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Brond by Frederic Lindsay

Polygon, 2007, 220 p. First published 1984. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 Brond cover

Glasgow University student Richard sees a man throw a boy off a bridge into the River Kelvin but at first thinks he must have imagined it. Through the medium of fellow student Margaret Briody, whom he fancies and who asks him to deliver a package for her, it is not long before he is drawn into a complex situation involving IRA sleepers, multiple murder and the machinations of agents of the state against Scottish independence activists (though this last does not become clear until quite late on in the book.) Chief of those agents is the mysterious Brond of the title, whose baleful presence pervades the novel.

Before settling into the more or less standard thriller mode, though with the odd philosophical aside, the narrative has a tendency to be slightly overwritten, as if Lindsay is trying too hard, though there are some fine touches. (Of the noise-propagating acoustics of the University of Glasgow’s Reading Room Robert says, “It was such a drawback in a library I was sure the architect must have won a clutch of awards.”)

The politics of the plot are mostly relegated to the background. One character describes Scotland as a valuable piece of real estate, another opines, “here in Scotland we have this difficulty finding our voice.” One English girl questions Robert, “‘What do you mean “accent”?’” before adding, “‘I don’t talk like a Cockney… I talk like ordinary people who sound as if they don’t come from anywhere.’” One of the spooks speaks of the necessity “‘to forestall … the risk, however remote, of the natives here getting restless.’”

In my view there are too many thriller/crime novels on that “100 Best” list. Brond is yet another. I can see, because of the background politics, why some people might regard it as a significant Scottish novel but it doesn’t, to my mind, really address the nature of Scottishness, or go much beyond “the state acts in its own interests” trope though it incidentally reflects attitudes of some English people to their neighbours.

It does, however, all pass easily enough but I was never able to suspend my disbelief to the required degree.

Pedant’s corner:- like lightening (lightning,) sulphur lamps (they did give off a yellowish light but they were sodium lamps,) the Barrows (always known as the Barras, never the Barrows. Its name above its gates even says ‘the Barras’,) contigent (contingent,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, comitments (commitments.)

When Will They Ever Learn?

The UK under Tony Blair followed blindly (hung on the coat-tails?) where the US led in invading Iraq – ostensibly to get rid of weapons of mass destruction (which anybody with the slightest understanding of Saddam Hussein’s psychology knew didn’t exist – though he wanted us, but more especially Iran, to think they did) but really simply to be seen to be doing something about the attacks on the World Trade Center (which Saddam Hussein had not a thing to do with; Al Qaida had no presence in Iraq before the war precisely because he had such a firm grip on things they weren’t allowed one) the operations in Afghanistan not being satisfactory in rooting out Osama Bin Laden, or just possibly to “secure” oil supplies.

Now that all worked out terribly well, didn’t it?

About two years ago some of the blowback from the mistakes of those adventures resulted in a vote in the UK Parliament on bombing Syria. No consensus on such action could be found.

Yesterday, more or less prompted by the murders committed by Isis/Isil/Daesh in Paris, a measure to bomb Syria was passed by that Parliament’s successor. This time, though, the target is different. Not the forces of President Assad, but those of Daesh.

The decision seems to be from the “grab at a false syllogism” school. This goes along the lines of, “The events in Paris were terrible. Something must be done about the perpetrators. Bombing is something. Therefore we must bomb.”

The fact that bombing Syria is against international law, notwithstanding the recent UN resolution, that bombing by near enough everybody else has had absolutely no effect in reducing Daesh’s activities does not seem to count against this argument. The facts that it won’t defeat them, that it won’t make us any safer, that it will only increase their appeal to potential adherents, that such a response is precisely what they look for when planning their atrocities weighed nothing against the apparent need to be seen to be doing something. Anything.

I had to give a hollow laugh when in the run-up to the vote Mr Irresponsible, aka David Cameron, havered on about outsourcing our security to others. If the UK is not outsourcing its security to others why, exactly, is it a member of NATO? (And, as a by-the by, what exactly is the purpose of the nuclear deterrent? France’s Force de Frappe didn’t prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks nor those of this November. Trident didn’t stop the IRA nor 7/7 bombers.)

He also said that opponents of the bombing were terrorist sympathisers. Language such as that proves once again that the man is unfit to be Prime Minister.

Yes Daesh is a murdering, barbaric organisation utterly antithetical to freedom. But, Mr Cameron. Isn’t it possible conscientiously to think that bombing is a strategic mistake? That it will only encourage Daesh that it has got under our skin? That it will be profoundly counter-productive? That it will cause civilian casualties far in excess of any damage it might do to Daesh? That it will not bring about an end to Daesh? That it will not reassure Muslims in Britain that war is not being waged against their religion? That it makes us even more of a target than we were already? That it can only strengthen the position of the man the original bombing was supposed to help oust?

The history of British interference in the Middle East goes back a long way. The Sykes-Picot Agreement carved the area up between Britain and France, becoming effective after the Great War. In the 1920s the RAF (in Iraq) was the first air-force in the world to bomb indigenous rebels though it’s likely civilians bore the brunt as usual. The UK mandate in Palestine led (in)directly to the formation of Israel. Along with the US Britain was instrumental in removing the Mossadeq regime from Iran in the 1950s. Then there was the chaos we recently left behind in Iraq and contributed to in Libya.

Our politicians seem to have forgotten all this. Unlike them, the locals have long memories.

I can’t see anything good coming out of this at all.

Mr Irresponsible Strikes Yet Again

I really don’t know what our esteemed Prime Minister, Mr Irresponsible, thought he was doing (beyond echoing Angela Merkel) when he said multiculturalism had failed in the UK.

To me he seemed to be saying that all minorities ought to become the same as the rest of us.

This demands the question, what rest of us?

For there is no single British culture. For a start there are four distinct national areas in the UK and the “culture” of each differs from the others. Even within each of the four areas culture differs from place to place. It differs within any city. Even within a town. Or village.

Now, I would agree that people who fail to learn English are going to struggle to come to terms with life in the UK and they should be encouraged to do so, by all means. (If I went to live abroad I would make every effort to learn the language.)

I would also agree that anyone who seeks to commit, or carries out, acts of indiscriminate murder (or murder of any stamp come to that) ought to be prosecuted – but that applies to anyone, not just to “minorities.”

In any case, the problem – if it is a problem – is not existential. A few disaffected, and misguided, youths are not a threat to the fabric of the UK nor to the British way of life; whereas laws implemented in over-reaction most certainly are. Neither have the 7/7 attacks on London Transport nor any subsequent actions been as extensive as those of the IRA were.

[By the way, we are all immigrants. There were no humans in Britain till our ancestors migrated via Europe from Africa. As a consequence, none of us has the right to say that others should not come to make their homes here. What we do have is the right to expect and insist that they obey our laws.]

As for the rest of it, the Prime Minister seemed to me to be suggesting that perhaps everyone should be (let’s take an example) members of the Church of England. This is a strange way to try to win over people who may be disaffected as a result of their perceptions of the prevailing attitudes of most Britons towards them and their religious affiliation. To tell them that to be accepted they must abandon what they think defines them is not going to persuade them that they are wrong. Quite the opposite.

This is a Tory playing to the Tory right – and giving succour to the more extreme right wing. I am strongly reminded of the remarks of Margaret Thatcher (of unblessed memory) about “swamping.”

I have two words here for David Cameron.

Guy Fawkes.

Four hundred years ago it was Roman Catholics who were disaffected and the terrorists of their day (albeit the then government knew every detail of the Gunpowder Plot.) Excepting Northern Ireland (and there any dissidents’ wishes are particular not general – and not in any case dedicated to the overthrow of the British state) most British RCs no longer have a grievance against the government – no more so than any other Britons anyway – and would not resort to violence to relieve themselves of it.

Just give it a few hundred years; problem solved.

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