Watch Your Step, Cassandra: Hawthorne Is Watching

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An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop.

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

— Iain M. Banks, Excession

It is now 78 days until the Scottish Local Authority Election. Historically speaking, these are frequently the second-lowest attended elections in Scotland, which is understandable, given the prominence and perceived hierarchy of the UK Government: according to the Westminster hierarchy, the UK Parliament is at the top tier of government, with the Scottish Parliament next, and local authorities third. Here in Scotland, things are a bit different: in Scotland, the people are sovereign. As local authorities are the closest to the sovereign people, they are crucial to the political conversation. Is it any wonder, then, that the elite insist on putting Westminster first, Holyrood second, and local authorities last, when an argument could easily be made for the very reverse?

But that’s all by the by. I will once again be campaigning for my local SNP candidates in this election. Yesterday, several of them were approved by the Greenock & Inverclyde Branch & Constituency to go forward. There is still time for anyone else to throw their hat in the ring, but we don’t exactly have a surplus of that particular resource.

(Time, that is: we have plenty of hats)

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Rough Wooing

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In December 1543, Henry VII of England declared war on the kingdom of Scotland, ostensibly because King James refused to break with Roman Catholicism as Henry did. In actuality, it was the just latest in a series of attempts by would-be Kings of All Britain to annex or outright destroy the other nations of the isles.

William Ferguson was uncompromising in his appraisal of the war:

Henry VII went berserk and resolved to read the Scots a bitter lesson, one that seemed all the more necessary as England once more stood on the brink of war with France. On 10th April 1544 the Earl of Hertford was accordingly instructed to ravage Scotland where he was to “put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh town, so rased and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what you can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon them for their falsehood and disloyalty. Hertford doubted the wisdom of such orders, but his mild protests were brushed aside; and though Henry VIII’s last campaigns against Scotland are usually jocularly dismissed with the Protector Somerset’s under the nuckname of ‘the Rough Wooing’, they were in fact the most savage and devastating of the numerous English invasions of Scotland. In the course of them many of the leading towns of Scotland were sacked and burned, and so were the chief border abbeys and many churches. English policy was simply to pulverise Scotland, to beat her either into acquiescence or out of existence, and Hertford’s campaigns resemble nothing so much as Nazi total warfare – ‘blitzkrieg’, reign of terror, extermination of all resisters, the encouragement of collaborators, and so on.
Scotland’s Relations with England: A Survey to 1707

The conflict was initially called the Eight (or Nine) Years’ War, but Henry’s proposal that his son Edward should marry the infant Mary led to its popular modern name – the “rough wooing.” Because of this particularly horrid period in Anglo-Scottish relations, I have an instinctive aversion to the very term “wooing.” I can’t hear or read it without wincing, because for me, it is not a term that evokes love or romance, but political machinations and bloody conquest.

But that’s just me. I realise not everyone reads or hears the word “wooing” and immediately thinks back to the Anglo-Scottish Wars, the weirdos.

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Port Oot, Starbuird Hame

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So this caused a wee bit of a tizzy on Twitter last night. A fair amount of folk were taken aback by it, and you can see why: independence campaigners are no more or less harder-working by their class or upbringing, and might well resent the implication that only those “less posh” do all the hard work. It could also rub those independence supporters who think of themselves as working class the wrong way, if they don’t actively support or work for RIC. I thought I’d wait until I had a read of it before commenting on the piece itself – pull quotes can often read very differently out of context.

The “posher nationalists” quote itself didn’t bother me, mostly because I’ve been accused of being posh for most of my life. But the piece does talk a lot about class politics.

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The Complex Truth and the Simple Lie

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There is a saying, often attributed to French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville: “it is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” I kept this in mind during the 2016 Scottish Election campaign, when the possibility that services at Inverclyde Royal Hospital were to be closed was used in the election campaign of the Other Party’s candidate:

The source of these revelations was a leaked draft discussion document. The story should have ended right there, because by definition, a draft is a preliminary document which is written with the knowledge and intention that it will, in all likelihood, be changed in future versions. They are the armature on which the final, official document is built – and the final document can sometimes be revised so much that it is virtually unrecognisable from that first draft. It is for this reason that drafts are not published for public consultation – they are irrelevant, outdated, obsolete, and of no bearing on the final document.

The draft document contains phrases like “live within available resources,” “move without further delay,” “review transfer of trauma,” and “review provision of physical disability”. None of these phrases are contained in the final document, which was published in February 2016.

What has happened since the election is that a new document has been published. And that’s where things get complicated.

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The Logic of Scorpions

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Unfortunately, the “Be More Bru” campaign was nixed by AG Barr. Probably for the best. Then again, that’s none of my business…

I said I wasn’t going to give the Other Party any more publicity, but since the election is now over, I don’t think there’s much I can do to increase their chances for next year.

Nonetheless, I said before that I don’t want my life to be governed by hatred. So when the manufactured outrage regarding comments allegedly made by certain politicians within that party, I felt great sympathy for the sense of injustice people in the Other Party were undoubtedly feeling. Let’s put aside the referendum, and elections, and all the things that have happened. If someone had asked me “does the Other Party have a problem with anti-Semitism?” I would’ve responded “No, don’t be so utterly ludicrous, what a stupid thing to say.” I don’t agree with the Other Party on many things, but I’m not going to take pleasure in what the UK Government Party are doing.

The UK Government’s party utilised this, frankly, indefensible propaganda campaign to aid them in the local elections in England & Wales, where the Other Party remain their chief competition. In Scotland, it’s a different story, for obvious reasons – their biggest challenge was convincing Unionists not to split the vote, and to choose Ruth Davidson For A Strong Opposition. Yet there was overlap: the Scottish Parliament constituency of Eastwood has the largest number of Jewish people in the whole of Scotland, so you have to think Mr Carlaw would’ve leapt on the furore to damage the Other Party candidate.

The election’s over now. The smear didn’t work everywhere – but the effects are still being felt, even in Scotland.

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