A rock and a hard place

Auld Acquaintance Cairn

I’ve just been reading the Washington Post‘s daily snippet on #indyref:

Britons gather stones at Scotland-England border to support the union before vote

It began in July with a single stone placed along a bend in the River Sark, the muddy trickle in a sea of green fields where Scotland and England meet — and where they could diverge if Scots choose to break from Britain in Thursday’s independence vote.

As the polls have hardened into a dead heat, the river bend has become a pilgrimage site for those who want to save the United Kingdom. And that single stone has evolved into a 9-foot-tall, 350-ton monument to a country that may cease to exist as the world has known it for three centuries…

Building a pile of rocks may seem an unusual way to try to salvage the union at the heart of the United Kingdom. But the collection of tens of thousands of stones from all corners of Britain — many daubed in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack — has become a growing emblem of the country’s shared history. It also has struck a deep emotional chord that otherwise has been lacking from the unionist campaign.

The item in question is the Auld Acquaintance Cairn.

Very Ecclesiastes 3:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

Watching the sensationalist TV coverage of how the Yessers seem intent on disrupting any kind of reasoned Better Together debate, the casting of stones doesn’t seem too impossible. Or as Stephen Bush (we’re once again with the Telegraph‘s MorningBriefing) shrewdly observes:

Now every campaign has its fringe elements – but it is curious that the fringe elements in the Yes campaign seem so well-informed as to the movements of No-supporting politicians. Small wonder, too, that the grassroots campaign talks of “cowards” and “traitors” when at the top of Yes Scotland and SNP they speak of “Team Scotland”, of an England with values diametrically opposed to that found north of the border. (Don’t forget, for all the talk of a different political culture, Scotland has voted for the government in three out of the last four elections and 12 out of 18 since the war.) 

Incidentally, another Telegraph piece today is more straw in the chill wind:

The Scottish First Minister attempted to force the principal of St Andrews University to criticise the Government and tone down warnings she made about the adverse impact of Scottish independence.

Alex Salmond telephoned Prof Louise Richardson demanding she clarify remarks she made about the consequences of leaving the UK in a conversation described as “loud and heated”.

Emails obtained by The Telegraph also show that Mr Salmond’s office attempted to have Prof Richardson release a statement praising the Scottish government and criticising Westminster over higher education policy.

The revelation that he attempted to quieten the leader of one of Scotland’s most revered institutions, where Mr Salmond studied economics and medieval history, is the most high-profile example yet of his questionable campaign tactics which critics say amount to bullying.

El Presidente SalmondoEl Presidente discovered that this was another lady not for turning.

All things considered — whichever way the vote goes — late Friday night in east Glasgow might well be best avoided. Scores have yet to be settled.

Back to WaPo

As always, it’s the miscues that give one away as alien. The give-away to Griff Witte’s piece is the end-note:

Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

Both Witte and Ms Adam area London-based, and #indyref is a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing, except that Gretna is an even smaller speck on the border. Try a bit more:

The line of division, if it becomes a true border again, can be hard to find. With no natural geographic features to partition this island, the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall — but much of it is gone. The River Sark, which forms today’s western boundary between England and Scotland, is little more than a stream that can be forded with a couple of hops. Drivers crossing into Gretna on an old stone bridge may not even notice they have entered a new nation.

Once again the confusion between the border and Hadrian’s Wall: it’s a long, long way from Newcastle (where the Wall ended in the east) to three miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where — just short of Lamberton Nursery — the A1 Great North Road leaves England. Where are, by the way, lay-bys already for the installation of customs posts.

And that’s another gripe with Witte:

Nationalists say that won’t change if the union is dissolved and Scotland achieves independence. Much like another island to this one’s west — Ireland — Britain, they say, can be divided without border controls.

But British officials say that they are not so sure, and that differing security and immigration policies may force them to set up checkpoints at the crossings.

The Claudy experience

102560Memories are longer along the Irish border. You still see, in the rural parts, road signs like the one on the right here. An “Unapproved Road” was one without a customs post. Officially, it was closed to all but “emergency services” — doctors, nurses, vets, parsons and priests.

On the “Approved” crossings one had to present documentation for a vehicle, and — certainly in the 1950s and 1960s, a form of identity which was stamped in and out. This could get quite complicated. Take an “Unapproved Road” in one direction, arrived at an “Approved” crossing without the inward stamp, and one was in severe trouble.

Then, again, this being Ireland, the “Approved” crossings only worked a twelve-hour day and closed closed at eight or nine o’clock at night. And then you could be stuck.

At the height of the Troubles, those “Unapproved” crossings were firmly blocked (through Border farmers soon found ways to move beasts across, and others learned to follow).

Let’s extrapolate

Imagine “Britain” (though by then the term is redundant) divided between independent Scotland and a Tory England.

This Tory England has had its Referendum, as promised by David Cameron, and has voted to reject any renegotiated EU membership terms. Not impossible, huh?

Yet this is a Scotland, with an ageing native population, which needs immigration and cheap labour to support the SNP pledge for free care of the elderly. However, this is also a Tory England with the tabloid press screaming poison about immigration.

Of course, in that quite-imaginable context, the wild border country becomes either an unacceptably-permeable non-barrier, or it’s San Diego:

San Diego

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Filed under History, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP, Washington Post

As I said earlier …

Andrew Gimson got his regular place in the PoliticsHome strap line, with his Glasgow shout for ConHome.

Don’t get me wrong: Andrew Gimson is one of the saner Tories. He is spoiled by being corralled into that particular nest of iniquity. His piece, today, is typically impressionistic — much of it little more than vox pop stuff:

Three things shocked me as a Unionist visiting Glasgow. The first was the realisation that although, in the course of several hours’ conversation in George Square yesterday afternoon, I met a considerable number of people who are going to vote No on Thursday, the people who are going to vote Yes are on average younger and better looking. This is always a good sign for a campaign. Success, fashion and beauty generally go together. Many wearers of the Yes badge made it look quite chic.

Let’s get his third point out of the way. Well established for anyone who has half an ear has been:

… the vindictive tone of some of the speakers. Like every other commentator, I do not know what will happen on Thursday. But if there is a No vote, the most difficult task may only just be beginning: to find some way of calming the passions which motivate so many Yes voters. For many of them, this referendum represents a longed-for and unexpected chance to take revenge on the hated Thatcher and Blair.

These Yes voters want so much to believe that their egalitarian, state-directed version of ethical socialism can work in Scotland, although the English are not even prepared to try it. Who can convince them that such policies would lead to economic collapse? Or must the perilous experiment be tried?

There’s a dangerous conflation there: to be opposed to  the hated Thatcher and Blair does not put one anywhere near an egalitarian, state-directed version of ethical socialism. On the contrary: it makes one an unthinking reactionary bigot. That, though, is how the SNP has framed too much of its argument.

His second point is the one that needs unscrambling:

In Glasgow, the greater [than "nationalism", per se] threat to the Union comes from socialism, and from people who think of themselves as socialists. Romantic love of socialism remains strong. This is a painfully obvious point, but one I had managed to miss while following events from London.

redcoverMy, my: Mr Gimson seems not aware of the legacy from the likes of (in alphabetical order) James Connolly, Helen Crawfurd, Willie Gallacher, Keir Hardie, Tom Johnston, Davie Kirkwood, Ramsay Macdonald, James MacDougall, Agnes and John Maclean, Jimmy Maxton, Jimmy Reid, Manny Shinwell, John Wheatley … and a cast of thousands. He should betake himself to a decent bookshop, or library and spend a couple or three hours with Maggie Craig on the history of Red Clydeside.

Let me concede that Andrew Gimson may have a point with:

the greater threat to the Union comes from … people who think of themselves as socialists.

But he should have a word with his redoubtable Missus before he fills that omitted [ ... ] with: from socialism.

Had he looked further he would have found the Left in Scotland is not voting “Yes”. Try the leaflet illustrated here, and he — and readers of ConHome — might find bits with which they are surprisingly in agreement.

Similarly, there are many Scots who have heard of James Connolly, and even read his stuff. In this context, a true socialist would hark back to Connolly’s 1897 essay:

If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

The main difference, of course, is that — even absent those evil “English” “capitalists” — El Presidente Salmond is already sold out to Murdoch, Trump, Russian plutocrats buying enough real estate to earn a passport, Asian millionaires renting by the week the Highland deer-stalking experience, Texan oilmen …

But, you’ve heard all that before.

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Filed under ConHome, nationalism

Aw, diddums!

The jejune-but-promising inheritor of Ben Brogan’s mantle is Stephen Bush. Here is a clip of today’s Morningbriefing:


@JeremyCliffe: Today Lab has issued four statements bashing evil Tories. Couldn’t they have packed it in, if only for one measly, nation-changing week?

Cliffe, by the by, is an apparatchik at The Economist. The Economist is commonly believed to be capable of more than single-track thought-processes.

Err, no. 

Absent Scotland (about six million of ‘em), and there’s still fifty-eight million of us for whom life, political life, and the horrors of Toryism go on.

Make Philip Hammond and Eric Pickles  shut up and sit down, make the Passport Office behave and not profiteer at the expense of ordinary citizens’ distress (all of whom also feature in today’s Morningbriefing), and there would be less to complain about. Right, Stephen?

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Filed under Benedict Brogan, Britain, Daily Telegraph, Economist, Stephen Bush

Neither Queen nor queasier

This sticker was on the corner of the Royal Mile and Bank Street (and a very appropriate location, too).


Edinburgh, 13 Sep 2014

I’m still calculating the number of ironies that lie hidden in this message, at this time.

One cannot fairly quote Connolly on independence without also citing his views on capitalism:

If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.

Not England, perhaps, but Il Presidente Salmond’s friends: Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Russian plutocrats buying enough real estate to earn a passport, Asian millionaires renting by the week the Highland deer-stalking experience, Texan oilmen …

Until we are rid of those parasites, the Union is a marginally better bet.

Until then … well, G.K.Chesterton was a (very) right old Tory, but he doesn’t need too much emendation. And the scansion works just the same:

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of Scotland; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

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Filed under History, Irish Labour, Irish politics, Literature, Scotland

A study in Natural History

I wonder how many will recognise what follows from its original title, there. A date might help:

first published in the Morning Post, October 20 1911; also in the Ladies Journal, November 11, 1911.

The opening stanza gives this little game away: it provided the title for subsequent publications, particularly after 1918 when the suffragists (note the subtle use of vocabulary there) achieved part of their aim:

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Read on, and get this:

Man, a bear in most relations—worm and savage otherwise,—
Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act…

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

From that to Ms Camilla Long’s “hobbits”.

I don’t apologise for returning to her spewed bile: anyway, this is my blog, and I don’t get paid for it.

In Ms Long’s de haut en bas (especially, as in that article,  since no working-class prod reaches more than 5ft 6in)down-her-nose Weltanschauung, all those women at yesterday’s Edinburgh Orange march were in swag upon swag of militant polyester, but dress[ed] like the Queen: neat handbags, pumps, ceremonial chains

Well, here they come, Cammy, my dear. Look them in the face, and do not flinch. You started it — doubtless reading the script the Boss didn’t quite need to dictate to you.

I trust you are woman enough to answer them in kind:


Because, I don’t know about your sensibilities, learned at “The House“, Camilla, dahling, but that lot in full cry would terrify the be-jasus out of me.


Borrowed from an old doggerel (with a touch of the MacGonagalls):

The political life of the Salmond
Will be shorter than anyone thinks.
At the end of the #indyref season,
La Sturgeon will be up to her tricks.
But Lamont’s political cuteness is never to be denied,
And Ms Davidson ’s wit should never easily be decried,
Which amounts to the end of the Salmond,
And the ladies’ inscrutable smiles.

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Filed under Murdoch, Scotland, Sunday Times

And here’s another:

Star of tea-towels, mugs and other simpleware:


Description from catalogue:

Description: Artist: HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901) Size: 38 1/4 x 54 7/8 in./96.8 x 139.2 cm Imp. Edw. Ancourt, Paris “The Montmartre chansonnier turned restauranteur, Aristide Bruant, was a strong, imposing personality, and in the several posters of him Toulouse-Lautrec conveys this by letting him dominate the picture completely, with virtually nothing else to distract our attention, and with Bruant’s characteristic red scarf, hat and walking stick adding impact to the image…this design was seen by Bruant as a masterpiece, but the manager of the Ambassadeurs rejected it as too brutally frank and unflattering; the only way the performer could get it accepted was by warning the manager that he would not appear on stage unless there was a copy on either side of the proscenium, and unless the whole of Paris was plastered with further copies” (Wine Spectator, 46). The same image would be recycled by Lautrec two years later when Bruant appeared at the Eldorado (see PAI-LXII, 570).

Condition Report: B+/ Slight tears at folds.

Yours for around £40,000 — about £39, 990 more than a decent reproduction (but I still prefer her).

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On the topic of ephemera …

I definitely covet this one:


On sale, 21st September, 2014, at Poster Auctions International.

Description: Artist: WEILUC (Lucien-Henri Weil, 1873-1947) Size: Poster: 44 1/8 x 62 1/8 in./112.2 x 157.8 cm Panel: 44 1/2 x 31 1/8 in./113 x 79.2 cm La Lithographie Nouvelle, Asnières Le Frou-Frou was a satirical publication that ran from 1900 to the outbreak of World War I. It would later have a post-war revival, but was at its best during the time that this poster was created. As the name of the magazine would imply, we see a woman’s uplifted skirt, the many petticoats and underthings rustling against her stockinged legs. In her hand are both a cigarette, the smoke from which spells out the the publication’s name, and a copy of the periodical. It appears that the image we see is also on the copy of her magazine, making the design an endless parade of smaller frou-frous. This is the rare, large format version of the poster with a separate bottom text panel announcing all the major contributors added.

Starting bid $15,000.


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