Dasp’rut

I’ve always enjoyed the Ulsterman’s (and -woman’s) ability to find anything “desperate”. As far as I can pin down this all-purpose expression, it indicates the odd, out-of-the-ordinary, even wryly amusing.

Just once in a while, those attempted e-mail scams throw up such an object.

Is it really worthwhile to pose as Mrs Florence Au and solicit me to receive a cut of her late husband’s multi-millions, lodged in a foreign bank?

Or the expert who remotely diagnoses a security fault on my Windows PC, when the whole house is Mac-dependent?

Or the notification that my non-existent account with the Bank of Ireland, Paypal, Amazon or Ebay has been infringed?

But … whoa! … here comes a new one. 

Malcolm Redfellow, it seems, is being chased for not paying his dues to E-ZPass, the electronic toll-road collection system for the North-Eastern United States.

Since Malcom Redfellow does physically exist (at least beyond these mumblings), does not drive — and certainly not in the Tri-State area, does not and never has owned a vehicle or a driving licence, —

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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Who knows history, who only history knows?

I freely admit it: I’ve never taken to Niall Ferguson in bulk. And the one thing of which one needs no further proof is that anything by Ferguson comes in wholesale quantities. I’m with the Duke of Gloucester:

“Another demn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?”

Here we have him, in brief, ornamenting the pages of the Daily Telegraph, with his view that:

Scottish referendum: Alone, Scotland will go back to being a failed state

A trifle harsh, d’ye think? Hmmm, perhaps. Certainly the Act of Union was a desperate throw by an entrenched aristocracy that needed to be bought, to pay off the debts accumulated by decades of overweening follies, which concluded (but did not start) with the Darien Scheme.

Oh, don’t come wibbling that the Darien Scheme was wrecked by the hostilities of the perfidious English! A settlement on the Mosquito Coast was doomed from the start!

Don’t get sucked in, either, by the Burns stuff:

What force or guile could not subdue, 
Thro’ many warlike ages, 
Is wrought now by a coward few, 
For hireling traitor’s wages. 
The English stell we could disdain, 
Secure in valour’s station; 
But English gold has been our bane- 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Daiches and Smout

Burns cobbled that together as late as 1791, and so it is irrelevant to negotiations over the 1707 Union — though not to the ever-present economic nonsenses of the Scottish oligarchy. [There you are, Professor Ferguson: a topic worthy of your Glaswegian canniness.]

David Daiches put the bribery argument to rest, forty years ago (though it is still rehearsed by nationalists and the ignorant):

 

Was it all a matter of jobbery and bribery, as has been so often maintained? Why did the Squadrone Volante, who had originally prided themselves on their independence, in the end vote solidly for the Union? That they were, in the modern phrase, ‘leaned on’ in one way or another seems pretty certain. But it is unlikely that there was outright bribery: political pressure, promise of office, indirect financial inducements there undoubtedly were. There was even in one respect at least a direct financial inducement, since in August 1706 a royal warrant was issued putting a loan of £20,000 at the disposal of the Government in Scotland, on the ground that debts and current expenses could not otherwise be met. The sum was paid in two instalments in October and November; over half went to defray the expenses of the Commissioner and his staff; the rest was said to have gone in paying arrears of salary that the Government had promised its friends and potential friends. Lockhart of Carnwath maintained that some people to whom no arrears were due received payment from this sum, but he is a prejudiced witness. There seems however to have been no direct naked payments to people for voting for the Government, and in at least one case—that of the Duke of Atholl, who is said to have received £1,000—money was apparently received by someone who voted against the Union.

On the contrary, as Daiches then continues, it was English concessions to Scottish commercial interests, and a long-term view of economic self-interest that brought the Union about:

The international position of Scotland in the early eighteenth century was too isolated, her internal weaknesses and divisions too acute and wide-ranging, and the determination of England to protect herself from these weaknesses by absorbing her neighbour too strong, to offer much rational hope north of the Border that Scotland’s cherished independence could be long preserved.

That’s T. C .(Christopher) Smout, originally 1969, but every word as valid today as then.

Back to Ferguson

Like many others, I have never been quite sure what kind of historian Ferguson wants to be. He certainly tends to the broad-brush approach, scorning detail which does not comfortably fit his grand epic, while comfortable with generalisations that fit blurbs and sell books. Even his admirers fence him in as an “economic historian”.

Here we see that scattergun tendency in his Daily Telegraph piece.

Bampot

There is the scorn for trivial detail:

I wish I had a fiver – yes, a Bank of England one please – for every rude name I have been called since I re-entered this fray. (Most are unprintable, but “weegie bampot” gives you a flavour. A “weegie” is a Glaswegian. I have never been sure what a “bampot” is, but it’s a great insult.)

Well, I’ve seen a real ba(l)mpot: my Aunt Min had one.

It worked like this: once a fortnight the door-to-door pedlar brought live yeast. The yeast was put into the ba(l)mpot, put near — but not too close — to the cast-iron kitchen range, and fed on sugary water.

Appropriate quantities would be taken on a daily basis for baking or whatever. Beware that home-made ginger-beer!

The ba(l)mpot tended to froth — hence the metaphor of a head a bit too dizzy, a bit too frothy. Quite an appropriate term to lob at Ferguson, I muse.

Shome mishtake, shurely

Then we arrive at this bit of Fergusonian explication:

Scottish history offers proof that even the most failed state can be fixed – by uniting with a richer and more tranquil neighbour. For most of the early modern period, the Scots kingdom was Europe’s Afghanistan. In the Highlands and the Hebrides, feudal warlords ruled over an utterly impoverished populace in conditions of lawlessness and internecine clan conflict. In the Lowlands, religious zealots who fantasised about a Calvinist theocracy – government by the godly Elect – prohibited dancing, drinking and drama. John Knox and his ilk were the Taliban of the Reformation. Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland, not in England.

Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs. James I was murdered. James II died besieging Roxburgh Castle. James III also died in battle. So did James IV, at Flodden in 1513. James V died after yet another defeat at the hands of the English at Solway Moss. Mary I – Mary Queen of Scots – was actually imprisoned and executed by the English. James VI’s reaction on hearing that he had succeeded the woman who had condemned his mother to death was not one of repugnance but relief. As King James I of England, he could not wait to relocate south.

I’d quibble with several of those factoids.

Head-count

Take that assertion, Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland. We can quantify that,  thanks to the University of Edinburgh:

We have identified a total number of 3,837 people who were accused of witchcraft in Scotland. 3,212 of these are named and there are a further 625 unnamed people or groups included in our database…

Of the 3,212 named individuals, we know the sentence of a trial in only 305 cases. 205 of these were to be executed, 52 were acquitted, 27 were banished, 11 were declared fugitive, 6 were excommunicated, 2 were put to the horn (outlawed), 1 person was to be kept in prison and 1 person was to be publicly humiliated. In addition, a further 98 were recorded as having fled from prosecution. This seems to suggest that 67%, two-thirds, were executed.

Horrible, indeed — but, to stick to the facts: 205 certified deaths, and most by strangulation before burning. Ferguson should be challenged to show how that number was less than what went on in England — particularly when charges of treason and witchcraft seem frequently to overlap. At a casual glance, the facts do not seem on Ferguson’s side.

The dangers of kingship

Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs.

Really? The life-expectancy of monarchs seems to be somewhat greater than what we can deduce for the common populace.

Then he aggregates the monarchs of Scotland from the death of James I (1437) to the execution of Mary Stuart (1587), and lists five exemplars. Now, do the same calculation for England : Edward VI (murdered, 1471), Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower, presumably done to death, 1483), Richard III (Bosworth, 1485) , — let’s pass over the fates of Henry VIII’s wives — Jane Seymour (1553). I make that a close-run 5-4 home win, but had I been allowed the fourteenth century, I could have added the murders of Richard II and Edward II.

… a richer and more tranquil neighbour

Now, come on! That’s really pushing your luck, Ferguson!

The tranquil England, with which Scotland unified, had suffered a catastrophic previous century:

  • the famine of 1623-24;
  • a most devastating Civil War (casualties: perhaps an eighth of the whole population), when the King of England declared war on his own subjects;
  • that King’s trial and execution;
  • the continuing constitutional crisis until the Restoration;
  • several attempts at royal assassination (the Gunpowder Plot, the Rye House Plot);
  • two major invasions (Monmouth unsuccessfully in 1685, Willem III van Oranje in 1689.
  • We might add in the Great Plague (“Great” because it was a degree more severe than several others) of 1664-65.

If Ferguson is content to be a “gadfly …  to stir up ideas and stir up debate” (Anthony Beevor’s benign put-down), he succeeds here. He shows a loose grasp of the details of political history, though.

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Filed under Antony Beevor, Britain, Daily Telegraph, History, Niall Ferguson, Scotland

Learning something new everyday

marlowe-dr-faustus-1663Those of a certain generation (i.e. before day-time TV, the British Army of the Rhine, and when Sunday lunch was a family affair) have a distant memory of peeling spuds to the BBC Light Programme, and Two-Way Family Favourites.

Which is why I was reading Doctor Faustus, but my ear-worm chimed in with this:

For my eye had just scanned:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so cosequently die:
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be, shall be?

Man Who Knew Too MuchBefore anyone gets too excited, that’s perfectly OK in a sixteenth century effort, and at least until spelling became formalised.

It took Jay Livingston and Ray Evans to clean it up for the 1956 remake of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

However, there are times when I feel my mind makes too many unnecessary connections.

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Antrim? Not baffled one wee bit.

Nick Robinson, thee BBC Political Editor, offers “last minute” thoughts:

If you live in Accrington or Aberystwyth or Antrim, wherever you are in England or Wales, or Northern Ireland, I can see why it might be a little bit baffling. Forgive me, it may even be a bit boring at times.

OK: the alliteration is a nice touch.

However, I could assure Mr Robinson that the folk in Antrim are not baffled one tiny bit. In Antrim — as in Down, Armagh and points adjacent — they know precisely which foot they dig with.

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Flee(t)ching

Now there’s a word that has even the OED a bit puzzled, at least over its etymology:

Etymology:  Of obscure origin; the identity of the senses with those of Old Germanic *þlaihan and its derivatives (Gothic ga-þlaihan to treat kindly, console, Old High German flêhôn , flêhen to fondle, flatter, beseech, Middle High German vlêhen , modern German flehen to beseech, Dutch vleien to flatter) suggests that the word may represent an Old English *flǽcean < Old Germanic type *þlaikjan , related to *þlaihan , as Old English tǽcean teach v. to téon( < *tîhan).
Sc. and north. dial.
To beguile, cajole, coax, wheedle; to entice, wheedle into going, to a place. Also, in good sense: To beseech, entreat. Also absol. and intr. (const. onwith), to speak coaxingly or beseechingly; to flatter, fawn.

My interest is the Sc. and north. dial. bit.

Burns has the words:

Duncan fleech’d, and Duncan pray’d,
         Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!
Meg was deaf as Ailsa Craig,
         Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!
Duncan sigh’d baith out and in,
Grat his een baith bleer’t and blin’,
Spak o’ lowpin owre a linn;
         Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!

Time and chance are but a tide,
        Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!
Slighted love is sair to bide,
         Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!
“Shall I, like a fool,” quoth he,
“For a haughty hizzie die?
She may gae to—France for me!”
         Ha, ha, the wooin o’t!

From Burns’s Ayrshire — as one would expect — it was transported into the Ulster dialect:

When fleechin winna do, you’ll even
Attempt to frighten them to heaven!

And that fleechin/frighten contrast, to be honest, is where this post originated. Somehow that quotation came to mind with Gordon Brown’s stomping performance today:

Mr Brown urged the silent majority “to be silent no more” and to “let no narrow nationalism split us asunder”.

“Have confidence, stand up and be counted tomorrow,” he told the final Better Together rally in Glasgow. “Say to your friends, for reasons of solidarity, sharing, pride in Scotland, the only answer is vote No.”

“What sort of message would we send out to the rest of the world, we who pioneered a partnership between nations, if tomorrow we said we’re going to give up on sharing, throw our idea of solidarity into the dust?” he said.

“This is not the Scotland I know.”

An earlier speech by Brown:

… criticised Mr Salmond’s followers.

“They dine out on Scottish ideas of equality. They talk as if they actually believe it,” Mr Brown said.

“But when you look at the actual policies of the SNP, there is not one measure in their document that suggests there would be a higher rate of income tax for those at the very top, or a millionaire’s tax at the top of council tax, or a mansion tax at the top of stamp duty, or even the bankers’ bonus tax that is proposed for the UK.

“They have no way of raising the money to pay for all the expensive promises they have made.”

Mr Brown said Nationalists’ proposals to cut corporation tax would benefit large companies, including energy firms.

“The biggest beneficiaries of the SNP’s tax policy are the shareholders and directors of the privatised energy companies in Scotland,” he said.

“The beneficiaries of an independent Scotland are not the ordinary people of Scotland but the richest directors of the most profitable, privatised companies in Scotland.

“When you look at the Scottish National Party policies, inequality and poverty will survive until doomsday if 
Alex Salmond is all that confronts it.”

I look at the sheer potency of that, and the last sentence in particular, and wonder if any other public speaker could get away with it. When Britain gained its most powerful political voice, the Scottish Kirk lost a magnificent preacher.

And thence to America

The Federal Writers Project was part of the New Deal’s WPA. It generated the American Guides Series,  and one document of that was The Ocean Highway, from New Brunswick to Jacksonville, Florida. Again, it is not surprising that these Guides have enjoyed a revival, been republished or adapted for modern media. Once Michael Portillo has finished with his Bradshaw (if ever), those Guides might offer him another prospect. Somehow, though, I cannot see the bold Michael hoboing:

There’s a lonesome freight at 6.08 coming through the town
And I feel like I just want to travel on
Done laid around, done stayed around
This old town too long
And it seems like I’ve got to travel on.

— Another lyric Bob Dylan “acquired”.

The authors of The Ocean Highway,  by page 189,  get to Hatteras, North Carolina:

The people of this section are weathered and bronzed, and have unusual independence and self-reliance. They speak in broad Devon accents. Many of the older families believe they are descended from English sailors who were shipwrecked on this lonely shore. Most are members of well defined clans. Archaic words and phrases have survived, and the distinctive banker enunciation gives them a special quality.

“Couthy” is the local word for capable; “heerd” is the pronunciation for “heard.” “Don’t fault  me if I’m scunnered” means “Don’t blame  me if I’m disgusted.” The mainland is usually referred to as “the country,” and day begins at “calm daylight.” “Disremember and “disencourage” are frequently used. “Fleech” means to flatter, not a complimentary term since the native is sparing with his praise. His pocket is “a poke,” a kiss is a “buss,” and a man’s sweetheart is his “may”.

Not Devonian, more County Downian.

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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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