Posts tagged ‘Westminster’

Dec 30, 2022

The Mother of Parliaments, Corruption and a Shitting Unicorn

Corruption in politics has never gone out of favour. Jiggery-pokery and power have always been attractive to lousy seedy characters. For a long time political power and the seedy were the male prerogative but sex equality has brought political bribery and corruption to the pockets of dames, too. I think you know what I’m referring to.

Ladies and gentlemen the story you are about to read is true only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Great Britain, the mother of parliaments; the exact quote is “England is the mother of parliaments.” John Bright said that on 18 January 1865. He was a Liberal MP. He believed parliament needed reforming. It certainly did and it certainly does.

Back in old John’s day buying your way into parliament was normal. Bribing politicians to get access to influence government ministers was also normal. Some things don’t change in the mother of parliaments, though at times there might be more discretion used than straight cash bungs into the hand – of the you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours variety – and so-called ‘golden showers’ that fall on a constituency as thanks for being obliging to a minister of state. Just where will HS2 that meandering white elephant of a railway line eventually end up? All depends, pal. What’s it worth to you? Scotland? Don’t make me laugh.

The year of the horse, 2014, more like the year of the unicorn. Promises, promises. That unicorn was shitting promises out of its arse. Reject independence and vote to retain the union and Scotland, that once invisible northern bit of the union, would be given its voice. Within the union. Those golden showers would drench Scots with love and respect. Lucky Scotland. So said the vow. Wow! A vow! But by the end of the year that unicorn had bolted. The stable door was shut. Bolted, too. Leaving behind a giant pile of shit. 2014 instead of golden showers Scotland got incessant blizzards – paper propaganda – nothing but promises and more promises – and a few threats. There were a lot of those – that the elderly would lose their pensions, the unemployed their benefits and the young would be denied hospital treatment. Union or else! Carrot and stick. Except the unicorn had buggered off with the carrots. Buses arrived filled with campaigners from England, some had cash pressed into their greedy unionist hands, to peddle their unicorn promises. Or threats. Lies. Nothing new. Back in the 1880s, in England, the Tory and Liberal parties paid folk 5 shillings a day to parade with banners and placards, each one carrying political promises. Political promises. Short shelf life. If they outlive an election (or referendum) they’re doing well.   

Back then most voters were better off or wealthy men. Same groups of guys running for power in the mother of parliaments, where that power was used to pass legislation that maintained men like them in power. A cruel joke on the term – mother of parliaments. Father would be more honest. But honesty and politics are like water and oil. Mismatched.

Westminster, the mother of parliaments, was so corrupt it occasionally passed laws to prevent its own acting criminally. But it’s a game that’s played. Doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Doesn’t stop the corruption. Never has. She’s one bad dame, that mother of parliaments. While most folks were denied a vote, universities had their own MPs – Cambridge and Oxford each sent two to the Commons until 1950. Aberdeen and Glasgow universities got to send one between them, till 1918. All universities were represented to some degree. At Oxford, regarded by those who went there as the ‘very flower of the intellectual class of England’, 4,500 people had voter rights and over a third of them took bribes to vote for particular candidates. Sometimes the bribes didn’t materialise. A bit like PPE. Usual story of paying one set of guys to rip down opposition posters, flags and banners and other fellas to hang about to protect the candidate’s ones. Shelling out to swing elections was how the mother of parliaments operated. A favoured Tory ploy was to persuade pub landlords to have free booze on tap as an incentive to vote for them. A filthy game.

In Macclesfield, England, corruption was well-organised with votes going for as little as 3s 6d but could be as high as15 shillings (around £2,000 in today’s money). The practice obviously open to bargaining. Five out of every six votes were bought. Only 300 out of 2,000 voters at Sandwich in Kent, latish 19th century, didn’t accept bribes from either Tory or Liberal candidates, with 800 pocketing bribes from both lots!

Buying votes was supposed to be a serious criminal offence but few cared, least of all parliamentary candidates because there was so much to gain personally by becoming an MP. And palm-greasing was just the means to an end. In the cathedral city of York voting rackets were rife with as much as £650 paid for a single vote (that is over £64,000 today in bribe shekels). In 1880 the Liberals and Tories spent about £15,000 on dirty tricks. Personation – where some dude claims to be someone else to cast votes was another dodge that no-one was ever prosecuted for.

The law invariably favoured the great and the not-so-good. And God, was brought into the grubby world of politics with the Bishop of Wakefield urging the Church of England to pray for the Unionists (Tories). The 20th century had begun as the 19th ended with the stink of political dirty dealing pervading every corner of British politics. An election in Worcester was declared null and void because of the level of corruption. There some of the skulduggery took place in a motor car. As one bloke entered through one door another left by the other. Every man passing through the car left with a handful of cash. Mr Moneybags behind that chicanery was George Henry Williamson, the Conservative parliamentary candidate and about-to-be elected MP for the town. George’s dishonesty was so blatant even the law and parliament couldn’t shut their eyes to it indefinitely so old George was booted out of Westminster – after two years. That was all. No fines. No hard labour. Being an MP, he landed sunny side up.

Don’t let it be said only the Tories were corrupt but the most corrupt government in the mother of parliaments is reputed to be a Tory one, under PM, Robert Walpole in 1855. How Walpole’s lot would have compared with today’s political crooks it’s hard to say. It would certainly be a close-run race. Attempts at cleaning up Britain’s duplicitous politics have gone down like a bucket of sick with politicians in the main. The author and MP Hilaire Belloc, in 1907, urged the then government to ‘set an example against corruption that was prevalent in public and private life.’  Political corruption he described as –

“ …a disease of motive having for its symptoms material consideration, preference of private to the public good, and an element of secrecy.”

Shady. Yes, we know, Hilaire. Who can reform British corruption? The very place that’s mired in it. And there’s the rub.  

“Everybody knows that earldoms, viscountcies, baronies, baronetcies, and knighthoods are now habitually sold for hard cash to gin-distillers, brewers, newspaper proprietors, bankers, brokers, successful swindlers, multiple shopkeepers, “philanthropic” sweaters, and similar low-grade creatures. The object of these sales is that prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Under-Secretaries, and other political tapers and tadpoles of both factions may draw heavy salaries out of the pockets of us common Englishmen.” (Justice, 1917)

For Englishmen read a’body in the UK. The previous year Pontefract’s MP, Frederick Booth, said this in the Commons –

 ‘…there never has been so much secret bribery in the history of England than during the last twelve months.’

Thanks Fred but maybe aye and maybe naw. Bribery and corruption has proved a way of life for many MPs in the Commons but the Lords was seen as the more corrupt of two houses in the mother of parliaments. None of those sitting in the Lords is elected – the very basic principle of democracy. Placemen and placewomen with not a single vote between them yet a substantial role in governing the UK. What could possibly go wrong with that sort of low-down setup? Back in 1917 it was assumed this underhand form of government would soon stop when the bleeding obvious was stated –

 “No nation ever long submitted to the publicly exposed corruption of all its representatives.”

“Our plutocracy is rotten to the core. Time democracy had its chance.”

Such misplaced optimism. At least during the 19th century, it was openly recognised the House of Lords was rotten to its core. Its bishops seen as the most corrupt of all. Members of the Upper Chamber didn’t even have to go to the expense of bribing anyone. Though they probably did if they weren’t hereditary peers. There was an unhealthy traffic in titles – honours and peerages. In 1922, the dam broke when the Liberal prime minister Lloyd George was caught out openly selling seats in the House of Lords (and titles to the rich) for about £10,000 a pop. It was an outrage! Some said. Others were more concerned that too many Scots were included in the Cabinet and too few men from Oxford and Cambridge and ‘the great public schools.’ An ensuing ruckus resulted in the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, 1925 that made selling peerages and honours illegal. Which is funny because it wasn’t illegal before then. But did that fix dodgy representation in the Lords? Did it pick.

Did it clean up politics generally? Did it pick. Four days before the general election of 1924 the Daily Mail (what else!) published a fake letter, the infamous Zinoviev letter, calculated to link the Labour Party with communists in the Soviet Union. A gullible public swallowed the hoax. The Tories stormed into government.

Bribery, corruption and politics are inseparable. And sex. Can’t forget sex scandals – de rigueur in politics. One in 1963 involved a Tory minister, John Profumo, a teenage model, a Soviet naval attaché and a notorious racist, misogynist judge. And lots of lying. From just about everyone. But the judge, Lord Denning, concluded there had been no breaches of security despite the involvement of many establishment figures and foreign Johnnies. A scapegoat was put up in the figure of osteopath, Stephen Ward, who went on to commit suicide, although the whisper was he was killed by agents of MI6 for becoming an embarrassment to parliament and the royal family. Profumo would later be described as a ‘national hero’ by Margaret Thatcher.

Commenting on the Profumo affair, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote,

“The Upper Classes have always been given to lying, fornication, corrupt practices and, doubtless as a result of the public school system, sodomy.” (Sunday Mirror, June 1969)

Old Fred Booth would have been gobsmacked by the 1970s. If you’re a Tory look away now but I suspect you’ve long since stopped reading this. John Poulson was an architectural designer and businessman who bribed his way to winning building contracts. Several Tories were up to their dirty necks in the affair. He and one or two other participants were jailed but none of the top Tories, including then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling was sent to chokey. MPs escaped through a ‘legal loophole’. Several scandals later Labour PM, Harold Wilson, came up with his Lavender List; a generous distribution of knighthoods and assorted honours to wealthy business associates he thought would benefit his party. These included Lord Kagan who went down for fraud while another committed suicide while under investigation for the same crime.  

Members of the mother of parliaments are just very good at avoiding jail. Take the former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe in yet another ‘70s political scandal. This one involved sex. And politics. With Liberals and Labour furiously scratching each other’s backs. This was Rinkagate – a murder plot that had national security implications. But MPs being MPs (surely the most protected species on the planet) it was the dog that got it. Rinka the hound took the bullet. Thorpe was brought down not because of being charged with conspiracy and incitement to murder his ex-boyfriend but for his sexual predilections.

 “There is also clear evidence that leading politicians over the past 15 years, together with civil servants, the police and the security services, have been party to a cover-up surrounding the affair. Most of the politicians involved are Labour.” (National Archives)

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/10/jeremy-thorpe-scandal-labour-cover-up-peter-hain

The 1980s were no less disreputable at Westminster with corruption and outrages coming thick and fast. One tawdry incident involved a leading Tory, Cecil Parkinson. He initially denied an affair and paternity of a child with his lover. Public revulsion at his disgraceful behaviour did his political career no harm at all and up into the Lords he went to carry on with his life. He fought maintenance of the badly disabled child through the courts, grudgingly submitting to paying for her until she reached eighteen. This rascal refused ever to see her and never sent his child a birthday card. Think we have his measure. Of his shameful behaviour his fellow Tory colleague, Edwina Currie, herself involved in an extra-marital affair with the prime minister, John Major, said this

“I feel very very sorry for Cecil and his family. Most of my thoughts on Sarah Keays are unprintable. Perhaps the most polite thing to say is she’s a right cow.” (Currie was later reported in the Daily Mirror, 1 October 2002)

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/’A+RIGHT+COW+’+EXCLUSIVE%3A+What+Edwina+called+Sara+Keays+for+kissing…-a092259742

And then there was Jeffrey Archer, Tory MP and later Peer in the Lords. He was unusual in being jailed – for perjury in a court case over a prostitution scandal. He’s still a Lord.

There’s no space for all the corruption of the eighties – just a mention of the homes for votes scandal in which the Tory-led Westminster City council in London physically moved out the homeless and sold off council homes to create an area more likely to vote Conservative.  At the centre of this abhorrent episode was Dame Shirley Porter. She was found guilty of wilful misconduct and ordered to repay £36.1million. She didn’t. She paid a fraction of that. The dame was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by John Major following a Tory victory in Westminster in 1990.

If there’s no time for all the bent political goings-on of the 1980s there definitely isn’t for the 1990s. Back alley wheeling and dealing was like a malignant disease in the mother of parliaments such as arms-to-Iraq, MPs accepting gifts for business and political favours and Monklandsgate.  1994 – North Lanarkshire, Scotland – the Labour Party. Well, it was the 1990s. Lanarkshire. Had to be Labour. Oh, and accusations of sectarianism that led to council splurging dough on catholic areas and being grippy in protestant ones. And nepotism. The Monklands West MP was Labour’s Tom Clarke, a former provost and former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. The Monklands East MP was also Labour – the party’s leader, John Smith. Allegations of sectarianism were never proven against any of the folk accused. Nepotism within the council was. Tom Clarke was knighted in 2021 for public and political service.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-optomistic-despite-final-split-over-monklandsgate-lastminute-byelection-poll-points-to-narrow-defeat-for-snp-candidate-1425784.html

A century on cash for votes converted to cash for questions in the 1990s. In 1994 two Tory MPs were exposed in a newspaper ‘sting’ operation and later the same year further allegations of bungs to MPs to ask questions in the Commons on behalf of a private individual. It caused a big stink

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash-for-questions_affair#:~:text=It%20began%20in%20October%201994,owner%20of%20Harrods%20department%20store%2C

 In 2006/07 two shillings pressed into the hand was never going to hack it when it came to cash for honours under Labour’s Blair government. Several men nominated by Blair for life peerages were found to have loaned large amounts of money to the Labour Party. Life is full of coincidences. The Tony’s Cronies affair may have hastened Blair stepping down as PM but in the end the Crown Prosecution Service decided against bringing charges against anyone. If you are unfamiliar with this tawdry episode, I urge you to go and read about it; a right hornet’s nest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash-for-Honours_scandal

What changed in a hundred plus years was the direction of cash flow. Politicians paying people to vote for them so they could obtain the power being in parliament provides them with to MPs agreeing to trouser cash for favours. In 2015 two prominent MPs, Labour’s Jack Straw and the Tory Malcolm Rifkind were caught on camera in a TV sting agreeing to accept money to arrange access to influential people  …

‘The report alleged that Straw boasted to undercover journalists that he had operated “under the radar” to use his influence and change EU rules on behalf of a firm that paid him £60,000 a year. A recording obtained with a hidden camera shows Straw saying: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge.”

Rifkind reportedly claimed to be able to gain “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world. He was recorded describing himself as self-employed despite being paid £67,000 as MP for Kensington: “I am self-employed – so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income.”

That’s a sentiment that hasn’t died with MPs and some dissolute ex-prime ministers. The outcry following the sting broadcast forced the parliamentary commissioner for standards to investigate the two men but, surprise, surprise, found neither was in breach of the code of conduct or the rules of the House. Which suggests that the mother of parliaments’ standards have the bar set bloody low.

Scandals, corruption, lies, nepotism – a day in the life of far too many politicians. I haven’t mentioned any of the major disgraceful episodes of recent years, we’d be here all day. As that dude Aristophanes once said –

‘Under every stone lurks a politician.’

The guy understood a thing or two. And it’s a funny thing that MPs are referred to as honourable members that can’t be called out for lying when that’s exactly what gets many politicians out of bed in the morning. I’m sure a few are decent enough folks but let’s not kid ourselves, as former US president Harry Truman observed

‘you can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.’

Yes, there’s a lot of it about. The story you have just read is true. The names were changed to protect the innocent – hang on – there aren’t any innocents, so the names are all there.

Nov 10, 2022

The land of lies: Britain’s Chinese indentured labourers

The land of lies – Winston Churchill (1905)

He was talking about South Africa. The lies were bad enough but the truth was worse.

They were kept like dogs in a kennel; they were treated as very few men treated their beasts, and if you treated a man as a beast, he became a beast.

Greed and racism. A despicable mix of attributes levelled at Britain’s proud empire and its insatiable pursuit of vulnerable areas of the world to exploit for profit. Profit to the capitalist is an addiction that’s never satisfied as we see today with oil and gas companies up to the gunwales in yields undreamed of even by them – but they’ll hold onto them despite the impact on the poorest of the world’s citizens reduced to spending the winter in freezing cold, damp homes – unable to afford to turn on a heater or cooker. It’s a funny old world.  

Simply put profit is the difference between what a business earns through manufacturing, mining or whatever and what is left after its costs, including wages. The less a worker is paid, the greater the profit. Slavery was the ultimate turn-on for business owners; no pay just basic upkeep of labourers yielded immense profits. Look around Britain at those country estates with their ginormous homes paid for by obscene profits made off the backs of slaves – or indentured labour and workers of every description.

Indentured labour – a person is forced into servitude for a specified time for tiny wages. Sometimes this involved being shipped to a different continent, to one of the British colonies. And sometimes the colonies came to Britain, in a sense. And sometimes we’re not talking about centuries ago, but the last century.

In southern Africa rivalry over control of land intensified between the British and Boers with the discovery of diamond deposits in 1868. In 1877 Britain annexed the Transvaal further antagonising the Boers resulting in their declaration of independence from Britain. On the outbreak of war the Boers defeated Britain, nevertheless, the peace settlement accommodated British sovereignty over parts of the Transvaal.

Matters might have rested there but in 1886 gold was discovered. A lot of it. And that ignited British greed. Already brittle relations between the UK and the Boers worsened over fears of a total British takeover and loss of Boer independence. The racist imperialist, Cecil Rhodes organised an armed raid, the Jameson Raid, to claim back the Transvaal with its immense gold wealth for Britain. This smash and grab attempt failed but so desperate were both sides to benefit from the region’s immense underground wealth a second war broke out between Boers and the UK during which Britain established the world’s first concentration camps, to contain their enemy, the Boers, and this time Britain came out on top.

War depleted the large numbers of native workers available or willing to go into the goldmines. This was dangerous, hazardous work excavating, blasting, drilling and extracting the ore. It was mostly unskilled labour that was needed but it was physically exhausting and the accident rate extremely high, deaths ran to thousands through accidents and sickness. Blasting, drilling and cave-ins resulted in crushed bodies and severed limbs, noxious dust led to slower death from lung disease. And because profit was always the motivating factor there was no compensation paid to victims. Survivors who couldn’t work were dismissed.

Alfred Milner, Lord Milner, a Liberal, was High Commissioner for Southern Africa at the turn of the century. In 1903 he and the Chamber of Mines were behind turning to China’s population to supply work gangs for the mines. Trafficking of ‘Chinese coolies’ was looked on as any other trade arrangement.  

Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, would say of Milner –

 “Having been for many years, or at least for many months, the arbiter of the fortunes of men who are ‘rich beyond the dreams of avarice’, he is today poor, and honourably poor.”

Milner had created a midden. Took decisions that caused deaths. Then simply vanished into whatever paradise awaits peers of the realm once their active years destroying lives is over.

Lives are not wrecked by UK peers alone. South Africa’s religious organisations were right behind this devilish commerce and viewed the Chinese, like South Africa’s native population, as barely human and certainly not civilized making their exploitation all the easier to stomach among whites attending church. The Bishop of Pretoria and other religious leaders stood firmly behind the ‘white working man’ and saw the importation of Chinamen as –

“…a great opportunity for Christianising effort.”

In March 1904, the British parliament debated this controversial policy. The quality of speeches might be summed up by these examples –

“Members who talk about shutting out white labour might turn their attention to the injury done to white labour in this country by the dumping down of 80,000 foreign aliens, the riff-raff of Europe” …[who take] “the bread out of the mouths of our struggling working men.”

I am reminded of Keir Starmer’s comments that the UK is recruiting too many foreigners to work in the NHS. (6 November 2002)

While some MPs likened the indentured Chinese workers to slaves thereby risking “Britain’s reputation as the mother of the free” others disagreed, insisting they were having ‘the time of their lives”.

“The life of a Chinese indentured labourer will be a paradise to what some of our fellow-citizens go through.”

Strange conception of paradise. In the real world the Chinese in the Transvaal were largely confined to their camps when not underground in the mines. The mainly very young men grew bored and increasingly frustrated by so many restrictions on top of the dangers inherent in their work. Diseases were rife and often fatal. The food was poor. It was a miserable existence with little hope of a way out before the end of their three-year contract. Many resorted to opium to relieve stress of their hazardous occupation and the tedium of their contracted existence. Where did the opium come from in such tightly controlled conditions? The whites supplied it. Opium was used as a device to control the Chinese. It was sold to them at sky high prices, leading to debt, borrowing to pay off debts or theft from fellow-workers or breaking out of camp to rob members of nearby communities. Lurid newspaper stories created fear of a Chinese menace threatening law-abiding white farmers and communities. A law was passed that allowed whites to arrest any Chinese person found outside their compound – a £1 plus expenses was paid for every Chinaman detained. Not all of them lived long enough to be arrested, with whites shooting dead any suspected of theft.

In the House of Commons in November 1906, Donald Smeaton, MP for Stirlingshire, stated –

“two pounds of opium allowed to each Chinese coolie under the recent Transvaal Ordinance is enormously in excess of the maximum consumption and leaves a large surplus in the possession of each coolie…”

Churchill contradicted him –

“I would point out that it is not correct to say that two pounds of opium are allowed to each Chinese coolie under the recent Ordinance …coolie not allowed any opium …unless he can obtain a permit signed by an Inspector of the Foreign Labour Department …”

Smeaton asked if the government was aware of the harmful impact of opium at which point the Speaker shouted him down –

“Order! Order! The honourable member is making a speech.”

Straight out of Alice and the rabbit hole. Speakers don’t change their spots.

Officially, opium smoking by the Chinese in the Transvaal was condemned and was certainly punishable by flogging – between five and fifty lashes, according to Aberdeen People’s Journal. A man found guilty got his ‘gruel’ or ‘licking’ after being stripped, held face down and soundly whipped. Then he was literally booted out the door. Not everyone was flogged. A man might be confined in jail, handcuffed to a wooden beam and forced to squat for up to eight hours.  But flogging was commonplace in the goldmine camps to impress upon the Chinese workers who was ‘top dog’. This was humane British justice in practice. A motion in the House of Commons in 1906 condemned Milner for failing to outlaw corporal punishment for minor offences in the compounds.

Over 60,000 Chinese youths and men were shipped into South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century – one of the practical exigencies of the British Empire was its ability to raise labour gangs and move them to wherever industries were short of workers. China with its large and mainly impoverished submissive people was attractive to industries within the empire. British society’s ingrained racism a useful adjunct to the Empire’s insatiable demand for cheap labour. And so their agents in China scoured the countryside for workers, or ‘coolies’ as they referred to them. ‘Coolies’ were not regarded as quite civilized so could be confined within camps, like dogs, as was pointed out at the time.  That one of the compounds was formerly used by the British as a concentration camp during the Second Boer War was further testament to the British disregard for life and a signal of the brutal nature of the indentured system.  

British and American companies with strong trading links to China enabled this official twentieth century people trafficking – simply another column in their registers of interests along with opium, tea, silk, cotton etc. Scottish companies such as Jardine Matheson & Co. and Gibb, Livingstone & Co. in conjunction with American William Forbes & Co. whose name alludes to the Scottish roots of its founder and the English Butterfield and Swire swung into action to supply the goldmines of South Africa with thousands of young workhands.

Controversial from the start, opposition to the policy grew and for as many arguing the men were volunteers there were others who documented the less than voluntary recruitment of them in China and the appalling working and living conditions that confronted them in South Africa.

In March 1904 Lord Coleridge said –

“The idea of importing Chinese, under conditions of servitude seems first to have occurred to the mind of Mr Rhodes, who desired to introduce them into Rhodesia…”

Mr Rhodes being, of course, Cecil Rhodes, once a great British hero, now seen for the wicked racist imperialist he was. For the likes of Rhodes and Milner, the ‘not quite civilized non-whites’ were appealing because of their cheapness to hire and the ease by which they could be manipulated and exploited, unlike white workers used to organising themselves to protect wages and working conditions.  As Milner said in a speech to the White League –

“We do not want a white proletariat.”

Henry Forster, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks in Kent said in the Commons on 22 February 1906 –

“Gentlemen opposite were wrong in asserting with so much confidence that the conditions were tantamount to slavery. Business men, working men engaged in the mines, trade union officials, ministers of religion, the members of the British Association visiting South Africa last autumn, and even some supporters of the present Government themselves who had been out there, all said there was no element of slavery in the conditions under which the Chinamen worked, and that the arrangements were healthy, humane, and admirable in every way.”

He was objecting to descriptions of this kind from the President of the Board of Trade, David Lloyd George (Liberal)  

“They were kept like dogs in a kennel; they were treated as very few men treated their beasts, and if you treated a man as a beast, he became a beast.

Those who argued that treatment of the indentured Chinese was remotely like slavery pointed to a clause in their contracts that said any man could return to China for a payment of £17. 10 shillings, the equivalent of £1500 today. As the average wage paid was about 35 shillings per month out of which they had to pay for their keep and the many fines imposed on them by mine management – e.g. in July 1905 fines among the  Chinese amounted to £2,000 (today’s £157,000) and in October were the equivalent of £400,000. Churchill (Undersecretary for the Colonies) said he calculated ‘a coolie could save by the most rigid self-denial …20 shillings a month” meaning it would take a labourer eighteen months to earn his passage home, barring accidents, illness or whatever.

Transvaal’s white proletariat added to the growing condemnation of the policy. At the same time resistance from the Chinese (and Indians) in the Transvaal over their employment conditions led to the system of indentured labour being abandoned by 1910.   

For far too many Brexit has lent legitimacy to British society’s inherent racist attitudes. It is abhorrent. Vilifying foreign people is abhorrent but both the Tories and Labour have leapt onto this vile bandwagon – and that of Johnson’s repugnant opinions of British exceptionalism – the best in the world. Windrush? In the past. Send them home has been the slogan coming out of Westminster for several years. Soon it will be – get foreigners in to do the work we don’t want to do. But don’t let them stay here. 1904 or 2022 nothing much has changed.

Feb 24, 2022

The Union Dividend: emigrate if you know what’s good for you

     Scotland is gradually being emptied of its population, its spirit, its wealth, industry, art, intellect and innate character. If a country exports its most enterprising spirits and best minds year after year, for 50 or 100 or 200 years, some result will inevitably follow.

Edwin Muir, Scottish Journey, 1935:

Migrating Scots mother and children, 1911
(Library & Archives, Canada)

It is reprehensible that any government would regard its people as its main export but this was the fate of Scotland following the establishment of the Union – during the later 18 th century, 19th century and even into the 20th  century.

Without the broad shoulders of the Union, Scots are frequently told, Scotland would be a failing state – which begs the question, if Scotland has done so well from the Union how is it her population was compelled to abandon her in such huge numbers soon after the Union of 1707?

Either the Union has been devilishly good for Scotland and transformed her from a backward and struggling country into one both so innovative and confidently successful that she would have no trouble forging a bright future alone or it hasn’t. Which is it? We should be told.

Size seems to confound Unionists. Scotland’s population of about 5.5 million is too small, they argue. Successful nations with similar sized populations – Ireland, New Zealand, Kuwait, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Norway, Oman, Croatia might disagree and by now I’m getting into the 4 millions – Latvia, Bahrain, Estonia, Cyprus, Mauritius – below 2 million and could carry on to tiny Malta, Iceland, Barbados, Bermuda, Gibraltar – all of 33,000 inhabitants. But where was I? Scotland, unlike some of the above is richly endowed with potential for market-valuable renewables, is still an oil and gas producer, has unique and sought-after food and drink commodities, has an educated and skilled workforce and strong engineering pedigree.  If Scotland with all of this is not capable of standing on her own feet then the Union has failed Scotland and failed Scotland spectacularly, reducing our country to a pathetic dogsbody of a nation perpetually insulted and patronised and one whose interests are simply ignored by Westminster where the Union’s power is anchored.  

Bring on some goalposts. Not there. Over there. Where size is clearly not the issue it must be the economy that stops independence. Scotland isn’t rich enough. Remember the guffawing back in 2014-15 when oil prices collapsed? You’d be broke, Unionists crowed while simultaneously denying Scotland’s seabed was, in fact, Scottish. They aren’t laughing now with Brent crude prices back up in the 90s. Goalpost change. Climate change – you can’t open any more oil and gas fields – although this is a reserved matter and Unionist HQ, Westminster, is doing just that. Scotland’s large and expanding renewable energy sector is dismissed by Unionists who insist England will refuse to buy Scottish power and fresh water. Doesn’t sound like the actions of a friend never mind Union partner. But the Union has never been a partnership based on respect or trust.

From the inception of the Union government in Westminster operated on the principle that England’s industries and trade took precedence over Scotland’s. And in case we didn’t get the message Scots were told their country was poor and barbaric and we should sling our hooks and leave Scotland, the worthless nation, to rot. And many did. Some were forcibly displaced. Some chose to leave. The British Empire had spaces that needed filling with Europeans – so to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – ousting their native populations. Like so many of today’s migrants, Scots moved abroad in the hope of making a a better future for themselves and their families than was possible at home – because the Union dividend has always been a myth. Or they had no choice but to leave. Because the Union has been a disaster for Scotland.

One hundred years ago, in 1912, in the month of April 9,000 people left Scotland – just under 3,000 in a single week. In another week, in May of 1912,  3,520 Scots migrated to Canada or America from the Clyde alone. Other ports were available. On 1st June, again from the Clyde, a further 2,000 were shipped west. On 6th June 1912, a report claimed emigration from Scotland was running twice as fast as from England.

Canada was the favoured destination for Scots. Before the Union, Scotland established a colony in Canada in 1621. It was called Nova Scotia (New Scotland.) This colonisation proved brief, being surrendered to the French in 1632. Two centuries later, under the Union, the Canadian authorities employed squads of agents to sell Canada to Scots – to entice the brightest and best to settle there where farm land could be bought for the price of a year’s rent in Scotland and where industries required skilled men and women. Leaflets were pressed into hands and colourful posters pinned up in public places promising everything that was great and everything that was different from failed Scotland bogged down by hardship, low pay, high rents, filthy slums and poor food – the Union dividend.  

Lord Strathcona, a Scot who became a Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a big shot in Canada, enthused about the vast territory of Canada able to maintain 150,000,000 people – he wasn’t talking about Canada’s own indigenous peoples, you understand, he wanted Scots to up sticks and settle there where everything was “the best.”

“Anyone – even a lady – could succeed on the land there” Strathcona said by way of encouragement. He knew ‘ladies’ from Russia who were farming. 

Back in Scotland the Union had so run down the country Scots took little persuading to leave. In 1912 a flood of humanity boarded vessels, mainly for Canada and America, but also for South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. This flood was a continuation of the one the year before. In 1911, about 90,000 Scots packed up and left the old country. Across the rest of Europe emigration to America and Canada was slowing down but not from Scotland where it was accelerating because Scots could see no future in Scotland in the Union. In 1906 Scottish exceeded Irish emigration for the first time and did so again in 1911-12.   

In 1911 Scotland recorded its lowest death rate since 1855 (when records began) and lowest birth rate since 1873 except for 1890. The low birth rate might be explained by the drainage of young men, sometimes abandoning wives, and young women moving abroad. Scotland’s population depletion was only regarded with concern once rate payers discovered they were being asked to provide poor relief for deserted families. But emigration provided excellent business opportunities for shipping lines.

American bound from Aberdeen

Between 1830 and 1914 around 2 million Scots emigrated abroad and a similar number are believed to have moved to other parts of the UK. Throughout the 20th century Scotland’s population decline continued. Since 1851 the proportion of Scotland’s population to the population of the UK as a whole has diminished by 25%.

People, industries and company headquarters have moved away from Scotland. The oil and gas sector off the northeast of Scotland ran counter to this long-term trend and had a major impact on population, jobs and wage levels. Unfortunately, the immense wealth produced off Scotland’s coast failed to benefit Scotland. Instead, Thatcher ensured that London and the southeast of England profited with vast building and infrastructure spending there. Compare Europe’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, with London. You would never know Aberdeen was the hub of so much multinational activity. Scotland was prevented from benefitting from this klondike which is an odd sort of dividend – aka no dividend at all but cynical exploitation by a greedy partner.

James Annand, an Aberdeenshire journalist and soon-to-be Liberal MP (the shortest serving MP, dying within a couple of weeks of winning and never taking his seat) was campaigning in 1903. He buttered up his audience in St Fergus with references to townies who had no idea how tough life and work were for country folk and complained about the lack of affordable farms for rent. He reminded his audience that Scotland was a poor country – a poor country? Surely some mistake – after two hundred years of that Union dividend how come Scotland was still poor? The Unionist never explained but he did emphasise just how poor Scotland was and how it was understandable that so very many Scots migrated because they could not make a decent living at home. Annand supported Scots getting out of Scotland to Canada – the land of opportunity.

Canada still tempting Scots away in its quest for “suitable men and women to go there.’  Annand mentioned Texas with its “three million acres of land, owned by a single company, that was being offered in lots for sale at £1000 each” and Australia with its “incalculable opportunities for enterprise in connection with unoccupied territory” – where indigenous people didn’t appear to matter.

And so Scotland continued to be drained of many of its most “suitable men and women” – from countryside and cities – the populations of Edinburgh and Glasgow were also in decline. The tide of migration that swept “the best young men and women of Scotland” ashore in North America was detrimental to the economy back home as well as reinforcing how Scotland was failing its own people following years of underinvestment, attacks on its manufacturing, lack of opportunities, lack of hope and ambition over generations. The coming of the Great War placed a temporary halt on Scotland’s population depletion by emigration, replacing it with another loss, of many of its fine young people, in that disastrous bloodbath.

Early in the twentieth century when England’s population was about five times greater than Scotland’s its wealth was about thirty-six times greater than Scotland’s. That Union dividend, again.

Two hundred years of the Union, of the Union dividend, and the message was – emigrate if you know what’s good for you.                   

Westminster government statistics income 2014-16

For centuries England repeatedly attacked Scotland, in an attempt to annex it. It did not succeed until 1707 when a handful of Scottish nobles sold out their country for personal gain. That was the point that Scotland became an irrelevance in the eyes of the British monarchy and government except for the money it could raise from Scots taxpayers to help pay for England’s near continuing wars and her young men to sacrifice themselves as cannon fodder – for wars have a habit of eliminating people at a fearful rate. Peacetime taxes levied by Westminster favoured English industries to the detriment of Scottish ones. The Union was an English protectionist measure set up by the monarchy and Westminster. The myth it has been good for Scotland is just that. Westminster operates to benefit the city of London and this is why present talk of ‘levelling up’ is just talk. Ireland was treated in a similar manner to Scotland. The Irish woollen trade was destroyed to protect England’s and during the terrible famine years of the 1840s while 400,000 Irish people were starving to death the grain they grew on their land was carted away to fill British bellies. Destitute Irish could see no future at home and so left. Likewise in Scotland. Between 1840 and 1940 a little short of a million Scots went to live in other parts of the UK while more than two million emigrated abroad.

The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society encouraged Scots escape starvation during the Highland Potato Famine of 1846 by emigrating to Australia. In Westminster the Emigration Act of 1851 provided subsidies to landlords to ship people abroad like so much livestock. Queen Victoria and assorted aristocrats contributed to the costs to rid Scotland of Scots, though she, herself, decided to use the country as a holiday retreat.   

At the Union Scotland’s population was about 20% of the UK’s population. Today Scotland’s 5.5 million make up 8.2% of the UK’s overall population. According to the James Hutton Institute Scotland’s rural populations could decline by 33% in little more than 20 years.

While I was able to find sources that looked at the impact of emigration on Ireland I found none on the impact of emigration from Scotland on Scotland. Although not identical emigration from Ireland has comparisons with Scotland but in Ireland’s case destitution drove emigration much more than occurred in Scotland. The perception that migrants are always poor and low skilled has never been true. Of course people emigrate for different reasons and some impoverished and low skilled will take their chances moving abroad, often under duress, but these groups are those least likely to migrate while the educated, skilled and ambitious are more likely to voluntarily emigrate.

Migrants have also moved to Scotland. Through the 19th and 20th centuries they came mainly from Ireland, the Baltic countries and northern Europe (a reversal of 16th and 17th century Scots moving abroad to trade), Italians and, of course, people from Wales and England. With increasing global migration, the number of Scots born outwith Scotland continues to increase; in 2018-19 just under 40,000 moved to Scotland from overseas – 20,000 greater than left.

Fraser of Allander gross disposable household income across UK 2018

The return of some autonomy to Scotland through the partial resurrection of a parliament in Edinburgh provided hope for the future of the country. However, Westminster jealously guards its overall control of the whole UK and will chip away at Edinburgh’s authority and will as far as possible implement policies that protect and support that southeast corner of England, as it has done since 1707. These are dangerous times for Scots. If Westminster succeeds in extinguishing Scotland’s recently found confidence and optimism the country will again be plunged into a state of hopelessness that led to people leaving over three hundred years. The Union that needed heavily armed fortifications to ensure compliance in its early days, that ran down Scotland and drained it of “its best men and women” might have proved a dividend for Westminster but at a terrible cost for Scotland.

Jan 6, 2021

Unions and Alliances: Divorce and the Bidie-in

D I V O R C E sang Tammy Wynette, an expert on the subject.

Divorce, yes divorce. Divorce is in the air. Have you noticed? When the UK filed for divorce from the EU it was complicated because there were four partners in that relationship – five if you count the EU. Two of the partners got their way and three did not. Now it should have been possible in those circumstances for those three unhappy with the breakup to stay in the relationship; being consenting partners. Actually one of the partners has, albeit by quirk rather than design. The remaining one of the original four, hope you’re keeping up, has been told she must cut off all connections with the former fifth partner even though she really wants the relationship to continue because one of the four is less of a partner and more of a tyrant. Isn’t that so like many unhappy marriages – in which one partner is overbearing?

Let’s put some names to the partners. The four are, of course, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales and the EU that has already been identified as partner number five. It’s a poor sort of marriage in which one partner is controlling but that’s always been the way with the constitutional setup of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland did not want this divorce but they’re stuck with it – only NI is being treated with more care and consideration than Scotland and now embarking on a ménage à trois with the EU and UK.

It is not that Scotland is averse to divorce. The majority of Scots would love to divorce the UK and reinstate relations with her Continental suitors. She would not be against rekindling some kind of relationship with the UK but on a more equitable footing – not the current one under the domineering and manipulative partner, let us call him England. England holds all the cards and for three hundred years has been playing with a marked deck.

England and divorce has a troubled history. I’m talking personal relationships now for I think it reasonable to compare how a nation handles its personal relationships with the way it handles constitutional ones. In the case of England marriages have always been unequally skewed with men of power and wealth able to obtain an annulment whereas wives, on the other hand, have struggled to extricate themselves from an obviously failed marriage, even where the husband is controlling and abusive. English laws have been written by men for men. Even from the grave a vindictive rogue of a husband and father could continue to harm his wife and children by omitting them from his will so leaving them penniless and homeless.

Vindictive and controlling are the traits that mark out England’s attitude towards Scotland’s desire for divorce. Okay, so to begin with the attitude was more derisory – to belittle and discredit but the tone has got more shrill and tinged with threat. Only days ago in a debate in the Commons, former Tory minister Liam Fox suggested in the event of divorce between Scotland and the rest of the UK Scotland would be punished by blocks on trade (that is so close to the events in 1707 which led to the Union it’s uncanny.)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman [Ian Blackford MP]for giving way. Perhaps he could tell us what estimate he has made of the cost to the Scottish economy of losing access to the UK single market through independence. (Liam Fox, Tory MP for North Somerset)

Dissolving the Union –

What? Nonsense! You can’t pull out of it now! Why? Surely not? What have I done? I haven’t done anything wrong! No, I won’t agree to any divorce! I’ll make your life miserable! I’ll punish you in every way I can! You’ll be made to suffer! Divorce me! How dare you even try!

These ridiculing and hostile attitudes have not gone down well with the majority of Scots who are expected to believe the Union is one of equals while experience shows it is nothing of the kind. This Union was always a marriage of convenience that quickly turned into a loveless trial. The dominant partner has never concealed his lack of respect for the other, denigrating and belittling her and keeping a tight hold on the purse strings to prevent her from leaving him. Confiscating the house keys will no doubt come next. Like almost every failing marriage there’s bad contemptuous behaviour, constant criticisms, secrecy, avoiding each other, arguments and the sex is lousy.

Scots attitudes to divorce have always been fairly liberal with both sexes tending to be treated equally and the assumption is this progressive perspective is shared. Far back in the mists of time Scottish marriages could be simply annulled or couples choose to go their own ways and lead separate lives while technically still married. Women as well as men could obtain formal divorces on grounds of adultery or desertion from the 1500s. When a relationship was shown to have irretrievably broken down the Scots were more pragmatic over the hopelessness of the situation and the union terminated. Threats of punishment and coercion were not considered suitable alternative actions.

Women’s standing has always been more robust in Scotland than in England. A Scots woman’s individualism did not get extinguished on her marriage, as was the case in England and you can see the majority of older Scottish gravestones display women’s own last name along with reference to her status as wife or relict of a man. Until relatively recent times that is. Now the English habit of a woman relinquishing her identity to her husband has become common here in Scotland. For a time it was the norm for a married woman to be addressed by her husband’s name – as in Mrs David Macdonald. That piece of nonsense is now hopefully relegated to the misogynist dustbin of the past.

You know why divorces are so expensive? Because they’re worth it. 

Scots women and children have always been better protected by the law than their English counterparts. For example a Scottish widow  could not be deprived of her jus relictae and the children of a marriage of their legitima – meaning they could not be written out of a husband’s/father’s will. A wife was entitled to one half of the movable assets of a marriage and her children to the other half and in the case of there being no children, the wife’s share comprised one-third. That should tell us about the type of society that operates in this way and the type of society that does not. As we’ve seen above this has never been the case in England.

A marriage in which one partner enjoys more rights than the other so able to restrict the rights and freedoms of the other partner is no worthwhile relationship. A union in which one member nation assumes greater privileges than another nation and gets to impose rules unilaterally is no worthwhile union. Under Scots law this union would have been dissolved long ago. Under English law Scotland remains a chattel of England’s.

The English state does not respect Scotland because Scotland’s status within the Union is so weak. Scratch a unionist and they’ll argue that Scotland’s position within the Union is comparable to an English county. Labour leader, Tony Blair, in 1997 epitomised this view when he described the Scottish parliament as having no more powers than an English parish council because sovereignty would remain “with me” i.e. the prime minister at Westminster.  So much for Scotland having an equal voice within the UK. This Union is nothing more than an abusive relationship but mentions pulling out of it and unionists are aghast then angry then more abusive.

Divorce after 300 years!

300 and a bit years. Call that a union?

Here’s a union. France, you know that country that a section of English xenophobes love to describe as their ‘traditional enemy’ (to which the obvious retort is – who isn’t?) has never been on the receiving end of such animosity from Scotland. Quite the reverse for links between Scotland and France are greater than those between Scotland and England.

This is a Union

The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, established in 1295, has never been formally ended so the Union with England is bigamous. England is the bidie-in. It has been argued the Auld Alliance was wound up in 1560. If this is so it means Scotland’s union with France lasted over 260 years, just 38 years shy of that other union with England.

When Scotland was badgered and blackmailed into the Union in 1707, against the wishes of the people who signed petitions, demonstrated and rioted their disapproval, Scotland lost her legislative powers, many of her public offices to London, with a knock-on impact on Scottish trade and commerce. Resentment within Scotland has simmered ever since with fluctuating degrees of support for independence or Home Rule.

Divorce is a piece of paper

Back in 1890 a piece in the Westminster Review described how the demand for Home Rule for Scotland was gaining popularity on the back of the movement for Irish Home Rule. The article went on to observe –

“But the grievance that impelled her [Scotland] to do it [go for Home Rule] have been long and severely felt.  And they have a deeper root than the English people seems yet to understand. It is not only that Scotland has been shabbily and unfairly treated in the matter of Imperial grants; it is not only that the Scottish people have been put to enormous and needless expense, vexation, and trouble in connection with so-called private Bills; it is not only that Scottish affairs have been grossly mismanaged in London; Scottish legislation trifled with by the leaders of both parties, and the verdict of the Scottish constituencies on Scottish questions reversed in Parliament by the overwhelming votes of English members knowing little, caring less, about Scottish affairs, and merely voting as their party leaders bid.”

Those observations could have come from yesterday in parliament at Westminster. In 1890 the two parties in question were the Liberals and Tories. Labour would later traipse along in their wake and with some notable exceptions follow the line of England knows best, back in your box Scotland – that has been the attitude of all the UK parties.

A feature throughout the life of the Union has been the English tendency to deride Scots and Scotland – as the Westminster Review put it – “wrong done thus and otherwise to Scotland’s life and honour and progress as a nation.” And nothing has changed.

“England seems scarcely to know that Scotland remains a nation.” (Westminster Review)

And nothing has changed. That is the position of Johnson, Starmer and their party acolytes. What the English know or think they know about Scotland comes from Anglicized Scots, the Westminster Review tells us. These people rarely represent their own country and so misrepresent the Union.

Divorces are made in heaven

Scottish Secretaries of State at Westminster represent Westminster in Scotland not Scotland at Westminster. Their role is to squeeze the life out of Scotland and ‘denationalise’ her. Scotland’s junior position within the Union has meant from the very start she was being milked for whatever she was worth by London, from the malt taxes to oil and gas.

Against the grain: Scotland pays the English Exchequer | Lenathehyena’s Blog (wordpress.com)

As an illustration take an example from 1851 when Ireland’s revenue was just over £4 million Westminster took £153,547. About the same time Scotland’s revenue was just over £6 million and of that England took £5,614,847. Astounding. If astounding is another term for theft.

Heavy burdens in the form of taxes and customs duties and making Scotland pay for England’s national debt – if only England wasn’t such a xenophobic country it wouldn’t always be spending money on costly wars against other nations – kept Scotland indebted to England and diminished her freedom as a nation within the Union. Scotland had no national debt when the Union knot was tied and England made sure that she could never have England’s freedom to borrow money. That still applies today with Scotland having to balance her books while England can accrue as much debt as it likes and demand Scotland pays a share. What kind of Scot would have agreed to a contract like that? Not any kind of good one.

Article 15 of the Treaty provided a lump sum – the so-called Equivalent – was paid to Scotland as compensation for having to agree to take on a share of England’s national debt. That and to compensate Scotland for various disadvantages imposed on her by the Union such as a reduction in the value of Scotland’s currency to match that of England’s, winding up the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies so it was not in competition with England’s East India Company.  To quell the protests from Scottish businessmen London agreed to provide subsidies as compensation for Scotland’s lost markets for its successful exports such as woollen goods. In keeping with so many promises made to woo the handful of Scots nobles who played fast and loose with Scotland’s independence those subsidies were never paid out. You can see the direction of travel this Union was taking. The Equivalent was paid to 25 commissioners who first and foremost took care of themselves with the cash – and it was mainly cash. So you can imagine how widely this was (not) spread. The Union that England holds so dear was created on a catalogue of lies and deceptions.

In place of promised financial help came an increased tax burden for Scots. Prominent Scots, such as the eminent economist, Adam Smith, tried to prevent Scotland being penalised so heavily by England but to no avail. Why would England’s government aka Westminster relinquish the grip it had on Scotland? It didn’t want to risk having a rival and potential threat to its security on its border. Which reminds us this Union was a marriage of convenience. Time for the bidie-in to sling his hook.

 I don’t see divorce as a failure. I see it as the end to a story. In a story, everything has an end and a beginning.

References:

(Julian Hoppit, University College London, Scotland and the British Fiscal State, 1707-1800. )The Westminster Review (19th and 20th centuries)

The Westminster Review (19th and early 20th century editions)


 

Aug 27, 2020

Break the Chains of Empire: nationalism and independence

The British Empire lasted some 300 years; about the same length of time that the United Kingdom has existed. The British Empire has gone. It is time the remnants of colonialism within the UK were also relegated to the past.

Good morning, Scotland. What is it you want?

Please, sir, I want some more.

What! More!

Yes, sir. I want more.

There is disbelief all round.

You already have devolution. What more could you want?

Independence, sir. I want my independence.

Independence? What nonsense is this? Not everyone can be independent. If everyone was independent nobody would appreciate it.

That’s not fair, sir. I want to be independent.  

Want! Want! It’s not your place to want! You’ll take what you’re given. Who ever heard of such a thing! There are people who make the rules and people whose duty it is to follow our rules. You are the latter. People who want, don’t deserve independence. And that’s the end of it.

The meaning of empire

The British Empire began as the English Empire although it adopted the name British before the Act of Union. England’s imperial expansion began in the 1500s, enabled by its aggressive navy expanded to break into the slave trade. Union in 1707 was sought by England primarily to remove potential support by Scotland for England’s enemy, France – henceforth Edinburgh was denied decision-making powers over foreign affairs and so has that remained. That the Union gave England control over Scottish trade was an additional, if secondary benefit. The Union of 1707 was not set up to benefit Scotland but to protect England politically and economically. And there was no whiff of democracy anywhere about the agreement struck between a few monied interests in Scotland and England’s parliament.

The Union of 1707 colonised Scotland in much the same way England then the United Kingdom colonised other parts of the world over three hundred years. As with its other colonies the Union parliament never envisaged equality between its heart, in London, and authorities in the peripheral parts of its empire. Power lay with London and there it would remain. That was the intention and nothing changed over three hundred years. Devolution of powers has not altered the conception of hierarchy and subordination within the United Kingdom. Within the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are subordinates which are not provided with the same levers of power provided to England.  

The idea the United Kingdom represents equality between the four nations is a chimera. Power lies with Westminster and in Westminster Scotland’s representatives are outnumbered 10:1. There has never been a time Scotland has been able to influence decisions in Westminster. And there never will be a time Scotland will be able to influence decisions made in Westminster, nor will Northern Ireland and Wales ever be placed on an equal footing with England.  

United does not mean equal

Like empires throughout history which have risen and declined so has the British Empire. Empires establish themselves when in a position to wield power against weaker nations and can crumble when their dictum of might is right is questioned by the powerless within their dominions.  

When under threat empires tighten their grip on the reins of power through brutality, corruption and threat. Opposition is condemned as treachery – anti-patriotic. In the case of the United Kingdom, loyalty means Britishness and Britishness has always been largely based on Englishness.

Not only does Scotland have no power whatsoever at the heart of England’s rump empire, the United Kingdom, for most of the past 300 years of its existence Scotland has scarcely been considered. Similarly with Wales and Northern Ireland – their representation at Westminster is as tokenistic as Scotland’s. Influence they have none. The populations in the three peripheral areas of the England’s rump empire are demeaned, patronised and the butt of humour as demonstrated in national ‘pet-names’- the equivalent of the racist term ‘boy’ in farther-flung parts of the empire – Scots are Jocks; Irish are Paddies; Welsh are Taffies. Jocks, Paddies and Taffies are invariably depicted as lacking sophistication, feckless, mean, chippy, grievance monkeys – ungrateful for the protection the ‘broad shoulders’ of the empire/UK affords them.  Empires evolve cultural myths. Given the hierarchical nature of empires it is the interests and culture of the dominant state that come to embody them.  Cultural values of the peripheries are defined as archaic curiosities and sources of derision and humour which tend to be abandoned in favour of those of the dominant power.  

Faced with ingratitude/challenge from within the peripheral nations the dominant power tends to act more aggressively. Troops might be sent in/ stationed in the troublesome periphery. We see this across the world and within the Union the population of Scotland was threatened and subdued by General Wade’s army in the 18th century. Empires might impose control through more sophisticated means such as installing bureaucracies into peripheral areas for greater control in parts far away from the centre of power. A recent example of this type of imperious incursion is Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh, embedding Westminster-rule into the heart of Scotland in defiance of devolution and meant as a visible reminder to Scotland of who really is in charge; and it is not the Scottish people or their own parliament. 

It is an observation often made that the farther away populations are from the centre of power the less the centre represents their interests. Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth House may be a recognition of this but given that Scotland has never figured in its consideration of what is best for the Union as opposed to what suits south-east England it is more likely this hub is the equivalent of General Wade’s force – intimidation and reminder that authority rests with London.

Where threats to empire exist but are less threatening to the dominant power degrees of autonomy are sometimes used to diminish calls for independence. This gives an impression of a benevolent centre of power willingly sharing responsibilities but powers transferred are an illusion for the centre of empire retains the ability to withdraw those same powers whenever it decides. Remember the Union like any empire is a hierarchy in which ultimate authority is retained by the dominant nation; democracy is limited to partial self-government in peripheral areas. Democracy under the Union favours England’s needs and ambitions above those of other parts of the UK through the makeup of the Houses of Parliament and chain of command of government based in London.    

India was the British Empire’s greatest source of wealth. Britain’s ransacking of it began when England set up the East India Company in 1599 and by the 1700s Britain was imposing taxes on India. By stealth greater and greater controls were imposed until eventually Britain ruled India directly, governing it with a rod of iron and keeping the ‘peace’ through a policy of divide-and-rule in which divisions between Hindus and Muslims were encouraged.  A period known as the British Raj, notorious for luxury and moral decay lasted from 1858 to 1947. This was rule from London to benefit London, the heart of empire. Rarely were native authorities and peoples consulted on any matter. When the British prime minister declared war against Germany in 1939, the announcement was made without consultation with Indian ministers although India was expected to provide millions of troops and provisions for the war effort. High-handed, disrespectful, racist and xenophobic – qualities demonstrated by the British Empire.

Sick of centuries of exploitation by the racist empire, Indians demanded self-determination instead of being administered by London. In London this was regarded as outrageous ingratitude. Lord Linlithgow, the Empire’s man-in-charge in India at the time, a staunch British unionist, threatened India by further inflaming the very internal divisions that London had so adeptly used in the past to keep India in its place. He and London were implicated in the deaths of millions from famine in Bengal in 1943 because of Britain’s policy of destroying food supplies and requisitioning of boats and other means of transport that prevented the movement of goods and food within India. Ruthless and heartless government by Westminster encouraged support for the Quit India movement that demanded an end to British rule. It’s spokesman Mahatma Gandhi said,   

“I discovered that I had no rights as a man because I was an Indian.”

The Empire struck back. Gandhi and fellow Indian Congress members were arrested and imprisoned. Press censorship intended to silence the independence movement and the Empire’s human rights abuses could not happen now with social media but then lies spread about India’s independence movement were fed to a lackey press.  

There are different forms of nationalism just as there are different forms of democracy in the world. Empires exist to benefit a tiny portion of their populations. When people grow sick of being oppressed for the benefit of the few at the heart of empire they try to change the political structure to better reflect their interests and needs. Empires by their nature are parasitic, sucking the life-blood out of the peripheral areas they govern. So nationalist movements emerge offering hope in the shape of government that will take more cognisance of the desires of the affected people. John Maclean the great socialist advocated Scottish nationalism as the path to socialism and a better world for Scots.  

As more Indians saw through the desperate dirty tricks employed by the British Empire so the clamour for independence grew – for India to govern itself in its own interests, not those of the Empire/UK. The Empire/UK struck out – 1,000 Indians were killed during protests and movement leaders imprisoned (Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, died in jail.)  The Empire/UK lost the people’s respect. Once that has gone it is a matter of time before any empire falls. For 300 years India had been subjugated by the British Empire/UK. Soon, Pakistan, too became independent.

The British Empire was once the alpha power and London the alpha capital. This is no longer the case. The Empire created through violence and threat declined because of its arrogance, corruption, xenophobia and disrespect for its peripheral areas. Yes, it was Scots who largely ran the British Empire. It has been said this was because Scots were better educated than in other parts of the UK. Perhaps there is truth in that. It may also have been because educated ambitious Scots had few career opportunities available to them within Scotland because of how Scotland’s infrastructure was run down so that the majority of high-powered jobs were created/preserved for the centre of UK power, London, and Etonian Oxbridge friends of friends in the capital. That Scots participated to a high degree in the British Empire is neither here nor there. Scotland as a nation was as much a victim of the imperial motivations of London as other peripheral parts of the Empire. And while other colonies have won their independence, Scotland remains trapped in a Union founded on inequality.

The British Empire’s decline left behind a debtor United Kingdom, pressurised by the USA because of world war debt to open up access to its international markets. The rump of Empire/UK that remains – the union of the UK – still exhibits the predatory characteristics shared by all empires. They are ingrained in it. The alpha power lashes out whenever its authority is challenged. Whereas India and other former Empire nations were subjected to brutal repression in response to their demands for independence Scotland it is supposed will be subjected to a thrashing by propagandists for the UK. Threats of disaster and failure; of ingratitude have been and will increasingly be made.

Empires resist their loss of power. The mythical hand of friendship extended from the centre of empire to the peripheries is always in the end a fist. Threats escalate as an empire defends its authority. The UK built on violence and threats will die issuing still more threats meant to undermine confidence in the subordinate nation’s future success.

But as India proved, lying and threats, corruption and moral decay, far from saving a venal order leads to its demise. Once people stop believing the indoctrination; once they see it for what it is propaganda concocted to preserve inequalities of the Union/empire they have won – by realising they are the means of changing the world.

Apr 29, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 6

Week 6 was fairly uneventful. That is probably a good thing.

News and figures of casualties of Covid-19 continue to be grim. It’s a strange kind of reality that we grow accustomed to high numbers of dead and dying overnight from a single cause. It is a shock to the system that so many of those we are dependent on, carers and NHS staff of every level, have lost their lives to this terrifying virus. It is a sharp reminder that our complacent lives built around consumerist capitalism and celebrity banality are nothing compared with the force of a tiny virus with knobs on; rich 21st century nations brought to their knees.

We learn revelation by revelation prised from the mouths of politicians of rising numbers of dead. We learn there are so many different ways to count the dead – confirmed by tests, confirmed at hospitals, confirmed by GPs but some dead are omitted. Some in this case being around the same number again and way above the figure of 20,000 quoted by Sir Patrick Vallance on 17 March as the number below which would be a “good result.” As that figure has already been swamped by upwards of 100 per cent it appears the get-out-of-jail card “we are following the science” used as a shield by politicians has been exposed as not being quite THE science it was held up to be. THE science behind Westminster’s response to the virus is a secretive club called SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and includes Sir Patrick Vallance who is the government’s chief scientific adviser. Westminster has been forced to admit that SAGE includes Johnson’s political aids. So, the mantra should be – “we are following the political science.” The political science isn’t that good for as the Financial Times has been highlighting the real number of deaths from Covid-19 in the UK is running in excess of 40,000. Perhaps SAGE should change its name to STAGED – Scientists and Tories Advisory Group for Emergency Deception.

The seeds are out of quarantine and sown so fingers crossed we’ll have good germination and a bumper crop of veg and herbs later in the summer. Some begonia plug plants arrived, too, for pots and containers which would normally be packed with annuals but as we can’t get out to buy them this year it’s going to be a begonia summer.

Walks have been largely uneventful although I did have a socially responsible social distanced conversation with a local man who cycles for exercise and was lugging around a plastic sack full of empty drinks cans thrown out of vehicles by litter louts or as they are known in these parts, minkers. I felt obliged to do my bit a few days ago and picked up yet another can, the usual Red Bull, and placed it in a recycling bin near at hand. Only then did I remember I should have been wearing gloves so had to do the whole washing of hands thing when I got home. Would love to walk along a beach but the nearest beach is 25 miles away so I’m making do picking over some delightful types of rock filling our ditches. Mainly granites there are other igneous rocks, some white quartz, lots of stones with shiny pieces of mica and bits of flint. You have to find interest where you can and rocks and minerals are fascinating – and every one is different.

Birds – house martins have arrived. Not yet building nests but flying overhead with that fast, darting movement. They are only in penny numbers where in recent years we would see lots of them. It’s beyond sad that some people actively prevent them from building their beautiful nests against gable walls. We love our house martins, waiting impatiently for them to arrive from the south, watching them build and following the broods fly for the first time catching insects in the air. Some folk need to get a life and stop complaining about bird droppings. In actual fact there was no mess beneath our martins’ double nest last year although that’s not always the case. Hanging plastic carrier bags on the end of houses and garages to prevent birds building nests is shameful – and looks mingin – adjective from the noun minker. Pulling down nests is criminal.

Those starlings still seem interested in nesting in the tree hole still under scrutiny from jackdaws. It’s a strange setup. These starlings are like cowboy builders – start a job, turn up once or twice then disappear for ages.

I’ve been re-reading some of Stewart Alan Robertson’s essays in A Moray Loon (loon is a youth in northeast Scotland.) Stewart from Loanhead in Midlothian was a teacher in Scotland and England and for a time an inspector of education. He wrote engagingly on all kinds of fascinating Scottish topics from Kale Kirks to the scientist Mary Sommerville (science writer and polymath – I bet she would have come up with better science than any emerging from SAGE.) Stewart used his extensive Scottish vocabulary to great effect in his articles – many largely forgotten terms such as halflin for a young loon (usually a farm labourer) and blackneb which was one who sympathised with the French Revolution.

I’ve just started J. MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie. MacDougall Hay hailed from Tarbert. Goodness know what sort of place Tarbert in Argyll was in the mid-19th century – this is where the novel is set. It’s dark. Very dark. Perhaps too dark to read during these dark times.

Keep safe.

Nov 11, 2019

What is mine is mine and what is yours is also mine: Scotland in union

Flag of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies

How England colonised Scotland.

A report out this week is critical of Westminster’s handling of the economy and its impact on Scotland – disastrous. It argues that Scotland’s potential for wealth is – big – but the actuality in a decidedly unequal union is – dodgy.

For fifty years we have watched as £zillions of revenue from oil and gas taken out of Scottish waters flows downhill to London to reduce the size of the national debt, support tax breaks and financial incentives for oil and gas multinationals, enable eye-wateringly costly building projects and infrastructure to boost the economy of London.

Tax revenue from the UK’s offshore industries, 90% of which lie off Scotland, could have been (should have been) designated as Scottish revenue. It wasn’t. Instead Westminster dreamed up a make-believe place which they called the UK Continental Shelf. This meant Scotland could not claim oil and gas fields as hers because they were situated in Wonderland aka the UK Continental Shelf.

At one fell swoop the enormous wealth that might have made such a difference to Scotland’s scattered, much of it rural, population – to the provision of health and social care, education, transport was whipped away. Imagine if anything like the money squandered on the bottomless pit that is London’s cross-rail project or HS2 had been invested around Scotland – proper roads and choice of transport in the Highlands – all you can do is imagine for it never happened. Wealth is what goes to southeast England, from Scotland.

Just to be sure that uppity Scots would not benefit from Britain’s offshore bonanza Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, picked up an HB pencil and drew a line through Scottish waters re-allocating a chunk to England – exemplifying that age-old practice of the coloniser to annexe territory wherever and whenever because they have the powers to do so. Westminster must have been gratified at how easy it was to achieve. That sort of thing used to cause wars.

It is one thing to allow fish taken from Scottish waters to be regarded as Scottish but not highly valuable oil and gas. No ifs no buts Westminster ignored protests from Scotland because despite the union of the UK being described as a union of equals it isn’t. The UK is England’s little empire. Scotland is a mere colony; there to provide the mother country with resources not to benefit directly from them.

Scotland’s waters

Imagine the scene – an office deep inside Westminster where a bourach of suited men with dandruff on their shoulders leaning in over a large table – highly polished by a migrant worker on minimum wage – concocting the means by which they could appropriate Scotland’s cash cow like a bunch of 20th century border reivers.

Of course the colony of Scotland was thrown a crumb in the form of per capita portion of the revenues but as England’s population is ten times that of Scotland you don’t have to be a financial wizard to realise which of the equal partners of the union got the lion’s share.

The plotters in London weren’t even very good at getting the best value out of hydrocarbons. A simple comparison with Norway which virtually mirrors the UK’s oil and gas industries reveals quite astonishingly that the Norwegians generated more than double the revenue of the UK on every single barrel of oil. These civil servants and politicians managed not only to screw Scotland but screw themselves into the bargain. Only just not as much.

Back in 2014 at the time of the independence referendum Scotland was in the unusual position of being a producer of one of the world’s most lucrative products and yet the message coming out from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats was this was a bad thing for once oil was gone it was gone and then where would Scotland be? Same place England would be. And as the silent and largely forgotten partner in the precious union dependent on crumbs tossed northwards from London, that’s where. Since Scotland has a tendency to see Nordic countries as fellow-nations it is highly likely that had Scotland been in receipt of her own oil and gas revenues Scots would be cushioned from the worst times through a Norwegian type oil fund that could have eased the transfer from hydrocarbons to renewable.

There is no question that Westminster is responsible for severely damaging Scotland’s economy. If what came out of the North Sea had been plastic waste Westminster would have let it alone instructing Scotland to deal with its own problem but it wasn’t waste it was wealth. Like the EU farming funds meant for Scottish farmers Westminster grabbed oil and gas revenues for itself. That’s the thing about colonists, remember – what’s theirs is theirs and what is the colony’s is also theirs – if it is valuable.

This is simply state organised abuse. You know the scenario where an abusive husband insists his abused wife stays with him because she keeps getting beaten up – and he’ll protect her. There’s an Eric Bogle song, Glasgow Lullaby about a woman who keeps taking a beating from her drunken man and never leaves –

Oh my God, it’s a weary, weary life
Who wid be a drinkin’ man’s wife
Who wid thole a’ this trouble and this strife
Who but a silly woman

Scotland is Westminster’s abused wife. She should tell it/him where to get off then take away its/his keys to the shared house. Scotland needs to just say no to Westminster. Scotland too poor to stand on her own? It’s the oldest trick in the bullies handbook. Demoralize, demean, intimidate, undermining confidence. Lie. You’re too stupid. Too weak. We’ll hurt you if you leave.

It is said that clarifying what counts as Scottish in the UK economic stakes is complicated. Well, not that complicated but I’ll simplify it.

Let’s take Scotland’s international trade. Scotland’s exports to the rest of the world are counted as Scottish. Or sometimes they are. If goods or services leave Scotland for England, Wales or Northern Ireland and then get jumbled up with other goods or services and are subsequently exported then whatever Scotland’s input is disappears and the export is recorded as a UK export. I have not been able to discover what an English-produced good sent to Scotland and then exported as part of some other product is designated.

Of course that applies to goods apart from oil and gas which are always listed under the UK. The same applies to services provided by offshore industries – these also get added to UK income not Scottish. Anyone living around northeast Scotland will know that over the past fifty years servicing oil and gas here and across the world has been a major source of work and income.

So what will happen in the coming months with another independence referendum on the horizon? The UK’s media will rediscover its Scottish granny once more and we’ll have wall-to-wall Britain rammed down our throats. Once again Scots will be warned and threatened and sneered at for their ingratitude at wanting their country to regain its soverign nation status. You won’t have oil and gas…and neither will England and rumpUK. You’re too wee…as if size matters.

Scotland’s land area covers 77,933 km2 and the population is about 5,424,000. The GDP is currently about $237.628 billion that works out per capita about $43,740. Compare that with other small nations – that just happen to be the wealthiest countries in Europe.

Switzerland is a bit like Scotland – lots of mountains and lochs (they call them lakes) and, like Scotland is a top tourist destination. It doesn’t have oil and gas and it isn’t a major source of wind and wave power. Its population is around 8,600,000 not too different from Scotland’s and its land area a sqeeny 41,285 km2. So far so similar only its per capita is about double that of Scotland at US$ 85,374.

How about Norway another small European country, even more like Scotland with mountains and lakes and it does have an oil and gas industry. It covers 385,207 km2  much of that mountainous with a population around Scotland’s at just over 5,000,000. It is almost Scotland’s double – double in that its wealthy per capita is more than double at US$ 97,226 and its GDP again double, running northwards of $400 billion.

Luxembourg is a tiny country of .2,586.4 km2 and its population just over 600,000. It has no oil and gas and is not exactly graced with mountains and lakes. It is the third richest country in Europe with a per capita income of US $ 116,560.

If the gloom mongers of Better Together are to be believed Lichtenstein would be an independent basket case  – too wee, no oil and gas. It is tiny at only 160 km2  and its population is the size of Airdie’s at around 37,000. It does have mountains and virtually no unemployment. Per capita income is an impressive US $ 143,000.

The richest country in Europe is minisculy, tiny – only 2.2 km2. Monaco has a population of around 40,000 and its per capita runs to US $ 168,000. Oh and it doesn’t have high mountain or oil and gas. And not only is it the richest country in Europe it is the richest country in the world.

Anyone who would deny Scotland’s right to become independent on the basis of size needs to be told again and again and again that size doesn’t matter – it’s what you do with it.

One of the reasons these small independent countries are so successful is that they aren’t tied into an unequal, though precious, union with England run from Westminster.

Westminster has been interfering with Scotland’s economy even before the precious union was a gleam in the eye of some speculators both Scottish and English. In the days when building empires was all the rage and Scots thought they might dabble in just such a thing the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies (and incidentally the Americas) was established. It ran from 1695 – 1707 and the more observant of you will have registered the end date.

This enterprise proved to be an adventure too far – at least for the English state. It was the brainchild of that entrepreneur, William Paterson, the Scot behind the Bank of England.

At the time Scotland shared a monarch with England – the result of the union of the crowns in 1603 – but was otherwise an independent state. However, Scotland was left in no doubt that with the transfer of its king to London so the crown’s interests also moved south. in fact Scotland was regarded as an irritant (not to be dependent upon to back England in its wars of which there were many) and gadzooks a potential economic rival to the East India Company and Royal African Company. Bold Scotland’s attempt to create its own empire – a colony in northeast Canada around what is now Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island in 1621 foundered a decade later – a victim of England’s war with France.

Nova Scotia

Paterson’s scheme to colonise Darien, (Panama) in Central America to provide Scottish commerce with a secure harbour with access to both Atlantic and Pacific oceans found initial support within England as well as Scotland. However, as soon as the East India Company got wind of the plan it lobbied the King and the English parliament to scupper it. English investors took fright abandoning the whole sorry mess to Scots speculators. Those of you familiar with recent banking scandals will not be surprised that bankers and businessmen were equally duplicitous in the 17th century and to cut a long story short much of the money raised to fund the venture disappeared into various deep pockets.

See Darien and Navigation Acts: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2017/11/03/theres-nothing-like-the-smell-of-xenophobia-in-the-morning

The Darien scheme had two enemies, aside from the climate, the Spanish who regarded the area as theirs and the English who regarded everything else as theirs. Scots ships were attacked and relations with England reached their lowest point.

Having an enemy on its border concerned the English court and parliament while within Scotland hardship increased not least through the loss of so much money wasted on Darien, lost commerce from confiscated cargoes on top of several seasons of poor harvests which hit the poorest hardest with severe food shortages. Scotland was on her knees.

England’s Navigation Acts crushed Scottish commerce by forcing all goods imported into England to be transported in English vessels. With the wind behind them England’s parliament at Westminster pressed for union with Scotland – to enable it the better to control the land to the north.

There was no democracy back in the 18th century and Scottish merchants who lost fortunes because of Darien and England’s aggressive maritime policy that denied Scotland access to its markets, were made an offer they felt they could not refuse. Come in with England and we’ll pay you compensation or else. This was union at the point of a sword – blackmail. England had the whip hand and used it to great effect. The ‘compensation’ was a carrot – and Scotland’s wealthy donkeys bit.

And so some of Scotland’s landed interests and city merchants accepted the 18th century equivalent of cashback. Cash paid as compensation for losses incurred through the actions of England and Spain. This cashback was called the Equivalent. Needless to say such an enticement came with strings attached. Scotland would have to agree to take on a share of England’s horribly large national debt and – wouldn’t you know – be taxed higher.

Once agreed the Equivalent cashback was distributed from the offices of the former Company of Scotland in Edinburgh and from the ashes a new company emerged imaginatively called the Equivalent Company. This group transformed itself into a banking organisation out of which the Royal Bank of Scotland materialised. And we know what that led to.

Scots were reassured that the proposed union with England would retain Scotland’s sovereignty. Of course that was a lie.

I have read but cannot confirm that a century earlier James VI, the guy who started all this union malarkey, or perhaps it was Sir Henry Savile in 1604, remarked that union between Scotland and England would end with the conquest of Scotland by England. He/he wasn’t wrong.

Ref – A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707, John Robertson ed.,, CUP 2006

Oct 28, 2015

The Ballad of the House of Lords – a parcel of rogues went down in their brogues

The Ballad of the House of Lords

lords

There are ladies and lords and people with swords

and one or two in riding boots

there are barons and earls and viscounts in pearls

concealed under Savile Row suits.

There are marquesses and dukes and other such sooks

who’ve dropped in by from the races

for there’s lunch to be had of pressed gammon and crab

to satisfy several gluttonous graces.

There’s Bordelaise sauce and tarragon concasse,

and slow cooked ox cheek for lunch

while somebody croaks another snorts coke

with more in the bar quaffing punch.

A parcel of rogues went down in their brogues

from Scotland to sponge off our taxes

Lord MacFlannel this and Lady MacPish

downing drams until both collapse(s).

There’s boozers and cruisers and downright losers

who’ll turn up to vote on all fours

and Lord Whip-me Quickly and Lady Most Thickly

high class whores and out and out bores

Lords Nanny-oh-Nanny let me lie on your fanny

and some that are down on their luck

bankers and wankers and judges who’re spankers

and some who’re just there for the… company.

Both jailbirds and crooks and those who’ve cooked the books

In their velvet silk they preen

they’re sad and they’re mad and invariably bad

as they sit on their arses serene.

On the woolsack they repose, stuffed with bodies of those

from the commonwealth exploited and oppressed

died creating the wealth accrued by British stealth

from people and lands repressed.

They’re gruesome and cant and hysterically camp

and they pay lip service to duty

but they snivel and flout as they mumble and pout

frightfully snooty while pocketing their booty.

With tax-free pay, £300 every day

if they choose to turn up for the fee

with expenses besides for air travel and rides

from France or the banks of the Dee.

Freeloaders and grovellers and democracy spoilers

who backscratch their way to the House

with brown envelopes or bribe they join a huge tribe

of 800 peers, each a louse.

There are city boy slickers some fur coat and nae knickers

there’s Lord Rent-a-Gob down from the north

and Ladies who’ll do benders in stockings and suspenders

whose value is all in their girth.

We’ve a bootlicking bunch that scheme during lunch

of lavender shortbread and cream

they’re all pals and they’re cronies and out and out phonies

all cogs in this corrupt regime.

The crawlers and creeps and Uriah Heeps

that dominate this Other Place

the sycophants and leeches, Church of England preachers

attendees of this House with the mace.

Those winkers and nudgers and out and out fudgers

who’ve no business making laws by rights

putting on airs and graces they mix in high places

with Dames and doddering old Knights.

They snigger and incite as they straighten their tights

the cross-benchers that is in their hose

and they squat in their jackets that were tailored by Hacketts

crowing that’s no skin off my nose.

For they’re pampered and rich and often quite kitsch

these Peers in their rabbit skin cloaks

more suitably goat rather than stoat

that’s wrapped around these pompous old soaks.

Scarlet, white and gold they gather so bold

a mob more hideous than most

and they smirk and they wink and they horribly stink

of sewers and all things gross.

Lady Oily, Lord Glib, Lord Bluster, Lady Fib

all revelling in their conceit

to shore up a regime of autocratic extreme

to screw every man in the street. (and woman)

Lord Toff to Lord Swell said it’s all very well

for other to criticise us at our game

but we’re magnates and lairds not politically impaired

tho’ we haven’t a vote to our name.

There are nawabs and sheikhs and all sorts of cliques

that run countries without any fuss

what’s the problem with Britain so many are smitten

with real democracy in place of this bluff?

They check in Burke’s Peerage and generally forage

to find their names get a mention

for it’s gratifying to see Lords and Ladies Swan-ky

are doing their bit for the nation.

Lady Ladida ‘n Lord Heehaw thought the mace was a see-saw

connected – not brainy you see

pedigree and good breeding can be so misleading

when deciding who gets in and succeeds.

So it’s up to us to generate a fuss

to demand that we drop this sham now

instead of amending the Lords need rendering

obsolete – this old sacred cow.

lords 2

Sep 6, 2015

The Power of the Still Image

I am an idiot

A few days ago I was harangued by a tweeter and called an idiot. It’s happened before but we followed each other so I thought it worth engaging in a dialogue but each of her responses exploded with anger and so I shrugged my shoulders and retired to bed.

The reason for her fury was I published a picture of the little three-year old Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach and I had done so without the permission of the child’s mother.

News of the family’s fate was only emerging so I didn’t know at the time that his mother and brother also drowned but his father survived.

I could see where my angry tweeter was coming from – a young mother herself she was clearly heartbroken by the image and would have hated to see her own child exposed in such a way. I imagine she felt it was exploitation of the child though she did not say this.

It seemed to me her understandable feelings of horror and outrage were just a little misplaced. This was no school play where little children are protected from being photographed by other adults unless permission is given by a parent. Here, on the Turkish beach, where so many others were washed up dead, was a striking image of an innocent child, a victim of war – of the instability and violence that comes from trying to live a normal life under impossible circumstances. This child’s parents risked everything to get him to a better, safer life in war-free Europe.

He was not the first wee child to die in a desperate rush to leave bombing, rapes, beheadings and sanctions behind. He was not the first wee child to be drowned. Nor was he the first wee child to be washed up dead on a beach. He was a migrant. That fate is not uncommon amongst migrants. In fact it so common the numbers rarely register with us when we read them in newspapers or hear them on the news – if we bother to take notice of them at all. Numbers are fairly meaningless to us. The bigger the number the more meaningless it becomes. We cannot compute numbers into little children. It’s too abstract a concept.

But this picture – this picture clearly struck a chord with people across the world. This picture illustrated what this ‘migrant crisis’ is all about. It is about people escaping the sort of life we cannot imagine in the desperate hope of finding something better, of finding security to develop as human beings – normality.

For someone of my vintage the immediate comparison was the picture from the Vietnam war of the little girl, Kim Phúc, who had been napalmed and was running naked down a street. No-one asked her mum for permission to use it, and like Alan’s photograph it was quickly circulated across the globe. Of course we had heard about the Americans dropping napalm bombs but stuff happens. Then we saw this terribly distressed girl and realised the consequences of American politicians and generals signing off orders to drop napalm on combatants and their farms. Kim was a combatant – goodness is that what these men and women safely cocooned thousands of miles away consider a combatant? – justified incidental collateral damage?

With Kim’s photograph her fellow-countrymen women and children stopped being just numbers in a long list of numbers that conceals the reality of victims – of human beings like us being treated so appallingly. Public opinion was outraged and attitudes hardened towards the US policy. Once ordinary citizens have begun to sit up and take notice of government actions it is more difficult for bad things to happen.

Images not words can be harbingers of change. If you don’t think so then why is it companies spend so much perfecting the right image to symbolize their businesses? We are moved by images. We respond to images. Little Alan’s death is a tragedy, as is his brother’s and his mother’s. We feel for his father. Should the photographer had tracked down his father and asked his permission to use the photograph that has become iconic of the refugee crisis? I don’t think so. Call me an idiot for suggesting little Alan has become the property of us all. The randomness of the image has been distilled to represent the callous disregard of too many government leaders who like David Cameron denigrated desperate refugees as sub-human – swarms of insects – to his everlasting shame and the shame of all those contemptible MPs who a few short weeks ago insisted we keep little children like Alan away from the United Kingdom. Some have undergone an epiphany with Labour’s leadership contenders falling over each other to offer sanctuary to a migrant refugee. The British press, too, have softened the hard-line, stunned into altering the terminology of consistently calling them migrants to occasional reference to refugees. As is becoming increasingly the norm the mainstream media drags its heels behind public opinion on social media. Following clear signals from the country that this nasty little Englander attitude towards foreigners shown by the media and the government was so lamentably out of tune with public opinion there has been a reluctant gritting of teeth and altering the message. Days ago the BBC told listeners the Prime Minister was ENABLED to act, to alter his policy on migrants – or did they say refugees? because of the picture of Alan. Typical BBC, ever propagandising for the government – Cameron wasn’t ENABLED he was shamed into shifting his position. Now that comment was arguable idiotic.

Emigrants into the USA

Immigrants into the USA at turn of 20thC

PS My angry tweeter stopped following me. And I her. Maybe we should exchange pictures instead.

Imagery https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/sellings-the-game-marketing-home-and-away

Jun 22, 2015

The House of Lords is fundimundily wrong

The Sunday Times 1 Feb 2015

There are around 200 more members of the unelected House of Lords than sit in the House of Commons, surely an indictment of the state of democracy in the UK. Westminster is rotten at its core. The shamefully undemocratic nature of government in the UK is boosted and bolstered by the self-proclaimed progressive parties; Labour and Liberal and their eager members eyeing up a place in the second chamber – men such as Alistair Darling – one-time socialist and now new boy to those coveted red leather benches. darling a peer Our politicians don’t so much represent life outside Westminster as create a parallel existence within its walls that can extend to careers beyond the normal stretch of a working life. Labour, the fundillymundily party, has huffed and puffed for over a century but it is a game it plays and its supporters pretend to believe it is serious when it promises to reform the Lords. All bluster of course for Labour MPs and their cronies are falling over each other to reach those red benches alongside their pals, where the powerful go prior to death. foulkes There are inevitable attempts at justifying their pampered existence – claiming to bring experience and expertise to scrutinise government but only to a point for only the most corrupt of governments in the world operates a chamber as iniquitously  stuffed as this one. john reid As the Conservatives, Labour and Liberals all support the Lords there is no prospect of real advances in democratising government in the UK, certainly not under the party which speaks so often of reform then goes on to inflate its membership there, Labour. In any case why is it talk of reform? There should be no place for any such unelected chamber that makes government into a perk for the few in the 21st century. Michael Martin No the fundilymundily party is in love with the whole panoply of the Lords; the ermine robes, the cosy camaraderie within its soporific atmosphere, optional working hours, the £300+ a day plus expenses, the subsidised food and drink – what’s not to like for erstwhile lefties such as Alistair Darling? darling young List of Labour Party peers Labour Peers