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Parliament and Rock Church, Helsinki

The Parliament building in Helsinki is in the imposing, monolithic, institutional Art Deco style:-

Parliament, Helsinki

Helsinki Parliament

The Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church) is one of Helsinki’s attractions. We passed it on the way back from the Sibelius Monument but didn’t go in:-

Rock Church, Helsinki

Constitutional Coup d’État?

Well.

Don’t we live in interesting times?

I had been planning a post about the demise of Bury FC. (OK they’re not dead quite yet but it does seem inevitable.)

But our new Prime Minister’s decision to ask the Queen to prorogue Parliament – a request she cannot refuse even though it places her firmly in the political spotlight, a situation she ought not be subjected to – in the midst of the biggest crisis to hit British politics in my lifetime (I was alive during the Suez debacle – only just – but that wasn’t anything like as bad as this) beggars belief.

Parliament has not been sitting for weeks due to the summer recess. The blustering buffoon has been subject to its scrutiny for only a day or so after replacing Theresa May. Yet now – if his plan cannot be thwarted – there will only be opportunity to do so for less than a week before it will be prevented from operating for another five weeks beyond that. And this at the most dangerous time for the prospects of the UK since 1940.

If this is democracy then what on Earth does dictatorship look like?

The Leave campaign in the EU Referendum employed the slogan, “Take Back Control.” If that meant anything it could only mean bringing power back to Parliament, not to the Prime Minister – nor to a small, rabid clique of ultras. It has always been the case that a Prime Minister can only do what Parliament allows him or her to do. A restriction of Parliament’s rights to hold him or her to account is a denial of control, a denial of democracy. If leave voters see Parliament as the problem here then they can not be described as democrats, either that or they misunderstand the UK system of government. (And constitutionally, the last General Election (elected 2017) overrode any previous votes – on anything – as no Parliament can bind its successor. Technically the EU referendum was a creature of the previous Parliament (elected 2015) rather than this one.)

The English Parliament – of which Brexiteers, I suspect, tend to see the present UK one as being a continuation (though in that they are wrong) – once fought a war against a King who stood in the way of its rights, precisely for the point of ensuring those rights. (The fact that the succeeding dispensation under the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, also ran roughshod over the same Parliament’s rights shows how fragile those rights can be.)

It is the duty of Parliament to scrutinise proposed Government measures or intentions and if a majority in Parliament does not like them then to vote them down. A Prime Minister who seeks to deny it that right, for however long or short a time, can not be called a democrat – and is a danger to us all.

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.

Yes, Dave, I Blame You

Today, on the BBC’s Reporting Scotland, there was a clip of David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, saying that he was to blame for many things (well you’re right in that at least, Dave) but that Labour’s collapse* in Scotland wasn’t one of them.

Really, Dave? How un-self-aware can anyone get?

It’s got nothing to do with the speech you made on the day after the Independence Referendum where you slapped down those who had just voted to remain in the UK with a, “We don’t care about you, we only care about England,” attitude? Could anything have been more likely to enrage both those who had voted no and those for yes? A clearer demonstration that Westminster politicians just don’t get it as far as Scotland is concerned would have been harder to find. To anyone who knows Scots what response could have been expected other than a rise in support for the SNP (who ought to have been set back for perhaps decades by the rejection of their key purpose for existence?)

I suppose it could all be part of a diabolical (yes, I know it means of the Devil) plan to undermine the Labour party in the UK as a whole but I don’t believe Cameron actually is as cunning as all that. (His sidekick Gideon Osborne, aka George, is another matter, though.) I realise the Tories have more than something of the night about them but I doubt in their wildest dreams could they have deliberately conceived and implemented a coherent, rather than accidental, strategy to reduce the influence of Labour on the Westminster Parliament.

Labour having conspicuously failed over the many years of my lifetime to protect Scots from governments they have not voted for, many people seem to have come round to the view that only a large bank of SNP MPs at Westminster will ensure that Westminster cannot treat Scotland off-handedly.

So yes, Dave. I do blame you.

BTW: I suspect that Labour won’t lose quite so many seats in Scotland as the polls at present predict. There are still many “always been Labour” voters around.

The Stuarts on BBC 2

I watched the first episode of The Stuarts on BBC 2 tonight.

It seemed, like on its first showing on BBC 2 Scotland earlier this year, an odd decision to start with James VI (or James I if you prefer.) There were no less than eight Stuart monarchs before him. In the year of the Scottish Independence Referendum that could be interpreted as a slight, another piece of English ignorance/dismissal of Scottish History.

That the first episode dwelt on James’s desire to unite the two kingdoms as Great Britain might also seem like a dark Better Together plot as the Guardian noted today.

Yet (some, though not all, of) James’s ancestors were spoken of in the programme so the ignorance/dismissal angle can on those grounds be discounted. And the differences between the two countries that then existed (of religion principally,) and in some respects still do, were not glossed over but I was left wondering who on Earth thought broadcasting this was a good idea now. It can only lead to accusations of bias

I had another such disjointed TV experience with the BBC recently. Janina Ramirez in her otherwise excellent Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War – on BBC 4 last week, this (and next) but also a programme that has been screened before – kept on emphasising how the events she was describing played a large part in how the country “we” live in now came to be as it is. (Note also the “us” on Dr Ramirez’s web page about the programme.)

Yet that country was/is England. Ramirez seemed totally unaware that her programme was to be broadcast not on an England only channel but one which is UK-wide. Indeed that the country all the BBC’s principal audience lives in is not England, but the UK. [Except for powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies legislation at Westminster is for the whole of the UK. No English elected body oversees the equivalent powers to those devolved elsewhere (arguably there ought to be one;) it is the UK Parliament that performs that function.]

Two parts of the UK share none of the history Dr Ramirez was outlining. Wales (having been incorporated earlier) was involved directly in the Hundred Years War but neither Scotland nor Ireland were. Yet she spoke as if that circumstance didn’t exist.

This sort of thing does contribute to a feeling among many Scots (and I suspect Welsh and Northern Irish viewers too) that the BBC is a broadcaster with a mind for England only and too often forgets the three other constituent parts of the UK.

The Member and The Radical by John Galt

Canongate Classics, 1996, 263 p, including 2 p glossary, 6 p notes (The Member) and 4 p notes (The Radical) plus 8 p Introduction.

The Member and The Radical cover

Galt was a Scot born in Ayrshire whose novels mainly dealt with the impact of the industrial revolution and has been called the first political novelist in the English language. The Member was the first example of the Parliamentary political novel, The Radical deals with Parliamentary matters only towards its end. These two works of fiction were first published in 1832 (in January and May respectively) and subsequently in one volume as The Reform that November but apparently not republished till 1975 (The Member) and this edition (The Radical.) The two hundred year old idioms do take some getting used to but it is worth persevering.

The Member: An Autobiography.
This is prefaced by a “Dedication” to one William Holmes, wherein Scot Archibald Jobbry laments the imminent passing of the Great Reform Act and the inevitable depredations which it will bring in its train. Many years before Jobbry had returned from India where he had made his fortune and decided to purchase a seat in the House of Commons despite it being technically illegal to do so. He shows himself a sly and acute bargainer. During this process he opines, “a Tory is but a Whig in office, and a Whig but a Tory in opposition.” Some things don’t change. In this regard Jobbry later says MPs have been, “inveterate to retain the distribution of places and pensions – the natural perquisites of Members of Parliament” and, “The democratical think state salaries always exorbitant, and the aristocratical never think wages low enough.”

The shenanigans accompanying elections in those days are amusingly described. On this point Jobbry tells us, “It is by no means plain why paying for an individual vote should be so much more heinous than paying for a whole borough.” These vices are still with us, if in altered form. To my mind selling off state assets is an even higher category of bribe than either of those Jobbry mentions, promising lower taxes only slightly less so.

Galt often uses the utterly obsolete form “quo’ I” for “I said” when Jobbry is relating his own direct speech.

In talking to fellow Parliamentarian Sir John Bulky, Jobbry – despite being a Tory (even if of a restrained sort) – says, “It is not a time to reduce public appointments when there is a national distress; the proper season is when all is green and flourishing.” (Tell that to the present UK coalition!) Sir John replies, “lessening expenditure during a period of general hardship – is paving the way to revolution.” Fat chance.

We also have, “a wild and growing notion prevails that governments … are of less use than had always been supposed; a doctrine (in) which the most civilised and refined communities will be driven to the wall.”


The Radical: An Autobiography
.
The life story of one Nathan Butt (try saying it in a Scottish accent,) an individual poles apart from Alexander Jobbry in outlook and here presented in a much less favourable light than Jobbry was in The Member – though he is much disturbed by his Radical friends indulging in bribery to get him elected. Again there is a dedication, this time to Baron Brougham and Vaux, late Lord High Chancellor. Butt’s enthusiasm for Napoleon turns to a feeling of betrayal by “that very bad man.” The narrator refers to his “friend” John Galt and quotes one of his poems. Metafiction in the 1830s. There is a harsh schoolmaster called Mr Skelper* – no doubt inspired by Mr Thwackum.

Several phrases resonate with the present day. “The age required that men who had large private properties should have resigned what they withdrew from the public purse.” (For this nowadays read Amazon, Google, Starbucks evading tax?) “The newspapers now and then tell us of this gentleman, who on his audit-day remitted so many per cents to his tenantry; but I doubt if the fashion has yet become common.” Quite! “There is something in their” – priests and clerics – “office which leads them to imagine themselves superior to the commonalty of mankind.” One of the characters has “a prophetic vista of the time when the English language, by the American States, and the Oriental colonies, would be universal all over the Earth.”

There is a glossary in the final pages which strangely only goes up to the letter “l” – at least in my copy.

*See skelp in the Dictionary of the Scots Language. Type in “skelp” in the search box and then click “skelp,v”.

Syria and Parliament

It seems that an outbreak of sanity has occurred in the UK Parliament with its vote against military action in Syria.

Now, chemical weapons are horrible things (even if you are just as dead being killed by high explosive or shell fragments or blast or a bullet; it is difficult to see a moral difference) but I fail to see how attacking Syrian government forces can make life better for the average Syrian even if responsibilty for the use of such weapons were to be established beyond doubt.

Not to mention the wider implications. Pour oil on to a fire, why don’t you? Bombing yet another mainly Muslim country will only encourage those Muslims who have a grievance against the UK already.

[And don’t forget there are many reasons for that grievance. I noted only yesterday that British forces were involved in killing locals in Iraq in the 1920s. This followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which laid the path for the eventual Jewish takeover of most of Palestine. Then there was the overthrow of Mossadeq in the early 1950s. The collusion with Israel over Suez in 1956, the Suez invasion itself. The illegal invasion, on totally spurious pretexts, of Iraq in 2003. This is just those instances of UK intervention which impact on the Middle East. (A term which is itself anglocentric.)]

Quite how adding in another external faction to what is a civil war in Syria would help in resolving the situation there is also beyond me.

Just because people say something must be one doesn’t mean you can do anything you like.

Mr Irresponsible (aka David Cameron) has once more shown himself up to be a blustering bully. I suspect his enthusiasm for miltary intervention in Syria is that he believes sending in the armed forces helped both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to be re-elected. (A belief in which he is probably mistaken.) What he hasn’t learned is that the Iraq invasion – or, more accurately, its aftermath – poisoned the opinion of most British people against the assertions of Government spokespeople and Prime Ministers over the reasons for using troops and weaponry.

Military action against Syria could be like stirring up a hornet’s nest with a stick. There is no telling what the consequences would be.

A better response to use of chemical weapons, or any atrocity, would be to make sure that anyone responsible for what are considered war crimes is held to account by the international community. This would mean instant arrest should they stray outside whatever jurisdiction is keeping them safe from it and then arraignment before an international court. This stricture ought of course to apply to anyone, from whatever country, not just those our politicians say they don’t like.

And as to the effects of chemical weapons it might be best to deluge Syria with kits containing antidotes to the chemicals likely to be used – which would render their deployment pointless.

It wouldn’t stop the killing though.

I’m afraid this has been a somewhat unfocused rant. I can’t see a quick way out of the present Syrian imbroglio, the two sides seem too far apart for that.

Civil wars tend to be intractable. Intervention in them needs to have a purpose beyond, “Something must be done.” I didn’t think any of our politicians – least of all Mr Irresponsible – had enough wisdom to see beyond such simplicities. Parliament has at least resolved not to do more harm.

For the moment anyway.

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