Thursday, September 25, 2014

After the vote, or, the Union saved

In the end it all went horribly wrong for the splitters. Gordon Brown rose from the dead to revitalise the union cause, the waverers wavered toward "No" and Alex Salmond fell on his sword. 55% was not as much as I would have liked but it is sufficient to put this issue to bed for a while. We still live in a United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond is likely to be replaced by his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. There seems to be a element of the piscine about the names of the SNP leaders but heaven forfend that anyone should make cheap jokes about it all being a bit fishy.

Mrs. Commuter and I heard the news in our hotel bedroom in Dijon, whither we had repaired on a short holiday to taste (and I mean that literally) the delights of Burgundy, a beautiful rural region of France that is home to many memorable dishes. Our final night's dinner of oeufs meurette, boeuf bourginogne and an assiette of fromages was not the sort of thing you eat every night, if you value your waistline, but we had done a fair bit of walking and felt justified in indulging.

Dijon has no underground system but trams run around (though not through) the historic city centre and though we did not travel on one, I know you'd like to see a picture anyway so here you are.
Sorry about the street sign but I think it adds a certain something to the picture [amateur naffness, perhaps?: Ed]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Battle of Britain commemoration

The annual remembrance of the contribution of Polish airmen in the RAF was held today at the Polish War Memorial, situated at a junction of the A40 at the edge of RAF Northolt, the wartime fighter station where many Poles were based. After a brief service there was the laying of wreaths, starting with the dignitaries including an Air Vice Marshal, the Polish Ambassador and the Mayor of  Hillingdon,  and representatives from other boroughs including Newark which has a very strong association with the Polish effort. Then one wreath for each of the fighter and bomber squadrons commemorated on the memorial, some laid by survivors and others by relatives. Finally, the highlight was the flypast of a Spitfire and Hurricane. The wonderfully evocative snarl of Merlin aero-engines filled the air, coming just before the planes themselves, tiny compared to the jets on the airstrip, hurtled overhead.

We were fortunate that they made several passes, permitting your correspondent time to get his camera into position and take at least one reasonable picture. 
Polish War Memorial
Bandits at 9, skipper

Friday, September 12, 2014

Herons over Ruislip

I was enjoying a coffee as a well-earned reward for the efforts expended in my earlier post today when I looked up across the back garden to see an unexpected visitor.

My neighbour's shed seems an unlikely haunt

A zoom shot as it admires itself in the glass roof panel
I would rather these birds kept well away. Fortunately, at this time of year, the goldfish in the little pond are well camouflaged under a thick layer of plants but they will be exposed later on. Now I know what sheep farmers must feel when the wolves are circling...

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 7 – SNP and the destruction of the English language

I really was not intending to write any more about the referendum. But it is now the number one topic on current affairs programmes and inevitably one is drawn into the arguments. This morning I was idly listening to Today in bed, as one does when taking a day off. [He's been retired for a while but we don't want to shatter his pathetic illusions that the business world still needs him: Ed] I heard an SNP supporter using the phrase "this failed political union" and once again the blood rushed to my head, my eyes rolled and my writing fingers began to itch.

  • Direct control from Westminster over all matters of Scottish life including allocation of housing, education, the police, investment, control over candidates for Parliament - that might signify a failed union.
  • Scots unable to buy property in the rest of the UK, forbidden to travel, discriminated against when working south of the border, refused entry to pubs and hotels, singled out for stop-and-search by the police, kept waiting for many hours to cross the border - this would indicate a failed union.
  • No democratic elections for many years despite continuous mass demands for them - that would show a failed political union.
  • Arrests of anyone campaigning for independence, bloody suppression of demonstrations, secret police, disappearance of activists, English commissars with arbitrary powers including detention, torture and execution - that would indeed signify a failed political union.

And so on. Now you could say that some of these things did indeed take place following the battle of Culloden when the people of the Highlands were punished for support for the Jacobite cause. And you could counter-argue that even then the majority of Scots supported the union and were not Jacobites and that, within a generation, Scots were serving proudly in the British army, were represented in Government and were enjoying the full fruits of the economic boom accompanying the expansion of the British trading and political empire (as anyone who has wandered through the splendid Georgian streets of the "new town" in Edinburgh can witness).

All that was more than 200 years ago. To describe the current state of the British polity as failed is like a child who has not been picked to star in the class play (where there are only 6 main roles and 25 kids) screaming "It's not fair" and banging her head on the desk. Put it another way - the UK model is widely copied and respected around the world as an example of how to create a peaceful, representative, honest system of government. The very fact that the referendum is taking place and will be legally honoured if the result is for independence is testament to the strength of the system. Yet the SNP says it is failure, and sure the SNP are honourable men and women. [That's enough Shakespeare at this time of the morning, thanks: Ed]. Yugoslavia was a failed union. Pakistan was a failed union. When it all ends in militias, shelling of cities and slaughter of unarmed civilians, that's a failed union. The UK has been an outstanding success, despite the relative domination by the English over the rest, a domination that is acknowledged and is steadily being reduced as devolution increases, and the merits of the UK far outweigh its disadvantages. If this is failure, give me more of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 6 – The psychology of Yes

The referendum is reaching its final days. Politicians are scrambling to put over their messages to the undecided, who may amount to 10% of the electorate. Business leaders have made warnings about the penalties should the result be yes, others affirm their faith in Scottish robustness. The opinion polls have shown a sharp narrowing of the gap and there seems to be a new sense of urgency in the No campaign that was not there before.

A psychologist has pointed out the associations of the words Yes and No, one being positive and uplifiting, the other with negative associations. People like to say yes, to be part of something bigger and to feel they are making a contribution. Saying no is akin to isolating oneself and to go against the crowd, and humans are instinctively herd animals always uneasy about being out of the group. So to allow the referendum to be based on Yes or No was a clever tactic by the SNP. A better balance would have been to have two questions, viz:
  • Should Scotland become independent?; or
  • Should Scotland stay within the United Kingdom?
     Select one answer only.
     Write your answer on one side of the paper only.
     Do not use green crayon. Candidates expressing opinions
     about the parentage of the English,or
     the importance of loch-fulls of whisky
     or anyone threatening to play the pipes for non-payment
     of a gratuity will be the subject
     of tut-tutting and averted eyes.

Anyway, too late to change anything now. This column believes in the union. Small may be beautiful but the UK is in many ways fairly small anyway on the world stage. Let's not diminish it any more.