Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Some Thoughts On Alex Salmond's Proposal For A Referendum On Independence For Scotland

Sorry to be a bit behind with this one - as regular readers will know, I no longer have a home internet connection, so my apologies if anyone else has made these points already.

So Alex Salmond (pictured), the constitutional adventurer who for some reason or other holds the rank of First Minister of Scotland, has published his proposals for a referendum on whether Scotland should become independent. The loaded, juvenile use of words such as 'independent' and 'independence' in this context, with their mental associations that Scotland is in some way a colony of the United Kingdom, by Scottish 'civic nationalists' is, of course, a typically gross abuse of language on their part. There are few more independent people in the world than the Scots; at least that's what the Scottish 'civic nationalists' keep telling us. If an independent people are already independent, why should they seek independence?

The Tartanissimo wishes to hold his jamboree in the autumn of 2014. I have seen no comment being made on why this should be the case, but to me the reason for it being held at that time is clear. He is hoping that the Commonwealth Games, due to be held in Glasgow in the summer of 2014, will provide him with a national 'feelgood factor' upon which he will coast to victory.

There is, however, a credible alternative argument, which is that he is hoping that the sight of the English national team winning many more medals than the Scots, a statistical inevitability given the relative sizes of the two nations' populations, will cause an  anti-English backlash, hopefully non-violent. I sincerely hope that this is not the case, if only because such a possible rationale for the timing of an event of such importance to our constitution would be negative, frivolous and deeply unstatesmanlike. But in the event that that is the case, I'll be supporting Australia, who'll probably win everything anyway.

The ubiquitous, sylphlike lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone has indicated that she will relocate her business elsewhere if The Tartanissimo is successful in his constitutional adventure. One hopes that Mrs. Mone ultimately has no need to pursue such a drastic course of action. I do not doubt for a moment that she is sincere in her desire that Scotland should remain a part of the United Kingdom, and that she will pursue whatever action she thinks is appropriate for the conduct of her business.

However, there are some matters upon which businesspeople don't have to be automatically believed, and one of them is their protests that they will move their business elsewhere if they don't get what they want - see, for example, Sir Robert Peel speaking on the textile manufacturers' intentions in 1807. The act of relocation is rare and is usually performed by zealots.

However, there is one area in which their word should be trusted as a rule, and that is their descriptions of the negative effects that constitutional uncertainty has upon business, a historical phenomenon usually known as 'decay of trade'. The Tunnocks Teacake is as Scottish as tossing the caber and the Stone of Scone, and Boyd Tunnock, the man who makes them, has already spoken out about the negative effect that constitutional uncertainty will have on Scottish business.

Decay of trade is not a fiction, it is a fact. At the moment, I'm reading 'God's Fury, England's Fire', Michael Braddick's fascinating account of the English Civil Wars. Professor Braddick goes into great detail about just how badly trade decayed during the constitutional upheavals of the 1640s, and how frequently those who were concerned by it expressed their fears (define irony - buying a book about the Puritans with the booktoken you got in the office Secret Santa). It could be that The Tartanissimo believes that any decay in trade occasioned by the uncertainty he is manufacturing over Scotland's constitutional status will be a necessary part of the new nation's birth pangs, before it comes crying in to the light; an intellectually cogent position, if also a lamentably naive one.

It is sincerely to be hoped that The Tartanissimo is not seeking to foster decay of trade, to create an economic position so bad that he will then be able to position himself as the strong guy we can turn to to sort it all out. As well as being horribly negative, it would be suggestive of megalomania.

The Tartanissimo is a member of the Privy Council, and has either sworn or affirmed the following oath -

"You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto The Queen's Majesty as one of Her Majesty's Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Her Majesty's Person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors you will not reveal it unto him but will keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance to the Queen's Majesty; and will assist and defend all civil and temporal Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty so help you God"

Now for the life of me, I can't see how he can square taking an oath to defend all of Her Majesty's 'civil and temporal Jurisdictions' with a course of action which would result in her principal jurisdiction, the United Kingdom, being rent asunder. To my mind, he should resign either from  the Privy Council or from the Scottish National Party. While this might seem unfair, don't forget that he is demanding that Scots and those who live in Scotland make a once in a lifetime choice as to what country they live in. The very least he can do is show the way and make a difficult choice himself before insisting that everyone else does.

I might be wrong, but I think that the exercise of power is going to the heads of the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' just a little. The absurd gagging order placed on Pollok Pot The Tartan Trot upon his release from chokey, itself less The Long Walk To Freedom than the long walk to Govan, is without precedent in our history. The Tories might have been out of touch with Scotland, but nothing like this ever happened on their watch (and they certainly would have had more political savvy than to place a gagging order on a person infamously incapable of keeping his mouth shut). If I didn't know any better, I'd think that the authorities were afraid of any Scottish republican voice, even as one as discredited as Pollok Pot's, being heard in the public domain. Remember, in their minds the Scottish 'civic nationalists' are the ones who speak for Scotland; nobody else does. Or should.

Similarly, the news that it's planned to give Scottish school pupils the right to study Scots to Higher level makes one wonder just how useful knowing the meaning of words like 'ilquhame' and 'oxter' will be when the Chinese come for our jobs. It's all so Scottish, and my thanks to Professor Braddick for furnishing one of the great quotes on this sort of situation, from a resident of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who had lived under the occupation of the Scottish Covenanters - for a week -

"God grant this viperous brood so freely received into the body of the Kingdom, do not eat through the belly of their fosterers: for I assure you where they shall govern we shall find them proud lords".

As the great philosopher Robert Mitchum noted in 'Anzio', nothing changes except the uniforms and the transportation.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

David Cameron's Tourettes Gaff

I'm against the clock again, and the background music's terrible, so here goes.

In his book 'Peace of Soul', the Servant of God Fulton Sheen recorded how 'GK's Weekly' once published a satire on Freudian psychology in which the word 'beer' appeared wherever a Freudian would mention the word 'sex'. The result was, of course, hilarious.

This piece came to mind when hearing that David Cameron had said of Ed Balls's behaviour in the House of Commons that 'it’s like having someone with Tourette’s permanently sitting opposite you'. He would never dream of saying that 'it’s like having someone with cancer permanently sitting opposite you', or 'it’s like having a schizophrenic permanently sitting opposite you'; so why mention Tourettes?

Utterly predictably, this incident says more about Cameron than it does about the condition. He required to accustom himself to being challenged by other people at an age far older than the rest of us, and accordingly finds the experience unpleasant; hopefully not as unpleasant as developing a Tourettes symptomology in adulthood, but unpleasant nonetheless. His ideology is still sodden with the dreary insolence that has been the mark of the Tory Party since the eighteenth century. When insolence meets challenge, it lashes out in rage, and rage takes no account of propriety when fixing on a target. Balls challenges Cameron; Cameron lacks the character and experience of life to handle it; so Balls acts like someone with Tourettes. QED.

When barracking Cameron in the House of Commons, Balls is not in fact acting like a Tourettist. He is instead using the time-honoured leftist tactic of trying to prevent your opponent from speaking by talking over them all the time. It says much for Balls that he should try this in a noisy room. I can vividly recall the late Mick McGahey doing this to a representative of the National Coal Board on 'Reporting Scotland' during the miners' strike of 1983-84. It was unpleasant to watch then, indeed is something of a bad memory, and it's still unpleasant to think of now. On the other hand, it's impossible to watch the blimpish Kenneth Clarke on 'Question Time' without seeing him do the same thing to whatever sacrificial lamb the Labour Party has put up for the purpose. Clarke's scenes on that show give me the impression that he must be an utterly horrible person to be around. On the other hand, perhaps it's all theatre. On the other hand perhaps it's not.

What is also evident from Cameron's outburst is that he seems to think he is free to say the same things in public as he might do in private. If correct, this may suggest that the circle within which he moves is a very narrow one, and that he does not make a great deal of contact with people who are not similar to him in terms of their backgrounds and experiences. To my mind, the proof of this is Cameron's now bog standard response to this controversy of his own making, that he didn't mean to cause offence. If he did not realise that he would cause offence, then he may be accustomed to causing offence as a matter of routine, or else spend a lot of time around people who are in the habit of saying offensive things. I recall David Lindsay once writing that Cameron's accent was narrowing with age instead of broadening. With trademark certitude, David remarked that this was the consequence of Cameron only having contact with people like himself, and he might have been more correct than he imagined. If so, it says little about the mindset of the circles Cameron moves in if they are all of the mind that their will should be obeyed without question. Two other groups in society are affected by this pathology; the first are tyrants, the second children. Tyrants tend not to do apologies under any circumstances, leaving only children as the ones to expect conduct demanding an apology to attract no other consequences.

But what should we expect of a Prime Minister whose Chancellor, when in opposition, described the then Chancellor as 'autistic' without suffering any penalty? These incidents say much about those in power and their calibre, or lack thereof.

As a sufferer of Tourettes, I find it a bit rich that a person who refuses to discuss his historic use of recreational drugs should describe a person whose conduct he finds objectionable as having my problem. Hopefully he wasn't strung out when he said it; for how terrible it would be if the finger on the nuclear button belonged to a cokehead or a stoner.  

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy New Year

The Year Of Our Lord 2012 has begun with my fourth dose of food poisoning in nine months. My hands are inflamed with contact dermatitis, the windows still haven't been fixed, my face is adorned with a crop of pustules the like of which I haven't had since I was 14, I can't hear out of my left ear as a result of getting water in it in the shower this morning, the Internet's still switched off, I still haven't started the book and I'm back to work on Wednesday. Piling masochism upon improvidence and infirmity, I'm also reading Emerson's 'Essays', a work which, when read along with 'Walden', proves that in the 1840's there couldn't have been a great deal to do in Concord on a Sunday afternoon.

All in all, the year's shaping up nicely.

A very happy, blessed and prosperous New Year to you all.


'Grumpy Old Men'

I usually look forward to the BBC's annnual Christmas offering 'Grumpy Old Men', in which a group of aging and probably wealthy celebrities with unrivalled media access moan publicly about how much they dislike the behaviour of the people they share the planet with.

Sometimes it's quite funny, but an odd thing happened while watching this year's (or is it now last year's?) edition. Usually they've got guys like Will Self or Arthur Smith on it, men whose stock in trade is disgust and disaffection, so they make the exercise amusing. However this year it had a remarkably lightweight line up that included Bobby Davro, Huey Morgan and Matthew Le Tissier.

While I was watching it, the thought occurred to me that that particular selection of grumpy old men was, to put it bluntly, crap; and I thus became a grumpy old man at 'Grumpy Old Men'.

I do hope that the producers will do better next year - or is that this year?


David Cameron's New Year Message

The tardiness of its delivery makes one wonder whether he was not preparing a statement for New Year, but formulating a position on it instead.