Quotulatiousness

January 26, 2018

QotD: Britain’s boozy parliamentarians

Filed under: Books, Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is Wright’s contention [in his book Order! Order!] that alcohol has as many benefits as it does drawbacks. Not only does it help loosen ties and tongues it also boosts confidence and dilutes stress. Most prime ministers drank, many to excess. Herbert Asquith went by the nickname “Squiffy Asquith” and regularly appeared in the Commons three sheets to the wind. Margaret Thatcher did her best to promote the whisky industry, the uncapping of a bottle of Bell’s marking the end of the working day. She believed that whisky rather than gin was good for you because “it will give you energy”, which I fear could be a hard fact to prove scientifically.

Tony Blair, whose reign ushered in an era of 24-hour drinking, thought his relatively modest drinking was getting out of control because he calculated it exceeded the government’s weekly recommended limit. This did not impress Dr John Reid, Bellshill’s finest, who once drank like a navvy. “Where I come from,” Reid told GMTV, “a gin and tonic, two glasses of wine, you wouldn’t give that to a budgie.” Blair, of course, did not have to look further than next door to find an explanation why his consumption increased over the years. Gordon Brown, his nemesis, was fond of Champagne – Möet & Chandon no less – which he did not nurse but washed down in a gulp. “He was like the cookie monster,” recalled one aide. “Down in one, whoosh!” Drinking is of course one of those areas in which we Scots have long punched above our weight and Wright’s pages are replete with examples of intoxicated Jocks carousing nights away and causing mayhem. Former Labour leader John Smith was one such. Occasionally I encountered him on the overnight train that carried Scottish MPs home from Westminster on a Thursday night. Known as “the sleeper of death”, it was a mobile pub that never closed until it reached Waverley, whereupon politicians were disgorged red-eyed and pie-eyed among bemused early morning commuters.

Alan Taylor, “Lush tales of our political classes’ drinking exploits”, The National, 2016-06-20.

January 25, 2018

Looking deeper than just England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Filed under: Britain, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

H/T to @GarethSoye for posting this one (originally from Brilliant Maps):

[Click to see full-sized image]

January 12, 2018

QotD: Gaelic

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Gaelic (or anything Goidelic or Brythonic) is lost, and for a very simple reason. Once one sees it written down, one loses heart. One doubts that anyone could ever have spoken it aloud. Every word of this “mouth music” looks plainly unpronounceable; and proves unpronounceable to those unprepared from birth to speak it, not only from the centre of the mouth, like an Englishman, but from both sides, and every other part of the anatomy. (Compare: desert Arabic.)

David Warren, “Of mercy & forgiveness”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-02.

August 13, 2017

QotD: The measurement problem in government

Filed under: Britain, Government, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Now take health insurance. (Or, if you live, like me, in a country with a national healthcare system that has a single comprehensive payer, the health system.) There are periodic suggestions that we should punish bad behaviour, behaviour that increases medical costs: Scotland has an alcoholism problem so we get the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing)(Scotland) Act, 2012. Obesity comes with its own health risks, and where resource scarcity exists (for example, in surgical procedures), some English CCGs are denying patients treatment for some conditions if they are overweight.

It should be argued that these are really stupid strategies, likely to make things worse. Minimum alcohol pricing is regressive and affects the poor far more than the middle-class: it may cause poor alcoholics to turn the same petty criminality observed among drug addicts, to fund their habit. And denying hip replacements to overweight people isn’t exactly going to make it easier for them to exercise and improve their health. But because we can measure the price of alcohol, or plot someone’s height/weight ratio on a BMI chart, these are what will be measured.

It’s the classic syllogism of the state: something must be controlled, we can measure one of its parameters, therefore we will control that parameter (and ignore anything we can’t measure directly).

Charles Stross, “It could be worse”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-10-09.

July 22, 2017

The Bus Replacement Rail Service (yes, that’s the right way round)

Filed under: Britain, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Jul 2016

This may be the most British video I’ve done in a while! But I saw the news story and immediately wanted to film it: the volunteer-run, narrow-gauge Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway, in the south of Scotland, has stepped in to replace buses while a road is being resurfaced — avoiding a 45-mile diversion and meaning that local residents can still get to their neighbouring village. This isn’t the first bus replacement train in British history, but it’s pretty rare.

You can find out more about the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway here: http://www.leadhillsrailway.co.uk — thank you so much to all the volunteers there for the time they spent with me today!

July 21, 2017

HMS Frigatey McFrigateface gets a new name

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Register, Gareth Corfield reports that the first Type 26 frigate has been given the name HMS Glasgow:

Type 26 Global Combat Ship – DSEi 2013 2
BAE Systems has unveiled the latest imagery of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, which shows the maturity of the design and provides an insight into how it will look.
(BAE Systems, via Flickr)

The first of the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates has been named HMS Glasgow, recycling the name for the fourth time in the last 100 years.

“The name Glasgow brings with it a string of battle honours. As one of the world’s most capable anti-submarine frigates, the Type 26 will carry the Royal Navy’s tradition of victory far into the future,” said the First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Philip Jones, naming the as-yet-unbuilt warship this morning.

All future Type 26s will be named after cities, making them the City class – a step up from when the names were previously used as part of the Town class of yore. Numerous wags on Twitter suggested that the ship would be named HMS Frigatey McFrigateface, in a nod to the Natural Environment Research Council’s epic public naming contest blunder.

“This is great news for the workers on the Clyde: first-in-class builds are always special, but I know from visiting BAE Systems earlier this year that they are raring to go on a world-class project that will showcase their skills and the ‘Clyde built’ brand for a new generation,” Martin Docherty-Hughes, the Scottish Nationalist Party MP for West Dumbartonshire, told The Register.

The Type 26s are the future of British sea power, being intended to replace the venerable old Type 23 frigates that make up the backbone of the Navy’s warfighting fleet. In British service, frigates are broadly equipped to fight other surface warships and as anti-submarine vessels, a particular British speciality.

[…]

Naming warships is an inherently political process. The Royal Navy has, particularly in the latter part of the 20th century, tried to pick names that guarantee it support from the important parts of society – see the Hunt-class mine countermeasure vessels, named after the packs of well-off Hooray Henrys who spend their free time galloping around Blighty’s fields in search of foxes. More recently, a Cold War-era frigate was named HMS London, which worked well until she was flogged off to Romania in 2002, complete with a few crates of unwanted L85A1 rifles. Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster continues flying the flag for the RN near the corridors of power, courtesy of a feature wall in Westminster Tube station.

The name Glasgow was officially bestowed to recognise the shipbuilding heritage of the Clyde area. In reality, it’s more of a sop to try and damp down the fires of Scottish nationalism; apparently, patriotic names are all that now stands between the United Kingdom and its breakup.

June 23, 2017

British and Irish Iron Age hill forts and settlements mapped in new online atlas

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Guardian, Steven Morris talks about a new online resource for archaeological information on over 4,000 Iron Age sites:

Maiden Castle in Dorset. View of the west gate and ramparts (English Heritage)

Some soar out of the landscape and have impressed tourists and inspired historians and artists for centuries, while others are tiny gems, tucked away on mountain or moor and are rarely visited.

For the first time, a detailed online atlas has drawn together the locations and particulars of the UK and Ireland’s hill forts and come to the conclusion that there are more than 4,000 of them, mostly dating from the iron age.

The project has been long and not without challenges. Scores of researchers – experts and volunteer hill fort hunters – have spent five years pinpointing the sites and collating information on them.

[…]

Sites such as Maiden Castle, which stretches for 900 metres along a saddle-backed hilltop in Dorset, are obvious. But some that have made the cut are little more than a couple of roundhouses with a ditch and bank. Certain hill forts in Northumbria are tiny and probably would not have got into the atlas if they were in Wessex, where the sites tend to be grander.

Many hill forts will be familiar, such as the one on Little Solsbury Hill, which overlooks Bath. But there are others, such as a chain of forts in the Clwydian Range in north-east Wales, that are not so well known. Many are in lovely, remote locations but there are also urban ones surrounded by roads and housing.

The online atlas and database will be accessible on smartphones and tablets and can be used while visiting a hill fort.

H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

May 5, 2017

Back from the brink of extinction … the Scottish Tory

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Spectator, Alex Massie discusses one of the most unexpected political revivals of this century:

Twenty years ago, Conservatism all but died in Scotland. Tony Blair’s landslide victory made Scotland, at least in terms of its Westminster representation, a Tory-free zone. At no point since has the party won more than a single Scottish seat, and the last time the party won more than a quarter of the Scottish vote, in 1983, its current leader, Ruth Davidson, was four years old. Two years ago, the Tories won just 14 per cent of the vote, an even worse result than 1997. This seemed to fit a broader narrative: Toryism had been beaten back into England, a sign of the union’s exhaustion and a Scotland moving inexorably towards independence.

How different it all looks now. The most recent opinion polls in Scotland suggest the Tories could win as many as one in three ballots cast on 8 June. One opinion poll even suggested that, albeit on a uniform swing, the party could win as many as a dozen Scottish seats — including Moray, seat of the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson. In an era where elections are delivering extra-ordinary results, one might just be a stronger union and a strange rebirth of Scottish Conservatism.

Massie credits the leader of Scotland’s Conservatives for much of the turnaround:

Just as it remains hard to imagine how the SNP could have risen to its current state of supremacy without Alex Salmond, so it is difficult to underestimate Ruth Davidson’s importance to the Scottish Tory revival. Her personal background — working-class, lesbian, BBC journalist — is often used to explain her ability to reach a wider audience than previous Tory leaders, but there is more to it than that. Viewed from one angle, she is every inch the modernising Tory — her influence played a large part in persuading Theresa May to maintain the commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid. But seen from a different perspective, she is also a traditional Conservative: a god-fearing Christian and former army reservist. She believes in gay marriage because she is a Conservative, not despite it.

Most of all, she offers an alternative to SNP orthodoxy. Sturgeon warns that only a vote for the SNP can ‘protect’ Scotland against an ‘unfettered’ Tory govern-ment whose values are alien and inimical to those of Scotland. Davidson observes that ‘the SNP is not Scotland’. Unionists are Scots too. Labour, not so long ago the party of Scotland, might even finish fourth in this election, at least in terms of seats won. If Ian Murray retains Edinburgh South, he will be Scotland’s only red panda.

Political anthropologists are already asking why the Scottish Tory party, previously thought close to extinction, has made such a remarkable recovery. For more than a generation on the left, the idea of the Tories being an invasive species in Scotland has been the foundation of first Labour and then SNP politics — but it no longer holds. If at least one in four Scots are prepared to endorse Tory candidates, can one really maintain the fiction there is something grubbily disreputable or even unpatriotic about voting for a Conservative candidate?

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

May 2, 2017

Britain’s “foregone conclusion” election

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh provides a thumbnail sketch of how Britain got to the point of having an election where the end result is not in great doubt, and the likely losers and big losers:

[British PM Theresa May] has now broken that promise [to serve the full term her party won in 2015], unapologetically. Any half-sane politician’s instinct would tell her that this is an incredibly dangerous thing to have done, and we all know that voters generally loathe unnecessary election activity, or that they pretend to. But the current polls suggest that the British public completely understands why she broke the promise, that they approve of her breaking it, and that they intend to reward her for it. If you follow the UK election as a Canadian, you will hear May talking about “strong and stable” government at about 200 RPM, in exactly the same way Stephen Harper used to. This is no coincidence.

The Labour Party is torn between the old-fashioned socialist militants who made Jeremy Corbyn leader and the respectable corporate types who actually run the party and serve in the House of Commons. The UK has legislation requiring fixed-term parliaments, so May needed the support of Labour in a Commons vote in order to hold an early election. A Parliament can still be dismissed early if there is a vote of no confidence in the government, or if two-thirds of MPs vote to allow it.

Which they did. Corbyn loyalists, uncertain whether their man could survive as leader until 2020, had little reason not to consent to the snap vote. Labourite Corbyn-haters, seeing a chance to dispose of their village-Marxist boss without the dangers of a party coup, went along too. They almost seem to be half-throwing the election, relieved to have some prospect of Labour returning to power before 2025.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party, seemingly in firm control of Scottish politics and culture, made the Quebec mistake of talking about another independence referendum too soon after losing one. It is a classic shark jump. The people of Scotland seem to have realized that within Scotland, the UK general election will be a referendum on whether they want another divisive, stressful independence struggle right away.

This is not looking like good news for the strident but useless SNP delegation to Westminster. Polls show the Conservatives running a strong second in Scotland, with a chance of taking ten or so seats away from the Nats. Four years ago, I would have fully expected to be typing “Jesus Christ just held a press conference in Clackmannanshire” before I typed the words in that last sentence.

March 28, 2017

The next Scottish referendum

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Brendan O’Neill says that despite the common assertion that those in favour of Brexit can’t object to Scottish independence, the people who supported Brexit have a strong case to argue against Scotland splitting away from the United Kingdom:

The argument is that if you backed Brexit, then you haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing Nicola Sturgeon’s latest stab at Scottish independence. They’re the same thing, innit? ‘No one involved in Brexit, or who supported Brexit, can make any argument against Scottish independence except emotional ones’, says a writer for the Spectator.

Actually, the opposite is the case. Brexiteers are precisely the right people to put the case against Scottish independence. Because the argument against Scottish independence is the same as the argument for Brexit. Namely that people should not shy away from democracy, with all the debate and disagreement and difficulties it involves, but rather should embrace it. That instead of hiding from our responsibility to engage in national public life, or handing that responsibility over to ‘expert’ external bodies who will do decision-making on our behalf, we should accept this responsibility, and cherish it. Where Brexit represented a brave reclaiming of the institution of democracy, Scottish independence is driven by a sense of exhaustion with it, and by a rather elitist urge to opt out of it.

To many observers, Brexit and Sturgeon’s campaign for Scottish independence are the same thing: attempts to rupture longstanding unions. (Very longstanding in the case of the UK: 310 years. Not so much in the case of the EU: 24 years.) But the bigger, more important question is surely why these unions are being called into question.

[…]

For leftists in particular, many of whom threw their lot in with the idea of Scots independence during the Indy Ref of 2014, Scottish independence is attractive precisely to the extent that it allows them to circumvent what they see as the backward, Tory-esque thinking of a majority of Brits, especially English people. They, and also many in the SNP, fantasise that Scotland is a progressive, socialist-at-heart nation, and these fine instincts are being stymied by the votes and attitudes of dumb English people. Solution? Cut yourself off. Avoid even having to have the argument with the ignorant masses, never mind having to win it, by creating your own siphoned-off pseudo-independent nation in which you’ll always get your own way.

As one left commentator said during Indy Ref, the left’s flirtation with Scottish nationalism is driven in part by its irritation at ‘the sheer scale of the defeats suffered by the left’. One radical writer described Scottish nationalism as a ‘potential escape mechanism’ for leftists north of the border tired of living under governments in Westminster elected by the low-information right-wing hordes south of Hadrian’s Wall. And that’s what ‘independence’ is for Sturgeon and Co, too: an ‘escape mechanism’, a means of fleeing from the consequences of democracy into your own aloof, agreeable statelet.

This is why this independence movement seems to have so little to do with actual independence, as confirmed by the SNP’s desire to break from Westminster only to wrap itself in the interfering arms of the oligarchy in Brussels: because modern Scottish nationalism isn’t about independence at all. Except, perhaps, independence from the masses. From the British throng. From democracy. From a demos that has proven so disappointing to always-angry Scottish nationalists and to British leftists who see an independent Scotland, shorn of the millions who currently make up British democracy, as an opportunity to create the state-socialist utopia that they know a majority of Brits would find unappetising.

March 25, 2017

When reality TV goes feral

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, a sad tale of a failed reality TV show that went off the air … but the people involved were not told about it:

After a year cut off from modern life in the Scottish Highlands, imagine re-emerging to find a world where Donald Trump is US president, Britain has left the EU and Leicester won the Premier League.

For the contestants of the Channel 4 programme Eden, coming back from isolation means not just coming to terms with 2017 but also the news that their year of toil in the wilderness barely made it on to television.

The programme, which first aired in July last year, was billed as a social experiment where 23 strangers were brought to the remote west Highlands of Scotland to build a self-sufficient community away from technology and modern tools. The year-long saga would be recorded by four crew members and personal cameras.

However, only four episodes of the show – covering March, April and May – were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger also meant that over the year, a reported 13 of the 23 contestants left the show, though Channel 4 would not confirm the dropouts.

Despite the show being taken off air, those still toiling for survival in the wilds of the 600-acre estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula were not informed that their ordeal had not been broadcast since August.

So much for those dreams of fame and fortune from “starring” in a reality TV show.

H/t to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 20, 2017

Scotland … here they go again

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is eager to get the voters back to the polls for another go-around for Scottish independence (well, not independence-independence, but separate-from-Britain-but-desperate-to-stay-in-the-EU-independence). Stephen Daisley comments on the situation as of Saturday:

The SNP has managed to spin normally sceptical hacks the line that Downing Street was caught on the back foot by Miss Sturgeon’s Monday surprise. It’s true that the timing was news to Number 10 — received wisdom ran that the Nationalist leader would unveil her gambit at the SNP annual spring conference in Aberdeen this afternoon.

But the UK Government has known since 2014, when Miss Sturgeon’s party refused to accept their 55% to 45% defeat, that another push for separation was a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’. Contingency plans have been in place for some time, both to push back a referendum do-over until after Brexit and, if need be, to fight one immediately. The Nationalists are not dealing with that nice Mr Cameron anymore.

And Theresa May’s response to Miss Sturgeon’s demand was more cautiously-worded, better thought through, than the contributions that became common from David Cameron during the first referendum. Crucially, she did not dole out a flat No; instead, she said Not Yet.

[…]

Next week, she will ask MSPs to vote for a Section 30 request, petitioning Westminster for the power to hold a second referendum. There is no mandate for the Scottish Parliament to pursue such a policy. The constitution is reserved to the UK Parliament; a party winning a Holyrood election on a manifesto of surrendering Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent or withdrawing Scottish troops from an international conflict would not be thought to have grounds for pursuing such policies.

Even if this point were conceded — it is done so from first principles by the eager constitutionalists who populate the Scottish academy — there is another flaw in the Nationalists’ argument. True, they came first in the May 2016 election and their manifesto envisioned ‘Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will’ as cause for a re-run of 2014’s ‘once in a generation’ poll. But the Nationalists failed to secure a majority of seats at Holyrood for that proposition, winning only 63 out of 129. Fortunately for the SNP, they have six to spare in the shape of the Scottish Greens, once a conscientious party of the Left but, under Patrick Harvie, a Me-Too faction for the most triangulating government since New Labour.

Every time the Nats get themselves into a jam, every time it looks like they might finally have to stop girning and start governing, up pop the six little anoraks, festooned with CND badges and brimming with good intentions, and they come to the rescue. Time after time, Mr Harvie drags the SNP out of a hole and gets nothing in return except a pat on the head. That isn’t leadership; it’s the political instincts of Lassie.

The Greens’ amening of Miss Sturgeon’s gambit is different from previous acts of handmaidenry because it breaks the party’s pledge to the voters. In the manifesto they were elected on last May, the Greens promised:

‘Citizens should be able to play a direct role in the legislative process: on presenting a petition signed by an appropriate number of voters, citizens should be able to trigger a vote on important issues of devolved responsibility. As we proposed on the one year anniversary of the Independence Referendum, this is the Scottish Greens’ preferred way of deciding to hold a second referendum on Independence. If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage. In such a referendum the Scottish Greens will campaign for independence.’

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

November 5, 2016

The Gunpowder Plot Exploding the Legend

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

July 23, 2016

QotD: Separatism and the EU

Filed under: Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe — the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish — strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation.

The human mind is not a perfect calculating machine, and no doubt all of us sometimes contradict ourselves. Perfect consistency tends to be disconcerting — but so does glaring inconsistency. It’s possible that the nationalist parties’ leaders don’t perceive the contradiction, being so blinded by ideology that they are simply unaware of it. But another possible explanation exists: by leading their nominally independent countries, they forever will be able to feed at the great trough of Brussels and distribute its largesse in true clientelistic fashion. The nationalist leaders certainly lead their people, but by the nose.

[…]

Oddly enough, I have not seen the contradiction between current nationalism and support for remaining in the European Union referred to in the press, though I don’t read every paper in every language. This is surely one of the first times in history, however, that the expression, “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” has become not a warning, but the desired destination of substantial proportions of whole populations.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Nationalist Contradictions in Europe: Why do breakaway political parties want to remain in the European Union?”, City Journal, 2016-06-27.

July 4, 2016

The SNP manages to be “a party of protest and a party of government at the same time”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Kay discusses the differences between the English anti-EU vote and the Scottish anti-English vote:

As a schoolboy in Edinburgh, I was taught that, long before the union with England, Scotland had been a cosmopolitan country. The ports on the east coast showed the influence of trade with the Netherlands and the Hanseatic League. The Scots language demonstrated continental influences. The citizens of Edinburgh would shout “gardyloo”, supposedly from the French “gare de l’eau”, before throwing their slops into the streets from the windows of the tall tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Even then, this example of early Scots sophistication did not convince. And the claim that their vote to stay in the EU — all districts of Scotland voted Remain in the referendum, and 62 per cent of the nation’s voters as a whole voted to stay in the EU — is the product of a broad-minded outlook not seen south of the border also misses a crucial point.
The reality is that the discontent with established politics that erupted in the Leave vote elsewhere in the country has found expression in other ways. As one student of Scottish politics, explaining the UK Independence party’s lack of traction north of the border, put it to me two years ago: “People in Scotland who are disgruntled and suspicious of foreigners [the English] already have a party they can vote for.”

The fracturing of the opposition Labour party’s traditional support in depressed areas of the north of England, which was decisive in securing an Out vote, paralleled the collapse of Labour’s vote in the west of Scotland in favour of the Scottish National party in the general election of 2015.

The great achievement of the SNP, now in government in Holyrood and with MPs in Westminster, has been to be a party of protest and a party of government at the same time. This is an achievement Brexiters will find hard to emulate.

H/T to both Colby Cosh and Tim Harford for the link.

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