A Response to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech

2 Mar

Once again, Theresa May has fulfilled expectations.  She has made a key speech that is, as usual, rhetoric over substance; a chimera of false hope over actuality.

Mrs May, your five tests for Brexit are nothing more than a mix of misdirection and mirage, playing to the gallery and hoping we’d be fooled.  Let’s look at what you said.

“First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum.

The referendum has divided Great Britain like nothing else since the War of the Three Kingdoms, and like that particular fracture, it is England once again bullying the other British nations (albeit not by military force) by exploiting a slim majority in what was a non-binding, advisory vote.

It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money.”

It was nothing of the sort.  We already had control over all three of those areas.

It was a vote for more money for the NHS; a vote for xenophobia; a vote for nostalgia for an imaginary UK that never existed; a vote based on numerous lies, inter alia about sovereignty, immigration and funding for the NHS.

“And a vote for wider change, so that no community in Britain would ever be left behind again. But it was not a vote for a distant relationship with our neighbours.”

Yes, it was a vote for wider change but not in the way you allege.  It was a protest vote against your Government’s continuance of its failed austerity policy and not a vote for further anguish through unnecessary damage to the economy, which is the inevitable outcome of Brexit.

You and your predecessor, through your austerity policies, which attack the weakest and most vulnerable in society,  have ensured that many communities are being “left behind” irrespective of relationships with our neighbours or elsewhere.  Loss of EU funding will only make this worse as places like Cornwall are quickly coming to realise.

“Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure. After Brexit, both the UK and the EU want to forge ahead with building a better future for our people, not find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down.”

The UK was always going to be at a disadvantage in the negotiations, as the 27 were bound to unite to protect their union.  There was never any chance that the UK could “have its cake and eat it” as the EU was never going to offer the UK better terms than  it had by being within the EU.  Only an arrogant moron would suppose otherwise.

This hurdle has been aggravateded by the UK’s failure to negotiate effectively – in part due to divisions within your own Cabinet and, in part, due to the incompetence of your Brexit Secretary –  meaning that the most likely outcome is that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal (let alone a transition period!).  After your speech, and the rate at which time is running out, anything else is a mere pipe dream.

“Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security. People in the UK voted for our country to have a new and different relationship with Europe, but while the means may change our shared goals surely have not – to work together to grow our economies and keep our people safe.

Quite how you imagine that Brexit will protect jobs and grow the economy when your own government’s Brexit Analyses – which, unsurprisingly you did not want to make public – showed that in every scenario Britain will be worse off through leaving. Places like Grimsby are waking up to the fact that their jobs, which are dependent upon exports to the EU, are in serious jeopardy because of Brexit.  Furthermore, EU agencies are already leaving the UK, as are many EU citizens, and some Financial Services organisations are making contingency plans to leave.  So, lovely rhetoric but, like your first speech as Prime Minister, it is little more than candy floss for the naive.

Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: ”

Well, Brexit’s put paid to that!

The country can’t agree on what it wants.  The Remainers don’t want the kind of country Brexit offers.  the Leavers, in turn, are utterly divided in what they want from Brexit.  Scotland and Northern Ireland want different things from England or Wales.  To top it all, you squandered a parliamentary majority in a vanity snap-election which left you hamstrung by a bigotted, insular, minority party you cannot afford to offend.  Not even your Cabinet manages consistency under your wavering leadership.  Not so much a second ‘Iron Lady’ as the ‘Plastercine Housewife’.

“…a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy.”

In your dreams!  Brexit Britain is none of those things.  It is a nostalgic, insular and intolerant country, in which your Government has tried to by-pass Parliamentary democracy at every stage of the process, only  being thwarted by the courts.  The UK also has, in the House of Lords, the second largest unelected political decision-making body in the world – hardly a symbol of a modern democracy!  Nor has your Government shown any regard for the democratic mandate of devolved governments, which you ignore and exclude, and/or the democratically derived Devolution Settlements which you are trying to ride over roughshod.

“A nation of pioneers, innovators, explorers and creators. A country that celebrates our history and diversity, confident of our place in the world;”

Meaningless piffle and waffle designed to try and make your pig’s ear look like a silk purse.

Typically backward looking to what was and hoping against hope that it can be repeated if we can just bring back the Blitz spirit.  Revisionist history (in which only Englsih history counts) abounds as Brexiteers try wistfully to make out that the British Empire was a great force for good and optimistically claim that our imperial past can be recreated in a global expansion of trade.  As for diversity, hate crimes have rocketed since Brexit.  Hardly, the basis for anything other than false confidence.

“…that meets its obligations to our near neighbours and far off friends…”

Your Ministers repeatedly calling for the UK to not respect its responsibilities on leaving the EU, along with your government’s abject failure to meet its post 2014 obligations to one of its nearest neighbours (Scotland), make it very unlikely that England can be trusted to do so further afield.

“…and is proud to stand up for its values.”

The the most prominant British values, following the Brexit vote, seem to be hypocrisy, mendacity, trickery, xenophobia, intolerance and resentment, of which you and your party can be justifiably proud!  Many, however, are saying that they no longer know what to be British is.  Others are saying that they either cannot identify with Britishness  or are ashamed of it.

“And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.”

Brexit is a disaster for “our union of nations”; it has fractured relations between Edinburgh and London, and Cardiff and London; it is imperilling the Good Friday Agreement (your rhetoric over the Irish border is as specious as it is vague).  The uniformity imposed by England on the Union under the pretence of unity, is in tatters due to the empty platitudes and broken promises of your Party.  Indeed, you and your predecessor have arrogantly done more to break the Union than anyone else in its 300 year history!  What you seem to be attempting is to join four corners of a circle apparently without the faintest idea that it has none.

“We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

If you have listened to those from the Remain side of the debate, you either did not hear what was said to you or simply chose to ignore it.  There has been no evidence of your taking account of any opinion outwith your divided Cabinet.  And given that you cannot even unite your own Cabinet, let alone your own Party, I don’t rate your chances of even uniting England, let alone the disparate nations of the United Kingdom.  Best of British!

As you started your speech by quoting what you said in your first speech as Prime Minister, let me quote from the open letter I wrote to you in July, 2016:

“…you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government…”

“You talked  about uniting the country; it will  require more than platitudes.”

“Your precious Union, as always  since 1707, has less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.”

Your speeches and Brexit strategies would seem to confirm that I was right on all three counts.

 

 

 

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Hurricane Low Q: A Personal Recollection

15 Jan

It is astounding to think that Hurricane Low Q, which devastated Central Scotland, occurred 50 years ago.  Back then, to my child’s mind, a period 50 years earlier (a time when the Great War was still being fought, which with hindsight my grandparents remembered) was, like the Battle of Trafalgar, ancient history to me.   Now, of course, 50 years ago is within my living memory.

Some memories are indelibly graven and one such is that hurricane of the night of 15th– 16th January, 1968.

I remember that the 15th, a Sunday, was unusually mild and very calm without any hint of a breeze, and that we were able to play out in my Grandparents’ garden at Ardoch without coats.   But there was otherwise nothing particularly noteworthy about the day.  I’m sure that my sailor Grandfather would have noted the fall in both temperature and barometric pressure and expected stormy weather, though not even he expected the hurricane which rampaged across our region during the night.

My brother and I slept in a room in the attic of our 300 year old Mill Cottage and we were awoken by the howling of the wind, which lifted and dropped the skylights every few minutes with a loud crash.  In a short time, the howl changed to a shriek and the lights went out.  The sound of hurricane force winds is not something one forgets – and so I knew exactly what to expect when it heard it again almost 20 years later in Worthing during another great storm that was supposed to pass Britain by.

Not unnaturally, we were both crying with fear of the noise and the dark.  My father came up and, surprisingly given the scale of the damage inflicted on so many buildings, did not move us downstairs but gave us a torch, told us to be quiet and to go back to sleep.  We decided to share my bed, probably because I was the elder, but we didn’t sleep again until after the wind had dropped to gale force.

In the morning, we awoke to see the devastation that winds of over 100mph (160kph) had wrought during the night.  There were fallen trees everywhere.  Houses had lost tiles and chimneys – in some cases whole roofs.  But, amazingly, our cottage sustained next to no damage at all – just a few tiles.

My father’s egg business was not so lucky.  He had about 100 hens in Nissan huts in a field near my grandparents’ house.  Bits of twisted metal were found several miles away and dead chickens all over three counties.

I rather think that my mother tried to take us to school, though that may be a false memory.  It maybe she had merely been told that the road from Cardross to Helensburgh was blocked by fallen trees just past Geilston.  Either way there was no school for us that day.  So we spent a happy time playing, childishly oblivious to the tragic loss of homes, possessions and lives that had taken place just a few miles away.

I don’t remember how long we were without electricity, or for how long the petrol station was closed, such things being less important to children who are content providing they are warm, fed and allowed to play, but I suspect it was short in duration or it would have left a greater impression.

A final memory: in my youthful ignorance, I thought the hurricane was –  like the biblical flood – universal.  Accordingly, I remember asking my American relatives in Vermont, where I was spending the summer of ’68 on my own with my Aunt, how the hurricane had been there.  I was very surprised that they didn’t know what I was talking about, while they were bemused by my question as, of course, there had been no hurricane there, it having originated off Bermuda and moved eastward across the Atlantic.

Black Friday: the Weeklong Day

23 Nov

How many people in Spain had heard of Black Friday a decade ago?  I had through my American relations and then through its stealthy creeping into England, but when I came to Spain some 9 years ago it was not a part of the run up to Christmas.  Though other aspects of US cultural imperialism like “Trick or Treat” and Santa Claus (both purveyors of manipulation and greed) had made their presence felt, the Christmas lights did not go up until early December and sales were safely consigned to January.

Yet over the last 4 or 5 years Black Friday has steadily been gaining traction in Spain, where it has become a weeklong festival of buying, even though the discounts are often not that great.  But a bargain is a bargain, even if we don’t need it, right?

Advertisers, in pursuit of mythical ever-rising profits, constantly bombard us with the message that in order to be happy we have to accumulate more and more possessions; must always upgrade to the latest model; buy the products endorsed by our favourite celebs; and rubbing our neighbours faces in it when they can’t keep up:  Black Friday is our chance to steal a march on them.

Yet, for the majority of folk in the developed world, “Working long hours to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t care about.” (Dave Ramsey) has become the norm.  This strikes me to be a perspicacious evaluation of life in the 21st century.

Black Friday – like its on-line counterpart, Cyber Monday – is symptomatic of our age, the Material Age, in which people are judged more by what they have than by who they are; more by vain words than by actual deeds; where the financial rewards of the “money men” far exceed that of surgeons, teachers or scientists; and where greed for material things has been recast as a virtue.

While it may be that “Money makes the world go round”, Mammon is a heartless god who can never be satisfied and the supposed gains of our greed, as with all such delusions, are but transitory: none shall pass through the grave.

Yet there is a small band of people who counterculturally eschew this American lifestyle export by boycotting vendors who have “Black Friday” sales or by foregoing shopping entirely on that particular Friday.

Jesus warned, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).  Where is your heart going to be on Black Friday?

Don Roberto Myths

23 Nov

Celebrities are always going to attract myths and Don Roberto was no exception.

I was still at Prep School when I heard the first anecdote, and had recently started secondary school when I heard the second.  Thus, in less than 30 years after his death, there were mythical anecdotes and stories being told about him.  Here is a very brief selection of the myths I have heard.

An Anecdote

I remember being gleefully told by a family acquaintance, who was old enough to have known Don Roberto in his old age, that the great man had often said, “In every house there should be three taps: one for hot water, one for cold water and one for whisky!”  Unfortunately, my informant was seemingly unaware that Don Roberto had taken the Temperance Pledge and so did not imbibe, making the quote highly improbable.

An Equestrian Tale

A tale, which I heard from an elderly neighbour who was in his 90s, concerns Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  The story he loved to relate to us young Cunninghame Grahams was as follows.

One day, when Don Roberto was visiting the Wild West Show with his friend Col Alexander Maitland Gordon, they were shown a horse that was unrideable.  Maitland Gordon, a cavalry officer bet Don Roberto he could ride the beast without being thrown and duly arranged to return the next day to make the attempt.

The following evening, Maitland Gordon, dressed in riding attire and accompanied by Don Roberto, returned to try and win his wager.  However, whenever Maitland Gordon approached the horse it would buck and kick and he found he could not get close enough to even mount it.  In frustration, he turned to Don Roberto saying, “Well I wager not even you could ride that brute!”  Don Roberto, who was wearing evening dress, calmly lit a cheroot and eyed the horse.  Then he casually approached the horse quietly talked to it and gently stroked its nose before leaping on its back without touching the stirrups.  So poor Maitland Gordon lost two wagers in one evening.

The first problem with the tale is, if the horse had never been ridden, why did it not do as all unbroken horses do when mounted, buck and jump to try to dislodge the rider.  The tale is designed to embellish Don Roberto’s skills as a horseman, and though he undoubtedly was an excellent horseman, even he got thrown badly on occasion and suffered injuries from it.

Second, it is highly unlikely that the Wild West Show would keep a horse that was completely unrideable as it would be of little value to the show (unless for comic value as hapless cowboys chased it around the ring).  Furthermore, given the skills of the Native American Indians and Cowboys at breaking horses, it would not have stayed unmountable for long.  The whole point of the show was to demonstrate the skills of the participants.

Third, I have never been able to find any Alexander Maitland Gordon, let alone one who was a cavalry officer.  Nor can I find any Maitland Gordon (Alexander or otherwise) among Don Roberto’s friends and acquaintances – there is certainly no correspondence between them which is highly peculiar given Don Roberto’s proclivity for letter writing.  Thus, if one of the main protagonists of the tale is fictitious, the whole must be suspect.

A Family Fable

Much later, when I was an adult, I was told about a Clydebank family which believes that their grandfather, Andrew, son of one Janet Munro, was the illegitimate child of Don Roberto.  They surmise that she had been seduced by Don Roberto while working as a maid at Ardoch.  And this tale has been passed down through the generations as family history.

The family’s genealogist, however, is more sceptical.  He readily admits that Janet was of dubious reputation and the “black sheep” of the family and that the family cannot provide a single shred of evidence she ever met Don Roberto, let alone had any kind of sexual relationship with him.

The facts prejudicial to the Munro claim are insurmountable.  First, at the time the baby would have been conceived, the family were not using Ardoch, which was leased to a tenant; second, Don Roberto, who was newly married, was incontrovertibly abroad (first at Bremerhaven and then at Vigo) at the critical juncture.

Of course, all those who claimed to have personal knowledge of the affair are all safely dead and beyond interrogation, but the myth persists despite the slew of facts which make it utterly impossible.  But when did facts ever deal a deathblow to a rollicking good tale?

These examples make me wonder whether there are any other myths about Don Roberto out there waiting to be collected and debunked.

Bad Willie’s Crime

20 Sep

Every family has its black sheep and in our family, it is William Cunningham Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore and Finlaystone (1775 – 1845), who is known by a number of soubriquets: “Bad Willie”, “The Runaway Laird” and “The Swindler”.

Born into a wealthy family and given every advantage, William was described as “a person of considerable accomplishments” who “although he possessed a love for the fine arts, it was in the more imitative and mechanical ones that he excelled”, being “without rival at turning the lathe”. And, indeed, he left some very fine ivory pieces, including a chess set with which my grandfather and I used to play our coffee-house games.

In his youth, William fell in with the Prince Regent’s set becoming an inveterate gambler.  He squandered the family art collection and the estates he had inherited (hence, “Bad Willie”) and by 1828 he had been forced to flee to the continent to escape his creditors (earning him the epithet of “Runaway Laird”).  But it is how he came to be known as “The Swindler” that is the most interesting part of his story.

Having lived briefly in Brussels and Tours, Bad Willie moved to Florence in 1832 with his second wife, Janet, their son Alexander and their daughters Susan and Margaret.  He was joined a couple of years later by his stepson, Allan George Bogle, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who had been on half-pay for about two years.

Bad Willie made his living in Florence by mechanically reproducing the rare engravings of artists such as Rafael Morghen, Domenichino and Guido Reni with great genius by use of a machine of his own design.  It was there that he fatefully made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Bourbel, a schemer, who had married an English heiress, and was now plotting to swindle the bankers Glyn & Co out of £1,000,000 by means of forged letters of credit.

Bad Willie was clearly at the heart of the plot, as was his stepson, whom he helped to enter into a partnership with two respected gentlemen of commerce to form a new bank “Bogle, Kerritch & Co, whose business rapidly grew to be highly profitable thanks to Mr Kerritch’s business contacts.  In 1839, Bad Willie introduced the Marquis de Bourbel to Bogle, Kerritch & Co as an investor.  But that was not his main contribution to the plot.  It was Bad Willie’s particular skill and his tracing machine that De Bourbel wanted so as to mechanically forge to perfection the signatures of Glyn, Hallifax, Mills and Co for the faked letters of credit.

The plot moved on apace when De Bourbel went to London where he encountered an old friend, another gambler of good family, the Baron d’ Arjuzon, who gladly joined the scheme.  Together they managed to procure the same paper Glyn & Co used for their letters of credit and then in January 1840 obtained a genuine letter of credit from them from the strong box of Bogle Kerritch & Co. of which Bogle was the custodian.

Another of the band, calling himself Comte de Paindry, tested his forged letter of credit by presenting it at Bogle, Kerritch & Co and received £200.  However, he returned the money the following day claiming that a shopkeeper had cast doubt on the authenticity of the letter.  He stated that rather than have his honourable name brought into question he would rather cancel the transaction, which the bank did, noting on the letter that it had been done at “the request of the bearer.”  This had the benefit of allaying suspicion and reassuring other lenders.

Once they had their forged letters, 6 of the conspirators travelled in pairs to different countries under assumed names to start presenting their letters on the same day, 19th April.  At first, all went well and they were able to draw large sums, but as is often the case, they got greedy.  D’Arjuzon successfully withdrew £750 in Brussels, but his companion, Perry (alias Ireland), was refused a further £750 in Antwerp the following day as the banker was suspicious that another advance was needed so soon and contacted the police.  Perry was arrested on the Ostend Ferry fleeing the country, which news caused the rest of the gang to decamp in great haste.

Nonetheless, they had managed to defraud various banks in Italy, Belgium, France and the Rhineland of the vast sum of £10,700 6s in just 6 days.  Surprisingly, none of the principal conspirators suffered any serious consequence.  Bad Willie’s family were not so fortunate.

The Times had published a letter on 26th May from one of their correspondents, Joseph Lawson, in which the fraudsters had been named, including Bad Willie, his son Alexander and his stepson, Allan Bogle.

Bogle sued Lawson for defamation of character.  However, the evidence of his involvement was such that the jury awarded him the paltry damages of just one farthing, and, as the judge refused to certify, he had to bear all of his legal costs.  His reputation and finances ruined, he died 10th April, 1843 in Westminster.

According to The Times, Alexander, who was described as a “debauched and dissolute young man”, was living under an assumed name in France “in great want and misery”, when he died of an infectious disease in a nursing home near Paris, less than a year after the scandal.  He was just 23 years of age.

Bad Willie was arrested in Florence – probably having returned to try and destroy his machine –  and then expelled from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with a ban from ever returning.  He eventually made his way back to London, where he died some five years later without ever facing any punishment.

A Forgotten Scot called Don Roberto

24 May

It strikes me that, for her size, Scotland has produced more than her share of remarkable people and, thus, it is only to be expected that some of them are occasionally overlooked.

One such person is the man who was variously been described as “Scotland’s last and finest Renaissance man”, “The People’s Laird”, “The uncrowned King of Scotland”, “ a prince and paladin of our people”, “a writer’s writer”, the “Prince of Preface Writers” and “Godfather of the SNP”; a man celebrated in art and literature, whose friends from the worlds of politics, art and literature reads like a Who’s Who of his day. I am of course speaking of the author and politician Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham.

Don Roberto thinking

Robert was born in London on 24th May, 1852.  He was a quarter Spanish (his maternal grandmother was from a Grandee family) and three quarters Scots, with descent from the Earls of Glencairn and the Earls of Monteith (the latter being descendants of Robert II), while through his paternal grandmother, he could claim Plantagenet ancestry.  His father was heir to three estates stretching from the Trossachs through Dunbartonshire and across the Clyde to Renfrewshire – estates that Robert was to see lost during his lifetime.

Educated at Harrow, where he excelled at sports, and then in Brussels, where he acquired good French in addition to his English and Spanish, Robert travelled to Argentina to try and make his fortune cattle ranching.  It did not work out and Robert was captured by rebel gauchos and forced to ride with them until he managed to escape.  It was during this time that he earned the nickname, Don Roberto, which his friends were to use for the rest of his life.

Following a brief visit home, Robert returned to South America and travelled over land through Entre Rios to Paraguay where he hoped to make a fortune from yerba mate. When this too failed, he tried selling Argentinean horses to the Brazilian army only to find that the price had dropped.  These times, however, were to prove a rich source of inspiration for his future writings.

The story of how he met his wife is probably as apocryphal as her supposed origin (half-French, half-Chilean) and the pseudonym (Gabrielle de La Balmondière) which she was to use for the rest of her life, the truth only finally emerging 80 years after her death.  She was, in fact, plain Caroline Horsfall – the daughter of a Yorkshire country Doctor – who ran away to go on the stage.  In rebellion against her father and grandfather’s strict evangelicalism, Carrie converted to Roman Catholicism.  She was to later research and write a widely acclaimed two volume biography of St Teresa of Avila.

gabriela.png

Caroline Stansfield Horsfall (alias Gabrielle de La Balmondeiére)

The romanticised version, as they told it, was that they met in Paris, when Robert was having trouble controlling a lively horse and came close to knocking her over.  On dismounting to apologise, he inadvertently spoke to her in Spanish.  To his surprise and delight she responded in the same language and they chatted and soon, having fallen in love, they decided to elope to London.  The only sure fact is that they married quietly in the Strand Registry Office on 24th October, 1878, the bride giving a false age as well as the assumed name.

Immediately afterwards, the couple left to travel through France and Germany before travelling to the USA and settling in Texas, where – apart from a spell in Mexico City (to which they travelled by wagon train), where Robert taught fencing and Gabrielle French and guitar – they remained until his father’s death in 1883, but still without making that ever elusive fortune.

Upon his return Robert became interested in politics – both his mother and grandmother were from leading Whig families, as had been his own Graham ancestors – and he stood for North-West Lanarkshire as a Liberal, though with a socialist programme which included:

 

Though a charismatic speaker known for his acerbic wit and ability to deal with hecklers, he was soundly trounced by his Conservative opponent in 1885.  Undaunted, Robert contested the seat again the following year and was elected by just 35 votes.  Frequently suspended for refusing to conform to the conventions of the House, he was the first ever MP to be suspended for swearing: the word was “damn”.

He championed the working class throughout and fought for the right for free speech and public meeting, getting himself knocked on the head and arrested, along with John Burns, while attempting to speak at the 1887 Bloody Sunday demonstration in Trafalgar Square.  Despite being defended by Herbert Asquith, he was sentenced to six weeks in HMP Pentonville.  He was a co-founder with Keir Hardy of the Scottish Labour Party, serving as its first President, a move which was to bring his parliamentary career to an end when he failed to win the seat as a Labour candidate for Glasgow Camlachie in the 1892 election.

Now that he was free from both the financial burden and time consuming demands of being an MP, he set his hand to writing.  At first it was a series of articles for the Saturday Review, but this was soon followed by a travel book Notes on the District of Menteith (1895) and, with Gabrielle, a volume of short sketches entitled Father Archangel of Scotland (1898)He went on to write, over the next 40 years, 15 books of sketches, 2 travel books (one of which related his adventures in 1898 when trying to reach the forbidden Moroccan city of Tarudant while disguised as a Turkish doctor), 3 histories of the Spanish conquest, 7 biographies, innumerable prefaces for the books of others, as well as numerous articles for a variety of publications.

The new century was to bring double tragedy.  First, in 1901, Robert was forced by his insurmountable debts to sell the principal family estate at Gartmore, to Sir Charles Cayzer, Bt.  The estate had come to the family in the 17th century and Robert keenly felt its loss and saw it as a betrayal of his forebears. Then in 1906, his beloved wife Gabrielle, who had been a chain-smoker since their days in Texas, died in Hendaye, France, at the age of just 48.  She was buried on the Island of Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith. Robert, with the help of a family retainer, dug her grave himself.  Her funeral was conducted by her brother, William Horsfall, a high-church Anglican priest.  Robert never remarried, though he was often accompanied in his later years by a Mrs Elizabeth Dummet.

Though a pacifist, Robert lost no time in trying to join up as a rough rider at the outbreak of the First World War.  He was 62 years old and was naturally turned down.  Undaunted he went to talk to his friends in the War Office, and was first put in charge of a section of the Remount, and later with the rank of brevet Colonel was made president of a commission to purchase horses in the Argentine for the British Army and so spent the next eleven months riding with the gauchos as he had done in his youth.  On his return voyage to England, his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat in the English Channel, but both he and the horses all managed to get ashore safely.  However, he was not home long as he was promptly sent back to South America in January 1917 to buy beef cattle in Colombia.

In later, life he became more deeply involved in Scottish Home Rule, and chaired the meeting that led to the formation of the National Party of Scotland in 1928.  With the merger of the Scottish Party with the NPS to form the SNP in 1934, Cunninghame Graham was chosen to be its first President.  He continued to speak at rallies and summer picnics up until the year before his death.

In defiance of his doctor’s warnings that he was too ill to travel, Robert insisted on visiting Argentina in early 1936.  On his arrival he was fêted and had hardly a moment to himself.  Some of the last images of him are at Radio Splendid in Buenos Aires and a photo of him writing to Robert Morley in the home of his friend W H Hudson at Quilmes, following which he contracted bronchitis.

Don Roberto & Fernando Pozzo 1

Don Roberto with Fernando Pozzo at Radio Splendid, Buenos Aires, March 1936

Despite early signs that he was recovering, the bronchitis turned into pneumonia and he died in the Plaza Hotel, Buenos Aires, on March 20th 1936, aged 83.  His body lay in state in the Casa del Teatro where crowds came to pay their respects as did the President of the Argentine Republic.  The funeral procession to the docks was long and included the two horses Tchiffely, his friend and biographer, had ridden from Buenos Aires to Washington DC.  He had planned to return home on the Almeda Star on March 26th, and so he did.

He was buried alongside his wife in the ruined chancel of the Priory of Inchmahome with a rough cut stone that bears his Argentine cattle brand.  A year later a memorial to him was unveiled at Castlehill in Dumbarton (later moved to Gartmore).  It contained stones from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – the countries of his youthful adventures, a medallion by Alexander Proudfoot RSA and the inscription:

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham 1852-1936 – Famous Author – Traveller and Horseman – Patriotic Scot and Citizen of the World – As Betokened by the Stones above. Died in Argentina, interred in Inchamahome – He Was a Master of Life – A King Among Men.

[Originally written and posted on the Cunninghame Graham Society Facebook page       on 24th May, 2012 – WRBCG.]

Mayhem from the Snap Dragon

21 Apr

In my open letter to Theresa May, last July, I told her that not calling an election prior to signing Article 50 would be “rank hypocrisy” given the hen-pecking she gave Gordon Brown.  She could have done so last autumn, but she wasn’t doing so well in the polls and neither she nor her ministers had any Brexit plan to put in a manifesto; she could have called one in the spring, when she finally had some kind of plan (“No deal is better than a bad deal”) but she didn’t.  Instead she spent the autumn and winter fighting against Parliamentary Democracy.

Now, having already invoked Article 50, she suddenly wants an election – not for the sake of the country but to save her majority.  Just when she and her gang of four Brexiteers should be starting the Brexit negotiations, she wants to put everything on hold while she seeks a mandate, which she claimed to already have from the referendum, for what is essentially a pig-in-a-poke.  This smacks of hypocrisy given her rejection of a second Scottish Independence Referendum on the grounds that the “terms of Brexit are not yet known”.

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(Letter to The Guardian, 20/04/2017)

So why the rush?

It appears that 24 Conservative MPs are going to be prosecuted by the DPP for electoral fraud, which would automatically disbar them from the House, instantly demolishing her majority and forcing her to seek a coalition to continue with her “hard Brexit”.

Combine this with the polls showing her party over 20 points ahead of Labour (which has less to do with Corbyn than with the relentless right wing press campaign against him that suggests that the right perceive him as a real threat, which must be neutralised at all cost; and the fifth column within his own party that constantly attempt to undermine his leadership), and she sees a political opportunity.  So, despite the 5 year fixed term rule that her party introduced in 2011 (and for which she voted) to prevent just this sort of political opportunism, she calls a snap election which Labour limply agree to (despite the very real chance of annihilation at the polls).  Yet more lies and hypocrisy from May!

The election may well hasten the end of the Union, which she, like her predecesor (Cameron), claims to be so “precious” (echoes of Gollum?) but against which her every manoeuvre militates against its continuance.  It is certain that Scotland will return a majority of SNP and pro-Independence MPs to Westminster again and the Scottish Parliament has ratified Sturgeon’s mandate for a second Independence Referendum when the terms of Brexit are clearer (ie 2018-19), which given the indications of ineptitude of the Gang of Four Brexiters charged by May to draw up policy and negotiate the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (in footballing terms, Paris Saint-Germaine vs Southport!), is likely to lead to a vote for independence.

There is another aspect to holding a snap election, which few have commented on.  Should she win with an increased majority, she has increased her period of office by a further 2 years post-Brexit, which will give her time to sell off the NHS to US health care corporations, dismantle human rights and workers’ rights before she has to face the electorate again, but with the advantage of the gerrymandered constituencies (gift of the Liberal Democrats) that favour her party and, thus, her continuing in office irrespective of her competence.

So once again, it is party before country; a manifesto that puts profit before people; a nostalgic Little Englander, dreaming of long faded glories, attitude to Brexit;  and the celebration of hypocrisy, mendacity and avarice as Party virtues.