he goes on to argue both Scotland and England infiltrated by foreigners ‘by virtue of frequent invasions made upon them’.

This gives Defoe the excuse to suggest Scotland and England are better as one nation, Britain. Think about that; what Defoe is saying is what is said now, Scotland is safer from attack only if part of Britain. He says nothing of attack from England, a reality threatened if Scotland did not come to the negotiation table, or as in modern times, squanders its taxes on illegal wars.

In contradiction, Defoe is right there with the face both ways simultaneously, Unionist mind-set of contemporary British power.

Defoe the non-rebel rebel

Daniel Defoe (1659-1731) was born Foe, adding the ‘De’ to imply he had posh foreign ancestors, another contradiction in his quest for an English Britain.

Born in London, son of a butcher, his family were strict Puritans. Rebellion against a claustrophobic home life might be one reason he took a dislike to religions of the day except Presbyterianism, a rejection that in turn led to politics. He was certainly argumentative. His writing is not known for its humour but well skilled in contrariness.

He was a trader of tobacco, ale and wine – after the Act of Union, shipping them to Scotland, and was in and out of debtors courts so much that in time he turned to writing novels as a secondary income.

He was sharp, smart, his style acerbic and polemical. It was just as well that he had  talent for the pen because having eight children by his only wife couldn’t have helped his finances. He was driven to become wealthy, a sure reason in times of penury he happily took the English gold sovereign to be their spy.

Defoe the racist

Defoe was a racist, nothing odd in his day, or now in the English psyche, considering the endless wars England with Dutch, Spanish and French. He especially disliked the French.

Troubled by the pro-French, Jacobite ethos that persisted north of the border, he gravitated to Scotland  where his fellow Presbyterians were members of an established kirk. He set up shop as a trader. No sooner ensconced in Edinburgh, he began to write leaflets against Roman Catholics and Jacobites in particular. In time he came to feel that union would not just help Scotland economically, but would be good for Protestant England facing threats from the continent.

Defoe the Union spy

When Defoe went to Edinburgh in 1706, it was as a secret agent working for the Crown. Given the unpopularity of the proposed Union in Scotland, this was a risky move and an even riskier commission.

A contemporary reported Defoe was “a Spy amongst us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edinburgh had pulled him to pieces“. (Farage, please be advised.)

Defoe denied in print that he was a spy, but in private company he dropped his concealment and boasted of it. Showing off was typical of the man. There’s no doubting Defoe revelled in his role as spy. And why not? as Arnold Brown would say. A salaried spy gave Defoe status, a degree of executive authority, superiors listened to him, and he got well remunerated.

Defoe the chameleon

Defoe told his spymaster, the government minister Robert Harley, that he spoke to everybody “in their own way”, chameleon fashion.

He managed to appear the inquisitive journalist to lords, an expert in law to lawyers, the informed businessman to businessmen, and the honest broker to traders. he was adept at learning their jargon and using it to prize information from them. If speaking to an independence sympathiser he became one; if talking to a ditherer unsure of keeping Scotland separate from England’s rule he expressed similar doubts to theirs. He teased people towards a union.

A one-man publishing house

Defoe churned out hundreds of pages of pro-union propaganda, arguments familiar to students of modern Scottish history. They ranged from England being Scotland’s biggest trader, England being Scotland’s gateway to world trade – no need of another Darien-type adventure, and Scots should not be foreigners in Britain. (Yes, that old chestnut.)

Until then, Scotland had been a wealthier country per capita than England but Defoe helped promote the ‘too wee, too poor’ mantra that we hear to this day.

Behind the scenes he ghost-wrote speeches for the slow-witted and the inarticulate. That way he ensured conformity of opinion. He testified to a parliamentary committee, and made himself so indispensable that (as he later boasted) his proposals on taxing beer “stand in the Treaty of Union in my very words.” Defoe was a wizard with wily words.

A wizard with words

Just as Union propagandists today burnish their lies by omitting salient facts to spread doubt or spurious ‘alternative choices’, so did Defoe.

Take the moment in 1706 when protestors frustrated by their impotence to hold fast to their own country’s future attacked the Edinburgh home of Sir Patrick Johnston, one of the treaty negotiators. This is Crusoe’s description of the event:

“His Lady, in the utmost Despair with this Fright, comes to the Window, with two Candles in her Hand, that she might be known; and cryed out, for Gods Sake, to call the Guards: One Captain Richardson who Commanded, taking about thirty Men with him March’d bravely up to them; and making his way with great Resolution thro’ the Croud, they Flying, but Throwing Stones, and Hallowing at him, and his Men, he seized the Foot of the Stair Case; and then boldly went up, clear’d the Stair, and took six of the Rabble in the very Act; and so delivered the Gentleman and his Family.”

A straight talking man

Read the paragraph carefully and you see the dishonest journalist setting the precedent for today’s press hacks. Defoe was not there to witness the event but he makes it seem that he was. By adding small significant detail, Defoe implies he saw the attack happen: two candles in the lady’s hands, an approximation of “about thirty men”, and “six of the rabble in the very act”. Later in his report Defoe goes further by adding one of the crowd threw a stone at him for watching the fracas.

Defoe charges the rabble were all Jacobites. How did he know? Like an absent BBC Scotland head of news announcing independence supporters and Unionist supporters clashed in George Square, Defoe embellishes and in so doing purveys a lie. The event did happen, just not as he describes it.

We are subjected to those sly omissions and exaggerations daily by Unionist journalists and the thick end of councillors in their rush to kill democracy. A Daily Record headline to that story would be “SNP Mob Stone Journo”.

His propaganda literature is designed to convince a weak Scotland is under attack, and union is the only way to peace and stability. Pamphlet after pamphlet is written in this manner – the author at the centre of events, the expert warning of doom. No wonder he took to writing fiction novels late in life.

Defoe’s arch opponent

Defoe had on eloquent opponent. Indeed, people repeated key parts of his speech for years into the future, a speech made in 1706 to the Scottish Parliament supporting a free Scotland – John Hamilton Lord Belhaven and Stenton, a fiery advocate of Scotland’s sovereignty. His oration to the Parliament in Edinburgh became legendary.

The speech is too long for my purpose here, so I limit it to three excerpts.

“I see a free and independent Kingdom delivering up that, which all the World hath been fighting for since the Days of Nimrod; ….. a Power to manage their own Affairs by themselves, without the Assistance and Counsel of any other.

I speak this, my Lord, that I may encourage every individual Member of this House, to speak their Mind freely. There are many wise and prudent Men amongst us, who think it not worth their while to open their Mouths; there are others, who can speak very well, and to good Purpose, who shelter themselves under the shameful Cloak of Silence, from a Fear of the Frowns of great Men and Parties. To say, you’ll agree to the Union of the two Kingdoms, before you agree in the Terms upon which they are to be united, seems like driving the Plough before the Oxen. The delivering up of our Sovereignty, gives back with one Hand, what we receive with the other. There can be no Security without the Guarantee of a distinct Independency betwixt the Parties.

Good God! Is this an entire Surrender! My Lord, I find my Heart so full of Grief and Indignation, that I must beg Pardon not to finish the last Part of my Discourse, that I may drop a Tear, as the Prelude to so sad a Story.”

Ducking and diving Defoe

Defoe was too clever to scorn Belhaven. He didn’t ask smugly, “Do you have a Plan B?”

Just as Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches are admired, Belhaven’s was immensely popular. Street smart Defoe showed gracious respect for Belhaven’s statesmanship while planning to weaken it step by step, like a star fish cracking open a whelk to suck out the innards.

It took him almost a year to create an alternative opinion that opined, far from a powerful cri de cœur on behalf of sovereignty of the Scots, Belhaven resorted to a romantic, clans and broadsword, ancestral infused argument, a backward vision wholly unsuited to the new, thrusting age that a union promised.

Defoe wanted a union united in speaking English and reading English. And he knew enough to state that ethos should be consistent and for all time. Reading his pamphlets one gets a whiff of the arrogant Englishman telling Scots how to live better.

The intellectual tension between Defoe and Belhaven continued until Belhaven’s death in 1708. Belhaven was certain, as were other of his mind, that a colonial doctrine spelled the end of  Scotland. Moreover, he also argued it would eliminate ‘England’ as a distinct nation – and in many respects he was correct.

The saddest nation

Had there been one person, one vote, union with England would never have seen the light of day. The mass of the populace were violently, passionately opposed to it. Petitions mounted in their hundreds. Looking objectively, petitions were irrelevant, power was in the hands of the few… just as it is to this day.

Defoe was the forerunner of the conformist opinionated pundit. His malicious influence continues to stalk the independence debate. With the removal of Scotland’s regiments, English votes for English laws, forced withdrawal from Europe, endless imposed austerity, there is no union left but you’d never believe that to listen to Unionist politicians. Defoe would be proud of them.

Sadly for Defoe, the future of the Britain is just as ambiguous now as it was when presented as a ‘union of equals’ by Defoe and his confederacy of lies.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 11 Comments

Car News: Poor Service

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits


The best dealers employ the best mechanics. They can fix a racing car

I take my wee Smart Car to my local Mercedes-Smart dealership. The building is a few millions pounds of tiled showroom and wall-to-wall glass. The overheads must be huge. Staff pass you purposefully this way and that clutching folders or files. The one who stands still is the one at the reception desk with the welcoming smile.

There’s a decent breakfast to be had at the coffee bar if you have an early morning visit that serves good coffee, and a chin wag with the floosy who isn’t choosy about who she serves.  You can chill out  in a carpeted lounge with comfy seats, a television and newspapers and listen to an Aberdonian farmer explain why he bought the luxury saloon and not the basic version, and how he thinks “the SNP are the worst thing tae happon tae Scotland, mon”. There’s also the cleanest toilets I’ve seen in any dealer.

The car is returned washed. Great service and the feeling you’re really siting at home is the one sure way to subdue anxiety and you’ll use the dealer for servicing and repair.

Best of all, if actually at home, Smart e-mail a video with a running commentary from the engineer of the parts of your car that need fixed.

Only once did Merc-Smart let me down – five greasy fingers prints left on the door of the glove compartment by a careless mechanic. It took three scrubs to remove them.

Not getting you car back washed is a common gripe from owners, but the main one is cars returned with the notified fault still not fixed or made worse. In some cases it can be a new fault that wasn’t there when the car went into the workshop!

A quarter of all complaints registered with dealers concern faults going unidentified or not fixed to instruction. After faults come cars not ready when promised. Customer service, poor staff communication or none at all, is the third gripe, a daily occurrence.

You might expect to get the biggest bills from the biggest, flashiest dealers, but aside of luxury car showrooms such as Bentley or Aston Martin, dealers are praised for trying to keep bills low, or offering discounts to regular clients. (The small independent garage that services most any car will do a cash deal if there’s no materials involved. Don’t be afraid to haggle.)

If you can’t get to the franchised dealer because of commitments now that many are located on the outskirts of cities, they will collect and return your car. A satisfied client is a happy client, but an unexpected cost on a basic service can ruin your day and week.

Who offers the worst and the best service? The car world do an annual survey.

Bottom of the heap is Land Rover. The one I drove some years back for rough terrain work was a lemon. It wasn’t a Friday car, it was the rule. According to client feed-back, about the only thing the company gets right is loaning a courtesy car. I trust it isn’t another Land Rover. Everything else is rated poor. The situation is a mystery. Land Rovers and Range Rovers are everywhere, with more models to come. Status must be a higher priority that reliability or repair costs. I think lots must be bought on deposit and a monthly plan, traded for a newer model in year three.

Top of the tree is Lexus, the favoured SUV for mothers taking Jemima and Tristan to school and back, or shopping at Sainsbury’s. Lexus has a habit of getting everything right, staff courtesy, communication, standard of work, speed in completing the work, and has pleasant dealer facilities. The one  problem, to my eyes, is they sell ugly cars, at least the external design is plonking, a crass attempt to have them stand out from the crowd.

Very close to Lexus is Honda, often the dark horse in automotive competition. This is the company that invented a small attachment to engines that  did what cumbersome expensive catalytic convertors do, but Honda’s clever invention got blocked by US car giants. They had bought into the cat manufacturing business. (Electric cars will put an end to their we scam.) Honda sells only a few models but manages to make the extra effort. Only their facilities let them down. Whatismore, like Skoda, Honda has a reputation for good reliability which helps keep running costs low, but Skoda’s quality of servicing is only just above average.

In between Land Rover and Lexus are all the others brands, with Citroen near the top, giving the finger to opinionated driver’s who consider French cars iffy. They’re half-right because Renault is at the other end of the charts. At the moment, Citroen is one of the few companies doing its best to produce innovative ideas in design and hitting the target most times.


Diesel not do

Almost every manufacturers has announced they have deleted or will delete diesel engine models from their forthcoming range. Volvo has gone so far to say it won’t produce another diesel car, full stop. Pre-owned diesel cars and SUVs will probably hold their value as they become scarce and buyers look for short-term bargains, but values generally will crash in time. We’ve come a long way from diesel fuel cheaper than petrol, (it’s now more expensive) and a diesel vehicle the one to choose for good miles to the gallon. Progress on controlling emissions has a long way to go, however, there are trucks, vans, taxis and buses wedded to the stuff.

McCartney’s Mini

When a penniless student I bought a bright orange Mini on its last legs, and used it to tour around the costal roads of our wondrous land. I slept in it overnight and washed in the nearest burn (brook/stream) next morning. I kept it for the summer, sold it in the autumn. I thought then and still do, small cars the ideal urban runabout. But it gave me severe backache from its useless, bendy seats. It cost £260. Ex-Beatle and Wings songsmith Paul McCartney has seen his original Austin Mini sold at auction. In a pleasant Sixties sage green, he pimped it discreetly with a Webasto folding roof, quarter lights in the front to allow the installation of power windows, a wooden dash, bespoke wooden steering wheel, and Aston Martin tail lights. He didn’t think to create a rear hatch for greater practicality, a feature in the initial drawings but stupidly deleted from the production model. McCartney used it a lot in Los Angeles, and it end up renovated in a museum. It was auctioned for £182.000. I sold mine for £220. That’s the price of fame.

Dash cameras

Once it was furry dice, and then bulky 8-track players. Those were followed by television screens in the rear of headrests, rear parking cameras, lately Sat-Nav, and now dash cameras are the latest must-have car gadget. Personally, I like  cars with few gadgets because there’s less to go wrong. People buy cameras as an aid to insurance claims. Presumably if you are the one at fault in an accident the recording in the dash-cam won’t feature. They are good for cyclists, and bikers, but dash tops are seeing a plethora of digital clutter stuck on them that take the driver’s eye off the road. There are all sorts of solutions to hiding a dash-cam such as incorporating it in the front of the rear view mirror, but the cheapest are the ones you stick on the dash. Car makers and aftermarket companies are forever thinking up wheezes to divest you of your hard earned cash. The cheapest camera is about $250 before fitting. This all getting very silly.

Posted in Transportation | 10 Comments