The Scots are almost everywhere you go – every corner on the planet — anything that’s worth it, doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about banks in Hong Kong or rubber plantations in Malaya or the Canadian Pacific Railway, everywhere you go on the planet was built by Scots. And you go back to contemporary Scotland now, and they’re these pathetic, feeble, passive economic swamp of dependency – parts of Glasgow, male life expectancy … they all sit around eating fried Mars bars all day, and life expectancy is getting down to West African rates in certain wards of Glasgow. So if you’re someone who knows the Scottish diaspora, all that great stuff they did around the planet, and you go back to Scotland, you think, “What the hell happened?” Well what happened is government. What happened is welfare.
March 19, 2015
February 23, 2015
Tim Chester alerted me to the discovery of a short story contributed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to a fundraising effort to save a bridge in Selkirk:
A Scottish historian has discovered a lost Sherlock Holmes story in his attic, over 80 years after it was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Walter Elliot found the 1,300-word tale featuring the famous detective — played on TV by Benedict Cumberbatch — in a collection of stories he was given over 50 years ago. It’s called Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar.
Elliot was given the 48-page pamphlet half a century ago by a friend, but forgot all about it until he was rooting around in his attic recently. It’s believed to be the first unseen Holmes story by Doyle since the last was published over 80 years ago.
The story is now available to read online.
You can read the story at the Telegraph.
January 25, 2015
Vox.com‘s Amanda Taub on a memorable visit for then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Britain (and yes, this one is far too good to check):
During their meeting, she gleefully recounted the story of Abdullah’s first visit to Balmoral, her castle in Scotland. It all started innocently enough, with an offer to tour the estate:
After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Prompted by his foreign minister the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah had agreed. The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, his interpreter in the seat behind.
But then, a surprising twist! The Queen herself was Abdullah’s driver:
To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not — yet — allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.
And she wasn’t just driving, she was DRIVING, leaving Abdullah a quivering wreck:
His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.
That’s right: Queen Elizabeth basically spent an afternoon using her military-grade driving skills to haze the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
H/T to Damian Brooks for the link.
January 5, 2015
January 3, 2015
I have soldiered in too many countries and known too many peoples to fall into the folly of laying down the law about any of them. I tell you what I have seen, and you may draw your own conclusions. I disliked Scotland and the Scots; the place I found wet and the people rude. They had the fine qualities which bore me — thrift and industry and long-faced holiness, and the young women are mostly great genteel boisterous things who are no doubt bed-worthy enough if your taste runs that way. (One acquaintance of mine who had a Scotch clergyman’s daughter described it as like wrestling with a sergeant of dragoons.) The men I found solemn, hostile, and greedy, and they found me insolent, arrogant, and smart.
This for the most part; there were exceptions, as you shall see. The best things I found, however, were the port and the claret, in which the Scotch have a nice taste, although I never took to whisky.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
October 4, 2014
Published on 2 Oct 2014
#TheRidge is the brand new film from Danny Macaskill… For the first time in one of his films Danny climbs aboard a mountain bike and returns to his native home of the Isle of Skye in Scotland to take on a death-defying ride along the notorious Cuillin Ridgeline.
H/T to Roger Henry who said “Here’s some more of that insane bike-rider from Scotland […] I kept expecting to hear someone say ‘He’s fallen in the water’.”
September 18, 2014
As I’ve said before, I would prefer that Scottish voters decided to stay within the United Kingdom, but if they choose to go, let ‘em. I haven’t lived in the UK for many long years (I was still a child when my family emigrated to Canada), so many of my thoughts about England and Scotland are snapshots from my early years with brief impressions gathered during all-too-few visits on holiday. As a result, I don’t feel in any way qualified to speak about the political situation there (I barely feel qualified to speak about the Canadian political scene). Today’s vote will have long-lasting effects, regardless of how many vote Yes and how many vote No. Canada today is still impacted by Quebec’s cycle of separatist activity, despite the fairly convincing result of the last Quebec election.
I still don’t really understand why Scottish “independence” will mean Scotland leaving the UK (which is within the EU) only to immediately turn around and petition for admission back into the EU … why not try actual independence instead? If ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in London are bothering you from afar, why replace them with even-more-ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in even-further-away Brussels? It seems daft.
Others see this as a golden opportunity … for England. Here’s Perry de Havilland explaining why he wants the Scots to vote Yes:
I am of the view that English political culture has become steadily more toxic, hollowed out by multiculturalism and moral relativism, resulting in shocking incidents like the Rotherham scandal. Indeed the Tory party is hardly a conservative party at all, and is increasingly interchangeable with Labour and the LibDems. The mere fact the Tories chose David Cameron as leader tells you something about the state of the Stupid Party, a man unable to win an outright majority against probably the most inept, least charismatic and most spectacularly unsuccessful Labour Prime Minster since Harold Wilson. Yet the best Cameron could manage was a coalition.
But it has long seemed clear to me that as toxic as the political culture had become in England, it is even worse in Scotland.
And so my support for an independent Scotland is not because I do not think there are many fine classical liberals and other friends of genuine liberty north of the border, but rather there are just not enough of them. It is an exercise in ‘political triage’ on my part. Much as I would love to see Scotland once again embrace Adam Smith and Hume, I cannot see that happening any time soon. I may admire those willing to stay and fight for a better Scotland than the one they will get under the likes of Salmond, but I think it is a fight they cannot win.
And that is why I support Scottish independence. I see it as a gangrenous limb in need of political amputation, or we risk loosing everything it is attached to.
Richard Anderson also thinks a Yes vote might be for the best:
Despite the frequent comparisons between Quebec in 1995 and Scotland today the situations are in fact vastly different. Quebec leaving Canada is a basic existential question. Scotland leaving the UK simply isn’t. For all my tremendous fondness for traditional Scottish culture, and the amazing accomplishments of that once magical land, the place is today a vast albeit scenic welfare trap. It took 220 years to go from Adam Smith to Trainspotting, yet that hardly captures the conceptual distance travelled. When the British Empire fell Scotland, which had its greatest years because of the Empire, fell that much harder.
Scotland leaving the UK, however emotionally traumatic, would be a political blessing to the rest of the Union. Those 40 or so reliable Labour seats vanishing, as if by magic, from Westminster and by default shifting the political spectrum significantly rightward. Perhaps rightward enough that Nigel Farage & Co scare the Cameronistas toward something resembling Thatcherism. Had Quebec separated in 1995, and the country remained together, much the same thing would have happened in Canada.
Then there’s the economics. An independent Scotland would be Greece with better drinking opportunities. An England without Scotland would, by contrast, be a resurgent economic power. It’s like kicking your deadbeat brother off the couch and onto the street. Your living room smells better and the money you saved from the repair bill can be invested in some nice ETFs. Perhaps the deadbeat will learn some responsibility in the process. You’ll learn the beauty of peace and quiet. Once upon a time Scotland was the engine that helped drive a great empire, today it’s 5 million mouths that the taxpayers of England can ill afford to feed.
More than three centuries ago Scotland sacrificed the romance of independence to practical economic necessity. It seems they are on the verge of doing the exact opposite now. They are abandoning economic reality for a romantic fantasy spiced up with vague images of a social democratic utopia. A fool and his money are soon parted. That’s a bit of wisdom the Scots of old understood so very well. The tragedy is that their descendants understand it not at all.
Update: According to the Weekly Standard, I’m totally underestimating the seismic shift if the Yes campaign wins … it’ll be Red October on the Clyde:
It is not at all far-fetched to imagine Vladimir Putin offering financial aid to a post-independence Scotland that will inevitably face severe economic challenges.
The price for that aid might include, among other things, basing rights for Russian military and naval forces. Certainly there would be little or nothing that the United Kingdom could do if an independent Scotland decided to rent its deep water submarine port at Faslane to Russia’s Northern fleet or if it let Russian maritime air patrols fly out of former RAF air bases.
That would essentially mean a shifting of NATO’s frontier hundreds of miles to the West and a revolutionary change in the balance of power in Europe.
September 12, 2014
Usually, when someone is planning to punish their political enemies, they keep quiet about it until the votes are counted. The former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party is pretty forthright about just who is going to be facing punishment if Scotland votes yes:
Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed there will be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life after a Yes vote.
Speaking from his campaign vehicle the “Margo Mobile”, Mr Sillars insisted that employers are “subverting Scotland’s democratic process” and vowed that oil giant BP would be nationalised in an independent Scotland.
Earlier this week, a number of banks, including Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, said they would look to move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote.
Mr Sillars, who earlier this week claimed he and First Minister Alex Salmond had put their long-held personal differences behind them to campaign together for independence, also revealed that he would not retire from politics on 19 September but said he would be “staying in” if Scotland became independent.
He claimed there is talk of a “boycott” of John Lewis, banks to be split up, and new law to force Ryder Cup sponsor Standard Life to explain to unions its reasons for moving outside Scotland.
He said: “This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.
“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a Yes.”
If I had any investments in Scotland, I would be calling my broker to review them in the light of this pretty specific set of economic and political goals for an independent Scotland. It won’t be a safe place to invest any kind of retirement savings if Sillars represents more than a fringe of the SNP.
September 11, 2014
At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin looks at the breakup of Czechoslovakia and compares the possible UK-Scotland divorce in that context:
One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe.
Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia.
If the breakup of the UK is likely to resemble that of Czechoslovakia, this suggests that free market advocates should welcome it, while social democrats should be opposed. Obviously, other scenarios are possible. For example, famed economist Paul Krugman claims that Scottish independence is likely to result in an economic disaster, because a small country without a currency of its own cannot deal with dangerous macroeconomic crises. I lack the expertise to judge whether Krugman’s prediction is sound. But it does seem like there are obvious counterexamples of small countries that have done well without having their own currencies; Slovakia is a good example. Moreover, although Scottish independence advocates today claim that they will stick to the pound, they could reverse that decision in the future.
All of the above assumes that an independent Scotland will be able to stay in the European Union, and that there would be free trade and freedom of movement between it and the remaining United Kingdom. If the Scots get locked out of the EU or prevented from interacting freely with the UK (perhaps as a result of backlash by angry English public opinion), Scottish independence becomes a lot less viable and a lot more likely to cause serious harm on both sides of the new border.
September 9, 2014
Andrew Coyne points out some of the parallels between the 1995 referendum in Quebec and this month’s referendum in Scotland:
It has been an entertaining, if unnerving, couple of weeks, recalling the referendum of 1995 and speculating about what would have happened had the separatists won. Now, thanks to the Scots, we may be about to find out.
Next week’s referendum on Scottish independence is indeed looking eerily reminiscent of the 1995 near-disaster: the same early complacency in the No camp, the same unbridled panic as the Yes side surges in the polls; the same unappealing mix of threats (“one million jobs”) and accounting on the No side, the same fraudulent claims (“we’re subsidizing the English”) and utopian fantasies on the Yes; the same blurring of the lines on both sides, independence made to look like the status quo (“we’ll keep the pound”) even as the status quo is made to look like independence (“devo-max” is the British term for special status). Add a charismatic Yes leader and an unpopular, seemingly disengaged prime minister, and the picture is complete.
Learning nothing from our experience, the Brits made all the same strategic errors we did, first conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on the separatist project, then attempting to pacify it with powers and money, only to watch it grow more ravenous in response. They have ended up in the same game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose: a No vote simply marks the launch of the next campaign, while a Yes, supposedly, is forever.
We should not underestimate how much of separatism’s decline in this country can be explained by sheer exhaustion, especially post-Clarity Act. A great many soft nationalists, for whom it retains a romantic appeal, were persuaded it was simply too arduous an undertaking, full of too much uncertainty and upheaval. But if that premise appeared to have been debunked — if the British pull off the same quick divorce that the Czechs and Slovaks did in the 1990s — we might yet see the issue resurface. You see, the Parti Quebecois would crow? It is just as we told you. And Britain, of all places, has proved it.
September 2, 2014
Theodore Dalrymple explains why changing the name of something does not actually change the thing being described, no matter how much politicians or journalists wish it did:
… some errors are important, and one sees them more insistently the older one grows. For example, the other day I read an article in Le Monde about the forthcoming referendum in Scotland on independence from the United Kingdom. The author of the article was clearly sympathetic to the cause of independence, but that was not the cause of my irritation with the article, nor the fact that he quoted an old man, a former trade union militant, who said that he was in favor of independence, among other reasons, because the United Kingdom was the fourth most unequal country in the world. If old men in Scotland can be as ignorant of the world as that, it is an interesting sociological observation; and the author of the article is almost certainly right that those in favor of Scottish independence favor a state even more extensive in the name of equality than the one that they already have.
No, I was irritated rather by the fact that the author of the article accepted that the policy of the present British government can properly be described as one of austerity. What the alleged austerity amounts to is this: that in the current year the government will borrow only one in six of the pounds it spends instead of one in five, as it did last year. As to the reasons for this less than startling decline in its borrowing requirements, it was not because the government was spending less but because it was receiving more taxes, from the speculative housing bubble which it has done much to fuel. If that bubble should burst, the borrowing necessary to maintain current levels of expenditure (already very high) would rise again, possibly higher than ever.
This is not a question of whether the economic policy followed by the government is the right one or not: perhaps it is and perhaps it isn’t. It is a question of the honest use of words. One would not say of a man who passed from smoking sixty cigarettes a day to fifty that he had given up smoking, or that he had exercised great self-denial. And one would not, or rather should not, say of an organization that had balanced its budget once in fifty years (the British government) that it was practicing austerity merely because it had to borrow a slightly lower percentage of what it spent than it did the year before. This is to deprive words of their meaning.
But does this matter? As the philosopher Bishop Butler once said, everything is what it is and not another thing. A budget deficit is a budget deficit, whether you call it profligacy or austerity. A thing is not changed by being called something different.
Unfortunately, matters are not quite as clear-cut as that. In human affairs, words matter, as much because of their connotations as of their denotations. Austerity means stern treatment and self-discipline. It means harshness and astringency. Needless to say, harshness in their government is not what most people look or will vote for. If reducing the rate at which you overspend and accumulate debt is called austerity, no one will dare go any further in that direction, though it were the right direction in which to go. Words, said Hobbes, are wise men’s counters but the money of fools: so that many men will take the name for the thing itself. Whether more active attempts to balance the budget would be advisable I leave to economists to decide (they can’t, of course).
September 1, 2014
In the Telegraph, Sean Thomas says that the self-loathing tradition among Labour intelligentsia makes Labour the worst possible party to make the case for union, even though Labour stands to lose far more electorally than any other party:
It’s often been observed that a certain type of British Lefty hates Britain – and that they reserve particularly hatred for Englishness. Back in 1941 George Orwell made this acute remark:
England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.
So what’s new? The difference today is that this shame and self-hatred now dominates Left-wing thought, whereas it was once balanced by the decent Left: who were proud to inherit the noble traditions of radical English patriotism.
[…] The latest polls show that the United Kingdom is close to breaking up. This is a remarkable state of affairs when you consider that, a year ago, polls were two to one against partition. How has this occurred? Because we have allowed the British Labour party to lead the No debate.
This was a disastrous decision, given that, as Orwell noted, Labourites and Lefties revile and deride so many of the things perceived as quintessentially British. Take your pick from the monarchy, the flag, the Army, the history of rampant conquest, the biggest empire in the world, the supremacy of the English language, anyone who lives in the countryside, the national anthem, the City of London, the Royal Navy, a nuclear deterrent, the lion and the unicorn, duffing up the French, eating loads of beef — all this, for Lefties, is a source of shame.
The result, north of the Border, is plain to see. Whenever the passionate and patriotic SNP asks the No campaign for a positive vision of the UK (instead of dry economic facts, and negative fear-mongering) all we hear is silence, or maybe a quiet murmur about “the NHS”. Yes, the NHS. For many Lefties, the NHS &mdah; an average European health system with several notable flaws — is the only good thing about Britain. It’s like saying we should keep the United Kingdom because of PAYE. Thus we tiptoe towards the dissolution of the nation.
There is a deep irony here. If Scotland secedes it will hurt the Labour Party more than anyone, electorally. But such is the subconscious hatred of Britain and Britishness in Lefty hearts, I believe many of them think that’s a price worth paying: just to kick the “Tory Unionists” in the nuts, just to deliver the final death-blow to British “delusions of grandeur”.
August 25, 2014
While I’d prefer to see Scotland stay as part of the United Kingdom, lots of Scots would prefer to be independent of the UK. What I don’t understand is the idea that Scotland needs to be free, independent, and pleading and begging to be accepted into the EU. Isn’t that just trading distant uncaring bureaucrats in London for even more distant, even more uncaring bureaucrats in Brussels?
There are plenty of English cheerleaders for the “no” side, but there are also folks in England who’d prefer to see Scotland go off on its own:
In polite society, the correct opinion to hold about Scottish independence is that the Union must stay together. But I’ve been wondering: might not England thrive, freed from the yoke of those whining, kilted leeches? The more you think about it, the more persuasive the argument seems to be.
I’ve been invited to debate this question — whether or not we long-suffering Sassenachs would be better off without our sponging Caledonian neighbours — in early September, at a debate held by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
Let’s consider for a moment how Scotland herself might fare. In my view, she would be well served by some time alone to consider who she really is. Historically, Scotland was renowned across the world for entrepreneurial spirit and engineering genius. Both reputations have been lost after a century of Labour government and the overweening arrogance and control freakery of the trades unions.
These days, Scotland is more commonly associated with work-shy dole scroungers and skag-addled prostitutes than with the industriousness of Adam Smith or with its glorious pre-Reformation spirituality. Sorry, no offence, but it’s true.
Returning to England, then, let us imagine a Kingdom relieved of burdensome Scottish misanthropy. Surely it would experience an almost immediate burst of post-divorce gaiety. Think of our city centres, free of garrulous Glaswegian drunks slurping Buckfast tonic wine, or English literary festivals liberated from sour, spiky-haired Caledonian lesbians hawking grim thrillers about child abuse.
And here’s one last, even more delicious prospect: right-on Scottish stand-up comedians permanently banished to Edinburgh, where their ancient jokes about Thatcher or the Pope will make their equally ossified Stalinist audiences laugh so bitterly that Scotland’s famously dedicated healthcare workers will be left mopping up the leakage.
It makes you wonder whether we shouldn’t offer up Liverpool as well, to sweeten the deal. After all, the north of England is in a similarly bad state. What do you reckon of my modest proposal? Would a taste of the Calvinist lash persuade that feckless and conceited community to get off its behind and look for work? Why not let Holyrood underwrite their disability benefits bill for a while, and see what happens?
July 19, 2014
It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t!
I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject.
My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that.
So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
June 23, 2014
While the England team may not need to worry about what to do in the elimination round (because they’re not going to get that far), James Delingpole claims that this is the greatest World Cup ever, and offers five reasons he’s right:
1. Filthy, cheating foreigners are conforming satisfyingly to stereotype.
The reason England are already out of the competition, claimed Wayne Rooney over the weekend, is that we are far too nice. If ever we wish to win again at the game we invented, he suggested, then we will have to learn to cheat like all the filthy foreigners with their effeminate hairstyles, their casual fouling and their extravagant diving.
But obviously we can’t do that sort of thing because then we’d look like the kind of people who still live with their mothers and eat garlic on toast and ride around piazzas on mopeds.
Which is why we prefer to lose because it shows our national superiority. Anyway, football is fixed now — so really it’s not up to the players who wins any more anyway, it’s decided by the betting syndicates in India and Pakistan and Ghana.
3. It has given the Scots something not to grumble about
Nothing — not a warming draught of deep fried Irn Bru (copyright Michael Deacon) nor the skirl of pipes nor the reassuring “pit” of the latest welfare cheque landing on the floor of your council flat — gladdens a Scotsman’s heart quite so much as the sight of England losing in a major (or indeed minor) sporting event.
It’s quite possible that, had England won this World Cup, the backlash would have driven the whole of Scotland into voting “Yes” in the forthcoming referendum. Those of us who love the Scots and dearly wish them to remain part of the Union, therefore, should rejoice in Britain’s tactical defeat in the World Cup.
5. Nazi Pope Reefer Man
Do I really need to explain?
My favourite Twitter post from the start of the World Cup now seems prescient:
The England team visited an orphanage in Brazil today. ‘It's heartbreaking to see their sad little faces with no hope,"’ said Jose, age 6.
— Peter Nurse (@PeterNurse1) June 11, 2014