The Label Fell Off

3 Mar

Recently, following a criticism about “expats living in warm countries meddling in British politics that no longer affect them“, I have been reflecting on the labels used to describe those living outwith their own countries.

Let’s start by examining the term ‘expat’ (expatriate) which was used in such an obviously denigratory sense by the critic.

The term “ex-pat”, which is only applied to folk from the UK (or former predominantly white colonies) who are living abroad, has a casual arrogance about it that hint at colonialist and racist undertones.  It typically refers to those living abroad long term who intend to return to their homeland at some point (often unspecified) in the future; or, as is so often the case in Spain, folk who have a home in both the host country and their country of origin, between which they alternate according to season and/or family ties.  They almost invariably fail to integrate with the local culture, often cannot speak the language, and only associate with other ex-pats.

Unfortunately, for I am sure that they are lovely people, the expats I have encountered here in Spain almost all adhere to a nauseating British stereotype, which was already well out of fashion in England in my infancy.  Given their intention to return to their country of origin at some point in the future, their interesed  in the current politics of their homeland is both pertinent and permissible (given that they can continue to vote for the first 15 years of their residence abroad – a privilege which the Tories would like to make lifelong) and should be encouraged rather than curtailed.

Although I now eschew the label ‘expat’, I have been one in the past. I was an expat all the while I was living in England (some 35 years) – something only Scots are fully likely to understand – never feeling settled or really at home there and always harbouring a secret longing to return home to Scotland. It is bewildering, given the much vaunted myth of the heterogeneity of the UK that I feel far more at home living in Spain than I ever did living in England!

Moving on to migrant, which is a term used to describe a person who moves abroad for reasons of work, which I did not when I left in 2008. In fact, I was unemployed for the first few months I was in Spain, having given up a good job (and turned down another offer of work) in London in order to emigrate. Yet, I have to also confess to having been a migrant; first, in 1980, when I moved from Sussex to Belfast in search of work, and again, following the completion of my bachelors degree, when I was willing to migrate to any part of the country for work, but ended up migrating to London because of my ex-wife’s PhD.

So, if I am not any longer an expat or a migrant, what labels are apposite?

It would be more apt to call me a partial émigré than either expat or migrant, as part of the reason I fled the Benighted Kingdom (as Cammie, Clegg & Co have made it) was to escape just that political eventuality. The continuance of a virtually unfettered Tory reign of terror against the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in British society while lining the insatiable pockets of their ultra-wealthy pals, combined with the government’s rising xenophobia, is one of the greatest deterrents to ever returning to the land of my birth, where they have but negligible electoral support. Yet, when all is said and done, émigré (even if just partial) is too flash and fussy for me.

My personal choice would be for the simplest descriptions; either ‘immigrant’ or ‘emigrant’ both of which are felicitous to my circumstance. I am not ashamed to be an immigrant, despite its pejorative connotations for the small-minded. It is, after all, a factual description as I have immigrated to Spain; but I am equally comfortable with the term ’emigrant’, given the long tradition of emigration from Scotland to all parts of the globe; I am a Scottish emigrant who has chosen to permanently live in Spain.

So, when relabelling this particular person, please stick to the straight talking terms immigrant and emigrant.

Advertisements

The Myth of Santa Claus

23 Dec

Let’s start by stating a simple fact: Santa Claus is an entirely American invention and cultural export which has been popularised through American Literature, Hollywood film and advertising (eg Coca-Cola™).

The modern Santa Claus has nothing to do with the Dutch Sinterklass (Santa Claus coming from low German) and little to do with the much older Father Christmas tradition. Most of Santa Claus’ attributes were contrived from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St Nicholas” (a hotchpotch of largely unrelated anthropological data).

Yet, the popularity of Santa Claus owes as much to politics (the desire to reduce English cultural influences following Independence) and the national spirit of consumerism as it does to the schmaltz of Hollywood Christmas films and Moore’s poem.

If we contrast Sinterklass (St Nicolas) with Santa Claus, though both are said to bring gifts to children (as do the Three Kings in Mediterranean countries), they are completely different.

Sinterklass is a bishop (with a basis in real history), who supposedly lives in Spain whence he arrives on a steamship; he rides through the streets on a white horse during the day, and is aided by a black servant Zwarte Piet; he distributes his gifts on 6th December (the feast day of St Nicolas).

Santa Claus is a magical being with no historical basis, who supposedly lives at the North Pole, where he is aided by an army of elves; Santa rides a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer during the night of Christmas Eve and, mimicking Father Christmas, he distributes his gifts on 24th December.

Likewise, despite the much more ancient Father Christmas having been assimilated into the modern Santa Claus as though they were one and the same, contrasting Father Christmas’  original form with that of Santa Claus highlights significant differences between them.

Father Christmas was a personification of Christmas who was traditionally associated with adult revelry and drinking (showing his older pagan origins); with beneficence of feudal landlords to their tenants; and, later, with charitable giving to the poor. He had absolutely nothing to do with children or gift giving.

Santa Claus, who is seen as being not so much the personification of Christmas as of the “magic of Christmas”, is entirely associated with gift giving, and especially gift giving to children through the filling of their Christmas stockings. Some organisations (eg the Salvation Army, Rotary Club) dress their street collectors in Santa outfits in the run up to Christmas in an attempt to increase giving.

So what we have, in our time, is a Santa Claus who is a corrupted amalgamation of much older traditions, moulded by materialism and forged by infantile fantasy.

Santa – an anagram of Satan – only encourages selfish greed and (ever more elaborate) lying. His purpose, guised as a generous, harmless old man, is to divert attention away from the Christ Child and the mystery of the Incarnation.  Yet, without Christ there can be no Christ´s mass, just a celebration of the Winter Solstice, in which the rebirth of the sun is substituted for the birth of God’s only Son, with overindulgence and the accumulation of often wholly unnecessary possessions being the order of the day.

A Discussion with Nick Clegg

26 Sep

Today, I went to Event 52 of the Hay Festival en Segovia, which was held in the beautiful, old church of the monastery of Santa Cruz Real (which now forms the Aula Magna of IE University), to hear Nick Clegg in discussion with one of Spain’s pre-eminant journalists, Pedro J. Ramírez.

Clegg told the packed hall that he took full responsibility for the current state of the party and that he had learnt a lot. He regretted that what he saw as “compromise” so quickly was taken as “betrayal” by both left and right – but apparently without any inkling of the betrayal his own LibDem voters felt (and still feel) at his propping up a Tory government.

In his view, much of the problem stemmed from there not being any understanding or history of coalition politics in the UK.  This view is obviously fallacious in the case of Scotland, where he apparently had forgotten that his own party had been in coalition, first with Labour (1999 – 2007) and then with the SNP (2007-2011) – the proportional vote system being designed to exclude outright majority government – or, perhaps, he was doing as so many English politicians do, merely using “UK” as a synonym for England.

Furthermore, he claimed that as he goes round the country (has he been in Scotland since the election?) people are saying to him that they now see how the LibDems were protecting them from the full force of Tory government. Maybe, because I no longer live in the UK, I’m missing something as I cannot see any significant difference between the ConDem coalition and the current Tory government.

While he spoke engagingly, it is clear that he does not understand what has happened in Scotland (claiming it is nothing more than identity politics, which are the politics of grievance without responsibility as everything is someone else’s fault) and claimed (as did Ramírez) that the UK electoral system was unfair (which, of course it is) as the LibDems only got 8 seats when the SNP got 56 on a far smaller share of the vote (the exact same argument as used by another fringe party, UKIP!).

I challenged him afterwards (they ran out of time just before my question) for a) referring to the SNP as the “Scottish Nationalist Party” –  his lame excuse was, “Well, they are all nationalists”; and b) being disingenuous as the Lib Dems only had 7% of the vote to the SNP’s 50% in Scotland, given that the the latter only contest seats in Scotland. His response was that his using the UK vote share was justified as the SNP “disingenuously claimed to represent the whole of the UK” in the TV debates (which they did not). He had to concede, however, that the SNP had, thus far formed a strong opposition that has fought for all parts of the UK as promised.

I handed him an envelope, which he accepted, containing a printed copy of my open letter to him from 8th May.  I doubt he’ll like the content or pay the slightest heed to my views, but at least I know he is now aware of them.

I found him urbane, charming, engaging and likeable despite our not finding any common ground and I wish him well (which I could not on 8th May).

The Mausoleum Mystery

12 Sep

My ancestor, William Cunningham Cunninghame Graham (1775-1845) – better known in the family as “Bad Willie” – married Anna, daughter of the Ven. John Dickson, Archdeacon of Down, in 1798. They had 5 children before she tragically died in 1811, most likely in childbirth, at just 29 years old.

As the family burial ground at Gartmore had become rather full, the grieving widower had a stone mausoleum built, on the lakeside edge of the kirkyard at the Port of Menteith, to house her mortal remains until the sounding of the “Last Trump”.

Port of Menteith (2)

The Cunninghame Graham Mausoleum with Port of Menteith Parish Church

Despite there being six niches, none of the rest of the family has ever been laid to rest there. Even so, Anna Dickson is not alone.

There is a second coffin containing the body of another woman, who, coincidentally, also died aged just 29, but in 1814. This coffin contains the body of one Sarah Eliza Dickson. But just who Sarah Eliza Dickson was and how she was related to Anna is a mystery.

An entry in The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany (Vol 76 (2) p 879, which lists deaths in 1814, reads ” – At Gartmore House, Miss Dickson, daughter of the late Rev. Archdeacon Dickson, of Hillsborough.”, which would seem to suggest that they were sisters.  This is highly unlikely as, though Anna did have three sisters (an elder half-sister, Eleanor, an older sister, Jane, and a younger sister, Henrietta, –  of whom, the latter two were married), none of them was named Sarah or Eliza.  If she was a sister, why is she ommitted from the otherwise complete list of Archdeacon John’s eight children?

It is just possible that an unmarried daughter of Anna’s Uncle William (who was Bishop of Connor and Down) died while visiting Gartmore and was laid to rest beside her cousin. However, as the genealogies only give details of the bishop’s three sons but no information – not even a name – for any of the three daughters, such speculation must remain an unsolved puzzle.

The Magna Carta Myth

15 Jun

As children, we were taught that, by signing Magna Carta, the ‘bad’ King John was forced by his Barons to give essential liberties to his people.  So entrenched in the British psyche is this popular version that few batted an eyelid when David Cameron alluded to it (inter alia other gaffes (see here) in his jingoistic closing speech to the party faithful at their 2013 Conference. And that is what people all over the UK are going to be told they are celebrating today –  an iconic British achievement – the first ever granting of fundamental human rights.

But that is nothing more than an English myth foisted upon the populace by lawyers in the late 16th century (almost 400 years after the event), who craved the return of a non-existent “Saxon golden-age”, in which they believed had existed a constitution that had protected individual English freedoms that had remained in force until it had been revoked by the Norman invaders.  This myth that Magna Carta was at the heart of the foundation of English Law was further perpetuated by the 17th century jurist, Sir Edward Coke, who used it as a political tool in his attempts to curb the “Divine Right of Kings” claimed by the House of Stuart, who were not only Norman, but worse still, Scots!

Yet the facts do not support the Heatherdown and Eton version with which the juvenile Cameron was infused.  The bald truth about the original Magna Carta of 1215 is that it was essentially a failure.  To see why we have to debunk another myth and look at what really happened between June and September 1215.

John Lackland was not as bad a king as the English historians (and Disney) wish to paint him.  Much of the opprobrium heaped upon him was due to his regency of England during the time his popular brother, King Richard Coeur de Lion, was away on Crusade.  These crusades had to be paid for (and did not come cheap), so it fell to John to raise the necessary taxes, and later to fund his brother’s ransom.  But that does not mean that he was a good king.  Though he was an able administrator, he was justly criticised for  abusing his feudal rights and imposing heavy taxation to pursue a needless war with France, which he lost.  This led a number of Barons (aristocracy), with the support of the Church, to rebel in protest.  The rebels had achieved some miltiary success, including the capture of London, and were John to avoid an all out civil war, he would have to negotiate with his Barons.

To this end, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, drew up a Charter of 63 clauses outlining the Barons’ demands, which was presented to John on the island of Runnymede (which was close to both the rebel base at Staines and to Windsor).  Though both parties signed and sealed the Charter, neither side kept to the agreed terms.  The Barons refused to surrender London, while John immediately appealed to Pope Innocent III as his “spiritual overlord”.  The Pope responded by first suspending Langdon from office and excommunicating the rebels; he then declared the Charter “null and void forever“.  His letter (dated 24th August), which  arrived in London in September, was the spark that ignited the 1st Barons’ War.

John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his 9 year old son, Henry III. Henry’s regents reissued the charter – minus most of the progressive clauses – in 1217 as a bribe to the Barons to accept the Treaty of Lambeth.  It was reissued it in 1225 in exchange for taxation but, given that both versions were issued during Henry’s minority, its validity was questioned.  It wasn’t until 1297, when Henry’s son, Edward I reissued it that it had any real bearing on English law.  Yet, by 1350 – ie within just over 50 years – half of the clauses had fallen out of use.  By the end of the 19th century most of it had been repealed or superceded by new laws.  By 1969 only 3 clauses remained in force in English Law (Note – they have never had any effect in Scottish or Irish Law):

Clause 1 (1, 1297) – Guaranteed the freedom of the English Church.  (However, this was given an entirely new intrepetation during the 16th century by Henry VIII.)

Clause 13 (9, 1297) – Confirmed the liberties and customs of London and other boroughs.

and

Clauses 39 & 40 (29, 1279) – “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.  To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” (This was blatantly broken in the case of the trial of Charles I, who as a “free man” was denied trial by his peers).

Despite the claims that Magna Carta introduced “due process” into the law (a system that was dropped by English law but retained as a fundamental aspect of American law), it only applied to a small minority of the populace and mainly benefitted the nobility and clergy.  Despite the fact that trial by jury was introduced by Henry II for civil cases during the preceeding century, the importance of Magna Carta is how later law-makers, ignorant (accidentally or wilfully) of its original meaning, anachronistically reinterpreted it to suit their own period and agenda.  Furthermore, while clause 29 it still is on the statute book, it has in large part been superceded by Article 5 of the Human Rights Act, 1998 (which ironically Cameron, in a fit of English nationalism, wants to repeal!).

Magna Carta, even had it successfully remained in statute, would have had absolutely no effect outside of England and Wales.  Foreign influence was not even achieved by the Magna Carta of 1297 until the 18th century when the fledgling United States used the century earlier misinterpretation of it as a foundation for their Constitution.   It was this same mythologised version that inspired the UN Declaration of Human Rights, rather than the actual document drawn up by Langdon.

So is it really a great British achievement, as claimed by Cameron, that is being celebrated?

Despite its being garbed in the Union Flag and dressed up as British, Magna Carta was written long before the creation of the United Kingdom (long even before the Union of Crowns) and has never applied to Scotland or Ireland (despite their being in political union with England and Wales).  Thus, the answer has to be a “NO!” as resounding as that to the openng lines of the English Hymn, Jeruslem:

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green:
and was the Holy Lamb of God,
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?

What is being celebrated, in true English style, is a monumental flop, which under some jingoistic delusion has been transformed into a kind of fabled success that sets England above the rest of the world.

Weird Weather

5 Jun

Let me start by saying I work in a wine distributors in a small city.  The city lies on the Castillian meseta but within a stone’s throw of the Sierra Gaudarrama.  Usually, the weirdest weather we get is snow in June (and that only but once in a blue moon), but today was perfectly normal; warm (28ºC) and sunny with a scattering of puffy, white cumulus.  So the weather phenomenon I experienced this morning came as a complete surprise.

It started while I was out in the bodega, stacking a pallet for this morning’s deliveries.  As I was immersed in selecting the boxes of wine listed on the delivery notes, I heard a strange sound.  I couldn’t work out what it was it, so I went out into the shop to investigate.

My first thought on entering the shop was that someone was cleaning our window with a high pressure hose as that is what it both looked and sounded like.  Naturally, I rushed to close the door to avoid the inevitable flood. But as I got closer I could see that it was sand that was blowing in, not water.

When I reached the door, which I rapidly closed, I saw a mini-whirlwind (complete with vortex – about 2m high) sucking all the sand up out of the area in front of the shop and spinning it around.

It lasted less than 2 minutes and vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  The only sign that it had ever been – apart from the mini-desert that had taken refuge in the shop – was the rocky nudity of our normally, sand clad tow-away area.

That’s the first whirlwind (or dust devil) I’ve ever seen; and I got to see it right up close too.  However,  I certainly don’t want to see one any bigger than that,  at least, not anywhere that near.

An Open Letter to Nick Clegg

8 May

Dear Nick

I suspect you were surprised by the results of the 2015 General Election.  I wasn’t.

Many of us who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 did so to help keep the Tories out.  Consequently, we were delighted when the outcome was a hung parliament and horrified when you blythely went into coalition with David Cameron.  We, many of whom had voted Lib Dem for many years, simply felt betrayed.  But you never even showed any inkling of understanding this in your stampede to become “Deputy Prime Minister” –  an artificial position that is bestowed at the whim of a Prime Minister.

I said then that, had I been a Scottish LibDem MP, I would have immediately renounced the Whip and become an independent Liberal on the grounds that had my constituents wanted a Tory government they would have voted Conservative.  It is striking that not one of your Scottish MPs had the integrity to do so.

While we are on Scotland, you had ample warning of what was to come as, in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, your MSPs were reduced by 2/3 to just 5.  Of course, you compounded your crime, as far as Scotland was concerned, by joining in with the Tories in the very dirty “Better Together” campaign and did nothing to counter the triumphalist breaking of the vow, which you (along with the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband) supposedly had signed up to, the moment the vote went your way.  This made many in Scotland believe that you (and your party), if not explicitly, tacitly approved the Tory policy of treating Scotland as a colony rather than as the co-equal partner in Union that the Treaty and Acts of Union legislated.

But let us return to England.  As I said at the outset, many of your voters felt betrayed by your coalition and were far from convinced by your claims that the Lib Dems were ameliorating Tory excesses – especially when you glibly cast aside manifesto promises to appease your new boss, David Cameron.  To many of us, you appeared less a restraining force than a pampered lapdog: Cameron’s pet Yorkie – all yaps and no bite.

The electorate showed their disdain in 2014 when you lost all but one of your MEPs in the European Parliament elections.  But you blindly clung on to the vain hope that we would all come round and forgive you, rashly trusting in the predictions of forecasters like Iain Dale and the personal popularity of your Lib Dem MPs to save their seats.  In the end, not even you were able to hold your seat on that basis but had to rely on tactical voting from your Tory pals to save your skin!

But that proved a forlorn hope as the electorate gave vent to their lack of trust in you and your party and left you with the worst election results since Jeremy Thorpe in 1970 and the loss of your coveted, long-held 3rd Party status.  Congratualations!  In the course of a single parliament you have reduced the Liberal Democrats from the third force to a fringe party.

You might have stood a chance of holding some of the seats you lost to Labour had you not made the foolish promise not to be part of any coalition that involved nationalists, thus joining Ed Miliband in rushing headlong into the trap the Tories had set for both of you.  That for me was the final nail in the coffin of any lingering pretence that the Liberal Democrats were a progressive party – you had become nothing more than a right-wing lickspittle.  And that is why you could not save any of the seats you lost to the Tories – why would anyone settle for pseudo-Tory when one can have the real thing?

As noted earlier, you had already decided to sacrifice your Scottish MPs on the altar of a wee bit of power – if you did not realise that at the time, it should have become clear to you in 2011 and 2014 – not having listened carefully enough to the electorate to realise that you might desperately need those 11 seats to retain any credibility.

I hope you enjoy your time on the backbenches watching your party either condemn itself to another 5 years of oblivion as it plays second fiddle to the Tories or languishes in splendid isolatation from any real opposition role through your refusal to work with those parties which are truly progressive (two of which are nationalist and have formed an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens) that, given Labour’s track-record in the last Parliament of being little more than nodding donkeys, will form the true opposition to the new Tory government.

Regards

W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore