Category Archives: Northern Irish politics

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 politics.ie, 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

Another end-of-the-2016-road-side attraction

Over the next few days newspapers columns will be filled by the more sensational pickings from the annual release of State Papers.

Just remember, though: what we get is what they allow us to know.

One or two are coming along already. Perhaps the most titillating:

thatcher

That turns out to be no more than a question of whether the flat in Downing Street was a home, or a second home or something entirely different.

And then there is this one:

robinson

I hate to say it, but we were close to knowing that already.

The Thatcher-Fitzgerald accord was the moment for lighting the True Blue touch paper and retreating. The Loyalists quickly buried hatchets (not, for once, in each other) and set about raising funds to buy arms. There was the July 1987 raid by Ulster Resistance, the UDA and the UVF on the Northern Bank in Portadown: £325,000 raised. Brian Nelson, who may or (less likely) may not have been also in the paid employ of the Force Research Unit, was despatched to South Africa to blow the kitty. This brought 200 assault rifles, 90 Browning pistols, 500 grenades, 212 RPG7 rocket launchers and 30,000 rounds of ammunition ashore in County Down. Similar buying trips went to Israel and across the European continent.

On 3rd August 1987, the Sunday News had an interview between John Coulter and an unnamed “independence strategist”, which outlined the intents of a group calling itself “the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination” (MSD). The programme would be excluding Dublin and all its works from Northern Ireland, no place for anyone even suspected of republican or nationalist tendencies, security controlled by loyalists, who would also be sealing the Border. Bottom line:

Our goal must be to bring about a completely new situation in this country.

To create a free Ulster for a free people, no longer at the mercy of either Republican terror gangs or appeasing and treacherous English politicians who do not understand us and do not wish to do so.

This same “independence strategist”:

 warned that the time was fast approaching in the Loyalist community when Unionists would hire paid-for contract killers to assassinate known Republican “trigger men”.

… Loyalists would have a “slush fund” to pay such hit men in much the same way as gangland bases or Mafia chiefs operated.More likely the hired assassins would be former SAS personnel who had served in Ulster. The Loyalists themselves would compile a dossier on the intended IRA victim and hand it, along with the cash, to the would-be assassin.

Tellingly, the accompanying graphic was a map of the nine counties of Ulster:

iu While the MSD spokesman outlined that the initial solution to the present Troubles would be found within a Northern Ireland context, he did make a sinister remark about possible encroachments into Éire.

“We want to undo the injustices which were done to our Protestant forefathers when Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan were excluded from the original Northern Ireland settlement. We were robbed of our rightful heritage in the 1920s.”

In all truth, the Ulstermen of 1920 couldn’t get rid of the three other counties quick enough. The more thoughtful (yeah: a paradox in connection with those boneheads)  even considered dispensing with anything beyond the Bann. What Northern Ireland consisted of was so much — and no more — where a sound Proddy majority existed.

A further moment of interest: a month later John Coulter had the chair of the Ulster Clubs, Alan Wright, named and on the record.

Wright stated that Ian Paisley and Jim Molyneaux were no longer in favour: instead he expressed a preference for Peter Robinson or David Trimble  neither of whom was greatly known or appreciated outside the loyalist mindset.

  • Robinson was a founder of Ulster Resistance in 1986, and infamously the “Peter Punt” who led the incursion into Clontibret in August 1986.
  • Sure enough, in February 1988 Trimble published a pamphlet, What Choice for Ulster?, arguing for independence.

So, if we can now firmly tie Robinson to MSD, is anyone greatly surprised?

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No change, but only decay in all around I see …

I’ll get to that promised Sir John Poo Beresford thing, later rather than sooner. I promise.

Meanwhile, a sad thought from a long weekend.

The trip to the Lady in my Life’s ould sod was very curate’s eggy.

Good to see relatives, in fine form. Good to see Belfast bustling in some kind of consumer frenzy. Grand to have another Ireland win (though, was that really the Australian 1st XV?).

And a night, just one, at the gorgeous Bushmills Inn.

The gloom was seeing the slow dying of the towns of north Antrim.

The main street of Bushmills itself is an object lesson. Decent terraced houses selling (or rather not) for the price of a basic SUV. Pretend vinyl shop-fronts masking the gaps in the Main Street. Fine older buildings lying derelict.

And the finest of all has to be the Old Court House, built — as far as I can determine — shortly before Victoria acceded to the throne, with prison cells and apartments above for the peelers.

A bit further north along Main Road, sitting a bit back from the street, a fine “gentleman’s property”, boarded up, rank with the smell of decay.

Of course, north Antrim was never exposed to universal prosperity; but this is depressing in the extreme.

There is an indicator of worse to come: so many of the “improvements” across Northern Ireland (including the Bushmills Inn) come with a tag: European Structural and Investment Fund Programmes in Northern Ireland.

Yet the brain-dead of the DUP (who paradoxically do well in these parts) were loudly for #Brexit.

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Filed under EU referendum, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics

Traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament

Recognise it? Its the indictment against Charles Stuart, 20th January 1648.

Where else to start? In a roundabout way, Paddy Kavanagh springs to mind:

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins. 

Those #Brexiteers assured us the UK would enjoy some regeneration, a second “genesis”, after 23rd June. They didn’t bother about the painful details. Now, the worm beneath the harrow is beginning to watch for where the tines will drive.

It also started here. Quite why the commenters on politics.ie should divide between ultra-Kippers and staunch defenders of the British Constitution escapes me. But for 1,700 exchanges (and continuing) they did, and do.

4256Personally, I was severely affronted by the vulgarity, the xenophobia, the sexism, the violent populism and anti-elitism fomented by the vulgar, xenophobic, sexist, arrogant,  elitist tabloid press barons in their spittle-speckled assaults on the High Court of Justice.

But back to first principles:

The whole non-event comes down to a binary simplicity:

  • Does the Prime Minister have the right to decide when and what #Brexit means, by exercise of “Royal Prerogative”?

or

  • Is Parliament the essential arbiter? 

Those three High Court judges, in their wisdom, endorsed a thousand years of English history, and declared for Parliament.

I doubt there will ever be plaques, with or without bird-turd, outside the Baby Shard (the London bunker from whence Murdoch’s The Sun rises daily), or Northcliffe House in Kensington (ditto the Daily Mail) as the one outside the Roundhouse pub, on Royal Standard Place, in Nottingham:

king-charles-placque

I laid out my understanding in that previous post.

That left me with the residual issue:

  • When might the “Royal Prerogative” ever be invoked?

As I see it, that Elephantine Object in the Newsroom, the “British Constitution”, constrains both:

  • Courts (who can only interpret the “Constitution” as a corpus of legislation going back to Norman times) and
  • Parliament (which can only act and enact within “constitutional” limits — for example, since the 1911 Parliament Act, the Lords have no powers over money bills, except a one-month delay).

Any amendment to an existing Westminster law would need an amending Act of the Westminster parliament.

We have a balanced — and ever-evolving — settlement between Parliament, devolved Assemblies, and Courts. Still,  I can just about conceive circumstances in which “Royal Prerogative” might need to be invoked — short of a declaration of War. Say the administration of a devolved Assembly became totally unmanageable …

Aha! You’re with me already!

Even then we’d need something like a Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, which imposed Direct Rule from 31st March 1972 to its repeal on 2nd December 1999.

I therefore found myself seeing this as an exercise in speedy parliamentary activity, without use of Royal Prerogative.

A bit of parliamentary history

On 20th March 1972, Harold Wilson, under an emergency notice of 16th March, led an Opposition adjournment motion.

This came after weeks of dithering by the Heath government, and procrastination by the Unionist at Stormont. It was now common ground (except among the extremes of opinion in Northern Ireland, who were up for a local Armageddon). The Dublin government was on the verge of doing something unmentionable.

Wilson, ever the opportunist, would have known that the Heath government was about to act; and wanted to get in on the act. The Opposition had another motive : the need for a distractor. The following week the Chancellor was going to offer a crowd-pleasing budget, as a softener for a General election (which would become the “Barber boom”, and stoke up the inflation that bedevilled British politics for the next decade — but that’s another matter).

After three hours of debate (with Prime Minister Heath responding) the government defeated the motion to adjourn by 257 to 294.

Had that vote been lost, the sitting would have ended abruptly, and Heath would, by convention (another bit of unwritten “Constitution”) have had to return the following session to propose a vote of confidence in his own adminstration. Had that vote of confidence been lost, it would immediately require Heath to go the Palace (another bit of “Constitutional” flim-flam) and resign.

At that moment the Queen would have two choices: to accept the now ex-Prime Minister’s request for a General Election, or to summon the Leader of the Opposition to form a new government (who would then promptly request a General Election, which would be granted).

There then intervened three days of Budget debate.

Perspective

At this distance in time, we’d need to remind ourselves just how febrile the atmosphere was at that moment. One name in particular should be in the frame: William Craig.

Craig had lost out to the more moderate Brian Faulkner for the leadership of the Unionist Party and the stool-of-office as Northern Irish Prime Minister. He had then built a party-within-the-Unionist-Party, his private Ulster Vanguard movement — which was closely associated with the loyalists and paramilitaries of such as the UDA. Craig held his “monster rallies”, involving motor-cycle outriders, and armed men drawn up in quasi-military ranks. Craig’s speeches at these rallies are quite outrageous:

We must build up dossiers on those men and women in this country who are a menace to this country because one of these days, if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy.

Note there “this country”: Craig was advocating a Rhodesian-style UDI.

Keeping it parliamentary

On 24th March, Heath was back to the Commons to make a holding statement in advance of the weekend, announcing the bringing back to Westminster of powers over Northern Ireland :

Parliament will, therefore, be invited to pass before Easter a Measure transferring all legislative and executive powers now vested in the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government to the United Kingdom Parliament and a United Kingdom Minister. This provision will expire after one year unless this Parliament resolves otherwise. The Parliament of Northern Ireland would stand prorogued but would not be dissolved.

The weekend out of the way, on  27th March, the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Bill was laid before the House, and given a nominal First Reading.

On 28th March there was a full debate, and division (483-18) on the Second Reading. Willie Whitelaw , as Leader of the Commons and as emollient a creature as the Tories could contain, introduced the Bill with a formula of words worth noting in this context:

I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her interests and prerogative, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Got that? The “Royal Prerogative” there being made — effectively — subject (if only for this purpose) to the will of parliament. Nearly half a century ago, that must strike as a significant statement. And we have since moved much, much further in claiming democratic accountability through parliament against arbitrary, post-feudal authority.

There was a brief debate on amendments on 29th March (in effect, the “Committee Stage”).

On 30th March all the remaining stages, including the Bill passing the House of Lords, were completed, and at 12.26 pm the Lord Chancellor announced the Royal Assent: it was now an Act of Parliament, subject (see above) to annual review.

After that, interpretation would fall to the Courts.

All done and dusted, with the barest of nods at “Royal Prerogative”.

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Filed under Britain, Daily Mail, History, Law, Murdoch, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, politics, politics.ie, pubs, Quotations

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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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

Guaranteed to turn marmalade toast to bitter gall

The Sunday Times misses the mark, by lang Scots miles.

Murdoch’s Sunday Times is a nasty, vicious, trivialising thing. In that it is the reflection of its master, now “best mates” with Alex Salmond.

My previous post was a jotting after being in Edinburgh yesterday. I’m not Orange. However, I do have to appreciate the viewpoint: even Gerry Adams and Máirtín make that leap. That is a recognition of the importance of the Orange sympathy across protestant Northern Ireland. Nor should it be scorned in lowland Scotland.

Yet the Orange don’t read the Sunday Times, do they? So it’s always Open Season when the Boss is calling the shots. And, I’ll lay odds, Camilla Long’s piece didn’t get the same page 2 prominence in today’s Scottish edition:

ON A small square of emerald behind Edinburgh Castle a furious Hobbit army gathers.

Nearly 15,000 Orangemen and women — none more than 5ft 6in — pour into the park, clutching fancy caps, braids, straps, pompoms, feathers, actual flutes of war and swag upon swag of militant polyester.

Even the mobility scooters seem ready for battle, pimped with “naw” slogans and fluttering Union flags.

One man, next to a burger van, has the pin of a “no” badge jammed through his ear.

And to help our mockery:

01_NH14ORA_1095228k

 

Oh, how droll. Definitely not one of us, say the ladies congregating at Moningside Parish Church. But sisterhood pervades under the skin, and I suggest a jerk of cross-class recognition. Good on you, love!

Even if your threads come from Primark, and not Jenners, you can still be Bonny Jean, and a lass o’ pairts. And your mother could well be buried under her maiden name, in the fine tradition of till death us do part. Some of us take pride in those differences.

A generation or so earlier …

Let us remember where these Scottish Orangemen come from. Some of them, those in the mobility scooters … ready for battle, are old enough to have laboured in the shipyards, the steel-works, the collieries that Margaret Thatcher’s government left derelict.

As for the Hobbitry, let’s look at a better writer than Ms Long, who went Down the Mine:

There is the heat—it varies, but in some mines it is suffocating—and the coal dust that stuffs up your throat and nostrils and collects along your eyelids, and the unending rattle of the conveyor belt, which in that confined space is rather like the rattle of a machine gun. But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron. They really do look like iron hammered iron statues—under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realize what splendid men, they are. Most of them are small (big men are at a disadvantage in that job) but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; wide shoulders tapering to slender supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere.

[For the record, Ms Long’s privileged background includes the Dukes of Newcastle: coal-magnates of Nottinghamshire and beyond.]

That’s not the case with the younger generation — the thick-set, bellied ones swinging the drum-sticks. But anyone with an eye notes the ex-service types who have seen it a’ in Basra and beyond. Ms Long heard:

A “yesser” from Leith calls them “a***holes” and “filth” in “ridiculous wee outfits” and “stupid hats”. They would “s***’ their pants if they actually had to pick up a rifle”.

The “yesser” and Ms Long should have looked more carefully. They must have missed the large Lee Rigby banner carried by one Lodge.

Those British Legion badges in the lapels, the poppy symbols, the Help for Heroes stickers are there by conviction, and from experience. A lot of rifle-picking-up has been done by these types. The majority of those 15,000 Orange marchers worked or work in “hobbit”-like manual trades. Nothing as challenging as the heavy-industrial phone-tapping, photo-shopping and text-inputting needed at News Corp, right? So what do they know of work, who only work at it?

If Camilla Long represents the effete Murdoch tendency, Jim White is more real for the Telegraph:

The drumbeat hammering through Edinburgh on Saturday morning rattled the rib- cage. Dogs within a fifteen-mile radius cowered as the shrill chirrup of the pipe band cut the air. Surely no one could have seen batons thrown so high, with such a flourish, along the streets of the city before.

For this was the Loyal Orange Order of Scotland thumping its noisy way through Scotland’s capital, determined to demonstrate its opposition to the very idea of an independent Scotland. This was the sound of the No campaign on a very noisy, very colourful march.

“There’s no doubt the Nationalist campaign has shown more pizzazz; it’s appealed to that part in the Scot that is passionate, proud, romantic,” admitted Ian Wilson, a past Grand Master of the Scottish Orange Lodge, who had helped co-ordinate the march. “But there’s nothing dispassionate about this organisation. We’re putting the passion back into the No campaign.”

As he spoke, the march was thumping on, led by the Black Skull band of Glasgow, in their full Scots Guards regalia. Behind them some 15,000 people snaked through the city, yelling out their desire to say No.

There were endless lines of men in black suits with orange sashes marked LOL (that stands for Loyal Orange Lodge, not Laugh Out Loud). There were women in vivid orange dresses, children waving Union flags…

This was the Orange Order, founded in 1795 to protect Protestant interests in Ireland and celebrate the memory of William of Orange, who defeated the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

It is best known for its annual march on July 12, celebrating William’s victory. Although most prominent in Northern Ireland, it also has lodges across the Commonwealth and the US as well as the significant presence in Scotland that it demonstrated yesterday. The Order in Northern Ireland has insisted it will stand with its Scottish counterparts to protect the Union.

This was democracy in action. Bands lined up as far as the eye could see. Groups of women in their Sunday best marched alongside them, carrying banners reading “Proud to be British, proud to be Scottish”.

Why did nobody notice the symbolism, especially important this day? Each Lodge is preceded by a member carrying the open Bible and a Crown: more than the sashes and the banners and the bands, the two unifying symbols of Orangism. And not to be scorned.

Later on Saturday, the Lady in My Life and I, filling in time before the evening train south, took drinks in a clubroom overlooking Princes Street and across to Edinburgh Castle.

At the next table were three archetypal Scots ladies, several classes different from those Camilla Long took time out to mock. Their sisterhood was in sympathy with the swag upon swag of militant polyester. I wonder what is their reading of Camilla Long.

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