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Showing posts with label Britishness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Britishness. Show all posts

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I woke up this morning - England and Scotland

One of the great blues opening lines has always been “Woke up this morning …”, and it almost became a cliché of the blues lyric.

I woke up this morning, ready to pen my riposte to Kenny Farquharson’s article in Scotland on Sunday, which he had trailed in advance on Twitter last night was to be about the SNP embracing Britishness.

But having come out of my corner swinging, I find I have nothing to fight. This is a perceptive and insightful analysis of the sea change that has occurred in the SNP in the last decade and a half over their concept of independence. For me, it is one of the best things Kenny has written, and is a vital contribution to the independence debate. He has rightly said that some in the party won’t like it, but they would be foolish in the extreme to ignore it.

So I have no comment to offer at this time, because I think it is that comparative rarity in the great independence debate – an objective analysis from a senior Scottish journalist who I think would accept that he is a supporter of the Union. He also cares about Scotland. Read it carefully and reflect …

Cultural revolution as SNP learns to love the Brits

Saturday, 3 September 2011

UK and No. 10 complicit in torture and rendition in Libya - Is this 'Britishness'?

Watch the first five minutes or so of this, and listen to the categorical denials of senior UK spooks about involvement in rendition and torture.

MI6 is the intelligence arm of the UK government - the one that denied involvement in rendition and torture, denied complicity with Moussa Koussa and the brutal Gadaffi regime - the government that presumed, with barefaced hypocrisy, to criticise the Scottish Government’s legal, moral, principled and humane release of a dying criminal, Megrahi.

The hands of New Labour and Blair and Brown are all over this one, and the benighted Coalition were involved until the Arab Spring caught them with their pants down.

Is this the special nature of the quality of 'Britishness' that is used to justify arguing that Scots should not seek their freedom from a discredited regime, the UK and Westminster government and the poisoned Union that is now crumbling by the day?

Number 10 were up to their dirty necks in the Gadaffi regime, until Cameron expediently jumped on board a NATO and French initiative when he saw which way the wind was blowing. The UK will piously back democracy and freedom anywhere in the world when its suits their purpose - except of course Scotland's democratic and human right to end a union they were bribed and coerced into over 300 years ago.

Friday, 2 September 2011

One of the many faces of the Union – a YouTube comment

I pre-moderate comments on my blog and on my YouTube channel, TAofMoridura. Many are too abusive, foul-mouthed (I’m no angel myself, but favour the asterisk!) or would place me at risk of being sued. But I like to let to odd one through to illustrate one face of the Unionist argument. I am all too well aware that we have faces of the Nationalist argument that are abusive and foul-mouthed, but they usually have a basically logical structure to the abuse.

The one reproduced below came by email intend as a comment on my YouTube video Scotland's independence - Newsnight debate – the Rory Stewart one on Britishness. Unfortunately, I could not get the publish link to YouTube to work – but here it it, with all your original invective and deeply confused logic preserved, david21085.

What can I say? What can anyone say? I would like to find a way of engaging with people who think in this way, because there is a cry of pain in there, but since it is on a no-reply basis, I can’t – and I wouldn’t know where to start.



david21085 has made a comment on Scotland's independence - Newsnight debate:

Scottish independence is fucking retarded! Would we have 2 immigration systems, that would be retarded? What would happen to the British dependencies like the falklands? It's not fair on Northern Ireland fighting for almost 100years to remain with the Union then Scotland kicking them in the balls. What about our history, fighting side by side thats enough of a reason for me to stay in the Union. It won't be long till Shetland seeks independence from Scotland...

This comment requires your approval. You can approve or reject it by visiting the comments page.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The riots in some English cities

The title of this blog represents the only accurate locational description of what happened over the last week. If you don’t accept this, consider the alternatives in ascending order of inaccuracy -

The English riots: The British riots: The UK riots: The Western European riots: The European riots.

When the French people riot - as they have done many times, e.g. 1968, 1995, 2005, 2011 - they are described by the international press as either The French riots, if widespread, or if confined to one city,  The Paris riots.

Riots in America are described by the city, e.g. The Newark riots, The Chicago riots, The Seattle riots - or by subject, e.g. the draft riots, the Seattle prison riot, or by the trigger, e.g. the Rodney King riots.

The BBC started its coverage of the riots accurately with The Tottenham Riots, which rapidly became The London Riots. Once other English cities became involved, they became either the UK riots or the riots in Britain. This was picked up by some foreign media outlets, and was paralleled in the UK press.

Scotland, in the middle of an economic recession created by Westminster and global factors, a country to which tourism is a vital component of its economy, was also in the middle of its tourist season and its International Festival,  with tourists thronging the capital, and more on the way. The scenes of flaming buildings, police in full riot gear appeared across the world’s media, causing understandable apprehension among those contemplating a visit or already booked for Scotland.

The First Minister made a low key comment on radio about this, and in brief TV news clips. (The  news clips reporting this also confirmed that Scotland was sending 300 police officers to assist the Metropolitan Police.)

Alex Salmond would have been in dereliction of his duty as First Minister if he had not done so. Within 24 hours, the riots were being accurately described in all BBC news bulletins and straplines as The English Riots.

A Scottish Government committee had already met at this point to consider possible responses should the riots spread north of the border. There was no complacency, simply a desire to offer practical help to our southern neighbours and friends, allied to the recognition that this was a sickness that could spread. Asked to speculate on the causes of the riots, and the possible reasons why they had not so far occurred in Scotland, the First Minister replied that we were “a different society”.

This entirely accurate observation was enough to induce hysteria among unionist politicians in Scotland, and their mouthpieces in the Scottish Press. As I observed in recent blogs, the debate then split along what I called The San Andreas Fault of Scotland - the question of the Union and of course the referendum. Every word uttered by unionist commentators since then has focused on that aspect, rather than concern for the people of England sorely afflicted by these appalling incidents of civil disorder.

From the autumn of last years onwards, when the polls punctured the complacent assumption that Labour was going to win the 2011 Holyrood election in  a walk, unionist panic grew, as they faced the real possibility that the Scottish National Party might actually be going to achieve the unthinkable - a second term, this time of five years, with its inevitable consequence - a referendum on independence. Scottish Tories, LibDems and Labour then ran about in all directions like headless chickens, vomiting out dire predictions of doom and disaster, performing incredible somersaults of policy, and totally failing to understand the mood of the electorate or the real issues involved.

When the horrifying scale of their defeat became evident, there was a brief period of stunned disbelief, followed by  a change of tack, now desperate to have the referendum immediately, in the hope that the opinion polls on support for independence were accurate. As so it has gone since May 6th, with the UK media realising that Scotland did exist, posed a threat to the very existence of the UK and its pretensions as a global power. And this was accompanied by the recognition that Scotland was different, in deep and fundamental ways, from the rest of the United Kingdom, a recognition that had briefly flickered into life after the results of the 2010 General election, when the fact that there were two nations not one became starkly evident from the voting pattern.

Since then, the strategy of the unionists, to the degree that their deeply divided ragbag of ploys constitutes a strategy or even a viewpoint, has been to emphasise the one nation concept, stronger-together-than-apart, and ‘Britishness’, a nebulous, nostalgic, imperial idea that some national character held the rickety and failing political hybrid called the UK together. A Newsnight Special even had a debate on this, with Rory Stewart MP fighting back a tear for the Britishness about to be lost if Scotland became independent  typifying the gross sentimentality and poverty of thought and political grasp in the unionist approach.


Since the Scottish press is well on its way to terminal decline and irrelevance, I probably shouldn’t waste too much time on them. But as an old print junky, and being as unrealistically nostalgic for the great days of print journalism in Scotland as Rory Stewart is for the misty imperial past, I’ll give them some attention …

Scotland on Sunday has Kenny Farquarson saying that We must be part of the great debate. The great debate he refers to is the English Riots and the questions raised, and he refers to the ‘national debate’. He raises the central questions - who are ‘we’ and what is ‘the nation’. Kenny clearly want the nation to be the UK, not Scotland, but the ‘we’ that he wants to be part of the great debate in his headline seems to be Scotland, so he seems to be in some confusion there.

He accurately identifies the real questions raised by the English riots and the frightening experience of our English neighbours - and of course of the many Scots living in the affected areas, including friends and close relatives of mine - and he place at the centre, the question “A national debate, then. But for which nation?”

He quotes David Cameron’s comments on “the rip in English society”, but then goes on to say

But as far as Alex Salmond is concerned, this has no relevance for us north of the Border.”

He then follows this with

“Scotland, says the First Minister, is a ‘different society’, by which he plainly means “a better society’.

Both of the statements above by Kenny Farquarson are misrepresentations and distortions of what Alex Salmond said, and he has not a shred of evidence for either one of them. (If he has, he should bring it forward at once.)

(His use of quotation marks for “a better society” creates the implication that Alex Salmond actually said this, when he neither said it nor meant it. This is, at best, poor punctuation from Kenny Farquarson and he should be ashamed of himself, whatever the explanation.)

The rest of the article could be taken apart paragraph by paragraph in its attempt to project a set of values and assumptions on The First Minister and by extension the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Party and those who voted for them so decisively last May, that are just not representative of the facts.

It is a grubby attempt, but since it will influence very few voters when the referendum comes, because they simply won’t have read it, given the Scotsman’s circulation decline, and because many of those who have read it, like me, will dismiss it entirely, why should I devote more time to it?

Kenny Farquarson recognises that Scotland is different from England in many respects - he just doesn’t recognise the areas that are the important differences. That’s why the unionists lost the May election, and it is why they will lose the referendum argument.

Scotland is better than England in some respect, and it is manifestly worse in others. The Scottish Government doesn’t flaunt the superiority in some areas nor does it conceal the deficiencies in others - it offers its better qualities as an example, and is dealing, and dealing successfully with its difficult areas, in spite of the fact that throughout the last Parliament it was impeded in crucial areas by a united unionist opposition, e.g. minimum pricing for alcohol.

The Scottish people are not better or worse than the English people or the Welsh or the Northern Irish, but they are different: they rejoice in their positive difference and tackle their negative differences. But the Scottish Government is different and better than the last UK Westminster Government and the present woefully inadequate Coalition, in their commitment to social justice and the poor, the vulnerable, the old, the sick and the underprivileged.

And that is our message to the people of England and Wales - stand as a nation once again, as Scotland does - rejoice in your English and Welsh identities and cultures, as Scotland rejoices in its Scottish identity and culture, and throw off the dead hand of the Disunited Kingdom - a Britain that no longer exists  - a conspiracy of the rich, the unelected, the wealthy and the privileged against the people of these islands.

Scotland will stand beside you as your friends and neighbours in this great constitutional change, and looks forward to a new era of cooperation, culturally, economically and in the defence of our islands.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

British and all that - The Prospect of Whitby and popular song

Pete Wishart’s remarks on Britishness were an example of something that is rare in Scottish politics - a controversial statement of a party-independent political view, or the floating of an idea, depending on how you viewed it. As I said yesterday in my piece on MSPs’ tweeting styles -

The political opinion tweet is regrettably as rare as hen’s teeth from MSPs, who seem to wish to demonstrate as much bland conformity as Blair’s Babes (male or female).

And of course, Pete Wishart’s statement was much more upfront and public than a mere ephemeral tweet. I did, for an ignoble moment, wonder if Pete was actually floating an idea on behalf of the Party, testing the water so to speak, with the First Minister and his team waiting anxiously for the public reaction, but I dismissed this quickly - I don’t think that’s his style at all.

My own initial reaction to the idea was shock, and bafflement, having recently spent more than a little time attacking the unionist argument that Britishness was one of the things the Scottish people would lose -and regret losing - after independence. I hoped that I was not alone in feeling that I could not lose my sense of Britishness, since I had never had one, having spent most of my life feeling that I was a Glaswegian, a member of the international brotherhood of man, and a Scot, more or less in that order.

But since my second reaction is usually more reliable than my first, and because I actually enjoy having my ideas challenged, Pete’s idea sent me hame again - tae think again …

Having read Andrew Davies’ monumental history, The Isles, twice -  1707 and a' that ...  - and now well into my third reading of it, the idea of the British Isles -or Britain - as a geographical entity as distinct from a political concept is well established in my head. I have lived on its main land mass all my life. Had this given me a sense of being British, a kind of locational identity?

I revisited the idea of identity derived from place, clearly a powerful force for many people, and also a happy memory from my consulting days. I had been running a week-long residential course in London, and the participants decided we should have a night out at The Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping, arguably the most famous pub in London - named after a ship - dating from 1543, when it was a hangout for dockside smugglers and sundry criminal types. The huge bar, with its flagged stone floor, its pewter bar top resting on barrels, was packed to the rafters, with an indescribably vibrant atmosphere, and very soon a sing-song erupted spontaneously.

At first, it was mainly the old music hall songs which, in 1990, were still part of the consciousness of the population, sung in pubs and at parties - My Old Man said Follow the Van, Daisy, Daisy, Uncle Tom Cobleigh, Pack up Your Troubles, Three German Officers crossed the Rhine - parlez vous, Pack Up Your Troubles - the wonderful, vigorous, melodic popular songs from early in that century. They gave me a warm feeling - they reminded me of my National Service, of the NAAFI, of my mother’s parents round a piano, of my mother, of a generation beginning to disappear over the horizon then, and now almost totally gone.

But they were all indisputably and deeply English, albeit part of a common heritage, especially that of war and military comradeship. And I had another heritage of popular song - the auld Scots sangs and the Scottish popular theatre songs of Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe.

But then a voice emerged during a brief lull in the singing, a light tenor voice, heart-stopping in its purity. The singer was invisible in the throng - the song was Danny Boy - the Londonderry Air, a song claimed by two factions for partisan reasons, but truly international in its simple beauty. The crowd listened silently, with that kind of respect given  such moments by a boisterous crowd, sentimental and maudlin in the main, but with a core of true feeling. When the singer stopped, there was a great roar of approval, glasses were smashed on the floor (apparently an acceptable tradition at The Prospect of Whitby - when I left, the bar floor was carpeted with glass).

Then the old Yorkshire question rang out - “Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?”, instantly recognised, instantly responded to by the crowd - “On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at”. When it finished the new pattern was set - local songs, regional songs, national songs. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, I belong to Glasgow, If you’re Irish, Come into the Parlour rang out, initially by the protagonist group, but soon taken up by the mass. Waltzing Matilda was struck up by an Earl’s Court contingent, but that was a temporary bridge to more competitive and simultaneous repeats of Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at, Keep yer feet still, Geordie, hinny and I belong to Glasgow. Men of Harlech erupted, in all its powerful martial force.

Annie Laurie settled the crowd back into joint singing, one Scot attempted My Ain Folk, but it misjudged the mood: few recognised it, and it ended ignominiously with a stentorian voice cutting across it with Land of Hope and Glory, attracting enthusiastic support from most, but not all. Rule Britannia petered out - a bell was rung and time was called from the bar.

Was this an example of ‘Britishness’ in operation? Not to me, but perhaps to some. Is it replicated today in the The Prospect of Whitby? I suspect not - maybe a recent visitor to the pub can enlighten me. I would guess it has been replaced by a shared pop culture with no national or regional base

If it still exists, would any of it be lost by Scotland’s independence?

Very little, if any - after all, on that night in 1990, there were people from the Republic of Ireland present, from Australia, from America, from African countries and God knows how many more former British colonies. Yorkshire folk feel themselves to be a uniquely independent breed, as do the people of the North East of England. The city boys like me, from Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and London probably still draw more of their identity from their urban culture than the national or UK version. The drinker whose attempt to sing The Red Flag was quickly aborted probably still feels an internationalist - and Scotland’s independence, when it come, will not make any real impact on those identities.

But it will make a huge, overwhelmingly positive impact on Scottish identity - and we’ll still love our neighbours on these Isles and sing most of their songs - but draw the line at “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Rule Brittania” .

If that’s what Pete Wishart’s remarks on Britishness meant I’m with him - and thanks for making me think, Pete!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Kenny Farquarson on ‘Britishness’

Kenny Farquarson has got around to the Newsnight debate on the Union and its imminent demise. It was on the 4th of July, the anniversary of that day in 1776 when the America threw off the shackles of Britain and ‘Britishness’ and proudly proclaimed their independence of the brutal empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain that was bleeding them dry to serve a lazy, corrupt elite in England.

I got my analysis, videos and comment How the English see Scotland's independence up early the following day.

Nonetheless, here is Kenny on July 10th, brushing a tear from his eye as he reflects on the delights of ‘Britishness’.

(I also managed another piece on July 6th, How the unionists share their identity crisis that explored, among other things, the well-established link between sentimentality and brutality in empires, fascists dictatorships and totalitarian regimes of all kinds.)

‘Britishness is about pop and fish ‘n’ chips’ is Kenny’s headline, and he fills me with delight with his sub-header -

I’ve never heard a Unionist argument this effective in 20 years of politics

For once, Kenny and I are in agreement. When it comes right down to it, this is what the public unionist argument is now reduced to, and it is feeble, sentimental and devoid of any true feeling.

If it’s the best they’ve got, then Scotland’s independence is well on its way.

I invite Kenny, and anybody else who might be tempted to give credence to this twaddle to revisit my two blogs, watch again the Newsnight clips and listen to the comments. We may expect more of this kind of thing as we approach the referendum. Get the sick bags ready …

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The unionists share their identity crisis …

Billy Connolly may be an odd sort of Scot for a Scottish nationalist to quote, given his infamous “little pretendy Parliament” remark of yore, but I admire the man as a comic genius, with an ability to elevate the commonplaces of a Scottish working class life into high art.

Here is my recollection of one of his joke routines about his time in the shipyards, when the foremen were required to wear hard hats with their names on them. One such personage caught Billy and his mate skiving, and they gave him some cheek when he challenged them. “Do you know who I am?” asked the foreman, puffed up with self-importance.

Connolly and friend looked at each other in mock incredulity. “Here’s a guy wi’ his name oan his hat and he disnae know who he is!”

Much press and media coverage has been devoted since the Scottish Parliamentary election earthquake to the Scottish Labour Party’s loss of identity and confusion about who they are, and what they might do about it. The Scottish LibDems and Tories are regarded as already dead by the media, their corpses are therefore treated with patronising respect, and nobody wastes much time on thoughts of how they might be brought to life again. All that is asked of them is that they don’t smell too badly before being consigned to the flames of history.

The other dominant strand that has emerged from the profound emotional shock to the unionist mindset of the SNP's decisive electoral victory is an increasingly desperate attempt to define Britishness in the context of Scottishness. Only ‘British’ Scots appear to have this identity crisis, which they now want to foist on the rest of us: the English always knew that Britain meant England, and Britishness meant Englishness. And the English are right in this, and right to feel this way. Only in comparatively recent times has England feared to speak its name. Anyone who reads anything published before the Second World War (and quite a lot since) will realise that England was the Empire and Englishness was the nationality that defined it.

The kind of case being put for this, and for ‘Britain’ (for Britain read British Empire) is buried in gross sentimentality, as the vapourings of Rory Stewart and Michael Portillo on this week’s Newsnight Special so nauseatingly revealed.

Of course, sentimentality was the keynote of Empire while it was engaged in its worst colonial excesses: sentimentality is the cloying sugar coating on the deadly pill of exploitation and brutality, as history shows.

Heinrich Heine has devastatingly explored the link between sentimentality and brutality, as have others.

“Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.”  Norman Mailer

"Think of the lamentable role of popular sentiment in wartime! Think of our so-called humanitarianism! The psychiatrist knows only too well how each of us becomes the helpless but not pitiable victim of his own sentiments. Sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality…”  Carl Jung


The Scotsman should,  in my view, change its title and its masthead to The Scotsman? or perhaps even to TheScotBrit, although that doesn’t really fit well with a quality newspaper, since the term Brit has come to be associated with the worst tabloid excesses, brutality, jingoism - and sentimentality.

The newspaper is all over the place politically these days, reflecting the same confusion of identity that has paralysed the Scottish Labour Party (insofar as such a thing exists) - and the Labour Party at Westminster, and it gives space regularly to commentators who exemplify this confusion - Allan Massie, Michael Kelly, John McTernan et al.

The first two on that list are featured today, and just in case the unionist message gets missed, we have an attack on the SNP by one Tom Miers, who is described as an independent public policy consultant, entitled ‘Fiddling while Scotland burns’, which in essence is the cry raised against the independence issue and the referendum before May 2011, that it was a deflection from managing the economy.

This of course rapidly changed to a demand that a referendum should be held immediately, after the unionists realised the scale of their defeat, while Alex Salmond calmly reiterated his manifesto commitment to a referendum mid-term so that he could concentrate on trying to limit the damage caused by the outgoing Labour Government and now being compounded by the shambolic ConLib Coalition.

To be fair, The Scotsman - or perhaps another title, The Occasional Scotsman but I’m also a Brit, does give regular space to Joan McAlpine, who is not at all confused about her identity and is an infinitely better journalist than any of the others, so there is some kind of balance, albeit a little lopsided.

Meanwhile, we must put up with articles such as Proud to Scottish … and English from John McTernan, former Labour Party adviser to Tony Blair, a Prime Minister easily moved to tears and deeply sentimental, one who launched an illegal and horrific war in Iraq, responsible for the violent death and mutilation of countless thousands of innocent men, women and children, and the involvement of the UK in the misconceived, decade-long and utterly pointless war in Afghanistan.

Or Allan Massie, with his article Labour must be bold and give Gray a second chance, with advice such as

“Instead Labour has to be true to itself, to assert that independence is unnecessary as well as undesirable, to say the Scottishness is compatible with Britishness, to insist that its values are shared by millions of people in other constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It should be unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist, arguing that the continuation of the Union is in the best interests of the Scottish people, and defending the devolution arrangements as a settlement, not as a process of gradual disengagement.”

Wrong on every count, Allan Massie.

Independence is necessary, desirable and vital to Scotland.

There is no such things as ‘Britishness’, or ‘British values’ - they are false constructs designed to support an empire that has long since died.

The very reason that Labour is dying in Scotland is that it is “unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist” and the Scottish electorate have recognised that at last, realised that it is incompatible with the interests of Scots, their ancient identity, their pride as a nation, and their common humanity.

That is why they rejected Labour and the other Unionist parties and embraced their ain folk on May 5th 2011.

No amount of jingoistic sentimentality, cloaking the essential amorality, corruption, brutality  and incompetence of the UK Establishment and its successive puppet governments, currently on blatant display in the News of the World debacle, and the deeply questionable links, at the highest levels, of successive governments and the police to an unscrupulous and possibly criminal newspaper and media monolith, News International, can conceal that something is rotten in the state of the UK, and has been for a very, very long time.