Roads Were Not Built For Cars

November 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm (Cycling, history, Rosie B)

Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars is a revisionist history, reclaiming the role of bicycles in the development of roads and the cars that dominate them. When a class, a race, a gender reclaims its history it is usually in the cause of self-assertion. After reading this I was indignant when a privileged usurper tooted me for walking across the entrance of a cul-de-sac which they were turning into. Listen, these are my f***** streets too, you know.

Roadswerenot

The later Victorian age. The railway lines had cut through the country on their purpose-built tracks and profoundly changed ideas of mobility. The roads, once well maintained for mail coaches, had fallen into disuse. But in the 1870s and 1880s people started pedalling themselves at speed and with the commercialisation of the Safety bicycle in 1885  bicycling became popular with the elite, affordable for the middle-classes and then finally through second-hand sales and mass production, taken up by the clerks and the factory workers. It powered invention. In 1896 more than half of the 28,000 patents were for improvements in bicycles.

Psychobike

The Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle -1889. Step through for the skirt problem

Cyclists were heading from the paved streets to the countryside, on roads which unlike the railways were not then seen as conduits for fast-moving traffic. Roads were originally made for a human or horse pace and for short journeys. But a new desire had been formed – for self-propelled travel over a distance on a smooth surface.

Passage on the king’s highway is an ancient right in England.  A landmark court case in 1879 established bicycles as “carriages” under law and so with the rights to use the roads in the same way as broughams and hackneys. The Cyclists’ Touring Club had one of their members (an MP) add a clause to the Local Government Act of 1888 which effectively prevented county councils from creating by-laws to prohibit cycling on the roads.

Along with lobbying for legislation cyclists campaigned for better surfaces via bodies like the Roads Improvement Association. Some roadworks the members funded themselves. They produced equipment including a ring to measure the size of stones for surfacing, kept an eye on maintenance and made themselves guardians of the highways as modern cycling advocates act as wardens for cycle paths.   Eventually this work was taken over by the Road Board “the first central authority for British roads since Roman times”.

Where the cyclists went the motorists then followed and their lobby groups were often the cycling groups with “Automobile” added to the name. One of Cartlon Reid’s main themes is that this was not a case of the poor man’s transport (the bicycle) overtaken by the rich man’s vehicle (the automobile). Bicycles were at first expensive – the high-wheelers (“penny farthings”) were ridden by moneyed athletes. Aristocrats like the Marquess of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s enemy, were keen cyclists as was Daisy, Countess of Warwick, one of Edward VII’s mistresses. Arthur Balfour was president of the National Cyclists’ Union and Herbert Gladstone, son of W E Gladstone and one time Home Secretary vigorously pedalled, and pushed for street paving and road maintenance. In the USA the League of American Wheelmen was founded in Newport, the millionaires’ holiday village,

The League of American Wheelmen also campaigned for better roads via the Good Roads Movement, again with a combination of politics and practical demonstration. Their campaign included rolling “road shows”. “The Good Roads train.. would disgorge road builders, a traction engine, a road roller, a sprinkler and broken stone, from which an “object lesson” road would be constructed at prearranged stopping points.” Railway interests opposed them, and farmers, who were responsible for half-heartedly maintaining the rural roads, did not want to be taxed for the benefit of city-slicker cyclists, however much their own wagons jolted on the ruts and ridges. ”Eventually the farmers were won over and the politicians found there was mileage in a publicly paid for road system.” In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act was signed by Woodrow Wilson, himself a cyclist who had been much impressed by the roads in Britain and France on cycle journeys in his youth.

By then many of the cyclists had become motorists as well. They were the rich who loved speed and self-propelled travel and the very latest gadgetry, promoted by the cycling industry’s flair for advertising. They used the maps that Messrs Bartholomew had crowd-sourced from members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. The technology behind these early motors – the pneumatic tyres, the ball bearings, the spoked wheels, the precision engineering skills – had been created by the cycling industry.

Clementcyclesbt-1

French cycling poster, 1897

“Carl-Benz’s Patent Motorwagon, the first true automobile, was a motorised two-seater tricycle… The key components for Henry Ford’s Quadricycle – including the wire spoke wheels, bush roller chains and pneumatic tyres – were from bicycles.”

The Nazis erased the cycling origins of Benz’s Motorwagen from history and monument and at the launch of the 15 millionth Model T in 1927 the Ford company claimed that the “Ford car… started the movement for good roads.” The now plebeian bicycle became something of an embarrassing ancestor to the more powerful and more progressive seeming vehicle.

So the well-connected cyclists who had lobbied for good roads became well-connected motorists who wanted unthwarted access to these roads. And they took them over, though they numbered only in thousands, while the cyclists were in the millions because the masses had begun to ride bicycles.

The rights to the passage on the King’s highway was a liberal right which then in the spirit of Ayn Rand was taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. Even a speed limit law was seen as “unEnglish” and as the motorists were of the upper echelons, they resented being treated as criminals for breaking it. (The motoring public is still resentful that they are subject to law – witness fury at speed cameras. One of the cycling groups’ aims is to lower speeds in urban centres to 20mph.)

Carlton Reid compares this to the enclosures “when land in common use by the many was fenced in and appropriated by the few.”

And like the landowner the motorist feels himself entitled to the roads. Hold up his passage he won’t feel merely inconvenienced, but righteously outraged, spluttering like Hilaire Belloc’s JP:-

I have a right because I have, because,

Because I have, because I have a right.
….
Moreover, I have got the upper hand,
And mean to keep it. Do you understand?

Familiar political themes run through this book. One is of how laissez faire can become devil take (or run over) the hindmost. Another is the Revolution Devouring Its Own Children. A group or class will agitate to bring about a change that will ultimately destroy them, like Iranian leftists demonstrating for the removal of the Shah only to end up being killed by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. The cyclists lobbied for good roads and got them, and were then pushed off them by the sheer force of a ton of metal, going at five times their speed.

However though Roads Were Not Built… is a polemic shot through with a sense of injustice for the written out and colonised – the literally marginalised literally pushed in the gutter when they had literally paved the way for the motorist – it could be enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson. It buzzes and hums with innovation and invention. It’s crowded with energetic promoters and lobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs and tinkerers, sportsmen and pioneers. Cycling did come as a miracle, bestowing a sense of speed and independence. “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.” wrote Charles-Louis Baudry de Saunier in The Art of Cycling (1894).

In our own equally exciting and innovative age of computing we are half flesh, half digital stream. Thus Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built… was kickstarted by crowdfunding. He put his researches on his entertaining blog. You can get the book as a big dead-tree soft-back with lots of colour plates (histories of cycling always have cool pics) or as an “iPad version with 10 videos, two audio clips, a 3D spinnable object, and 580+ illustrations, many of which zoom to full-screen.“

Charlesrolls

Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce

The book ends with potted biographies of many of the motor grandees with a cycling background and their firms, my favourite being that of Lionel Martin. Eton rich. Held long-distance records on tandem and tricycle. He and his friend Robert Bamford were both members of the Bath Road Club and were souping up ordinary cars.

Their advertisement in the Bath Road News:- “If you must sell your birthright for a mess of petrol, why not purchase your car – from Bamford & Martiin Ltd, the most humorous firm in the motor trade.” These cars became Aston Martins.

“Martin was a tricyclist to his dying day. He was killed in October 1945 after being knocked from his tricycle by a motor car on a suburban road in Kingston-upon-Thames.”

 

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Populism and identity politics

November 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm (anti-fascism, class, Europe, populism, Rosie B)

SCOTLAND

I had hopes that it would not have been a 55/45 split in the Scotland’s referendum but more of a 35/65 one.  Instead the vote swung from closer towards independence than most had anticipated a year ago and the Scottish National Party has gained thousands of recruits from disappointed Yessers and those on the left who have given up on the Labour Party. They are likely to win most of Scotland’s seats in the next general election.

This, along with the rise of UKIP this swing to nationalistic and populist politics should not be surprising in Britain.  It’s happening all over the continent, with France’s Front National having a good chance of winning the presidency  and the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece and of the Sweden Democrats.

This sort of politics with its whiff of the thirties is very alarming.

Kenan Malik’s piece here is excellent on the rise of right-wing populism within Europe:-

“What are considered populist parties comprise, in fact, very different kinds of organizations, with distinct historical roots, ideological values and networks of social support. Some, such as Golden Dawn, are openly Nazi. Others, such as the Front National are far-right organizations that in recent years have tried to rebrand themselves to become more mainstream. Yet others – UKIP for instance – have reactionary views, play to far-right themes such as race and immigration, but have never been part of the far-right tradition.
What unites this disparate group is that all define themselves through a hostility to the mainstream and to what has come to be regarded as the dominant liberal consensus. Most of the populist parties combine a visceral hatred of immigration with an acerbic loathing of the EU, a virulent nationalism and deeply conservative views on social issues such as gay marriage and women’s rights.

The emergence of such groups reveals far more, however, than merely a widespread disdain for the mainstream. It expresses also the redrawing of Europe’s political map, and the creation of a new faultline on that map. The postwar political system, built around the divide between social democratic and conservative parties, is being dismantled. Not only has this created new space for the populists, but it is also transforming the very character of political space.


The new political faultline in Europe is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the post-ideological, post-political world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless. These kinds of divisions have always existed, of course. In the past, however, that sense of dispossession and voicelessness could be expressed politically, particularly through the organizations of the left and of the labour movement. No longer. It is the erosion of such mechanisms that is leading to the remaking of Europe’s political landscape.

as broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, and as traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, so people’s sense of belonging has become more narrow and parochial, moulded less by the possibilities of a transformative future than by an often mythical past. The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity…

we need to establish new social mechanisms through which to link liberal ideas about immigration and individual rights with progressive economic arguments and a belief in the community and the collective. Those who today rightly bemoan the corrosion of collective movements and community organizations often also see the problem as too much immigration. Those who take a liberal view on immigration, and on other social issues, are often happy with a more individualized, atomized society. Until all three elements of a progressive outlook – a defence of immigration, freedom of movement and of individual rights, a challenge to austerity policies and the embrace of collective action – can be stitched together, and stitched into a social movement, then there will be no proper challenge to the populists.”

Read the whole.

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Scotland – where 45% scold 55% for being feardy goats

September 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm (Rosie B, scotland) ()

The referendum being all over now and the Noes (or the “forces of sanity and reason” as we call ourselves) having it, I have to thank Shiraz Socialist and Tendance Coatesy for sticking to their socialist principles. The contortions that the left and Greens went through to defend their acting as troops for the Scottish nationalist movement have to be seen – well you can see them here, in an excellent round up by Bob of Brockley.

Also Shiraz Socialist’s die-hard enemies, Socialist Unity, have stayed staunch. Here’s an excellent piece by Tommy Kane.

Reflecting on the referendum campaign it’s clear that it’s degenerated into the most polarising, divisive and diversionary political event of our times. Countering this view, some socialists in the Yes camp suggest that the campaign has engendered hope, inspired a revitalisation of left politics and saw record levels of political engagement. These supporters pronounce independence will bring freedom from subjugation and a renewal of democracy, others proclaim it will allows us escape from the supposedly different Scottish and English political cultures, while others assert firmly that a Yes vote can go some way to ‘smashing the British state’ (incidentally not at the top of people’s concerns on the doorsteps). Amongst some there also resides a belief that, at the very least, independence will bring social democracy and a fairer and more just Scotland, because, whisper it, ‘we are more progressive up here’. In order to sustain a clean and seamless Yes campaign these left proponents of this missive appear to have suspended their critical faculties, especially in relation to the SNP’s White Paper, and whether they like it or not, have encouraged a discourse that has appears to have focused predominately on the liberation of ‘Scottish nationhood’.

Greens went weird as well.

Scotland wants to invest in renewable energy, but the money for investment will inevitably have to come from further investment and money raised through oil and gas.

AND YET – one of three key principles of the Green Party is to reduce “dependence on fossil fuels”. Scottish Greens too say they want to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

So why are the Green Party supporting an outcome that makes a nation even more dependent on exploiting its oil and gas resources?

I wrote a piece of verse about the contradictory times we found ourselves in:-

And so ends the old order,
With Indyref fever full boil.
Lefties campaign for a border,
Greenies shout Yay for the oil.

This was picked up Helen Dale, a Facebook friend, who quoted it in her piece on the indyref in the libertarian magazine Reason.

As a corporate lawyer in Edinburgh, Helen would have advised her clients to vote No for prudential motives. However as she has now just moved to Australia to act as adviser to a senator in the Liberal Democrat Party, she has backed an iScotland because of its potential for a free market economy.

I hope “yes” wins the day, because I also think Scotland’s robust civic culture would make a fair fist of independence. The socialism would evaporate, sure, but the country would not fall prey to the “resource curse” so common among small, oil-rich nations. That Scotland gifted the world the skeptical Enlightenment would stand it in good stead. Its current inhabitants may prove themselves worthy heirs to Adam Smith, David Hume, and all the rest.

The Yes campaign was everything to everybody. As Ewan Morrison said the members campaigned to:-

Get rid of Trident, raise the minimum wage, lower corporation tax, promote gay and lesbian rights, create a world leading Green economy, exploit oil to the full and become a world leading petro-chemical economy, nationalise the banks, nationalise BP, be more attractive to foreign investment.

So now what happens? Yessers are re-grouping and now some have badged themselves “45”, in memory of their percentage share of the vote. ’45 is a bizarre name for a Scottish nationalist group to give themselves.

Fortyfivepercent

Don’t they remember the last ’45 in Scottish history and its ultimate end?

Culloden-illustration-460

Radical Independence, one of the left routes into nationalist politicking, are holding a conference.

The conference was launched earlier this year with a statement signed by dozens of campaigners, trade unionists, cultural figures and politicians, calling for the creation of an extra-parliamentary independence campaign that puts forward a radical, progressive vision of an independent Scotlan

Meanwhile the Greens have increased their membership and I would guess the SNP itself, however defeated they may seem to be, did run a campaign that pulled up the independence vote from lagging behind to scaring us shitless, may be gathering in old Labour supporters and will still be a power, especially if Nicola Sturgeon is as an effective leader as Salmond.

The Yessers are certain that all their newly energised population are not going to go away and that they can build a new independence movement. That would be appalling for Scottish politics, since the Noes, who have found this refereendum an ordeal which they have vowed will never be repeated, will then vote to keep the indy lot out. I cannot imagine anything less constructive to useful politics than a large chunk of the people voting primarily on this particular issue.

However perhaps it will just fizzle out. According to the Very Public Sociologist:-

Surely this view has been rendered null and void by the intrusion of many millions into the Scottish debates? Unfortunately, for all the networked organisations, the radical independence outfits, and non-affiliated people this is a movement under the undisputed leadership of the SNP. Its reach is powered by a soft left-populist rejection of Westminster and, despite the hopes I have for it, is likely to simply demobilise in the event of a Yes victory. I say this not because it’s convenient, but by looking at the mobilisation of similar movements elsewhere. Remember the mass movement against Le Pen in 2002? Where did it go? What happened to the defeated movement for Quebec independence? Or what about the mobilisation of the grassroots for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign? Even huge working class mobilisations under ultra-correct revolutionary leaderships can quickly fade, such as the ‘victorious’ anti-Poll Tax movement. With radical groups present but by no means hegemonic, I can see Yes heading the same way. I understand you may feel different, but enthusiasm in the absence of a unifying organisation can dim very quickly. Once the job is done, if the job gets done, what next? How can the momentum be maintained at the moment its SNP lynchpin works to shut it down?

Yessers now say they will be mocked when they sing what has become Scotland’s anthem, Flower of Scotland, especially the lines “to be a nation again”. Well, perhaps they could dump it. It’s an embarrassing dirge, with terrible lyrics, remembering a victory over a particularly weak English king 700 years ago. It is even more embarrassing in that it was written in the late 1960s, not the 1700s.

At the opening of the new devolved Holyrood Parliament Burns’ great hymn to democratic humanity was sung by Sheena Wellington. Couldn’t we adopt the last verse as the anthem? The ideas behind it are not nationalistic but universal and noble.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

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Neverendum Land

September 17, 2014 at 10:01 pm (Rosie B, scotland)

So we really have gone crazy up here. The polls tighten, the campaigners for an independent Scotland, the Yessers, who thought they could pat themselves on the back for making a respectable showing, now have a chance of winning.

Heady, exhilarating – for those on the Yes side and for those who are cheering them on. For us Unionists – and I never thought of myself as such a thing, just a British citizen with dual nationality living in Scotland – these last weeks have been nerve-wracking. Acute anxiety is my normal state of mind now, and others
feel the same.

The charged, hysterical atmosphere is like the outbreak of World War I, except instead of emanating from the newspapers it’s from the Yes campaign, which has captured the patriotic side of the argument. The cries of traitor, treachery, quisling, the message that this is a heroic struggle and only the cowardly and feart will be on the wrong side of history, the solemn announcement that I have voted Yes, with the same pride as I have joined up to fight for King and Country and the proud badges waved on Facebook profiles. Those of us who think this is a march – well not to disaster but at least disillusion and certainly not the land of vibrant egalitarianism they are prophesying- are handed out metaphorical white feathers.
I’ve been called a traitor, a quisling, tory scum, a hun, and a diet Scot, because I support Scotland’s place in the Union. “
There is the endless lies and propaganda and the rumours of secret weapons, such as the hidden oil field that the UK government is keeping under wraps.

42% of Scots believe in this.

And for armchair generals, substitute armchair economists, for moving flags forward and back to show territory won and lost and the attendant mood swings, think poll-watching, and for the Somme and Paschendale think in the short term at least a tanking economy, austerity, high unemployment, emigration. Ah, but all those will be ours. If it’s a mess, it’s OUR mess.

As some Noes have said, I have seen the intelligent minds of my generation turn into blithering idiots.

The Yessers have campaigned in poetry – offering hope that all ills will be removed by independence. Their ad in today’s Metro showed a baby hand against an adult hand “Vote Yes and keep Scotland’s future in your hands for good”. The No ad gave a list of points of contradicting false claims on the NHS, currency etc by the SNP. The Noes are definitely prose, and reasoning, the Yessers offer a fantasy Scotland. And when did reality ever match up to fantasy?

Ewan Morrison has a brilliant article on the cult-like atmosphere of the Yes campaign and compares it to the SWP.

As a ‘Trot’ we were absolutely banned from talking about what the economy or country would be like ‘after the revolution’; to worry about it, speculate on it or raise questions or even practical suggestions was not permitted. We had to keep all talk of ‘after the revolution’ very vague because our primary goal was to get more people to join our organisation. I learned then that if you keep a promise of a better society utterly ambiguous it takes on power in the imagination of the listener. Everything can be better “after the revolution”. It’s a brilliant recruitment tool because everyone with all their conflicting desires can imagine precisely what they want. The key is to keep it very simple – offer a one word promise. In the case of the Trotskyists it’s ‘Revolution,’ in the case of the independence campaign it’s the word ‘Yes’. Yes can mean five million things. It’s your own personal independence. Believing in Yes is believing in yourself and your ability to determine your own future. Yes is very personal. How can you not say Yes to yourself? You’d have to hate yourself? Yes is about belief in a better you and it uses You as a metaphor for society as if you could simply transpose your good intentions and self belief onto the world of politics.

And as Salmond calls any requests for some sane answers on the currency and other questions “scaremongering” so do the Yes campaigners

From Tom Bradby, a reporter for ITV:-

The essential trouble is that the ‘Yes’ campaign’s argument here is high on emotion, but short on sensible detail. I have said before and wholly stick to the view that their long-term analysis is pretty fair, save perhaps for some exaggeration of the revenue they are likely to glean from North Sea Oil.

… But the ‘Yes’ campaign here is about to bring its incipient nation into being based on an economic policy that would literally be laughed at if it were produced at Westminster.

Alex Salmond has barely set foot inside the House of Commons for a decade and yet on the question of a currency union he claims to know what politicians there are going to do better than they do themselves – and certainly better than all those Westminster analysts whose job it is to talk to these people and study their mindsets, day in day out. It is frankly absurd. Anyone who lived through the Euro crisis at Westminster knows that, but point it out and you are guaranteed a volley of abuse.

all reporters I chatted to yesterday agreed that the level of abuse and even intimidation being meted out by some in the ‘Yes’ campaign was making this referendum a rather unpleasant experience.

And whilst I am sure both sides have been guilty, the truth – uncomfortable as it is to say it – is that most of the heckling and abuse does seem to be coming from the Nationalists…

I don’t think Scotland will turn into Yugoslavia or the Ukraine, or a Middle East country where Shi-ites and Sunnis who have lived as neighbours for generations start killing each. Family fallouts, a reeling economy and poisonous politics are not the end of the world. This is still part of a state that is on the whole civilised. How angry I am that a bunch of nationalists, deluded progressives and ideologues are trying to break it apart.

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Hari Redux

September 7, 2014 at 4:37 pm (blogging, Rosie B)

After being disgraced for plagiarism and sock puppetry Johann Hari has resurfaced again with a new book. A very good piece here by Jeremy Duns sets out how he has not changed his slipshod ways and that he is still being accepted at face value when he should be treated with caution.

Hari has now published audio extracts on his website of his interviews, to waylay fears he is still cutting corners. Sounds good!

 

But due diligence isn’t simply ‘Oh, there are loads of endnotes – it must be well-researched, then.’ Or ‘Oh, he has posted the audio clips of his interviews: he’s reformed. Phew.’ Sorry, but it isn’t. That is laziness of the kind that allowed Hari to get away with being a plagiarist for so long. You have to follow the endnotes and check that the sources say what is being claimed. You have to listen to the audio and check that the quotes accurately reflect them. Hari himself gave this as a reason for posting audio: ‘so that everyone can hear them and verify they were said directly to me.’ But in just a few minutes of listening to the audio he has posted, I found several alarming problems.

Some of the quotes aren’t even in the articles he claims they are in, which suggests a certain level of carelessness. Some present challenges in that he was interviewing people through a translator, but by and large he seems to have been reasonably fair with these, although I think he cleans up rather more infelicities than I would. ..
……

We don’t know the full extent of what Hari did in his journalism for ten years, because he refuses to say and nobody has bothered to look. But what about his new journalism? What about his book? Presumably, as per his promise, he will publish all the audio for his quotes for it on his website. Presumably, Bloomsbury has already checked them to make sure, despite not having any record of what he got up to for a decade, that he is now scrupulously honest and accurate in his work.

 

But I have my doubts. Hari lied in 2011, and he is still lying now. The reasons why nobody has bothered to do anything about it should depress you.

Read the whole piece – it’s good not only about Hari but about standards of journalism in general.

 

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Nationalist Banality

August 20, 2014 at 6:34 am (comedy, history, Rosie B, scotland, theatre)

Well, I have had one of the worst evenings of my life in the theatre. It’s the Edinburgh Festival, and of course that is to be expected, but a bad night there is usually stumbling into a hopeful group of students doing the Medea on roller skates in a church hall performing to an audience of four. It is not going to the splendid Festival Theatre to see a play that has received pages of press coverage and is sold out.

This was James III: The True Mirror, the third part of a trilogy about the early Stewarts. James was a useless king who irritated his nobles by promoting favourites and neglecting business and was eventually killed- i.e. he was a little like Richard II and Edward II, and though you can’t expect any dramatist to use language like Shakespeare or Marlowe, you would think they could learn a bit about structure and tension and narrative drive. But instead of, say, alternating scenes of a frivolous king with the powerful plotters against him,, there were endless going-nowhere soap opera domesticities of him talking to his wife the Danish Queen Margaret (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing, who made her likable) fighting over custody of the children, a whole meandering pointless mass of boneless characters, sweiry words and button pushing jokes  that got knowing laughs – eg – James to his missus – “all I got with you was Orkney and Shetland”. James III was presented as an anarchic guy pissing round, like Russell Brand and the play was as intellectually light-weight. 

The staging of a high wall with a tier of benches for the meetings of the Three Estates was rather grand and looked promising. Then it began. A red-haired laundry maid tells a bloke that she’s heard James the King is gorgeous. Then discovers she is in fact speaking to James. Squeaks from the maid, and his wife tells James that he’s been doing his man of the people act again. This was the first ten minutes, with dialogue so self-conscious, slack and banal I wanted to leave at that point. At the interval my friends and I discovered that we were all having a bad time, and what the hell was everyone laughing about? But we hung on to the end, and that’s when we got to the worst part of all – cringe-making, boag-inducing awful – a final speech from Queen Margaret who has become regent and tells the Scots lords (who rhubarb aye, aye) that she is a rational Dane from a rational country and they are heaps of manure, but aren’t they a lovable lot, and Scotland could be a nation again, and never fear for the future – in short a party political broadcast for the Yes side of the referendum. Oh how the audience loved it- tell us we are rogues with a bad attitude but lovable and we’ll lap this like Irn Bru.

James_3_poster_notitleV2

There are other shows dealing with this matter of Scotland, all pro-independence, which is to be expected as Yesses are full of vision and enthusiasm and poetry, while Noes are grumpy. I did stumble on a comedian, Erich McElroy The British Referendum. He’s an engaging American guy, a naturalised Brit, who is evidently put out and a little puzzled that his newly adopted country could lose one third of its land mass. With some easy laughs comparing British talking head politicking and American raw gun-shooting advertisements, he did get a few digs in the referendum’s vitriol, with pictures of what a nationalistic country looks like (ie an American flag-lined street). And facetiously warned Scotland that the USA could have interesting designs on an oil-rich country with no defences. There were a few Noes in the small audience, relieved that someone was speaking to them.

 

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The Shifty vs the Shirty

August 7, 2014 at 9:35 am (Rosie B, scotland)

Well, the debate between Salmond and Darling has been covered everywhere, with the consensus that Darling did pretty well and Salmond badly. There’s too much to link to but Reuters summed it up:-

In Scotland, pro-independence leader flunks TV debate

Some of what he did was downright embarrassing, such as reading out cuttings of silly jokes from the No campaigners about how Scotland will be driving on the right and repeating the rusty old catch phrase of more pandas than Tories in Scotland. He looked like the father of the bride who had written his speech in the hired limo.

Darling had him pinned down and wriggling on the currency question, until the audience booed.

Darling: “Any 8-year-old can tell you the flag of the country, the capital of a country, and its currency. Now I presume the flag’s the Saltire, I assume our capital will still be Edinburgh, but you can’t tell us what currency we’ll have. What’s an 8-year-old going to make of that?”

Salmond: “Aw, I can’t … Alistair, we’ll keep the pound because it belongs to Scotland as much as it belongs to England. It’s our pound as well as your pound.”

He recovered and did his visionary thing. But spin it as they could, he made a bad night for the Yessers. Their twitter feeds were subdued, their Facebook feeds silent. Many of them aren’t SNP and Salmond supporters. The official Nats are the road to the rainbow nation of diversity, vibrancy, equality that will be an independent Scotland but they expected Salmond to do a decent job at giving dry old Darling a rhetorical send off. However Darling performed like an Edinburgh lawyer at a Burns night, where a bit of passion is deemed to be appropriate.

The next day the Yessers were solving the currency question by linking to articles which drew parallels with Ireland post independence or the Isle of Man now. To which the only answer is, if you can think of an alternative to currency union, why can’t Salmond, who the same people vaunt as a clever economist. More, why can’t he express an alternative, instead of holding to the line that rUK must do what he says they must.

Salmond says that there will be a currency union and Westminster can’t stop him, since it’s Scotland’s pound as well as England’s. However, this is what the lawyers say:-

We welcome the statement, published on the Lawyers for Yes website last month and written by its steering committee member Brandon Malone that “the politico-legal reality is that the rest of the UK will be accepted as the continuing state”; that “it is therefore true to say that the public institutions of the UK would become the public institutions of the rUK”; and that “the Bank of England is a UK body and the pound is the UK’s currency, and as ‘institutions’ of the UK they would stay with the UK”.

This is what the UK Government and No campaigners have been saying for months, but it has still not been accepted as the legal reality by the Scottish Government, which dismisses it as mere “assertion”. We call on the SNP and Yes Scotland finally now to be candid with Scottish voters on what the implica­tions of a Yes vote would be:

1. Scotland would become a new state and the rUK would be a continuing state;

2. The UK’s public institutions would become those of the rUK;

3. This includes the Bank of England and the currency, as well the UK’s extensive network of consular and international representation.

Bella Caledonia sees this inability to answer a fundamental question of how an independent Scotland would operate as a cunning plan by Salmond not to commit himself in a game of bluff and risk, when there are a variety of options.

He didn’t look like the master of bluff though or express these options in simple terms at the debate – just blustered on about currency unions. And people don’t like thinking their economic future relies on moves in a game of chess or poker.

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I’ve heard it said from both those for and against an iScotland that the SNP leadership do not in fact want independence. They have reasonable careers in a devolved Scotland with the luxury of blaming things that go wrong on Westminster. They have had plenty of time to prepare the practical questions of how an independent Scotland would operate and yet treat questions on this as bullying and scare-mongering. They are in a cleft stick, at one time reassuring the more conservative voters that familiarities like the currency and the monarchy will stay less the same, while offering the vision of a free, equal, independent Scotland to their idealistic followers. The two don’t join up.

The door-chapping Yessers picked themselves up and have vowed to get back to their grassroots campaigning. Fair play to them for their willingness to do hard political graft. I only wish it was in a better cause.

Update:- good piece here about the SNP’s post-modern idea of an independent state.

“the Nationalists’ version of independence became what has sometimes been described as ‘post-modern statehood’.  I’m not sure how satisfactory this term is but I take it to represent an awareness that in the late 20th century and into the early 21st, you don’t get to be ‘independent’ after the pattern of states formed in the 19th century but rather the choice has become what kind of interdependence you want.  The Nationalists embraced the idea of inter-European dependency even more enthusiastically with the introduction of the EMU.  ..  Why look to Westminster to represent the interests of Scotland in Europe when it could do that directly?  Disengagement was made simultaneously safer and apparently more outward-looking.  Membership of the EMU would free Scotland from the ‘millstone’ of Sterling membership and access to European markets would be secured by the treaties of the European Union.
 
Naturally, after the Euro-crisis membership of the EMU is impossible to sell to the Scottish electorate, even if Salmond thought it was a good idea, which he probably doesn’t.  This is the background – and the explanation – to the mess that Salmond and Yes Scotland have got themselves into over the currency issue.  The Nationalists are still arguing for ‘post-modern statehood’ but the problem for them is that what they are now arguing for is ‘independence within the UK’.  Both versions of post-modern independence required the agreement of other parties (something the Nationalists never seemed to have grasped) but the new position has two additional problems.  One is that it the continuity-UK currency union has no precedent, whereas EMU obviously did.  The other is that Salmond and the Yes Scotland camp have taken an extraordinarily belligerent attitude to the successor state with which they hope to make mutually-agreeable monetary and fiscal arrangements, which they never did with Brussels in their ‘Independence in Europe’ phase.  Discussion of how any such currency union might work is entirely superfluous when you have the leader of the Yes campaign who thinks it’s a reasonable proposition that 55 million people in one country are obliged to enter an international monetary arrangement because it is the‘sovereign will’ of another country of 5 million that they should do so.”

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Flippant Nihilist

August 4, 2014 at 8:40 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, Orwell, Rosie B, Uncategorized)

I only know Alexander Cockburn as an editor of the creepy Counterpunch, and his airy dismissals  of anyone who thought Israel Shamir a dodgy piece of work. 

There’s a fascinating account of him by Paul Berman.

Cockburn is reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens – the English journalist who lives in America and writes stylishly about American and international affairs. The political framework may be leftwards, the cultural references English literature, quoted with ease to point the moral and adorn the tale.

Berman does explain why Cockburn was so indifferent about Israel Shamir’s vile antisemitism:-

How systematically the man had gone after Israel, and how reluctant he was to say a word of criticism about the Soviet Union or the Islamic Republic of Iran or the terrorism of the anti-Zionists. Newfield took note of Cockburn’s hostility to Natan Sharansky, who in those days was a persecuted Jewish dissident in the Soviet Union. 

… In his column he took to sniping in my direction, not always wittily, which other people in the Voice newsroom attributed to his distaste for the Jewish concerns that sometimes cropped up in my writings. He accused me of “pandering” to the Jews by writing about Holocaust denial and Noam Chomsky (a rich theme)

Cockburn shared the Israel (or “Zionism”) obsession of the anti-imperialist Left:-

he does attribute 9/11 to “recent Israeli rampages in the Occupied Territories”

Alexander Cockburn woshipped his father, Claud Cockburn, who had lived an adventurous life where history was happening and who in the Spanish Civil War had the mouths of high-ranking Soviet officials in his ear.

Claud Cockburn was, in spite of appearances, a fine man who would never have turned over names to the Soviet police in Spain. But then, proud of his father, Alexander includes within the Wreck a brief memoir by Claud of his Spanish experiences, which leaves the impression that, in regard to the Soviet police activities, Claud was not a reluctant participant. About his friend Guy Burgess and the other Cambridge spies, Claud remarks that idealistic motives were at work, and these were “sensitive and informed” young men. Claud cites his own “experience in the field of espionage, or rather, counter-espionage.” He was “a section leader of the counter-espionage department of the Spanish Republican government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities,” which does sound like a job dedicated to informing the police. “

Berman believes that Claud Cockburn was a dark inspiration for George Orwell:-

I have always supposed that, when Orwell laid out the principles of totalitarianism in Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of his inspirations was Claud Cockburn, British correspondent: a cheerful example of a man willing to say everything and its opposite in the interest of a totalitarian state, committed to the renunciation of truth, to the hatred of free-thinkers, to the cause of persecution, and to the cult of obedience.

In Orwell’s portrait, the totalitarian mentality was never a matter of ideology gone awry, nor a matter of lower-class resentments. The mentality was a contempt for everyday morality and human considerations. It was a flippant nihilism, attached to no cause or principle at all, apart from love of tyranny. And, to be sure, no sooner did the Spanish anti-fascists go down to defeat than Claud Cockburn turned on a dime and set about composing justifications for Stalin’s pact with Hitler.

You could think this was a total damning of Alexander Cockburn. But Berman pays due attention to his elegant style and his love of anecdote, which at the end made me think I’d enjoy at least flicking through words of the co-editor of Counterpunch – though his constant jeering (in which he sounds like Hunter S Thompson), would get tedious after a while.

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Hopes dashed

June 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm (Rosie B)

Two things last week on the poignancy of happy expectations being crushed.

1. The last scene of Henry IV Part II. I saw the Royal Shakespeare’s Company version beamed live at the cinema, with Antony Sher playing Falstaff. It’s a melancholy play anyway, about sickness and mortality, but Falstaff takes on a new lease of life on hearing that his glamorous young friend, the Prince of Wales, has finally become king. Then comes the procession. and Falstaff greets the new Henry V-

FALSTAFF.
My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!
KING.
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;

Antonyshert

Falstaff and Prince Hal in happier times

Antony Sher took a long while to turn round to show his face, so the audience had time to dread the disappointment in it.

The second was this cartoon of the Set Text welcoming its readers:-

Settext

English academics on Twitter found their hearts breaking when they saw this.

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JK Rowling and the Nasty Nationalists

June 15, 2014 at 9:04 am (misogyny, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Rosie B, scotland, sectarianism, sexism, thuggery)

feature image number one

JK Rowling has donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign. Rowling is a long-standing Labour supporter

By Rosie Bell (via Facebook):

When J K Rowling wrote best-selling children’s books that even children who didn’t read, would read, she was a force for betterment.

When she showed that a writer could hit the jackpot she was a creatives’ beacon of hope.

When she insisted that the popular film adaptations or her books should not be Hollywoodised she was a patriot.

When she recalled her own years of being a single mother dependent on welfare payments and reiterated her support for Labour she was a good socialist.

When she donated considerable sums to clinics treating multiple sclerosis and campaigned for research on the disease because of her own mother’s illness she was a heart-string puller.

I think Scots may have even been a wee bit proud that this unassuming woman of considerable achievement chose to live in Edinburgh. At least one coffee house has put up a plaque noting that she used to hang out there.

But now she is a bitch; a whore; a traitor; a Tory; a deluded wee hen, all with added sweiry words. Oh, and English as well.

All because she wrote a sane, reasoned article on why she thought Scotland should not go independent and contributed some money to a campaign she believed in.

No wonder I hate this referendum.

Update:

Since Game of Thrones has come up in the comments thread, here’s a video which covers both Game of Thrones and Edinburgh:-

 

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