That Bloody Union!

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Disputatious Scot and English Bull

When a man’s spirit is low, he’s whipped. A Texan said that to me in the city of Houston. He’s probably working for Trump by now. That terse aside could just as easily sum up unionist attitude to the people of Scotland. Keep ’em down, keep ’em wonderin’.

How orotund a proclamation is the first article of the Treaty of Union. ‘The Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland shall forever after be united … by the name of the Great Britain.’ What fool from the dunce desks, what mathematical moron thought trading a proud nation for a tin cup of 14 Lords and 45 Members of the Commons constituted a union of equals? It left Scotland perpetually the weak partner, the minority, an impossible position from which to protect a nation of passionate souls and their culture.

English never learn from history

Studying the first decade of the Union you begin to perceive unnerving comparisons in the way the British parliament exercises power over its noisy, rebellious ‘province’ today.

The people of Scotland in their protests against the Treaty knew they had been duped, and so did the English officials who smirked into their mulled wine, or struggled to stifle guffaws behind cupped hands.

The Treaty wasn’t quite England’s phony ‘Vow’ in 2014 to Scots. That was a backroom concoction promoted by a tabloid newspaper and parroted by the British media, told to Scots to deflect them for narrowly voting for independence and remain loyal to perfidious Albion. However, the Treaty had a similar distinction of promising a lot and delivering very little, as well as enshrining English priorities over Scottish life and welfare.

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The Act of Union of the Scottish Parliament

Softly, softly

For a long time England stayed well back so as not to provoke the natives. The Whigs were in power in London, a coalition they did not want to upset. The strategy was to avoid imposing any radical changes and appearing to be the authoritarian bully that is the core nature of English imperial ambition. Better to let Scots experience a false sense of security than give them a prod in the belly. But they miscalculated.

One of the biggest shocks of quislings who sold Scotland for a pouch of bawbees was the discovery they had inherited an English war with Spain. Scotland has suffered that fate countless times since, sacrificed its sons and daughters on the swords and bayonets of English imperialism. Back then, it was England that looked to Scotland to fund its war deficit. Today England’s mounting debts are subsidised by Scotland’s oil and taxes.

A duplication of parliaments

For a while the Scottish Parliament carried on in session, often duplicating debates and Bills discussed by the London Parliament which took no notice of Scottish interests because they were viewed as secondary to English interests. The Scottish Parliament decided to adjourn and then close its doors. It has not penetrated the English consciousness that England’s Parliament did the same thing, but because of its in-built majority has regarded itself ever since as English.

Edinburgh’s parliament in mothballs meant the two surviving Scottish officers of State, mostly attending the British Privy Council in London, left a big black hole in Scotland’s governance. Unwittingly, Westminster had weakened its ability to respond swiftly and vigorously if an element of Scottish society required altering or pacifying.

The vacuum was seen as a gift to the Jacobites, implacable enemies of the Union. At that point the Jacobites could still depend on over twenty of the most formidable clans to come to their cause when called. This scared English Parliamentarians witless.

For readers uninformed of the Jacobites, (Latin for Jacobus – James) they were a political movement in Great Britain and Ireland that aimed to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart King James VII of Scotland, (II of England and Ireland) and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. Just as not all independence Yes voters are SNP members, so not all Jacobites were Catholics. Their motivation was first and foremost sovereignty regained – a nationalist ideal.

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Modern day ‘re-enactors’ dressed as Jacobites

Jacobite in waiting

The Jacobites wanted support from the great Catholic powers of Spain and France, and mobilize that into an army sitting in England ready to pounce. The War of Spanish succession seemed never to end and England was every European state’s worst enemy. Having Jacobites marshalling dissent was a right royal pain in the nether regions for London’s elite intent on carving up Scotland for profit.

France kept the fire of dissent aflame in merry England. Louis XIV exploited the Scots disgust with England’s con trick – a version of Better Together – and sent an expedition up Britain’s east coast to join with the Jacobites, but it ended in humiliating disaster when bad weather delayed their arrival in the Firth of Forth and rendezvous with waiting supporters.

Failure aside, the debacle was a warning to the English government. Scotland had to be governed from within its borders not without. Either they appointed placemen to every institution and university, and implemented a government office staffed by civil servants loyal to London, or they garrisoned a regiment in Edinburgh. Counter revolution by those bare arsed savages was the fear in every English parliamentarian’s heart.

There is very little difference today from that situation then.

But a softly, softly approach was soon to end. In 1710 a Tory government dismissed the Whig coalition. The Whigs had shown restraint towards Scotland’s vulnerability. (Three years of harvest famine aided that fragility, not the Darien adventure!) Caution and diplomacy were abandoned. Scots needed tamed one way or another. Religion was one place to start, taxation another.

Alert readers of a political mind will realise we have a Tory administration in London today with an attitude bordering on the  criminally inexcusable towards Scotland’s interests.

Nae Popery or Episcopalian soapery

Scottish Presbyterians had long disliked the thought of a London Parliament dominated by the Church of England. The rights of the Church of Scotland were enshrined in the Treaty of Union a target for Tories to undermine.

Tension escalated in 1711 when an Episcopalian minister appealed to the House of Lords against his imprisonment in Edinburgh for singing from the wrong hymn sheet,  namely, using the English liturgy. Presbyterian purity was central to the Scottish psyche and here it was challenged by an alien form of worship. So, the London Parliament passed two antagonistic measures in violation of the Treaty, the Toleration Act and the Patronage Act. The first gave freedom to Episcopalians to worship as they pleased in Scotland; the second gave landowners the right to choose their local ministers. The Kirk was furious.

Religious interference was followed by taxation. The London Parliament had happily spread the myth that they had saved Scotland from bankruptcy, the failure of four Darien schemes. This was a lie. Two-thirds of Scotland’s wealth still circulated. London knew that and so raised Scotland’s taxes with impunity as a way of funding England’s wars.

England – as now – had amassed monstrous debts from fighting France then Spain, and buying off allies. (It gives the finger to the entire European continent today! What ambition, what confidence.) Taxes imposed, the strength of opposition to the Treaty hardened overnight, its intensity commensurate with the number of English-appointed tax collectors appearing in towns and villages like wood lice after a rain storm.

Tax, tax, and tax again

As many a letter and a few poems of Robert Burns attest, hiking taxation began with land taxes and then shifted to custom dues and excise payments. If it was shipped to Scotland English taxed it. If it was shipped out of Scotland they taxed it.

Anything in common use was fair game, from ship’s rigging to shoes, from ale to soap. Cloth of all sorts was taxed to hell and back. The cloth industry all but disappeared in a few years. Then London introduced a Malt Tax penalising ale drinkers. Such was ale quaffing fury that tax collectors found it almost impossible to enforce. The irony was, much of the taxes collected were lost in the administration of collection. Between 1707 and 1714, seven years, taxes rose fivefold hardly making a dent on the English Treasury.

The outcome of taxing to subdue dissent, and losing the income in expenses collecting taxes, meant that promises of an economic heaven arising from embracing a union never materialised. As ever, the only wealth Scotland could acquire was that created by its own means, and held fast in Scotland.

The propagandists and pamphleteers, Daniel Defoe among them, an agent spy for London, had worked hard to convince Scots that prosperity lay in English bounty and generosity. It was clear to Scots, the majority still rural workers, not townies, that a new era of wealth was a wicked deceit. Indeed, some felt they were better off independent, famine or feast.

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The Treaty of Union presented to Queen Anne

A derelict new dawn

Unsurprisingly, the first decade of the Union saw the Scottish economy founder and stagnate, much as it did in the 20th century, adding to English jeers of the day that Scotland was an impoverished nation relying heavily on the support of England.

Attacks on the well-being of Scots before the Union, threats of invasion and trade blockades, the Alien Act designed to have Scots categorised as foreigners, passed but later rescinded, scowls of derision at Scotland’s ambitions, all became normal pronouncements by the London Parliament as a means of control … as they do to this day.

Embarrassed by taxes imposed on Scottish enterprise financially forceless and worthless compounded Westminster’s woes over how to govern Scotland to England benefit. Worse, smuggling increased out of all bounds. The black market became a ‘global’ enterprise.

Scotland was proving to be as ungovernable as previous Westminster regimes had argued. Out of anger and frustration the London Parliament embarked on a campaign of vilification. Scots were ‘not paying their way’. They were indolent wasters, indulging in industrial levels of ‘tax evasion’.  (There is a recognisable pattern evident here!)

London merchants frequently derided Scots merchants as cheats and time wasters. From barely  a presence in Scotland after the Treaty was signed, by 1714 England had well over 400 customs officers stomping around Scotland’s coast. They were charged with arresting smugglers and resetters with extreme prejudice, to quote a contemporary American term.

Armed insurrection

Scots did as Scots do faced by London policy they abhor. They took to the streets in mobs. Some armed themselves. Customs warehouses were broken open, goods ‘removed’ taken to a better place. Scared witless, customs officials took to being accompanied by groups of guards. Some officials were stoned, beaten up, or tossed into the sea. Throwing England’s stuff in the water was later emulated by The Sons of Liberty – some members Scots – in Boston harbour, America, 1771.

Daniel Defoe, like many a unionist today recoiling from the intolerance and stupidity of Brexit, had a Road to Damascus moment. He wrote “Not one man in fifteen would vote for the Union now”. Thus, over-taxation, brute force collection, and religious reformation destabilised England’s confidence and strengthened Scots resolve to damn the Treaty. London trembled; how could it subdue and govern that ferocious race beyond Berwick?

Notable English figures joined Scottish peers in the clamour to tear up the Treaty. They moved for a debate in the House of Lords intending to cause the dissolution of the Union.

There was the odd lone voice that echoes down the ages to this day. The Earl of Oxford thought the persistent rebellion of the Scots resembled “a man with toothache who proposed his head be removed to end the pain.”

For similar homilies and arrogant, ill-informed bluster refer to the Scottish Independence debate in the House of Lords, 2014.

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650 pages of proposals and facts for the 2014 Scottish Referendum on regaining sovereignty, now an historical document

The London Parliament that once thought the signing of the Union “the end of an auld sang’ now felt it was time to call it all off. They were bruised and not a little disenchanted. The Lords delayed a vote, and then the anti-unionists lost by a very narrow majority.

But the writing was burnished into the House of Commons wood panelling – a union was never going to be secure. And so it has proved down the centuries to this very day.

Note: This essay is written as part of a trilogy with “An Act of Self-Interest”:

Source references:     

  • Lordship to Patronage 1603-1745 – Rosalind Mitchison
  • A short History of Scotland – Andrew Lang       
  • Independence and Nationhood – Alexander  Grant
  • A Concise History of Scotland – Fitzroy MacLean         
  • Scotland, History of a Nation – David Ross    
  • The Collected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson  
  • The Scottish Nation, 1700-2000 – Tom Devine  
  •  James V & James VII – Gordon Donaldson
  • The Union of 1707 – Paul Henderson Scott 
  • The History of Edinburgh – Hugo Arnot
  • A History of England, Ireland and Scotland – Mary Parmele
  • The National Library of Scotland – Edinburgh

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

T2 Trainspotting – a review

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Spud and Renton, still running from the law along Edinburgh’s Princes Street

T2? What a stupid title! Okay, got that off my chest.

The gang’s all here, ‘Spud’ Murphy, (Ewen Bremner) Renton, (Ewan McGregor) Sick Boy, (Jonny Lee Miller) and the psychotic Begbie, (Robert Carlyle) only … only now they’re all movie stars. How did that happen?

It takes considerable suspension of disbelief to accept them as exponents of Scotland’s underclass. The film is based loosely on the novel Porno by Irvine Welsh. He appears as a well-to-do car dealer resetting stolen goods, but he’s really a celebrity doing a cameo.

As far as novels go, Welsh has the monopoly of petty crime and debauchery in the schemies. (Schemies: Scottish housing estates.) This time around, however, I was uneasy about stereotypes patronising people in Leith. Whether Leithians proud of their name writ large on movie screens will feel the same way is debateable. There are summer bus tours around “Trainspotting locations”.

Once the home of Mary of Guise, mother to Mary Queen of Scots, is its fame to rest on a film about junkies, not the Shore dockland shipping trade that once distinguished Leith as a separate town from Edinburgh? The official rules of golf initially formulated at Leith in 1744, were later adopted by the Royal and Anvcient Golf Club of St Andrews – there’s any amount of fascinating history in Leith.

These days Leith is a multicultural community with sizeable African-Caribbean and Asian communities – none feature in T2.

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Ewen McGregor and director Danny Boyle discuss a scene in the Queen’s Park

To digress for a moment; an interesting fact: without knowing it Hollywood highlighted both ends of the European drug trade. When Gene Hackman played Popeye Doyle, the fiery tempered homicide detective in The French Connection, the story recounted actual events. Interpol tipped off by the FBI broke up the main avenue of drug trade into the port of Marseille. Drug lords, ever ready with a Plan B, shipped the drugs up to the port of Leith, and couriered them through England back to Europe for distribution, leaving a generation of heroin and cocaine addicts in Edinburgh in their wake. Hollywood then financed and shot Trainspotting in Leith.

To the film: T2 is a triumph of the cinematic digital age, a kaleidoscope of images from Danny Boyle, a filmmaker who began his career as a music video director. It contains thousands of three second edits and 150 miles an hour flashy visuals, only now with an $18 million budget to play with, shot in Edinburgh and Glasgow – but it hides a shaky premise and shakier dialogue.

There were whole tracts spoken that I simply did not believe rang true. Dialogue sequences were alternately plausible and then unbelievable. At one point Renton is asked the meaning of the phrase “Choose life”. In the context presented the question didn’t ring true, but a new generation of cinemagoers need a quick history lesson, and the rest of us need reminded. Renton launches into an unstoppable, remarkably eloquent diatribe only an educated writer could compose.

The film carries a huge deficit. While the screenplay was being written we had imperialist Tories in Downing Street proclaiming English votes for English laws one day after hoodwinking  Scots into hanging on to a corrupt United Kingdom. Trump was on his way to the Whitehouse, and the SNP was fighting for Scotland’s dignity and civil rights. Europe was struggling against the rise of neo-fascism, newspapers conniving in its advancement, no strangers to the technique of negative propaganda. None of those profound concerns cross the lips of our gang. If Scotland was a ‘nation of wankers” back in Trainspotting’s day, with “wankers in London governing us” we are in a worse place now. What T2 offers us is three likeable rascals and a sad psycho.

Four loners; why they want to retrace their roustabout criminal days all over again is a mystery. When we first met them they were aware of the poverty of their surroundings. They had come to political conclusions about why they were poor, and disenfranchised. Now they don’t care, an attitude at odds with Scotland’s current mood.

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A quick-fire image for which the original Trainspotting was famous, a graphic illustration of an emotion

The premise of the plot is contrived. After twenty years apart all the original characters come together again at precisely the same time for various reasons. Begbie escapes from prison using the hospital doctor’s white coat cliché. His only thought on getting out is to punish Renton for stealing his loot. (He’s never sought out by the police, not even when back with his wife.) Renton has returned from a failed twenty-year marriage in Holland, and with a heart condition. He never speaks any Dutch.

Sick Boy has never left Edinburgh, moping about in his old bar, low-end of town, still making the wrong decisions, still thinking up scams, his latest dreaming of opening a brothel. They all happen to bump into Spud who’s still unemployed, though did try his hand as a joiner on building sites. To cap it all there’s even a very stiff Viagra joke last seen in every gross American comedy of the nineties.

The long delayed follow-up to Trainspotting has one watchable story, Spud’s survival and salvation. To everybody’s surprise and his too, he’s given ambition to be a writer. Screenwriter John Hodge of both the original film and T2 shows empathy for Spud’s inability to attain gainful employment. He hits on the idea of making him a latter day Irvine Welsh, or more accurately, television’s Peter McDougall.

McDougall is the seventies, west of Scotland television writer who won an Prix Italia for ‘Just Another Saturday’, about life in and among the Orange Lodge marches and culture. His pronounced ability was in recreating genuine working class dialogue and social predicaments.  His stories were uncomplicated, full of casual cruelty, sex and opportunism that get the poor and the disadvantaged through the day.

MacDougall, cousin to the late novelist and film writer Alan Sharp, (A Green Tree in Gedde, and feature films Night Moves, Rob Roy) began his working life as an odd job man. One day he found himself working in the London home of Colin Welland, writer of Chariots of Fire. Welland was the man who incautiously shouted “The Brits Are Coming!” as he accepted an Oscar. MacDougall was regaling him with stories of his Greenock home and family. Welland encouraged MacDougall to write down his anecdotes.”They’re very entertaining. People will read them. Write them as you speak them”.

Those same words are spoken by dominatrix Veronika, (Anjela Nedyalkova) to Spud. He takes her seriously and, duly inspired by a woman taking an interest in him, begins to write about his experiences with his old pals, scrawling hand-written passages on ripped out pages from a school jotter. He’s found a purpose in life. And we smile.

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Yes, the fop standing behind Stanley Tucci is Ewen Bremner, and both are wearing wigs!

I can’t claim to have discovered Ewan Bremner. He appeared in a couple of filmed dramas before I met him. When he walked into my auditions in Leith I knew I had the good fortune to meet a unique actor from Edinburgh. He was modest but determined to make a career in films. I liked him immediately, and have marvelled at his career ever since. That face only a mother can love was sculpted by Eduardo Paolozzi in his geometric period.

Watching T2 filled me with déjà vu. In my earlier production Spud’s attempted suicide sparks off the drama, similarly in T2. Life’s rough as a jobbing actor! At the end of the earlier film the group reach the top of Arthur’s Seat, a symbolic achievement for no hopers. In the middle of T2 Spud and Renton do the same thing, but the scene is given to Renton to make a preachy sermon about channelling compulsion into something positive. For a man unable to keep his marriage together, and aimless, it sounds awkward and patronising.

What’s missing is the extraordinary amount of courage that Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie too, had – the sheer physical, elemental courage that drove them to do the things they did, including mainlining heroin to enter a world better than the one they inhabited. This time around they are all nihilistic, miserable sods.

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One of only two photographs of Anjelika Nedyalkova – a profile! – as Veronika the brothel Madame, here toasting the new enterprise with Miller and a reluctant McGregor

If T2 is anything to judge by, roles for women in films have not progressed. They’re still hard pressed housewives married to disappointed men, or hookers. My experience of Scots women has them psychologically stronger than men, better survivors. Welsh or possibly scriptwriter Hodge seems to recognise this but is fixated on women as sexual objects. The one female in the drama, the prostitute Veronika, is far stronger and smarter than the men interested in her when it comes to creating a better life. And the one the gang knew in their youth escaped – now a solicitor in T2, middle-class and estranged from their lives.

After seeing T2 I left the cinema complex in Leith docks with the distinct feeling I had seen a vanity project, beautifully crafted, excellent set designs, well acted, enjoyable identifying the streets and places of Edinburgh, but a movie star reunion nevertheless. This has been reinforced since by every interview of the team concentrating on McGregor’s falling out with Boyle over the loss of a role in Boyle’s first Hollywood project.

T2 is highly entertaining because of its rush of subliminal images, flights of fancy, and the breathless pace of the drama. It barely gives you a second to think about what you’ve just seen and heard. When you do stop to think you see the flaws. Neo-realism it is not.

The film has been released in the UK before the USA. The USA is where Trainspotting made its money, not in cinemas, but in multiple Blockbuster rentals as a cult video. Here, next to nobody in the media seems interested in what the film is trying to say.

T2 Trainspotting has to be saying more than, born in Leith, you die in Leith.

  • Star rating: Three and a half stars
  • Cast: Ewen McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Writer: John Hodge
  • Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
  • Music Editing: Allan Jenkins:
  • Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes

Posted in Film review, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Tartan Elephant

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Scotland is North England but with a different name for reasons of tourism

A colloquial cliché

Last year saw an idiom become fashionable in daily conversation. Considering the mammal is destined to be wiped out it by ivory poachers, there were literally and figuratively herds of them everywhere. The phrase was … the elephant in the room.

If you wanted to sound smart you dropped the phrase into a debate, the big issue nobody dare discuss. Where is that elusive elephant this year? The cry goes up: “Behind you!”

Scotland voted by a large majority to stay in Europe. England voted out. How do UK parliamentarians deal with the will of the Scottish people? As they have always done – patronise it, reject it, or ignore it. Scotland has no voice.

On her way to meet faux president Donald Trump for a quick fix, prime minister Theresa May crowed “The days are over when the UK and the US intervene in the sovereignty of other countries”. Scots everywhere can allow themselves a wry smile.

Having your cake and sit on it

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled that the UK parliament must debate and vote on the efficacy of leaving the European Union. England won’t be ruled by referenda alone.

The Supreme Court ruling did two things: it reminded Scotland that any English judge with a wig on his head, straight seams in his tights, and a bottle of Scotch under his desk, can usurp Scottish Law in direct contravention of the Act of Union and Treaty. Secondly, it completely wiped out the dubious unionist claim Scotland’s few political powers constitute authority incarnate, ever-lasting, irrevocable. They have as much value as Scottish £5 note tendered at a BNP rally.

The Supreme Court stated categorically Scotland is North England but with a different name for reasons of tourism. The name has no meaning other than geographical.

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The Scots influence on the world has even reached the plains of the Serengeti

How did Scotland arrive at where it is now?

Paying attention to the wrong priorities and the wrong government proved fatal for Labour in Scotland. As their every utterance  grew indistinct from Tory ideology the SNP grew in popularity, a clear alternative to old school career politics. Most SNP politicians had taken up politics from others jobs, motivated by a heartfelt ambition to create a better society, unlike their Tammany Hall opportunists scratching backs for a share of the spoils of colonialism.

It was Union Jack McConnell’s administration that abandoned the first-past-the-post in local elections to introduce proportional representation. The door was opened. Districts once diehard Labour strongholds saw new talent appearing on the electoral register, people who wanted Scotland’s voice to be heard. Having Scotland’s voice heard was a novelty to voters, and they liked the idea a lot.

A cloak removed from alternatives

McConnell’s political error allowed a new democratic spirit to take off at grass roots level. Catholics loyal to the Labour party, who wanted a good degree of self-governance, an ambition invariably frustrated by a party beholden to London values, suddenly found themselves among like-minds their hopes open to discussion, Labour shibboleths challenged. In turn they saw the SNP as a classless, all-encompassing organisation that fitted their ideals.

Moreover, the SNP had a group of politicians every inch the match of Labour and Tory grandees: Alex Salmond, John Swinney, Michael Russell, Nicola Sturgeon, Angus Robertson, John Nicolson, and others, the Donald Dewers of their day but without the compromising attitude to sovereignty.

Within a few years the Labour group had gone through a pack of leaders in a frenzy to better the SNP’s habit of presenting the electorate with candidates of real ability. Labour’s band were not fit for the job, and all, including the current incumbent, Kezia Dugdale, strangely unable to communicate intelligence.

The new generation of SNP politicians knew their Scottish history thoroughly, and they identified the democratic omissions that Labour had been happy to ignore for generations. What is more, they could articulate solutions extremely well, to the embarrassment of Labour, Tory, and Liberal-Democrats. The public took note.

Rhetoric from Tony Blair’s New Labour of public sector reform such as the National Health Service soon crept into Scottish Labour’s vocabulary. In carbon copy ideology of the Tory party, long rejected by the Scottish electorate, Labour hacks talked of the “something for nothing” society, treating the notion of state assistance fit only for condemnation. This was despite social security a Labour creation designed for the humanitarian purpose of helping the destitute and the vulnerable stave off extreme hardship. State help was a right not a privilege. Now people heard their political champions suggest the state should back away from intervention in poverty.

People in Scotland of all political persuasion who had once made use of unemployment benefit or housing subsidy, and were all the better for it, help paid for by their own taxes, did not take kindly described as welfare scroungers. Scotland decided it liked helping the poor and needy.

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The café birthplace of Rowling’s Potter, the SNP a huge elephant in her house

SNP very bad because its so good

In retaliation, an unimaginative Labour group threw all their energies into portraying the SNP as a semi-evil cabal of plotters in the vein of Guy Fawkes, willing to blow up the United Kingdom for a single ideal. Labour fell back on empty slogans and jeering; policies fit for the new age they had none.

Labour’s dearth of progressive ideas reached its zenith when McConnell’s administration returned £1.3 billion of funds to the UK Treasury, every penny earned by Scotland, on the basis he could find nothing to spend it on. It was an astonishingly stupid thing to do and smacked of a minor official ingratiating himself with his masters.

Once the SNP took over administration as a minority party, and did so with tremendous gusto and efficiency much to voter’s approval, critics tried to avoid talking of SNP delivering popular policies such as removing the never-ending tolls that caused long traffic tail-backs on the Forth Road Bridge, a freeze on council tax, and phasing out of prescription charges.

Opponents concentrated instead on painting what they saw as the SNP’s less impressive ability to remedy social problems, such as booze violence, pockets of urban and rural poverty, and social inequality. That argument was swiftly lost by reminding Labour it had been in power over thirty years and had done nothing, absolutely nothing to mitigate Scotland’s social ills, nor the Tories before them. In any event, the Holyrood parliament had never been constructed to tackle those profound ills. That was Westminster’s job. But Westminster’s parties showed little regard for Scotland’s problems. If anything, they tended to exacerbate them by using Scotland as a test bed for conformity.

The more the SNP’s opponents blamed the SNP for everything wrong with Scotland, the more the electorate began to see that the most serious issues they endured were the outcome of 300 years of accepting Westminster supremacy.

This perception did a lot to attract non-SNP voters to overlook the core policy of the SNP they thought redundant, namely the ultimate goal of reinstating self-determination, full democratic powers uncoupled from a United Kingdom steadily falling apart at  the seams from corruption, scandals, endless revenue draining wars, fantasy economics, and indifference to public mood. People in Scotland looked at the SNP and saw a breath of fresh air and good governance, compared to old guard conformity and mediocrity.

Carpet bombing no Dyson could hoover up

Throughout the Referendum on Independence Scotland sustained an aerial bombardment of mega-blast proportions, a firestorm of black propaganda. It came from all sections of the British establishment, the entire English and Scottish press and media, including BBC Scotland keen to demonstrate its state broadcaster credentials, plus every newspaper pundit with fat fees to protect and a dubious reputation for truth. Puerile stand-up comics took a stab at belittling Scottish mores with nothing more than a few nutritional jokes and a very bad stage-Scots accent.

The BBC offered itself as the natural platform of truthiness to a raggle-taggle, scurrilous ‘Better Together’ campaign that relied heavily on scaremongering the population, young and old, with fabricated ‘facts’ and dire warnings of doom.

On first sight it was an odd assembly of bedfellows, but in reality they had a great deal in common. In 2011 the SNP had been given a landslide victory shocking the other parties and causing the forces of imperialism to close ranks. Labour the traditional enemy of Tory rule now glad-handed their political opponents giving the electorate the evidence they needed to validate their accumulating suspicion the old parties were a mirror images of each other. You could not tell them apart.

Labour in Scotland paid the ultimate penalty for its hubris and folly – it was all but wiped out, down to a single MP scraping through by the skin of his English Cumberland sausage.

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Scotland’s leader of the few Tory group told the Scottish electorate Heaven is on Earth so long as they vote to stay in Hell. She now counsels Hell is Heaven

Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes

The independence referendum lost, the SNP didn’t turn in on itself squabbling and bickering. It maintained its stance, looking like a great champion dignified in defeat who might return for a rematch once his wounds healed.

Membership shot up from around 28,000 to over 130,000 in the space of a few months. The people of Scotland were determined their just demands would not be swept into the gutter like discarded fag ends in George Square the day after the plebiscite vote.

The leading figure of Scotland’s renaissance, Alex Salmond, resigned as First Minster but did not fade into obscurity. He rose like Lazarus and got elected again as a Westminster MP reinvigorated, ready to harass the wannabee Churchills, such was his enduring popularity. His enemies retired, lost their political posts, or worse, got elected to the House of Lords rewarded for selling their country’s rights to the lowest bidder. Salmond’s redoubtable colleague, Nicola Surgeon, took his place as First Minister, and proved to be more popular than Amazon’s Game of Thrones.

The enemies of democracy – there’s no other way to describe the outrageous attack on civil rights – thought eradication of the SNP would cleanse Scotland of rebellion. Carpet bombing the natives didn’t work in Vietnam, but hell, it might work in Scotland. There are too few trees for Jocks to hide among.

The venomous abuse thrown at Scotland and the Scots from official sources and from internet social sites is well documented in historical archives and analysis; there’s no need to repeat examples here, but it has continued almost unabated because a second referendum is likely to happen.

The damn Scots think Scotland belongs to them

With only 32% of England’s electorate backing them, Tories took power at Westminster. They began rolling back decades of progressive policies to impose more neo-liberal dogma. The worst scenario predicted by the SNP came about.

Prime Minister David Cameron, fresh from winning the Scottish Referendum by a small margin of anglophiles, the Queen still ‘purring’ in his ear, immediately proclaimed English laws for English votes, letting the Scots know they may have been induced to stay in the UK but they’re not entitled to the full English breakfast. Balls high, he laid down a Bill for a Referendum on membership of the European Union. His thought was to silence his own backbench whiners who believed only Etonians were fit to rule his native land.

The contradiction between their demands and Scotland’s was evident to everybody but British nationalists. Scotland wanted to join the international world on its own terms,  England wanted to exclude the international world on its own terms.

To the nation’s shock Cameron lost the EU Referendum, resigned, and the unelected Theresa May, an ordinary politician of no discernible ability, slipped into number 10 Downing Street as UK prime minister.

She wore an off-the-peg tartan trouser suit for the occasion, an urban icon created by clothes designer Vivienne Westwood. Unlucky for May and posterity’s indelible images, Westwood is a passionate advocate of Scottish independence.

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Theresa May arrives at Washington Airport to meet Donald Trump. Presumably on her return she will wave a letter in the air to proclaim “Deal in our time!”

History repeats itself

Vainglorious politicians never learn from history. When it comes to Scotland’s democratic rights England’s parliament has only two modes, indifference or riding roughshod over Scotland’s interests. It was the same in the late 1600s and it’s exactly the same today.

As in 1707, Scotland makes lain it prefers good relations with European nations, England does not. With some minor reservations Scotland voted overwhelmingly in the Brexit referendum to remain partners with Europe, as did 98% of loyal Brit Gibraltarians also ignored by the harbingers of British national chauvinism.

In a piece of superficial window dressing, a sixteen minute chat with Scotland’s First Minister, Theresa May promised that Scotland would be consulted on the new world order, which is the same as the old world order but without the protection of human rights. Listened to did not mean acting upon concerns and proposals. To English supremacists, cooperation is for frogs, wops, tulip chasers, Pollacks, and onion Johnnies.

It was a promise that was never going to be honoured, a classic folly of colonial mentality. Scotland is told yet again it is too small and too poor to participate in its own fate, it must accept an alien ideology or be prepared to shut down, blocked from all trade once England re-establishes its own trading routes. It is 1706 played all over again.

The distant rumble isn’t thunder, it’s an elephant stampede

To Scotland’s eyes the Tory party in London is weak, vulnerable, and as intolerant of other cultures as it can be. The British Labour party is wholly unable to stand up straight and support its flaccid leader, Jeremy Corbyn, let alone represent the hopes of the people who voted for his policies.

Liberal Democrats pretend they are a political party while sounding like a boy scout troupe lost in municipal park without a woggle or compass. Ukip is in total disarray if it ever had discipline, its former leader Nigel Farage taken leave of Blighty to spout inanities and flibbertigibbet on USA’s Fox news. Farage has become everything he detests, an economic migrant, his Ukip successor a burgeoning fascist in the Oswald Mosley mould.

To add to the Union’s woes the fragile peace of the Northern Ireland Assembly has broken up yet again on realising they have to much to lose cast adrift from European union.

Seen from a Scottish perspective, with the unpredictable Donald Trump in power, the only constant in an alarmingly fluctuating political world is the SNP. The electorate north and south of the Scottish border is faced with political parties proven inept, unable to govern effectively. The exception to this unprecedented rule is the SNP admired by the majority of Scotland’s electorate, and a good many English residents too.

Each and every one of those unionist participators in the real Game of Thrones maintain Scotland does not count – but think about that claim. In reality the fate of their personal ambitions hang on what Scotland does next.

If Nicola Sturgeon feels public animosity remains intense, that the population wants protection from the conflagration of English political backdraft, and she calls a second referendum on independence, the game’s a bogey for unionism and the British state.

The SNP has largely sustained Left-wing policies, and held on to only a few neo-liberal principles. Unique in its history, Scotland holds in its hands the fate of its sister nations.

The pachyderm in the Unionist room is no domesticated Indian elephant. It’s a very large angry tartan mammoth getting tetchier by the minute continually fed dry peanuts.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 18 Comments

Hacksaw Ridge – a review

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Andrew Garfield as the pacifist Dawson Doss, probably the role of his career.

When Mel Gibson directs a film he somehow contrives to make it a game of two halves, to quote the accident prone sports commentator, David Coleman. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is exactly that. The first half is an old fashioned, quaint, pack-in-the-clichés army drama, wild eyed drill sergeant and all, and the second is a blood soaked killing field.

Braveheart has a similar construction. The first thirty minutes has the quality of an old BBC Scotland schools broadcast in acting and story telling, then the writer Randall Wallace gets inspired by historical detail and the drama is given real impetus.

I still regard Apocalypo Gibson’s best work by far, gripping, original, beautiful and bloody to witness,  and a fine metaphor for the futility of all-consuming hatred and war. That too begins with a montage of idyllic life in a tribal village but it’s far more interesting than anything depicted before. The unexpected twist in the coda tells us no matter how cunning a tribe is in battle there’s another tribe smarter than you and twice as powerful. “Let us return to the forest and start anew,” says the battle weary warrior to his wife and child.

Hacksaw travels from the Elysium North to Hades South in two hours hacksaw a fitting title for the carnage we witness. This is a film at war with itself. Which makes sense, because it’s story is about a man at war with himself, and when you think about it, perhaps Gibson too is a man at war with himself. He’s fought the vagaries of Hollywood studio authority, the need to be seen a serious actor who can play Hamlet, (he did, part shot outside Edinburgh) doubts about the existence of God, a battle with booze and temper, all conflicts manifest in the subject matter he chooses.

The Passion made him a very rich man. Loyal Catholic Latinos went to see it six or seven times boosting his box office takings ten fold. He’s a filmmaker wealthy enough to make his own movies with his own money, and commission others, which he does regularly.

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The real Dawson Doss awarded a medal by President Truman for outstanding bravery

The film is based on a true story. It was shot in Australia; the real Hacksaw Ridge is only about 30 feet tall. Tall enough, you might think, but the one in the film is three times that height. This is what’s called creative license, it heightens the drama, but it makes nonsense of one man lowering 75 wounded men to the ground by rope in one night.

Okinawan authorities don’t promote the site. The island is still stunned by the bloody legacy of a conflict imposed by rulers 950 miles away in Tokyo. Up to a quarter of its population died over a few weeks known as the “rain of steel”. Over 90% of the buildings were razed and fields were left laced with mines, corpses and spent ammunition.

The main character actually existed, Dawson Doss, the kind of religious fundamentalist a lot of people take a body swerve to avoid, myself included. He was a Seventh Day Adventist whose religious beliefs prevented him from carrying a gun, eating meat, or working on a Saturday.

“With all the killing going on what’s wrong with trying to save a few lives?”  Doss won the Congressional Medal of Honour for his actions as a medic during the WWII battle for Okinawa. He proved himself one hell of a brave soldier.

For his part Andrew Garfield gives us a memorable performance, if somewhat derivative of his recent religious adherent, the rookie priest in Scorsese’s Silence. He is far better in this movie, more focussed, more comfortable with the simplicity of the character.

As with William Wallace, Gibson gives us Doss’s back life in the film’s first hour, a sunny existence of moral certitude played out in a small leafy town in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As played by Garfield, Doss is a pleasant, naïve, sheltered young man, who struggles with a tortured, alcoholic father, (Hugo Weaving from the Matrix movies) a former First World War veteran, a convenient symmetry if true.

Doss struggles with a degree of poor education. After nearly killing his brother with a brick as a child, Desmond finds God in a wall poster, the emotional discovery not an unknown attraction for confused adolescence, one that soon evaporates when adult life teaches the Gospel is an impossible code by which to live. But Doss never deviates from his beliefs.

From that portrait you expect Doss to be the last person to enlist in the army, but like his brother, he does, and refuses to touch a rifle. At this point the plot collapses into cliché. In barracks he meets a group of characters straight out of The Dirty Dozen. There’s the psychopathic bully rejected by his mother, a mouthy Italian from New York, a Texan fancy with his lasso, the guy who looks like Lurch from the Adams family, a handsome narcissist who loves to parade in the buff nicknamed “Hollywood”, everybody except the serial rapist in the shower. Understandably, the odd man out, Doss gets beaten up as a ‘coward.”

Despite his scrawny frame, Doss aces all his training, save for the rifle part much to the bewilderment and fury of his company’s hard-ass drill sergeant with a heart, a plausible Vince Vaughn delivering the de rigueur arse-kickery with an above-it-all attitude, and their practical-minded, impatient Sam Worthington his captain.

The sergeant screams in Doss’s face, “I have seen stalks of corn with better physiques. Makes me want to pull an ear off, Private! Can you carry your weight? Stay away from strong winds!”

Doss wants to be a non-combatant medic and faces a court marshall to test his wacky beliefs expecting to be thrown out of the army. Since we know he gets to fight at Hacksaw Ridge there’s not much tension in that scene, but it does hold our attention, even after his faithful girlfriend, (Teresa Palmer) and father turn up to speak on his behalf, and we expect to see his granny, his primary teacher, his old pal, and his dog as well.

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Bodies and viscera are tossed in the air like bread to pigeons

So, we are shown an extended prologue to implant in our minds the dogged character of a simple man with simple beliefs, and for the most part it is effective.

When the platoon reach Okinawa, all hell breaks loose, and all beliefs and certainties are as clay in a rain storm. Any illusions about heroism and combat are torn to shreds like the soldier’s bodies. The scenes of combat battle are horrific and mesmerising, a case of the pornography of violence. Pieces of human fly every which way; heads and torsos explode like a melon hitting tarmac. If Spielberg set the industry standard for killing in Saving Private Ryan Gibson moves it to an intensity unknown before.

Critics aver Gibson has never had a good-taste filter when it comes to violence but in my book that makes him dangerous as a filmmaker. I acknowledging there’s a large element in the graphic scenes of the pornography of violence, particularly when it’s slowed down. Some of the battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge are shockingly graphic. I lost concentration a few times in the idealised predicable first half, never in the gruesome second half.

There is purpose in Gibson’s vision of Hell. We get no exhilaration from all this carnage. He is showing us the real horror of incessant, wave after wave of graphic, shocking murder in the name of war. And it works.

The spectacle highlights Doss’s outstanding achievement, saving countless wounded men, from foxhole to foxhole in the middle of the battlefield, with no thought of his own life, a target for the Japanese waiting to take a shot at him.

In the middle of that nightmare Gibson gives us the game of Christmas football between German and British soldier, when, caught in a tunnel, Doss blunders into a wounded Japanese and tends to his wounds. This is the moment of pacifism writ large.

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Gibson on location with Hacksaw Ridge

It is difficult to know what Gibson is asking us to believe: war is hell? Well, we knew that already. There is humanity in the midst of killing? True, the most hated man is capable of the most generous of acts. There is a hackneyed slow-motion charge at the enemy, so is it, war can be glorious, the US army a great army? Or is it God is the answer to making a wimpy soldier a hero in battle?

As a filmmaker, I think Gibson is trying to articulate there is something fundamentally irreconcilable about Doss’ love of peace amid a justified war. Somehow, the director has made a film that can contain that contradiction, that is and remains irreducible. He breaks his own movie apart. If I’m correct in that interpretation then Gibson achieved what I think he wanted to achieve. He makes us think. Just don’t forget to wear your tin helmet.

  • Star rating: Three and a half stars
  • Cast: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn
  • Director: Mel Gibson
  • Writer: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
  • Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
  • Composer:  Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • Duration: 2 hours 19 minutes

 

Posted in Film review | 4 Comments

Trump v Mexican Cars

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President Trump doesn’t like investment in foreign countries, unless it’s in golf courses – preferably his

Among a contradiction of foes Donald Trump has attacked, the mightiest isn’t China, or even his own all-powerful Republican party, but the American automotive industry. It has power, leverage, and bribes that reach into every corner of American life, and beyond. American cities and entire states depend on the car industry just to get people and stuff around the time zones.

A myriad of small manufacturing companies, plus the tyre making industry, that supply parts to the US giants would go out of business tomorrow if the US halted or slowed down car sales, the most prolific of which isn’t a saloon or a sports car, but a pick-up. Perfectly good models are junked or tweaked annually to keep customers buying the new. We are all suckers for shiny new metal, and a swathe of plastic pretending to be leather.

Trump’s conviction – he doesn’t have policies – that US car makers with factories in Mexico should have a 35% import tax slapped on each unit brought into the USA is a sad case of a president mistaking a car for an illegal immigrant.

If he keeps up the rhetoric and he forces US car makers out of Mexico, he should expect thousands of more Mexican immigrants moving north.

In the beginning

His interest in aiding the hard done-by, cheated car workers by the bosses, (a worthy  commitment) comes from a visit to a dying Detroit, once home of the US car giants, the same Obama helped with billion dollar grant aid in his first term, when it looked as if the biggest were about to go to the wall. It did the trick.

They all still exist, though the weakest, the Chrysler Group that makes the Jeep brand is now in the hands of Italian giant, Fiat. (Fiat entered US life early last century with tractors and banks.) When Obama rescued the Lincoln, the Buick, the Cadillac and General Motors, they had all gotten deep into debt by traversing the globe buying up every car maker that existed. Obama demanded they resold those companies, and they did. Now, back on their feet, or wheels so to speak, Trump is gunning for them.

Mexico’s car industry is an easy target, Mexico soon to be sectioned off by a stone wall mega-miles long, along its border to keep Mexicans out of the land they once owned, California and Texas. Mexico has experienced a considerable boom in its car industry in recent years, as manufacturers look to take advantage of cheap labour and ease of trade access into the US, which, according to some – including Trump – is to the detriment of American car-building jobs.

This site published the occasional car industry article, and this is a perfect subject. So, for readers interested in the politics of the car industry let’s take a look at the companies who dominate the US industry in sales.

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Toyota’s Californian headquarters, a small part of it, all solar panel heated and lit

Toyota

I visited the Toyota headquarters in southern California to test drive a car and it was like arriving in a different country. The conurbation is vast. Acres of offices and factories stretch in all directions. Toyota has a vehicle for every task known to mankind. A car or a pick-up is an absolute necessity to get around. In fact, some people put their wealth into a quality car and park it next to their flimsy lifestyle trailer, their permanent home. Some people live in the car.

Toyota’s headquarters has its own mini-city with shops and banks, it’s that big. Toyota sells thousands of vehicles a year in the USA. American staff give Toyota the sort of loyalty you expect them to give to the Stars and Stripes. How big?

There is a scene in the movie La La Land where the courting couple leave a venue to reach a car. “What’s your car?” says the Gosling character. “A Prius” she answers, referring to Toyota’s hybrid family saloon, the joke being that eco-friendly California is always ahead of the automotive curve – the entire street is lined with Prius as far as the eye can see. In fact, so reliable are Toyota parts that they end up in all sorts of marques you’d never guess would want a Japanese part, such as Porsche, but they won’t tell you that.

That aside, critics of Trump’s kick a target a day were quick to point out that Toyota’s new plant would be in Guanajuato, and that US employment would be unaffected. The company maintains it does not dismiss US workers in preference for Mexican workers. Toyota said: “We have been part of the cultural fabric in the US for nearly 60 years. Production volume or employment in the US will not decrease as a result of our new plant in Guanajuato, Mexico announced in April 2015. Toyota looks forward to collaborating with the Trump Administration to serve in the best interests of consumers and the automotive industry.”

Hyundai

Trump’s vow to introduce a 35% import tax came shortly before Hyundai raised its investment in the US from just over $2 billion, to $3.1bn (£2.5bn) over the next five years, according to Reuters. Currently, Hyundai builds more than half of its US model range domestically, and has facilities in Alabama, Michigan and California. So far, the company has remained diplomatically silent, but that might change if Trump picks on them.

BMW

A BMW is as prized an executive saloon in the east and west coast as it is in the United Kingdom. People who buy a BMW don’t buy Mercedes, and vice versa. BMW has been more troublesome for Trump; the president-elect took on the car maker directly, criticising the Munich-based brand for its current Mexico plant and plan to expand its manufacturing operations there. Germany’s deputy chancellor advised the US to “build better cars”, when asked how the US could ensure more American cars are bought in Germany.

BMW said: “The BMW Group is very much at home in the USA.  We have a deep level of localisation and employ both directly and indirectly almost 70,000 people in the US. Our US production last year hit 411,171 X [SUV] models. This makes the plant Spartanburg in South Carolina the BMW Group’s largest factory worldwide.”

The BMW Group plant in San Luis Potosí will build the BMW 3 Series Sedan starting from 2019 on. The production is planned for the world market. As such, the plant in Mexico will be an addition to existing 3 Series production facilities in Germany and China.

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WI Simonson, Mercedes-Benz famous Spanish Revival showroom in  Los Angeles

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz’s future plans to share assembly in Mexico with Renault-Nissan caught Trump’s attention. Trump thinks all German brands are essentially the same brand – German. Blind racism  has no limits.

Mercedes was lumped in with Trump’s criticism of German brands, as well as Germany on the whole. Mercedes hasn’t backed down on the plans, as Germany’s deputy chancellor appears to be defending the German car industry – and immigration policy – overall.

The company will make its stand known shortly, but it’s isn’t a company known for backing down. And they might just remind Trump his dad was a German immigrant.

General Motors

General Motors (GM) has four Mexican production plants. Being US owned it did a smart side-step. One set to Trump. It announced a $1bn investment in the US not Mexico. The company  maintain their decision is not in reaction to Trump’s comments yet the timing  says otherwise. For example, GM confirmed one of it suppliers has committed to make components for GM’s next-generation full size pick-up trucks in Michigan, moving 100 supplier jobs from Mexico to the US.

GM’s US production facilities currently outnumber its Mexican factories eleven to four. CEO Mary Barra said: “The US is our home market and we are committed to growth that is good for our employees, dealers, and suppliers and supports our continued effort to drive shareholder value.” There was a day when a GM CEO refused to meet with union representatives of its Detroit plant it was about to close completely. Ask the former employee, and now documentary maker, Michael Moore.

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Chilean citizens symbolically enact the ‘Disappeared’ in memory of thousands who were spirited away in the night by Chilean dictator Pinochet’s armed guards, driving Ford vehicles donated by the grateful company

Ford

Ford is a company with a notorious history of aiding and abetting  dictatorships when  present in those countries. Time spent in various South American countries is  a litany of  anti-union practices, and workers disappearing in the middle of a night shift, never to be seen again. Their support of counter-revolutionary groups  has often been blatant, and in accord with whatever is US presidential policy. Ford’s founder, Henry Ford, was an admirer of German fascism, and created his own version in non-stop conveyor belt manufacturing, the inspiration for Charlie Chaplin’s dystopian factory scenes in The Great Dictator.  No wonder then, that compliance with a brutal regime is a Ford tradition.

I am sure whatever president Trump deems is right for Ford, Ford will comply fully. We have enough evidence already. The company is one of the only manufacturers playing ball with Trump’s tax plans, having cancelled a $1.7bn Mexican factory immediately Trump picked up his megaphone, instead driving $700 million into a Michigan-based plant.

CEO Mark Fields announced the change of plan at the same event as his announcement of the brand’s renewed electrified vehicle (EV) production, adding that all of the electrified models would be built in Michigan. Ford said: “This was a business decision we made independently, looking at all the factors, including a more positive US manufacturing business environment expected under president-elect Trump. We did not discuss this decision with the president-elect until this morning.” Is that right? Aye.

In other words, Ford expects some back-pocket commission for their adherence to the new  business ethic.

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Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California, a bulldog company with aRottweiler of a CEO

Tesla

Tesla is the new kid in the block. It makes electric cars, and is the brainchild of PayPal  founder Elon Musk. There’s one passes me by same days each week, sleek, silent, and almost nondescript. It can charge off into the sunset o-60 mph in 2.7 seconds, faster than a shop assistant can take my money from my bank card and put it into their bank account.

Musk has opened showrooms worldwide, one in Edinburgh already selling its cars. They are expensive, but then so were colour television sets before they became the thing to have. Tesla won’t take kindly to be constrained in any way. Musk believes he is spearheading a revolution in transportation. (He’s also patented the solar roof tile.) Spanners are sure to fly at political heads if Trump’s management style cabinet tries to dictate policy.

Summary

The trick will be Trump’s ability to claim credit for any foreign investment switched to the USA, and more importantly, that it actually created more jobs than exist now. But that depends on ever-increasing car sales, not on Trump diktat. Watch this space.

Post Script:

For an opinion on Trump half-baked politician and half-biscuit read Trump – What Now? Click on: http://wp.me/p4fd9j-b61:

Posted in General, Transportation | 2 Comments

The Degredation of Englishness

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Life was so much simpler when England had an empire, and the Scots, Irish and Welsh got lots of jobs out of it

In a very early brief rumination on the main attributes of the English character I touched on how many had forgotten what it is to be English, the English calling themselves British for decades. From the repulsive utterances we are prey to these days courtesy of the media it seems English have supplanted their best qualities with the worst in human nature.

What happened to the famed English sense of fair play, reasonableness, levelheadedness, politeness, decency, chivalry, and an unmatched aptitude for good manners? I had grown to believe those attributes ingrained in the English character. Was it all a myth, fine etiquette and consideration for others only ever in Agatha Christie novelettes?

To Scots, and I have to believe to English who live in Scotland, England has become a mutant society, another planet.

Where are we now?

English of a certain vulgar authoritarian disposition have reached the stage where Boris Johnson can describe Africans as “piccaninnies” and still be appointed UK Foreign Secretary and they won’t complain, and Johnson allowed to survive in that post comparing François Hollande to a Nazi prison guard.

Panellists on the lightning rod of British public mood, BBC’s Question Time, dismissed  his bigotry as an over-reaction by silly Europeans. On this occasion three were public (private) school educated, taught a hellova low standard in international understanding.

Fellow Right-wing MP Michael Gove tweeted his feelings. People “offended” by Johnson’s comments are “humourless, deliberately obtuse, snowflakes – it’s a witty metaphor”, adding “hashtag -Getalife”. After a failed bid for Tory party leadership Gove is searching for a life of his own.

You can liken England’s ugly nationalism to primitivism, a DNA regression. English courtesy has had its day. Authoritarian posturing is the fashion. Sound tough, act tough, be brutal. There is a sense of menace in the air.

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Trump tells Gove England can beat the waiting and step out of line for a deal, forgetting a prime rule of British behaviour, English never queue jump

Lately I’ve taken to asking English friends to define what they mean by being, or feeling, ‘British’ above all else. They stumble for an exact definition until they reach the inadequate explanation, “Born in the British Isles.”

We know they have something else in mind, a certain superiority over other ‘races’, the benefits of living in a wealthy country with a higher standard of living, not an economic basket case, or banana republic like others they could mention, such as Scotland. So much for over 300 years of English economic rule.)

The aggressive sort, unnerved their nebulous life-long assumptions are shaky, to say the least, respond with the reflex “So then, what is ‘Scottishness?’ In turn I quote them in reply, rebellious uneducated tenement dwellers, whiney, uppity, vegetable hating, alcohol swallying, welfare reliant skirt wearers, and wait for the expected silent embarrassment.

The best of British

The dark side of British nationalism has been whipped up in greater and greater intensity since the beginning of the Millennium. It’s the power elite’s way of keeping the anger of the masses away from the real ills that are afflicting society, namely tax avoidance, wars for profit, and corporate privatising of everything.

During the two years national discourse of Scotland’s Independence Referendum, (I enjoy giving that event proper respect with capitals) any number of BBC television series adopted the generic title, ‘The Best of British’. It was a unique coincidence; over thirty-three series with the same title, plus a parade of documentaries on the First World War. England had been at war for decades before, in the Sudan, and South Africa, but poppies have a greater resonance than portraits of Gordon of Khartoum.

To combat any attempt to subdue English nationalism BBC’s answer was to broadcast an excess of ‘British’ patriotism. So, we all became British, one country, one culture, one flag.

To keep the population of Scotland feeling patriotic and wary of self-determination, various amoral Right-wing politicians complained that their forefathers had died in two great wars for the United Kingdom. In reality they died to uphold the notion of democracy, and that included every corner of the British Isles, every language, every race. Tens of thousands were Scots.

As the black propaganda increased from British Establishment Central so too did the desire for Scottish hegemony. The reaction was predicable. More had to be done to convince Scots to accept British political orthodoxy, and toe the line. The BBC did its part.

My turn to be pontificator

Any wannabee television celebrity given a hand-held camera and a silly hat threw a knapsack on their back and took off on long boring walks talking to camera around our ‘Great British Countryside’. British tended to stop at the Lake District.

Now, many of those programmes were made by independent production companies, leaving the only logical explanation for the rash of amazing plagiarism a BBC executive memorandum instructing ‘British’ used in as many titles as possible. We didn’t get ‘Great British Bullshit’ but it felt like it. I waited for the crème de la crème, ‘Great British Public Conveniences’, but I guess unmarried celebrities shied from the role of narrator. Anyhow, the best of British turned out to be the worst of Englishness.

This week saw an even greater stamp of England’s will on Scotland’s aspirations. We had the anger inducing scene of Brexit means anything I want it to mean prime minister Theresa May. She said “No deal is better than a bad deal”, and in the same breath, warning Scotland it doesn’t count when it comes to sharing negotiations in a democracy of nations.

How can no deal be better than a bad deal? Any bad deal is better than no deal. Starving, what would you rather have no chicken or only a chicken leg?

And as the United Kingdom is united in its Crown not in its laws and political preferences, all else is negotiable, jointly and severally, so long as it does not undermine the will of either nation.

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BBC’s idea of balance and impartiality – every single guest holds Right-wing sympathies

And from where has all that intense British patriotism arrived? It demonstrates its arrogance in a repulsive xenophobic BBC Question Time political show. An England still mourning the loss of its empire was there for all to witness.

The panel was packed with ultra-Right-wing politicians and pundits, the one person there for some sort of impartial, sane comment, American novelist Lionel Shriver, struggling to construct a coherent sentence without sounding like a Trump apologist.

A fast aging David Dimbleby, chairman, failed to control the high-handed, bombastic antics of self-promoter and serial failure, Piers Morgan. As far as Morgan was concerned he was the chairperson, and, he reckoned, so long as he talked over everybody on the panel England would be mighty again. His was penis patriotism in your face.

Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry

The audience was ready to gun down any new idea coming into their Dodge City. From a member of the audience came the inevitable gratuitous jab at the integrity of Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

The audience did as an English audience is expected to do in the new order whenever the democratic rights of a smaller nation are called into question, it applauded and laughed uproariously. If a member of the audience experienced any misgivings none appeared to show it. There is a cure for that sort of excruciating colonial double bind, but it requires a machine gun.

A quick witted cameraman made sure viewers saw the joke was shared by all the panellists, including the thick lipped, treble-chinned, dishonest Liberal-Democratic MP, Alistair Carmichael.

It was unclear if he was laughing in relief because for once he wasn’t the conspiratorial author of the taunt. He’s a Scot, remember, yet there he was joining in the ridiculing of his own nation. It’s a sign of a craven individual who succumbs to the pressure of the group.

BBC’s Question Time is a freak show.

What we are given isn’t erudition, wisdom, or wit, but braggarts, the vainglorious, and narcissists. The entire charade was repulsive, at moments chilling to watch.

English readers who voted Remain – who lost by a small margin in a referendum that ought never to have been called – will have experienced the same alienation, but the time has arrived when they must affect the cure themselves for their nation, and not expect more delay to Scotland’s democracy as a sacrifice in assistance to their interests.

For all its imperfections and injustices there is a better England, just not the one they think they are creating now. That one is an aberration.

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These people are not guests on BBC’s next Question Time panel but they might as well be going by that show’s idea of educated, informative communicators

England still mourns the passing of the empire, and as a substitute, entertains the delusion that the United Kingdom plus Gibraltar, and all its little far flung tax havens for multi-millionaires and corporations, is  … the new empire.

For wanting a say in negotiations with the EU the Scots and the Irish are ‘divisive nationalists’, according to May, oblivious of the authoritarian nationalism in her claim to speak for the Scots and Irish against their better judgement.

Nor does she blench at her imposition of English nationalists’ warped ideals on the Scots and Irish, who rejected her vision. (I can’t vouchsafe for the Welsh, Wales a land geographically too close to London to be enough of a renegade and survive a revolution.)

England, your England

When Scotland achieves its democratic ideal England will be a very small country indeed, and it knows it. It’s desperate to hold firm to its empire, a few scattered protectorates, plus an atoll of tax havens it owns abroad.

England is filled with Indians, Pakistanis, Trinidadians, and Europeans whom it once governed, a constant reminder of its days of dubious glory. The UK is the British Empire lite. But it is also an illusion. The sublimation of Scotland’s culture and hopes is fast losing attraction. British imperialists who believe Scotland can only survive as a vassal of the United Kingdom are in retreat.

The European project was always a work in progress, never a conspiracy to establish a sinister super-state. Rather than share a top table, England has decided it wants its own table, and the right to choose who they invite to sup around it. So be it.

Scotland will not be denied a voice.

If Westminster wants to respect Middle-England dictating to all of the United Kingdom I am more than happy it gives shelter to all the head banging British nationalists and thugs they want. They deserve a place of their own. They have no harbour in Scotland.

It is time for an all-England parliament expressing its own identity, and an all-Scottish parliament, both nations able to exercise free will. Who knows – perhaps the English will then decide other nations are worthy of respect.

Posted in Media, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 13 Comments

Scotland’s Emigrants

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Some well-heeled Scots on their way to Canada and a new life

The tale is in the leaving

Why do so many Scots leave their homeland? It cannot be because some winters are harsh. Where do countries put all the Scots? There are hundreds of thousands down the centuries, emigrants by force and by choice.

I was one, twenty-five years ago. After creating exciting pioneering work in Scottish arts, setting up companies, institutions, literary outlets, broadcasting slots, doors closed. The London boys didn’t like competition. Working for ‘British’ arts is fine ‘n dandy, Sandy, but independent, you’re a menace, Dennis! Get thee to the Americas.

Like many another I was born into a deprived household, yet managed to carve out the start of a career by dint of getting a good, traditional elementary and higher education in Scotland. (Let no one claim Scottish education is remotely backward. It has transformed the lives of millions, including today’s smug Scottish unionists.) I decided to find work abroad to sustain a vocation but I was repeating history. Scotland, a prosperous, vibrant nation, was still the emigration capital of the world haemorrhaging souls.

Earlier last century aunts and uncles had taken the £15 grant and emigrated to Australia. They exchanged bleak winters and starving pigeons for noisy kookaburras and constant sunshine. And yet, prime minister Harold MacMillan told us ‘We’d never had it so good.’

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Thomas Faed’s ‘Last of the Clan’ (1869)

The view from 1707 and the Act of Union.

A recorded two million and more Scots left Scotland between the end of the first quarter of the eighteen century and the start of the First World War. A hundred years of steadily decreasing population, a figure that doesn’t include tens of thousands of Scots killed in that obscenity of a war England called ‘For King and Country’.

No matter what the malignant Tory and Ukip party say about keeping English jobs for Englishmen, all people of all nations have traversed the globe looking for work and trade since Marco Polo travelled to China and back. They will keep doing it, English included. It’s getting forced to leave your homeland that is the problem.

My musician grandfather was an immigrant from Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, one of many poor Irish who chose Scotland as their adopted home. His wife was an English immigrant to Scotland. My Sicilian father can testify Scotland’s emigration didn’t get close to the eight million exodus of Italians from his country, but as a small nation Scotland’s vanishing point left it vulnerable to English priorities. In a nation of less than four million, to lose half your population is a political and economic disaster.

Take our most mentioned examples of small countries Scotland should emulate, Norway and Ireland; they suffered fluctuations in prosperity and famine like Scotland, but whenever there was a surge of emigration we Scots beat them in number hands down and cases packed every time.

The 1800’s saw the Gaels lose over half their crofters and cottar families from the West Highlands. In their wake departed farm workers, ploughmen, shepherds, cattle breeders, blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, stonemasons. Our main cities saw some of them first but many decided abroad was the place to go.

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Scotland’s landscape is littered with ruined villages lost in the Highland Clearances. Visit any Austrian highland village and you’ll see it still there and thriving

Of evictions and pioneers

My research began in earnest when I was working on an original television script about the Highland Clearances. It was for the small screen not the big one because I know the difference between a suite and a symphony, and anyhow, I wanted the most people possible to see a significant  aspect of Scotland’s history.

At the time I was privileged in making friends late in his life with historian and avid Scotiaphile John Prebble. He had a whole library of scholarship to impart. Through him I was surprised to learn almost all the colonial medical profession in North America in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth were Scots, or trained by Scots in Scotland.

Kith and kin that screwed their courage to an envisaged ideal went to North America. Those looking for land to farm went to Canada, a lot to Nova Scotia, and just as many to Australia and New Zealand. A few decided South Africa a good destination.

Wherever they settled Scots were assimilated quickly by the local population compared to sallow skinned Italians or poor Irish workers. Those Scots with skills, especially in leadership and diplomacy, were soon in government employment. Wherever they settled they made a deep and lasting impression on the development of the land and its life.

If you’ve never read a history book you know that from watching the movies, such as the populist Molly Maguires for the Irish, and The Godfather trilogy for the Italians. We see more dramas concerned with Italian and Irish Americans than Scots because those communities have built a strong political presence in America, but Scots are catching up.

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Italians arriving at Ellis Island, New York, for processing. They were outnumbered by Scots and Irish combined

A thing called leverage

Emigrant Scots had experience of working within a reasonably efficient capitalist system. Many were descendants of people who had participated in the Scottish Enlightenment and were themselves a product of those exciting times that electrified the world with new thinking and radicalism in economics, science, medicine, philosophy, and religion.

The Scots arrived with practical skills and knowledge. They had solutions not problems. They had vision, and a degree of authority of the personality that was valued.

Hard work and hard conditions didn’t bother them much. That gave them a distinct advantage over uneducated Italians and Irish – though not the advanced Italian aesthetic in design and architecture. That took Italians to Hollywood set making, to opera houses, made them produce growers and sellers, clothes and interior designers.

Historical records show as many as half of Scots emigrants were skilled or semi-skilled tradesmen. New emergent nations desperate for skills and experience welcomed them with offers of jobs, land and grants. Japan, too, found a place for businessmen ready to export its goods, and handle its shipbuilding. The urge was outward.

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Sending Scots abroad became an industry in itself

Building nations

Most people can name Andrew Carnegie, novelist R. L. Stevenson, and Allan Pinkerton Scots who made their mark abroad. Others made their name in London such as Peter Pan’s J. M. Barrie before their reputation spread abroad. Others were just as successful in small business enterprise.

Scots shopkeepers could be found all along the western frontier running trading posts, and sheep farmers helped create and nurture vast flocks in Wyoming, and Montana. I used to wonder why I kept hearing cowboys with Scots accents, or actors with Scottish names in western movies until I did some homework.

American history books record that Donald Mackay and John Dickie practically invented shipbuilding in New York. American banks benefitted from the doctrine of Adam Smith imported by Scots bankers, the real philosophy of Adam Smith, that is, not the corrupted one we hear now so often misquoted.

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Of the earliest Scots to take advantage of Australian invitation, sheep farmers  were among the most numerous – here two at work near Brisbane

The Australian experience

In Australia expat Scots were able to borrow from their banks back home and reinvest it in their personal enterprises. That fact took me by surprise. The generally held image of Scottish emigration is of the Victorian kind, and with some justification, harrowing images painted on large canvases of destitute Highland families sitting forlorn among meagre possessions at the dockside. Indeed, when trying to find information on the ships that transported them to the Americas I discovered some Highland women refused to defecate on board ship without privacy among passengers, so unused to loss of dignity were they.

It is true that women and children died on the journey. But to discover so many were what can be categorised as middle-class, is a surprise. They went where there was work for them, and many did well out of it.

I have to add there are instances in Australia’s New South Wales where tough Highland Scots were brutal to the Aborigine tribes in an effort to appropriate the land the tribes lived off. Some kept young women as mistresses while presenting them as servants. Those historical details are told in Don Watson’s Caledonia Australis.

One famous pioneering Scot, Angus MacMillan, who married a Gaelic speaker arrived by boat, practically opened up Gippsland in the south-east region. There is a statue to his memory. Macmillan was an uncompromising Presbyterian with a bad temper. It was his undoing. He hunted down and wiped out a small tribe at Warrigal Creek when he thought they had kidnapped a white woman. The massacre is legend. (His sexual  obsession is a backstory in itself.) The kidnapped ‘woman’ turned out to be a ship’s figurehead that had washed up on a beach. The Aborigines were worshipping it as an icon.

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Imposing ‘Britishness’ means depicting abandoned villages like this one as ‘inevitable’, and for the better. Apologists never mention lack of government investment or schemes

When you go to America…

America and Canada absorbed a great many skilled Scots. They went there for higher wages than they could ever secure in their homeland. Canadian officials, for example, keen to acquire new blood, recognised the influx from Scotland could open up new territories and establish new settlements. That in turn meant laying new railroads to distant places in the prairies. Canadian Pacific Railway softened the hardships of long journeys by building ready-made farms for the emigrants, with all the extras of barns and cattle fences thrown in. Those  seductive inducements were incentives to make a life where there was hope.

Many came home again. Newspapers, ever looking for the negative story, were filled with examples of the weary and the failure. Just as many (like me) made the USA their summer place of work, and returned to Scotland for the winter and family, money in their pockets. One such group was Aberdeen’s granite masons. Coal miners did the same thing, took advantage of seasonal work in the US. And the more tradesmen did this the more they brought home tales of overseas opportunities and great conditions of employment.

It’s from that ebb and flow that we Scots took up the annoying habit of overlooking ability under our nose, yet praising it when it returns home. Does the Scottish cringe have its beginnings in the myth the grass is greener on the other side? To be a Scot working in Scotland is somehow a lowly position on the social scale than when working abroad.

At any rate, emigrants brought back news of wonderful lands, and people who treated Scots and the Scots language with respect.

No wonder so many took advantage of places to settle, assisted passages, land parcels, grants, and superior living conditions. They could create their own mini-society, their own Little Scotland.

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Life below decks in an American immigration ship circa 1820

A friendship with Poland

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century we put on our warm coats and gloves and set off in our tens of thousands for Poland – hence so many places in Poland with Scottish names and Poles who came to Scotland to make a new life. We exchanged small-time merchants and labourers. That friendship resulted in a steady influx of Poles from about the 1850’s. That association had its roots in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s mother. She was Polish.

Elementary history books show us indisputable evidence the most draconian emigration in the nineteenth century was enforced, steered by severe economic pressures – placed first on the Highland and Islands population, then on people living in towns and cities – by an uncaring, aggressive London elite. They imposed a landlord culture as a means of taming Scots and grabbing land, a unique situation, not even migrant Poles had experienced.

The unionist slogan ‘Better Together’ has to be one of the most ironic in human history.

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Mary Anne MacLeod aged 14, sits by her Isle of Lewis house in 1934, before she emigrated to America and married another emigrant called Drumf, later Trump

England’s ills and solutions

To be scrupulously fair, England suffered emigration too, but not on the scale of the Scots haemorrhaging. It does not have vast tracts of land and villages derelict. Nevertheless, the contempt shown, the complete lack of empathy for Scotland’s plight, is curious.

To begin with, Scotland’s worst periods of widespread poverty are in great measure a direct result of England’s arrogant, hopeless rule. There were patches, the years of tobacco lords that drove Glasgow’s rapid expansion, for example, where playing enthusiastic employee to England’s Victorian empire was very attractive, and for the few very lucrative, but no one can claim the wealth accrued benefitted the common good. Secondly, you’d think knowledge of England’s own historical deprivation and emigration would make emollient antagonistic English; they might stop claiming Scotland is an economic basket case. But they do not.

To help with its economy and rebuilding, England enticed people from the Commonwealth with the promise of ‘full British’ citizenship, Scots and Irish included. We were given ‘British’ passports and nominally addressed as British, never English. Now England wants to repatriate non-English. We have reached a stage where, eternally suspicious of Johnny Foreigner, English denies Scots the right to govern its own immigration system.

The wild contradictions inherent in the English colonial mentality would embarrass the grandest diplomat with a conscience.

Though racists will never admit it, England created modern England with the help of its colonies. Scots, ever mindful they were essentially an English colony, took their skills and energies elsewhere and many succeeded.

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Scotland’s inclusive, civic spirit – crowds in Aberdeen welcome the Olympics

When skills are called upon, charge fees

Last year saw the population of Scotland rise over the 5 million mark for the first time in its history. But emigration has not reduced. For some this is not good news; they worry  the movement for genuine self-determination now relies on the good will of incomers. Then again, a good many incomers are choosing Scotland as a place to live because English society has become less tolerable politically and socially.

It is to be profoundly hoped immigrants from all nations will respect their ‘new found land’ by voting for its permanent sovereignty and governance. They should join with Scots in closing the sluice gates of British corruption and fantasy economics. As a nation state Britain does not exist. It isn’t a unitary state, it isn’t an English state. It never was.

Westminster removes Scotland’s oil estates, takes its taxes and tosses back pocket money, withdraws its regiments, refuses share of its pound, burdens Scotland with debts it never created, and blocks its right to grow and mature. What reason is left to justify continuing with a decrepit Union that lingers on, suffering acute arrhythmia?

Scots taking flight isn’t the answer. 

Scotland’s emigrants helped shape nations. Hence, we have all the skills and experience needed to reform our own. There should be no hesitation. What confident nation ever rose up only to demand its abolition?

Post script:

I’ve omitted specific dates and government Acts to keep the narrative flowing. The curious should consult the many history books on the subject, or contact the NRS.

Most emigration records are kept in London – no surprise, but the National Records of Scotland (NRS) has this to say: “We hold records of the Highland and Island Emigration Society, 1851-1859, set up by private subscription to alleviate destitution in the Highlands by promoting and assisting the emigration of Highlanders to Australia. Their passenger lists for the years 1852-1857 have survived and are organised by ship and by family and record the name, age and residence of each emigrant (NRS ref. HD4/5). You can search the index to this online at the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) website. A state-aided scheme was set up in the 1880s to assist emigrants from Lewis and Harris to settle in Manitoba, Canada. Names of the emigrants involved in this scheme appear in the files of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (NRS reference AF51).”

Recommended reading:

  1. The Highland Clearances John Prebble
  2. The Scottish Exodus James Hunter
  3. To the Ends of the Earth T.M. Devine
  4. Scots Colonists of America David Dobson
  5. The Poor Had No Lawyers Andy Wightman
  6. Farewell My Children Richard Reid
  7. The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes
  8. Oceans of Consolation David Fitzpatrick

Posted in Scottish Politics | 32 Comments