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Poppy Watch 2021

I saw my first remembrance poppies of the year yesterday.* Amazingly they were being worn by MSPs at First Minister’s Questions. (Mind you I hadn’t watched footage of the Westminster Parliament this week.)

That’s still a bit early. October 28th. It’s not even Halloween yet.

And Remembrance Sunday is about as late as it can be this year being on November 14th so yesterday was a full 19 days before the commemoration ceremonies.

At least the TV braodcasters weren’t sporting them yet.

*Today there were some at the till of shop I was in, so the public now has its chance to contribute to the poppy fund.

Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes

4th Estate, 2020, 395 p.

Like the best murder mysteries, we start with a body. But this isn’t a crime story. (Not in the conventional sense anyway – and the crimes it touches on are, or were, not usually considered as such.) It is, instead, a mosaic of a life, that of Cliodhna Jean Campbell (known as Clio,) who in January 2018 has committed suicide at her friend Ruth’s house in Kilbarchan, leaving no note in the house, and left Ruth to find her body. It is a novel about its times, our times, political commitment and hope.

Except we don’t actually start with the body. First there is a newspaper article from June 1990, a profile of Clio as her first album is about to be released following her successful but unconventional appearance on Top of the Pops the previous March, where she pointedly refused to mime while promoting her anti-Poll Tax single ‘Rise Up’ and ‘provocatively’ revealed an anti-poll tax T-shirt. Newspaper extracts like these appear intermittently between chapters (the next is a heartfelt but subsequently misconstrued obituary) and chart her swift rise, slower fall and occasional re-emergence to the public eye. One of these is a particularly barbed review of her album of Burns songs, The Northern Lass by a reviewer totally unsympathetic to its subject matter. The meat of the novel however, is in the unfolding of Clio’s life revealed, in non-linear order, by chapters dealing with incidents or stages in her life.

Astutely on the author’s part, we never see events from Clio’s perspective, only from people whose paths she crossed, was affected by, or affected, in one way or another: fourteen different viewpoint characters helpfully noted on a page labelled Some People inserted between the epigraph and page one. Listed in alphabetical order of their given names these are: Adele, a nurse; Danny Mansfield, a tour manager, a husband; Donald Bain, a godfather (unofficial;) Eileen Johnstone, a mother; Hamza Hussain, a boyfriend; Ida Edwards, a woman on a train; Jess Blake, a comrade; Malcolm Campbell, a father; Neil Munro, a journalist; Ruth Jones, a friend; Sammi Smith, a girl who lives in a squat; Shiv West, a popular musician; Simon Carruthers, a man at a wedding; Xanthe Christos, a former comrade. Taken in all they present a picture of a caring individual, who is at times blinkered to the ripples of her wake but is more sinned against than sinning.

Clio was brought up in an Ayrshire mining village by her mother and stepfather. (Her less than adequate father, also a musician, kicked out by Clio’s mother, had left to make a career in the US.) The 1980s miners’ strike left its legacy on Clio and through her life she remained a tireless advocate for the working-class cause, leading to not only that one hit song, but involvement in various political causes including a squat in Brixton, and devastation at the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum.

The journalist, Neil Munro, carries an unrequited torch for her and reflects somewhat jealously on her relationship with Danny Mansfield, “Beautiful women take lovers. He’d just never worked out why the lovers they took had to be such total arseholes.” One chapter set in the squat gives us Xanthe’s scathing verdict on lefties, “all of them so sure that their rollies, their pouches and their papers were another way of sticking it to corporate culture.” Another includes an explanation of the card game Scabby Queen, where there is only one queen in the deck. The card gets passed around as quickly as possible since the person left with her at the end loses and suffers a forfeit. (If this is supposed to be a metaphor for Clio’s life it doesn’t quite work.)

In the squat a man called Mark Carr had sex with most of the female activists. Clio later discovers he was an undercover policeman and therefore they had been “raped by the state”. The exposure of Carr, seeking justice against him and his superiors for his actions, becomes one of Clio’s causes, one she single-mindedly follows to the hilt despite the potential wreckage this pursuit could cause to the lives of others who were in the squat.

Ruth remembers her outlining all the good that could have flowed from an independent Scotland, including “amazing Scandinavian education” plus “an oil fund underpinning a citizen’s income and putting money into green energy programmes and all those beautiful things we were going to do,” how that would have confounded the sceptics. She hoped, “That they’d see then.”

But, given the ‘No’ vote, she laments, “Nothing I do or you do will ever make the slightest bit of difference …. They knew most of the country was fearty little boys like them, making snidey jokes because they’re afraid to believe in anything …. It’s why anyone from here who goes away and does well, we start laughing at them when they come back again …. There’s always some wee Scottish gremlin sitting there on yer shoulder, whispering its mantra. Naw. Naw. Naw.”

The suicide was Clio’s last act of political theatre, her final grab for attention and validation. In a note released to the press days after her death she says, “The codes that this modern world was built on are breaking down, allowing the worst bits of ourselves to rampage.”

Neil’s anguish over writing Clio’s obituary, “How did you use words, black on white with a finite limit, slotting into a pre-designed space on a page, to describe what a person’s life had been?” are belied by the story we are reading. This novel shows exactly how you use words to describe a life.

Scabby Queen is brilliant. A superb portrait not only of a complicated, contrary character, an embodiment of Caledonian anti-syzygy, but also of the society she lived in and the times she passed through.

Pedant’s corner:- snuck (sneaked, but snuck may have been in character,) “one wee Fife village” (it was Clackmannan which is not in Fife, and actually it was not the village but Clackmannanshire as a whole.)

Afghanistan

I refer you to the answer I gave previously.

I read a piece a few months ago which suggested that since Afghans don’t like outsiders (and their ideologies) coming into their country, maybe having the Taliban take over would eventually reveal them and their beliefs to be as alien to Afghans as any other invaders and the usual Afghan resistance might follow. I confess I won’t be holding my breath for that.

Educational Attainment

I heard on the radio this morning that the gap in examination results between Public (aka private) school pupils in England and those in state schools had widened. As you would expect the Labour Party had apparently bemoaned this difference.

A BBC reporter then relayed the UK Government gloss on it, to the effect that when you “drilled down” into the results then those from selective schools and “academies” showed the same trend as private schools.

How convenient I thought, that this information mirrored what their adherents would have the general public believe about the effectiveness of such schools.

Then it occurred to me, that in a system now solely dependent on teacher assessment this increase is entirely what you would expect from institutions more likely to suffer parental pressure – or employer pressure on teachers – than the average state school. Because what exactly are parents of private school pupils paying for? (Better results certainly, as well as access to old boy networks.) A similar expectation no doubt exists for selective schools and the so-called academies.

Another explanation than the effectiveness of individual schools presents itself. That the results from “normal” state schools are more likely to be genuine and the teachers in those schools less likely to have bent to any pressure from parents, or their employers, than those whose jobs are perhaps less secure.

Plausible Deniability?

As soon as I saw the footage where T Ronald Dump said he wanted no violence and that none of his supporters should commit any (far too little and too late a disclaimer) my bullshit-o-meter hit overdrive. Am I being overly cynical or is this just part of his playbook? He clearly meant not a word of it. Nothing about his demeanour suggested a belief in what he was saying. In fact his body language said the exact opposite – which I think his followers will pick up on; indeed that it was designed for them to do so.

For I suspect that the only reason he said those things was not to display contrition (it didn’t) nor acceptance of his election defeat (it didn’t) nor even somehow to ameliorate his inflammatory conduct and speech (it couldn’t) but so that if there is any violence, whether in Washington DC or elsewhere, on Jan 20th, the day of the Inauguration of the next Presdent of the US, he can then say that it has nothing to do with him and therefore the assault on the Capitol on Jan 6th (and on democracy itslef) was nothing to do with him either.

Inauguration Attendance

I see T Ronald Dump has said he will not be attending his successor’s inauguration at the US Capitol on Jan 20th.

Given the events that happened on the 6th is it possible that the Donald has good reason to stay away through knowing something we don’t?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he does know something as he’s obviously a coward. “Bone spurs” allowed him to avoid military service and despite saying on Wednesday, “We will march on the Capitol,” he took great care to be nowhere near where any trouble might take place and was conspicuous by his absence.

(He will no doubt be consoled by the fact that the crowd for this inauguration will, for eminently sensible security reasons, be smaller than it was for his.)

T Ronald’s Legacy

Well he may not have done it to us all yet but T Ronald Dump has certainly done it to trust in US democracy.

What happened at the US Congress building yesterday is the natural culmination of all his rhetoric over the past five years since he decided to stand for President. Stoking up resentment – as well as being a classic tactic of fascists everywhere – was always going to be a tiger that is difficult to keep in bounds.

A harbinger of yesterday’s events was when a group of armed terrorists invaded the legislature of Michigan last year in protest over Covid restrictions. Singularly they were all white and (as far as I’m aware) no action was taken against them. Seeds.

Then there was Trump’s constant drip feed of claims that the recent election was rigged. Seeds.

(He also said this four years ago but mysteriously his complaints disappeared when he won enough States to gain an Electoral College majority.)

No evidence has been produced of electoral fraud in November’s election sufficient to deem Trump’s loss invalid. There was certainly none sufficient to convince over 60 different courts of law to rule that it had happened. What evidence of fraud did arise was that of a voter trying to vote for Trump and the Republican Party; not against him.

Incitement to riot is the least which can be said about T Ronald’s speech to these vandals a few hours before. Seeds.

Perhaps the US is fortunate that Trump is not an organiser – or doesn’t have people to organise for him – or yesterday’s events may have had even worse consequences.

There are, too, questions to be answered as to how easy it was for these terrorists – who are nothing less than traitors – to overwhelm what looks to have been an inadequate police/security presence considering the lack of secrecy about their intentions. And one of their number even paraded about inside the Capitol building brandishing the battle flag of the Confederacy. If that’s not evidence of treason against the US what is? (The Confederate States of America was after all an entity that rose up in rebellion against the United States.)

Question, too, the kid-gloves with which they were treated in removing them. Not to mention his enablers in the Republican Party who failed to stand up to him during the past four years. It’s not too much to describe them by a word more familiar in British political history; appeasers.

Let us be clear in relation to this storming of the centre of US democracy by an unbridled mob:-

No Democratic Party voter did this.

No Civil Rights protester ever did this.

No Muslim did this.

No progressive did this.

No Black Lives Matter campaigner has done this.

No socialist has ever done this.

No left winger did this.

No so-called Antifa activist has ever done this.

No communist has ever done this.

Instead it was right wingers, avowed Trump supporters, people who are supposed to believe in law and order, who committed this assault on democracy, embodied the anarchy and chaos from which Trump claimed to be saving them.

They ought to be subject to the full force of that same law and order on which they trampled so comprehensively yesterday.

Dare I hold my breath?

Farewell then, EU

So today was the last day the UK was part of the EU’s close trading arrangements and its single market.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations had much more to endure it’s true – what with World Wars to contend with.

But it was the fact of those World Wars that made the EU, whatever its faults, such a worthwhile institution.

In the UK the myths surrounding those wars – especially the second one which has been mischaracterised almost ever since in these islands as a solely British victory with “us” “standing alone” (as if the contribution of Empire/Colonial forces and crucially Indian Army personnel to the North African campaign in particular – but also more widely – did not occur, with the USSR in Europe and the US in the Pacific seemingly mere bystanders) – are pervasive and pernicious. With the Great War such a perception may be less off-kilter. While it is true that the presence of US forces in 1918 made a difference it was by and large the British (Empire) Army which from the middle of 1917 carried the onus of first, not losing, and second, going on in 1918 to win final victory and in the process the biggest series of successive victories the British Army has ever had.

1939 marked the third war between France and Germany in 70 years (a woman in a Northern French village saw Prussian/German troops march past her house and occupy the place for the third time in her life) and there were many invasions of German territory by France in the centuries before. If some cooperative trading institution so as to minimise potential areas of disagreeement had not been set up post-1945 who is to say that conflict between them might not have arisen again? Some say it was NATO that preserved the peace in Europe in the years since then (but France, remember, was for some time not a NATO member.) In any case NATO’s expansion eastwards since the USSR dissolved, far from being a peaceful endeavour has been a standing provocation to that state’s main successor, Russia.

Tonight at 23:00 GMT, 0:00 CET, marked the last time when free movement of people and goods to Europe from the UK was possible (at least since before the requirement for passports came into being.) Some (little Englanders in the main) might rejoice at what they are pleased to call freedom, which actually has instead seen the biggest extension of powers to the UK government to bypass Parliamentary scrutiny and act summarily since 150 years or so before the UK even came into existence; ie over 560 years ago.

It’s a very sad day.

So farewell then EU.

Or, better, au revoir and auf wiedersehen, because I hope to be with you again soon.

Poppy Watch 2020

For my previous posts on this topic see here. (I suppose this post will also appear there now.)

Well. This year’s award as virtue signalling, sanctimonious tosser goes to Andrew Rosindell MP who posted the below on Twitter. Before poppies were even on sale to the public.

Andrew Rossindell MP

Proud to be first to wear a poppy in the House of Commons this year?

I wasn’t aware it was a competition.

(I also suspect he might be wearing last year’s.)

As for his colleague Anthony Brown:-

Anthony Brown

A normal poppy’s not good enough for you, then? You obviously feel you have to shove it in our faces.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

“The Band Begins to Play, My Boys”

I’m afraid I can’t do anything but flinch when members of the UK’s present Government wax lyrical about our suddenly “wonderful” NHS. Pass the sick bucket.

(Especially egregious was the spectacle of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak applauding outside 10 Downing Street. A derisory photo-op if ever I saw one.)

This is the same NHS they cynically used to win a referendum on false pretences, that their political persuasion has been denigrating at every opportunity for almost as long as I can remember and that their Political Party has been deliberately running down for the past ten years in preparation for saying that it’s broken and must be sold off. Run down and underequipped so much that it’s not now in the state it could have been to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Their attitude irresistibly reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Tommy:-

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s, “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s, “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

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