Friday, February 29, 2008

Cry God For Harry

You took on the Establishment, and won.
Now do your job, come home safe, and please accept my apologies for anything negative or insulting I've ever written about you before - for you're a braver man than I am.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Scottish Nasty Party

To deploy a metaphor which will hopefully have Auld Baron Beam Me Up's lugs burning, the Scottish National Party (Boo! Hiss!) has managed to score not one but two own goals within the space of 24 hours.
And what own goals they are - for they expose the heart, the very essence, of what the SNP considers what it is, what it really means, to be 'Scottish'.
First up is the Germanophile former history professor Christopher Harvie MSP, who has probably been forced to apologise for describing Lockerbie as a 'dump', and for saying that, in the words of the BBC,
"Referring to the dress-sense of young Scots, Mr Harvie also suggested Sports Division founder, turned philanthropist, Sir Tom Hunter, made his fortune from selling "what must be the ugliest clothes worn by anyone on the entire continent".
Although he rightly deserves to be the butt of any number of satirical epithets - 'The Tube from Tubingen' and 'Knickerbocker Harvie' are two that immediately spring to mind - he has done Scotland the service of exposing one crucial fact about the Scottish National Party; its members cannot just leave the Scots alone to be Scots as they are and not as the SNP would like them to be.
Harvie says Scottish youngsters are somehow 'bad', somehow not keeping the side up, by wearing shellsuits; the only appropriate answer to that is to demand of Harvie what business it is of his what young Scots wear. Would he rather they went nude? Is he embarrassed to bring his sophisticated former colleagues from Germany to meet the very people who honoured him through his election?
Come to think of it, just why was it necessary for the SNP to parachute in expatriate academics in order to fight elections? Can't they find enough supporters in Scotland? Is this like the Berlin Airlift in reverse?
Harvie's comments are just like every announcement that Kenny MacAskill, Justice Secretary and Copfighter-General, makes about alcohol. I cannot help but think MacAskill really does want to create a Southern European cafe society in a cold, Northern European country where it rains for 300 days of the year. It's never going to happen, but MacAskill's zeal for the project can only be described as Jacobin. According to MacAskill, the virtuous Scot drinks only lightly, in a social setting; and if Christopher Harvie has his way, he'll be wearing loafers and a turtleneck.
But the second gaffe is even better - for it comes from the gaping, guppying mouth of Alex Salmond himself.
He has apparently given a lecture this evening, lambasting broadcasters for - failing to show enough of Scotland's football matches.
Stick it to them, Alex! Bread and penalties! That's populism for you! And never mind what Christopher Harvie said about shellsuits! A man's a man for a' that! And, oh, aye- we're a' Jock Tamson's bairns!
The First Minister of Scotland hardly dignifies his office by criticising the amount of fitba' on the telly - or indeed by assuming that anything like as many Scots as he seems to think actually care about the sport - but his use of the phrase 'frankly unacceptable' to describe coverage of an activity which is, at root, nothing but a game shows the very nasty, authoritarian streak that lies just beneath the surface of Scottish civic nationalism.
For if the level of coverage remains 'unacceptable', First Minister, what will you do? Order them to show it? Is this a distant hint of how government relations with the media might operate in a separate Scotland? You'll show what we tell you to show - and you'll shut up about it?
That's a very slippery slope that leads to 'You'll report what we tell you to report - and you'll shut up about it'. It may be the case that Alex Salmond does not believe that a free media is one that's free to report his version of history - but if his comments tonight are anything to go by, his views seem to be slightly, well, offside...

Daniel Hannan On Islam

Daniel Hannan MEP begins a commentary in today's 'Daily Telegraph' entitled "Muslims are trying to prove their loyalty" thus -
"Every day, outside my central London flat, I walk past women wearing the hijab. We smile at each other and usually exchange a friendly word.
Not so long ago, local people would have viewed such dress as provocative: the symbol of an alien religion. But Londoners are a tolerant lot and, as the years have passed, they have come to see the veil for what it is: a sign of personal devotion.
The veiled women in question are, of course, the Roman Catholic nuns who run the local homeless centre."
Presumably, Mr. Hannan has been fortunate that none of the Catholic religious he has encountered were involved with Interahamwe.
His comparison is specious. The cowl is not a hijab; it is worn as a mark of holy orders, of a woman's vocation to become a bride of Christ. A female Muslim believer might don the hijab as a mark of personal devotion to the teachings of Mohammed; but one has never seen a Catholic laywoman in a cowl. Come to think of it, as time passes it becomes harder to see a nun in one as well.
Mr. Hannan continues,
"It is easy to forget how recent and powerful a force anti-popery was in British politics. The restoration of a Catholic episcopacy in the 19th century led to riots across the country. And such feelings lasted well into the 20th century, even at the highest levels of politics.

Ernest Bevin once shared a railway carriage with a priest in a soutane and was so thrown that he kept making a sign to ward off evil and muttering "black crows".'
Maybe not very nice; but the same Ernie Bevin was the father of both the British bomb and NATO. If his anti-Catholic prejudices were components of the ideology that led him to those achievements, then British Catholics have much to thank him for.
Mr. Hannan continues,
"Catholics in those days, like Muslims today, were seen by many as potential fifth columnists. Just as Britain now seems to be engaged in an undeclared war against jihadist terrorism, so it spent the greater part of the 17th and 18th centuries in a state of semi-permanent conflict with Europe's Catholic powers."
It seems only fair to point out that for most of those centuries, the Catholic powers of Europe fought each other like cats in a bag. After the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 ended Europe's religious wars, the notion of 'the nation-state' began to dominate balance of power thinking without any really specific 'us' versus 'them' religious context to it. Indeed the gloire-hunting perpetual brat Louis XIV would have gone to war with his shadow if it led to the advancement of France; a caste of mind which prevented him coming to the aid of the extremely Catholic Habsburgs when the Ottomans were camped at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 - one conflict which The Sun King preferred to watch from behind a cloud.
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"The historian J P Kenyon likened the mood to that of the Cold War. In the 1950s, Western Communist parties, however much they loathed Stalin, were stigmatised as pro-Moscow, and even mainstream socialists were not always trusted. Similarly, during the 17th century, British Catholics were feared as papal agents, and even high church Anglicans often came under suspicion."
The 'red hats under the beds' analogy is one I've used before - although precisely what force Mr. Hannan feels his argument gains from comparing suspicion of Communism, an activity one would have thought wholesome, with ancient, pre-ideological suspicion of Catholicism escapes me.
He goes on,
"A sense of being under siege makes people look anxiously for enemies within. This is the root of what Lefties call "Islamophobia". You won't find many commentators attacking, say, abstinence from alcohol, or the hajj, or circumcision. Their worry, rather, is that British Muslims, to use the allegation traditionally thrown at British Catholics, might be "loyal to a foreign prince".
This is a topic upon which I have written at some length. The best advice one can give to anyone who feels thus persecuted is - get over it.
Mr. Hannan continues,
"In both cases, the charge is unfair".
As a universal charge it's absolutely unfair - as a charge against individuals, however, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's absolutely fair.
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"Most British Muslims have about as much in common with Mohamed Atta as most contemporary British Catholics had with Guy Fawkes, a jihadist who had been radicalised in foreign wars."
I'm sure this is, again, absolutely true - but one of the two most disquieting factors in discussion of the modern jihad is that we can all have a laugh at Guy Fawkes, The Great Papist Bogeyman, burn him in effigy and make insightful comparisons between his gang and modern jihadists; on the other hand, the carnage wrought by Atta is still raw, fresh in the memory - and Mr. Hannan and a very great many others would do well to remember that Fawkes failed where Atta succeeded.
The other, of course, is that there seems to be absolutely no normative difference, in either style or intention, between Osama bin Laden's declaration of jihad in 1998 and Urban II's call to crusade in 1095. Both used religion for the advancement of policy; and neither cared about who got hurt in the process. The modern jihad is nothing less than a form of crusade; it deserves its proper name.
By the way, has there ever been an authoritative fatwa condemning Bin Laden? Just a thought...
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"But Catholics of that era understood that, unfair or not, the charge had to be answered courteously and patiently. So they made great play of their patriotism, flying the flag from their churches, ostentatiously praying for the monarch of the day until, in the end, the accusation of divided loyalties was belied by the lists of Catholics on war memorials. In the phrase of the time, Catholics "proved their loyalty".
Perhaps it's a generational thing - but I have never seen the Union Flag flown from a Catholic Church in the west of Scotland, nor heard prayers for the monarch therein. One can only think that Mr. Hannan is conflating 'English' with 'British' - an unfortunate and tedious oversight.
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"There is evidence that British Muslims are trying to do the same thing. Consider, for example, the reaction when Gillian Gibbons was arrested in Sudan after calling a teddy bear "Muhammad". The phone-ins were jammed by angry British Muslims, the Sudanese embassy picketed by women in hijabs.

Why did Muslims in Britain demonstrate when their co-religionists in, say, Bahrain and Brunei did not? Because they felt connected to Mrs Gibbons as Britons. They were protesting against the mistreatment of a fellow subject."
And very commendable too.
Mr. Hannan continues,
"Consider, too, the recent plan to kidnap and behead a Muslim Serviceman. Quite rightly, attention was devoted to the vile men who had conceived the plot. But the fact that hundreds of Muslims are serving in the Queen's uniform in the first place was deemed un-newsworthy.

Although it is rarely reported, nearly every Muslim organisation regularly enjoins young men to join the Armed Forces. Several imams have gone so far as to declare that a Muslim soldier who dies fighting for Britain, even if in conflict against fellow Muslims, is a martyr."
It might be just be slightly ever more civic if the old lie were not re-written as 'Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Et Pro Deus Mori'; anything else is a giant step back to pre-Westphalian times. On the other hand, if such thinking advances the development of civic Islam then it can only be a sweet and noble thing. One only hopes no young man loses his life testing the theory.
On the other (third) hand, perhaps such injunctions should be discouraged. If there is the slightest scope for such declarations being interpreted as indicating that, as Muslims fight for it, then Britain is a Muslim land, then that would be a catastrophic civic failure.
Mr. Hannan continues,
"Of course there are fanatics who reject Western values and who maintain that the Koran is incompatible with liberal democracy. Curiously, they have allies among some Western conservatives, who also like to put the most extreme interpretation they can on Muslim doctrines.

Did you know, for example, that death by stoning is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran? Its scriptural sanction comes from the Old Testament. But, read any internet discussion, and you will find two sets of people claiming that stoning forms part of Islamic jurisdiction anyway: Islamic fundamentalists, and anti-Islamists."
This is a common problem amongst critics of uncivic, militant Islam. The Ottoman practice of 'blood tax' is often cited by the more rabid anti-Islamists as an example of poor religious corporate governance; that by some accounts it died out in the 17th Century, however, does not deter them from mentioning it.
Similalrly, the practice of taqiyya, otherwise known as the encouragement of dis-simulation by Muslims in civic affairs, is assumed by many to be Koranic, when it's (very possibly) not - the earliest absolutely definitive reference to it that I've seen is a fatwa by the Mufti of Oran to the Moriscos of Spain in 1563. Some of the more extreme Muslim elements will deny that it has ever formed part of Islamic doctrine, which is simply not true; but it would not appear to be an ab initio doctrine either.
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"I have yet to meet a Muslim constituent who wants such punishments in Britain. On the contrary, the refrain I hear from them again and again is: "This is the best country in the world for Muslims to live in."
One wonders whether the fact that this might be because this nation's culture is, despite ideology's best efforts, still rooted in Christianity like an oak in the ground crosses their minds. One hopes so.
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"It is true that you don't always get this impression from Muslim NGOs. Although their spokesmen condemn violence and terrorism, they then often tastelessly tack on criticisms of British foreign policy. Such criticisms may or may not be justified, but the aftermath of an atrocity is no time to voice them."
In a society whose leaders seem to believe that we are all atomised little economic units - for why else would they treat us as if we are? - one wonders just how much of the 'concern' expressed by Muslim NGO's reflects their own concerns, or of those who pay their bills. We couldn't have a situation where foreign governments are attempting to use religion to influence British policy - could we?
Mr. Hannan goes on,
"Few Muslims, however, share their obsession with conflicts that are as remote from their ancestral countries as from Britain. My fellow Euro MP, Syed Kamall, is a good Muslim: he keeps the fast, tries to pray five times a day and does his best to bring his sons up with a full understanding of his faith.

But he becomes impatient when people try to drag him into arguments about Palestine, Kashmir or Iraq. "I was elected to represent London," he says. "The future of Iraq is for Iraqi politicians to decide."
Well said, Mr. Kamall.
Mr. Hannan concludes,
"David Cameron, who has spent a good deal of time talking to unpolitical Muslims, has obviously sensed their temper. He knows that his rejection of sharia will be cheered by most Muslim Britons, who have been feeling uneasy ever since the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks. He knows, too, that his attack on forced marriages will offer moral support to many Muslims who have been campaigning against them.

Many British Muslims chose to come here. According to opinion polls, they are likelier than Christians to feel loyal to Britain (as opposed to England or Scotland). They will surely respond to David Cameron's definition of Britishness as "a confidence in the history and the institutions of our country, a basic belief that we're lucky to live here". They, of all people, know how true that is."
And he was doing so well until the last sentence...
There is absolutely nothing exceptional about the immigration experience of Muslims into the United Kingdom. They possess no particular insight into the benefits of living here which can in any way be classed as being superior to that of previous generations of Irish, Italian, Polish or Huguenot immigrants and refugees. To even suggest that they do lays one open to the suspicion of Muslim exceptionalism.
One looks forward to Mr. Hannan's next commentary, hopefully a re-affirmation of Britain's deeply Christian heritage; and his acknowledgement that, although Christians may have done bad things to themselves and others, in this country they have done very much that is good as well.
We all know it's true, after all - but for once it would be nice to hear a politician actually say it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Empire of Bureaucrats

is now up on The Devil's Kitchen.

The Louse That Roared

It seems easier than hiring policemen.
"O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Swindler's Mother

What Do Simon Heffer, Alex Salmond, Gerry Adams And Abu Hamza All Have In Common?



Thursday, February 21, 2008

British Emigration

The only reason that the 'Daily Telegraph' doesn't state as to why so many British people emigrate is the most glaring - the United Kingdom has bred a culture of emigration for itself.
No country in the world has ever been as determined to rid itself of its own people without recourse to violence as the United Kingdom has been. Few countries have been as lax at developing a concept of a 'body politic' as the United Kingdom has been.
Having been encouraged both to think of themselves as individual economic actors and that 'there is no such thing as society', it's hardly surprsing the British make these kind of decisions.
Continued emigration is just 200 years of dud economic theory coming home to roost.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No Surrender

If We End Up At War With Russia Over Kosovo...

then I hope the idiotic moron (or should that be moronic idiot?) of a 'senior Western official' who thinks it would be 'worthwhile' is first in the line of fire.
Like the poor, the balance of power is always with us; and it serves no strategic interest of the UK to have its Russia policy dictated by a need to employ more clowns than Chipperfield's.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Although he might not be available...for a while...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scotland's Third Reich

One of the best lines produced by Norman Davies in his book 'Europe: A History' is his description of the Munich Crisis: "(u)nder pressure from the ruthless, the clueless combined with the spineless to produce the worthless".
This is also a fair description of the behaviour of the Unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament.
Historians of the future might one day describe that body's first two terms as its 'Weimar' period, a time when every got drunk on the novelty of pay and perks, when we could tolerate the likes of Tommy Sheridan in our public life and feel good about ourselves for doing it; a time when we did nothing to stop the danger brewing in our midst.
Is Alex Salmond Hitler? No, of course not. Is, however, his form of nationalism nay less dangerous than the other kind? Well...
Consider this - when a terrorist attack was alleged to have been carried out at Glasgow Airport, according to the BBC the best that Kenny MacAskill, 'Justice Secretary' in the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government', could say was that "the suspects were not "born or bred" here but had lived in Scotland for a "period of time...(f)or any suggestion to be made that they are home-grown terrorists is just not true," he added."
Yet when Mohammed Atif Siddique, who really was 'born and bred' here, was convicted of terrorism offences, MacAskill seemed to have nothing to say. It is as if the event had not happened, that the conviction did not exist.
Why? Simply, Siddique's actions did not fit in with Scottish civic nationalism's credo that 'a man's a man for a' that'. This credo has led MacAskill's and Salmond's party to accept as a candidate for Parliament a man who has previously called for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate to be considered. If a Roman Catholic SNP candidate were to call for the re-establishment of Christendom or The Papal States, they'd be shouted down in a flash as a religious bigot or a crank; so why are they so tolerant of a candidate who seems to be at the least, shall we say, confused in his priorities?
For unless their candidate has revised his views, both he and Mohammed Atif Siddique seek the same goal by different means- the extension of Islam into the sphere of temporal power. But a man's a man, for a' that, don't you know...
It would be dreadfully cynical to suggest that Salmond's own desire for power has led him to make strange bedfellows; but sadly there are times in the histories of states and nations when cynicism is the order of the day.
Alex Salmond seems willing to do anything; say anything; make any promise to get power.
Even his degree might have given us a clue. It is in medieval Scottish history and economics. Scottish medieval history is full of gangster noblemen; we are entitled to ask if these are his role models. One might as well study the life of Al Capone instead of that of Robert the Bruce for insight into how to run a modern democracy.
'A man's a man for a' that' is, like Blood and Honour, one of the shakier foundations upon which one can build a civil society; its value is entirely dependent on the whims and prejudices of the man. If you don't agree with Salmond's Scotology, are you somehow not a real Scot? Nor a man?
This is what is frightening about Salmond. The definition of 'Scottishness' is left entirely to him and his group. What are traditional Scottish values? To this Scot, they seem to be the following; peculation, violence, drunken-ness and religious intolerance. Perhaps this is an example of 'Scottish cringe'; but is it entirely without merit? Haven't, or should one say don't, peculation, violence, drunken-ness and religious intolerance played and play a bigger part in our history than in those of other nations? That's what I see; although as ever I am open to correction.
Massimo d'Azeglio's comment that 'having made Italy, we must make Italians' applies as much to Salmond and his New Model Scots as it does to the citizenship of some phantasmagorical entity called 'Europe'. I am concerned that the children of Scotland are being brainwashed; there is no other word to describe the process by which so many Scottish teenagers seem to pronounce that 'Alex Salmond's a great guy' with such glassy uniformity. If the Nationalists have been indoctrinating schoolchildren then one day they will pay - maybe not in this world, but some day, for they have corrupted a nation's youth as surely as the National Socialists corrupted the youth of Germany.
Another feature with Salmond's administration shares with the Third Reich is its disregard for legal norms. The absolutely scandalous way in which he spent public money proclaiming his administration to be the 'Scottish Government' was violence against the British Constitution; an event not dis-similar to the Reichstag fire in its intent - building support for yourself by disregarding the law. In May 2007, the Scots did not elect a 'government', but an Executive with tightly defined powers; so he has no business describing that Executive as something it is not. Salmond's disregard for conventional norms, and his consistent trampling on the jurisdiction of Westminster, makes one wonder whether or not he and his camp are really democrats at all. I can still say that in Scotland - can't I?
And then we come to Berwick...
The constitutional status of Berwick does not seem to have been in dispute for a very, very long time. It has been in England since 1482; it is an English town; and that is that. If one did not know better one would assume that Scottish nationalists are not too heavily engaged by the business of governing Scotland, for they seem to have time on their hands.
Yet Salmond has a piece in today's 'Scottish Mail on Sunday' entitled 'We would be very happy to welcome the people of Berwick back home'. Although this palaver is about oil, his use of the word 'home' is eerily redolent of the language of 'Anschluss' and 'Lebensraum'. This is yet another example of him making trouble; but this time the trouble is about land and assets. This time it's really serious.
And whilst Norman Davies's phrase is donnishly sophisticated, the failures of the Unionist parties to clamp down on Salmond's rampage through the constitution can be summed up in one word. The Scottish Nationalists might say 'consensus'; I prefer 'appeasement'.

A Black Day For Scotland

One can only hope that Kosovo's unilateral and illegal declaration of independence does not give Auld Baron Beam-Me-Up ideas.
Gordon Brown has indicated he wishes to see a "Scottish powers review".
So do I. Let's repeal the Scotland Act; and having got rid of that hateful and wasteful bothy at the bottom of Edinburgh High Street, we can turn our minds to more pressing matters.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gentle Differences On Welfare

is now up on The Devil's Kitchen.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Danger Of Forgetting

In 'The Times', Daniel Finkelstein has invited that newspaper's contributors to name 'the greatest mistake in British history'.
It's depressing to see an astrophysicist opine that "the worst mistake in the history of the human race, let alone Britain, was the replacement of hunter-gathering by agriculture, which fuelled rapid population growth, urbanisation and disease"; and a peer of the realm that we fell down by failing "to have a revolution in 1848."
Exercises such as this are usually so fatuous that it's difficult not to join in. For what this writer's opinion's worth, one of our greatest mistakes was failing to prosecute the Great War to the gates of Berlin. If Germany had been occupied - nah, make that crushed - in 1918, a great deal of subsequent unpleasantness could have been avoided. Chalk another one up to the liberals.
Similalrly, we have a very bad habit of hanging on to ideas long after they've outlived their initial utility. The theory of 'free trade' arose as a reaction to the negative effects of the Corn Laws; the repeal of those laws should have led to a revision of that doctrine. However, that never came, and the consequences have provided Correlli Barnett with four decades' worth of source material.
In the same vein, the Beveridge model welfare state has now extended, octopus-like, into areas into which it was never intended to go. Our welfare laws, originally products of well-meaning Christian socialism, now manage to be neither well-meaning, nor Christian, nor socialist. By incentivising people to stay dependent, they have precisely the same effect as the Poor Law Amendment Act, in that both serve to keep the poor in poverty. The workhouse mentality is as alive in 2008 as it was in 1834; the only difference between then and now is that the occupants don't work, aren't scared of it, and are allowed to keep their own hours - and there is absolutely no normative difference between Caroline Flint's suggestion that residents of social housing should "seek work as a condition of their tenancy" and Sir Charles Trevelyan's description of starving Highlanders as "idle".
What amazes me about the whole Clear path to water-gate is just how quickly we have forgotten that we used to think that Islam was dangerous. For many people, Islam in the UK is represented by the bearded old farts, all apparently in desperate need of a shopping spree at 'Top Man', who are wheeled out to chunter the leathery, yellowing myth that Islam is a religion of peace; when they know, and we know, and the most cursory study of European history shows, that it is anything but. Most British Muslims probably couldn't care less about the jihad; but as a Christian, 'There is no god but Allah' sounds just a wee bit too much like 'We have no king but Caesar' to my ears for comfort.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Memo To The Archbishop of Canterbury

is now up on The Devil's Kitchen.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

Does anyone really care?
Regardless of who ends up with which nomination, it's doubtful that the next president will deviate from the Bushido of the last eight years to any great degree; so why bother working up a sweat?
In his book 'Europe', Norman Davies uses the expression 'bulimia politica' to describe Russia's relentless eastward expansion. To paraphrase him, they ended up with more land than they could ever use and yet they still wanted more.
Whoever wins the White House will be a globalist; and globalisation, that gypsy in leprechaun's clothes, is nothing but "bulimia oeconomica", borderless capital's relentless desire for profit wherever it can find it. Regardless of who wins, jobs will still be outsourced and mass migration will remain uncontrolled. These are the main planks of the policy, not a process, known as 'globalisation'; and not even wars and recessions will break them.
May God Bless, And Keep, America.

Ramblings On Law And History

As someone who reads a lot of history, one tends to find that the most enjoyable voulmes are those written by schoolteachers. With very honourable exceptions such as Colin Jones and Fred Anderson, some professors seem intent on trying to make the facts fit their own ideologies (or perhaps state the viewpoint they imagine that those who fund their chairs want to see).
On the other hand, 'The Making of Modern Europe 1640-1780', by Geoffrey Treasure, sometime Head of History at Harrow, is an absolutely wonderful analysis of this critical period in our history. I put that book down wishing I could afford to buy more of Mr. Treasure's works.
'The Rise and Fall of The British Empire', by Lawrence James, sometime Head of History at Sedbergh, is the best warts-and-all analysis of British Imperial history that I've yet come across.
And the most comprehensive book on British economic history I have yet to read is 'Society and Economy in Great Britain 1700-1850' by Richard Brown, a teacher in Bedfordshire. Mr. Brown succeeds in making his topic gripping, which I imagine is as about as good an accolade as a lay reader can give a book on economic history.
None of these gentlemen have the same media profiles as a Niall Ferguson or Simon Schama; yet nonetheless, the consistently high quality of their scholarship means they deserve to be known as historians first and teachers second.
Mr. Brown's book contains a quote from Lord Mansfield to the effect that he considered the law's duty to be to 'assist and not frustrate' the doings of the mercantile class. Mansfield died in 1793.
In 2008...well...
"Some of Scotland’s top business and legal brains are to consider what can be done to make the Scottish legal system more business friendly.The Business Experts and Law Forum is a new working group, which has been given the broad remit of looking at ways of encouraging businesses to: choose Scotland as the seat of their business and legal activities; use Scottish lawyers; and choose Scotland as the jurisdiction of choice for dispute resolution...
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “I want to ensure that our legal system and legal institutions are geared towards the business community both in Scotland and further afield.
“I want to look at how we encourage business organisations, large and small, to use our legal services. Scottish accountants and financial services can compete globally. There is no good reason why our legal services cannot also do so.”
Plus ca change...

Wha's Like Us?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Shropshire Lad

is now up on The Devil's Kitchen.

Notes, Please

Having recently read one book by each, one would have to say that Michael Fry is not as enjoyable an historian for the lay reader as either Eric Richards or Allan Massie, but definitely more enjoyable than T. M. Devine. This is an entirely subjective opinion, and probably the consequence of their subject matters' relative complexity as much as their writing styles.
Fry's book 'Wild Scots' is a bit of a curate's egg. It has one of those blinding flashes of insight that stay in the reader's memory long after the book's back in the library, his 'hopeless fidelity' remark. He has quite a few good lines, in particular his description of the late John Prebble as a 'bloodhound of lairdly misdemeanour'.
But to my mind it's a flawed book. His principal contention is that the 'Highland Clearances' were a very much more gradual and consensual process than had previously been believed, part of a process of greater change. Of course they were - they were nothing but a form of enclosure, a process without which the Industrial Revolution would never have happened. The late Robert Heilbroner made precisely that point about the Clearances in Chapter 2 of the 7th edition of 'The Worldly Philosophers'.
Now, I don't have 'Wild Scots' in front of me; but if memory serves (and as usual I stand to be corrected if wrong) Fry makes the case that most tenant removals were not violent or contentious, and then almost immediately describes those in Strathnaver under Patrick Sellar as a 'clearance' in the classically understood sense of the word. Although it didn't spoil the book as a whole, to my mind it did rather weaken the case Fry was trying to make; and makes one wonder whether the case was really worth trying to make in the first place.
Fry, a former Conservative and Unionist candidate who now apparently supports Scottish separatism, has a piece in today's 'Sunday Times Scotland' (which does not seem to have been reproduced online) entitled 'Union will end within 10 years'. In it he makes an absolutely astonishing claim about Scotland's prisons-
"(Inmates) go in fine defaulters and come out heroin addicts".
It's been a long time since I practiced criminal law; but I only ever remember seeing fine defaulters get sent down for an alternative period of imprisonment of seven days, which in reality was three or four days on account of early release. Obviously the length of the alternative period of imprisonment increases in line with the fine; so it is perfectly possible that a person may go into prison as a fine defaulter and come out a heroin addict - if they've been in for six months.
But I would be very interested to know just what evidence Mr. Fry has seen that enables him to claim that fine defaulters, the vast majority of whom serve no more three or four days in jail, go inside clean and come out with smack habits; and if such people actually do exist, how many have been recorded.