Thereâ€™s a valley that they call Jarama.
It was there that our brave comrades fell.
Thereâ€™s a valley that they call Jarama.
It was there that our brave comrades fell.
WHO SPEAKS FOR ENGLAND NOW?
by Ian Hamilton
THE CHILDREN OF DUNGAVEL
by Nelu Balaj
In this last issue Ian Hamilton bids farewell
DR KIRSTY MACDONALD GOES POLITICAL
THE BLACK-BEARDED TORY FROM DUNDEE
by Ian Hamilton
by Murdoch MacKenzie
GALICIA, VIA EAST COCKER
by Dougie Lockhart
A LAMENT FOR ARGYLL
by Mike MacKenzie
by Jim Byrne of Appin in Argyll
(A TRULY REMARKABLE PIECE WHICH FELL FROM THE LAP OF THE GODS INTO MINE.)
by Ian Hamilton
Before our Scottish election let us recall the causes of the Union of 1707. England was at war with France and wanted to secure her back door. Scotland wanted access to Englandâ€™s markets in North America. A Union was common sense. We married England, but now things have changed. Trade has become international, and England has no foreign markets to offer us. Her back door no longer matters. The purpose of the Union has gone. Everyone realises this except the English and those who curry favour in Englandâ€™s house. There is nothing to keep us. We want out.
That England does not understand is not surprising. It is clear proof of the separate existence of our two, three or four countries that one of us can still astonish the rest. We are all so much taken up with ourselves to realise how far apart we have grown. The rift became public early in my lifetime. It had its first great constitutional recognition with the referendum of 1979 in which Scotland alone voted. One man noticed the effect devolution would have on England. He was Tam Dalziel, the Member of Parliament for West Lothian, hence the West Lothian question. Only Tam foresaw that Englandâ€™s great domestic decisions would be taken by people who had no responsibility to the English electorate. He opposed devolution as a fast track to the break up of the Union.
The break up of the Union will affect both nations profoundly, yet the English people have never been consulted. Gordon Brown struts about Scotland telling us how poverty-stricken we would be without England. He plucks figures from the air like figs from a tree. England pays us Â£5000 per annum per Scottish home. The Scottish Health Service spends Â£1400 per head while England spends only Â£140. Andrew Neil says Scotland costs England twelve billion. The figures donâ€™t matter. They are all invented. They are both offensive and untrue.
But what do the English say? Anecdotal reports and newspaper articles suggest that England too is unhappy. The West Lothian question is no longer a question. It is now a constitutional anomaly of vast significance. England is so over-ruled by Scots that it feels it is losing its national pride, and even its identity. With this view I sympathise. It is an insult to a great nation to be ruled by people who are not part of its electorate. Add to that Gordon Brownâ€™s assertion that England supports Scotland and we can cry havoc to two peoples who were so recently friends.Â I do not want to be Englandâ€™s pensioner. England does not want to be ruled by MPs who have no base in England. What both countries now need is a statesman who will speak for England. That person is not Gordon Brown. He speaks only for the bubble of his own ambition. Who speaks for England now?
A crisis is upon the United Kingdom. Our constitution fits the national aspirations of neither country, and contradicts the best interests of us both. Wherever we meet, whether in Parliament or on a sports field, we are wary of one another. We meet as strangers where once we met as friends. Lord, send us a statesman who understands both peoples!
A great English poet wrote:-
Â Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
Â For we are the people of England, that have neverÂ Â
Â spoken yet.
The English have had no chance to speak on devolutionÂ nor us on independence. We all tremble before the pride of two silent but great and watchful peoples. Let us then have a United Kingdom referendum. If the Chancellorâ€™s figures are true let him put them to the English people. If England wants to be ruled by Scots who have no English constituency let that choice also be put to them. Let the choice of England or independence be put to us Scots
We all know the results and we will abide by them.
By Nelu Balaj
Nelu Balaj of ACTS (Action for Churches Together in Scotland) pleads for the children in our midst who are robbed of their childhood. The answer given by the Presbytery of Ayr, and their friend the Labour Party, is that it is a non-devolved matter and therefore not their responsibility. Can youÂ escape responsibility for what goes on in our midst? Is England the holder of our conscience when the children cry out? To be able to do so little makes me ashamed to be a Scot. The Concentration Camp at Dungavel shames us all.
They looked very happy and full of energy, skipping and dancing to the rhythm of the African drum, as they led the Commemoration Walk in Musselburgh on the 24th of March 2007, to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Their big smiles and happy faces were infectious and their energy was so invigorating. Nobody would have thought that there was anything unusual about these children. They looked happy, as normal as any other Scottish children.
Their smiles and happiness on that day were genuine as they were rejoicing in the news that they will see their friends again for whom they fiercely campaigned the week before. Their three friends, age 14, 11 and 4, along with their parents were to be released from detention, where they had spent the last week.
This family arrived in Scotland six years ago (in 2001) when they were forced to flee Congo in fear for their lives. Their asylum claim was mishandled, as many other cases were at that time and as a result the family were refused asylum. Four years ago they were blessed with a son, who was born in Glasgow.
Over the past few years we have witnessed a number of cases where innocent children were locked up because they were asylum seekers. Despite open public outrage, condemnation from churches, charities and the Childrenâ€™sâ€™ Commissioner, children are still detained in custody as if they were criminals. It is outrageous that these children have to suffer this trauma. And we are let to believe that there are no plans to stop it, moreover it seems that it will occur more often as the Home Office pledged that for the near future they will increase substantially the number of people to be removed from this country.
Why do we as a society still need to lock up these innocent people?
In the process of seeking to find blame we often identify people to blame for this state of affairs: the politicians, the enforcement officers, and often the media and their emotionally charged anti-immigration, anti-asylum rhetoric. While we might be right to assume that each of these sections shares some of the blame for the treatment of asylum seekers and their children I would like to suggest that the reasons go much deeper.
The politicians and political parties, whatever colour they are, seek to respond to what the people want, and therefore seek to present the electorate with quick solutions, often based on populist rhetoric rather than on principles. In the case of asylum seekers the majority of political parties tend to present them as a problem rather than as people who are vulnerable and need to be protected.
I would like to suggest the idea that the solution for the â€˜asylum seekersâ€™ problem should not be left in the hands of the political parties or politicians. Politicising the asylum issue does more damage to the vulnerable. One would not be wrong to suggest that in the recent past asylum seekers have been used by most of the political parties as â€˜political footballsâ€™. Remember the last UK election campaign where many of the parties tried to use the issue of asylum to score points against each other? Which party would be seen as the toughest.
While I have to agree that part of the solution is political, I want to suggest that the key to solving the issue would be to depoliticise the asylum decision making process. Most of the mess in the asylum process was made by bad decisions. A body that is independent from the government would be in a position to make decisions impartial free from political interests (internal and external), and based on information which is independently verified.
Furthermore I would suggest, we the members of the society should take a significant blame for mistreatment of asylum seekers. It is us who inform the media and often set its agenda, it is us who want action from the government against â€˜bogusâ€™ asylum seekers. These attitudes are fuelled by deep, often unaware seeds of prejudice and fear of the â€˜otherâ€™ that are part of our psyche. Often asylum seekers and refugees fit the stereotype of our fears. This is not a new thing for our own society. It is a phobia that we carry in us, and we often feel uncomfortable to admit or address it. In 19th century Bram Stoker invented Dracula as a prototype of the foreigner who threatened the very existence of the people of these islands. The danger, which was embodied by the strange figure of Dracula, who came from a country beyond the forest (and as it happens Transylvania means just that) brings death and destruction to our society. Therefore we need to get rid of him, not just here, but also in his place of origin.
If we are serious about preventing what happened to the three children mentioned in the early pat of this article, and stop criminalising people who are victims and in need for protection, we need more than just lobbing the politicians, we need to have a hard look at our prejudices and address them.
The process of self evaluation will set us free and in the long run would help is treat with dignity the vulnerable and the children who happen to arrive at our shores. Someone once said that â€˜A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members and the stranger in its midstâ€™.
By Ian Hamilton
Unless I have grossly misled my readers this is a non political website. I donâ€™t care who rules Scotland so long as it is independent. Independence is the modern way to look at the world. Everything from our thought to our food is international. This makes nationality essential. Either we are a nation or we will be ignored by the international club. Who wants to listen to a province? The nation is the sounding board from which the lone voice booms.
The only voice worth listening to is the lone voice. The choirs of agreement have always been wrong. Whatâ€™s more they are boring, and boredom is the worst burden an old man can bear. Only when someone says something new do I listen. So should it be for all. Look at the Faculty of Advocates.
To the Faculty I paid lip service for fifty years. In all those years the Faculty never said anything new. Everyone chirped in the same key like chaffinches on the same twig. I now realise that they are fine people doing a job which makes them dull. They call themselves learned counsel, yet for a hundred and twenty-five years no one published any work other than a law book. RLS never practised. Between the death of Walter Scott in 1832 and the performance of my play THE TINKERS OF THE WORLD in 1957 the Faculty was silent. Why did I waste my time there? Donâ€™t tell me.
So there it is. From now on this lone voice is silent too. It has never been silenced. I canâ€™t be bothered any more. At 81 I would sell my soul to the devil for a year of my youth, but he wonâ€™t buy. He already has it. Faust was a better salesman than I.
Talking of sales this blog has reached 3653 as I write and will surely go beyond 5000 a month by the end of April. So be it. The rest is silence, except for a curse on the Presbytery of Ayr. My only hope now is to meet Ayr Presbytery in Hell so that I can hound them further than I have hounded them on earth.
Now lift up your coffin lids and listen. This is the last time you will hear me. Iâ€™m off to the Reichenbach Falls.
Itâ€™s time, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the margins.
Five years ago, I deliberately failed to send in my SNP membership fees, something I very loyally hadnâ€™t failed to do for the eight years prior to that. I joined the party when I was 15 years old, and became an activist at 17, when I started at Glasgow University. While most students were painting the west end red, I was postering it yellow and black. I never missed a branch meeting, Council or Conference. Come hell or hangover, I attended marches and rallies, proudly sporting SNP and FSN badges.
I left the party, or rather refused to rejoin (fading away rather than burning out) for various cumulative reasons. These largely related to the way in which I felt that any voices of dissent, particularly those emanating from the left, were being deliberately marginalised. The way in which myself and those I knew and respected as rebels and outspoken â€˜fundiesâ€™ (as they used to be affectionately termed) were treated at a national level had the whiff of sulphur about it: I felt we were in danger of becoming New SNP. Concurrently, the more I learned about the world, at university and through life experience, the more I realised that independence wasnâ€™t the only cause worth devoting time to. I began to wonder whether â€˜the causeâ€™ wasnâ€™t just a wee bit parochial.
Â I had few regrets after bowing out. I enjoyed my new-found apolitical freedom, and channelled my energies into the anti-war movement. However, last week I rejoined. Why? Aside from how worthily Mr. Salmond has conducted himself in recent months, there are two main reasons. Firstly, as you may have noticed, something has subtly shifted in the Scottish political scene. The â€˜itâ€™s timeâ€™ slogan isnâ€™t just a rather clever marketing tag concocted by some whiz kid at McDonald Road. Itâ€™s a sentiment felt by an increasing number of Scots, nationalists and internationalists alike.
Independence will not solve all of Scotlandâ€™s problems, far less settle global issues. Yet there is a growing recognition that through independence, we will have a real chance to influence things for the better for ourselves and for those beyond our borders. We can begin to welcome asylum seekers, and help to counter the decline in our population. We can make Scotland a greener place, and, however incrementally, reduce our contribution to global carbon emissions. We can refuse to be part of future unjust wars. We can refuse to harbour nuclear weapons. With independence, our international platform will move to Edinburgh; it wonâ€™t be perfect, but it will be closer and easier to put pressure on. The SNP is the only sane place for anyone who believes in nationalism for internationalismâ€™s sake.
My second reason is connected: any political force with any kind of power can only be healthy and democratic if it is obliged to listen to voices of dissent from within. Whether or not the SNP win on May 3rd, they will undoubtedly have more MSPs, and will therefore be more of a force to be reckoned with than they ever have before. Constructive critics keep those at the centre on their toes, demanding that they remember why they are there: not to get comfortable and keep Holyroodâ€™s seats warm, but to throw those seats onto a buring pyre, to add fuel to the fire until the calls for independence and social justice cannot be ignored. I am looking forward to becoming one of these constructive critics again. Dissenters may not climb far up the party ranks, but theyâ€™ll have much more fun rudely gesticulating at the sides. I relish the prospect of returning to my old position at the side, and plan to learn new gestures to make at, to quote the editor of this wonderful spleen-venting forum himself, â€˜the bastards at HQâ€™.
Iâ€™ve realised that itâ€™s time. Itâ€™s time for all of us who believe in independence, for whatever reason and from however diverse backgrounds, to ride on the same train again until we build enough momentum on our present downhill to reach our common goal at the top of the next hill. We need to get there together, or not at all.
Kirsty Macdonald, a citizen of the world currently residing inÂ Inverness.
by Ian Hamilton
ALAN COCHRANE is at it again. He has had Tories at his dinner table. What, you might ask, is unusual in that? Who else would the Scottish editor of the Daily Telegraph invite to eat his pie and chips? Maggie Cowan? Cathie Jamieson? Eh? Only true blues would be trusted with a knife and fork at yon table. The difference this time is that they were SNP voting Tories. That itself is worth a grace as longâ€™s my airm. I hope his spoon too was long when he supped with them.
It was all very civilised Alan assures us. So quiet and gentlemanly were the proceedings that I wonder if Alan was flying a kite instead of eating a dinner. These Tories, explained Alan, were intelligent Tories. They had worked out for themselves that to vote SNP is no longer social death. Indeed it is the wise thing to do. They want rid of Labour. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is dead so who else is there?
â€˜Are you not afraid of independence?â€™ asks Alan, as a chip disappears into the black dungeon of his mouth. His guests reassure him. They will think of that come the referendum. They can get off at Leuchars Junction before the train sets out on its perilous journey across the Firth of Tay, or so they say.
Yet this simple story of tactical voting has a more interesting tale to tell. Although he once bought Alex Neil a bag of crisps I never thought Alan would eat dinner in the company of the SNP. He is tacitly acknowledging that the only people fit to run the country are in the SNP. This is a breathtaking admission. Yet it contains an even deeper promise. That promise is that there is life for the Scottish Tories after an SNP victory.
Regular readers of this blog may remember my concern for the Scottish Tories. You cannot exterminate them. They breed like rabbits or royalty. I have often remarked on the lack of Young Conservative Clubs, once the centre of aspiration for the upwardly socially mobile. Be assured that without Conservative Clubs the socially mobile are still here. Young ladies who can tick the proper box for shunky, shithouse, lavatory or loo may have no Party to vote for, but after independence there will be moonlight for them again. Let them vote SNP for the moment. Their time is not far off. They will again vote Tory, maybe under another name, but still Tory. One thing more.
How is Alan Cochrane going to vote? He is not daft, misguided sometimes, but not daft. When he leads his column with the news that his Tory friends are going to vote SNP that is hint enough. When he explains that it is common sense to do so you know what heâ€™s thinking.
Iâ€™m thinking the same thing. I have a fifty quid bet with Alex Neil that before I die Alan Cochrane will vote SNP. Only the secret ballot stands between me and that fifty quid.
Alan, Iâ€™m sorry I called you a big black-bearded Tory from Dundee. Honest I am. I know you deny being a Tory. Gonny tell us how youâ€™ll vote? Iâ€™ll tell you the Windsor word for the shunky if you do.
by Murdoch MacKenzie
â€¦We think he is a retired Church of Scotland missionary…
In the mystery of Godâ€™s purposes the Gaelic word â€œFaslaneâ€ means â€œStance on the enclosed land.â€ Anyone who has seen the razor sharp wire fence surrounding this small patch of Argyll can be in no doubt that it is enclosed. Likewise, it is certainly a place to which Christians and others from the far corners of the earth come to make a stand against weapons of mass destruction and, in particular, nuclear warheads. Last yearâ€™s General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved a deliverance critical of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Cardinal Patrick Oâ€™Brien and the Rt. Rev Alan McDonald, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, together expressed strong criticism of the Trident replacement project. All the major churches in the United Kingdom, Protestant and Catholic, have made a similar stand against Trident.
When I worked in India and argued against India testing nuclear weapons I was asked that if a wee v country like the United Kingdom could have them why should not a big country like India follow suit? A similar argument by Iran and several other countries is being used right now as they follow events in the British Parliament. Were we to renounce nuclear weapons, not only would it be a very Christ-like thing to do, but the message would reverberate to the uttermost parts of the earth.
For our sins, but not for ours only, we, the people of Argyll and of Scotland, and we the Christians and churches of Argyll and Scotland, are not only in the firing line, but we are the focus of attention of sisters and brothers the world over. They are watching to see what stance we are taking on their behalf. Will we, like David of old, reject a full set of armour and rely upon Godâ€™s guidance as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and by St Paul, who in Ephesians 6:11 teaches us what it means â€œto put on the full armour of God so that we can take our stand against the devilâ€™s schemesâ€? Anything more diabolical than the Trident missiles at Faslane would be hard to imagine. Rather let us wear the breastplate of righteousness and have our feet shod with the gospel of grace.
â€œWill you come and follow me?â€ is the question that Jesus asks of us right now. We cannot sit on the fence because the issues are razor sharp. Now is the time, before it is too late, for us to proclaim our solidarity with the churches of the UK and with many other people of goodwill, by letting our MP and our MSPs and our government know that we put our faith not in weapons of mass destruction but in Jesus Christ and the whole armour of God.
For those wishing to read further and consider in depth the issues surrounding Peacemaking, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches have recently published â€œPeacemaking : A Christian Vocationâ€ together with an accompanying Study Guide available for Â£3.99Â Â Â ISBN 1-858562-323-0
This article appeared in the local newsletter of Kilmore and Oban Church of Scotland.