The hangover from a 300 year binge

Oh god. Ma heid. Ma second class representation in the Westminster Parliament. Is there such as thing as syrup of figs for a blocked devolution settlement? Being Scottish in the UK feels like waking up with a 300 year hangover. The groggy recollection that you did some really bad things with India and Africa, the slowly dawning realisation that you’ve got bugger all to show for it, and the growing awareness that you have, in fact, been taken for a complete mug. The things you’ve done and the place you’re in now are not who you really are. There’s an immense mismatch between how you see yourself and how your drinking companion sees you, the one who’s been poncing off you for years and filling your head with crap. And you believed it. It’s cringe-making.

Scotland sees itself as a country. Because that’s what we are. Instinctively we compare ourselves with other small countries like Denmark or Finland. Scottish people do this even without thinking about it. It is ingrained deep within us that we are a country and a nation. And the consequence of being a country and a nation is that it makes us a unit of sovereignty. Even many people who voted No last year share this view. It’s for Scotland and her people to decide whether we remain within the UK or not. We’re a unit of sovereignty and have sovereign right to decide our own future.

The Westminster Parliament doesn’t see us like we see ourselves. That’s why Westminster’s refusal to take on board the wishes of the vast majority of Scotland’s elected representatives feels like a slap in the face. We already knew we were facing rejection, but rejection still hurts even when you were expecting it. Westminster’s braying Tories and ignorant Labourites don’t look upon Scotland see a sovereign nation. They look to the north and they see us as a problematic region which formerly returned a block of Labour MPs as reliably as an alkie turns to a Buckie bottle.

Scotland had a minor supporting role in the Westminster chorus, but now we’re singing a different tune. Scotland has sobered up, we’re looking at the empty glass and we’re just not parliamentary fun any more. We can no longer be relied upon, no longer be trusted to play our part in the game. We’re Westminster’s alcoholic pal who has given up the drink and discovered politics instead, and that means we’re boring and tedious and need to be side lined and silenced. Scotland has discovered that the stories of a union of equals, a partnership, they were only ever that. Stories to tell over an opened bottle to a hauf cut drunk who could be relied upon not to remember.

Tim Farron has grasped this. He wants to silence the sobered up Scotland. Tim wants to become leader of what’s left of the Lib Dems, which is a bit like wanting to lead the 7th Cavalry after the Battle of the Little Big Horn only with Alistair Carmichael’s refusal to resign as a last stand. Tim’s got a well thought out Scottish policy. It’s : “SNP bad, SNP very bad, SNP practically Nazis but I’m not actually going to say the N word because then my poverty of ideas becomes painfully apparent even to the Scottish media.”

On Saturday Tim gave an interview to the Herald in which he said that nationalism can be progressive when it’s getting crapped on from a great height, but when it’s ascendant it’s always borderline fascist – or just plain outright let’s go and invade Poland. Tim wants to ensure that Scottish nationalism remains a progressive force by continuing to crap on it from a great height. So he’s doing us all a favour really. He’s joined in his favour doing by Labour and the Tories, none of whom have the slightest idea of what to do about this newly conscious Scotland except repeat the mantra of SNP bad and hope that in despair we will return to the bottle.

It’s not going to happen. We woke up. We briefly glimpsed a vision of what could be. We learned what hope felt like. We discovered that things don’t have to be the way that our masters in the corridors of power in London want them to be. We discovered the radical notion that a country could be run for the benefit of its citizens and not for the benefit of banks and big business. It’s a sweeter taste than wine.

The Tim Farrons and the Davie Camerons and the faceless drone devoid of personality who will inherit the Labour mantle are the mental giants into whose hands Scotland’s No voters surrendered the country on 18th September last year. These are the people whose meanness of spirit and narrowness of vision constrict our future like a vice. They offer us nothing but a return to the Buckie and buksheesh of Westminster, their brain death and corruption.

Now I know it’s not fashionable to criticise No voters, on account of the fact that we need to persuade them to vote Yes if Scotland is ever to get away from the likes of Tim and live in a universe which involves joined up thinking and grown up politics. However I can’t help but tell the No voters I know that all this rubbish, these insults, this disdain and contempt, it is all because you were suckered, because you were taken in, because you lost your nerve, because you were tricked into drinking a deep draught from the Buckie bottle. That’s why we suffer the cuts and wounds of a Tory government. That’s why anyone has to take Michael Gove seriously instead of entering him in Britain’s Got Talent as a goldfish lookalike. I’m sorry about this, but that’s the bottom line. No voters made a call in September based upon lies and deceit, and now we all have to suffer the consequences. But we can all feel better about ourselves by blaming the Daily Record for not caring about the difference between Labour lies and news.

It’s not too late to redeem things. There is still hope of change. We can still dream of a better life and a better country. It’s coming, there’s still time to say yes to hope.

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Bow down before your Imperial masters

The House of Commons has a committee which scrutinises Scottish legislation – yeah! Scottish scrutiny for Scottish laws – yeah! And it’s even chaired by thon guy that used to be in RunRig – yeah! Mind you, the committee has almost as many English Tory MPs as it does Scottish MPs – because that’s what we voted for at the last election, wasn’t it? I distinctly remember Paddington Mundell counting for almost as much as the rest of Scotland’s MPs combined, the BBC seems to thinks so. So the fact that the Scottish Affairs Committee is made up of four SNP MPs and three English Conservative MPs is totally fair and balanced right? It’s fair in exactly the same way the Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits reforms are fair, like Job Centre sanctions are fair. You know, Michael Gove’s definition of justice. And he’s Scottish, so we can’t complain or we’re just racists who hate the English.

Anyway, the Tory MPs are outnumbered by the SNP ones, so there’s no room on our shoulders for chips. But not to worry, just to make sure that the non-Scottish MPs aren’t outnumbered on a committee devoted entirely to Scottish matters and nothing else, it’s got three Labour MPs as well, and they are all representing English seats too. It’s the flip side of English votes for English laws – it’s English votes for Scottish committees.

So in line with the democratic principle of English votes for Scottish affairs, Scotland’s MPs are going to be outnumbered on Westminster’s only purely Scottish committee by six to four. Still, at least that’s not quite as bad as being outnumbered by 600 odd – some of whom are extremely odd, I mean have you seen Michael Fabricant’s hair? – to 59 which is what happens in the rest of the parliament. This represents a huge advance for Scottish rights and representation, because now we’ve only got six imperial masters to bow down before, instead of bowing down before 600, which really does play havoc on the knees.

So who are our Imperial masters who control our destiny but who were foisted upon us without Scotland having any say in the matter? Och silly us, thinking that we should get a majority say on matters that only affect Scotland. Who are these savants who know more about Scotland than any MP who might actually represent a Scottish constituency and have been given their job by voters in Scotland?

Christopher Chope is the Tory MP for Christchurch in Dorset. He’s not Scottish, although rumour has it that he did once mistake a grouse beater in Morayshire for a grouse. Christopher’s hobbies include scoffing at poor people, revelling in his sense of entitlement, and demonising benefits claimants. So fairly typical for a Tory then. Chris spent the Thatcher years introducing the Poll Tax, so he’s got previous experience at opinionating on laws that no one wants and no one voted for. In a previous incarnation he was a colonial governor, just like he is in this one. Chris is in favour of hanging, conscription, and keeping developing countries in hock to banks.

David Anderson is the Labour MP for Blaydon, which is in Tyneside so that’s practically in Scotland isn’t it? Geordies say things like “doon the toon” so it’s more or less the same as being Scottish. And some small parts of David’s constituency are actually on the northern side of Hadrian’s Wall, so as far as the Daily Mail is concerned that makes him a raving blue face painted Braveheartist. In the real world, he’s at best lukewarm on the subject of further devolution for Scotland.

Jim Cunningham is the Labour MP for Coventry South, but he ran away to the bright lights and bustling opportunities of Coventry from Coatbridge. So he is actually Scottish, a Tom Clarke who couldn’t make the mark. Jim cares so much about his former homeland that he’s been absent from most votes in the Commons on Scottish devolution since 2010 and on the occasions when he has been arsed enough to vote, he’s voted against extra devolution almost as much as he’s voted in favour. And this guy is the only Scot who’s been drafted in to make up numbers.

Stephen Hepburn is the Labour MP for Jarrow, which is also in Tyneside. There’s clearly a theme here. It is perfectly possible that no one in London appreciates the difference between Tyneside and Scotland, and thinks that Newcastle is a suburb of Edinburgh.

Dan Poulter is the Tory MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. But Suffolk starts with the letter S, and so does Scotland, so this qualifies him as an expert in all things Caledonian. He may have a Scottish granny. Then again he may not. No one really cares, just like no one really cares about Dan’s opinions on matters Scottish. He may have gone to Inverness on holiday once, if that’s a help. He’s only on the committee to make sure the SNP are outnumbered.

Maggie Throup is the Tory MP for Erewash, which I always thought was one of the kingdoms of Middle Earth, but apparently it’s in Derbyshire. Maggie may or may not be an elf, but we can be sure that her contribution to Scottish debates won’t be magic. Maggie was chosen for the committee because Derbyshire was the most southernly point that the Jacobite rebels reached in the 18th century, and Davie Cameron is hoping that Maggie will turn around the Caledonian hordes with her magic wand. Her Wikipedia page says “Maggie Throup is the Conservative MP for Erewash” and practically nothing else, that’s how great her dedication to Scottish matters is.

So these are the people that Westminster has chosen to have a majority on the only committee that will scrutinise legislation and ensure that it’s in tune with the desires and needs of the Scottish electorate. They’d probably have stood a better chance of finding people more representative of Scottish public opinion if they’d made a random selection of backing singers from Croatian entries to Eurovision from the past decade. But then representing Scotland isn’t what a Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee is all about. It’s about ensuring that Scotland’s affairs are dictated by Westminster, and about making sure that we don’t get any notions that we get a choice in the matter.

Can we have another independence referendum now please? This isn’t funny any more.

Update: It’s worse than I thought. There’s 11 of them, not 10. And there’s the same number of Tories as SNP MPs. The extra Tory is John Stevenson who represents Carlisle. Carlisle used to be a part of Scotland until the 11th century, but we really don’t want it back. They vote for folk like John, who was educated in Aiberdeen but had to go to Carlisle in order to find people who’d vote for him and his brand of old fashioned homophobia. John doesn’t like the idea that gay people can get married, but then most gay people – and a hell of a lot of straight people – don’t really like the idea of John either. So there’s some balance.

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English Votes for Everyone’s Laws

The Tories have decided to rush through a measure which they claim is dedicated to ensuring fairness and equality between the constituent parts of this greatest Union of nations the multiverse has ever seen. It’s EVEL, which sounds like a description of the Daily Mail, but which supposedly stands for English votes for English laws. This all sounds just fine and dandy and who could possibly object to it? It’s all terribly fair and British and cricket on the lawnish, after all doesn’t Scotland have its own parliament and English MPs can’t vote on Scottish matters. Why shouldn’t England have its say on things which affect it without those uppity Caledonians interjecting in their incomprehensible accents.

But unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work like that. Scotland’s overall budget is determined by the budget set for England, and when Scotland’s MPs can no longer vote on what are supposedly English only matters, they will lose the ability to have a say on the overall budget for Scotland. It’s like going to a restaurant and being told that you can order anything you like, as long as it doesn’t cost more than what your companion has ordered. They can choose anything they like, and their London transport infrastructure pudding counts as a joint UK national expenditure. And then you get the bill after they’ve decided that they want privatisation pie with austerity chips.

But it’s even worse than that. Scotland doesn’t even get to decide what parts of the menu it chooses its cauld porridge from. That is also decided for us by our dining companion. Fancy something full fat fiscal autonomy? Forget it. Tory and Labour MPs we didn’t vote for have decided it’s bad for us, it will ruin our arteries and give us a sense of independence that’s unhealthy. Scotland must restrict itself to the devolved parts of the menu, but it doesn’t have any say on what the devolved parts are. That gets decided for us. We only get to choose from the cheap end of the menu, the appetisers and the nibbles, the parts that don’t allow a full and satisfying meal. One of those tiny side dishes that has the appearance of a dinner but doesn’t contain any calories. Then they can tell us that we’ve had our chips on our shoulders and we need to stop complaining.

Over 500 non Scottish MPs ganged up to vote down a proposal for full fat fiscal autonomy, the proposal that Scotland voted for at the General Election and which was backed by the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s MPs. At the General Election Scotland resoundingly rejected the Smith Proposals as inadequate and derisory and voted for a party that wanted to go much further. And we did so by a landslide.

But this counts for nothing. Westminster and the Unionist parties are stuck on Smith like a fish bone in their throats, even though it’s choking them to death. The Labour and Tory MPs clapped and cheered when they told Scotland it couldn’t have what it had voted for, like they’d scored a mighty victory. But the only victory is the reminder that England is much larger than Scotland and as long as we remain in this Union we will always be outvoted. Outvoted, unappreciated, unwanted unless we haud oor wheesht like good little North Britons and are grateful for the morsels we’re given.

So here we are in the devolution café. English MPs get to decide what parts of the legal menu Scotland can choose from , and English MPs get to decide the overall budgets which form the basis for determining Scottish spending on those parts of the menu that English MPs allow us to choose from. Scotland currently gets outvoted on these things, but at least our MPs have a say. Once the Tories get their way, Scotland’s MPs won’t even have a vote at all. We’ll be silenced and side lined, marginalised and meaningless.

So it’s clear that the Tories are also in favour of English votes for Scottish laws, and presumably also English votes for Welsh laws and Northern Irish laws. Given the recent behaviour of the Unionist parties, we now know that EVEL really stands for English votes for everyone’s laws. That’s democracy Westminster style.

Remember during the independence referendum that Scotland was told, frequently, that it wasn’t a colony. Unionists scoffed at the minority of independence supporters who compared Scotland to a colony. And by and large supporters of independence agreed. Of course Scotland wasn’t a colony – I agreed with that proposition myself. Scotland was a part of a Union in which we all thought that we had a fair say. A Union not a takeover.

But once Cameron passes his measure to bring in English Votes for Everyone’s Laws that won’t be the case any more. Scotland will be without the means to have any say at all over its overall budget, no say on how much it gets for health, no say on how much it gets for education. England’s MPs will determine the total budget and Scotland will get its budget decided in a vote from which our own representatives have been excluded. Scotland will get a percentage of whatever is decided for England, but won’t be able to have any input into what is decided for England. So if in a fit of Conservative madness Tory MPs for England decide to halve the health budget and introduce rampant privatisation, the part of the Scottish block grant accounting for health services will be proportionately slashed too. And there will be nothing we can say or do about it. This is Labour’s pooling and sharing, this is Better Together’s best of both worlds.

What was that that the Americans once said about no taxation without representation? That’s the position the Colony of Scotland will find itself in once EVEL comes into force. We will be a colony, without a say, without a vote, and staring at a menu of stale crumbs that are well past their sell by date with no choice in the matter, no say, no representation. Our MPs will be second class, just like the country that elects them. Welcome to the Colony of Scotland.

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Being pecked to death by an angry chicken

Yesterday the Sunday Herald did something that no other newspaper in the UK has ever done before – it carried an article exposing the online activities of the numerous Unionist Twitter trolls. The mainstream media has until now ignored the swearing, threats and abuse originating from those who support the Union, preferring to concentrate on the portrayal of independence supporters as the agents of an evil nationalist cult, beardy blue face painted Minions in kilts but without the movie deal. While I am glad that a major publication has finally pointed out the obvious – that people are rude on the Internet – I can’t help but thinking that it’s all a bit petty.

Well I say “a bit”, which is like saying that the Labour party in Scotland and dinosaurs are a bit extinct, or that Gordon Matheson is a bit of a car park attendant. But seriously, why should anyone care what a random punter says on Twitter? Although you can understand why Blair McDougall might care, it’s not like he’s got anything else to do with his time. He was appointed as an advisor to Jim Murphy, but now his job description is “waiting for jotters”.

You could quite easily say that being a bit petty is what Twitter is all about. Twitter is the sound-bite generator of the Internet. On Twitter you get 140 characters to express yourself, so you’re not going to get subtle and nuanced, it’s not bloody Tolstoy. You get LOLZ and abbreviations. You get gross simplification and childishness. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get funny one liners and you can guarantee there’s a lot of pictures of cute kittens. It’s a bit like Reporting Scotland without the laughs or the hotline to Labour party press releases, only you’re not charged £145 a year for the privilege and it’s easier to ignore the fitba references.

And occasionally, but thankfully rarely, you get really nasty individuals who vilify and traduce, abuse and traduce, post people’s home addresses and threaten them – usually women – with violence and rape. This sort of behaviour is of course illegal and it is a criminal offence. But what the Murphoid remnants of the Labour party have been trying to do is to conflate the robust expression of political opinion with criminal threats to hunt down a woman and rape her. They’ve been engaged in a deliberate campaign to leech on the very real abuse faced by some people on the Internet and sook oot what sympathy they can from it. And the mainstream media has been egging them on.

We are where we are because the mainstream media has made such a big play of supposed abuse by independence supporters and ignored the abuse originating from Unionists. The result is that you can read just about any report on Scotland in the majority of the UK press and it’s like being pecked to death by an irate chicken, only with a lower IQ and a greater amount of hysteria. Although on reflection that’s being unfair to chickens. Chickens don’t know how to lie. Half the time what is carried in the media about Scotland is an outright falsehood. If the lying lurid headlines splashed all over the front pages ever do get corrected, it’s in tiny print in an inside page, hiding below an article about breast enlargement.

And that’s even before you venture into the comments section, where there’s a den of spittle flecked invective and hatred which would make the average Twitter user rush to cuddle a Minion in comfort. The real issues are lost in a flurry of net curtain twitching and finger pointing. Supporters of the Union don’t even address the fundamental contradiction lurking at the very heart of their own argument, it’s never been pointed out to them by the press that feeds the flames of hatred and disdain.

Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that Scotland is a basket case which requires the UK in order to keep it from the fate of Greece. Whose fault is that then? Sure as hell it isn’t the SNP who have had their paws on the levers of macroeconomic policy for the past century or two. But apparently we’re better off remaining under the tender administrations of the maliciously incompetent idiots who have brought about this lamentable state of affairs – reducing what could have been a prosperous northern European country with an embarrassment of natural resources to penury and dependency. That’s the core contradiction at the heart of the Unionist argument, and by ignoring it, all that is left is the childish idiocy of finger pointing on Twitter. Pooling and sharing my arse. So having infantilised and trivialised the debate, then they complain when they’re not taken seriously.

They have chosen to infantilise and trivialise the debate on Scottish independence, and by extension fostering the notion that independence is itself an infantile and trivial idea. The underlying message is that if you want Scottish independence then you’re trivial, you’re obsessed by something that is unimportant and meaningless. And this tells us what the Union thinks about Scotland. It’s Scotland that is trivial and unimportant. It’s not about self-determination. It’s not about democracy. It’s not about achieving a cohesive and fair society, redistributing wealth and land, or social justice and equality. It’s all about rude names on Twitter and the pursed lips of disapproving prudery.

I want to live in a country which is taken seriously by its politicians and opinion formers, a country which is important to those who take the decisions about its future, a country which is central to the policies of those who determine its economy. But apparently that’s too much to ask for in a Scotland which is a part of the UK.

When we get independence we can at least remedy these things. We can have politicians we can hold to account if they don’t treat us like adults. But we’re probably going to be stuck with a media which trivialises everything unless we build a new one for ourselves.

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The American tea of politics

Well that’s me home now. Big thanks to Macart and all the people who published guest posts during my absence and kept the shop open. I appreciate it immensely. I forgot my phone charger so decided just to switch it off when leaving Heathrow and spent the entire holiday incommunicado. On reflection, that was a better idea. Being disconnected from electronic devices meant I was really able to relax and forget about everything. But I’m back now, refreshed and opinionated as ever.

I had a wonderful time in Boston, doing all the usual touristy stuff. It’s an easy city to discover on foot. The food was great, I’ve now acquired a new love for Vietnamese food. I met up with an old friend and had a fantastic time with him. He’s the self-confessed world’s worst tour guide, but great company, and didn’t even complain when I insisted on dragging him to the nether end of Boston’s public transport system so I could have a ride on an old fashioned streetcar.

I also discovered the real reason why they threw all that tea into Boston harbour and sparked off the American Revolution. It wasn’t a principled stand against unfair taxation, oh no. It was really because American tea is seriously howffstrous, boakalicious, and just plain boggin. You’d think that a nation that put a man on the moon might have grasped the simple concept of putting the teabag in the cup before you add boiling water, but seemingly this is beyond the wit of a country with drive in funeral parlours. Probably saying this makes me an evil Scottish cybernat, but apparently evil Scottish cybernat racism only counts as evil Scottish cybernat racism when you tell jokes about English people while in pursuit of Scottish independence, so I reckon I am on safe ground here slagging off American tea making abilities. Although with the Daily Mail you can never be sure. Americans don’t count as foreigners to the Daily Mail, at least not the white, heterosexual, English speaking ones, even if they can’t make a decent cup of tea.

One trendy “tea bar” near Harvard Yard asked if I wanted bobo in my tea. I thought that was Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, but apparently it’s some sort of tapioca. Apparently people with ironic beards like that sort of thing. Anyway, I politely declined the cuppa semolina chimp, and told the server I just wanted a common or garden cup of hot tea – because by this time I’d worked out that if you ask an American for tea you’re quite likely to get given something with ice in it. And then I got presented with a cup of tepid water to which a tea bag had been briefly introduced. To be honest, the chimpanzee would have tasted better, which is probably why Michael Jackson got him in the first place.

So there you have it. America got its separation from the UK because their tea is crap. Not any high principled stuff about taxation or democracy. Perhaps we could take a tealeaf from the Americans’ book and start a Scottish revolution by demolishing the BBC Scotland headquarters and chucking the pieces into what used to be the harbour at Pacific Quay, not because the licence fee is an unfair tax and obligatory state sponsored propaganda is profoundly undemocratic, but because River City is a bit rubbish.

So while I was away out of touch with Caledonian civilisation and being offered bowffericious tannin based beverages while learning about their relationship to revolution, Clypegate happened. The Labour party in Scotland is in a death spiral, it’s already bouncing off the treetops and about to plunge into a deep ravine and explode in a shower of spangly Blair McDougalls, so you’d imagine that any party in such a dire set of circumstances would be taking a long hard look at itself and considering fundamental changes to the way it has operated all these years. But no. Labour thinks it just needs to keep on doing the exact same thing, only more so. Because that’s really going to work for them.

Labour has stared defeat in the face, and it’s crapping itself. Having scrapped any form of socialism that the party once possessed it’s no longer a Labour movement but a bowel movement. Now it’s decided to use the Daily Mail to help it spread the keech about a bit.

Personally, as an evil cybernat, I was devastated to discover that I wasn’t named by the Daily Mail. I’d say named and shamed but I was born without the shame gene. And I’m so evil I throw jeely pieces out of windaes, and the pieces don’t have any jeely on them. That’s pure evil that is. However it’s not as pure evil as the Labour party, which is pure evil combined with pathetic and disgusting and has long since gone off the boil, a bit like American tea really. There’s a real insult there – far worse than calling them traitors, the Labour party are the American tea of politics.

I’m not taking it personally, as the real reason I’ve not been named and unshamed is because I’m not an SNP member so there’s no political mileage in it. You can’t scream SNP accused at a person who’s not answerable to the SNP.

However it’s unlikely that there’s a great deal of mileage for Labour in screaming SNP accused at people on Twitter who are SNP members. It’s not like this is a tactic that they’ve never tried before and represents a new strategy which will turn around their fortunes. Labour’s staff members and its few remaining politicians have been trolling the nation for years now and screaming SNP accused at every opportunity – aided and abetted by their friends in an increasingly discredited and discreditable media. And look where it’s got them. I thought Blair McDougall was supposed to be a master strategist? I suppose he is if you want a strategy for disappearing down the nearest stank. And to put the yellow ice on the crapcake, what Labour has done might even be illegal and a breach of the Data Protection Act. It is not illegal to call a politician a traitor. It’s a robust opinion, and robust opinions are what democracy is founded upon. The American revolutionaries understood that one, even if they didn’t know how to make a decent cuppa.

So to those souls how have been demonised by the Daily Mail for calling someone a traitor, wear it with pride. It means you’ve annoyed someone. And that’s a great start for a revolution.

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Chaplain to the Fairy Queen

Creative journalism by Elizabeth Angus

It’s a sunny spring Saturday, and I’m headed up a Fairy Hill. The way is not long, but the path in places is steep. I’m recovering from illness, and the exertion makes me light-headed.

Quick movement at my feet, half-seen. A swift flitting across the path. Probably dead leaves in the breeze. Probably my dizziness. Probably not elves, fauns or fairies.

I’m looking, rather optimistically, for the footprints of the Reverend Robert Kirk. He was the minister here in Aberfoyle, and my path to the hill has taken me past the Old Manse. Not, sadly, the same manse which Kirk lived in – it has been rebuilt since his day – but quite possibly the same manse in which Sir Walter Scott wrote The Lady of the Lake and kicked off tourism in the Trossachs.

The Reverend used to walk this path daily. Doon Hill, which is its proper name, is not far away from the old church – what could be more natural than the minister taking a gentle perambulation around his parish every evening after his dinner?

Nothing at all – except that Robert Kirk used to wander up this fairy mound in his nightgown, and lie with his ear to the ground, listening for the Little People. Sometimes he would stay for hours, until his wife came looking for him.

In 1691 Kirk wrote a manuscript essay called The Secret Commonwealth, which is still in print, and which I am clutching a copy of as I follow the worn, muddy path. This treatise was the conclusion of a lifetime’s interest in the supernatural – a matter-of-fact account of the lives of fairies, collected from parishioners who claimed to have the second sight. The Reverend seemingly saw nothing incongruous in juxtaposing a belief in a Christian God with a belief in more otherworldly creatures:

‘They are said to have aristocratical rulers and laws, but no discernible religion, love, or devotion towards God, the Blessed Maker of All.’

I ponder this apparent dichotomy as I continue my way upwards. The wooded hill is peaceful, yet vibrant with the onset of spring. There is little sound apart from birdsong and the wind in the branches. I fancy I feel a spirit of enchantment about the place. It would not take much to believe, as Robert Kirk apparently believed, that this mound is inhabited by fairies.

The wind dies for a moment; the sun is warm on my hair. Suddenly I want to lie down right here; curl up; fall asleep for centuries. I feel so tired. The skin prickles across the top of my back: I feel suddenly spooked, and I push onwards.

Abruptly I reach the summit. The path broadens into an open space under the oak trees, perhaps forty feet across. Bare forest floor beneath my feet; brown, dead leaves; pine cones.

I stare.

All around the edges of the clearing, the oak and holly trees are festooned with strips of rags and ribbons. People write their wishes on these cloths and tie them to the branches for the Little People to grant. As I look closer, I see that it’s not just rags: there are wind chimes, amulets, pieces of paper. Tibetan prayer flags, sunglasses, scarves.

The wind caresses them. Fairy tinkling.

And in the middle of this space stands the Minister’s Pine.

It’s a peculiar vision. The tree is girdled with string and ribbons. From these belts dangle an array of wishes, turning the pine into some bizarre hula dancer. I approach curiously and read some. Wishes for happiness, for long life, for an easy death for terminally-ill loved ones. Wishes for boyfriends, for money, for decent birthday presents. Some are folded for fairy eyes only. Others hang loose for the world to witness. Further offerings lie on the ground under the tree: shells, model fairies, pennies. A tiny plastic pineapple.

I sit on the feet of the pine, and lean back into the wishes. What do I expect? Some supernatural encounter with the Reverend Robert Kirk? I close my eyes.

It’s a warm evening on Wednesday the 14th of May. The year is 1692, and the Reverend Kirk is about to leave the manse for his habitual after-dinner stroll. His wife, one hand caressing her extended belly, lays her other hand gently on his arm.

‘Dinnae gang oot the nicht, Robert. Bide here wi’ me.’

‘Whit’s the matter, my dear? Are ye no’ weel?’

She looks beyond him through the open door and sees the Fairy Hill, dark in the gloaming. She shivers, though the night is mild.

‘No, Ah’m weel enough. But Ah hae this oorie feeling… bide at hame, Robert!’ 

The minister looks down into her shadowed face and frowns. He glances out of the door and frowns again.

‘Fancies and imaginings, woman! Get back tae the fireside. I’ll be back hame presently’.

He stoops his tall body to kiss her cheek, lifts his walking stick and strides out of the door in his nightgown.

And in the best story-telling tradition, he is never seen alive again. His pregnant wife, stomping up the hill to tell him to come home, discovers him lying dead beneath the tall pine. Perhaps right where I am now.

The belief soon arose that the minister’s manuscript, giving away so many of their secrets, had incurred the wrath of the fairies. In retribution they stole him away, leaving behind a stock: a piece of wood which had been glamorized to resemble his body. His grave, which lies in the old Aberfoyle kirkyard, does not hold Robert Kirk.

The big old pine tree, against which I am leaning, does. The Reverend Kirk has found eternal life, and is trapped forever within this tree – body and soul. So the rumour goes, anyway. I like this rumour, so I snuggle more comfortably against the bole and daydream a little more.

It is not long after the funeral, and one of Kirk’s relations, who is gifted with the second sight, is nodding by the fireside. Something causes him to look up, and there before him is the apparition of the Reverend Kirk.

‘Robert! It canna be – Ah wis there when we buried ye!’ 

‘It’s me, richt enough. I’m alive, but the Fairy Queen has taken me for her Chaplain. I’m her prisoner forever, unless ye help me.’

‘Whit can Ah dae?’

‘Gang to my cousin, Graham of Duchray. Tell him my son will be born soon, and I will appear at the christening. Graham maun be there. When he sees me, he maun fling an iron dirk over my head, and I will be returned to this world. Tell him!’

The christening duly takes place. A small congregation gathers in the old church within sight of Doon Hill. Graham of Duchray watches the widow Kirk, dressed in mourning, as she gently rocks her infant son. Suddenly he sees Robert Kirk, standing beside his wife, and staring straight at him. Graham cannot believe his eyes, but the man with second sight nudges him and whispers ‘There he is, man! Whaur’s yer dirk?’

Graham reaches towards his belt, then hesitates. The seer dunts him again, none too gently. ‘Whit are ye waiting for, man? Throw it!’

Graham’s face is pale. ‘I canna do it. What if it hits the widow?’

When they both look up again, the apparition has vanished. 

Graham of Duchray was too late, and the Reverend Robert Kirk is now a prisoner of the fairies for all time.

A buzzard screams, and I open my eyes. A motorbike putters past on the road below. Close, but not here, not intrusive. Part of another world, not this one. The trunk of the pine shelters me from the snell wind, the sun is warm and I’m losing track of time. I feel reluctant to move – maybe the fairies are claiming me as well. Already I’ve been here an hour. I gaze upwards into the branches of the tree, brown against the blue sky, and think about the tradition behind the wishes. Cloutie Trees, Cloutie Wells. Our ancestors used to tie rags to branches at sacred places. As the rag rotted away, so too would the affliction you were seeking help for. This pre-Christian practice has managed to survive, without much variation, into modern times, just as Robert Kirk’s fairies managed to survive alongside seventeenth-century religious beliefs.

I realise I have a strong urge to write a wish myself, but I have no pen; and besides, it’s time to go. As I leave the clearing I look back at the Minister’s Pine, and I wonder if he really is trapped inside it. Then I smile at myself for entertaining such ridiculous thoughts.

I take a different, less-used path on the way down, which snakes around to join the first. In the lee of the summit now, the sheltered air is heavy and warm. Enchanting.

Near the bottom of the hill, my way passes between two rocky conglomerate piles. Huge jumbled slabs of stone lean against each other, some split to display crystalline centres. The outcrops are crowned with deep, deep moss, starry wood anemones sparkling against the green. Slender oaks spring from the spaces between the stones.

If entrances to Fairy Hills exist, they surely look like this.

~0~

Grateful thanks to the Wee Ginger Dug for once again letting me sully his airwaves with fanciful nonsense.

If you want more ramblings, come along to elizabethangus.wordpress.com and see what’s happening. The blog’s very new and I’m just finding my feet, but you’re all welcome!

A little insight into autism

A Guest post by Paul Larsen

(Written by my wife Christina)

Life with John and autism is such a roller coaster of emotions and can make you cry sad tears and happy tears almost at the same time. 

Yesterday I saw a boy who used to be in Johns nursery class, walking along wearing his greenwood academy uniform and it reminded me of all the things that John is missing out on at this stage of his life. It made me sad because I wish I could give John all the experiences in life that a 12 year old should have…. Having friends… Going to birthday parties… Fancying girls… Telling him that he has to work hard at school, so he can do well in exams, to give him the best start in life. Him not having this life makes me cry sad tears. 

Then we have a day like today, where we hear John speaking so beautifully on the radio and we celebrate the fact that he is even able to do this, as he was non-verbal  until he was about 6. I then think about him doing the solo piece at the prize giving service at his school and remember how much I was bursting with pride at watching my special boy perform in front of all those people. I think of him i-messaging me from his iPad, to tell me that he wanted Pizza Hut, instead of a McDonald’s on a Friday all these small accomplishments are massive to both John and us his family and that makes me cry happy tears .

Although I wish I could give John the life that any parent would want for their child. I am thankful and blessed that I was chosen to be Johns mum, because who knew that he is teaching me more about life than I could have ever taught him? 

I love you with every beat of my heart Son.  Mumxxx 

I hope you liked my wife’s little story about our wonderful boy, it’s just a minuscule insight into the stresses and strains of being a parent or carer of a disabled child. John has classic autism and will need 24 hour care for the rest of his life.

There are many many people with similar and more heart wrenching stories to tell in this country of ours and that’s without the added stresses of Tory austerity which seems to have brought with it a vilification and negative agenda against the disabled the poor and the sick.

Coping with disability or caring for someone with a disability brings with it many battles, some of these you win and some you lose we still need to be hopeful and try and stay positive. Nowadays that’s not so easy to do, I really can’t put into words the worry or gut wrenching fear I have for my sons future as services already under extreme pressure will have to endure further cuts.

The cuts to social services mean that care which would normally be provided might not be or it could be drastically reduced and could take years to be adequate enough for the people who need them.

We haven’t used any services up till now but will in the future as we get older and John becomes/craves more independence.

What if we aren’t there to fight my sons battles then who will? In a small way he’s lucky we still have our health and at the moment can care for his needs, organise his life or fight his corner but what about the people who don’t have what he has? What happens to them in the big wide world of Tory austerity? The answer isn’t a happy one.