Monthly Archives: January 2016

Matters arising

After those two post I recon we still need to muse on:

  • the uncomfortable historic link between Fascism and Scottish Nationalism;
  • that thing about the Declaration of Arbroath.

51x4fwYd8KL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_For the former, Gavin Bowd (as right) has done the business.

That was then …

Scotland was no less caught in the rising fascist tide than anywhere else. South of the Border, Mosley had his Blackshirts, and the support of the owner of the Daily Mail. In Ireland, O’Duffy (sacked as police commissioner by de Valera) was a long-term admirer of Mussolini and set about moulding the Army Comrades Association (i.e. Free Staters) into his National Guard (better known as the Blueshirts).

Mosley had his small coterie in Scotland: 3,000 mustered at Dumfries Drill Hall for a BUF rally in April 1934. another rally, later in the same year, at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall ended in a major punch-up. One reason why Mosley failed to get traction was because any natural support, among the Orangemen, rejected the admiration of Mussolini and his papal links.

Far more dangerous was Alexander Ratcliffe’s Scottish Protestant League in Glasgow and John Cormack’s Protestant Action in Edinburgh. Protestant Action gained 24% of the vote in local elections in 1935, rising to 32% the following year. Cormack had his “Kaledonian Klan” (geddit?) street-fighting in the Irish-Catholic slums.

Added to which, there was the seduction of the intellectuals. “Hugh MacDiarmid” and or his alter-ego, Christopher Murray Grieve, had signed up for a “Scottish fascism” in the 1920s, and hardly resiled from that stance. In 1940 we find him writing to Sorley Maclean asserting Nazism was a lesser enemy than the French and British bourgeoisie. Once upon a distant time, I had a passing interest in MacDiarmid’s verse, and I still have as a legacy Alan Bold’s anthology: in it I won’t find this, from June 1940:

Now when London is threatened
With destruction from the air
I realise, horror atrophying me,
That I hardly care.

John Manson includes that as a “rediscovered” poem. One can see why it remained unpublished for another 60+ years.

MacDiarmid was in good company: Douglas Young (who would be leader of the SNP in the later War years) writes in 1939:

If Hitler could neatly remove our imperial breeks somehow and thus dissipate the mirage of imperial partnership with England he would do a great service to Scottish Nationalism.

Fascist-symps were numerous in the cream of Scottish society (“the rich and the thick”, or at least the effete). Patrick Boyle, Earl of Glasgow, had organised the British Fascisti, buggered off to France when his debts became pressing, and returned to help finance Mosley and the Anglo-German Fellowship. Jocelyn Hay, Earl of Errol (later shot in the Kenyan “Happy Valley” debacle) was another BUP stalwart, to the extent of flaunting a swastika. Montagu Douglas Scott, Duke of Buccleuch was an appeaser, consorting with von Ribbentrop in London, and so pro-German George VI “resigned” him as Lord Steward. When Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in 1941, it was to meet with  Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton, another Ribbentrop associate, a visitor to the Berlin Olympics where he met Hitler. Nor should we glide over Archibald Ramsay, MP for Peebles, rabid anti-semite, pillar of the Right Club, and the only MP interned during the War.

Several lesser lights glimmered in Nazi circles: a coiffeuse from Dundee ran a letter-box for spies, and spent the War years in prison. Derrick Grant, who had offered his services to the Reich earlier, arranged his German “holiday” to coincide with the outbreak of War, and was recruited to be Radio Caledonia. At the top of this midden was Norman Baillie-Stewart, Anglo-Irish with no direct Scottish connection, but cashiered out of the Seaforth Highlanders when he was found guilty of spying for the Nazis. going on to be the “Sinister Sam” of “Germany Calling”, and later “The Man in the Tower”.

Other names in the frame

It would be wrong to draw a direct line from the Nationalists of the 1930s to the SNP of today.

So let’s not over-egg Arthur Donaldson‘s pudding. Donaldson was drummed out of the SNP in 1940, and ran his own Nazi-infiltrated United Scotland. His other achievement was the Nationalist Mutual Aid Society, to spirit don’t-wannabes into the Highlands and avoid National Service. He was arrested in 1941 and briefly detained until the Nationalists reclaimed their own, made him into a campaign. He prided himself as the Scottish Quisling (but Archibald Ramsay claimed he was first choice). Donaldson was leader of the SNP from 1960 to 1969.

Another briefly-detained was anti-conscription Ronald MacDonald Douglas, who betook himself to Ireland for the duration. Douglas is more significant as the link between Rosheen Napier, a major SNP financier, and the literary circle around MacDiarmid. The salacious can speculate on the ménage à trois of Douglas, Napier, and Marjorie Brock: the former two met when Douglas, keeping out of circulation in Dublin, already shacked up with Brock, fell in with the ex-convent girlie. Douglas was the epicentre of the 1320 Club (that number is explained later) which dedicated itself to the armed struggle, “total independence from England through violent means if necessary”. Whether Douglas was a fantasist or not, he muttered about importing arms from Switzerland and claimed to have met Hess.

… and this is now

This is the easy bit.

It is wrong to draw a direct line from the pre-War to here, though the right-wing of the SNP, still carrying a yen for the principles of the Scottish Party of 1932-4, is a latent force. There’s a prospect for the future, once the “social democratic” tendency of Salmond and Sturgeon loses its gloss.

The Daily Mail, or — to be more precise — Dominic Lawson went ape over a bit of casual vandalism:

The Scottish Nasty Party and how its growing intimidation and intolerance of dissent reeks of fascism

The windows of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party offices in Aberdeen have been spray-painted with the word ‘scum’ and the unmistakable sign of the swastika.

The front door has been similarly defaced with a giant letter Q, for Quisling: that is, traitor. Labour Party offices half a mile away were also daubed with similar abuse.

A local Conservative councillor, Ross Thomson, described this as ‘the ugly face of nationalism’. This showed restraint on his part. 

In his place, I might have pointed out that the political party that actually used the swastika as its emblem was the Nazi party: short for National Socialist.

That induced predictable rushes-of-blood-to-the-keyboard on Facebook.

The takes-the-cake, though, came from Damian Thompson in the Telegraph:

Alex Salmond, the SNP and ‘fascist Scotland’

If Scotland votes for independence, will its government confiscate the estates of English landowners? The SNP is talking about a tenants’ “right to buy” – three such innocuous little words! – even if the landowners don’t want to sell. As my colleague Charles Moore pointed out in The Spectator, “one great independence leader who played this issue politically was Robert Mugabe”.

Cue shrieks from cybernats, the digital wing of the SNP, masters of coordinated outrage. They always go bananas if anyone compares Alex Salmond to a dictator. Which happens a lot these days. There’s an authoritarian streak in the Scottish government that is making people nervous.

Alex Massie shot that little lot down in flames (actually aiming at Simon Winder in Standpoint):

Independence is not ipso facto an absurdity. It may be a cause sparked by emotion and identity but it is one also built on reason. This is an argument between competing but equally legitimate patriotisms in which neither side has a monopoly on either truth or virtue but in which each base their arguments, for the most part, on a sincere and peaceful different calculation of the national interest. As these things go, this one is going pretty well.

Finally, I would only observe that this hysterical – in every sense of the term – broadside against the enemy within plus the suggestion Britain has been betrayed by a decadent and feeble elite at Westminster is so infused with ressentiment that it comes closer to being authentically fascist – at least in worldview – than anything [Winder] has found in the Scotland he so feverishly imagines exists but which bears precious little relation to the Scotland most of us actually inhabit.

Enough, already.

And I still need to get from Arbroath in 1320 to Independence Hall in 1776. Leave that till tomorrow.

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A stirr’d turd stinks (2)

Back to Twitter.

A certain  (who is a declared enthusiast for Donald Trump as leader of the free world!)  took offence at — of all liberal souls — The Guardian‘s Michael White. Mr Lawrie essential grief was:

slavery always illegal Scotland. Unlike England who enslaved & murdered millions.

This was repeated several times, never with any justification, and lead on to other excesses:

  • slaves in confederate states higher standard living than British working class.
  • Scotland has an elite; called the British establishment.
  • slavery illegal under scots law. Why no slaves landed in scots ports. Not so England.
  • not troll. Is fact. Scotland never had mass slave trade. Unlike England. Accept truth here.
  • not one African slave was landed in Scotland. Because it was illegal under scots law.
  • slavery was illegal in Scotland under scots law. Doesn’t contradict
  • scaremongering self loathing rubbish as though Indy scot would unleash 4th reich.
  • The SNP did not have Nazi sympathisers. You’re promoting an offensive lie.

Those may not be in the correct order

Not to forget — a gem among gems — that somehow the US Declaration of Independence sprang from the Declaration of Arbroath.

In all that there are three items worth considering:

  1. Scotland and slavery (which what I address in this post);
  2. the uncomfortable historic link between Fascism and Scottish Nationalism;
  3. that thing about the Declaration of Arbroath.

Scotland and slavery

The Battle of Dunbar (1650) lumbered Cromwell with 10,000 (his own count) Scottish Covenanters and Royalists as prisoners. He reported he had discharge half that number as “starved, sick or wounded”. The Royalist Sir Edward Walker reckoned on 6,000 prisoners, of whom 1,000 were dismissed.

Either way, that leaves 5,000 to be route-marched south. About 3,000 were alive to be incarcerated by Arthur Heslerig at Durham Cathedral. Further deaths (the bodies were found post-WW2 in a trench on the north side of the Cathedral) reduced that to just 1,4oo.  In 1651 these were despatched as indentured labour to the American colonies.

In 1666 the City worthies of Edinburgh took Cromwell’s example, and employed Captain James Gibson. With his ship, the Phoenix of Leith, Gibson contracted to take beggars, vagabonds and others not fitt to stay in the kingdome to Virginia.

Few of these transports would have survived the seven-year indenture in the plantations. The few who did became the overseers for the cheaper, more durable, black slaves. Here, then, is one reason for all those Scottish names among the descendants of the slaves.

The Royal African Company, founded in London in 1672, soon had this new trade in humans organised. The Scots merchants, like those of Bristol and Liverpool, found themselves outside the loop. In November 1692 the Leith magistrates consigned 50 lewd women, and a further 30 street-walkers by ship to (ahem!) Virginia. In 1706 Two Brothers of Leith reported a profit on a slaving voyage.

We don’t know how many slaving voyages originated from the Clyde: the Port Books before 1742 are lost, so Scots moralists can claim barely a dozen such voyages start from Scotland. What is unquestionable is that slave-produced raw cotton, sugar, and tobacco were being imported to Greenock. By no coincidence, Abram Lyle, as in Tate & Lyle, was a Greenock man. By the start of the 19th century, a third of the Jamaican sugar plantations were Scottish owned. By the 1730s Ricard Oswald, son of the Dunnet, Caithness, manse was the factor for his cousins’ trade in tobacco, sugar and wine, and traveling the American south and Caribbean. He became a government-contractor and war-profiteer (first a small killing in the War of the Austrian Succession, then £125,000 from the Seven Years’ War), and with this bought 1,566 acres of four Caribbean plantations, and 30,000 acres in East Florida.

Hard lives and (progressively) harder decisions

The comings-and-goings of Scottish traders meant some brought back their black servants: some seventy are recorded in Scotland during the 18th century. Therein Mr Lawrie’s defence of Scottish innocence totally collapses. Several cases came before Scottish courts where black servants had to plead for release from their servitude:

  • Robert Shedden brought “Shanker” to Scotland, to apprentice him to  joiner, and so improve his price back in Virginia. In April 1756, at Beith, “Shanker’ had himself baptised as James Montgomery. Shodden took the hump, and dragged him back to Port Glasgow to be sent back to Virginia. Montgomery escaped to Edinburgh, and sought his freedom. He was clapped in gaol while the magistrates had extended deliberations, and died before a decision.
  • Dr David Dalrymple brought “Black Tom”, a slave, born in West Africa,  from Grenada to Methyl in Fife. In September 1769 “Black Tom” was baptised as David Spens at Wemyss. Spend now told his former master “I am now by the Christian Religion liberate and set at freedom from my yoke, bondage, and slavery”. Dalrymple had him arrested, and local lawyers  — financed by collections from miners and salters (more of that in a while) — issued writs for wrongful arrest. Before the case could be decided, Dalrymple died.

Next: the Somerset Case. An English matter, but this is in all the schoolbooks as the definitive one: after this no slaves in England. Nope: another example of how textbooks systematically simplify to the point of lies.

  • Charles Stewart had brought the enslaved James Somerset from Boston. Somerset made a break for it, was recaptured, and consigned back to Jamaica. Three witnesses approached the Lord Chief Justice, who ordered Somerset be kept while the case was heard.  The LCJ’s judgement walked the narrowest of lines between common law and the interests of the traders. His ambiguous ruling was: no master was allowed to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted his service or for any other reason whatever. Read it carefully: it doesn’t make slavery illegal: it did, however, give runaways pretext to take charge of their own future.
  • Joseph Knight was an enslaved African, the possession of Sir John Wedderburn in Perthshire. Inspired by the Somerset decision, Knight demanded his service become paid. Wedderburn refused. Knight absconded, and was arrested. The abolitionists, including Dr Johnson and James Boswell, interceded. In 1778 the case came to court at Perth, and was appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh — in both the judgement was that the law of Scotland did not allow slavery.

Salters and miners

Both essential industries, and a law of 1606 put coalyers, coal-bearers and salters in a state of perpetual bondage to their employer. Breaking the bond put the said Coalyears, Coal-bearers and Salters to be esteemed, reput and halded as theives, and punished in their bodies. Moreover, all maisters and awners of Coal-heughs and pannes, were empowered to apprehend all vagabounds and sturdie beggers to be put to labour. So: serfdom and press-ganging.

This persisted until 1775 Act. Let there be no doubt, as the Act said:

many Colliers, Coal-bearers, and Salters are in a state of slavery or bondage, bound to the Collieries and Salt-works where they work for life, transferable with the Collieries and Salt-works, when their original masters have no further use for them.

Even then there were conditions attached. It took until 1799 before all salters and colliers were free from the bond (but, even then, only when an apprenticeship had been served, or ten years’ service registered.


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A stirr’d turd stinks (1)

I sense this could best be presented as a three-parter.

I know I’ve used Charles II Stuart’s expression previously, and perhaps too often. It is, allegedly, the original of what school histories bowdlerise as “Let sleeping dogs lie”. Discovering that convinced me never to rely on the classroom diet provided. And so a natural dissident was born.

So, for these first two parts (and then I’ll attempt a summary-reflection) yesterday I found myself getting involved in two different disputations.

Both were Scottish in essence.

Vox pop

One was on James Kelly’s Scot goes Pop blog. For the epicene, those above the salt, this is in the same territory, but a social class and literacy just above the horrors of the “Rev.” Stuart Campbell’s Wings Over Scotland.

Both those sites (and several others in the cyber-SNP diaspora) are waxing strong, and vexed, and expectorating against J.R.Rowling and all her works.

The cause is that Rowling declined to pay her dues to the Yessers during the #IndyRef. So she is a “Britnat”, an incomer, a traitor, and a whole string of other clichéd inventions.

The precise circumstance was that Rowling had taken umbrage at a particular tweet from Natalie McGarry. Indeed, her. Allow Tom Peterkin, of The Scotsman to explain:

The Glasgow East MP Natalie McGarry got more than she bargained for when she made disparaging remarks about the world’s most famous children’s author on Twitter.

A furious row erupted that resulted in JK Rowling suggesting she might sue Ms McGarry after the former SNP representative accused the Harry Potter creator of “defending abusive misogynist trolls”.

Ms Rowling revealed she was considering taking a ­defamation case after Ms McGarry claimed the author had “tweeted support” of a Twitter user, who uses the nom de plume of Brian Spanner QC to attack Scottish Nationalism.

A series of tweets were posted by Ms McGarry, whose political career has been marred by her suspension from the SNP after financial irregularities were discovered in a pro-independence group that campaigned during the referendum.

In a tweet addressed to Ms Rowling, McGarry said: “It is quite simple flee with craws…You tweet supportive tweets of a misogynist Twitter troll.”

The MP then added: “Do you or don’t you tweet supportive tweets of a misogynist and abusive Twitter troll like Brian Spanner. Answer is Yes. Simple.”

Ms Rowling replied: “So you need some evidence for that or I’m going to need an apology.”

The author added: “You are a politician making a public accusation. Show me where I have defended abusive, misogynist trolling.”

During the online spat that spanned six hours and involved many participants, Ms McGarry also said she “regretted” queuing to buy Ms Rowling’s books.

Ms McGarry later apologised for “any misguided inference” that Ms Rowling supports misogyny or abuse.

But the row escalated when Ms McGarry subsequently tweeted an image that had been altered to wrongly suggest Ms Rowling had responded “you’re a good man” to an abusive tweet sent by Brian Spanner.

According to the author, Ms McGarry had taken the “good man” tweet out of context. Rather than a response to an abusive tweet, it had actually been posted when Brian Spanner helped to raise money for Ms Rowling’s Lumos children’s charity.

Never having had dealings with “Brian Spanner” (whom I now discover tends to similar “vagina monologues” as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail), I naturally incline to accept the Rowling version.

Over to you, James Kelly!

Kelly’s blog, Scot goes Pop!

Mr Kelly reckoned he had identified the hidden hand behind “Brian Spanner“. To do so he identified three dozen of Spanner’s relatively modest 4,622 followers on Twitter, and listed them as a large number of the unionist establishment (especially the journalistic unionist establishment). Including said J.K.Rowling.

I took exception: this list looks remarkably like the black sentence and proscription of Julius Caesar, Act IV, scene i. I read several of the journalists listed there. I don’t have to agree with them, but I know what they write today will be the tittle-tattle of received opinion, the public-bar wisdom of the morrow.

From there it became increasingly bizarre:

  • What age are you 70???? [Would I were so young, but what’s a bit of ageism between commenters?]
  • ... as you haven’t posted here before it would be useful to know what your interest in this matter is? [There is  entry requirement to participate in Mr Kelly’s open house?]
  •  I see from your profile you’re in London, so is your main interest in Scottish politics or in Rowling? [London? wrong. And my main interest(s) are somewhat more catholic: lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
  • Inevitably, once names are in the frame, others are drawn in: a journalist and book-reviewer in  her own right had to be identified as the wife of a Labour politician. Remember: this whole she-bang was about casual sexism. Muriel Gray was one ripple further out. And so we arrive at (better believe it) “Joe McCarthy” and “Arsene Wenger”.

And this to cap it off

I for one will not rest until every msm Scottish journalist is unemployed. Its time to shut the papers down then we can create a free and fair media.

No irony there, then.

Anyone for a nice lie-down in a darkened room?

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Faces in a window


That quite took my breath away.

It’s one of the stars of the show at All Saints, North Street, York, behind the (very) high altar, in the east window, the Blackburn Window. It dates from around 1420.

The uninitiated may not recognise Saint Anne, teaching her daughter, Mary, to read.  If anyone knows of a more human, and humane depiction from the fifteenth century, I’d happily be advised.

Oh, wait on …

On the south side of the church there’s this:


We’re still in the first half of the fifteenth century, but a trifle later. This is St John the Evangelist. Gorgeous and very, very much one of us. Somewhere in York, about 575 years back, there must have been a real-life model for that face — if not the hair.

Today and tomorrow are the York Residents’ Festival, and we have open, free access to the whole gamut of our local historical (and other) sites. The Lady-in-my-Life cajoled me to All Saints — not for the visit, but for an educated and informed guided tour of the windows. I wasn’t prepared for a sensational experience.

I’m very much a defaulter in things religious: I’m militantly one of those who:

… to church repair, 
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.

And the architecture. And the various furbelows. As I recall, the definition of furbelows is one the lines of “showy ornaments or trimmings: frills”. All Saints has those in number. Its rituals definitely lean towards the “spiky”: High Anglican to a fault (if that is a fault — though the resistance to women priests, at least in my book, is):

Whilst firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition, the worshipping community at All Saints acknowledges and respects the diverse, yet deeply held, convictions of the congregation. Bearing that in mind, and following prayer and reflection, the PCC has passed Resolutions A and B pursuant to the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1992, and has petitioned for Alternative Episcopal Oversight which is currently provided by the Bishop of Beverley.

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… Haven’t got the t-shirt

The Penny Farthing, East Village? I remember it … almost.


Then it cropped up in a New York Times piece about “Young Republicans”.

Me? I’d vote Democrat; but there’s a philosophical edge to this.

What astounds me is how the Republican Party — the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — has become the mouthpiece of hard-right money, the gun-makers, the loonies and the fundies.

Whereas almost anything sane about the GOP seems in the last century  to have come out of New York.

I suggest the bright young things John Eurico encountered should give up the fizzy booze, sit down and address the way the (Republicand) Rockefeller) family has used its wealth and influence.

Not a bad record.

And the notion, implicit in this NYT piece, that Republicans are a persecuted minority is crap.




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Hidey holes

I blame it on Dr Ralph Reynolds, my Headmaster at the High School, Dublin.

He set the scholarship sixth a weekly essay, with a word limit. To impress, I attempted to improve style, and let the content take care of itself. So, there am I, practising tripartite Ciceronian phrasing, buffing the duff, unscrewing the inscrutable.

I’d also learned that a flashy way to impress was the ornament of a quotation: what oft was said, but ne’er so well expressed.

I was studying the art of prompting that supervisory cliché, “Knows little, but writes well”.

Somewhere brevity went out the window.

Which is why my great intellect goes unregarded, unrewarded. Or something.

Compare and contrast Andrew, the :


Thus, in fewer than three dozen words, neatly skewering Tom Gordon’s piece for the Sunday Herald, and the whole thrust of Andy Wightman‘s efforts.

I’m an expressed admirer of all three bods: Wightman and his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, deserve much respect, as I’ve cursorily acknowledged here before.

As ever, such matters of moment provoke the Mrs Ramsbottom in all of us:

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said “No! someone’s got to be summonsed”-
So that was decided upon.

As ever, too, the official response:

The Magistrate gave his opinion
That no one was really to blame
And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

That is what we have here. The ‘s conflates the argument against the Green amendments (which are largely Wightman’s) to the Land Reform Bill. Here is Tom Gordon‘s Ciceronian version:

SNP ministers rejected the plan, arguing it could breach EU law on the free movement of capital, could prompt landowners to use ever complex structures to conceal ownership, and noted some EU countries such as Luxembourg were also seen as tax havens.

The government said the change would not achieve the desired aim of more transparency.

Land reform (read Wightman’s book!) is as thorny an issue as the Scots have so far failed to deal with. Transparency of ownership is only the start.

I guess: were I seventeen years old again, spending Sunday afternoon cobbling a quicky for Dr Reynolds, I’d be vamping feudalism, damning the capitalist system, and nationalising the lot.

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Local rivalries

Not at all sure about this one. It’s Marilyn Stasio doing the regular Crime column for the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

Retirement isn’t for everyone, least of all John Rebus, the hero of Ian Rankin’s mordant police procedurals set in the shadowy underworld of Edinburgh. In EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD (Little, Brown, $26),Rebus’s unorthodox friendship with the aging crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty allows this retired detective to attach himself to a police investigation into the murder of a former lord advocate and death threats against other high-profile citizens, including Cafferty.

“Sometimes there’s such a thing as a responsible criminal,” according to Rebus, who believes powerful men on both sides of the law are duty-bound to control the crazies in their ranks. Smart players in this tricky game know that “the world of the gangster was the world of the capitalist.” And the markets for their respective professional services must be protected against competitors like Joe Stark and his son, Dennis.

The presence in Edinburgh of these hard men from Glasgow attracts a special task force of fierce Glaswegian cops who are scarier and less principled than the gangsters. The culture clash felt by cops and crooks alike drolly illustrates the tensions between Scotland’s two major cities. One Edinburgh mobster’s impression of Glasgow — “the people spoke differently here, and had a garrulousness to them that spilled over into physical swagger” — is among the more polite comments.

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. But the characters’ relationships prove oddly moving, especially the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty, as well as that between the crime boss Joe Stark and his ambitious son. Acknowledging his conflicted feelings, “Joe wished he could feel something other than an echoing emptiness” when Dennis is killed. Rankin sets up a parallel relationship between Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox and his dying father, but it fails to click because Rebus’s nemesis (in previous books, he worked for internal affairs) is still being reborn as a decent cop. But he’s got a long way to go before he can be free of the impression he gives, of “a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet.”

Apologies due and freely offered for quoting that bit in full.

I’m “not sure” for a couple of quibbles

I had my copy of Even Dogs in the Wild on pre-order, and on 5th November. Rankin is an important novelist — a bigger field than just crime fiction — and this, after a two-year lay-off, is an important book. Does it really take two months to come onto the American market?

I see that Rankin is doing one of those coast-to-coast book-signings from the end of this month. Was that a factor in any delay? If so, it seems a strange one, because the chain book-sellers must have sold shed-loads of this title in the pre-Christmas furore.

Stasio  is quite correct in those first two paragraphs. In life, as in art, the crook and the copper are to some extent in cahoots. The one keeps the other in business. The other keeps the one under some constraints. Without each other, there is no literary or social tension. Sociologists have serially noted that the characteristics needed for either match those of the opponent. Rebus is a decent sociologist, and his creator has access to and, doubtless, advice from some of the better sociological brains in Britain.

Under the Antonine Wall

Last autumn the Lady in My Life and I undertook a small pilgrimage to a modern marvel: the Falkirk Wheel. And took the short boat (that blue job entering the caisson) up the wheel, through the Rough Castle tunnel and back. The tunnel is there is avoid disturbing one of the best remaining sections of the second-century Roman earthwork that originally stretched from the Forth to the Clyde.

So I ruminate on the links and antipathies, as Stasio does, between Scotland’s two great cities. Today Edinburgh is “white-collar” (banking, insurance, government) while Glasgow retains a more “blue-collar” grittiness. Even now Edinburgh (thanks to Rankin himself, Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, the late Iain Banks) has a literary connection which outshines Glasgow (despite Bernard MacLaverty, Louise Welsh, et al.)

A Malcolmian aside

That said, I’ll defend the opening of Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning as my personal best for any policier:

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200‘Jesus fuck.’

Inspector McGregor wished there was some kind of official crime scenario checklist, just so that he could have a quick glance and confirm that he had seen it all now. He hadn’t sworn at a discovery for ages, perfecting instead a resigned, fatigued expression that said, ‘Of course. How could I have possibly expected anything less?’

The kids had both moved out now. He was at college in Bristol and she was somewhere between Bombay and Bangkok, with a backpack, a dose of the runs and some nose‐ringed English poof of a boyfriend. Amidst the unaccustomed calm and quiet, himself and the wife had remembered that they once actually used to like each other, and work had changed from being somewhere to escape to, to something he hurried home from.

He had done his bit for the force – worked hard, been dutiful, been honest, been dutifully dishonest when it was required of him; he was due his reward and very soon he would be getting it.

Islay. Quiet wee island, quiet wee polis station. No more of the junkie undead, no more teenage jellyhead stabbings, no more pissed‐up rugby fans impaling themselves on the Scott Monument, no more tweed riots in Jenners, and, best of all, no more fucking Festival. Nothing more serious to contend with than illicit stills and the odd fight over cheating with someone else’s sheep.


Christ. Who was he kidding? He just had to look at what was before him to realise that the day after he arrived, Islay would declare itself the latest independent state in the new Europe and take over Ulster’s mantle as the UK’s number one terrorist blackspot.

The varied bouquet of smells was a delightful courtesy detail. From the overture of fresh vomit whiff that greeted you at the foot of the close stairs, through the mustique of barely cold urine on the landing, to the tear‐gas, fist‐in‐face guard‐dog of guff that savaged anyone entering the flat, it just told you how much fun this case would be.

McGregor looked grimly down at his shoes and the ends of his trousers. The postman’s voluminous spew had covered the wooden floor of the doorway from wall to wall, and extended too far down the hall for him to clear it with a jump. His two‐footed splash had streaked his Docs, his ankles and the yellowing skirting board. Another six inches and he’d have made it, but he hadn’t been able to get a run at it because of the piss, which had flooded the floor on the close side of the doorway, diked off from the tide of gastric refugees by a draught excluder.

My offering in evidence that Glaswegian-spawned noir darkens anything from Auld Reekie. Corroborative evidence: try Denise Mina.

Where I differ from Stasio

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. Really? I thought some loose ends were there to remind the reader that not all fiction is a neat fairy tale, and are in any case often pursued by Rankin and Rebus in a subsequent episode.

the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty: huh? The major characters each refer consciously to the parent-child relationship. That is established, as fore-shadowing, with Malcolm Fox in Chapter One:

Standing under the shower, he considered his options. The bungalow in Oxgangs that he called home would fetch a fair price, enough to allow him to relocate. But then there was his dad to consider – Fox couldn’t move too far away, not while Mitch still had breath in his body.

Similarly Fox and Cafferty note the father/son relationships in their problems with the Starks:

Joe Stark’s wife had died young, leaving him to bring up their only child, Dennis. Fox reckoned Joe had lacked any but the most basic parenting skills. He’d been too busy extending his empire and consolidating his reputation as one of the most ruthless thugs in Glasgow gangland – which was no mean feat, considering the competition. Dennis had been trouble from his earliest days in primary school. Bullied (and maybe worse, ignored) by his father, he’d become a bully himself. It helped that he’d grown up fast, building muscle to go with his threats. In his early teens, only a wily lawyer had stopped him doing time for an attack outside a football ground.

He had used an open razor – similar to Joe’s weapon of choice in the 1970s. That interested Fox – the son imitating the father, hoping to gain his approbation. In his twenties, Dennis had served two stretches in HMP Barlinnie, which did little to curb his excesses while at the same time making him new allies.


[Cafferty] was willing to pay top dollar for up-to-date information on the Starks, father and son, plus their associates, close or otherwise. He’d already learned that they had visited certain businesses in Aberdeen and Dundee in the previous week, which backed up his theory that Dennis was being introduced to people prior to taking over from his old man.

This is the fulcrum of the novel, and where it ends:

Opening the Saab and getting in, Rebus gave Brillo’s coat a rub before starting the engine. He watched as Cafferty’s figure receded, then lifted a CD from the passenger seat and slotted it home. It had arrived first thing, mail order. The album was called The Affectionate Punch. He skipped through it to track seven and listened as Billy Mackenzie started to sing about a boy, a boy frightened, neglected, abandoned. Sons and fathers, he thought: Malcolm and Mitch Fox, Dennis and Joe Stark, Jordan Foyle and Bryan Holroyd. His phone alerted him to a text. It was from Samantha. She had sent the photo he’d asked for, the one of him and Carrie. He studied it for a moment before showing it to a quizzical Brillo; then, having turned up the volume on the stereo, he reversed out of the parking space and headed back into the city.

a soulless, spunkless middle manager: this is pulled from near the end of the story. I suggest a fuller reference changes the context:

Buttoning up his coat, Fox started walking, sticking to the paved route so as to save his shoes getting muddied. A cheap souped-up saloon car passed him, its occupants barely out of their teens. Both front windows were down so the world outside could share their taste in what they presumably thought was music. They paid Fox no heed though. He wasn’t like Rebus – he didn’t  look  like a cop. A detective he’d once investigated when in Complaints had described him as resembling ‘a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet’. Which was fine – he’d been called worse. It usually meant he was closing in on a result. And the fact that he didn’t stand out from the crowd could be useful. As far as the kids in the car were concerned, he barely existed – if they’d thought him a threat, the car would have stopped and a scene of sorts would have ensued. Instead of which, he arrived at the lock-ups without incident.

A final dither

Quite whither Rankin from here is a topic of some speculation. He has “retired” Rebus repeatedly, but keeps returning to some unfinished business — now we have Rebus and the dog Brillo as an unfinished strand.

contentCraig Cabell has considered this in Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus — The Official Story of the Bestselling Author and his Ruthless Detective. “Official” in the sense that much of the book is taken from interviews (and now five years and at least three novels out-of-date). Rankin’s answer:

“You asked me right at the beginning of this interview: how many more books are left? Well, the time to finish the series realistically is when I haven’t got anything new to find out about Rebus, when he’s got nothing new to show me, or he becomes tedious to write about and I’ve got nothing new to say about Edinburgh through his eyes.”

Rankin told me this during my Fleshmarket Close interview. At the time I thought he was cranking himself up for a Rebus in retirement set of books but he kept assuring me that he didn’t know – never knew in fact – what the next book was going to be about until he started it. In August 2009, shortly after the proofs of The Complaints had gone off and the hardback was awaiting release, he told me that he still didn’t know what the next book would be. He was determined to have a year off: he wasn’t going to write another graphic novel (because he didn’t enjoy the experience much), he still didn’t know if he was going to continue with Siobhan, but the new character – Inspector Malcolm Fox – intrigued him and as Rankin told me in July 2009, there were enough skeletons in Rebus’s closet to warrant investigation…

Good enough prospect for me.

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