Monday, December 31, 2012

Out With The Old...

May the coming year bring you all every peace and happiness. 


Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favourite Christmas Movie...

would be a cinematic salmagundi in which the hobbits and the Jedi (perhaps even with Jedi hobbits: someone out there has already beaten me to the idea) join forces on Deep Space Nine with James Bond, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Mr. Tumble, the blokes who give the Royal Institute Lectures and the choir of King's College, Cambridge in order to do battle with an evil alliance of hobbit Sith Lords, Predators, and assorted characters from BBC dramatisations of Jane Austen novels (each one of which has been, in my experience, a very worthy effort and fit for anything but watching) which is intent on destroying humanity's profound relationship with that pinnacle of human achievement known as the Boost bar, with Mariah Carey singing 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' and Kimberley Walsh dancing a Charleston.

Well, I'd want to see it.

May you all have a  very happy and holy Christmas.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two Names I Never Want To Hear Again

The first is Celtic.

The second is Rangers.

And neither will ever be mentioned in this space again.


Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bad Law Made Badly By Bad Lawmakers For Bad Reasons

The suggestion that Angus Sinclair may be retried for the so-called 'World's End' murders is, in my view, an extremely sad one, heralding as it does the advent of an era in which any citizen who has ever been acquitted of any crime will now never be free of the shadow of process.

The abolition of double jeopardy in Scotland is a law which, in my opinion, was pushed through Holyrood by the SNP solely in order to enable Sinclair to be retried in an attempt to gain popular support for itself in the Lothians area (the crimes were committed in Edinburgh).You can bloviate about 'centuries old liberties' as much as you like, but the reality of the situation is that double jeopardy had stood untouched for many centuries until the SNP took office. They can't blame Blair or the Tories for abolishing double jeopardy. Double jeopardy has nothing to do with the oil. Double jeopardy has nothing to do with the Highland Clearances. Double jeopardy has nothing to do with the grandiose wind expelled by Alex Salmond about Scotland taking its rightful place among the nations. The abolition of double jeopardy means, that, to my mind, the only group of nations which a Scotland divided from the Union would be likely to take its rightful place among would be those in receipt of negative reports from Human Rights Watch (one of the more extreme ironies of the times in which we live is that the civil liberies and human rights of the Scottish people are under violent and prolonged assault, getting battered, getting a doing, at precisely the time when we have more human rights lawyers than at any other point in our history; in this really quite dark hour, it is up to them to determine whether future historians will examine their actions and find them wanting). 

Double jeopardy was there once, and now it's not there anymore, because a Scottish Parliament allowed a Scottish Executive formed from the Scottish National Party to remove this essential legal protection from the Scottish people. By acting in the way they have, they prove to me that they do not consider the civil liberties of the Scottish people to be the property of the Scottish people. They consider them to be the property of the SNP instead. If they cherish liberty, they would not have done this. They say we are not free, yet they pass laws which oppress us, for it is an oppressive law. There are no two ways round it. There is no way of tarting it up as having been enabled by improvements in forensic technology and then accessorising it with a lot of flashy 'ifs' and 'buts'. Even although there is apparently a 'new evidence' test, the door towards oppression has been opened by just that first little crack, and such little cracks always get wider. The law abolishing double jeopardy is now on the books. That's the step that matters. The limited circumstances under which a second prosecution can be mounted after an acquittal can now be changed at the whim of a Scottish Parliament. It used to be an absolute of our law, and it's now entirely in the hands of a group of people many of whom have never won an election. By behaving in this way, they prove to us what a Scotland divided from the Union would be like; in the immortal words of Samuel Johnson, it would be one in which "Slavery is now nowhere more patiently endured, than in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty".

That is the nature of their vision for us: always keeping one eye over our shoulders. It was not enough for them to abolish double jeopardy; it was abolished in such a way that the citizen is at risk of re-prosecution even if they were originally acquitted of the offence for which it is proposed they be retried before the abolition of double jeopardy; in other words, it doesn't matter when you were acquitted in relation to the date of double jeopardy's abolition, you are still at risk of retrial. It will not be long before that part of this law is struck down by the European Court of Human Rights. It's what the SNP does then that will be really interesting.

More than any other, that act, the act of oppressors, is the Scottish National Party's most gross act of bad faith towards the Scottish people in this matter. There is no other way of putting it. There is no other way of describing this pustulent manifestation of the Scottish National Party's contempt for, if not outright hatred for, the Scottish people. It is bad faith, pandering to the ignorance of those who shout 'We've not had justice!' when their real desire is for vengeance, those who not only fail to understand but also seem never to have been properly instructed that justice in our courts is dispensed by those courts for the benefit of all, not for the sole benefit of victims. That the legal fact that a crime against one is a crime against all is so widely misunderstood or indeed unknown is part of the tragedy which has led Scotland to this pass. When a crime is committed, it is committed not against the victim but against the law; and if you mess with the law in order to get what you want, someone else will suffer. Not in the same way as you have, if that matters to you at all, which it probably doesn't, but in other ways, and some of those people whose suffering is coming will have done nothing to merit having that suffering being imposed on them; and you'll have helped bring that suffering on them, by having shouted 'We've not had justice!' when you don't know what justice in this country really is, and people have been too polite to point that out to you.

The position now is that acquittals have changed from being conclusive in fact and in law to merely being moot points; the permanence of acquittal has ceased to be a judicial prerogative and has become a prosecutorial prerogative. There is no doubt that this is an oppressive law, one which will very possibly lead to the status of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service changing from being mere litigants before the court like any other to being the final arbiters of guilt or innocence; for they may one day be able to prosecute you until you've had enough and just plead. Being a law of the Scottish Parliament, it has presumably been drafted less intelligibly than the efforts of a TOEFL class in Alma Ata: mediocre legislative draughtmanship has been one of devolution's depressing constants. It's not just a bad law, it'll probably be a badly written law into the bargain; I've seen takeaway restaurant menus which have been composed with greater gravity of purpose and care for clarity than many laws of the Scottish Parliament.

The abolition of double jeopardy and the proposed abolition of corroboration, urged on by the more shrill rape charities - conclusive acquittal is now a matter in which 'Yes' definitely can mean 'No' - are our first steps down the wynds and vennels which will lead to tartan tyranny. There is no doubt in my mind of that. No matter what it says the SNP is not inclusive. They will say all things to all men to get what they want, for sure, but the civic narrative they will unfold is one over which they plan to hold complete editorial control, perhaps even, in my view, going so far as to criminalise the act of criticising the leader of the SNP. It's certainly a personality cult. They've already diluted the franchise by extending it to 16 years olds for their SurveyMonkey referendum, they've already abolished double jeopardy, and they propose to abolish corroboration - given that they've done and are doing all that, have effected and are effecting such radical changes to our way of life, why wouldn't they make it a crime to criticise Alex Salmond?

And if they can't get at you directly, will they try and get at you through your sons instead? That's the sort of people I think they are, you know.

Upon the creation of the Irish Free State, it was the reddest of red hot republicans who joined An Garda Siochana, the body which bears the greatest civic guilt for the perpetuation of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the Republic of Ireland; the republic had to be a success, and so therefore not only did it have to have law but it also had to be seen to have law. The Irish would therefore be law-abiding, whether they wanted to be or not. The founders of An Garda Siochana are the absolute proof of Flaubert's maxim that inside every revolutionary there lurks a gendarme. An Garda Siochana is a national police force; the SNP has abolished the eight Scottish regional forces and created the Police Service of Scotland. Let us hope it will be at our service, and not the SNP's.

The Scottish National Party is proving itself to be of precisely the same stripe as those who founded An Garda Siochana, gendarmes lurking inside revolutionaries: and pretty unpleasant, pretty oppressive gendarmes at that.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

William Shakespeare On Mistaken Identity

'Cinna the poet - 
'I am not Cinna the conspirator'

Fourth plebian - 
'It is no matter, his name's Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going'. 

Third plebian - 
'Tear him, tear him! Come, brands ho! fire-brands:  
to Brutus', to Cassius'; burn all: some to Decius'
house, and some to Casca's; some to Ligarius'.
Away, go!'

'Julius Caesar', Act 3, Scene 3.

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Aatish Taseer On Football Forums

"It was not just disgust at their hatred for the Jews and Israel, but at the smallness of my father's world, the homogeneity of the place, in which people voiced ugly opinions without challenge: a safe area for casual hatred"-

Aatish Taseer, 'Stranger to History', p. 309. Mr. Taseer is a very fine writer whose work I feel I am in some way cheapening by quoting it in the context in which I have; yet his phrase 'a safe area for casual hatred' really is just about the only form of words capable of properly describing those spaces in which truly unspeakable things are written in Scotland every day under the guise of discussion of football. 

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All You Need To Know About The Soi-Disant, Ersatz 'Scottish Government's' Attitude To Civil Liberties

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Good Librarians

This wonderful story came to my attention earlier this year. I found it very affecting. You might as well. 

At the start of his country's civil war, Dr. Mustafa Jahic, the director of the Gazi Husrav Beg Library in Sarajevo, decided to do what he could to preserve that very large part of Muslim Bosnia's cultural patrimony which had been placed in his charge; so he and his staff, including the cleaning lady and the night watchman, carried thousands of books from hiding place to hiding place, across and around the city, braving sniper fire for years in order to save books. Just books. Again and again and again they carried a library of priceless books around a city at war with itself because they thought it was a good thing, the right thing, to do; and it was good, and they were right, and anyone and everyone who presumes to describe themself as being civilised should know Mustafa Jahic's name.

Ever the dutiful scholar and diligent administrator, even when having to find out the hard way that Jewish and Christian gravestones provided better cover against sniper fire than those of Muslim design, while he was organising those hellish strolls in the cause of saving his (and therefore our) culture Dr. Jahic decided that it would be a good idea for the Gazi Husrav Beg's collection to be microfilmed, in case the worst came to the worst and the books were lost: so he found a man named Mustafa Music, who had a microfilming machine, and they set about microfilming the lot. Given the circumstances under which he was working, Dr. Jahic's dedication to his duties was extraordinary.

Dr. Jahic has said of his efforts that '(b)ooks are our past, our roots. Without the past, we don't have a present or a future', and he's dead right, of course. He and his staff, including his incorrigibly courageous night watchman Lotumba Hussein, a Congolese immigrant who was willing to brave the sniper fire of modern Europe's most vicious racists in order to save the culture of those who were firing at him, took the idea of civilised behaviour and elevated it to a level to which, given the circumstances under which they did so, none of us should ever aspire to reach. To even know that men such as Dr. Jahic and Mr. Hussein have been so brave, have been called to be great in their own way and not been found wanting, in the cause of saving items so many other people so casually disregard as books really does make one very appreciative of the peace in which one has been able to live one's own life. 

If the rest of us were just one tenth as civilised as they are, our world would be an infinitely better place.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

On The British Approach To Excellence

My wee boy's very dance oriented, and addicted to 'Strictly Come Dancing', which of course means I get to be addicted to it as well (and my money's on Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev to win it: she is a very talented dancer, and his choreography for their Charleston last night was perfect, so cleverly co-ordinated to the music that it looked beautifully simple, meaning that what it really was was beautifully comprehensible).

Darcey Bussell is one of the judges this year. Ms. Bussell is a former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, and you would therefore think that she knows as much about dancing as just about anyone else alive. Taking that line of thinking one step further, you might also think that people watching a dance contest would want to hear what she has to say about the quality of the dances being performed. 

However, some elements in the studio audience have booed her for making what they presumably perceive to have been negative or derogatory comments about contestants' performances, when her observations have been positive advice given positively regarding possible improvements in technique. 

As well as being crassly ill-mannered and boorish, this jeering of such a distinguished dancer for daring to dispense advice on dancing is really very depressing, if only because it makes me envisage stern paternal lectures having to be delivered in the years ahead on the necessity of listening to experts. Dancing is not an imprecise science: it has defined rules which have to be followed in order for it to be done well. The whole rationale of 'Strictly Come Dancing' is that celebrities engage in a dancing competition. In order for them to be able to dance as well as they can, they require to be given advice, and nobody is more qualified to give it than Ms. Bussell. Why then should she be booed for doing so? What insolent presumption do those jeering her feel they are indulging, when in expelling wind from their lungs in that manner they are denigrating the years of training and discipline which Ms. Bussell has dedicated not merely to the art but also to the craft of dancing? 

It doesn't speak well of the British approach to excellence, that's for sure. We can all have favourite contestants, for sure, but they might not be the best dancers. The name of the game is for the best dancer to win. The whole show is an exercise in fostering excellence. Who, then, can attend an event designed to foster excellence, presumably in the hope of seeing excellent performances, and then deride a judge with a formidably excellent record when she tries to foster excellence? I can't understand the thought processes at work in some of these people. They should dance the show in front of cardboard cut-outs. Maybe an animatronic audience would be better. Somebody call Peter Jackson, he might have a few spare clockwork orcs just lying around. They'd be just as lively an audience, and probably better behaved.

There are times in life when everyone expects excellence, such as when we're going to the theatre, or about to go undergo brain surgery. There are some people, like Ms. Bussell, who live and breathe excellence as a way of life from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to bed. Yet if we expect excellence at opposite poles in our lives, from matters so grave they are quite literally life and death down to the footling pursuit of our own entertainment, why don't we expect excellence in every aspect of our lives? Why don't we deliver excellence ourselves in everything we do? Is the vast area between these two aforementioned poles just one great grey glob of mediocrity?

The studio audience of 'Strictly Come Dancing' are only there to sit on their backsides and watch a dance contest. It's a pity that some of them can only manage to be mediocre even at that.


'The Shooter'

I think the time has finally arrived when the pursuit of mere good taste, never mind any deeper desire for things to be given their proper name, that bugbear of clear thinkers as diverse as Thucydides and Orwell, for the phrase 'the shooter' to be expunged from common English usage. 

It is too anodyne, too antiseptic a noun to describe the individual who murdered Charlotte, Daniel, Rachel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dawn, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Anne Marie, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Lauren, Mary, Victoria, Benjamin and Allison yesterday. It doesn't shock enough. It is the sort of word that only a confessional, therapeutic culture determined to avoid the consequences of personal responsibility at all costs would use to describe a person who ends twenty-six lives (even although two victims were aged over fifty and one was in their late forties the average age of the victims was still only 10.4 years) in the manner in which the individual who murdered the staff and pupils of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut did yesterday. No matter how many euphemisms you try to find for it, murder is murder is murder; and people who commit murder are usually known as 'murderers'. To describe the murderer who carried out these murders of all murders as 'the shooter' somehow just isn't strong enough. It is disrespectful to his victims, as it suggests that they were not murdered; and it is perversely disrespectful to him, as it lends insufficent gravity to his clearly murderous intentions.

If the murderer wanted to spoil everyone's Christmas, he has failed. He must be made to fail. They must get the Christmas they were looking forward to. It is the very least that they deserve, and the very least that can be done for them now. It will not be the same, for sure; for those most directly affected, this time of year will never be the same. But even in times as dark as these for those poor families, there must be hope. Even now, there must be hope that it wasn't pointless, that it wasn't purposeless. The murderer certainly wasn't purposeless. His grim purposefulness in taking life has to be met with an equally purposeful determination to embrace life, to overcome this most unimaginably horrible adversity. He and all others like him must be shown, they must have it shoved in their faces, that hope and love and goodness and kindness always, always win. Whenever and wherever hope and love and goodness and kindness show up, the internal horrors which spring from a cultureless culture devoid of any creativity, any nobility or any kind of merit whatsoever disappear into the oblivion in which they rightly belong.

Not being an American, it's not for me to comment on the thicketed nuances of Second Amendment jurisprudence. However, two questions, principally for Federal lawmakers, spring to mind. 

The first is, 'You guys authorise drone strikes on terrorists who've killed fewer people than the Newtown murderer. When will you start properly classifying such episodes as Newtown as atrocities?'

The second is, 'When will you actually start getting sick of murderers shooting up schools? Put another way, how many dead schoolchildren can your culture, your political model and its dynamic, actually handle? Put yet another way, is dead children, not aborted foetuses but school age children, the price of freedom as you define it?'

Thank God for God at times like this; and thank Him for that most encouraging, most comforting revelation that this place we live in is not all that there is, and that those who are no longer here live peacefully and wondrously happily in another, infinitely better place. It helps one believe that although one phase of many lives has come to an end another, infinitely better one has just begun for them all; for after all, there is no need for schools in Heaven.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Scottish Civic Nationalism's Very Dangerous Game

"One would imagine that the view of the European Commission regarding whether a Scotland divided from the Union would become a member of the EU automatically or would require to apply to join, sorry, negotiate the terms of its entry, would be final; and if that final view is that the appropriate supplication, if not downright abasement, has to be made then the Scottish civic nationalists would just have to pucker up"

Well, the European Commission has spoken - with the Monty Python foot.

Jose Manuel Barroso's cussed refusal to publicly acquiesce to  Alex Salmond's view that a Scotland divided from the Union would automatically accede to the EU has shot that duck quite dead in the water, and the only sounds to have emerged from the Scottish civic nationalists since then have been a few furtive quacks of rage at the dying of the light. 

Ever the good party man, John Swinney went down to London two days ago and took a spanking for the team from the House of Lords like the good soldier he is. It maybe didn't occur to him that contradicting Barroso is for all practical purposes tantamount to contradicting the European Commission; he is, after all, its president, the officer who speaks for it, and, who knows, he might even have taken the advice of some of its own lawyers before making his pronouncement. Presidents come and go, of course, but bureaucrats are forever, and I don't imagine the Commission's might take too kindly to their interpretation of their rules being publicly contradicted so soon after its president has stated those rules definitively. Swinney's slavish adherence to the party line might not be forgotten should the time ever come when Scotland has to apply to join the EU. 

The Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, did not exactly cover herself in glory in Holyrood today by appearing to 'soften' the Scottish civic nationalists' views even further. The analogy she used to illustrate the apparent ease with which member states can change territory and still remain members of the EU, that of reunited Germany, is so frivolous it doesn't bear consideration: if memory serves, Germany was reunited in the autumn of 1990, while the EU came into being in 1992. She appeared to use the analogy of a territory which was expanding in size before the EU became a legal entity to illustrate the opportunities available to one shrinking in size two decades into the EU's active life. That just does not compute. 

However, I can see the Scottish civic nationalists taking this debate down a very dangerous path, one which they would be well advised not to walk; that of suggesting that any division of Scotland from the Union would result in the remaining UK losing its EU member status on the basis that the territory which formed the original contracting party had diminished; that membership of the EU by a UK which does not include Scotland is insupportable, Scotland having been an integral part of the UK at the time membership was obtained. Although from their point of view it would be a logically consistent position to take, it constitutes one can of worms they do not want to open. 

What is noticeable about this debate is that, to my knowledge, the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' hasn't ever pushed the view that if an independent Scotland were to automatically, if not miraculously, become an EU member state upon independence it would also inherit all of the current UK's other international memberships. However, as nice as it would be for them to attend the UN General Assembly that position would also entail inheriting membership of NATO, and for some of them that would be a step too far - 'No Nukes in Bothyneuk', and so on. It would be interesting to consider whether the rump UK would remain a member of the G8. If it did, that would only go to show how comparatively little economic activity is actually taking place in Scotland, maybe something for the Scottish civic nationalists to consider. 

Yet if they do go down the road of declaring that all of the UK's treaty obligations would be null and void, they would be placing themselves against those few genuine triumphs of British diplomacy of the past few years. 

Like the Good Friday agreement. 

That's maybe something for them to think about; or rather, something else for them to think about.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

David Cameron's Desire To See The Church Of England Ordain Women Bishops

I shall take seriously the Prime Minister's stated desire to see the Church Of England ordain women bishops, which is just what a desire to see women being enabled to hold its highest clerical offices really means, when he calls for the Bullingdon Club to admit females.

I do not ever recall any other Prime Minister making their personal views upon a matter of church governance so public. To my mind, his statements can only be interpreted as attempts to browbeat the church round to his way of thinking. This seems a rather shabby way to treat the C of E, a course of action intended to try to get those who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are motivated by the Holy Spirit to do what you want.

That would be a very arrogant, prideful course, for he would be attempting to push his own views on to a group of people who adhere to an established church, not a state-controlled one. I hope he understands the difference.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Upon The Suggestion That The Syrian Government Is Preparing To Use Chemical Weapons

While they might be bad bastards, Assad and his guys are not mad ones, not by any manner of means. They will not use chemical weapons for the same reason that the Iranians have never launched an attack on the Israelis; they know that if they were ever to do so they would immediately lose all residual international support, self-starting the countdown to their own demise.

It was regrettable to see this nonsense being retailed by William Hague, the same very same William Hague who not so long ago predicted that Colonel Gaddafi was on his way to Venezuela. The presence of the Gaddafi gaffe on his record should make the reasonable reader suspicious of every such comment that Hague utters, and the particular gravity of the allegations that he has made about the Syrians means that they should be taken with especially great care.


Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Blue Light

John Lofthouse.

Next time any of you are driving westbound along the M8 motorway at night, near the Townhead interchange, keep an eye out for a five storey building on the left hand side of the road from which will be shining only one blue light. That blue light will be shining from the westmost window on the third floor. 

That building is the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital, and the shining of the blue light means that its neonatal intensive care unit is, thank God, in all His infinite goodness and mercy, still open for business (and the blue light will be coming from a UV lamp being shone over some poor wee soul who's developed infantile jaundice). If any readers of this blog are men living in Glasgow who wish to become fathers but have not yet done so, take it from me that it is the one room in this city you should not ever wish to enter. To have to do so means that you are living a nightmare, the most horrible experience of your life. The only consolation of having to do so will be receiving the very great privilege of not merely seeing but also interacting with the people who work there, masters of the rawest, edgiest form of medicine there is, the care of critically ill patients who are completely unable to communicate. These folks aren't just doctors, nurses and midwives; you must need the nerves of astronauts to be able to do what they do.

I saw my son for the first time in that blue-lit room, at a quarter to six in the morning, a perfect little human being covered in sensors and wires, his mouth visibly the same shape as his mother's; and to my shame I still do not know the name of the surgeon who delivered him, that Indian maestro who saved both his and his mother's lives.

What sort of person makes a 'prank' call to a hospital at half past five in the morning? During the thirty hours that my wee boy lived in that blue-lit room, and all throughout the twenty-six subsequent days of his stay in the Princess Royal, the staff who cared for him were available to talk 24/7, no matter what else they had to do. It seems to me that only someone who has no understanding of what goes on in places where pregnant women are treated for complications arising from pregnancy could actually bother nurses trying to treat two people sharing the same body for no cause higher than their own or others' entertainment. That's what the phone call made to the King Edward VII Hospital by Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the one answered by Jacintha Saldanha, was all about - having a laugh, a prank, a joke. To a maternity ward? At half past five in the morning? For a joke? 

For a laugh? 

The regard in which Sister Saldanha was held by her employers and colleagues is plain, and it's just so sad that she should have passed so soon after two desperately thoughtless and clearly not very creative people, situated on the other side of the world, should have taken such a monstrous liberty with her professionalism. For it was because she was such a good professional that she did answer the phone. In working environments like hers, you don't get to be as well-liked by your colleagues as she was by not answering the phone at half past five in the morning. For all she knew, the people on the other end of the line could really have been anxious relatives keen to enquire after the welfare of a beloved daughter or daughter-in-law. The idea that she was really speaking to a pair of paid slackers with no qualms about disrupting serious people engaged in serious work probably just wouldn't have occurred to her; after all, what right-thinking person would actually do such a thing?

It's just such a pity that those two people elected to impose themselves on Sister Saldanha in that way, for she is not their only victim. If her passing is in any way connected to the actions of Mel Greig and Michael Christian, then I would think it highly likely that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be unable to recall their wait for their first child without considering the extremely sad consequences which have followed from the actions of two of their more undoubtedly second-rate future subjects. They may be privileged and so on and so on, but they are also expectant parents, and as entitled to enjoy that experience as anyone else. Greig and Christian might just have diminished the joy to which a young couple in their position are entitled: I hope they enjoyed their joke. 

The ultimate tragedy is, of course, for Sister Saldanha's family; may God be with them. Yet the staff of the King Edward VII Hospital have also suffered a loss. As one very clever consultant paediatrician once explained to me, in words which should be etched in stone on every surface in every place where human beings have to work together to achieve a common goal, what affects one person in such a place affects every person in such a place. Her passing will leave her colleagues with more work to do, but they will pick up the slack and get on with the job because they are professionals, serious people engaged in serious work; there are sick mothers and babies to be cared for, and there will always be as great an abundance of them as there will be of idiots with too much time on their hands.

Next time you see the blue light, whether it be in Marylebone or Townhead, think of Sister Saldanha. As long as it's shining, it means that there are still people like her abroad in the world - and that means that the world still just might be a better place than you imagined.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Scottish Civic Nationalism's Great Big Referendum Problem

This is one I haven't had time to blog on before now, but given its enormous implications it's well worth revisiting. 

The soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' has been permitted to frame the single question that will be posed in the so-called 'Independence Referendum' to be held in 2014. That question is, 

This is a wholly emotive question, designed to provoke an emotional response to the solution of a legal problem, for the Scottish civic nationalists' proposed division of the Union is fundamentally a legal problem;  they propose the repeal of the Acts of Union, and the primary consequences of such an event would be not emotional but legal. No matter how many Saltires are painted on how many faces, at some point somebody would have to get to grips with the red tape and the small print.
As the question which has been framed does not refer to the Acts of Union, it is not hard to imagine a Westminster government refusing to consider itself bound by any public vote founded upon it; a particularly cynical response to a majority 'Yes' vote in favour of the framed question would be 'That's nice', and any government that did issue uch a response would be well within its rights to do so, if only because the question does not address the legal issues at stake in any way, shape or form. 

If I were a paranoid man, I would almost be tempted to think that the question was deliberately framed in that foggy, gloopy, deliberately emotive manner precisely in order to provoke that very response, with that response then being used as an excuse to disrupt the smooth operation of Scotland's public life while the referendum question would not drag but be dragged on and on and on. If that were the case, then any executive which set out to disrupt the administration they were elected to lead could only be accused of acting in the utmost bad faith, their intention being bad governance rather than good; but that wouldn't ever happen here in Scotland, for a man's a man for a' that, and we're a' Jock Tamson's bairns.

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Scottish Civic Nationalism's Great Big Sovereignty Swap

One would imagine that the view of the European Commission regarding whether a Scotland divided from the Union would become a member of the EU automatically or would require to apply to join, sorry, negotiate the terms of its entry, would be final; and if that final view is that the appropriate supplication, if not downright abasement, has to be made then the Scottish civic nationalists would just have to pucker up.

I await the publication of the Commission's letter to the House of Lords with great anticipation. One cannot imagine all those other new small member nations being willing to share the dripping from the roast without at least a bit of a struggle. If it is the case that the Commission gives Salmond and the rest of them a red face by contradicting the legal advice they may or many not have taken, it would deal a fatal blow to his reputation as a political operator.

And that is an event that cannot come a moment too soon.

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Scottish Civic Nationalism's Great Criminal Legal Aid Fiasco

By provoking solicitors, possibly the most conservative of all professions, into industrial action in the form of boycotting court sittings, Kenny MacAskill, aka 'The Copfighter-General', 'Justice Secretary' in the kitsch Cabinet of the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government', seems to have made a stunning botch of the whole criminal Legal Aid thing; a botch for connoisseurs of botches to savour. 

That no contribution is payable towards the provision of Legal Aid by an accused person is one of the few very few absolute goods contained within the criminal law of Scotland, and in my view my former professional brethren were absolutely right to take a form of action that many of them would have found extremely distasteful. They are not all shysters, hucksters, Billy Flynn types. Many of these men and women actually do care about niceties like the presumption of innocence, and the rule of law, and that the freedom of legal process from state interference is an absolute safeguard against the advance of tyranny, regardless of its accent. Whenever it commences a prosecution in Scotland the Crown is backed by the limitless resources of the state, while an accused person must seek the permission of the same state, through its agent the Scottish Legal Aid Board, to obtain reports which may be critical to the success of his defence. MacAskill wanted to encroach even further on to the accused's right to a defence and require that any accused person with a disposable income in excess of £68.00 per week be required to contribute to the cost of that defence (one presumes that he does not do his own shopping, nor has had to buy nappies for some time). 

Not being one of life's natural poker players, it seems he's blinked on that one and raised his offer to £82.00 per week; a difference of two pounds a day, far less than what I understand to be the minimum mobile phone top-up of £5.00, but worth approximately the same as two 'Boost' bars and one copy of the 'Daily Mail'. That is just about all that you can buy consistently, on a daily basis, with fourteen extra pounds per week, what you can spend two pounds buying every day; two 'Boost' bars and a 'Daily Mail'. Ten cigarettes now cost in excess of three pounds, while one bottle of beer, depending on the off-licence you buy it in, is about £1.10 - £1.20, and the cheapest quarter bottle of wine I've seen recently was on offer at £1.50; and at that price, I wouldn't use it for mouthwash, the smallest bottle of which I've seen comes in at £2.00, and at that price you put it into your mouth with a pipette. Somehow, MacAskill's apparent magnanimity does not seem to represent the proudest moment in the history of the Scottish Government.

To push your country's lawyers into a position whereby they feel they have no option but to boycott the courts is the sort of thing one might expect to hear of happening in societies suffering existential distress; The Lawyers' Movement, those very brave lawyers who stood up to be counted in Pakistan in 2007, are the most famous example of the breed, but their colleagues in Egypt have also taken action, and now even Egypt's highest court is getting in on the act. It's timely to remember MacAskill assumed office in 2007, and during his tenure what is to my mind the extremely authoritarian character of the criminal justice policies favoured by the Scottish civic nationalists, whoever they are, has become clear, and one is filled with foreboding about the type of society we would have to endure were we to live in a Scotland divided from the Union and governed according to the principles of Scottish civic nationalism, whatever that is. Double jeopardy, that oldest of safeguards against persecution masquerading as process, has been abolished. Scotland's separate police services have been consolidated and centralised, a move advertised as being necessary on the grounds of economy but one which in practical terms would enable a malign, ill-intentioned executive to exercise greater political control over the police - why deal with eight Chief Constables when you can ensure you only have to deal with one? It has been suggested that the requirement for corroboration be abolished, presumably to assist in prosecutions for domestic violence, an area of criminal law already electrically charged (that genuine domestic violence happens is beyond dispute, I have had to advise too many women crying from blackened eyes to think otherwise: wherever it genuinely happens it must be prosecuted, something the law isn't good enough at yet, and whether it ever can be is a whole different can of worms: yet I'm always a little wary of pushing it to the front of the policy agenda, so directly in your face that husbands and wives feel restrained in their interactions with each other, the threat of being reported for domestic violence acting as an impediment to exchanges of views; there is no easier way for a malign, ill-intentioned executive to criminalise marriage, to make the sexes wary of each other and impede the development of loving and fruitful relationships, to isolate people from each other completely, than to turn married people into criminals).

My own view, one I've probably repeated quite often, is that it would be a Scotland in which the only acceptable views on Scotland and the Scots would be those sanctioned by Scottish civic nationalists. In that respect, Scotland would become in the early twenty-first century what the Republic of Ireland became in the early twentieth - a small, oligarchic society in which both nation and nationality became objects of inordinate pride, leading many of its nationals to become fixed on where they had come from instead of where they were going to, the only available perspective very quickly becoming the one offered by the rearview mirror, leading in time to its nationals evolving an extreme sensitivity to criticism of the nation even when they reside elsewhere. It is that aspect of recent Irish history, not the false prosperity of the paper-fuelled paper Celtic Tiger era, that offers Scotland and the Scots real lessons, and very solemn, very grave warnings, on what can happen when militant nationalists seize control of the mechanisms of cultural and educational formation.

All of these guys, wherever they are found, are extremely authoritarian, and our mob are no different. By continuing to style himself 'First Minister' and not 'Prime Minister', I believe, I think, that Alexander Salmond, Tartanissimo of the whole damned crew, is engaging in a gigantic act of intellectual dishonesty; if he leads a Scottish Government and not a Scottish Executive, and if the members of his kitsch Cabinet are Secretaries and not Ministers, why then does he think Scotland does not deserve a Prime Minister and should make do with a First Minister, and why does he not then style himself Prime Minister accordingly? Why does he, of all people, persist in the use of what I presume he believes to be the Unionist style of 'First Minister' used by Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell? Why does he choose to use the same title they used? Is it because he prefers the title 'First Minister'? Or is it an act of the coldest possible political calculation, a deliberate recognition that his adoption of the title of 'Prime Minister', one that would be absolutely intellectually consistent with his faction's other tinkering with titles, would be a step too far for far too many Scots to take? 

If he's already had the business cards printed with a view to handing them out in 2014, I hope he's kept the receipt. The future of Scotland and the Scots is far too important, far too precious, a thing for it to become the plaything of a very small group of very authoritarian people who, in my opinion, seem far more motivated by the chance that the end of the Union would bring opportunities for them to be photographed on the world stage than in actually improving the cultural and economic life of the nation. That Alex Salmond might get the chance to address the UN General Assembly as Prime Minister of Scotland is not in itself a prospect worth dividing the Union for. 

Yet none of this will help MacAskill, the former solicitor who drove the staid solicitors of Scotland to the barricades, solve the problem of the criminal legal aid budget. I do not wish him well in his pursuit of a solution to his perceived problem, if only because justice will suffer from the imposition of any solution he might care to impose. He has driven the solicitors of Scotland to the type of action that their colleagues in other lands have felt the need to take when faced with tyranny and official lawlessness - and it is depressing to realise that the irony of this will probably be lost on him. As the executives in Egypt and Pakistan drove their lawyers to strike, so our executive here in Scotland has now driven our lawyers to strike; and no matter what, I hope it stays in the historical record. Depending on who's writing it, I wouldn't be so sure.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012


As long as any new code is written without the assistance of News International, I couldn't really care less what happens.

If statutory regulation does come, perhaps it'll be called 'Hugh's Law'; or even 'Steve's Law'.


David Cameron's Spouting Of Nonsense To The CBI

As some private matters have had to take priority for the past couple of weeks I'm a bit behind the curve on this one, but the Prime Minister's equation of the state of economy with wartime conditions was so flatutently overblown that it couldn't pass without being the subject of comment at the earliest opportunity. 

He was, of course, whipping up the Confederation of British Industry, the country's most powerful trade union, into a frenzy over red tape, historically not the hardest of tasks. His apparent lack of understanding that red tape is probably only there because somebody who has to take responsibility for things has determined that it's necessary in order to prevent businesspeople from acting in a thoroughly irresponsible manner, rather than in the merely moderately irresponsible one which seems to be the common default mode of many, is a little troubling, for it suggests a certain lack of knowledge about how organisations work in the real world. As any good car mechanic will tell you the best view of the guts of any machine is always had from below, because from that perspective you see what goes where and why. But there's no reason to suppose that he ever should have gained that perspective, given that his only experience of work outside of politics has been as a PR man for a television company. 

Being a PR man for a television company seems like a bit of a cushy number - while the British have good cause to complain about the quality of much of the television they receive, the activity itself remains popular; far too bloody popular, if you ask me, given the consistently, and increasingly, outlandish nature of much programming. I'm sure he worked very hard at it, but it can't have been as difficult as being a PR man for a firm of manacle manufacturers. Now that would be a challenge, and no matter what you might think of the type of person who would take that task on you could never criticise them for not having the courage of their convictions.

Yet thae idea that a period of peacetime economic difficulty is in some way similar a way of life that involves having to run out to the Anderson shelter in case Hans and Willi actually manage to drop those twenty tons of TNT on your head tonight suggests a disturbing lack of perspective. I think it was the Venerable Fulton Sheen who remarked that is always in peacetime that debate is at its most shrill; and the Prime Minister's comments are a particularly good example of his point. In Britain, the legal function of government is to be pro-Britain, neither pro-business nor pro-worker. The national interest demands a necessary separation of government from business. It's unfortunate that, like so many of his recent predecessors, David Cameron just doesn't seem to get that point.

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Scotland's Real National Pastimes

One of the very few readable sentences that Jorge Luis Borges ever wrote concerned how the making of silent or abusive telephone calls in the middle of night should be considered the Argentinian national pastime. 

In a similar vein, we in Scotland really should be asking ourselves whether the abandon with which some of us attack fire crews, with a rapidly growing sideline in violence towards ambulance paramedics, is really a national attitude in which we can take any pride.


Shami Chakrabarti