The Country on the Edge of Forever

If you map it, it will come?

“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?

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Whenever We Dream

I, like other independence supporters, am of the opinion that a referendum on Scottish Independence needs to be held before the UK leaves the European Union. Others don’t necessarily agree – as is their right – such as Tommy Sheppard MP, who advised waiting until after the next Scottish Parliament elections to secure an “unconditional” mandate in his widely acclaimed Thomas Muir lecture. Two things should be noted: firstly, that he was giving his personal opinion; secondly, and most importantly, that he acknowledged that “This is what it looks like now – it might be different next week” from his perspective. Given what’s happened in the past year, his stance could change significantly, as Robin McAlpine’s did post-EU Referendum.

Here’s why I don’t favour post-2021.

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Monuments and Mythology – It’s Time to Let It Go: Guest Post by Jeffrey Shanks

(Special thanks to my most erudite and scholarly friend Jeffrey Shanks for allowing me to publish this piece, which I think complements my recent post on lost history: I think it neatly fills in the gaps in my knowledge regarding Southern/Confederacy heritage. It helps when it comes from an actual Southerner! All images & links except the above I have added for illustrative purposes.)

I want to try have a difficult discussion with my fellow white Southerners on the Confederate monument controversy. This is an attempt to help foster understanding about why many feel so strongly about this. I know that many of you white folks from the South, when you see people wanting to get rid of Confederate monuments and the flag, feel like you and your ancestry and heritage are being personally attacked. You don’t think of yourself as racist and you feel you are being accused of it. I’ve seen good people I know express that sentiment. I understand that – but I have a very different perspective. I want you know am not coming from a place of hate and I am not judging you or virtual signalling. I just want to provide some context for this issue to help you understand the other side of it. This is long so bear with me.

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Lost Histories

I sometimes fear that
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress
worn by grotesques and monsters
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.

Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you…

It doesn’t walk in saying,
“Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution.”
– Michael Rosen, “I Sometimes Fear…

I volunteer with a local heritage & arts group in Gourock: a wee forum where people who are interested in our Burgh of Barony’s past can discuss our history, culture, and future. This can range from the not-too-distant past of the 20th Century, all the way back to prehistoric times, and even the geological composition of the very rocks. Little stories abound, from the innovation of the original Red Herring, to the diabolical warlock Auld Dunrod, and the thing buried under St. Ninian’s football pitch featured on an episode of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.

There are stories that aren’t quite so delightful: the death of Mary Lamont and others in the “witch-mania of Scotland”; the sectarian violence which cropped up again and again; the expulsion of Rev. Macrae by the Synod. One of the many hazards historians must navigate in the sea of history is that dark side of humanity: no town is without its sorrows, its hatreds, its evils. It can be very easy to repurpose shame or horror from your past into denial and outrage towards others.

I was struck by this facet of the events in Charlottesville: it’s illustrative in showing how easy it is for things to go wrong.

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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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What Ships Are Built For

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
John Augustus Shedd (1859 – 1928)

Picture a boat in a harbour. Let’s call her the Scotia. She can be any kind of boat you like: a proud Birlinn, a swift Sgoth Niseach, a stout Gabbart, a bonny Clyde Puffer, a dainty Fifie. The boat is old and well-travelled, though she has not been on a voyage for a very long time. Yet she still floats; her hull is solid and sturdy; the deck and gunwales clear and well-maintained; cargo manifest up-to-date, even her paint still vibrant. Like the Ship of Theseus, she has been built and rebuilt countless times, yet retains the shape and spirit since she was launched. She boasts a dedicated, enthusiastic crew, of many talents and experiences, ready for any and all challenges. People the world over look to this boat as a truly exemplary craft – one that passenger, crewman, and officer alike would be honoured to board & serve.

Now imagine that boat never leaves its harbour.

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I Wish I Could Understand It

I wish I could understand pro-independence folk voting for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. Really, I do. I know more than a few people personally who staunchly support independence, but who wanted to support the last great hope of the British Left – and so, voted for his candidate. I even remember this back in the 2015 General Election campaign, where folk I know who were deeply involved in RIC, the SSP, and non-party initiatives told me they would’ve voted for a socialist candidate with a red rosette.

I’ve thought about it for months, now. I still don’t get it. Put aside the fundamental issue of independence (or even respecting the mandate of the Scottish Parliament to even hold a referendum, let alone the notion of independence itself) for me, and there are still so many dealbreakers. The party is committed to renewal of nuclear weapons – dealbreaker. The party is committed to a complete UK-wide withdrawal from the European Union despite Scotland, Northern Ireland, & Gibraltar voting to stay – dealbreaker. The party refuses to adopt even the extreme compromise of Single Market Membership & retention of Free Movement – dealbreaker. And that’s not even considering the fact Corbyn’s party will stop at nothing to destroy the SNP, even if it costs them a shot at government.

I mean, look at this. For God’s sake.

Wings provided a very short and concise piece of advice for Mr Corbyn, but there’s one problem: Mr Corbyn’s party are 3rd in all 13 Scottish seats currently under occupation by Theresa May’s party. Of those 13 seats, a paltry 3 of them appear in the 150 best shots for a Corbyn gain:

Renfrewshire East, Scotland: 7,150 majority, 6.65% swing to win

Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, Scotland: 7,526 majority, 10.28% swing to win

Aberdeen South, Scotland: 9,603 majority, 10.91% swing to win

All but two of the UK Government Party-held seats in Scotland require a greater than 10% swing to win. Mr Corbyn’s party needs 325 MPs to vote for him to become Prime Minister. As Wings says, even if you replace every single SNP MP with one from Mr Corbyn’s party, his net gain is 0. Unlike David Cameron’s party devouring their erstwhile coalition partners, Corbyn taking SNP seats cannot provide him with a majority, be it the 18 marginals, or even all 35. Even taking every single seat in Scotland would not be enough for an overall majority, and would rely upon a pact with the decidedly unreliable Coalition Party – which neither side is remotely interested in.

Is there anywhere – anywhere at all – that Mr Corbyn could find more seats?

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