Alex Salmond

Nov 282016
 

PART 1: ‘THE BEAUTIFUL GAME’

This autumn has seen a succession of spats between the football associations of the ‘home’ nations and FIFA the international governing body of the game over displays of poppies, which FIFA deems to be a political symbol. These disputes reached something of a fever pitch last week when FIFA laid a number of charges against the Football Association of Wales (FAW) linked to the game against Serbia on November 12 (which I attended).

Press reports suggest that one of the charges was that fans had worn poppies in their coats! Which, if true, is insane. For not only would such a charge infringe personal liberty but also open up a vat of worms for those having to decide what qualifies as a political symbol. (At the game I wore a discreet Glyndŵr flag lapel badge.)

serbia-ticket

Consider Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world, intertwined with Catalan identity and the independence movement. Everywhere at their stadium you will read it spelled out for you – Mes que un club (more than a club). Their big rivals are of course Real Madrid, the club of ruling Castille, the club of the monarchy, and the multi-ethnic – but definitely unified – Spanish state.

Last week Barcelona played in Glasgow against Celtic, an intense, occasionally tetchy, but nevertheless enjoyable game that saw the magnificent Celtic fans waving their Irish tricolours and singing their Irish rebel songs. Across town you’ll find arch-rivals Rangers, whose fans wave union flags and sing ditties such as The Billie Boys (‘Up to our knees in Fenian blood, etc’).

There are hundreds of other clubs in the world with an intensely partisan identity that is overtly and unmistakably political, or even ethnic. Until very recently only Basques were allowed to play for Bilboko Athletic Kluba and even though that rule now appears to have been relaxed Athletic Bilbao and the other Basque clubs retain an intensely nationalistic ethos. (Though Celtic and Rangers may be unique in that the fans are animated by the history and politics of another country.)

Come to that, what about international games, such as the one between Wales and Serbia that caused FIFA’s representative such concern? As with every competitive international game there were national flags, and national anthems – aren’t they ‘political’? Come to that, national teams, the raison d’être for FIFA, are obviously political because they represent nation-states or, in the case of Wales, a nation without a state.

Whereas on the other hand, the Serbs might argue that Serbia is a nation-state but too many Serbs are stranded outside the homeland, in Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo. And yet, Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia, handed over by NATO to Albanian gangsters was, in a blatantly political decision, admitted to both FIFA and the European governing body, UEFA, in May 2016. Too late to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018, which is just as well, because Russia doesn’t recognise Kosovo.

In other words, football at club and international level has always been political. Whether it’s the England team giving a Nazi salute in 1938, the so-called ‘Football War’ between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, or German football fans welcoming refugees (last year). So for FIFA to try to punish Wales for individuals making the personal decision to wear a poppy is absurd. Worse, it could be dangerous; for does FIFA now wish to dictate what people wear to football matches?

Early in the second paragraph I qualified my criticism of FIFA with “if true”, partly because I find it difficult to believe that anyone would try to dictate what football fans wear, and partly because it could be that what FIFA meant by ‘fans in the stand’ was the display organised by the FAW, not far from where I was sitting with my son and grandsons. (Being aware of this stunt in advance I was praying that our section of the crowd wouldn’t be involved. Taid being thrown out could have spoilt the night even more than the late Serbian equaliser.)

This stunt was arranged by placing cards on seats which, when held up, combined to give the image of a big poppy. This was rather naughty of the FAW, and very silly. Naughty because it forced people to be part of something about which they might have had reservations, and silly because it was sticking two fingers up to FIFA, which had already warned the FAW that the players should not wear poppies on their shirts, nor should there be other displays. But then, the Sun, the Daily Mail and other good friends of Wales said it should be done, so that presumably made it OK.

faw-poppy

Now if it is this display of poppies organised by the FAW that FIFA is objecting to, and if it results in points being deducted and Wales not reaching the World Cup Finals, then I believe that the officials of the FAW will have failed us all and should consider their positions.

I say that because the duty of the FAW is to manage the game in Wales in the best interests of the member clubs, the national team and the fans, not to jeopardise the best interests of Welsh football by falling into line with the cynical and engineered poppy frenzy.

Personal freedom is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, and must be defended. And that’s why FIFA is wrong if it charges the FAW for individual fans choosing to wear a poppy in their lapel. But considerations of personal freedom also put the FAW in the wrong for forcing individuals to be part of that poppy display.

I think we’re entitled to answers, from both FIFA and the FAW.

PART 2: “SQUEAKY BUM TIME”

Demanding that everyone, including footballers, wears a poppy for the weeks leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is quite recent, maybe no more than a decade old. Here’s a photo from a Scotland v England game played on Saturday November 14, 1999, the day before Remembrance Sunday. There are no poppies. There was no one-minute silence before the game.

It’s fitting that the photo comes from 1999, and was taken in the home city of Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, because that year almost certainly marks the start of “squeaky bum time” (a period of nervousness and uncertainty) for those who were soon promoting the poppy and what they wanted it to stand for.

england-v-scotland-1999

Because 1999 was the year of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The SNP got 28.7% of the vote and 35 out the 129 seats in Scotland, while in Wales Plaid Cymru achieved 28.4% of the vote and 17 out of 60 seats. So even though Plaid Cymru did better than expected there was nothing for our masters to get overly concerned about in either country, yet within the establishment there were those who already feared where devolution might lead.

September 11, 2001 saw the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, soon followed by retaliatory US and UK air strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. To be followed by ground troops. January 4 2002 saw the first US soldier killed by enemy fire. The conflict dragged on.

The USA and UK invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein in March 2003. All kinds of reasons were proffered to justify this aggression but none were convincing. It was regime change linked to oil, and another ‘All be home by Christmas’ intervention that dragged on, and on.

Then, in July 2005, London experienced suicide bomb attacks that killed 52 people, and carried out by British-born Islamic terrorists. These bombings were the most extreme expression of the growing anger within Muslim communities in Europe and the USA at the West’s military interventions in the Islamic world.

The May 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament saw the SNP’s share of the vote climb to 32.9% of the vote, giving it the most votes, and with 47 seats (one more than Labour) it was now the largest party. Squeaky bum time was really upon us (or them).

By the end of 2007 it became clear that the Western world was entering a period of economic turmoil. It was equally clear that the recession had been caused by irresponsible lending by banks and mortgage institutions coupled with the imaginative trading of debts and other worthless packages. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the USA and the UK leading the way, with other countries quick to blame ‘the Anglo-Saxon economic model’ of quick-buck trading having no concern for the wider economy, let alone society as a whole.

By 2010 everyone knew that the UK was up shit creek economically, with the public purse bailing out criminally irresponsible banks. The public turned against banks and the City of London. The UK was still bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda had been overtaken by the much more ruthless ISIS, which had support from young British Muslims.

To cap it all, the Monarchy started losing what had been its 90+ per cent approval rating. I suspect this started with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, made worse by divorces and scandals, with the prospect of Charles becoming king viewed with concern in certain quarters.

So our elite consulted that well-thumbed manual, ‘Cunning Plans For When Things Go Pear Shaped”. And there, in among chapters headed, ‘Blame Somebody Else’, ‘Start A War’, ‘Scapegoat A Minority’, ‘Do A Runner With The Loot’ and ‘Pray For Divine Intervention’ they found ‘Whip Up A Frenzy Of Faux Patriotism’.

This explains why, in the mid to late noughties the largely neglected poppy saw the first drops of revivifying water and became the symbol not of sacrifice in war but of British identity and ‘pulling together’. The UK media played its role with an enthusiasm almost unknown in democratic societies.

Could it get any worse for the establishment? Yes it could, for in May 2011 the SNP took 44% (+13%) of the vote and 69 seats, giving it a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament. There would now be a referendum on Scottish independence.

Television companies responded by going into overdrive in promoting British unity. In the final year of the Labour – Lib Dem coalition in the Scottish Parliament (to May 3, 2007) there were just 25 television programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title. Between January 2013 and January 2014, with the SNP in power and the independence referendum looming, the number of ‘Britain’ / ‘British’ programmes had risen to 516!

Which brings us to where we are today. To the point where the now regular autumn hysteria has reached absurd proportions. Here are a couple of examples.

On the evening of Friday November 18 I watched a televised football game (Brighton & Hove Albion v Aston Villa) and I couldn’t understand why the players had poppies on their shirts a week after Armistice Day and five days after Remembrance Sunday. Then the commentator told us it was to commemorate the last day of the Battle of the Somme!

So are we now compelled to remember every date that someone, somewhere, deems significant? And if so, where does this end? Can anyone remember any other instance of poppies being worn after Remembrance Sunday?

Nowhere is the poppy cult more slavishly followed than at the BBC. It is now obvious that from mid or late October no one is allowed to appear on any BBC programme without a poppy. (Though Evan Davis on Newsnight held out longer than most.) So terrified is the Beeb of falling foul of the Sun and the other directors of the national mood that anything that moves is liable to have a poppy pinned to it.

But this fear of manufactured British patriotism can bring its own problems, such as when someone at The One Show pinned a poppy on the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. This outraged some for “trivialising the sacrifice of millions”, but as Dara Ó Briain suggested, it might have been satire, somebody having a pop at the poppy fascists. Here’s how the story was covered in Heatstreet, MailOnline, The Express, and the Huffington Post.

cookie-monster

As the BBC discovered with the Cookie Monster, when you’re dealing with poppy fascists it’s difficult to do the right thing. Perhaps the rule for broadcasters should be to pin a poppy on everything that breathes irrespective of whether it wants to wear one or not. Which might result in an apologist for ISIS appearing on Newsnight  or Channel 4 News wearing a poppy.

PART 3: CUNNING PLANS GANG AFT AGLEY

What I hope I’ve explained is that the past decade has seen a poppy cult engineered to engender a sense of Britishness, patriotism and unity, in order to counter threats from within and without; also to divert attention away from military blunders and other cracks in the façade of the British system that had led people to question the roles of the armed forces, the Monarchy, the City of London and other institutions.

To some extent this has worked. For example, the first referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 was ‘won’. Then, the prince who many would like to see accede to the throne instead of his father has knocked out a few sprogs, and the ‘Ah!’ factor always works for the House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.

Yet the success of this strategy is now causing problems that the Elite had not foreseen. You’ll note that I’m talking now of an ‘Elite’, so let me explain myself. Perhaps the best way is to refer back to my post EU Referendum: Why I Want OUT! where I wrote of an Elite that opposes “nation-states, national identities, local governments, languages other than English, regional tastes and peculiarities. In fact, many of the things you and I cherish.”

Those behind the relentless promotion of the poppy are linked to that global Elite. They opposed Scottish independence and they were against Brexit, for they believe in the Elite’s agenda of globalisation and mass migration as these drive down wages and help destroy the national identities that are viewed as an obstacle to globalisation.

The problem is that for most English people ‘Britishness’ and ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, are synonyms, and the English make up almost 80% of the UK’s population. Which has meant that by clumsily promoting the poppy and British nationalism as a short-term fix for assorted problems the Elite unleashed insurgent English populism that resulted in UKIP and Brexit, and may now take us on a journey no one foresaw.

This revolt against the Elite is not confined to the UK. Donald Trump is President-elect of the USA. François Fillon is the Centre-right’s candidate against Marine le Pen, and he will fight that election on a platform that Donald Trump would approve: making friends with Putin, cracking down hard on Islamic extremists, opposing same-sex couples adopting children, etc.

When the French go to the polls in April to elect a new president it will be a choice between a weak and demoralised Left on the one side, while the alternatives are the Hard Right and the Very Hard Right. Then, between Fillon and le Pen, attitudes to the EU could be the main and defining difference.

The liberal, globalist, ‘do your own thing’ consensus we’ve lived with since the 1960s is almost dead. Accidentally killed by an Elite that over-reached itself, assisted by a Left that had been allowed to dictate the social agenda (because it complemented the ambitions of the Elite) but so detached itself from the concerns of most people that ‘liberal elite’ is now a term of abuse.

For me, it’s one of the great political ironies that an annual propaganda exercise to defend established interests favouring the EU, centrist politics, globalisation and unrestricted immigration has breathed life into forces representing their very antithesis. But so fitting.

♦ end 

Sep 232014
 

The Scottish independence referendum was ‘won’, Alex Salmond has resigned, ‘Loyalists’ roam the streets of Glasgow attacking Yes supporters and burning Scottish flags . . . danger over, what was all the fuss about? That, I’m sure, is how the less sophisticated among us will interpret – and be encouraged to interpret – the events of the past few days. They couldn’t be more wrong. After settling back into Chateau Jones, and collecting my thoughts, here’s my report, starting with a wee travelogue.

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Don’t misunderstand me, I love Edinburgh, but in the murky weather my wife and I experienced there last week those big and imposing brown buildings can look ever so slightly oppressive. And if a few are somewhat architecturally overwrought then the Scott Monument is positively hysterical. I’ve looked at it from many different angles over the years and I can only conclude that the architeScott Monumentct finished designing it before realising he’d only used up half the budget; so from then on it was a case of more knobs here, more fol de rols there, and let’s squeeze on another excrescence . . . to the point where the whole thing is so overburdened with adornments that it looks more like a Thai temple than a memorial to the man who ‘invented’ Scotland for foreign readers. (I have even read someone blaming Sir Walter Scott for the American Civil War. For being the most popular author in ante-bellum Dixie he stands accused of implanting the ‘chivalric’ outlook in Southern menfolk, and encouraging the ultimately destructive delusion that being true to these values would overcome the North’s greater wealth and superior manpower.)

That said, Edinburgh is a great city and a real capital. Princes Street, the Royal Mile and other thoroughfares were still swarming with people – mainly high-spending overseas tourists – at seven in the evening, stopping to have their photographs taken with pipers that could be found every hundred yards or so. (One of whom played Calon Lân for us!) Of course there was the tawdry and the kitsch, but if you’re from Canton, Cracow or Chicago then you may not recognise what is authentically Scottish (and nor will the people back home you’re buying presents for). Even the architecture is different. Look around Edinburgh, or any Scottish city or town, and you know immediately that you aren’t in England. Finally, there are the centuries-old institutions embedded into Scottish life, making devolution, and even independence, a natural progression for a nation in everything but a seat at the UN, whereas Wales has political devolution sitting top-heavy and almost unworkable on a country otherwise integrated with England through countless cross-border institutions and ‘Welsh’ civil servants taking orders directly from London.

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My original plan for polling day had been to take the train to Dundee, but £60 each seemed too much to pay for just over an hour’s train journey, so I drove to Stirling. (Ah! that Cardi blood, coursing close to my wallet.) First stop, Bannockburn; then Stirling castle; finally, the Wallace Monument.Bannockburn poem

The equestrian statue of the Bruce at Bannockburn is big, and in its way it’s impressive; though I suppose similar, slightly overbearing statues to national heroes and liberators can be found from Bratislava to Bogota. Though the whole site was recently rescued from the realm of superheroes by the addition of a poem on a new timber ring atop the rotunda. Written by Kathleen Jamie I reproduce it for you here. The references to “mere transients” and “Small folk playing our part” tell us more of national struggles than huge and dominating statues ever can. (No, I’m not turning socialist.) Bannockburn was such a crushing defeat for the English and their allies that the only sizeable number of foot soldiers said to have made it alive out of Scotland was a detachment of Welsh spearmen, who had the good sense, or leadership, that helped them stick together and fight their way to safety.

The castle at Stirling overlooks the town and the surrounding countryside and is still used as a military barracks. It has regularly played a part in Scottish history, not least in 1314, for the English army the Scots defeated on the plain below was attempting to relieve Stirling castle, the laStirling Castlest English garrison in Scotland. The arrangement agreed was that if the castle was not relieved by mid-summer then it would surrender to the Scots. Great though his achievement may have been, I suppose that for those of a leftward political persuasion Robert de Brus, being an aristocrat, does not arouse the same levels of affection accorded William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, whose memorial was next on our agenda.

There is, fortunately, a minibus service to the base of the Wallace Monument from the car park and visitor centre below, but after that, you have to climb the 246-step spiral staircase. Which is not as daunting as it sounds due to the regular exhibition rooms you’ll encounter on the climb, these present welcome opportunities to get your breath back. The Wallace Monument is also in the Gothic Revival style but more restrained than the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. It was completed in 1869 and funded by public subscription from within Scotland and thanks to a number of foreign donations, one of them by Giuseppe Garibaldi. It stands on Abbey Craig, from which Wallace is said to have watched the English army (with its Welsh levies) taking up positions on the plain below before the Battle of Stirling Brig in 1297. An army that might have outnumbered Wallace’s forces by as much as five to one, making us realise what a great victory the Scots achieved that day.

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Enough has already been said about the referendum and its result, so I’ll avoid adding yet another lengthy post mortem and limit myself to just a few general observations.

As the debate went on it became increasingly clear that ‘The Union’ is not some wondrous creation bestowing benefits on all, something to be defended from sacrilegious maniacs wishing to dismantle it; no, the Union is, more than anything else, about prestige – England’s prestige. For with Scotland gone ‘England’ would lose a third of her territory, and this would lead to all sorts of dangerous questions, such as whether ‘England’ should retain her seat on the UN Security Council, or whether, in the EU, ‘England’ – now situated, in population terms, somewhere between Spain and Italy – should still be counted alongside Germany and France. And then there’s those nuclear weapons on the Clyde – with them gone Uncle Sam would find a new best friend.

There is a minority in both Scotland and Wales that understands this, and buys into it, often for reasons of personal advancement. Then there is a much larger constituency that will support the Union because they can be persuaded it offers them more than independence can deliver, or perhaps they can be swayed by purely emotional appeals to ‘shared history’ or ‘standing together against the Nazis’. Support for this interpretation comes from a poll taken just after the referendum which shows, among other things, that 59% in the 25 – 34 age bracket voted for independence, but only 27% in the 65+ age bracket. The shared experiences, whether WWII or British Steel, are largely meaningless for most Scots under the age of 55. Then there’s devolution itself, which for many in the 65+ plus age bracket is something they’re still unfamiliar with, and perhaps uncertain about, whereas for younger Scots, for whom ‘the shared experiences’ belong to the distant past, having a Scottish parliament is normal and – as I mentioned earlier – makes independence almost a logical progression.

This threat to English prestige is the reason we saw political parties, media, banks, businesses, Orangemen and other elements that benefit (or can be persuaded to believe they benefit) from Greater England, unite to oppose Scottish independence. Equally obvious was the strategy of isolating Alex Salmond and presenting him as the sole advocate of the policy. For how often did we see anyone else interviewed? Would anyone know from the media coverage that the influential Scottish Green Party was supporting independence? Or that over a third of regular Labour voters were switching to the Yes camp? And where was Tommy Sheridan, or would his face on the screen have reminded viewers of the perfidy of the London media? No, the independence debate was all about that megalomaniac Alex Salmond. By comparison, there were countless rational and unbiased voices, urging Scottish people to vote No – in the interests of Scotland, of course – voices amplified by a complaisant media and supported by other reasonable voices such as those of Deutsche Bank warning that Scottish independence would precipitate another Great Depression.

Now there is a price to be paid for this unholy and unnatural unity prompted by blind panic when it was thought that Alex Satan might prevail. It’s falling apart now before our eyes. The Tories, under pressure from their own backbenchers and Ukip, have to hold out the prospect of English votes for English-only legislation if not a separate English parliament. Labour cannot accept this due to its traditional reliance on Labour MPs from Scotland (and Wales). But as I’ve mentioned, and as this poll I linked to earlier shows, 37% of those who voted Yes last Thursday voted Labour in the 2010 UK general election . . . are they going to vote Labour again in 2015? Given that we can reasonably assume that most of the Labour voters who supported independence belong to the younger age groups then it’s also reasonable to conclude that Labour is facing a demographic time-bomb in Scotland – yet Labour is the only party that can maintain the Union. Making Labour’s opposition to an English parliament understandable, but hopelessly optimistic, based on a flawed and outdated premiss.LD Voters

The tactic of isolating Alex Salmond may have won the referendum, but the longer term consequences are all positive for both the Scottish National Party and the wider cause of Scottish independence. The SNP is increasingly perceived as the only party that can stand up to the liars and the bullies down in London, a gang to which the #RedTories clearly belong. And this is not just me spouting off – since the referendum the SNP has signed up over 20,000 new members, giving it more members than the Liberal Democrats, a UK-wide party. We were told that the referendum was not about Scotland v England, and of course it wasn’t . . . but it is now, and an increasing number of Scots feel that the only party representing Scottish interests is the SNP.

Scottish independence is guaranteed within a decade, and it probably won’t need a referendum.

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So where does all this leave Wales? Well, among the many promises made to the Scots was that there would be no revision of the Barnett Formula which sees Wales short-changed in comparison to Scotland and the Six Counties. So Wales looks set to gain nothing, although vague promises of extra powers have been mentioned. Carwyn Jones has, I believe, made a few statements. I say ‘I believe’, because no one listens to Carwyn ‘the veto’ Jones, whether in Wales, England, or Scotland. The man is a weakling and, consequently, a nonentity universally ignored. There may even have been contributions by some person called Crabbe, who’s about as relevant to Wales as Jones is to Scotland.

Though Jones’s predecessor had something to say in his weekly column in the Wasting Mule. If I understood it right, Rhodri Morgan knows that Northern Ireland does well out of Barnett because of the Troubles, and Scotland does well because of the fear of Scottish nationalism. There his reasoning cannot be faulted. But then he goes on to argue that Wales should also be rewarded because we ” . . . didn’t put the whole of the UK through the mincer via referendum or civil war . . . “. So, in other words, we should be rewarded because England has nothing to fear from us. Doesn’t this clown, after a lifetime in politics, understand how it works!

His argument may have self-destructed but it still says a lot about him, and his party. As I have made clear, I detest the Labour Party. I regard the Labour Party in Wales as nothing but quisling scum that have held Wales back for a century. There is no hope for Wales until there is no hope for the Labour Party in Wales. It would be easier to achieve that happy state if we had a party like the SNP. But instead we have a party most of whose leading members still dream of a coalition government with Labour in 2016. Which suggests to me that the Labour Party might not be the only obstacle to Welsh progress.

Sep 152014
 

The other night I watched Dewi Prysor on S4C, tracking down the Men of the North, telling us of Taliesin’s poetry, visiting the natural fortress of Dumbarton Rock, and trying to establish the relationship between the Picts and the Welsh (or, if you prefer, Brythons / Britons) of southern Scotland and north west England. Worth watching because a Welsh person who knows the history of our people (rather than the history of an area called ‘Wales’) will never regard Scotland as a totally foreign country, and nothing that happens as a result of the referendum will change that.

I’ve tried to explore a little of this history on my recent vists to Scotland. For example, after becoming aware of the separate Scottish version(s) of Merlin / Myrddin I made up my mind to take a detour to the village of Stobo, near Peebles, long associated with the legend. This Merlin is not the advisor and mentor to Arthur but bard to a local ruler named Gwenddoleu, and he was driven insane after witnessing the slaughter at the battle of Arfderydd in 573, becoming the wild man of the woods (Merlin Sylvestris). It’s conceivable of course that this ‘Scottish’ Merlin is the original for the later Welsh or Norman / Breton Merlins.

CLICK TO ENLARGE ANY OF THE STOBO KIRK IMAGES BELOW

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As I say, on one of my trips I promised myself a visit to Stobo, but I missed the turning (the wife was probably nattering). So we drove on and arrived at our destination where, after booking in, I wandered about a bit and found, on land not far from the ruins of the abbey, old headstones, and the first one I read was dedicated to a woman with the surname Stobo. I don’t normally believe in ‘things like that’, but the coincidence did make me pause. And promise myself that I would definitely make the trip to Stobo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Which is a rather out-of-the-way place, but well worth a detour. Stobo Kirk has some remarkable old stones and a little window showing Myrddin being baptised by Saint Kentigern. Though in Scotland Kentigern is more usually known as Mungo, patron saint and founder of the city of Glasgow. In Welsh he is Cyndeyrn, the founder of Llanelwy (St. Asaph). Not far from Stobo, along the B712, you can find the ‘Altar Stone’ opposite the entrance to Altarstone farm. This, it is said, is where the unbaptised Merlin would practice sacrificial rites and / or where he was baptised by Kentigern. (The rest of the stone may be in Stobo Kirk.) Despite the stories of this Scottish Merlin being confusing, and from a cultural context that has been lost, details were retained that probably meant nothing to those repeating them, especially following the adoption of Christianity. Such as the legend telling of Merlin’s triple death, which is pure Celtic, ritualistic and sacrificial. It was the death suffered by Lindow Man and many others whose remains have been found in peat bogs in Ireland and on the continent.

I’m telling you this to explain the affinity I feel for Scotland, particularly the south. Obviously I am supporting a Yes vote in Thursday’s referendum because as a Welsh nationalist I believe the referendum will have major implications for Wales; but there is another, perhaps atavistic, reason for wishing to see these old Welsh territories free of English rule.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd headstoneUPDATE 20.09.2014: Something I left out of the original piece (because I didn’t have a photograph to show you) was the intriguing headstone in the graveyard behind the kirk. Having visited Stobo again on my visit to Scotland this week, I can now show you the headstone and explain – as well as I can – who the lady was it commemorates. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was of course Welsh; the daughter of an Edward Lloyd of Rhyl, though she appears to have been born at Aberpergwm, near Neath, in 1860. Her mother was (and here I quote): ” . . . Matilda Susannah, only dau. and heiress of Lieut.-Colonel Edward Smyth of Castella, co. Glamorgan, by his wife, Rosamond Matilda Bushe of Burcot, co. Oxford; born 17 February 1818; marr. at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London (by the Rev. Francis Llewelyn Lloyd, B. D., Senior Fellow of St. John’s CollOwain E W Greaves headstoneege, Cambridge), on Thursday, 17 September 1857; marr. 1stly William Williams of Aberpergwm, co. Glamorgan, who died, aged 67, 17 March, and was buried at Aberpergwm 21 March 1855″.

Rosamund Angharad Lloyd was married on St. David’s Day 1881 to Edward Seymour Greaves, who himself had been born in 1849 at Tremadog, one of the Greaves family of Blaenau Ffestiniog slate fame. (You’ll see that Rosamund married twice, the second husband being Lord Henry Grosvenor. The Dukes of Westminster, perhaps the richest landowners in this island, are Grosvenors.) I’m not sure how many children Rosamund and her first husband produced but one was Owain E W Greaves, whose stone is next to that of his mother.

But I still couldn’t understand why mother and son were buried in Stobo kirkyard, for neither of Rosamund’s husbands had any obvious connection with Stobo Castle. Then I ran across this, which told me that, “In 1939 Stobo Castle was bought by Wenefryde Agatha Scott, 10th Countess of Dysart”, obviously the Wenefryde referred to on Owain’s headstone, and presumably buried with him. Since 1978 Stobo Castle has been a luxury health spa.

As I mentioned earlier, the Stobo area is associated with Kentigern / Mungo / Cyndeyrn, who is credited with founding the religious settlement that became the cathedral at Llanelwy / St. Asaph. (See the picture above of the window in Stobo kirk.) When Edward Lloyd died in December 1882 Letters of Administration were granted to his daughter Rosamund by the authorities at St. Asaph cathedral. Small world.

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I say “English rule”, because this referendum has exploded the myth of ‘Britishness’, and if Scotland votes Yes then the very term becomes obsolete. We have, as former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason has observed, seen the BBC placed on a war footing, casting off all pretence at impartiality and switching to propaganda mode, as if Scotland was Iraq, and Alex Salmond Saddam Hussein. We have heard big banks forecast plagues of locusts, and supermarket chains warn of frogs . . . the oil is running out . . . a nuclear-free Scotland could never join NATO (most members are nuclear free!) . . . Scotland will be offered Devo-max if she says No to independence (the same Devo-max No 10 wouldn’t allow on the ballot paper?) . . . lie after threat after lie. With humour provided by John Prescott, arguing that if Scotland says Yes we’ll never have Team GB to beat the Germans!

Perhaps it’s possible to be even more specific than simply saying ‘English rule’, for what’s really being protected is the interests and prestige of an English elite, one overwhelmingly concentrated in the south. As this report tells us. Judged on wealth, housing, health, crime levels, etc., the 50 most desirable places to live in Britain are all in southern England. Or to put it another way: Of the 50 most desirable places to live in the UK not one is in Wales, Scotland, northern England or Northern Ireland. What an indictment of a state in which we are all supposed to be equal beneficiaries of what it has to offerNigel Dix. Yet as I write this, London politicians and their local lackeys are telling the Scots they would be mad to leave this wonderful UK! They would be mad to stay.

It’s no different in Wales. Our Glorious Leader, Carwyn ‘the veto’ Jones, embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth. Fortunately, few people in Wales pay him any heed, and none outside Wales. Moving lower down the Labour totem pole, I was struck by a letter in this morning’s Wasting Mule from Councillor Nigel Dix of Caerffili. (Click to enlarge.) Right-on socialist, our Nige; yet he sees no contradiction in lining up with bankers and big business to oppose what he sees as “nationalism”. It seems that Dix is not only unable to recognise propaganda of a very unsubtle kind, but also believes that the only thing driving the Yes campaign is Alex Salmond, the SNP, and ‘nationalism’. Pay attention, Dix! you might learn something. If there is a Yes vote on Thursday it will have been achieved due to Labour voters in Scotland wanting to escape the corruption and inequalities of the UK. Even if the Yes vote falls short of the 50.1% needed, hundreds of thousands of Scottish Labour voters will have defied the Labour leadership, and the party may never see them again. Think about that.

Tomorrow I shall head north; not to campaign or canvass, just to be there and savour the atmosphere of a nation’s re-birth; for make no mistake, nothing will ever be the same again, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Rest assured that I shall have more to say when I return.

AS I SHALL BE AWAY AND UNABLE TO ACCESS MY BLOG I MAY BE SLOW TO APPROVE COMMENTS. AND IF THERE’S A YES VOTE, WELL . . . I COULD TAKE WEEKS TO SOBER UP.

Mar 242014
 

I had intended writing something similar to this post a while back, when I heard that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) was launching a new campaign. For those who’ve missed it; the ‘campaign’ has started, but seems to consist of nothing more than small groups chaining themselves to the gates of out-of-the-way governmCyIGent buildings where the chainees are ignored, by the media and just about everyone else. As campaigns go, this exercise in futility is going nowhere.

Having originally decided that CyI and the non-campaign wasn’t worth the effort of a post, I have changed my mind over the past few days for reasons alluded to in the title. The bigotry is that exhibited by the sad git working in some Cardiff shop, who said on Facebook, “I love wales and it’s beauty, but the welsh language gets right on my fucking nerves. Two girls in the shop at the moment speaking to each other in welsh. I’ve had to turn bobby womack up to 8”. As the piece in Daily Wales, and the comments it attracted show, there were attempts to explain or laugh off the outburst. One comment even tried to justify the bigotry by claiming that Welsh is not a “mellifluous” language. In which case, neither is German, or Russian, or countless other languages. While on the other hand, French is very ‘mellifluous’, but that never stops those who share Shop Boy’s anglo-insular views from detesting Johnny Frog and everything about him and his culture.

So, we start with a clear and indefensible case of bigotry, which should have been followed by apologies all round, apologies accepted, end of story. But, no; for this morning, the radio station misrepresenting itself as BBC Wales put out a phone-in programme asking why so many people are upset by the sound of the Welsh language. (AvailaOliver Hidesble here.) Note that the ground of the debate has now shifted significantly. In less than forty-eight hours it has become an established fact that the sound of the Welsh language is irritating; and this elevates Shop Boy to the status of martyr, standing up to tyranny on behalf of the silent majority!

Proving yet again that whatever independence the BBC once had is long gone. What’s more worrying is that the Beeb isn’t even being run by Tory central office, it’s being run by the intelligence services. Alex Salmond has a lot to answer for. Keep it up, Eck!

I wasn’t able to hear the whole show but one woman I did hear made cogent points about expenditure on the Welsh language. Which I think is where language campaigners have got it very badly wrong. It boils down to psychology. Put yourself in the position of someone who does not speak Welsh, is not hostile towards the language, but one day – maybe low on funds – has a revelatory moment when he receives his bilingual council tax demand or electricity bill, and says to himself, ‘How much am I paying to have my bill translated and printed into a language I don’t understand?’ At that point he switches from ambivalence towards the Welsh language to hostility. And there are hundreds of thousands like him. And it’s all so unnecessary.

It happens because CyI has, for decades, pursued the strategy of recognition and visibility. In essence, this demands – in addition to pointless tokenism – that the Welsh language must have equal legal status with English, and must be seen and heard, everywhere in Wales on a par with English. Which is fine . . . up to a point. That point being that Gwynedd is not Gwent, Maenchlochog is not Manorbier. While the most virulent bigot living in Gwynedd cannot reasonably object to expenditure on a language he hears spoken all around him, no one should be surprised when an otherwise proudly Welsh anglophone in Abergavenny questions similar spending in his area. Without I hope sounding like an Adferwr I think we have to accept these differences.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s refusal to accept them has had two consequences. First, comprehensive bilingualism, across the country, in every aspect of life, does not establish a bilingual country – it just pisses off too many people unnecessarily, few of them bigots. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by quixotically pursuing this policy of national bilingualism Cymdeithas has left Y Fro Gymraeg undefended, and seriously damaged the language’s chances of survival.

For where was Cymdeithas yr Iaith a few years ago when Tesco opened its new store in Porthmadog and shipped in an English workforce of over 100? And what of the other retail chains and businesses doing the same thing in Gwynedd and other Welsh-speaking areas? Are we to believe that this doesn’t affect people’s ability to use their mother tongue in their everyday lives? That this doesn’t deprive Welsh speakers of jobs in their own communities? How can anyone argue that the survival of the language is better ensured by demanding ‘Talu Yma’ signs in Cardiff stores, or insisting that the proceedings of Merthyr council’s sub-committee on rat infestation are published bilingually? This begins to sound less like a strategy to save one of Europe’s oldest languages and more like job creation for those CyIG members and former members with translation businesses.

And don’t answer me with the old nonsense about ‘dividing’ Wales along language lines. Wales was already divided, and enforced bilingualism across the board is only exacerbating the problem. Worse, by turning people against the language you risk turning them against all things Welsh and losing them entirely. (Plaid Cymru being a good example.) To the point where a cynic – no, not me – could argue that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has, over the past thirty-odd years, failed miserably at what it claimed to be doing, yet has successfully queered the pitch for many others.

What is needed is a strategy to, firstly, defend what remains of Y Fro Gymraeg. Then take the fight outside of the heartland to those who want it. For example, by getting involved in any struggle for Welsh language education; or any fight against the overdevelopment of a community where the language is still relevant. Finally, reach ouCyIG 2t beyond these areas and groups to those who identify with Wales and are proud to be Welsh, make them see the language, not as a threat, or a waste of their money, but as a vital and desirable part of our shared heritage.

From now on, campaigners for the language need to be more realistic in their ambitions, they need to understand contemporary Wales better (perhaps by moving outside their own circles a bit more), and they need to be a lot more hard edged in their approach. Forget the idiots on radio phone-ins, they are not the real enemy, they are just ammunition for the enemy. The real enemy is those you hope to persuade with the reasonableness of your demands, the virtue of your case. Those who smile and sound sympathetic but are not the reasonable and fair-minded people you want (and they want you) to believe they are.

That is because every survey ever conducted has shown that Welsh speakers are more likely to want greater devolution and independence than English speakers. That being so, only a simpleton would believe that the UK government (or its civil servants who run Wales) will allow – let alone welcome – an increase in the numbers and percentages of Welsh speakers; or think that an anti-Welsh Labour Party down Cardiff docks – knowing that Welsh speakers are less likely to vote Labour – harbours anything but ill-will towards the language and those who speak it.

Understand that the UK Government, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party, and many, many others have a vested interest in seeing the Welsh language dead. With a nice headstone erected . . . in Welsh, of course. (Translation available from the nice English lady at the desk, her with the CADW badge.)

Nov 252013
 

For those reading this who are not football (soccer) fans, or may not be familiar with this kind of sectarianism . . . Rangers is a Scottish football club, based in Glasgow. It’s supporters are Protestant and are found mainly in Scotland and among the Scottish-descended Protestants of Northern Ireland (the Scotch-Irish). Rangers’ great rivals are Celtic, also based in Glasgow, but whose supporters are Catholic, mainly of indigenous Irish descent, Celtic’s fans are also to be found mainly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Political divisions mirror the religious distinctions, with Rangers fans being supporters of the United Kingdom and sympathetic to the Unionists and Loyalists in the North of Ireland. They fly the ‘union jack’ and assorted variants of the Northern Ireland flag. Celtic fans wave the Irish tricolour and tend to support Irish republicanism. Games between the two clubs always result in some violence and often fatalities, in Scotland and Ireland.

Celtic and Rangers are the two biggest football clubs in Scotland and, partly due to their diaspora support, are among the biggest clubs in the world. Even though both are based in Scotland they have very little to do with that country, both sets of fans being more concerned with Irish history and politics, and the relationship with England and the Union. I give this background information to help you understand the video, in which Rangers fans express their opinions on independence and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. It’s ugly, crude and incoherent.

Before dealing with the hyper-vocal star of the show, let’s consider some of the supporting cast. First, the group at the beginning, with the Saltcoats Loyal flag. The one on the right, perhaps the village idiot on a day out, wants us to believe that Alex Salmond has sexual congress with his grandmother. The remark is so crude and infantile, that the village idiot himself seems embarrassed by what he’s just said.

Then there’s the little crowd up close to the camera shouting “Fuck Bobby Sands, he’s deid”. Yes we all know that, he was an IRA prisoner who died on hunger strike in 1981. So what’s the point of saying it?

Or the older man in the company of the vociferous star, who occasionally makes a half-hearted attempt at restraining him. He looks like he’s been over-indulging on the Buckfast. Is he the star’s father, uncle, agent? And what of the guy on the touchline making the strange gesture – is it directed at the camera, or is it a comment on the performance of the star?

What we are seeing here is a set of inherited (possibly acquired) prejudices that stand firm against the buffetings of reality. Listen to the star saying that in Ireland ” . . . they’re living on the streets, mate”. Presumably in marked contrast to his Protestant brethren in the Six Counties, who’re living in the lap of luxury. Reality check: the Republic of Ireland recently overtook the UK in the Legatum Prosperity Index while Northern Ireland remains the poorest part of the UK. But these are just facts, and the people we see in this video have no interest in facts.

Proven by the same man’s “Rule Britannia, yer fuckin’ bastards” rant. Anyone who thinks the Royal Navy still rules the waves is not just living in the past, he’s so divorced from reality that he might benefit from psychiatric help.

Ruling the waves aside, everything comes back to Ireland. The bogey men have always been Irish Catholics, millions of them, all supporting the IRA, and bent on world conquest. Yet now there’s a new threat, in the form of the SNP and independence. This has necessitated a rethink, something that confuses those who prefer a world of unchanging, comforting prejudices. And while earlier centuries gave Loyalists some memorable songs the video proves that the new threat is something that, musically, they haven’t yet come to terms with.

To some extent I suppose these Rangers fans were set up, but no one put those words into their mouths. Which is sad. Partly because those opposed to independence must include decent and sincere people (so how do they feel about being on the same side as these morons?), and partly because there are Rangers fans who support independence.

Now all this could be dismissed as being of no concern to us because it’s happening in Scotland – I certainly would have ignored it – but then came the chilling climax, with the leading man promising that if Scotland did become independent he’d leave – for Wales! But why not Ireland? Almost everything that motivates Rangers fans is tied up with the history and politics of Ireland, or, more specifically, Northern Ireland / ‘Ulster’ / the Map fullSix Counties. Their Protestant Loyalist brethren are over there, beleaguered and in need of help. So why come to Wales, a country with which they have no connection?

The reason he gives for choosing Wales over England is that ‘England is letting in all those immigrants’. So we see that our star’s bigotry is not confined to the Catholic Irish. He thinks Wales could be more acceptable to his sensitivities because we have fewer immigrants. Which, by a strange coincidence is why many English move here. (But we mustn’t say this publicly – it makes us ‘racist’!) These final remarks also expose the linkages and overlaps I’ve marked on the map.

So why have I chosen these, what am I trying to say? Of course, the linkages between Orange Lodges, Loyalism and Rangers FC are obvious, others are perhaps less so. For example, we know that Loyalists support Rangers, but so do British National Party and English Defence League members.

There have always been links between Orange Lodges and English Masonic Lodges, often via Scotland. Ukip of course is just the golf club variant of the BNP, and well represented in Freemasonry. Back in the 1980s MI5 tried to reorganise the extreme Right and use it, much as the Italian secret service was doing in Italy at the time, using fascists to commit atrocities that were then blamed on the Left. The inspiration came from fascist refugee Roberto Fiore, friend and mentor to Nick Griffin. Then, during the Troubles, British intelligence and security forces worked closely with Loyalist terrorists.

The term ‘Poppy Fascists’ may seem a bit harsh, but this is no insult to The Fallen; nor am I mocking the ex-serviceman, or the old lady, selling poppies in your local supermarket. I’m using the poppy as a symbol for the unrelenting ‘Britishness’ offensive we’ve suffered in recent years, and shadowy forces that can coerce and intimidate the BBC and other News media – ‘Wear a poppy! or we’ll set the tabloids on you’. Which brings us to the final link or, rather, the London media more generally. The manner in which they deal with immigration, Scotland, Wales, the monarchy and a host of subjects, the way they’ll print anything given them by the police or the intelligence services, condemns them as a propaganda machine, not the independent and questioning media of a healthy democracy.

Let me finish this over-long piece with a thought that might sober up the cast of the video. By this time next year you could be supporting a Union of which Scotland is no longer a part! If that happens, don’t come to Wales, we don’t want you. We have mercifully escaped sectarianism and we don’t want to see it close-up, lashing out in its death-throes.

Though having said that, seeing as these people are undesirables with no local connections, ‘Welsh’ housing associations would almost certainly be fighting to give them accommodation. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the only ones helping Loyalist refugees to re-settle in Wales.