One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!
“My stories try to seduce the reader by disguising themselves as sensational entertainment, but are propaganda for democratic welfare-state Socialism and an independent Scottish parliament.”
– Alasdair Gray
How many stories have you heard where the Axis won the Second World War?
Even before the war was over, stories of the Thousand Year Reich were published: Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, written in 1937, started the trend which has almost become a subgenre in itself. Some of the foremost science fiction authors of the age, such as Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Fritz Leiber, & Norman Spinrad, wrote tales on this theme; some books, like Robert Harris’ Fatherland, were adapted to film; one of Star Trek’s most celebrated episodes (written by Harlan Ellison) featured this as a poignant dilemma. This has lasted into the new millennium: Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle was adapted into a hit series, as was Len Deighton’s SS-GB. It is understandable for so much fiction to revolve around this supermassive gravity well in our planetary history given the way the conflict shaped so much of humanity’s consciousness decades later.
What if we go to a Point of Divergence further back in time: what if the Confederacy won the American Civil War? Again, there are dozens of books on that subject, a mockumentary, and a recently-announced television series from the showrunners behind A Game of Thrones. Naturally, it’s more an American phenomenon, but it remains the deadliest war in United States history, and all the more bitter for its internecine nature.
How about further than even that – what if the Roman Empire never fell? Going on the alternative history database Uchronia, searching for “Roman” yields 116 results (& another 77 for “Rome”) – that means 116 books, essays, or stories involving the Roman Empire or Ancient Rome. What if Elizabeth of England failed/was killed & the Spanish Armada triumphed? Searching for “English” or “England” yields 94/129 results; “British” or “Britain” 189 /153 results.
What about Scotland?
So, a couple of days ago, Tracey Ullman did a wee sketch featuring Nicola Sturgeon & Mhairi Black kidnapping beloved victim J.K. Rowling in an attempt to blackmail her into supporting not just Scottish Independence, but “Scottish Supremacy.” It’s yet another sketch that portrays an SNP leader as a maniacal Bond villain, a surprisingly popular meme amongst certain commentators.
You might think I’d be shocked, appalled, disgusted and outraged by this, as indeed I have something of a hair-trigger for this sort of thing.
On the contrary, I believe this to be hilarious. A fantastic work of satire, brilliantly biting, ruthlessly incisive, an absolutely merciless evisceration of its targets… it’s just that Nicola Sturgeon, Mhairi Black, the SNP, and the Scottish Independence movement aren’t the targets at all.
Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle was recently adapted into a 10-part miniseries. This pillar of alternate universe science fiction posited a branch of time which diverged from ours with the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt: the Axis won the Second World War, conquered the Commonwealth and USSR, and occupied the Americas.
A common refrain from many in the Leave camp is “why do the SNP want independence from the UK, only to hand it over to Brussels?” Such a baffling false equivalence between the constitutional monarchy of the UK and the supranational union of the EU can only be the result of one thing – a parallel universe, where the EU truly is to the UK what the UK is to Scotland.
In this bizarre world, the European Union is a unitary state in the United Nations. It is composed of four nations: Britain, Ireland, Denmark, and the vast Western Europe, many times larger than the other three put together. The capital city of Europe is Brussels, in Western Europe, which is also the location of the parliament. In recent years, Britain has reconvened parliament following a historic referendum: they have responsibility over health, education, local government, law and order, social work, housing, economic development, transport, environment, agriculture, forestry, fishing, sport and culture, with 63% of total public spending from the EU devolved to the British Parliament. However, Brussels still has control over the European Constitution, civil service, defence, national security, foreign policy, immigration, fiscal and monetary policy, oil revenues, trade & industry, income tax, corporation tax, VAT, employment, social security, nuclear energy, and broadcasting.
I watched a current affairs programme from this strange alternate universe….
I know a number of friends on the left – usually the far left – who favour the UK leaving the European Union. Leigh Philips, EU affairs journalist and science writer, offers two scenarios of the left-wing dialogue regarding the referendum. The first is a reasoned, erudite, and polite discussion between fellow comrades ultimately agreeing to disagree while resolving to continue the fight for European democracy, fists pumped and throats warbling French anthems of international solidarity. The second has a reasoned, erudite, and polite Leaver being bombarded with non-sequiturs and personal attacks.
As is typical for the left, I have disagreements with the post, though I do think it’s a very important one on balance. Yes, I do wish the debate between Remainers and Leavers on the left could be more courteous and measured – but I would also appreciate it if they were grounded in reality. Throughout the left’s history it has been plagued with accusations of being out of touch with the common man they claim to champion, and treating the debate as if it was an intellectual-philosophical exercise rather than a vote which will actively affect the lives of millions can come across as deeply insulting to those who bear the brunt of those decisions. As the old saying goes, “deeds, not words.”
On the other hand, logical fallacies and personal attacks do nobody any good, and each argument must be based on an assumption of good faith.
So, allow me to present my version of how I think the debate could’ve/should’ve gone, and how the debate seems to me as a Remainer.
UNIONISTS! LOYALISTS! Oh, my brothers and sisters! Look! Look ye – to the south!
Behold our salvation, our shining lights, our guardian spirits of protection and benevolence! They ride, they ride in their dozens to our aid! Lo, the Dread Nationalists, they retreat against the cleansing tide of the Defenders of Albion! Truly, this is a sign – a sign that Caledonia says NO! NO to the disloyal disinherited! NO to the Nationalist Plague! NO to the separatist scum that would literally wrest our land apart!
We have won, my brethren – we have won!
Hail our saviours! Hail our champions! Hail the conquering Heroes of the Union!
Speaking of the news, I had a skim over the latest Private Eye. I noticed Dave McEwan Hill got a letter published rightly chastising Eye for calling many of the SNP MPs “Braveheart dreamers, useless time-servers and local authority drongos” in the previous issue. So naturally, instead of sucking it up and acknowledging they were being a tad insulting in calling SNP MPs naive idealists, worthless wastes of time, or political no-hopers – you know, like grown ups – they put Dave’s letter in a column headed “Even more thin-skinned than UKIPPers…” The irony of petulantly acknowledging criticism with a passive-aggressive title like that while calling someone else “thin skinned” seems lost on them.
I guess Private Eye feels it’s allowed to say whatever they like about whoever they like with impunity, because they’re a satirical magazine. But if you say it’s unfair for them to characterise elected officials as naieve, useless or drongos, then you’re being unreasonable.
This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t have “Auld McSparky” (the “cute” Scotchified handle of Old Sparky whenever he talks about Scottish energy – would he call himself “Ord Spalki” when talking about Chinese energy issues, or “Mohammed Al-Sparkeh” for Pakistan?) perpetuating the old “Scotland is heavily subsidised by the UK” myth and the newer “oil price is 1/10th what Alex Salmond predicted” misconception – though at this point, calling them “myth” and “misconception” rather than “slur” and “flat out lie” is probably being overly generous.
Again I feel the need to point out how much I appreciate Private Eye, even if I can’t bring myself to buy it anymore. It started off with a belter about the Chancellor’s RBS sell-off, and just about everything that doesn’t regard Scotland is usually top-notch, so far as I could see. The problem is that Private Eye is not operating in a vaccuum: the SNP are constantly attacked from all corners of the media, from the press to television, from all the Westminster parties, from big business and beyond. They’re not saying anything new, or unique, or ground-breaking: they’re just another wasp buzzing around nipping at the SNP, and too often, that spills over into anti-Scottishness.
Again, this is not because I believe the SNP and Scots are synonymous, or even the SNP and the independence movement – it’s because criticisms of the SNP too often throw Scots under the bus in their desire to get at Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon. Hence they couldn’t resist calling Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh a “Scot on the make,” Old Sparky gives himself a shortbread tin makeover when spouting nonsense about Scotland’s energy, and all the jokey stuff in the back can’t help but make comparisons to Braveheart or Trainspotting or Brigadoon or whatever piece of Pop Scotch comes to mind. And when this comes within memory of some of the most outrageous statements, accusations and editorials, it isn’t a case of having a thin skin – it’s a case of being fed up with the nonsense we’ve put up with for too long.
We’re getting along fine without Private Eye in Scotland: we have our own champions taking the media, government and business world to account. But England and Wales needs them more than ever: they owe it to themselves to better themselves.