Category Archives: nationalism

Good golly, Miss Molly!

Little Richard, and this must be when music videos went OTT:

This short (I hope) post is about recognition. And, I’d guess, while three generations would instantly recognise “Little Richard”, the recognition factor for Richard Wayne Penniman would be closer to zilch.

The mouth of first resort

On a number of occasions over the years I’ve wondered how “famous” sayings are invariably — and erroneously — attached to a very small number of individuals. WS Churchill being too often a prime suspect.

Sure enough, post #167 of a thread, we were given:

A famous man once said that wogs begin at Calais.

The “famous man” would be — but, of course — Churchill. I keep coming across assertions that Churchill made the remark, or — more credibly

The phrase originated when a Member of Parliament in 1945 stood up and accused Winston Churchill of believing that “Wogs start in Calais” i.e. of being europhobic and isolationist.

So far, the nearest precise citation I can find is George Wigg (later Harold Wilson’s wingman, and one of the prime movers in getting the Profumo scandal on the record) in a Commons Debate, 29th July 1949.

Here he is putting the unreconstructed David Gammans, the unreconstructed Tory MP for Hornsey, back into his box:

I recently had the opportunity of talking to some Burmese gentlemen, and one of the things they said was that they never realised until they came here and met ordinary people, what the British people were like. They thought they were all haughty and arrogant. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends think they are all “wogs.” Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks that the “wogs” start at Calais. If one views people like the hon. Gentleman from the angle of a private soldier, one realises that to them there are black “wogs” and white “wogs.” The attitude of hon. Members opposite to the black chap is not much different from the attitude of some of them towards the private soldier, and that is why the Forces have a great sympathy with the native peoples.

Further proof, should one need it, never to take a book by its cover.

Now to decode:

Tutti frutti, aw rutti
Awop bop a loo mop atop bom bom.

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Filed under Harold Wilson, History, London, Music, Muswell Hill, nationalism,, Quotations

The legend of Black Tam

Tam Dalyell, who died this week, was a kind of Mizen Head: one of those parliamentary markers to navigate by. Which is also to say — stay clear of. He was, for most of his more-than-four-decades in the Commons, individualistic, almost unclubbable, the cat who walks alone.

1962 and All That

Anyone who had the pleasure of that baritone timbre would be wafted back to the Learig Bar, Bo’ness, preferably in the days before the 1962 West Lothian by-election.

Everyone in sight knew that “Black Tam” would take it easily. His worthy Scot Nat opponent — then and for the next six contests — was Billy Wolfe. 1962, though, was the first Scot Nat showing in such parts. Wolfe was the more “lefty” of the two. Since the Communist candidate was Gordon McLennan, then of the mind-set we would later recognise as “unreconstructed tankie”, that might make Wolfe the “vote-as-left as-you-can-get” ticket. Alas! That was also a time when the Scot Nats could be dismissed as “tartan Tories”: 1962 and Wolfe were the moment that changed.

Both men were — in their different ways — noble figures.

They were a crucial decade apart in years.

William Wolfe had a background as an owner and manager in heavy metal-bashing industry. Wolfe had had “a good war”.

Tam was Old Etonian, Cambridge University, would inherit his mother’s family baronetcy, and become Sir Thomas of the Binns. Tam had learned as a squaddie in National Service to relate to the lower orders.

After an evening of canvassing the plebs, all and sundry would gravitate to the Learig Bar. Lesser, lower beings and bag-carriers hugged their pints of heavy and looked on.

If you hunt hard enough, long enough, you may yet find a tattered original of The Rebels’ ceilidh song book, published by the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society.

Therein (provided it’s a first edition) you will find The Ballad of the Learig Bar, with the chorus:

Billy Woolf will win, will win,
Billy Woolf will win.

He didn’t. But it was a great effort all round.

Ireland intrudes

I found myself on, trying to answer:

Could never understand [Dalyell’s] desire for Ireland to get its freedom but not Scotland.

Apart from the dubious assumption that an interest in the Troubles of Northern Ireland amounts to a desire for Ireland to get its freedom, I tried to say Dalyell’s motivation, above all, was his opposition to colonialism. That’s what radicalised him, at the time of Suez. It was one of the few postures he maintained consistently. Hence — no doubt — being sucked into the “Troops Out Movement”.

The West Lothian Question: still “tricky”

I’m of the view Dalyell was quite sincere about his “nationalism”.

He set out his objections to the Scotland Bill quite clearly, and — as the preface to the Herald Scotland obituary notes:

Tam Dalyell … was … the first to pose the still-tricky West Lothian Question about Scottish representation at Westminster.

The “West Lothian Question” was not Dalyell’s. His own term was “the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem”. It was, however, the term Enoch Powell applied to Dalyell’s reasoned point:

… the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem is not a minor hitch to be overcome by rearranging the seating in the devolutionary coach. On the contrary, the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem pinpoints a basic design fault in the steering of the devolutionary coach which will cause it to crash into the side of the road before it has gone a hundred miles.

For how long will English constituencies and English hon. Members tolerate 123 not just 71 Scots, 36 Welsh and a number of Ulstermen but at least 119 hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Ireland? Such a situation cannot conceivably endure for long.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East [Gordon Wilson] said that members of his party would not vote on English matters, but that does not face up to the problem of the need for a Government to be sustained. The real problem is that of having a subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.

Out of that comes four thoughts:

  • Had Dalyell the acid wit, quick mind and oratory of Powell, he could have been far more dangerous.
  • Dalyell was complicit in squirrelling into the 1977 Act the 40% clause, which self-detonated and destroyed that limited devolution. It consequentially brought down the Callaghan government in 1979.
  • When devolution did come, Dalyell answered his own “problem” by never voting on exclusively-English matters. To that extent, he was as good a Scottish “nationalist” as any other.
  • Let’s not quickly pass over the Enoch Powell connection. In 1977 how the UUP had given succour to the Tory opposition in 1964-66 was still a thorny matter. Powell (by 1977 the MP for South Down) joyfully exploited that, rubbing Unionist grit in the wounds all the way back to the 1920s.

Where the “West Lothian Question” still festers is the so-called “Sewel convention” (for a full explication see the Peatworrier passim[/I]), which was thought to define the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It was thought the 2016 Scotland Act enshrined these conventions into UK law.

As a concomitant of the Supreme Court judgment of 24th January 2017, those certainties are now much more clouded. In particular there’s paragraph 148 of the judgment, suggesting Westminster — by accident or malign design — has been weaselling:

…the UK Parliament is not seeking to convert the Sewel Convention into a rule which can be interpreted, let alone enforced, by the courts; rather, it is recognising the convention for what it is, namely a political convention, and is effectively declaring that it is a permanent feature of the relevant devolution settlement. That follows from the nature of the content, and is acknowledged by the words (“it is recognised” and “will not normally”), of the relevant subsection. We would have expected UK Parliament to have used other words if it were seeking to convert a convention into a legal rule justiciable by the courts.

Any distant rumble is “Black Tam” having a posthumous chuckle.

Above all, Dalyell (“the only member to own white peacocks”) was supremely individualist and not-to-be-confined by any passing group-loyalty. He was impossible to corral in any political grouping. He was apparently incapable of anything like “humour”. Yet he did his research: when he spoke, he knew his stuff. He gave a hard time to each and every minister dished up for his tormenting: Thatcher in particular.

Belgrano: hunting for truths.

He was against the whole Falklands adventure. He detailed that in his Falklands Polemic for the London Review of Books.

From that developed his ceaseless hounding of Margaret Thatcher, over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano. Dalyell’s dogged persistence was itself the stuff of legend. In retrospect, it seems partly a piece of self-justification. It was, however, much needed: particularly so when he was able to show that the thirty hours while HMS Conqueror trailed the Belgrano proved — rather than the vessel being some naval threat — the delay was political, over Peruvian attempts to cobble peace proposals.

The main event

Then we might usefully read Dalyell’s own “last word”: The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After.

There Dalyell argues what Scotland needs is not “self-government” so much as “good government”, and primarily ” good local government”. There’s a lot of point-scoring in it: Dalyell offers a cogent argument why Labour failed. He is caustic in his treatment of Donald Dewar — the spiralling costs of the new Scottish Parliament building — and Dewar’s denials — being one main grievance. Dalyell won, Dewar nil.

Now both Billy Wolfe and Black Tam are gone. Both were imperfect. We shall not see their likes again.

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

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Filed under Herald Scotland, History, Labour Party, Law, leftist politics., London Review of Books, nationalism, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP

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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Filed under blogging, Britain, civil rights, culture, History, Law, nationalism, Racists, Scotland, SNP

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

More pandas than MPs


Yes, that’s the chortle about Scotland and its Tories.

A declining asset

It’s also a commonplace to remark that, as recently as the 1955 general Election, Scottish Tories took over half the total vote (50.1%) and half the MPs (36 of 72).

Since then, it has been continuing attrition:

Tory vote

Notice how the Poll Tax, enforced in Scotland from 1989/90, a year before the rest of the UK, is a critical factor. There were eleven Scottish Tory MPs elected in 1992, and none in 1997.

Not just missing MPs: missing voters?

There was another consequence of the Poll Tax:

Our findings suggest that as many as 500,000 voters did not register because they wanted to avoid paying poll tax. The gain to the Conservatives’ lead in overall votes was only 0.5 per cent, however. This is enough, in theory, to have cost Labour as many as seven extra seats and the Liberal Democrats three, but only if one makes some heroic assumptions about the distribution of the votes.

Even accepting the “0.5 per cent, however”, the Tax had applied in Scotland for a year longer. Logically, then, the “de-registration” was more advanced in Scotland than elsewhere. Equally, we might expect the de-registration to be concentrated in those groups more inclined to be non-Conservative.

Perhaps we should then look at the numbers, and wonder if something funny isn’t going on:


We know that the population of Scotland is increasing. We know that the population is ageing. We know that older folk tend to vote more than the younger ones. And yet …


John Masefield’s 1926 novel, a prequel to Sard Harker.

Iain MacWhirter did a piece, That Bloody Woman, for the New Statesman in 2009, looking at how Scotland had turned against the Tories. He laid the blame (if blame there be) on Thatcher and the Poll Tax (i.e. the One Damn Thing):

It was the poll tax, more than any other facet of Thatcherism, that ensured the disintegration of the old unitary British state. Scots complained that the poll tax legislation was pushed through Westminster on the strength of English MPs co-opted on to the Scottish standing committee to make up the numbers. It was the West Lothian question in reverse. The poll-tax row finally persuaded Labour’s ultra-cautious shadow Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar, to join the cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988 and sign its “Claim of Right” document, which called for a repatriation of Scottish sovereignty. Ironically, the Scottish National Party boycotted the convention, making itself politically irrelevant for the next decade and a half.

In 1997, after every single Scottish Conservative seat was lost, Labour held its promised second referendum on the constitution. Scots voted by a decisive three to one in favour of a Scottish Parliament with tax powers, bringing to an end three centuries of debate about home rule. Since the election in 1999 of the first Scottish Parliament in 300 years, the process of constitutional disengagement has speeded up, with the Scots electing their first Nationalist government in May 2007. But it might never have happened if it had not been for Margaret Thatcher.

History repeats itself …

In the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, Iain Duncan Smith’s punitive bedroom tax (i.e. After Another) has handed a fresh tawse to any Scottish voter who wants not punish English arrogance. Hence:

The UK government should abolish the bedroom tax or hand the Scottish Parliament powers to scrap the controversial policy, Holyrood’s welfare reform committee has said.

 A report from the committee criticised the tax as “iniquitous and inhumane” in one of the most scathing attacks from Holyrood on the UK Tory-Lib Dem government’s policy.

The measure means social housing tenants with spare bedrooms must move to a smaller home or lose up to 25 per cent of housing benefit.

Westminster ministers who hold powers over the tax should scrap the policy as the solution to a “bad law”, the cross-party welfare reform committee said.

MSPs said many Scots were “trapped” into paying the “bedroom tax” and were left with nowhere to move due to a shortage of social housing properties in Scotland.

The report said the tax “may well breach” the human rights of tenants, because of the financial penalties faced by residents and the threat of effectively being forced to leave their homes.

So, if it all goes sour for the “Union” on 18th September, we know upon whom to unload the ordure.

I want to be alone

By a small coincidence, perhaps, that would be Greta Garbo’s 109th birthday. And we all know her most famous line:

Though she subsequently claimed she said, “I want to be let alone”

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Filed under Conservative family values, Devolution, Elections, films, History, nationalism, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, Tories.

Nemo me impune lacessit


So far, so good. And then we come across this, in today’s The Scotsman:

THE anti-independence campaign has received £1.6 million in donations, with a Premier League football club chairman and former soldiers with links to British intelligence among those contributing.

 Since April, a total of £1,308,000 has been handed to the Better Together campaign from 19 major donors – those giving £10,000 or more each.

Already a couple of nice sneers in there: “the anti-independence campaign” (more positively, it’s Better Together, but we don’t get that until the third paragraph) and the “links to British intelligence” are Sir Keith Craig of Hakluyt and Christopher Wilkins, of North British Wind Energy Ltd. Two names, £20,000 donations in total — 1½% of the total sum reported, but what does the amount matter when there’s a good smear?

Then, a short way on, we have this:

Historical fiction writer Christopher Sansom, who attacked the SNP in his novel Dominion, gave £133,000. He had previously given £161,000 to the campaign.

15770927This is a wee bit more significant, and there is more than a bit of truth behind the suggestion. Dominion is a work of imaginative fiction — and very good on both accounts. The conceit is:

1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing.

As they say, now read on …

Inevitably, a novel of this kind, mixing historical characters with counter-factual imagined events, involves some degree of satire. So, in this parallel universe:

… there was Prime Minister Beaverbrook with his wizened little monkey face, the wide fleshy mouth downturned in an expression of sorrow. For forty years, since he first came to England from Canada with business scandals hanging over him, Beaverbrook had combined building a newspaper empire with manoeuvring in politics, pushing his causes of free enterprise, the Empire, and appeasement on the public and politicians. He was trusted by few, elected by none, and after the death of his immediate predecessor, Lloyd George, in 1945, the coalition had made him Prime Minister.

Lord Halifax, the Prime Minister who had surrendered after France fell, stood beside Beaverbrook, overtopping him by a foot. Halifax was bald now, his cadaverous face an ashen shadow beneath his hat, deep-set eyes staring over the crowd with a curious blankness. Beside him stood Beaverbrook’s coalition colleagues: Home Secretary Oswald Mosley, tall and ramrod-straight, India Secretary Enoch Powell, only forty but seeming far older, black-moustached and darkly saturnine, Viscount Swinton, the Dominions Office Secretary and David’s own minister, tall and aristocratic, Foreign Secretary Rab Butler with his pouched froggy face, and the Coalition Labour leader Ben Greene, one of the few Labour figures who had admired the Nazis in the 1930s. When Labour split in 1940 Herbert Morrison had led the Pro-Treaty minority that went into coalition with Halifax; he was one of those politicians for whom ambition was all-consuming. But he had resigned in 1943; the degree of British support for Germany had become too much for him, as it had for some other politicians such as the Conservative Sam Hoare; all had retreated into private life with peerages.

There’s not much there which strays too far from the actualité. Even Ben Greene, who never made it to the Commons, resigned from Labour,  and joined the Fascists — and was detained between 1940 and 1942. He moved further and further into the extreme Right until his death in 1978. If there is any “attack” in that passage, it is the bit about Herbie Morrison “for whom ambition was all-consuming” — a view with which Clem Attlee might have concurred.

Scotland is integral, but not central to the narrative. One has to study hard to find the “attack” on the SNP in the novel. This is put into the mouth of Syme, the British Special Branch police inspector collaborating with Sturmbannführer Gunther Hoth

‘I’ve thought of getting a transfer up North. There’s a lot of London boys up there now. Good overtime, and I could do with a bit of excitement. Scotland, maybe. You know we’re arming some of the Scottish Nationalists to take on the strikers in Glasgow. They’ve always had a pro-Fascist wing, they opposed conscription of Scots in 1939 and we managed to split the party, get rid of the woolly-minded liberals and lefties.’ He smiled at Gunther. ‘We learned that from you, recruiting local nationalists against the Reds. Promise them some goodies in return.’ He laughed. ‘Beaverbrook’s promised to return the Stone of Scone to Scotland – it’s some slab of rock the Scottish kings used to put under their throne. And road signs in Gaelic and vague promises about Home Rule at some time.’

 Note that we have gone into clear fiction here, with fictive characters.

But the barbs at the “old” SNP are merited.

The SNP was formed in 1934 when the National Party of Scotland endorsed the Scottish Party candidate at the 1933 Kilmarnock by-election. And there can be no denying that the was a far-right element in Scottish Nationalism at that time. The poet and translator Gavin Bowd published Fascist Scotland earlier this year, writing a note on it for Scotland on Sunday, including this gem:

From Dumfries to Alness, one of the main ideologies of the 20th century had its standard-bearers. But when Fascism crossed the Cheviots, it found itself in a restless part of a multi-nation state riven by sectarian hatreds. Rudolf Hess felt the natives looked at him “in a compassionate way”, but Scottish Fascism had to carve out a niche in a crowded market for bigotry.

He implies one of the reasoned why Mosley didn’t fare too well in Scotland is that he had competition:

… he attracted the ire of Alexander Ratcliffe’s Scottish Protestant League and John Cormack’s Protestant Action, whose muscular Christianity attracted significant support in Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively. In 1935, Protestant Action obtained 24 per cent of the vote in local elections, and this rose to 32 per cent in 1936. The “squadrist” tactics of Cormack’s “Kaledonian Klan” were worthy of the Fascists. Indeed, its running battles through the impoverished Catholic areas of Cowgate, Grassmarket and Canongate strongly resembled the BUF’s anti-Jewish campaigns in the East End of London.

If Mosley missed out on sectarianism, he also came up against a burgeoning home rule movement. The Scottish ­nationalists’ attitude towards continental fascism was ambivalent, to say the least. As early as 1923, poet Hugh MacDiarmid was calling for a “native species” of Fascism and dreamed of a “neofascistic” paramilitary organisation, Clann Albain, that would fight for Scotland’s freedom.

The question, then, is whether any of that survives to the present.

Well, sure enough and proof enough, Bowd immediately became the target for abuse — and worse:

AN ACADEMIC has been issued with security advice by his university and has been in contact with the police after independence supporters subjected him to a barrage of threatening abuse on the internet.

The head of security at St Andrews University took the step of advising Dr Gavin Bowd on his personal safety following the vitriolic online reaction to an article he wrote, in Scotland on Sunday, exploring Scotland’s relationship with fascism.

What The Scotsman was prepared to headline in April of this year as “some uncomfortable truths”, fictionalised and understated, instantly provoked very authoritarian, very intolerant, very xenophobic reaction. Yet, by December we are reminded by The Scotsman itself, no lessof Sansom’s “attack”. Strange that — except the “attack” doesn’t come in the text of the novel

In his after-note Sansom explains the basis for his inventions:

Far larger, and more dangerous, is the threat to all of Britain posed by the Scottish National Party, which now sits in power in the devolved government in Edinburgh. As they always have been, the SNP are a party without politics in the conventional sense, willing to tack to the political right (as the 1970s) or the left (as in the 1980s and 1990s) or the centre (as today) if they think it will help them win in dependence. They will promise anything to anyone in their pursuit of power. They are very shrewd political manipulators. In power, they present themselves as competent, progressive democrats (which many are) but behind that, as always, lies the appeal to the mystic glories of in dependence, which is what the party has always been for. Once ruling an independent state, they will not easily be dislodged. How people who regard themselves as progressive can support a party whose biggest backers include the right-wing Souter family who own Stagecoach, and Rupert Murdoch, escapes me completely. Like all who think they will be able to ride a nationalist tiger, they will find themselves sadly mistaken.

The SNP have no real position on the crucial questions of political economy that affect people’s lives, and never have; their whole basis has always been the old myth that released national consciousness, will somehow make all well. They promise a low-regulation, low-corporate-tax regime to please the right, and a strong welfare state to please the left. The wasting asset of oil will not resolve the problem that, as any calculation shows, an independent Scotland will start its life in deficit.

Sansom then raises a whole series of (quite valid) criticisms of the SNP’s opportunist politicking, The dodgy economics of Alex Salmond apart, Sansom focuses sapiently and saliently on the new culture of hostility and bitterness on both sides of the border spawned by nationalism.

For nationalism is always of the Right. And, taken in large doses, always dangerous.

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A quacking follow-up

MV5BNTQ2NjUyNTE4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTc0ODY5._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_It’s a small coincidence; but Malcolm welcomed it. And it wasn’t any Miliband Marxism that prompted it.

There he was, with that bit from  the New York Daily News, as in the previous post:

The government of the United States of America is closed for business today, courtesy of the Republican Party. It’s a national embarrassment, like a scene from the Marx Brothers’ classic 1933 satire “Duck Soup,” only without the anarchic humor.

The coincidence was that, only a couple of hours before, Malcolm had been deep into David Downing’s thriller, Zoo Station. The good news is there are four more in the series, with a fifth due in the Spring.


Look alikes

What made Malcolm add it to his book bundle in the York branch of Waterstones was the chutzpah of dressing up the paperback (yes, this is probably specific to the UK edition) to look as close as possible to Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther sequence (though, again, this applies to the UK editions).

By the same token Alan Furst’s novels are marketed in a somewhat similar, moody vein.


That’s not to be wondered at: they are all set in the same WW2 time-scale, and are related in theme. Mist and snow seem common to the cover-artist’s brief and concept.

We may return to this need for memes in book covers, should Malcolm feel the urge.

Anyway, all, and Malcolm can testify to this, are good cracking stuff.

Zoo Station

The conceit is that the central character, John Russell, is a case-hardened no-longer-young, no-longer-committed member of the CP, an Anglo-American (carrying a British passport) jobbing journalist in Berlin as 1939 starts.

Within the opening chapters he is in the pay of the Russians, and reporting back to the Gestapo and the British Secret Service on this contact.

At this point in the book, he is in Cracow, expecting to make contact with his Russian “controller”, and ostensibly researching an article for the Nazi press on the lives and attitudes of Germany’s neighbours.

Then comes this:

As they drove north through the Jewish quarter Russell noticed the Marx Brothers adorning a cinema on Starowislna Street. The name of the film was in Polish, but his driver’s English failed him. He asked again at the Hotel Francuski reception, and received a confident answer from a young man in  avery shiny suit. The film, which had only just opened, was called Broth of the Bird.

We were there on page 128 (of the paperback edition). Later that evening, to pass time, Russell is back at the cinema:

It was seven by the time he woke, and he felt hungry again. A new receptionist recommended a restaurant on Starowislna Street, which turned out to be only a few doors from the cinema showing the Marx Brothers movie. It was too good an invitation to miss. After partaking of a wonderful wienerschnitzel —— at least Cracow had something to thank the Hapsburg Empire for— — he joined the shivering queue for the evening showing.  

Inside the cinema it was hot, noisy, and packed. Surveying the audience before the lights went down, Russell guessed that at least half of the people there were Jewish. He felt cheered by the fact that this could still seem normal, even in a country as prone to anti-Semitism as Poland…

The newsreel was in Polish, but Russell got the gist. The first item featured a visit to Warsaw by the Hungarian Foreign Minister, and no doubt claimed that he and Colonel Beck had discussed matters of mutual importance, without spelling out what everyone knew these were— choosing their cuts of Czechoslovakia once the Germans had delivered the body. The second item concerned Danzig, with much piling of sandbags round the Polish Post Office. The third, more entertainingly, featured a man in New York walking a tightrope between skyscrapers.

The movie proved a surreal experience in more ways than one. Since it was subtitled in Polish, the audience felt little need to keep quiet, and Russell had some trouble catching all the wisecracks. And as the subtitling ran a few seconds behind the visuals, he often found himself laughing ahead of everyone else, like some eccentric cackle.

None of it mattered, though. He’d loved the Marx Brothers since seeing Animal Crackers during the last days of the Weimar Republic, before Jewish humor followed Jewish music and Jewish physics into exile. By the time “Broth of the Bird” was half an hour old he was literally aching with laughter. The film’s subject-matter—the approach of an utterly ridiculous war between two Ruritanian countries— was fraught with contemporary relevance, but any dark undertone was utterly overwhelmed by the swirling tide of joyous anarchy. If you wanted something real to worry about, there were cracker crumbs in the bed with a woman expected. The only sane response to rampant patriotism was: “’Take a card!”’ As the audience streamed out of the cinema, at least half the faces seemed streaked with tears of laughter.  

We arrive at page 133 before Broth of the Bird transmogrifies properly back into Duck Soup, as a story-teller confidently plays with the reader, to the benefit of both parties.

Notice, too, that both the New York Daily News and Downing identify the “anarchic humour” and “joyous anarchy” that is the belly-laugh lurking not too far beneath the crust of any political pie, however stodgy.

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