Reflections on Brexit

7 Jul

 

Now that a fortnight has passed, I’ve had time to calm down, reflect and analyse the monumental Tory Party omnishambles called Brexit, and so here are my views.

What is becoming abundantly clear is that the Leave campaign not only did not expect to win but didn’t actually want to – as is made glaringly obvious by the fact that they did not have any plan following a Brexit win. Cameron, was confident enough of a Remain win that he didn’t even bother to have a ‘Plan B’ for the worst case scenario.

It appears that what they were hoping for was a very slim Remain majority (as Farage demonstrated by his rant at the close of polling), which could be used to call for a vote of No Confidence in David Cameron, triggering a leadership challenge that would install Boris Johnson as PM. Thus, it was never really about the EU, but about fending off UKIP at the 2015 General Election and who should lead the Tory Party (a beauty contest between repugnant and repulsive).

While the Remain campaign tried a re-run of Project Fear (seemingly without realising that there was no one behind whom David Cameron’s personal unpopularity could be hidden or that, unlike in Scotland in 2014, they were having to contend with a hostile press), they hardly covered themselves with glory in terms of honesty or openness. However, the Leave campaign, slogans over substance, have been accused of lying to the electorate “on an industrial scale” – misrepresentations which the Leave leaders all renounced or distanced themselves from within 24 hours of winning.

Though Leave narrowly won in England and Wales, Remain won comfortably in Northern Ireland, convincingly in Scotland & London and devastatingly in Gibraltar. While Unionists love to harp on about the divisiveness of the Scottish Independence Referendum (and never more so than now, when a second one is increasingly on the cards), they are strangely silent about the divisiveness of the EU Referendum. And divisive it has been, with a 500% increase in race-hate incidents; the potential break-up of the UK (which some Leave campaigners like Melanie Phillips see as a price worth paying for English sovereignty); divisions in England between North and South; and Wales showing Bregret, having, too late, changed their mind!

Now the architects of this debacle have all fled the field. First to fall on his sword was the Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose Cammiekazi resignation sunk Boris Johnson’s leadership challenge hopes as he, knowing how necessary the EU is to the UK’s banking sector and trade (see his quote on the EU from Feb 2016!), would not want to be the one to invoke Article 50 (mind you, he was helped out of his dilemma by his back-stabbing pal, Michael Gove). Nigel Farage, having openly incited xenophobia, steps down as leader of UKIP, not for the reasons he gave, but because his party has become an irrelevance now that its sole aim has been achieved. One wonders who the BBC will find to replace him as their favourite bigot at large.

And as for the rest of the “retro-nationals” (as Juncker has described them), IDS, Priti Patel, Lexit have all gone into hiding, while the also-rans Gove, Fox and Leadsom are squabbling over BoJo’s fallen sword, as the country looks on with increasing dis-May.

Then we have Labour. First, there is Lexit – funded entirely by rich Tories and the Tory (UKIP just being Europhobic Tories on steroids) led Brexit campaign – showing the usual arrogant, top-down, we-know-best campaign style so beloved of New Labour (despite its disastrous fallout in Scotland).

If that were not bad enough, instead of capitalising on Tory disarray, the Blairites decide to try and execute a farcical “chicken coup” that was so inept that a primary school class could have done better. What makes it even more ridiculously pathetic is that they had set up Angela Eagle’s leadership website some 10 days prior to the Referendum and briefed the Tory press about their cabinet resignation plans ahead of time.

The wonderfully expendable Angela Eagle was to be the stalking horse to be sacrificed in a leadership contest against Jeremy Corbyn (who refused to stand down), despite the 172 long knives and Rupert Murdoch’s urging people to join Labour to get rid of Corbyn (a plan so half-witted as to be risible – folk are joining Labour in increasing numbers just to vote for him!), the conspirators all meekly crawled back into Jeremy’s Shadow Cabinet when their supposed coup de maître suffer a coup de grâce.

And so the country lurches on through uncertainty; the pound and markets fluctuating and inward investment  frozen until the Tories have chosen a new leader; the Loyal Opposition progress from indulging in kindergarten politicking; and, should a government  ever get round to invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty instead of irritating the EU (not the best strategy to get the best deal for the Untied Kingdom), perhaps the process of untangling 40 years of EU membership can begin; and plans for what a post-Brexit Britain might look like as the island fortress of England sails off to an imaginary past somewhere to the west of Iceland.

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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.

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 the eve of 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.