Posts tagged ‘Ian Jack’

Mar 2, 2014

Granny’s heilan’ hame and expat Scots: Ian Jack and his friendly union

The impending independence referendum is now clarifying the thoughts of quite a few expat Scots over their relationship with Scotland.   saltire

‘All the best folk have left’ was Ian Jack’s father’s conclusion on the drift into England from Scotland, of which he was part, as economic migrants seeking a more prosperous future for their families. In his column Ian Jack (Guardian 1 March 2014) reflects on where independence would leave people like him were Scotland to cast off its dependency reputation and take up its place in the world as a thriving independent nation.

Jack is in melancholic mood. He reminds us his father’s view was shared by the poet Edwin Muir who wrote in 1935 of the impact of mass migration out of Scotland then emptied of, ‘ its spirit, its wealth, industry, art, intellect and innate character.’ This was of course in the hungry thirties when jobs were scarce throughout most of Britain.  But Muir concluded dolefully that this led to ‘the increasing centralisation of all vital energies in London’ which turned Scotland ‘into a country where ‘meaninglessness and despondency hangs round.’

This all begs the question that if people were compelled to leave to improve their lot what does this say about the success of such a Union?

And what does it say about those who left for work and opportunity – who held such self-preening opinions? Were they the best? Do they consider themselves better than Scots who chose to stay and  invest their futures in with Scotland’s? Are we who have remained the dregs of a dead culture?

Jack writes of friendship between England and Scotland as if that would be broken by Scotland becoming a more confident and prosperous neighbour. This friendship we are told enabled Britain to become the economic powerhouse it undoubtedly was, through the fusion of the intellects of both Scotland and England and that this friendship gave us great institutions such as the British Museum, the British Linen Bank and the BBC. Jack marvels at the British Museum collections, rightly, which are available free to all and sundry. True except that such enthusiasm should be qualified for it is not free access to me or anyone in Scotland as it cost hundreds of pounds to get to it in the first place. So while I am pleased that Jack can visit often and it costs him nothing I feel no affinity for the collections, they might as well be housed in Beijing as London. Personally I would prefer if the British Museum had been built in Aberdeen.

Curiously when Jack refers to the heights of achievement of the Union’s pooled intellects during the 18th and 19th centuries he omits that other major institution, the British Empire. Perhaps it doesn’t fit in with his gilded message. Instead we are steered towards London, to  gawp at this marvellous creation that is the ‘world’s greatest trading city’ but which from this side of the border looks like a giant drain into which eye-watering amount of wealth flow at the expense of almost everywhere else in these islands.

The golden age of the Enlightenment Jack hints might not have happened were it not for the Union which enabled intercourse between Jocks and, well what is the derogatory term for ‘the English’? This is of course that same period when Scottish intellectuals were ridiculed and mocked in England for their coarse way of speaking, their curious accents and quaint vocabulary. And irrespective of this the roots of the Enlightenment are pre-1707, growing as they did from the distinctive Scottish Presbyterian Kirk. So irrespective of a political union the Enlightenment, with all that conjures up, would have occurred here in Scotland.

There appears to be growing awkwardness, a sense of incomprehension among some expat Scots over how much Scotland has changed in recent years. They desperately cling onto their fond remembrances of the old country, taking subscriptions to the Sunday Post, attending classes in  Scottish country dancing and raising a nip glass to the Bard each year and perhaps like Jack fondly recalling rail journey’s north from their homes in England, on trains puffing clouds of white smoke (I only remember the soot that blew in open windows) as it chug chugs across Scotland’s barren heather muirs in search of granny’s heilan’ hame or a weekend but ‘n’ ben.  Those with such views have only misplaced sentimentality to offer and that is never going to enrich the minds and bodies of Scotland’s children or take care of our elderly population.

The reality is that Scotland has outgrown the Union. The drab arguments of BetterTogether hark back to the past viewed through rose-tinted spectacles. If the past was so great in the Union that formed the United Kingdom why did so many of ‘the best folk’ like Jack’s father, as he would have us believe, feel compelled to leave their homeland to evade poverty and lack of opportunities? Some golden age that.

I don’t doubt Jack feels confused and regards the prospect of an independent Scotland with ‘a personal sense of loss’ but then he lives in England whereas those who chose to stay and develop Scotland’s economy and society and retain what is distinctly Scottish, our strong sense of collective, will suffer no loss but will grasp out future with both hands.

We cannot live in the past. We owe it to our children and grandchildren and the generation of Scots yet unborn to provide them with a sustainable future so that they do not have to run away to make a living. For all the Jacks out there it is a pathetic outlook that expects the old country to remain set in aspic, just so they can venture north for an occasional holiday at home or that our rural areas should continue to be cleared of people to preserve them as playgrounds for the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’  brigade.

We who live in Scotland in the here and now don’t inhabit granny’s heilan’ hame or a wee but ‘n’ ben and we don’t exist in some Scotch misty- eyed Brigadoon – we live in an industrial age, sustained by the dynamics of fossil fuel extraction, agriculture and a future in renewable energies that will transform the lives of our children.

The Union was unpopular when it was formed back in 1707 but came to be accepted by most in Scotland, especially the ones who benefitted economically from it, but there has always been disquiet about the impact it had on the life and culture and yes, economy of Scotland.

Times change – England is changing and is becoming a less tolerant place. In England the NHS is under major threat and more and more we are finding that the differences between our two societies is growing ever greater.  Much has been written about the collective nature of attitudes in Scotland – because it is true. Scots are looking to the future to create a fairer and more equal society which must start with Scotland having its own voice in the world and not being a mere echo of the London-based political establishment that looks after itself first and foremost.

None of the main political parties run from England can offer us anything that is in any way good enough. The alignment of attitudes so long assumed by these parties are thankfully dissolving.  

As happy as Jack’s folks were to cross the border to improve their lives what they did should not be regarded as something positive – the notion of the ambitious Scot ready to get on his/her bike  but an indictment on the Union which sacrificed Scotland to the ultimate benefit of the southeast of England.

We don’t need this Union cobbled together in 1707. It’s time to dispense with the past, with the sentimentality that keeps Scotland as a dependency of its bigger neighbour. Scots will always come off second best in that contest. What we have to do is simple, to vote positively in September and if our friends and family in the south complain that we are not the place they fondly remember then I say that’s good because it means we have not in fact grown stagnant but are a dynamic and forward looking nation.

Sep 12, 2012

Agnes, Jean, Ian Jack and Trident




Ian Jack’s Scotland is a sepia comic-cut, a wistful D. C. Thomson-inspired world which only exists in his imagination. Little old ladies, scones and genteel tearooms and no doubt un soupçon of och aye the noo thrown in for good measure.

The division of wealth is an east-west split in Scotland, he observes, which has some truth in it although I doubt his contention would survive real scrutiny. I’ll pass over his benchmark of wealth indicator, the existence of a Waitrose store, for he himself introduces an element of doubt over its applicability.

The essence of Jack’s article is the threat to Trident of a ‘yes-vote’ for Scottish independence in 2014 and the impact this would have on the Ministry of Defence workforce employed in and around the Faslane and Coulport bases close to Helensburgh where ‘Agnes’ and ‘Jean’ indulge in a post-high tea genteel bicker over who should treat the other.

It is Jack’s contention that the area, – “The most militarised district in western Europe”- is so dependent on maintaining the UK’s weapons of mass destruction that were an independent Scotland to banish Trident the impact on the region’s current relative prosperity would be severely threatened.

He hints at the English composition of the MoD’s workforce for he tells us – ‘English voices mingle with Scottish ones’ on the streets of Helensburgh underlining the point with an observation that the profusion of union flags decorating properties hint at a significant workforce which has migrated into the area from England. What will become of this 7000 of a workforce and a further 4000 peripheral jobs? he asks.

Similar circumstances were faced at Kinloss and Lossiemouth with Westminster’s cuts pushing for the removal of the RAF to England. There were grave concerns in Moray over ‘lost’ employment with all that would mean for the local economy. But much of the displaced military personnel followed their jobs south so reducing the number of ‘lost jobs’. As for civilians working with the MoD in Moray many were in lower paid work than their military colleagues – having fewer qualifications or employed part-timers. The point being non-skilled work is easier to find than specialised employment and many skills are transferable.

If the Trident bases go then it could be expected that, as with the Moray experience, a bulk of the MoD personnel would leave along with it echoing in reverse their migration north. The effect would be to reduce Jack’s 7000 although admittedly doing little to reduce concern over the estimated 4000 associated jobs which are likely to affect permanent or indigenous rather peripatetic personnel. Certainly Jack’s figures become improbable.

If Trident is removed from the area or scrapped then there are real issues regarding employment in this part of Argyll and Bute but should we be prepared to continue paying our taxes to maintain these nuclear defence jobs at any price?

Jack boils down his argument to three main points.

1. These MoD ports and defence infrastructure are big, so big that it would be hard to move them.

2. Their removal would destroy the local economy “for the sake of its (SNP) anti-nuclear principles”.

3. The “rump government of the UK” would struggle to build an equivalent base to retain Trident – “even if it could find a locality willing to take it.”

The first point demonstrates how out of touch Jack has become with the mood in Scotland.

As for point two – God preserve us from a political party sticking to its principles, eh Jack?

And three the idea that no other place outside Scotland would want this type of installation beggars belief – were we ever asked if we wanted it here?

The article peters out with Jack asserting that Trident will become an important bargaining chip in any independence negotiations. Indeed. He forecasts that by not replacing Trident the issue will just disappear by the 2020s, in which case Mr Jack what will happen to the 7000 plus 4000 workers you are so concerned about? Are they only important as a tool to knock the SNP/nationalist movement? Will your next piece be about the Ministry of Defence throwing its workforce on the nuclear scrap heap when Trident is finally abandoned?

The paucity of any proper understanding or conception of how Scotland has grown in confidence sufficient to challenge its exploitation as a dumping ground for the UK’s weapons of mass destruction would have Jean and Agnes spluttering over their Earl Grey teas and dropped scones.

For a columnist who formerly wrote pointedly and with sparkle his recent output has become disappointingly tired, stale outbursts of prejudice signifying nothing much at all.


Ref: Guardian Sat 8 September 2012

Gruinard and anthrax

Feb 26, 2012

We are all commentators now. A response to Ian Jack’s Guardian comments on online vitriol, Anglophobia and other matters

Ian Jack (the Guardian 22 Feb 2012) is upset at the often furious responses to online journalism or ‘nasty’ comments as he describes them. In particular he is astonished at how much vitriol is extended by writers of such posts in ‘face masks’. Expect that includes me then, on two counts.

Andrew Marr labelled us face masked types as socially inadequate. It is true there is a great amount of virtual anger around but the message is surely what is important not the messenger (masked or unmasked). Dwelling on the anonymity of commentators is a distraction. Think of us as the equivalent of world wide web’s Batman or Lone Ranger challenging unsavoury columnists hitherto given free rein to pontificate on all and everything. Socially inadequate Mr Marr? Och behave yourself. At least I’m no forelock tugging sycophant. Woops there I go again.

Until bloggers filled the virtual airwaves we had to make do with the ramblings of professional journalists – some good, some bad, some very, very bad. It was hard to get a word in because, frankly, the odd letter to the editor just doesn’t have the same impact as a full page spread with headlines and highlighted quotes available to the columnists.

Pompous politicians who rate themselves so highly that they are bound to feel their comeuppance is wholly undeserved – ‘an idiotic, pompous traitor to Scotland and the Scots’ does not appear over harsh as a put-down of George Robertson (one-time Labour MP and Sec. Gen of Nato) – certainly not compared with the attacks public figures in history had to contend with. Thin skinned indeed are our current politicians while not being averse to dropping the shit on other people when it suits them.

I do not condone very nasty abuse (perhaps difficult to define as it is not a scientific category) of individuals and I avoid sites where I know this goes on but criticism of anyone who places him or herself in roles which have an impact on others can be justified – just because someone might find condemnation hard to swallow does not mean it is not deserved.

Robertson is guilty of deliberate mud-slinging with his use of ‘cybernats’ which is his pejorative put-down of nationalists who challenge his views and assumptions and a term offensive to many who give legitimate support to Scottish nationalism through a means readily available to them.

Jack appears to be suggesting that traditional media commentators have greater legitimacy over their virtual cousins but it is likely that online bloggers will be every bit as qualified in terms of life experiences and academic qualifications as any newspaper or TV journalist and in some cases more so.

I take issue with Jack that political nationalism was ‘relatively new’ in the 1930s but there was a strong Left-wing antipathy to nationalism then which equated Scottish nationalism with tartan Toryism. The internationalism of the Left largely prevented it from seeing anything good in separate national identities although John Maclean was a believer in Scottish socialist republicanism. There has been a major political shift among many of the Left in their attitudes towards Scottish nationalism today.

I am astonished when I look back at the extent of acceptable sexism, racism, classism even within the past forty years – the world so much loved by those who are quick to deride political correctness and who still love to snigger at offensive and stereotypical attitudes and jokes. The rampant sexism of the swinging sixties would not be tolerated by today’s women although there are still dinosaurs who revel in their reactionary attitudes. And when did you last hear the word Sassenach? A quarter of a century ago it was common parlance in the media. It never was an insult – coming from the term for Saxons or early settlers into England) but espoused a difference between Scots and English. No one saw it as Anglophobic.

The pull of the south has been hugely damaging for Scotland – justified by some as ‘just following the jobs’ as if this is a reason for preserving the Union when it is a clear reason for abandoning this unequal partnership which pours investment in the economy of the southeast corner of the UK so disadvantaging everywhere else.

Once Scots fell into the vocabulary of dominant (domineering?) England to the extent England came to stand for Britain or the UK. To us today in seems inconceivable that such a level of collusion could have gone on but as we are too often reminded the past is a foreign country and it was there where the Union’s rotten core went unnoticed by the majority. No longer.

Anglophobia is offensive but tell me, Ian Jack, what is the Scottish equivalent? Or indeed the Scottish equivalent of Anglophilia? I doesn’t appear to have occurred to you to ask the question.

Jack ends by asking if ‘every separatist movement in these islands have a murky Anglophobic current as a necessary component?’ I think this another case of the over-sensitive George Robertson syndrome. It is criticism that is being objected to – that someone has the audacity to question what they stand for – so the criticism becomes lost and the messenger casually disregarded as ‘Anglophobic’ thereby avoiding any serious debate over the issue behind the comment.

We can live by lists if you want Ian Jack. You love England for ‘Dickens, Shakespeare, Elgar, Broadstairs, my wife and children, relatively warm summers.’

I could equally write I love Scotland for Stevenson, Grassic Gibbon (irrespective of his views on independence (and note the patronising dismissive phrase Jack uses, ‘romantic international socialist’ while his own views are far-sighted? Comfortable?), Allan Ramsay, Burns, the Cairngorms, waterfalls, sandy beaches, people with time for each other, clear bright air of Aberdeenshire. I’ll even take Dickens – he travels- as do Huerta Müller, Käthe Kollwitz, Neil Young – my cultural borders are not confined within my nation’s borders.

We are not all Anglophobes and I do not imagine the bloggers in the south are all – whatever that word is for haters of the Scots. Assertiveness is not bad and by not wanting what you want is fine – just not for me.