Outlaw King – a review

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Chris Pine is a good name to head a Scots costume drama, that or Douglas Fir

This exciting film is like a Bruegel canvas, so many interesting things happening at once for the eye to take in you hardly know what to concentrate upon. One unexpected but gratifying outcome of seeing this film and one easily predicable spring to mind as I write this review. I was proud to see so many of my graduates from Scotland’s Youth Theatre in major roles, the theatre I founded and was artistic director. One of the earliest, Tam Dean Burns, I personally auditioned. He was a tall, gangling, eccentric figure with a marvellous face. I asked him why he wanted to join a theatre company. His answer carried the ring of certainty “I’m an accountant. I dinnae want tae do it anymore”.

The second observation is the number of English critics who give the film a few stars and gloss over the history because they know so little of Scotland, and the few who have rubbished the work as worthy, plodding, fit “only for nationalists”. Let the bigots eat dirt. This is a gloriously energetic and intelligent epic, gripping from start to finish. And it has the wonderful, spirit raising dividend of panoramic images of the Highlands of Scotland.

When the film was premiered in the Toronto Film Festival it was 20 minutes longer – three hours – the first section of a movie being where you lay out the backstory of the main characters. The current release has severed – the correct word for a film oozing in blood and gore – a lot of exposition, verbal and visual, in some cases leaving a vacuum of character detail on interesting combatants preeminent in the history of a nation’s defiance. Also, a few minor roles are left high and dry, at least to the practiced eye.

David Mackenzie is emerging as a great Scottish director, co-founder of the Glasgow based Sigma Films. Outlaw King cements his reputation beyond his superb Texas cops and robbers Hell or High Water. The last film he made set in Scotland was in 2003, Young Adam, a sombre adaptation of the novel set in 1950s Glasgow.

Tackling Robert the Bruce’s disasters and triumphs, one of Scotland’s most revered heroes, is courageous, all the more so since Mackenzie follows the Oscar winning Braveheart with its similar theme of Scotland’s bloody struggles to retain its nationhood against the belligerence of a mighty neighbour state.

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Stephen Dillane plays Edward I, smart, self-absorbed, and bored to his teeth

The film begins with a statement, “Based on the life of Robert the Bruce’, a gentle reminder to the philistine and the happy Union Jack waving Anglophile that creative licence is the very stuff of drama.

Outlaw King begins where Braveheart left off, with an uncertain Bruce (Chris Pine) pledging allegiance to Edward I (Stephen Dillane) knowing his father (James Cosmo) would not trust the English Crown as far as he could kick it into the Clyde. Then again, Edward has promised to give back seized lands to Scotland’s nobility in return for homage. Equated with modern Scotland we see token powers given back in the infamous ‘Vow’ so long as the union is respected. Think on it, why would you be thankful if a thief demanded a portion of your monthly salary in return for handing back property they’d stolen? Was co-writer Mackenzie conscious of these parallels? Only he can say.

Bruce is needled into a sword bash with the spoiled Prince of Wales, (Billy Howle) a well educated dolt, the precursor to every Etonian toff ever. What follows is a scene of medieval ladism, the equivalent of who can pee highest up a tent pole. Bruce is mature beyond his years and doesn’t let himself be ensnared by junior rivalry.

The self-doubting prince has more troubles than an intimidating Scot. He sports the worst pudding bowl haircut in the whole of merry England, a bad copy, I fear, of Lawrence Olivier’s in the 1944 propaganda war version of Henry V.

The effete prince is no fighting match for a swarthy posh Scot, one of two potential contenders for Scotland’s Crown, a man who eats thistles for salads. After leaving the prince humiliated in the mud, Bruce strides back into Edward’s tent to be given the hand in marriage of Edward’s goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh, (Florence Pugh) the daughter of one of the most powerful Irish nobles around, the Earl of Ulster.

The betrothal is the seal on a permanent truce, Scotland with England. Throughout all this Bruce remains decidedly phlegmatic, a man of few words. This is a leader of men who doesn’t need to say very much to make his feelings known.

From there it’s back outside the Royal tent once more. Pulling back, Mackenzie reveals a gigantic catapult – Edward’s latest war toy – and has him cut its rope, swinging a massive flaming projectile straight at us, we recoil, before it cuts through the air in the opposite direction and explodes on the ramparts of a distant castle. Bruce is unimpressed by Edward’s bravura.

Before continuing this critique I must add that this entire opening sequence is filmed in a single take, the conceit of ambitious directors since Orson Welles first managed the feat of perfect timing in his classic 1958 noir, Touch of Evil. The technique is easier to achieve these day – hand-held cameras as light as a bag of crisps. All that’s needed are actors who won’t muff their lines and be on their mark at the precise moment required of them.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes a suitably passionate and fiery ‘Black Douglas’ 

With his second wife, Elizabeth, now looking after the child of his dead first wife, Bruce begins an uneventful life as a jobbing earl with estates, but two things turn his and Scotland’s future upside down.

On a day in town he comes upon an angry rioting mob braying for blood at the capture and killing of William Wallace, sentenced hung drawn and quartered by Edward though he carried a letter of Royal protection when arrested on his way to negotiations in London. Bruce is shocked to see the arm and shoulder of Wallace strung up on the town’s Mercat Cross, a warning to the enemies of England’s power.

The crass and criminal act echoes David Cameron’s overweening bumptiousness when in September 2014 he strode balls high to a Downing Street microphone and announced the parliament of the United Kingdom was dropping pretense of being a four nations assembly. It was England’s Parliament. Scotland lost the vote for independence; see how its weakness is punished.

Bruce’s second error was to stab his opponent for the Scottish Crown, Sir John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, (Callan Mulvey) in Greyfriars Kirk, Dumfries. He had met him to seek support for a campaign of insurrection but was refused. History is unsure exactly what happened in the kirk. It is said the long-time enemies had a fight, Bruce wounded ‘Red’ Comyn in the shoulder in a fit of pique. On the way out his friend, Roger de Kirkpatrick said ‘You doubt. Ise mac siccar’ – I’ll make sure – and entered to finish the job. Bruce as the only killer is quite acceptable – it tells us he’s capable of homicidal violence.

Bruce assembles clan support to help rid Scotland of English garrisons and  plundered land but is caught unawares while camping with his men late at night. After the defeat at the Battle of Methven on 19 June 1306, Bruce, now crowned King of Scotland with the blessing of the Church, sends Elizabeth, his nine year-old daughter Marjorie (Josie O’Brien) by his first marriage, and sisters Mary and Christina to Kildrummy Castle, under the protection of his brother Niall.

The English lay siege to the castle containing the royal party. (The siege succeeded when the English bribed a blacksmith with “all the gold he could carry” to set fire to the corn store.) The victors hang, draw and quarter Niall Bruce, along with all the men from the castle. However, the royal women under the escort of the Earl of Atholl have fled.

They are taken from the sanctuary of St. Duthac at Tain by the Earl of Ross, a supporter of the Comyns, and dispatched to King Edward. He imprisons Bruce’s sister Mary and Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, in wooden cages erected on the walls of Roxburgh and Berwick castles respectively, and then sends Bruce’s daughter Marjorie to the nunnery at Watton.

Elizabeth is held under poor conditions of house arrest in England for eight years, released after the battle of Bannockburn is won. The Earl of Atholl was hanged and his head displayed on London Bridge. English hospitality has a way of alienating tourists.

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Florence Pugh is Bruce’s love interest, too often reduced to the hassled housewife

From hereon war between Scotland and England is assured and Bruce runs from one hiding place to another as English chase him down and Scottish clans betray his presence. These sequences give Scotland’s cinemagoers satisfying confirmation that they live in a country of unparalleled topographical grandeur blessed with unique light. Scene after scene makes you proud to live in a land of plenty though scarred by invasions and treachery.

Verdant braes and crag and scree lie under dramatic skies and boats on crystal lochs are captured in the sensitive lens of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and his Second Unit. Credit is due to the crew who moved actors, extras and equipment from one mountainous location to the next. Almost every castle that can be reached is used to its full extend, including Blackness Castle, home to many a film shoot. Mackenzie had the luxury of a big budget that allowed him to places normally out of geographical bounds.

Chris Pine gives us a Bruce who is made of Scots pine, hard, tough, and a great place to shelter when the storm is raging. His large forehead is perfect to get bespattered with mud and blood. His Bruce is a thinker. There are key moment we know he has come to a decision merely by a slight shift in his gaze. Bruce is a tactician who learned his trade from the hit and run tactics of the guerrilla, and step by step brought them together in arguably Scotland’s greatest victory over England’s power, at Bannockburn. Pine carries just enough authority and a decent Scots accent – not localised in any way – to grow into the role of King of Scots. Is there a Scottish actor who could have taken on the role? Most certainly, but not sufficiently popular internationally to secure a Netflix budget.

There are too many supporting cast to list, but all, everyone, gives us fully rounded characterization, and all seem able to ride a horse and wield a broadsword or swing a halberd. Stephen Dillane is plausible as a workaday world weary Edward I, free of the eccentricities of Patrick McGoohan’s version in Braveheart.

In fact, there’s not a weak link in the chain, not even a glaiket extra staring at the camera as it passes him, or wearing a watch. By all accounts the shoot was a happy affair and it shows in the cohesion of ensemble acting.

I can add that it was good to see James Cosmo move from his role in Braveheart to Bruce’s father in Outlaw King. Not once did I feel he was selling me a bank account.

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The Battle of Loudoun hill – a dizzying array of stunts, flying horses, and vengeance

Had she been given more scenes Pine would have been matched in acting chops by Florence Pugh as Elizabeth his wife. Pugh (why no poetic surname?) has here only one scene in which she asserts her personality over male misogyny. After that she is the archetypical harassed wife. That said, very little is known of Elizabeth. She was imprisoned for much of the time Bruce was baiting English regiments, so Mackenzie  can’t be blamed for the brief chances we get to see this fine actress grace the screen.

The final battle is not as we expect, not Bannockburn, but the last in Bruce’s hit and run campaign, a modest battle at Loudoun Hill in Ayrshire in 1307. Violent and bloodcurdling, as it must have been, I didn’t think a movie battle could surpass the opening sequence in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, but Loudoun goes above and beyond.

It was a battle reminiscent of Stirling Bridge, boggy ground opened up and spiked to filter English horsemen into a narrow line easy to pick off. You hold your breathe every minute as you witness the carnage. Bruce is no Butcher Cumberland. Wounded English are allowed to go home.

I did miss Bannockburn, a twinge of regret we could not see how Bruce pulled together everything he had learned to show his generalship in full glory against the most powerful army of his time. His greatest weapon was his intimate knowledge of the Scottish countryside, which he used to his advantage. Perhaps that is for another film, the planning of it, the battle itself, and the aftermath.

To be appreciated, hats are doffed for the stunt men, and the horses in particular. Horses pack almost every scene in the film, a major organisation in itself. Cinema is always the better off for prancing, galloping magnificent steeds.

Jane Petrie deserves an Oscar for costume design. I found myself inspecting boots for rubber soles and things as small as the stitching on a battle dress for any sign of a sewing machine. Extras are suitably grimy as if they’d lived in a Scottish village all their life.

Weaknesses? A candle lit soft porn scene between Bruce and Elizabeth supposedly to tell us their marriage is consummated; a few too many characters too swiftly introduced and then given too little to say, sacrificed for pace of story telling; a truly cringe-worthy final scene on a sandy beach straight out of Hollywood’s Ten Worst Hackneyed Images; and sadly Jim Sutherland’s music. Mackenzie gives us a thoroughly modern costume drama, Sutherland gives us an old fashioned score. It’s fine, just unmemorable.

Patrons in the packed cinema I attended stood to their feet and cheered. A three star movie? Those reviewers are brain dead. Five stars.

  • Star Rating: Five stars
  • Cast: Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Florence Pugh, and lots of horses
  • Director: David Mackenzie
  • Writer: Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie
  • Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
  • Composer: Jim Sutherland
  • Duration: 2 hours 8 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 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?
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Posted in Film review, Scottish Politics | 10 Comments

A Declaration of Independence

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Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson study their draft for the American Declaration of Independence. Scotland’s version is below.

PREAMBLE

Is there a more auspicious time than now to affix a declaration of Scottish independence upon the village marker post? The line of nations governed by Britain, small, medium and dominions, freed of British authority stretches around the globe; none quaked in fear and foreboding at the loss of Westminster rule. They are:

Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Ceylon, Cyprus, Dominic, Egypt, Fiji, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Iraq – though they pretty well helped destroy Iraq since – Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka – deep breath – Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Phew! But not you, Scotland!

Return of a country by a colonial government to its indigenous population is always a slow and reluctant process. Unrest is met by ridicule, delay, token gestures of self-rule and finally a schedule of withdrawal, or if stubborn as hell, the usurper thrown out.

An England in crisis. 

The English are in the throes of their own peculiar revolution. That is their right. They are welcome to whatever it is they feel better than what they have now. That right does not include subsuming Scotland into the perilous journey they have embarked upon.

Scotland, tired of a belligerent, unstable neighbour planting Union Jacks everywhere, is at the tipping point. An ugly side of England’s nature previously dormant is encouraged by its leaders as acceptable. Scotland has no choice but to halt the advance of unreason or be mired in it for years to come. Where we are is not a healthy or safe place to stay.

Independence now

The myth that Scotland is wedded to a one-way union permanently is a monumental falsehood. All out-dated agreements are open to renegotiation, emendation or deletion, particularly when they have no defined life written into them.

What better course than to achieve full democracy by declaring independence, working with our neighbour to achieve that cherish ideal, fixed and irrevocable. No need to chuck chests of good tea into a harbour bay – let’s sit around a table and create a new order.

 

A DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE

 

The history of the relationship between Scotland and England is a history of the dominant nation’s repeated injuries, encroachments, infiltration, and seizures of assets and laws, alternating with promises made and promises broken, while Scots die for the warring causes of its neighbour in foreign lands Scotland did not want nor have dispute, all of this having the undesirable object of causing resentment to swell and creating a tyranny over Scotland’s sovereignty, resources, and people.   

To prove this, let facts be submitted to the court of the world. Westminster rule imposes the following restrictions and controls over the sovereignty of Scotland:

It has stopped Scotland’s elected government from facilitating a Second Referendum, a legal and moral duty to give its populace the right to exercise free will in the matter of self governance. By dissembling it delays democracy. The Scottish Government was given a clear mandate by the people to honour their trust in the event of a material alteration in the formal association with England, namely the forced removal of Scotland by England from the European Union.

By effectively annulling the right of the Scottish Parliament to remain a member of the European Union on its own terms, in association and friendship, Westminster has impoverished the people of Scotland in goods, exports and imports, fishing rights, exchange of research, medicines, medical equipment, security information, opportunities for employment and freedom of travel, but above all, in happiness.

*****

It enacted the injustice of EVEL – ‘English votes for English laws’ – a Bill within the United Kingdom Parliament that is an umbrella institution not an English only parliament, but has rendered it so by this gross act and by the permanent number of English constituency members being far greater than Scottish Members. 

It kept among us, in past times of peace, standing armies to quell dissent and without the consent of our legislatures, and in these times removed entire regiments to England leaving Scotland vulnerable to invasion by foreign forces including terrorists, or without a full domestic army to assist in times of national emergency, such as fire, floods, storm, avalanche, or other natural disasters.

It removed territorial waters of the North Sea and the oil riches beneath from the ownership and jurisdiction of Scotland, effectively plundering our seas and used the profits almost exclusively to benefit England’s needs and political objectives. Scotland is the poorer losing billions of pounds sterling annually that were surely its to spend for the benefit of its people.

*****

It established a Supreme Court that usurps the Law Of Scotland in most regards, a court contrary to the sacrosanct laws of Scotland, protected in the Acts of Union but now overruled, a judiciary that was once the absolute law in the land. And it has removed access to the European Court of Justice, and absolved itself of the Council of Human Rights to such a degree it can do as it pleases without sanction by international law.

It withholds any number of laws and regulations as ‘reserved matters’ that should be the right of Representation in the Scottish Legislature, a right inestimable to the population, powers that are generally held paramount and protected for the proper governance of a kingdom.

It prevents Scotland from holding laws that welcome the naturalization of foreigners who wish to live and work in Scotland; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations here, and forceably repatriate citizens who have been domiciled in Scotland for many years, contributing to their community and to the general economy, removing them from family and friends without mercy.

*****

It retains taxes of all sorts and profits from Scottish enterprises, goods and exports to spend on England’s own infrastructure and projects and gives back only a small percentage as an annual allowance. This robbery includes the taxes raised for a national broadcaster that spends three-quarters of its Scottish fees outside Scotland and not on Scottish licence holders. Scotland is unable to redress the balance because of its minimal representation.

It general it has made English power independent and superior to Scotland’s civil powers such the imposition of taxes without Scotland’s consent, including the Poll Tax and the Bedroom tax, leaving Scotland to mitigate those impositions by its own limited means. 

It has attacked the very foundation of the Welfare State by removing great parts of it in England to be sold to private companies and services, and in so doing, opening Scotland to aggressive infiltration by those same profiteers, leaving the sick, the vulnerable, the old and the unemployed to the vestiges of fate.

*****

It has activated insurrections amongst us in the form of groups of peoples wholly antagonistic to full democracy, motivated to limit or halt civil and constitutional progress. This affront to Scotland’s political ambitions is augmented by funding and supporting political parties that wish to see Scotland remain subservient and servile to England’s power.

It has used Scotland’s taxes and inventions for the development and procurement of lethal weapons to kill and murder innocents of other lands with impunity, contrary to the humanity and tolerance of the Scottish population and laws governing human rights. It resides weapons of mass destruction in Scottish waters and on Scottish soil that are unwanted by a large portion of the populace. In addition, it has transported armies of soldiers and bomber planes, drones and foreign mercenaries to carry out the command of barbarous acts and death and desolation against our brethren, totally unworthy of a civilized nation. 

It appoints to Westminster’s Second House, the House of Lords, people from various walks of life and political parties not of Scottish loyalty, to govern the laws that affect Scotland and its people yet each unelected by the people. And in so doing, and by withdrawal from agreed European Law, both Houses have taken unto themselves the right of veto over all Scottish laws and progress.

*****

We the undersigned agree that this situation is intolerable and oppressive. Time and time again our representatives have appealed to England’s magnanimity to no effect, they remaining deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We wish to become a free state once more, as other free states that have full power to contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do the things which independent states are free to do.

We state here and now that England is unfit to govern Scotland. We wish to absolve ourselves of loyalty to the decrepit Treaty of Union and the fractured United Kingdom, and to exercise the right to negotiate with England a new and far better relationship that embodies honour, equality and mutual respect. 

*****

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 47 Comments

Widows – a review

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‘Widows’ – the proverbial witches coven in conference

This is the first film by Steve McQueen that doesn’t have Michael Fassbinder as its star, and five years since his Academy winning 12 Years a Slave. As I discovered, you’re only as good as your last film but you can’t dine out on it forever.

If your last film was so-so or a failure, make another as soon as possible, or look for a job selling real estate. McQueen is a fine story teller and he knows how to edit film to suit the material – he has his next film lined up before he finishes the one he’s working on.

Interesting that multiple Oscar winner McQueen would take the career lift from 12 Years A Slave and invest it all in a twists and turns thriller like Widows. While this film is populated by excellent black American actors it’s actually a white cops and robbers story, well, mostly robbers. The police are limited to a car chase.

Widows began life as a British television series, the original writer Lynda La Plante. I admit now I never watched more than ten minutes of it. At the time it read too much like an episode of Coronation Street in killer high heels and power suits. What McQueen has done is to raise its quality for the big screen and shape key roles to empower a multi-racial cast, a refreshing touch that isn’t Oceans Eleven plus little Sammy Davis Junior doing a tap dancing routine. That’s subversive and the result is powerful.

Widows is an intelligent drama with lots of twists and turns to keep us happy if we dare grow too familiar with the characters. And its very intelligent, a carefully balanced mixture of a heist movie that weaves into the plot the inner life of its main players.

Standing back for a broader view and you notice the morality in the story is tit-for-tat, an eye-for-and eye. There is a 70s soft porn sequence which took me by surprise appearing in an otherwise mature work that’s stark, violent and downright cynical. Oh, and there’s a very well behaved chubby West Highland Terrier in a supporting role.

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Colin Farrell buttons and unbuttons his jacket a lot

All the women are caring, thoughtful, strong and real, and almost too capable when their backs are up against the wall. Viola Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, a Chicago teachers’ union executive who – and this is the one implausible element – happens to be married to a very successful career criminal, Harry (Liam Neeson). The film opens with a lose head shot of them in bed eating each other’s face off, which made me squirm. Usually Neesen brings great dignity to his roles, this sooky-slurpy moment is puke-making.

Almost immediately we are thrown into a violent heist. The getaway truck belonging to Harry and his gang gets blown up in the sensational first sequence. Every so often we go back to this moment and images of the couples’ lovemaking – including the tragic loss of their son – flashbacks recur throughout the story.

There’s a fly in the ointment. Harry has left a serious problem for Veronica to solve. The $2 million dollars that apparently blew up with the him and the truck came from crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). He shows up at her apartment, throttles her little dog, and gives her a month to pay him back – after which she’ll be visited by Jamal’s right-hand psycho, Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya), a rather two-dimensional villain who enjoys the torture and execution part of his job way, way too much.

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Two of the best performances come from Rodriguez and Debicki

The first twist in the story is here. Harry leaves Veronica a key for his safe deposit box. The box yields plans for a $3 million robbery and incriminating pictures of a well-known politician in flagranti dilecto.

Veronica decides to reap revenge on the loss of her loved one and get herself out of a hell hole not of her making by stealing the old politico’s ill-gotten gains.

She enlists the widows of Harry’s gang for her own gang: Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), whose store is appropriated by nasty unsympathetic creditors; Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who is told to rent herself out to wealthy wife cheaters as a living by her simple-minded mother of all people; and Amanda (Carrie Coon), restricted to the role of ‘woman who has to clutch a small baby in each scene’.

McQueen is too smart to make a bog standard genre movie. He throws in a good if familiar political subplot in which the crime boss Manning runs for alderman against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of an elderly but still powerful corrupt Chicago old-school politico (Robert Duvall) – the subject of the bollock naked photographs.

Young Manning is keen to ditch his father’s rancid legacy, to be a true friend of people representative doing good work handing democracy back to struggling poor folks, but his boor of a father keeps tripping him up and messing with his psyche. Duval does scumbags to perfection, and here adds to his lustrous list of  foul-mouthed jerks.

Young Manning has a shot at the election ticket, but the borders of the ward have been redrawn, pitting him against the local black Mafia. As he drives into the all-black neighborhood there’s a terrifically clever sequence of an extended camera shot on his limousine, not inside as is the usual case, but focused on the windscreen and without hidden spotlights inside to illuminate the actor’s faces. What we see are the ramshackle, rundown houses passing across the tinted glass.

Al-in-all this is an absorbing two-hour crowd-pleaser in which all the loose ends come together satisfactorily, the twists make audiences gasp.

Widows is a strange choice for McQueen to make at this point in his movie career, but perhaps he wanted to shoot a pot-boiler while his next big film is in development. More likely it was part of the studio deal to get the budget for 12 Years a Slave – “we’ll give you the money for Slave, you do a couple of movies for us.”

The cast is mostly a treat, although Colin Farrell, looking decidely middle-aged, should avoid accents. Jacki Weaver playings Debicki’s overbearing, faced painted mom is an over-the-top pantomime dame. As for the widows, Davis carries her early story suffering nobly before transforming herself into a total steely-eyed badass. The beautiful Rodriguez portrays indecision with great subtlety. We watch her and recognise situations that have had us bite or lip and dither.

Ten feet tall woman in a condom dress Debicki is a riot. Her scenes with Lukas Haas – unrecognisable from his childhood days in the wonderful Amish “Witness” – playing the man unhappy with his wife paying for a substitute, are perfect. Like a construction crane she towers over him and everybody around. Given she is renting her body, height doesn’t matter – he has all the power. There’s a whole film in that relationship alone.

A late addition to the gang is – to my mind at least – a fabulously ballsy take-no-prisoners British singer Cynthia Erivo. Bleached hair, muscular arms, brought her own gun, she offers us a formidable presence and beats off Veronica is verbal matches.

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No movie about crime gangs is without the obligatory funeral scene

Like his previous films, McQueen’s characters arrive to our gaze fully-formed. This is a clearly well-funded production, a ton of locations to enjoy, loaded with talent in front of and behind the camera. Hans Zimmer scores; Sean Bobbitt shoots; Adam Stockhausen designs around Chicago, incorporating some of McQueen’s favourite motifs

Steve McQueen using his time on this B-movie to great effect. He empowers the women in it. It’s a bold shot that works for the most part of its length.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo
  • Director: Steve McQueen
  • Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
  • Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
  • Music: Hans Zimmer
  • Duration: 2 hours 8 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 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?

 

 

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Car News – Closures

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership plus some good bits

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Michelin Man waves goodbye to Dundee

850 redundancies plus supply companies going to the wall is what happens when a tyre company fails to take note of the trend to SUV’s and 4×4 all-terrain vehicles, cars with tyres over 16 inches. Instead they maintain production exclusively of small tyres for city cars. I say apparently because only a few years ago the plant was rejigged so that it could produce a range of bigger tyres. What’s gone wrong?

For some reason company executives fail to note electric cars will need tyres of a high quality to take the strain of fast driving on bends and cambers. They need a low rolling resistance of the kind Michelin was renowned in making in Dundee.

Something doesn’t add up.

The company complains they can’t compete with the flow of cheap tyres from Asia. Well, if Michelin bows out Asia has the market all to itself, a monopoly.

Poor Dundee, a city that did Scotland proud voting for independence by a large majority, one day celebrating England’s new V&A’s weirdly designed outpost visited by thousands, next awaiting the departure of its long established tyre factory.

Mr Dunlop, where are you now?

Michelin Tyres said it was no longer financially viable to keep its Dundee factory open because of a fall in demand for premium tyres of 16-inches and smaller made at the site. As already mentioned, they blame the Asians, the place where rubber is collected. What a surprise somebody thought of making tyres there rather than shipping rubber.

The Scottish Government has moved in swiftly to look for a solution, as it should, but what can it do other than find a buyer who is smarter than Michelin in working the market? The powers we have are extremely limited, not least by EU regulations on supporting loss-making industries. As I understand it, public money – call it state welfare –  has sustained the plant up and until now. I think it must be close to £12 million.

John Reid, factory manager at Michelin Dundee, said: “I understand these proposals will come as a huge blow to our employees and to the city of Dundee as a whole. It’s also a very personal blow for me.

“This factory has faced incredibly tough challenges before and we have come through thanks to the hard work and flexibility of our people and the union, and the backing of the Michelin group. However, the market for the smaller tyres we make has changed dramatically and permanently, and the company has to address these structural changes.”

‘Addressing structural changes’ appears to be shutting up shop. Dundee can’t  prosper on a strange looking museum alone, nor on its digital and video game industry. It has to have some industry.

The fact that Europeans buy more small cars than other nations to help negotiate their narrow streets hasn’t occurred to Michelin in Dundee but will to their bosses in Europe

Scotland isn’t the only nation to get hit with predicable closures in the car industry. More than 1,400 British jobs are at risk after two European suppliers of car parts, Schaeffler announced plans to close UK factories in a blow to the wider automotive industry ahead of Brexit.

Schaeffler, the German car parts supplier, said uncertainty surrounding Brexit had contributed to its decision to close two UK factories, in Llanelli, Wales, and Plymouth, where 570 people are employed. The company said the closures would take place over the next two years. For the moment its Sheffield plant remains open.

At Schaeffler’s plant in Plymouth, a workforce of 350 people make bearings and machine parts for the firm’s industrial division as well as the aerospace and defence industries. At Llanelli, about 220 people are employed to make mechanical parts and bearings for the major car manufacturers and other industrial suppliers. The company said it would relocate production from the two UK factories to existing plants in the US, China, South Korea and Germany.

All these closures were predicted the minute Nigel Farage made sure he’d not have to work for his EU pension.

The union Unite said it would “fight for every job” as it tries to avert the closures. The wider UK car industry has repeatedly urged the government to make friction-less trade a priority in Brexit negotiations or risk the loss of thousands of UK jobs.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Charge by lamppost

Spotted a good idea for charging electric city cars. Over three hundred lampposts in London have been converted as charging points. If you’re lucky enough to be close to one in a parking bay, you open a small  door at the base, plug in your cable, and if parked a couple of hours, boost your batteries. One of the oft-questioned aspects of the great changeover to electric cars is how those of us who don’t have a driveway, or any other form of access to an off-street space, will be able to charge at night. Are our paths and pavements about to become a viper’s nest of coils of cables and the odd reflective warning sign, telling us of trip hazards? And what of those living in apartments? Streamers of plugged-in wires tumbling down stairwells and gable walls? A lamppost plug in is one answer. Ubitricity along with Siemens, has just been named an official Electric Vehicle (EV) charging systems provider for London as a whole. The company has already begun a  plan to convert as many lampposts as possible, an easy fix, plus some bollards that lie close to parking bays.

Warning charge

If you get booked while parked in a shopping car park be warned the charge is £100. Scotland’s shopping marts are quietly handing over supervision of the parking bays to cowboy firms registered in England. Our government should stamp out this practice. It will come as a surprise to readers but these cutthroat pirates can stick £100 charge on you for have two wheels over a bay line, absolute brazen robbery, legally. Store bosses seem not to understand its driving customers elsewhere. Send a tough letter to the rip-off company and you get pushed a level higher. You’ve made yourself known to them, and ‘them’ are hoodlums. Contact activates warning letters, and written intimidation follows, the charge increasing. There’s various advice about how to handle these profiteers, but the best is to ignore the letters, after first taking legal advice. Remember it’s a ‘charge’ not a fine. It carries no legal authority. I’d like to hear from any reader who has been confronted by this outrageous theft.

Which Mini?

Following on from my article describing my delight on discovering the interior of BMW’s modern Mini is a great place to be – unless very tall, some readers with kids have asked which model they should buy. If you have family, two small children and a dog, and if you live in a city with speed humps, there is only one to choose but its the best of the bunch, the Mini Countryman. Five doors, higher off the ground than its siblings, most luggage room in the range, decent miles per gallon, and its fun to drive. Maintenance bills can be high. I only recommend the two litre version if you do long commutes. The 1.6 is for city-only trips. And electric one is due next year…

 

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Posted in Transportation | 8 Comments

Too Clever By Half

bacon

A screaming pope – insulting, racism, crap painting, or not?

ON BEING TOO BLOODY CLEVER BY HALF

Or writing screeds on why something is not what it’s not

The furore that has arisen from the unveiling of Francis Bacon’s startling painting ‘The Screaming Pope’ has stirred up a tremendous controversy in polite circles.

Mentioned in the press as an outrageous slur, a slap in the face of every priest in the land and giving the finger to one particular nun with foul breath, headlined in a tabloid newspaper as “Bacon Fries Pope”, shouted down by Catholic union bosses as sacrilegious, even questions asked in Parliament, the debate has ranged long and wide.

On its appearance the artist was immediately suspended from his fellowship of the Royal Academy pending an inquiry into whether or not the artwork is blasphemous.

The artist’s response was to exclaim, “Wouldn’t matter to me if the Pope is a born again vegetarian or a Malibu surfer, his religion is completely irrelevant”.

The Academy Disciplinary Committee consists of four ordinary members of the public, people chosen because of their total lack of expertise in such matters and their impartiality. Two are Beano readers, one has seen Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ on the Internet and the fourth has never visited an art gallery in his life – the Chairperson.

Taking time off from my career, wife and family, I have studied Bacon’s work in great depth. I come to the inescapable conclusion that there is absolutely nothing in that image that one could  state categorically or even half-categorically shows Bacon holds a hatred towards church mice let alone Catholics.

Nevertheless I must write more

One can see how the faithful might be insulted, a Pope holding tight to the arms of his chair, head back, mouth agape, as if in a long despairing howl at the stupendous stupidity of people who believe the edicts he makes up at night for a laugh after a few too many Crème de Menthes. Or he could be simply shouting “Drink! Feck! Girls!”

It is no surprise Catholics have accused the artist of demeaning the Holy Father and the entire Church. The work is a ‘take’ on Velazquez’s “Pope Innocent X“.

Looking at it another way by standing on one’s head to gain a unique perspective, you find the work is painted on canvas, the rear a boring brown weave with only a couple of tatty title labels to interest the eye. The front, what we see, is what is contentious.

Don’t mention the Pope

The controversy appears to lie on whether or not Bacon should have used the word ‘Pope’ in his title, or avoided it knowing, as he might, outrage would be the result.

The acrimony began when Mr Bacon’s painting was shared on Facebook by admirers of his work. The Royal Academy, keen to avoid attacks on its institution while it seeks support for a new all-purpose building, demanded subsidiary, affiliated galleries remove the image from their website, asking them not to discuss it pending an inquiry into whether Mr Bacon is anti-Catholic or just a drunk who can’t hold an artist’s brush steady.

The Twitter sphere went universal overnight. People wrote in support of the artist’s right to “paint what the fuck he likes”. Critics demanding he set fire to the work and stick his head in a pot of paint stripper.

This latter attack seems counter-productive. Once your head has been subjected to excessive paint stripper it will look exactly like Bacon’s Screaming Pope.

Is he for real?

The main criticism is whether or not Bacon was justified in the way he depicts the Pope’s torso in concrete terms – there’s no mistaking the robes, and conjoining it to a blurry face. This makes the image ambiguous, open to interpretation, easily seen as a depiction of the Pope, and by implication, the Vatican, as the head of a place of dissolution.

Bacon’s sympathisers have put this down to an uncharacteristic misstep, a clumsy brush stroke in an otherwise very interesting work on the nature of man’s existence, his agony and ecstasy. One or two have said he’s a “complete bampot”. One angry correspondent writing in green ink claims if he ever meets him he will throw an egg at Bacon.

Into the frying pan

Bacon has most certainly stirred things up, exposing a layer of fear over what can be said that is acceptable, and what ‘no right thinking person’ would dream of saying.

Free speech is everybody’s right, and anybody can be an art critic. Are we qualified to pontificate on the artist’s perceived purpose, that he violates good taste, or are we just a bunch of wankers indulging ourselves? This is an important question but not one to stop me writing this critique.

Choose another pope

Accusation that there exist plenty of good portraits of popes and Bacon’s version is unnecessary hold no weight, in my view, because a pope is a pope is a pope no matter how you dress him up. No matter what pope he’d chosen to depict Catholics will assuredly slap him down for his temerity in choosing a man of  transparent humility, a nice man whose only hobby is making speeches from high balconies.

To analyse this further; Bacon is laying bare the state of the Church in modern times, the lack of hope we feel over events we cannot control such as stopping people from writing stuff, and the existential threats we are all heir to in a time of great social flux. Either that, or he has given us a Pope suffering from acute piles.

Innocent but not Pope Innocent

Bacon contends he was not trying to insult Catholicism, nor thought the Pope a Catholic – he is God’s representative on Earth – a long stretch, one has to say, but then Bacon is himself from a Catholic household which encouraged freedom of expression. It probably never crossed his mind to think in those terms. He avers he was trying to illustrate in a semi-abstract, elliptical form how the ills of society are exacerbated by those who would deflect the populace from happiness to strife and uncertainty.

Challenged to explain, he replied “Christ! I don’t like what the damn Pope says, that’s all”.

As for the tabloid headline, it is as plain as the nose on your face, or the Prada slippers the Pope wears, Bacon made no such assertion. Now there is talk he intends to sue the newspaper for defamation. Support for his work has been almost unanimous from art lovers, a few tearing up their membership card of the Royal Academy. The head of that august institution has asked people to remain calm and not to weaponise tweets or gallery catalogues.

Looking into this complicated issue, I have written a 5,000 word dissertation on the subject entitled “Bacon Gets Panned“. Readers may wish to cogitate on- blah, blah. blah.

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Posted in General | 8 Comments

Peterloo – a review

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Peterloo comes alive once the cast reach St Peter’s Field

There is always something suspicious about a cinema trailer that is too short to convey much understanding of the content and tone. Did the advertising department use only the best bits and there were not many of those, or is the brevity a tease?

This was my first reaction on seeing the trailer for Peterloo. At least it didn’t go on and on like those damn moronic Transformer movies, all cacophony and destruction.

Now, film seen, I can see why the trailer was so short. This is an easy film to like, but a hard one to sit through. There is a plodding sameness for most of its length until we reach the massacre. Suddenly the screen comes alive with energy and excitement and dread. What keeps us watching is the detail.

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Some of Dick Pope’s photography makes you smell the dust, musty clothes, and sweat

The director is Mike Leigh. He is also the writer. When I say ‘writer’, I mislead. Leigh made his name out of improvised plays, each one his own original conception.

His television plays made him famous in the UK, less well like outside the UK. His subjects are very English-centric, his concerns very English fears and phobias. Englishness, as many a Scot will tell you, doesn’t travel well, least of all to France, Spain or Italy. In addition, juries awarding prizes find it difficult to award a prize to a director who didn’t actually write the words of the play or film, merely endorsed which ones he wanted the actors to stick to.

Leigh begins with a structure and scene by scene encourages the actors to work on their own dialogue once they feel they have their character well-rounded. The great thing about the outcome is we get surprises. The bad thing is we get caricature, and I am sorry to say there’s lots of that in Peterloo. I don’t wish to be cruel, but glimpses sounded a bit like Blackadder.

If I was a ruthless critic I’d say Leigh’s subject matter might have acquired more visual energy handled by a director better versed in epic style panoramas. Here he sticks to theatrical positioning. If there are five actors in a scene, we get five actors standing in a line playing to a fixed camera. If a character has to enter a house, we see him walk to the door, enter, and then stand in a fixed position in the room.

That sort of pace in a two-and-half hour film is a mighty challenge. In my cinema, four people walked out halfway through, and that left fewer than fifty watching. However, what we are given is a history lesson, a key part of their history I learn English rarely got from their own school days.

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Mike Leigh, never without a beard since he could grow hair

I had the good fortune to meet Mike Leigh. We walked and talked our way to his Soho London office and some sandwiches. I tried to discuss his most successful work, Nuts in May, Life is Sweet, Naked, his Palme d’Or winner Secrets & Lies, and Vera Drake, which earned him a Bafta for best director. (My favourite is Topsy-Turvy, the story of Gilbert and Sullivan, because of all his films that one works well  as cinema, Turner less so.) We never discussed one of his pictures.

My meeting with Leigh was a bit of a disappointment. All he did was talk about how the British film industry ignores him. “terribly, really awfully.” I was astonished. I tried to tell him my film career was insignificant compared to what he’d achieved. What attracts you to Leigh is his undoubted left-wing credentials. It’s stamped all over his work.

To the film: I could re-title the film ‘It’s Grim Oop Norf‘. the north being Manchester.

It concentrates on a few key people in the event, the idealism and the missteps surrounding the infamous 1819 Peterloo Massacre. A peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, it turned into one of the most notorious episodes in English history, and close to the battle of Waterloo, was nicknamed Peterloo.

We begin with a young bugler lost in the stench of death and smoke as the Battle of Waterloo fizzles out. We follow him back to his home in England, and from then on he gets lost somewhere in any number of characters moving from house to house, room to room, complaining they have no representation in Parliament, a true thing I didn’t know.

As the plot progresses we realise we’re watching  honest, hard working poor people from the Satanic mills and the land gradually organising themselves into protest groups, doing their best to drum up interest in their cause. Most are uneducated and inarticulate.

Into the light steps a  white hatted, best carriage driven, conceited, Henry Hunt, (Rory Kinnear) a well known orator, a pioneer of working class radical causes, a bully too but a fine public speaker. The people of Manchester and Leeds adopt him as their mascot and invite him to speak at a mass meeting on their behalf. He’s a kind of gob for hire.

At first Hunt brushes them off, and then agrees once he knows thousands of people will turn up to see him. ‘Hear’ him isn’t possible beyond ten lines back from the platform, a leaf Leigh pinches out of The life of Brian.

As the various groups from town and village around become as one, watched over by the then power elite and so very obvious spies who hang around listening to insurrection, we see how society then is as society now. There are activists, cheerers-on, bystanders, antagonists, malicious  mixers and downright nasty wealthy protecting their interests.

After a very long and sometimes tedious  journey we arrive at St Peters Field Square and follow the joyous, happy crowds in, all well drilled for a peaceful protest. Within minutes of Hunt beginning his speech English government forces charge into an unarmed crowd of over 60,000 gathered to demand political reform and protest against rising levels of poverty. (That sound eerily familiar.) There have been many similar episodes in history, in the Russian revolution, in recent US civil rights protests, and against British miners.

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This is not women marching for equal rights, they march for their men

When the mounted cavalry are given orders to disperse the crowd panic ensues. Peterloo saw eighteen killed, women and children among them, hundreds more injured. This was followed by a nationwide outcry and the predicted government backlash in the form of our old companion, suppression of political activity.

The massacre was a defining moment in English democracy. It showed us the power of the British establishment  and how it can use it. From that uprising sprang the Guardian newspaper. I leave readers to make up their minds if that was a benefit or a portend.

As a piece of cinema it’s sloppy. A lot of the plotting is confused; you hardly know one household from the next because of the plethora of people and places. Endless worthy speeches delivered by the same actors on the same subject convince Leigh lacked enough editing. Everyone North of the Pennines is a plaster saint. The South, however, is populated by heartless toffs and Cockney lizards intent on mischief, and a dissolute, gout-ridden slob of a Prince Regent, (Tim McInnerny) covered in silk, wig, rouge, cotton pads stuffed behind his lips and enunciating with a lisp.

This is a talkative film. Main speeches given by key characters carry a great deal of verisimilitude, those of other support roles are boring. Too many thumping stereotypes jostle for our attention. What attracts you to this film is the ordinary folk. You can see Leigh’s humanity in every face, every moment. His casting is impeccable.

I shall bite the bullet on this one; Peterloo is a good story worth telling, badly told.

  • Star Rating: Three stars
  • Cast: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peak, Neil Bell
  • Director: Mike Leigh
  • Writer: Mike Leigh
  • Cinematographer: Dick Pope
  • Composer: Gary Yerson
  • Costume: Jacqueline Durrant
  • Rating: 12A
  • Duration: 2 hours 34 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 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 Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Fascist Us and Them

Facsisism

The roots of fascism

In times of crisis a fascist government invariably reserves support for those it knows to be loyal to its policies and creed. Who can forget Margaret Thatcher’s chilling question when presented with a new appointment, “Are they one of us”?

On hearing that, I recognised a fascist attitude. I could not reconcile it with the United Kingdom, a land of four nations that had fought off the evils of Nazism, who, together with millions of Russians and Poles, gave up million of lives for freedom and democracy.

Today I hear us using fascist language, and without a blush, instituting fascist policies.

To begin at the beginning

I shall begin here.

A recent essay, alarmed at a particular union’s aggression, attempted to define fascism and identify where it creeps into our society cloaked in neo-liberalism and wage parity.

I became unhappy at one union’s antics, a union resolutely against Scotland’s constitutional rights. Is it fair a union in the modern world employs neo-fascist tactics and language? Is it only unthinking, not realising the comparisons? Unions represent workers, charged with redistributing wealth. They are not  government politicians, though some individuals leading them may seek that role one day.

When we look at the USA, for example, the undermining of union influence has been an on-going strategy of the right-wing for over thirty years. Republicans want union power stamped out. Democrats think some people power is unwanted, allowing Republicans to appropriate democratic territory. In that they aide Republicans. One governor actually boasted his state would be free of unions within a few years. What happens in the USA soon happens in the United Kingdom. The USA is a warning to the UK.

Contradictions everywhere

Unions are not above criticism. Recently, in Germany, they were fined for taking bribes, money and hookers, from Volkswagen to give VW an easy time in wage negotiations. Is an individual free to explore how a union is operating if he thinks it works against the democracy of his country? Why separate the people from the people? Us and them.

Surely organising a costly strike and rally against a council wholly in sympathy with the union’s membership is massive hypocrisy and a contradiction? The only conclusion is, there exist union representatives consciously or unconsciously intent on removing the very political party voted to govern by the very people the union exhorts to strike. This is the madness of us and them.

Fascism permeates everything. Smearing an individual is one tactic. The individual targeted is named an alternative Scottish nationalist, an “alt-nat”, meaning he is not sticking to the party line. What is that if not another version of us and them?

What is fascist rhetoric?

Over the gates into the Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz and of Buchenwald are written the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI – work shall make you free.

‘They’ can be cured by hard work and the fear of destitution.

To go further with this premise and stick with Glasgow, a working class Labour politician (not Tory!) a Glaswegian, coined the phrase “the something for nothing society”. Coming from a socialist this was a shock. And in my country, Scotland.

She was saying there are poor and the vulnerable so work shy they will  take social security and unemployment benefit rather than find work.

The original name of the Nazi Party was the ‘German Worker’s Party’. The party’s doctrine was seek out, beat up, and if there is no change in behaviour fine or jail the work shy. They loathed unions. That is why one has to be careful when criticising a union when it purports to be helping its members.

Fascist ideology abhors welfare. It hates anybody that does not create wealth. The fascist, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco – they and there adherents are all the same – aver welfare robs the individual of the capacity to look after him or herself.

A fascist state announces it will not use the nations wealth to support welfare ‘scroungers’. The unemployed are too lazy to ‘get on a bicycle and look for work’.

The vulnerable who won’t stray far from their home in their wheelchair are not to be pitied. They should lose state benefits. Us and them.

Workers and slackers

Fascist ideology opines there are hard working citizens and there are undeserving minorities – they are always classed as a minority in fascist-speak. Such folk are not of the upright, good citizen whom those minorities take advantage. Us and them.

They makes racism a national virtue. They aver our nation will be a lot better off if we block entry to foreigners. We are told a lie, that foreign workers take our jobs. In reality they contribute to our economy, unlike the wealthy who squirrel their money away in tax havens. Jobs are for predominately white people. Immigrants, and refugees fleeing from wars we began, are predominately tanned or various shades of brown or black.

We move from a dignified and beneficial policy of employment and cultural exchange to one of blatant racism. Racism is part and parcel of fascism.

Not only did the Labour Party separate itself from unions by dropping Clause 4, it adopted the extreme right-wing policy of severely limiting immigration. Scotland has the opposite policy although immigration is a reserved matter.

In France the neo-fascist party Le Front National is viciously anti-immigration. It is  criminally anti-Jewish. I ask the question, is there a difference between UK Tory policy on immigration, Labour policy and Le Front National? Us and them.

So long as we absorb and believe a warped doctrine, so long will we be open to fascist ideals.  We will accept all rich people are a nation’s friend, the poor and the immigrant and the refugee are a drain on our society.

The mark of a nation’s humanity is how it looks after the poor and the vulnerable.

In their image

Fascism wants to dismantle the state to recreate it in its own eyes and for the benefit of the few. The Labour Party adopted the slogan, ‘For the many, not the few’.

Labour does not include Scotland among the many. Scotland must remain the vassal province of English nationalism. Hence, if a Labour affiliated union can progress that ideal, that is seen by Labour as a good thing. Us and them.

That is the clash of ideologies that I question.

Scotland wishes to make its own decisions once more, its own choices, to stand by its own foreign policy, without gross interference from a neighbour state, and to do that while remaining interdependent with England.

No nation is fully autonomous, well, maybe Iceland

Most countries are interdependent in trade and culture with one nation or another, usually their nearest neighbours. In the UK Scotland’s ambitions of exercising free will – the very meaning of democracy – are traduced before they become popular. Scottish political aspiration is described as ‘grievance politics’ and ‘separatism’. Us and them.

We live in a society where thieving big business bosses are to be admired, called captains of industry, a military or naval allusion. Now and then, one crosses a line and steals too much. The establishment that once encouraged and protected him will make an example of him if his nefarious activities are made public. They wish to mollify the rest of us, to give us the impression democracy’s justice triumphs, when, in fact, democracy has long been eroded. Us and them.

The boss pays back some of the money, loses his knighthood, and lives a fat and glorious life. He is one of them. The fascist doctrine of wealth in the hands of an elite creates more wealth and stability is drummed into us every day.

Survival of the fittest

Fascism can only survive if it controls all aspects of human activity. That includes the writing of books. The first thing Rupert Murdoch did when he bought Scotland’s most successful publisher, Collins, was to shred a critical biography of his business ethics. Is he a fascist? Not a card carry one. In mentality? Probably. He ostracises unions.

Fascism can and does impose itself on what an individual writes and publishes. Criticism, polemic, even satire is forbidden. Questioning decisions of the state is a crime.

Governments the world over are desperately keen to constrain and suppress internet activity, one of the great liberating forces of the 21st century.

To know fascism you have to be able to identify it.

In summary

My essays are not an end in themselves. They are a journey, an exploration, and attempt to discover knowledge, and in political terms, where my nation stands at a momentous time in its history. I ask what direction it should take to create the new society we talk of.

When writing essays highly critical of English colonialism or the English class system it does not mean I dislike English, in the same way when I say I dislike sprouts it does not mean I dislike vegetables.  (And no, I am not comparing an Englishman to a turnip!)

I suggest we refuse to be hoodwinked by fascist myths, that we are free to engage with others on any topic we care to discuss or feel strongly about, and to be flawed or partial or in error when we write or speak. How else do we learn?

The dichotomy between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable is at the very heart of fascist ideology. It demands there is a law-abiding citizen and there is the criminal.

That is the essence of ‘us and them’.

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 19 Comments