The independence train to better transport

Derek Bateman has been having a wee bit of a moan today about the general crappiness of Scottish public transport. He makes some very good points, public transport in the United Kingdom still suffers from the Thatcher effect. Maggie reputedly considered that if you were still taking the bus by the time you were 30, you were a failure in life. Maggie’s policies condemned generations to sit at the back of the UK bus. The UK has been following her failure for over 30 years.

Although the quote didn’t actually originate with Thatcher, it’s a fair assessment of the attitude of successive UK governments towards public transport – which whether Tory or Labour only consider investment in public transport to be desirable if it benefits business travellers. They’re not interested in the needs of a single parent who only wants to get to Asda. Our transport policy is decided by a political class that doesn’t need to use public transport.

On the day that Edinburgh’s tram service restarts after a 60 year hiatus, it’s time to have a wee look at Scottish public transport, and whether we’re really better together with the privatised routes to a closed terminus the country has been put on.

Public transport in the UK is the most expensive in Europe. When the Conservatives privatised the railways in the 1990s, we were promised greater efficiency and choice. Instead we got higher prices and reduced services on non-profitable routes. The average cost of a train journey is on average 50% higher than a comparable journey made elsewhere in Europe. According to the pressure group Passenger Focus, in 2009 the average ticket price for a train journey of three to ten miles was £1.85 in France, £2.52 in Spain, £5.08 in Germany, and £6.92 in the UK. If our public transport was 50% more efficient, 50% quicker than elsewhere in Europe, or had 50% better density of lines than elsewhere, that might be a 50% worth paying. But it isn’t. We pay more for less.

Thanks to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd, rail transport in Scotland and Wales is cheaper per mile than equivalent journeys made in England.  England has the most expensive rail transport in Europe.  But with limited budgets which are determined by overall government expenditure in England, there is also a limit to how much the devolved administrations can ameliorate the damage done to a railway network which has been sent down the wrong track by successive UK governments.

An open return from London to Norwich, a distance of 117 miles, costs an eye-watering £108. The same ticket from Glasgow to Aberdeen, a distance of 135 miles, costs £67.10. However in Spain, an equivalent ticket for a journey between Madrid and the city of Valladolid – about 111 miles – costs approximately £30. The return trips work out at 46p per mile in England, 24.8p per mile in Scotland, and just 13.6p per mile in Spain – and the Spanish trip is a journey made on a brand spanking new high speed railway line.

It will take you up to three hours to travel from Glasgow to Aberdeen by train, but only 56 minutes to get from Madrid to Valladolid. The European high speed railway network stretches all the way from Málaga to London, but goes no further. The UK has only the vaguest of intentions of extending it to Scotland, sometime after 2030 maybe perhaps possibly, and none at all of extending it within Scotland. And this is in what they keep telling us is Europe’s strongest economy and the greatest Union of countries the universe has ever seen. It’s evidently a better together universe that hasn’t got high speed trains. The only high speed vehicles Scotland gets from Westminster are the ballistic nuclear delivery systems based on the Clyde.

It’s not actually that easy to dicover how much a train ticket is going to cost you in the UK. The traveller is faced with a bewildering range of websites offering special limited tickets which have to be booked a month in advance when the moon is in conjunction with Network Rail. Travelling to Marr in Aberdeenshire is more complicated than a manned voyage to Mars. Or you can call for advice, and get through to someone in a call centre in Chennai who doesn’t know where Aberdeen is.

We have a railway network which does not reach many of our important towns, and which does not connect to large tracts of the country. The paucity of available routes means that work on a line closes the system down as train services cannot be re-routed, meaning that buses bearing the destination “Choo choo I’m a train” are often more common than trains themselves. We’re being systematically ripped off by UK transport policies, which eat up public subsidies for private gain. That’s why they’re called chew-chews.

Our roads are little better, a patchwork of potholes and cart-tracks. Work is only just due to start on the missing link in the M8 motorway linking Scotland’s two largest cities – 50 years after the first motorway was opened the direct route between our capital city and our largest city remains incomplete. There are currently no plans to build a motorway connecting Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city and the centre of the vital hydrocarbons industry, with the rest of the country. Meanwhile the Highlands are even worse served, in any normal country the A9 to Inverness should be the M9, an efficient and well maintained motorway. Instead it’s a road which is single carriageway over much of its length and notorious for its accident blackspots. Kintyre and Cowal are regularly cut off from the rest of the country due to landslides blocking the A83.

Within our cities the public transport systems are not much better, the bus services do not integrate efficiently with commuter rail, and – Edinburgh trams aside – there are no light railway systems. Routes connect with city centres, but do not connect other parts of the city with each other. In Glasgow for example, there are plenty of east-west routes connecting the city centre, but you can’t get a bus from most of the East End to Cambuslang, which face one another across the river Clyde, or from Easterhouse to Tollcross. Often you have to travel into the city centre and back out again. Integrated public transport systems are effectively non-existent in Scotland, that’s a national disgrace in a country which aims to lead the world in combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

In an integrated transport system, you’d get a bus from the end of your street a short distance to the local metro station, and then using the same ticket you’d continue your journey to your final destination. In Scotland, following the UK’s rampant privatisation model, trains, trams and buses all compete with one another instead of acting in concert.

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has a extensive system of bus routes, a metro system with 11 lines, a number of commuter lines run by the national railway operator, two tram systems with three lines each (and a plan to connect the two systems through the city centre), and a number of heritage routes and funicular railways. The metro and bus routes are administered by a single body, and there are plans to integrate the tram systems and rail lines better with the rest of the system.

The greater Glasgow area is roughly comparable in terms of area and population, Glasgow has the second largest commuter rail network in the UK, a single line subway which has never been extended since it was first opened in 1896, and a system of bus routes which are only accidentally integrated with either the commuter rail or the subway. The buses, subway and trains are all administered separately. A bus ticket isn’t valid on the subway, and a ticket for neither is valid on the local train network. To get from where I live in Glasgow to Byres Road in the West End of the city involves a bus journey costing £1.95 and then you have to buy a subway ticket for £1.40. The total cost is £3.35. In Barcelona an equivalent journey costs £1.75, you buy your ticket on the bus then use the same ticket on the Metro.

The lack of a joined up transport policy is a symptom of decades without joined up thinking in UK government which is only interested in public transport in London. Scotland’s resources have helped to pay for the Docklands Light Railway, London Crossrail, and the new high speed line to Birmingham. Meanwhile we’re stuck in the slow lane. Commuters in the north of England fare even worse.

Even small projects are delayed for years. The proposal for a Glasgow Crossrail service has been on the table for years, and is constantly delayed due to a lack of funding. All such a service requires is the construction of a short chord less than half a kilometre in length to connect the line to Queen Street low level with railway routes to the south west of Scotland. The project would open up the railway system in the West of Scotland allowing for direct and easy connections between Ayr and Edinburgh, and would make the Glasgow Airport link worthwhile. Funding the project must come solely from the Scottish budget. Meanwhile London Crossrail involves digging a tunnel 10 miles long underneath a densely populated city, the project counts as a UK national project and is paid for by everyone in the UK. That’s the project which is underway, Glasgow Crossrail remains a distant dream.

Although transport policy is devolved to Holyrood, the overall budget is still set by Westminster. Cuts to transport funding in England have knock on effects in the Scottish budget. Independence offers the chance of a renaissance of Scottish public transport. Scotland doesn’t have the powers to renationalise the railways or end the insanity of private bus companies creaming off the profitable routes. The country which once built trains for countries all over the world is now a rusty branch line. We deserve better, and Scotland is rich enough to afford much better.

A modern and comprehensive transport system is vital to boosting the Scottish economy. The only reason we have such poor and expensive services is because of Westminster. Our transport policies have been decided by generations of politicians who think getting a bus after the age of 30 means you’re a failure in life. It’s time to put an end to that. Let’s wave goodbye to the traffic jam of Westminster, the independence train can take us on a journey to a properly integrated approach to Scottish public transport.



A passport to a positive future

Have you got an annoying relative? We all have relatives whose politics are an embarrassment. I’ve got a relative who’s a No voter. His case for a No vote is based on swallowing Better Together propaganda wholesale, and he considers it brow beating when his numerous factual errors and misconceptions are pointed out to him. It’s bullying to give him facts which contradict him, and aggravated assault to give him non-Scottish nationalist sources for those facts.

Admittedly, he does have me for a relative, and that’s a difficult gig when we disagree because I’m the family bitch-queen, but still … I only said that if Scotland votes No, when we get screwed over by Westminster I’ll be telling him “See, I fucking told you so” for the rest of his life … That’s very mild by my standards, but this relative claimed to take it as a threat. Which if you ask me is getting dangerously into the drama queenery I’ve got first dibs on. Oh yeah, and I added that he had the political intelligence of a three week old haddock, which was unfair. I meant lumpfish.

My relative has a severe case of confirmation bias. One way in which his confirmation bias operates is that he will come out with some statement which is not correct, even though it’s been explained to him before that it’s wrong. Then people get exasperated with him because they’ve previously pointed out that his information is wrong, and there’s only so many times you can tell a person something without wanting to slap them with a lumpfish. But this then allows the person to go “Bullying nationalists!”

Recently my relative made the claim that he didn’t want a yes vote because he likes having a British passport and doesn’t want it to be taken away. However earlier this year the UK Government confirmed that no one will be stripped of their existing British citizenship as a result of Scottish independence.

It’s not entirely my relative’s fault that he clings to his myth of passport stripping independence, the claim has continued to be made by Better Together and the Unionist parties despite the fact it’s already been ruled out by the Home Office. Magrit Curran keeps mouthing about how she doesn’t want her weans in London to be foreigners. To be honest, even if this was true, and Magrit knows it isn’t, if she’s really going to feel alienated from her own children if they had different passports from her, that’s not an argument against independence, it’s an argument that Magrit is in serious and urgent need of family therapy and counselling.

So for the benefit of anyone with an equally misinformed but not quite so closed minded relative, or who isn’t Magrit Curran, here’s the citizenship story again.

The UK government admitted some months ago that existing UK citizenship laws will not be altered if Scotland becomes independent. Citizenship law is complex, but the basic position of UK citizenship law is that if British citizenship is acquired at birth, it cannot be alienated – nothing you do later in life can alter the circumstances of your birth. Which is fair enough, otherwise it would be a bit like changing your star sign by deed poll because you’d rather have a star sign that didn’t make you gullible enough to believe in astrology.

Even when a UK citizen is naturalised as the citizen of another country which requires the person to make a declaration renouncing any previous citizenship as a condition of naturalisation, the UK continues to regard that person as a British citizen. Stopping being British is a bit like giving up being Catholic. You can be a gay atheist commie (waves shyly), but the Catholic church will still regard you as one of the faithful, only just not a very faithful faithful. Nothing you do later in life alters the fact that you were baptised a Catholic when you were a baby. Britishness works the exact same way as Catholicism. The Orange Order is still struggling with the irony.

In fact Britishness is even harder to give up than Catholicism, and both are far harder than giving up smoking while trapped in a tobacco warehouse with a crate of rizlas and an annoying relative. If you manage to piss off the Catholic hierarchy sufficiently, you can in theory be excommunicated, but that isn’t that easy to achieve nowadays. You’d have to actually sacrifice a goat to Satan during an orgiastic Black Mass on the steps of the cathedral before you’re likely to risk excommunication, although even then you’re just as likely to get a nice wee letter from a nun expressing thanks for your efforts at ecumenical outreach. But if you’re born British there’s nothing you can do to make the British government strip you of your citizenship. Even Guy Burgess wasn’t stripped of his British citizenship after he’d fled to the Soviet Union.

If, as a lapsed Catholic, you decide you don’t want your kids to be baptised, they will not be Catholic in the eyes of the Catholic church. But you’ll still pass on your British citizenship to your future offspring, even if they will be born in an independent Scotland and you took up Scottish citizenship upon independence. The babies which are not yet even a twinkle in anyone’s eye will inherit British citizenship by virtue of their parents being British citizens. If you’ve already got kids, they are already British citizens, and will pass their British citizenship on to your grandchildren.

It’s only the children of children born after independence who will no longer be British citizens, the children of the first generation of Scottish citizens born into an independent Scotland. So not only have no children who will lose British citizenship been born yet, their parents haven’t been born yet either.

Scottish independence will not change the fact that everyone alive today who was born in Scotland was born a British citizen. The new citizens of Scotland will not even have made a formal renunciation of British citizenship, yet my relative affects to believe that his British passport will be ripped from his hands. He says this even though people who have signed a legally binding document explicitly stating that they renounce British citizenship still count as British citizens, and even though he swears to anyone who will listen that he’s determined to be British until the day he dies. And he will be, even in an independent Scotland.

For my own part, I’ll view my British citizenship after Scottish independence in much the same way as Catholicism. I’ll be very firmly lapsed, but not sufficiently motivated to go and sacrifice a goat to the Demonic Alicsammin on the steps of Westminster in an effort to get rid of it.

Unlike my relative, I don’t require any parliament to validate my personal identity. Independence is a state of mind. I know who I am, and don’t need a wee booklet to tell me – whether that’s a Scottish or a British passport, or the latest propaganda from Better Together.

This is not a debate about identity. It’s a debate about governance, about the future, about the kind of society we want to live in. It’s a debate about how we can ensure that politicians are accountable and representative, it’s a debate about democracy. It’s about bloated defence budgets, about what role we really want to play in the wider world, are we a land of peace or a land of nukes.

And we’re faced with a choice, not a choice of passports, a choice of futures. The future Westminster gives us whether we want it or not, hostages to the fortunes of a discredited political system, or the future we build for ourselves with our own resources, our own talents and our own skills. Getting a shiny new Scottish passport is just a bonus prize.

The only passport that interests me is a yes vote in September, that’s a passport to a positive future.



Oh Danny, oh boy

Oh Danny boy, the polls, the polls are falling

From vote to vote, we watch the Lib Dems slide

In Inverness, he’s going to get a mauling

when voters make him rue the times he’s lied


He presented a paper from the Treasury

and with great glee he talked independence down

but he provoked the ire of Professor Dunleavy

who said that Danny was a two faced lying clown


Oh Danny does the dirty work for Tories

he sold his soul for those ministerial cars

but no one believes his doom laden scare stories

and the statistics he’s just pulled out of his arse


He won’t come back when we’ve got independence

far too ashamed to show his well skelpt face

no expense account or cabinet attendance

Danny’s career will sink without a trace


Scotland 1974

I decided to do a telly review, and settled down with my deep fried Mars bars and Irn Bru chasers. BBC Scotland’s brand new totally non-stereotypical cutting edge 21st century current affairs for a modern Scotland show had its debut on BBC2, and I wanted to get into the mood. I wasn’t disappointed, it was the Daily Record with moving pictures. I was just waiting for Dougie Donnelly to pop up and tell us about indoor bowling from Coatbridge.

We shouldn’t rush to judgement, this was just the very first show. We’re promised fitba in future editions, and doubtless some wee cute kittens as well. But we got the murrderr so we’re well set on the road to the Reporting Scotland hat-trick.

Titled Scotland 2014, it got off to a bad start by promising to “investigate the costs of independence” with no mention of any possible benefits, and deteriorated from there. It was a bit like the bastard offspring of the Alan Titchmarsh Show and Loose Women, but without gardening tips, cookery segments, celebrities, or any of Alan’s insight into Scottish politics and current affairs. It’s daytime TV at night, so you don’t have to miss it even if you’re so depressed by the asinine intelligence insulting offerings of the BBC that you can’t crawl out from under your duvet until past 8pm.

The programme is presented by Sarah Smith, who apparently got the gig because of her hard hitting interviewing skills, and her comprehensive journalistic talents, but not because she’s John Smith’s daughter. The first two of those qualifying conditions were not on display this evening, which just leaves not being John Smith’s daughter. I’m not John Smith’s daughter either, and probably neither are you, but I don’t recall getting an invite from Ken McQuarrie to show up for an interview. Perhaps it was in that Better Together leaflet I put in the bin without reading it, or in that leaflet from a frozen food shop. Come to think of it, it can’t have been in the frozen food shop leaflet. BBC Scotland has never knowingly mentioned Iceland’s economic recovery.

First up was what was billed as an investigation into G4S, the private security company that raked in a fortune in contracts in Iraq.  But there was little about the dark and nefarious nexus between government ministers and companies that employ psychopaths and give them guns, instead it was a piece about a murrderr.  By this time I was wondering if Dougie Donnelly had been delayed in a malfunctioning lift with Archie McPherson.

Ken McDonald, BBC Scotland’s science correspondent, presented an ill advised jokey wee segment about the costs of independence, which was loosely based on the Swiss Tony character from the Fast Show. It managed to be both unfunny and uninformative at the same time, achieving in under five minutes what Sanjeev Kohli took half an hour to do, so kudos for that. The joke about Swiss Tony was that he was a misogynistic used car salesman left over from the 1970s. Ken really needs to be careful about that sort of thing what with all the cutbacks being imposed by the management at Pacific Quay. Ken’s on a BBC reporter’s salary but Scotland’s very own UKIP MEP, Jibberjabber the Hutt, will cheerfully spout outdated 1970s social attitudes for free. After all, it’s not like he’s got anything else to do.

Ken really ought to stick to the science stuff, because political satire is clearly not his strong point. Maybe he ought to stick to doing jokey wee segments about topics he’s more familiar with like – What’s the difference between the Large Hadron Collider and BBC Scotland’s referendum coverage? One is a ruinously expensive attempt to smash matter into nothingness, the other is a scientific experiment. See Ken, it’s not that hard, and you won’t piss off half your potential audience. Just some geeks in Geneva who’ll zap you with a scary death ray and try to suck you into a black hole, but real comedy isn’t without risks.

The headline interview with Danny Alexander quickly skipped over any mention of the criticisms being made of the UK Treasury report’s figures by the very same people who researched and published the statistics the report relies on. Instead Sarah felt it was more hard hitting and investigative to let Danny Alexander waffle on unchallenged. So did Danny.

It wasn’t just the dubious independence costs that weren’t explored, Sarah didn’t ask Danny about how the Lib Dem’s remaining particle of electoral support was smashed into nothingness by the Large Hadron Collider of Thursday’s elections, and the fissile matter of party leadership being destroyed in radioactive decay. That sort of science was best left to Ken, but he was off looking at a used Cortina.

Instead the closest we got to hard hitting was Sarah asking Danny whether he’d prefer UKIP or the SNP to have won the seat the Lib Dems lost, complete with an ‘Am I not a naughty schoolgirl?’ smirk. And Sarah had a wee smirk on her face too. Naturally this gave Danny the opportunity to claim that both the SNP and UKIP are nationalists, while Sarah didn’t think to question him about his own ProudScot British nationalism either.

And then we had a Trending segment, in which we were helpfully informed what was the most popular story on BBC Devon. Sarah joined two random persons and they twittered about Twitter for a bit.

Swiss Tony would have said it was all like making love to a woman, you go through the motions while thinking about someone else then satisfy yourself before rolling over and going to sleep, but that’s probably misogynistic.

I never thought I’d say this, but bring back Gordon Brewer. I’d far rather have Gordon’s grumpy mug than this fluffy content free crap that passed its sell-by date 40 years ago.

And in other news, Scottish cinema chains have decided to ban political advertising from referendum campaigners because the Vote Nob Orders deluge of misinformation was being booed by cinema audiences and had attracted a record number of complaints. The astroturf campaign and its London based branding and marketing agency tried to align Westminster’s dismal message of indy doom with Scottish chi but got chibbed instead, and the self-proclaimed ‘thought leaders’ of Acanchi got sent hamewards tae think again.


(Update: I made a wee alteration to the original piece, after it was pointed out to me by Nigel Mace that I’d missed Sarah asking Danny about the Dunleavy and Young criticisms of the UK Treasury’s misuse of their research during the 45 seconds when I went for a pee.)


The art of independence and the ashes of Ukipukia

The world is having a flashback from a tab of LSD it dropped in the late 1970s. It’s either that or the UK has been sucked through one of those space-time vortex thingies that fill the centre of every science fiction plot hole and we’re now in the Dark Universe of Star Trek where everything is upside down and the wrong way round – Captain Kirk cannae get a shag (I mean, William Shatner. Would you? I rest my case.), Scottie’s being forced to hoard a warehouse of weapons of mass destruction for the Lizard Aliens of Wesminstron, and Neil Hamilton is the voice of the anti-establishment uprising.

Neil Hamilton. Lemme run that past you again. Neil … Hamilton … He’s the deputy leader of UKIP and on Monday he was all over Newsnight on BBC2 preaching revolution and the downfall of political immorality. Satire hasn’t been so bombed since Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for plastering Cambodia in napalm and Agent Orange. In case of any confusion that’s the chemical, not the community organiser of the only grassroots movement that Better Together’s really got – although both are equally toxic.

Before Neil Hamilton and his jolly hockeysticks wife scraped a living as a comedy guest turn on chat show sofas, he was best known for being the Tory MP who in 1994 was caught taking cash in a brown envelope in return for asking questions in the Commons. Despite it being proven that Hamilton had serially accepted non serial banknotes in return for asking a series of questions in the Commons on behalf of Mohammed Al-Fayed and others, Hamilton refused to resign. He was the first wee drop in the shower of venal and unaccountable politicians which turned out to be a permanent monsoon of Westminster climate change, destroying civilisation by its denial. Now for the second time in his life Neil’s on the leading edge of a wave of shite.

Although Neil refused to resign, because being punished for transgressions is something that only benefits claimants should face, at the following General Election he was defeated by independent candidate Martin Bell, the BBC reporter in the white suit who was going to clean up politics without the benefit of the Kissinger’s worth of chemicals required to disinfect the Westminster Parliament and remove all traces of flesh eating microbial politicians. Bell’s whiter than white clean up crusade melted like a snowman, and then evaporated away leaving nothing behind, not even a damp patch on Gordon Broon’s troosers.

Back in the 1980s, Neil spent much of his time campaigning against a ban on lead in petrol. He’d spent his childhood licking lead paint and it never did him any harm. The proof is in the intellectual tower of moral rectitude and joined up thinking we see in Neil and UKIP today.

Now it’s Neil Hamilton who has been entrusted with the task of cleaning up politics. It’s like King Herod came back 20 years after that unfortunate incident with the first born and opened a creche. It was all just a bit of a misunderstanding really. You’ll be able to entrust your children’s future to Ukipukia with a similar degree of confidence. They’ll be encouraged to play with sharp objects, it’s character building. They’re going to need it because they won’t have any friends in Europe. That’s where nasty foreigners live, people who are bilingual in jibberjabber but talk in English behind your back. UKIP MEPs are monolingual, they speak jibberjabber all the time.

Scotland’s very own jibberjabberer was interviewed on STV before the election, claiming that Al-Iqsammin wanted to fill the Highlands with Pashtun warriors and Afghan warlords, who will be slotted in between the windfarms that are being built for no other reason but to destroy the property values of deer estates belonging to hard working multimillionaire hedge fund managers and investment bankers. And he said referenda, which is the only proof anyone should need that the man’s a pretentious idiot. He needs to be encouraged to appear more often on the telly and in the pages of newspapers. Every time he opens his gob he reveals the selfish vacuity at the heart of UKIP’s message. He’s a walking talking advert for all that is wrong with the UK’s politics. UKIP have no answers, except a return to an imaginary golden age when Britain stood alone against the world, a wet dream of Great British Contrived WW2 Angles as beloved by the BBC. They’re not the cure for what ails British politics, they’re the feverish and delusional part of the disease, disjointed nostalgia and demonic nightmares in equal measure.

It’s like this: Scotland used to have its self portrait hanging on the wall. It was never a very good likeness, and too many parcels of rogues had a hand in the brushwork. Then the rogues sold it to Westminster in return for a handful of coin, and Westminster painted itself over the canvas. People got used to it, some even considered it an old master. But it was always a work in progress, constantly retouched, touched up and touched for expenses by generations of political piss artists whose confidence in their untouchablity grew as their talent decreased. The less in touch they were, the more they convinced themselves they breathed the refined and rarified air of lofty heights – when it was in fact oxygen starvation eating away their brains. And now we’ve been left with something scrawled in crayon and elephant dung, art created by a committee of over-privileged five year old brats.

The political arsonists of UKIP want to throw the canvas on the bonfire and replace it with a photo of a typical British family at a royal event street party that they found in the September 1954 edition of Empire magazine.

The artists of independence want to take the canvas back and paint a new picture of Scotland instead. The art of independence, not the ashes of Ukipukia. We’ll rebuild the School of Art, and we’ll rebuild a just, democratic, and outward looking Scotland as well.


Euro pick n mix

The results of the European elections were like a bag of pick n mix sweeties someone else had got for you, a few of your juicy favourites and far too many soor plums and bitter almonds. The full results are not yet in as I write – at 2.40 am. See how I suffer for the cause? Ok, it’s really because the other half has a wee chest infection and isn’t sleeping well. Which naturally means I don’t get to sleep either. He’ll survive, so nae worries, although whether Nick Clegg can survive is another matter.

So let’s start with the almond. The bad news is that it looks like Scotland’s got a new party balloon. UKIP’s David Coburn is Scotland’s very first bitter nut to be elected representative for the Bawbag Party. 139,687 voters were sufficiently convinced by a party with no Scottish policies at all that they put their cross next to UKIP.

UKIP has no devolution policy, after Nigel scrapped their mad plan to replace Holyrood with a glorified committee of Westminster MPs. Dreaming up a new one is on his list of things to do, although it’s a safe bet it doesn’t rank high on his list of priorities. In fact UKIP aren’t just missing Scottish policies, they have no policies at all, except wanting out of the EU and hating immigration. Or three if you count their imaginative proposal for a new BBC weather service – There’s been an outbreak of sodomy in Shropshire, which will be followed by heavy showers. But they haven’t answered the important question, which is whether they’ll replace the weather map.

We can now expect crows from Unionist parties about how Scottish people are just as mean and narrow minded as everyone else in the UK, so we ought to vote No. “We’re unpleasant and so are you” is the new positive case for the Union.

But here’s a prediction. David Coburn has a distinctively UKIP brand of choobery and will serially embarrass himself over the course of the coming months and years. He’s already started, describing Scotland as Alicsammin’s “nasty little dictatorship”.

So that’s the bad news, and it’s survivable. And somewhat tempered by the fact that UKIP only barely scraped home into the sixth seat with 10.5% of the votes. The party’s best share of the vote in Scotland was in Moray, where they managed to gain 13.6% of votes cast. In England, their worst vote share was in London, where they got 16.87% of the votes cast. Their best Scottish result still lags far behind their worst English result.

It was hardly the ringing endorsement they got south of the border where they are the largest party by a considerable margin. In Scotland they came a poor fourth, quite some distance being the Tories. And we all know how popular Tories are. UKIP in Scotland are still short of a whole panda. It’s a bitter almond, but it has a thin sugar coating.

Falling into the not so bad category, like a green jelly baby, is the fact that the pro-independence parties didn’t make any gains. But on the other hand they didn’t make any losses either, and their share of the vote was pretty much the same as it was the last time the country was struck with the widespread apathy which passes for a European election campaign.

The SNP came top of the pile, escaping the punishment usually received by a party which has been in government for seven years, and its third candidate missed beating UKIP to the sixth seat by the tiniest of margins. Not a great performance, but not a bad one either.  And really not terrible at all when you consider that Al-Iqsammin has been public enemy number 1 in the entire UK media for the past year.

Labour got one of those chocolate covered raspberries with a gooey centre that’s too sickly. The chocolate coating and the red colourant are entirely artificial and make small children and Labour MPs and MSPs hyperactive, but not in a productive way. The party gained in its share of the vote, but not by anything like as much as it needed to be certain that its support is recovering enough to win the next General Election. Mutterings within the party about Ed Miliband’s leadership will only increase. Don’t expect them to come to anything though. Labour’s instinctive response to all and any crises is let’s just ignore it and hope it goes away. Eventually Ed will go away too. What won’t go away is Labour’s continuing rightwards drift.

The Tories did bleh, in a marshmallow that’s been sitting at the bottom of the bag for four days sort of way. They lost just 3% of their vote share compared to last time, mostly to UKIP. The Tories will now move even further to the right in order to ensure that UKIP voter return to the Tory fold come the General Election. And will start making louder noises about borders, immigration and EU referendums in order to attract non-Tory UKIP supporters. UK politics just got nastier.

But then there was the candied lemon of the BNP. They lost their two seats, which was nice to see. But the seats went to UKIP, the less fruity and full bodied flavoured fascism, which isn’t quite so nice, but at least doesn’t give you food poisoning.

And finally, a delicacy and a special treat to be savoured, a macadamia nut covered in dark bitter chocolate – the Greens pushed the Lib Dems into a humiliating fifth place across the UK as a whole, and into an even more humiliating sixth place in Scotland. The party looks set to have just one surviving MEP.

While being interviewed by the BBC’s Dimbleperson, Danny Alexander – who’d offered to do the interview rounds since he’s the only Lib Dem with less shame than Nick Clegg – said that the party needed Nick Clegg to keep doing the same thing only with more shouting and star jumps, only to be soundly bitchslapped by an irate Lib Dem who’d just seen his party wiped out tell him that Nick Clegg is the problem. But Nick Clegg isn’t the problem. He’s just a symptom of a party that no longer has the slightest idea what it exists for. The way it’s headed, it won’t be existing for much longer.

So what does all this tell us about the independence vote? Bugger all really. Except that when there’s a turn out of just 33% all you can say for certain is that most people really aren’t that fussed by the EU one way or the other.

Meanwhile in Spain, the elections saw the collapse of both the main Spanish parties, the Partido Popular (spit spit), and the PSOE. The PP’s vote share fell from 42% to just 26%, losing the party eight seats. So that’s eight fewer MEPs plotting against independence. The PSOE also saw their vote collapse, from 38.8% to 23% losing nine MEPs. The big winners were parties of the left, the newly formed Podemos (We Can), representing los indignados who protested against austerity cuts came from nowhere and took 5 seats.

The extreme right did poorly. So Scottish Tory Struan Stevenson’s wee trip to Barcelona to help out his pal Alejo Vidal Quadras was to no avail. Vidal Quadras was key in building the Partido Popular’s anti-independence alliance in the European Parliament. The arch-conservative left the Partido Popular in a huff because they weren’t sending tanks to arrest the leader of the Catalan government, and went off and founded his own Spanish version of UKIP with added rosary beads, called Vox. But they were well and truly voxed, and failed to gain a single seat. Adios Alejo.

E-numbers Ali

Alistair Darling has reappeared after hiding away for a wee while because everyone thinks he’s rubbish, especially those on his own side. It must be a sobering experience to have a belief in your own abilities which is as great as the UK national deficit, only to discover that everyone else rates your worth as having less currency than trying to buy your weekly messages with two plastic Smarties lids. Plastic Smarties lids have long been abolished, along with any hopes of devo max or sensible arguments coming from Alistair Darling.

Alistair has popped up to give us a wee preview of the Treasury paper due out on Wednesday, which we’re told is going to prove just how much money the UK throws at ungrateful Scots. Allegedly we’re already spending all our Smarties lids along with most of those from everywhere else in the UK – Smarties subsidy junkies that we are – and we’ve still got rubbish public services and swingeing austerity cuts still to come. The only way we can guarantee a continuing flow of Smarties is to vote no, although we’ll only get the blue ones. They’re the ones that were banned in some countries because they contained suspicious E-numbers.

Alistair wanted to let us know that Scotland doesn’t have the Smarties for an oil fund. Almost other country in the world with significant oil resources has established an oil fund, but Scotland can’t afford to. The only other country which didn’t establish an oil fund is Iraq, which was too busy spending its oil income on invading Kuwait, oppressing Kurds, and going to war with Iran, presumably illustrating the point that you can’t establish an oil fund if you’re hell-bent on getting involved in a lot of Middle Eastern wars. So just like Westminster then.

And we’ve even got our very own version of Chemical Ali. What Scotland’s E-numbers Ali is saying is “Scotland can’t afford to become independent because me and my pals have destroyed its economy. And because we reserve the right to invade Iran too.” This is apparently a reason we’re supposed to say no to independence and give them a vote of confidence. Then we can keep letting him and his pals destroy Scotland’s economy and scoff all the Smarties. There you go, you wanted a positive case for the Union, now you’ve got one.

Alistair’s figures are based on the usual Better Together sleight of hand, and make the assumption that an independent Scotland would continue with the same spending priorities and decisions that we have at the moment under Westminster. Scotland will not be able to afford an oil fund if we keep paying for Trident and a bloated defence budget, if we continue to contribute to supposedly UK national projects like the London sewer upgrade and London Crossrail, and if we keep letting the UK Treasury classify a significant proportion of Scottish revenues – like VAT returns from Tescos in Motherwell or Bridge of Don – as originating from a company head office somewhere in England.

Combined with the sleight of hand is the creative accounting. Creative accountancy bears the same relationship to proper accountancy as a Labour manifesto does to a jam exhibition in the village Womens Institute. The Sunday Herald has revealed that the Treasury paper is founded upon a spectacularly ficticious account of the costs faced by an independent Scotland. The UK Treasury has over estimated the costs by some 650%. According to Better Together, the cost to Scotland of setting up new government departments will exceed £2.7 billion, or approximately 173 billion Smarties – although we can at least be certain there won’t be any blue ones.

But this figure is based upon the supposed cost of setting up 180 ministerial departments from scratch. According to the Institute of Financial Studies, each new ministerial department will cost £15 million in initial start up costs. The UK only has 15 ministerial departments, so why Westminster thinks Scotland needs 180 is not entirely clear. Perhaps we’re so unruly we need much more governing. The figure apparently comes from the Scottish Government’s White Paper, which mentions 180 Scottish public bodies, but this figure includes organisations like the quango which manages the Cairngorms National Park. These organisations are already up and running, and would not require £15 million in order to be re-established in an independent Scotland. Scotland already possesses a number of ministerial departments, and the number of brand new ones we’re going to require would scarcely cover the bottom of a tube of Smarties.

E-numbers Ali was just copying the same trick used by George Osborne, when he ruled out a currency union with Scotland on the grounds that Scotland has a vastly inflated financial sector that’s too much of a risk. Osborne only achieved his scary figures for the financial liabilities of Scottish banks by including all the banks’ assets and debts located elsewhere in the UK – even though these would remain the responsibility of Westminster and the UK regulatory authorities after Scottish independence.

The Treasury fear bomb is ticking away, and is set to explode on Wednesday, just in time to clear the newspapers and the telly of headlines about UKIP’s gains in the European elections. But it’s already been debunked before it’s even appeared. The UK Government is now trying to backtrack, claiming that it was simply a minor clerical error. That’s what you get when you rely on the CBI for your financial scare stories.


Voting none of the above

Here’s the summarised results of the English cooncil elections, to save you reading through acres of coverage. Labour is screwed, the Tories are screwed, the Lib Dems are totally screwed, and UKIP’s screwing everyone.

Despite Ed Miliband’s glum face, which to be honest is hard to distinguish from his happy face, Labour actually won the cooncil elections – they gained the greatest number of seats and topped the poll in terms of the percentage of the total vote they picked up. But Labour even managed to turn that into a defeat.

The problem is they were starting from a very low baseline. Think of the belly of a snake, then dig downwards until you get to the special corner in the basement of Hell reserved for Tony Blair, that low. They’re the student who hadn’t even achieved an F in the exam they needed an A for to get into uni, so to prepare for the resit they had lots of late nights with cans of red bull, mammy and daddy flew in a very expensive strategy expert from the USA, they listened to lots of sermons from intellectuals of the party like St Dougie the Diminutive, they stared a lot at piles of very thick books on electoral tactics and formulating policy ideas in the hope that the knowledge might somehow get into their heads by sheer proximity alone, and they managed to improve so much that they scored a D minus.

Not close, and definitely no ministerial motor. It was made a lot worse when Ed had a series of car crash interviews. He dented a door panel when he revealed he didn’t know how much the weekly shopping cost and then he dented it again as he made unconvincing attempts to rescue the situation. A short while later he reversed over the local Labour party’s foot when he didn’t know the name of the Labour leader in Swindon council, which he was visiting at the time seeing as how it’s a key council Labour needed to win. That was bad enough, but then he went into forward gear and drove over a puppy when it became apparent that he didn’t realise that Swindon was in fact a Tory controlled council, this being sort of the reason why it was a key council Labour had to win. He was hoping to drive off and hope no one noticed, but Ed Balls got caught doing that too.

Labour should be doing much better at this stage in the electoral cycle, which is like a mountain bike only you’re more likely to fall off and batter yourself in the groin in ways which people will video on their mobile phones and send off to Harry Hill, where it will haunt and embarrass you for all eternity. Even more embarrassing is the fact they’ll send in the video clips even without the TV offer of 30 pieces of silver in return. In England’s local elections, Labour not only fell off the bike and battered itself in the groin, it also catapulted itself into a vat of manure.

We’re told that an official party inquest has already begun, which is a polite way of describing a bunch of politics geeks screaming ‘Fuck!’ at one another as they decide who to blame. But Labour’s real problem is as obvious to voters in England as it is to voters in Scotland and Wales. Throughout much of the 20th century, Labour was the workers’ party, and the Tories were the bosses’ party. Then Labour became the party of managing workers’ expectations, and the workers largely put up with that. But then Tony Blair and Gordon Brown happened, and Labour became the party of explaining to the workers why the bosses are right. But we already had the Tories as the Bastard Party, Labour became the only thing worse, the Two-Faced Bastard Party.

Meanwhile the Bastards themselves hardly covered themselves in glory. The Tories lost seats, but the party of government always loses seats in local and by-elections, so they’re not losing much sleep over it. They didn’t lose as many as they feared they might. In Scotland we hate having Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne, and David Cameron telling us what to do, in England they have to put up with them and with Eric Pickles and Michael Gove as well. So the Tories could have done a whole lot worse. Which is a bit of a worry if your ideal result in the 2015 General Election is a repeat in England of what happened in Scotland in 1997.

The Lib Dems tanked, but didn’t tank quite as badly as some of us had hoped. If you’re Scottish tanking Lib Dems counts as a proxy version of having Danny Alexander strapped into one of those machines that pour evil looking goo over irritating teachers in children’s tv programmes, and we didn’t get quite the flotilla of supertankers of goo we might have liked. Certainly not a North Sea’s worth, which would have been poetic. The party did very poorly, but avoided a complete collapse.

Meanwhile UKIP gained a lot of ground, although not quite as much as they gained in the last round of English council elections. UKIP didn’t do well in London, because it’s full of outward looking non-provincial types who look down on narrow minded petty nationalism, so that’s something else Londoners have in common with Scottish independence supporters. Out in the shires and the north of England it was a different story. UKIP took votes from all the three other parties.

UKIP have proven their main point, which is that they’re an unpleasant fixture in UK politics, joining the three existing unpleasant fixtures. It’s not so much UKIP itself which represents the biggest danger, it’s the effect UKIP has on the other three parties. The centre ground of UK politics just shifted even further to the right, and further away from the aspirations of most in Scotland.

They have local elections every two years in England, it helps to spread the apathy more thinly. The turnout was a paltry 36%, the biggest winner was the None of the Above party. But None of the Above changes nothing, because it doesn’t force any of the above to make serious reforms. So you get the frustration of UKIP.

When Scotland next goes to the vote, we’ll be able to mark the YES box and make “None of the Above” mean something.



Some thoughts on the origins of Gaelic

I was going to write a post about UKIP’s rise in support in England, but it’s difficult to get that interested. Following English politics is getting increasingly like following French politics or Greek politics – it’s all very interesting if you’re into that sort of thing, but few people in Scotland are. So I’m going to waffle on about something else that few people are interested in, at least outside of Scotland, the origins of Gaelic. I’ll get back to slagging off politicians the morra. Meanwhile – time for a bit of culture.

The other day I was asked about a recent archaelogical theory that the traditional account that Gaelic sailed over from Ireland with Fergus Mòr MacErc wasn’t true, and that Scottish Gaelic evolved out of the Celtic dialects spoken in Argyll and Kintyre and was never imported from Ireland. The truth is more complicated than either the theories of archaelogists (seriously – don’t ask an archaeologist about language … the only people with a worse understanding are geneticists) or the old stories of conquering Gaelic kings. But first a wee bit of background about Celtic languages is necessary.

There is a widespread belief that a community will only change its language if a new language is imposed upon it. This belief is based in our recent historical experience of language replacement, where state institutions and agencies actively discouraged Celtic speakers from using their languages, and in European colonies native languages were displaced by colonial settlement. In modern societies, there are institutions which reach right into the domestic sphere, state education was often used as a tool to spread one language and discourage another.

But one language replaced another in ancient tribal societies too, and since it was believed that a community could only replace its everyday language with a different language if there was some means of imposing the new language, then language replacement in ancient times was thought of in terms of large scale population movements. In the absence of state institutions like an educational system, the theory went that there needed to be a large body of settlers to enforce their language on a conquered population. But this is not true, and is even less true where the languages in question are all very closely related to one another, as Gaelic, Pictish and Brittonic were.

In fact language replacement can occur without any population movement at all, or more commonly with population shifts affecting only a tiny number of elite individuals – such a small number that it would not show up in DNA tests carried out in the descendant population many generations later, and would not show up in archaeological evidence as a foreign invasion.

The other issue which is important when discussing the origins of Gaelic is that the older theory that there was an ancient division of Celtic into the Q-Celtic Goidelic and the P-Celtic Brittonic/Gaulish is not supported by the linguistic evidence. When you strip out all the linguistic changes known to have occurred in Insular Celtic which are contemporary with or later than the Roman occupation of southern Britain, there’s really very little left to distinguish Iron Age Goidelic from Iron Age Brittonic. The changes which occurred from Roman times onwards were massive and profound, and led to the two language groups becoming very different from one another, but in Iron Age times the great majority of those differences didn’t exist and the Celtic dialects of the British Isles – and right across much of Europe – were very similar to one another.

So here’s my own view of the origins of Gaelic, but bear in mind that I’m merely an armchair linguist, not a proper academic. What follows is the linguistic version of “I’m not a doctor but I’ve read some medical books.”

It’s better to think of Celtic language during the late Iron Age as a dialect complex without any sharp boundaries between adjacent dialects. Instead the Celtic dialect of one district merged imperceptibly into the dialect of the neighbouring districts, and on the eve of the Roman invasion of Britain the dialects spoken in the west of Ireland and northern Scotland were linked to the Celtic dialects of southern England via a series of intermediate dialects.

There would have been dialects displaying features associated with Goidelic, others displaying Brittonic features, and no doubt many others which had both (or neither) in varying proportions. In fact, given the way that sound changes typically progress throughout a language community, it’s likely that there were once Celtic dialects which were simultaneously “Q-Celtic” and “P-Celtic”. There is in fact some evidence for this from Gaul. Gaulish was a “P-Celtic” language, but in some inscriptions there are a few words and names where the original Q is preserved. The Gaulish name for the river Seine was Sequani, not “Sepani” as you might expect from a P-Celtic language like Gaulish.

Here’s a wee explanation as the idea of a Celtic dialect that minded both its Ps and Qs is a bit unusual for modern people.

In ancient Celtic there was a phoneme traditionally transcribed Q, it was pronounced similar to English qu in queen, which is phonetically /kwin/. However in English, the w follows the k, whereas in ancient Celtic the k and w were pronounced simultaneously. Technically this Celtic sound is called a labialised velar stop, and in many languages which have it, it tends to shift to p, a sound which takes less energy, effort and muscular coordination to produce. This is especially likely to happen in languages which don’t otherwise have a P consonant, like early Celtic.

Brittonic is characterised by this shift of older q > p – as for example in the number five, which was something like *qenqe in Proto-Celtic. In Brittonic q shifted to p, giving *penpe, and later changes produced the modern Welsh pump. *qennos ‘head’ likewise became penn in Brittonic. (I’ve simplified the examples for ease of discussion.) It’s this characteristic which leads to Brittonic and its daughters Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and Breton, being classified as “P-Celtic”. Gaulish, Galatian, and a number of other Celtic varieties of ancient Europe were likewise “P-Celtic”.

However it’s likely that when the sound change first occurred, it only occurred in certain phonetic environments, this is usually the case with sound changes. So it’s possible that there could have been Celtic varieties where for example q shifted to p only at the ends of syllables or internally, but q was preserved initially. In this dialect then *qenqe would appear as *qempe. Alternatively p could have replaced q in some words but not all, as seems to have happened in Gaulish. This could happen because there was no other p in Celtic languages, so whether you pronounced q as kw or as p made no real difference. It was simply a case of having a different accent, it would not affect intelligibility.

Meanwhile in “Goidelic” dialects, the sound change didn’t happen at all. In these Celtic varieties, Q was preserved. Q was also preserved in the Celtiberian language of Iberia, but this does not mean that Goidelic and Celtiberian have a particularly close relationship within Celtic. All it means is that in both varieties, the sound change failed to occur.

In a similar way, ancient Germanic had a sound th, preserved in English, Scots and Icelandic (where it is written þ). In Dutch and German, this sound has been replaced by d, whereas in Continental Scandinavian it has been replaced by t. So we have the series English thing, Scots thing, Icelandic þing, German Ding, Dutch ding, Norwegian Danish and Swedish ting, and we could speak of TH-Germanic, D-Germanic and T-Germanic. But this does not mean English and Scots are most closely related to Icelandic within Germanic. Icelandic is more closely related to Norwegian and Danish. You require positive evidence of common innovations in order to demonstrate that two languages are more closely related to each other, the simple failure of a sound change to occur is not evidence of a close relationship. There are no common innovations shared by Goidelic and Celtiberian, so they are not particularly closely related to one another within the Celtic family.

However Goidelic varieties do possess distinctive sound changes of their own. The clusters nt, nk and nq shifted to d, g and gw in Goidelic. (Later q and gw simplified to k and g.) In these dialects *qenqe shifted to *qegwe, and via later sound changes ended up as coig. The same change can be seen by comparing the Gaelic word deud ‘tooth’ with its Welsh equivalent dant, in ancient Celtic the word was something like *dent, the nt has become d in Gaelic but is preserved in Welsh. This typically Goidelic sound change is absent from Celtiberian, which preserved original nt, nk and nq.

It is theoretically possible there were Celtic dialects which had both sound changes. In these, *qenqe would end up as *pebe, although no evidence of any such Celtic dialect has survived. There were certainly dialects where neither change had occurred – like Celtiberian. In fact there could have been dialects with any permutation of the various early sound changes which would later characterise Goidelic and Brittonic. These dialects were not P-Celtic or Q-Celtic in the sense we understand the terms, but were transitional between P-Celtic and Q-Celtic.

One of the most striking things about the earliest Goidelic – in the form of Ogam inscriptions and the earliest attestations in manuscripts – is that it displays no significant dialectal variation yet these inscriptions and glosses predate the establishment of the highly prestigious Old Irish literary language. This can only really be explained if Goidelic had spread at a relatively recent date from an original centre – which was almost certainly somewhere in Ireland, the centre of Goidelic culture.

The spread of Goidelic may be associated with the cultural and political upheavals which took place in Ireland as the country responded to the Roman occupation of southern Britain and the estrangement this created between Celtic tribes on either side of the Irish sea. It did not spread by population movements or conquests, but rather by speakers of transitional dialects adopting prestigious features associated with Goidelic. Celtic dialects in Ireland which had “P-Celtic” features lost these features, as their speakers dropped them in favour of “Q-Celtic” features. The transitional dialects then became thoroughly Goidelicised.

Meanwhile a prestigious form of Pictish and a prestigious form of Romanised Brittonic were also spreading in the same way, and likewise absorbing the transitional dialects adjacent to them. Eventually the increasing spread of these three varieties caused them to meet up, instead of a series of dialects merging imperceptibly, there were now three sharply distinguished Celtic languages.

I suspect that people in Argyll may have originally spoken one of these transitional varieties of Celtic. The local Celtic dialect contained some features associated with Brittonic varieties spoken further south, and with Pictish varieties spoken to the east, and also with Goidelic varieties spoken in Ireland, and quite possibly features unique to itself. As Argyll came firmly into the orbit of Irish cultural influence due to the political and cultural upheavals associated with the Roman occupation of southern Britain, Celtic speakers in Argyll would have come to regard themselves as Gaels and participated in the formation of a Gaelic social identity. As this occurred, local dialect speakers looked increasingly to Ireland for their cultural and linguistic models, and would have adopted features of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary associated with Goidelic and dropped those associated with Brittonic or Pictish.

Argyll Celtic speakers would have stigmatised dialect features which they associated with Pictish or Brittonic, and came to regard Goidelic dialect features as prestigious models to be copied. Over the course of several generations the local dialect approximated ever more closely to Goidelic. By the time that written records appear it was a fully fledged Gaelic variety. Gaelic did come from Ireland originally, but it didn’t require a full scale invasion from Ireland into Argyll in order to Gaelicise the local variety of Celtic. By the time Fergus sailed over with his 40 ships, the local people were probably already Gaelic speaking.

Intriguingly, the formation of a Gaelic social identity seems to have occurred relatively late during the period of Roman occupation of southern Britain. The Word Gàidheal is actually a loan word from Brittonic, and moreover one which displays a relatively late Brittonic sound change. Etymologically the word comes from Brittonic goedel and originally meant something like “barbarian, savage”. Goedel is literally, “one from the forests”. It’s based on the Brittonic form of the Welsh word for trees gwydd, which has a native Gaelic equivalent in fiodh. Both these words descend from an ancient Celtic word something like *widos, but in later Goidelic the w turned into f, whereas in Brittonic it shifted to g. It’s this g form we seen in the name Gàidheal, so it can only have been borrowed into Gaelic after this sound change had taken place.

And here’s where it gets interesting, because the same sound change also occurred in Latin words starting with v (which was pronounced w in Classical Latin) which were borrowed into Brittonic during the Roman occupation. So the sound change can only have happened after these Latin words had been borrowed into Brittonic, and therefore it must date to the late part of the Roman period at the earliest.  The formation of a Gaelic social identity probably dates to the same period.

The Roman occupation estranged the Celtic speakers of Ireland and Scotland politically and culturally from those in Roman Britain. Slave raiding was commonplace, and linguistic features which were associated with one community or the other would have been either stigmatised or regarded as prestigious. In Ireland, “P-Celtic” features would come to be associated with low status Brittonic slaves – like St Patrick. In Roman Britain the opposite occurred.

Under such social conditions, speakers tend to emphasise the distinctions between their speech varieties. Goidelic became the prestige variety of Celtic in Ireland and in districts where Irish cultural influence was strong because it contained the maximal differentiation from features associated with the speech of the Romano Britons. The new Gaels were concerned not to sound like Britons – and vice versa. And neither wanted to sound like a Pict.

Throughout the known history of Pictland, cultural and political influence from Ireland was extremely strong, and this led to the eventual replacement of Pictish by Gaelic throughout almost all of the previous range of Pictish. Pictish doubtless displayed strong Gaelic influence from the very beginning, but presumably at the time of the Roman invasion Celtic varieties in Pictland had already experienced the change of q > p. This led to Pictish becoming distinct from other Celtic varieties, but since the surviving evidence for Pictish is so meagre, it’s almost impossible to discern what its exact characteristics were. All that can be said for certain is that it was extremely close to Brittonic, and like Brittonic displayed p for original q.

So Scottish Gaelic is both an indigenous development of Celtic in Argyll, and also represents the effect of Irish cultural influence on Celtic speakers in the West of Scotland and the settlement of small numbers of high status people. There were certainly movements of groups of people in both directions across the Irish channel, but there is no need to insist that Gaelic can only have become established in Scotland thanks to a full scale invasion of Irish Gaels.