Roman in the Gloamin: The Tautology of A Diverse Empire

Nature has willed that every man’s children and kindred should be his dearest objects. Yet these are torn from us by conscriptions to be slaves elsewhere. Our wives and our sisters, even though they may escape violation from the enemy, are dishonoured under the names of friendship and hospitality. Our goods and fortunes they collect for their tribute, our harvests for their granaries. Our very hands and bodies, under the lash and in the midst of insult, are worn down by the toil of clearing forests and morasses. Creatures born to slavery are sold once for all, and are, moreover, fed by their masters; but Britain is daily purchasing, is daily feeding, her own enslaved people.
Tacitus (attributed to Calgacus), Agricola

There was quite the rammy in social media a couple of days ago. No, not that one: I’ve said all I want to say on that subject. The rammy I’m talking about regards this recent (well, over half a year old) BBC video for 7-to-11-year-olds:

As far as I can tell, the argument seems to be between one group of people who think that the Roman family in the video are not representative of the Ancient Romans as a whole, and another group of people who think that the family represent the diversity of the Ancient Romans.

Now, you know me and the BBC. I am deeply ambivalent about it as an organisation: I started with great enthusiasm & respect for it, to downright anathema & disappointment, within what seemed like only a few years – coincidentally, as a teen watching the Iraq War unfolding. So I view this with the same sense of weary cynicism I now view shows like Blue Peter: a general sense of unease and distrust on every viewing.

Well, I got that watching this cartoon – but it probably wasn’t for the same reasons as those who criticised historians like Mary Beard. Rather, it’s for the disquieting ease by which folk can normalise conquest & colonisation, if it appeals to the right angle on their sensibilities.

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Absent Without Leaving

I took a complete break from social media over the past two weeks. Part of this is because of my personal response to the 2017 Local Elections – in particular the Inverclyde result, which I still take very personally – and the aftermath. As of this post, there is still no new administration, and all we have to go on is hearsay. So, until the new administration is in place, I won’t comment on the election, the upcoming General Election, or anything overtly constitutional or political.

However, there was another, much more serious reason. It was a problem which was developing for months before the election, and came to a head in the last few weeks. As a resident of the area this problem affects, as well as a Community Councillor, I did a lot of work behind the scenes with others to find a peaceful resolution to a very tense and volatile situation. Several agencies, including Inverclyde Council, River Clyde Homes, and Police Scotland, were involved: I cannot thank them enough for their hard work and diligence in this very difficult situation. I am beyond relieved that this crisis looks to be over, and hope that all concerned can learn from this experience.

I hope I’ll be able to explain more fully in the future, though that may not be possible. Suffice to say, life was extremely interesting.

Wasted Years

Be like the Hairy-Chested Yeti Crab of the Hydrothermal Vents

Be like the Hairy-Chested Yeti Crab of the Deep Hydrothermal Vents of Antarctica

2016 was the worst, so the meme goes. So many deaths, so much political upheaval, so many things that just went wrong. My 2016 was not unlike any of the other 32 years of my life so far: good things happened, bad things happened, some great, some terrible. But there’s always something I remember each year.

So, as with last year, I’ll look back on the top posts of this year – 16 this time, in order of publication, while linking to some of my personal favourite posts.

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Why I Don’t Like Football


I used to be a very active child. Back when I was a wee guy, I ran. And when I say that, I mean I ran. I was like a wind-up toy, as soon as my mam or gran lowered me to the ground, off I went, tearing down the road as fast as my wee piston-like legs could carry me. It got me into no small amount of trouble, as I frequently found my poor mam or gran miles away, even as I kept running. Even today, I still remember the exilaration of running: the sense of leaving the world behind me, the sense of control over my destiny as I left adults coughing in my dust, the rush of endorphins and adrenaline pumping into my little brain. As such an active child, it seemed natural I would get into football: half the game is running, after all. Even if I didn’t have a particularly competitive edge, I would at least have fun playing, right?

Only I live in the West Coast of Scotland. I grew up during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Football wasn’t a simple game for me.

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The Complex Truth and the Simple Lie


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 Golden Rule


Stuart McMillan with the volunteers of Gie’s Peace

Faith is a very personal, very private matter to me. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic primary and secondary schools, and am sponsor and godfather to more than a few young family members. Yet while I don’t consider it a small part of myself by any means, it’s also something that I don’t really engage in conversation about. I envy people who can discuss it openly, debate ideas and perspectives, even promote and advocate it. But for me, I try to find common values in my fellow human regardless of faith, or indeed lack thereof – basic humanitarian, even humanist, ideas of community, aid, support, and understanding. The idea of helping those in need is not exclusive to any creed, nor is the notion of loving one another, or what is known as the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated.

Growing up, I read about all the world’s religions – I found it necessary if I was to understand the many cultures and societies around the globe which drew from their faiths throughout their history. I developed a particular fondness for Jainism and Sikhism. Unfortunately, as I grew up in the West Coast, the spectre of sectarianism started to rear its ugly head in my conscience, as I became aware of the meaning behind people asking me what school I went to, if I went to “chapel” or “church,” whether I worshipped the Virgin Mary. Whether I believed in God. Whether I really drank blood and ate human flesh. Whether I wanted to join the IRA and kill people.

As I said, unwelcome. This is part of the reason I’m so reluctant to discuss religion, as it inevitably leads to policy. I cannot discuss matters like faith schools, religious education, equal marriage, the OBFA, and other topics, because frankly, I don’t want to discuss something so emotive that I risk losing my head over it. I certainly can’t talk about religion in regards to Scottish independence. Nonetheless, just because I don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean I feel others shouldn’t, which is why I was extremely proud to see people from all walks of life at the SNP conference speak on subjects like LGBT and women’s issues. We’re clearly in a much more open and frank place than we were even twenty years ago, after the nightmare of the Troubles and the AIDS crisis.

Over the decades, things are much better. Sectarianism is openly discussed through projects like Nil by Mouth and Gie’s Peace; reported sectarian crimes have fallen; and the Shawlands vigil for Asad Shah showed that people from all faiths can share in grief in a powerful stand against the supposed motivations for his death. So, while Easter is not universally observed, I think it’s a good time to reflect on the world we want to be part of. For all the horrific atrocities and senseless violence in the world, there are also great acts of kindness and spontaneous affirmations of common humanity. I take solace in that every Good Friday has an Easter Sunday not too far away.


This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.
Mahabharata 5:1517

Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.
The Eloquent Peasant

Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.
– Thales, Diogenes Laërtius’ Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.
Lord Mahavir 24th Tirthankara

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Luke 6:31

Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.
– Confucius, Analects 12:2

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
– Buddha, Udanavarga 5:18

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
- An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
- Shabbath folio:31a, Babylonian Talmud

Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
T’ai-Shang Kan-Yin P’ien

That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.
Dadisten-I-dinik, 94:5

Respect for all life is the foundation.

I command thee thus, O children of the Earth, that that which ye deem harmful unto thyself, the very same shall ye be forbidden from doing unto another, for violence and hatred give rise to the same.
The Book of Ways

An’ it harm no one, do what thou wilt.
– The Wiccan Rede


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