What John McTernan did on his holidays

John McTernan, in case you’re lucky enough never to have heard of him, which makes this your unlucky day, was once employed as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. He then went off to Australia to perform the same job for Julia Gillard, before her own party got so fed up with her and John’s spin, smear, and slurring that they stabbed her in the back and removed her from office – putting John out of a job was just a fortunate by-product. John left Australia leaving lots of enemies behind, and now he’s back in Scotland pissing rank urine all over the independence debate.

John’s just gone on his holidays, and last week he used his column in the Scotsman to tell us all about his wee trip to Catalonia. A weekend in Barcelona has made him an expert in Catalan politics, and now he wants to tell us why the Catalans are really not keen on this independence malarky after all. Because John knows best, just like he knows that the Iraq War really was a good idea, he knows that Tony Blair is honest, upright and true, and he knows that he represents all that the Labour party really stands for. That last one being the only one that’s objectively true – and if that doesn’t make you realise just how low Labour has fallen, nothing else is going to.

I can’t help but wondering why John McTernan goes abroad. He could just install a sunbed in a Better Together office and achieve the same effect. Or maybe he didn’t go abroad, he went on a virtual reality tour of Barcelona while plugged into a No Thanks holographic projector, which carefully filtered out anything that might contradict John’s – can someone please tell me a polite word for delusional – take on the prospects for independence in Catalonia. Nope, I’m still stuck on delusional.

For anyone who has actually spent any time in Catalonia, some of his impressions just don’t ring true at all. For example he said the signs in the airport were only in Spanish and Catalan, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’re in English as well. He also said that his halting Spanish was met with replies in Catalan. But Catalans are well aware that when they are presented with a foreign touristy person with a limited grasp of Spanish that the person is unlikely to speak Catalan either. Friendly and polite foreign touristy persons in this situation are met with kindness and replies in Spanish, and if you’re a very friendly and very polite foreign touristy person they even will attempt some limited English. Use just a couple of words in Catalan, and you’ll be invited home to meet the family for a wee copa or three. That’s Catalan for swally.

Which means there are only four possible explanations for John’s report that he was answered in Catalan. 1. His limited fame as a No campaigner and apologist for warmongers had spread before him, and the Catalans just wanted to piss him off. Or 2. he’s just rude and arrogant and they responded in Catalan precisely because they knew he wouldn’t understand and they wanted to piss him off. Or 3. they were in fact replying in Spanish but their Catalan accents hopelessly confused John and his limited Spanish because he wasn’t really paying attention so they ended up wanting to piss him off . Or 4. They were replying to him in Catalan accented English, and when they realised he still couldn’t understand they decided he was an eejit they wanted to piss off.

We’ve already seen that John isn’t good at recognising English even when it’s written down for him, so my money’s on four. This may or may not be related to the listening skills he acquired while working as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. Your guess is as good as mine. Mind you, si fos jo a Catalunya, Joan, et respondría al Català també, i el parlo molt mal.

He couldn’t resist a wee pop at his own culture though, being a ProudScot ™, and made a disparaging remark contrasting the real language of Catalan with “synthetic Scots”. Synthetic Scots? That’s a wee jibe at attempts to create a variety of Scots that suitable for official use, a Scots which is urgently needed to ensure that the language stays alive. The Scots he contrasts with the Catalan he sees on the airport signs as he’s fumbling through his Spanish phrase book and not noticing signage in English.

But John doesn’t believe in looking beyond the surface of things. He’s all about the image and the spin. John’s interest in words begins and ends with constructing a sentence which is not technically untrue even though it’s fiction. That’s the easiest linguistic trick of all. That’s the low rent end of the wordsmith’s trade. And that’s where John belongs. Oh the things we could say about you John, no word of a lie.

Which makes you wonder, where exactly does John think that the standard Catalan suitable for official use comes from? The language goddess created it by the miraculous transformation of a Spanish phrase book? Is that what makes Catalan a proper language but Scots is not? Was Catalan waved into existence by mysterious and unseen forces beyond the ken of humanity? We already know it was beyond the ken of John.

Modern standard Catalan was created in the 19th century on the basis of Catalan orthography during the Golden Age of Catalan literature in the Middle Ages. It’s a form of Catalan that was self-consciously purged of Castilianisms and loanwords from Spanish. Spellings were standardised and the new written language consciously sought to distinguish itself from its close relatives. New vocabulary was created in order to make it fit for use as the language of a Catalan state. Catalan people did this quite consciously, and in the act of creating a national language they reaffirmed that Catalonia is a nation. Since all the other institutions of Catalan nationhood had been abolished by the centralising Spanish state, Catalans invested their nationhood in their language in a way that Scots didn’t have to.

Linguistic misconceptions aside, the main impression John took from his holidays was the notion that Catalans are going off the idea of independence. It’s a form of wishful thinking exactly the same as his wishful thinking that few in Scotland are seriously attracted to the idea of independence either. And it’s equally wide of the mark.

John believes that Spain’s economic crisis is making the Catalans think again about independence. He couldn’t be more wrong if he’d tried. The Spanish economic crisis is the driving force of the Catalan independence movement. It’s the years of mismanagement, corruption, self-interest and lack of accountability from Madrid which has turned many Catalans who were previously lukewarm about the idea of a Catalan state into strong supporters of independence. It’s what’s happened in Scotland too.

John thinks that Scotland and Catalonia are better together with the people who caused the problems in the first place, the people who brought ruin, who destroyed the economy, destroyed hope of a better future, and who still sit in power collecting brown envelopes and fattening their bank accounts. But John talked at some Proud Catalans ™ on his holidays, and he knows better.

The most recent opinion poll in Catalonia, held at the end of June – when John was trying to negotiate his way through Barcelona airport – showed that 50.9% plan to vote yes if an independence referendum is held in November this year, as planned by the Catalan Parliament. Only 30.1% plan to vote no, the remaining 19% are don’t knows. If don’t knows are removed, this would produce a result of 62.8% in favour of independence. So aye John, the Catalans are really going off the idea …

Some of us don’t just speak halting Castilian John, we speak it pretty well, and we speak Catalan too. And when you talk to proud Catalans you find that they’re overwhelmingly in favour of independence. Funny how our media publishes such one sided accounts of Catalan affairs as well as Scottish ones. You’d almost imagine they were trying to put us off the idea of independence.

Visca Catalunya, visca Escòcia, visca la independència.


49 comments on “What John McTernan did on his holidays

  1. I have yet to read this but I salivate at the thought.

    Off we go!

  2. Quick scan and immediate thought, is that this is the man who said the problem with Labour losing to the SNP was because Labour were not dirty enough.

    I am surprised he was not sent to an offshore internment camp.

  3. Finished it, and McTernan is a one off, thanks to all the deities, real and imagined, of the World.

    A comic character.

    Poisonous though.

  4. fynesider2 says:

    Would “inlet ionise” do you?

  5. fynesider2 says:

    Bugger predictive WP’s.

    The word was inletionism..!

  6. macart763 says:

    I’ve heard more about this McTernan fella’s rep than had any first hand knowledge of his writing TBH. Mind you all it took for me to give his work a wide berth was knowledge of his job description under Blair. By all accounts a fairly unpleasant individual. I don’t think I’d like to know any more about him either.

    What is it about some folks though? They reckon they know a bit about pollytics and kultchur cause they had this job upon a time and were fond of away days to distant shores on public expenses and are suddenly more expert than the locals about their own situation and history. Although describing working for Tony Blair as a job in politics….

    Maybe just me, but on those rare occasions I’ve visited other countries and had the good fortune to make firm local friendships, my first rule of thumb was to listen more and speak less.

  7. Maybe ‘doing a McTernan’ can find its way into the Scots vernacular following Indy….

    • JimnArlene says:

      It’s already there…
      Win’ ande pisch.

      • JimnArlene says:

        Or perhaps…ablach [‘abləx, ‘ablɪç, MN. ‘eblɪç]
        n. A mangled carcase or body, an insignificant or contemptible person through lack of size or defect of will or intellect.

  8. JGedd says:

    McTernan is a very, unpleasant man. We’ve all met them, blatantly obnoxious people who delight in being nasty so that we’ll all go ‘oooh’ and back away, defeated by his sneering belligerence. His type thinks that his opponents would back away because they are ‘wet nellies’ who can’t stand up to real belligerence, so his aim is simply to wrong-foot his opponents by outrageously ignoring the rules. In other words, I think he’s over-compensating. (Maybe a traumatic encounter in a playground once upon a time perhaps?)

    You might think that after his disastrous foray into Australian politics he ought to be embarrassed but back he comes with his immature tactics which hopelessly misfired Down Under. It looks as though Australians were too sophisticated for Mr McTernan. Swaggering conceit and aggression can’t make up for lack of knowledge and perceptiveness.

  9. mogabee says:

    Gosh, Aren’t the Australians lucky?

  10. JimnArlene says:

    Has the man not heard of, Burns and McDiarmid or the fact that Scots was the legal and courtly language of Scotland. Too busy with his Maciovellian bilge, I suppose.

  11. […] What John McTernan did on his holidays […]

  12. rosa alba says:

    ¡Es un gilipollas!

    Well since Barcelona is set up for Turismo, and since I have trouble travelling anywhere in Spain and getting the Spaniards to switch from Eng to Spanish with me who is fluent, I just dinna credit it.

    Furthermore while I do not speak Catalá with any fluency – or even Mal.lorquí I can understand it well enough (I worked in Mal.lorca for a while in a hotel, went to learn Spanish, came back w. more Mal.lorquí really); if you have ANY French or Spanish really there is not that much difference. The Catalá I do understand best, however, is not what I tried to learn as a Mod Lang but Mediaeval so that is probably a bit out of date; the Catalás I speak with regularly – we are a group of friends incl Portuguese fchums rom PG days: the Catalá speaks Portuguese, the Portuguese chap speaks Spanish and I fart around speaking my own meta-combo. We understand.

    All that apart – my Catalan* friends seem largely in favour of Indpendence, if not exclusively so.

    Not that you asked.

  13. Steve Asaneilean says:

    Visca Catalunya, visca Escòcia, visca la independència.

    Ja ho pots ben dir!

  14. WRH2 says:

    It’s a pity this McTernan chap didn’t travel a bit farther. No I’m not suggesting off the end of the earth although that I would welcome! Just a wee bit farther to Sardinia which also has an independence movement. I understand they have several languages and use Italian as the lingua Franca but would like to govern themselves as well. Their most famous writer is Gramski.
    Does the Wee Ginger Dug have any info about their independence movement?

  15. smiling vulture says:

    John prob went to Spain for the World Cup

  16. Blizzard says:

    Catalan poll – there;s that 63% again!

  17. mary vasey says:

    Ah brilliant WGD This guy is totally obnoxious, mind I’d bet you’d have nae bother shutting his gas doon tae a peep.

  18. It’s a bit of a paradox.

    The inverse relationship between the amount of effort eager young men like John McTernan put into political messages and the public’s trust in the politicians that spout them.

  19. “Modern standard Catalan was created in the 19th century on the basis of Catalan orthography during the Golden Age of Catalan literature in the Middle Ages.”

    We can dae that tae! Back tae Dunbar!

    • weegingerdug says:

      I can feel a linguistic waffle coming on about the whole dialect / language question with Scots. Maybe this weekend.

      • That’s grand — leukin forrit tae’t.

      • Aberdeen Lass says:

        If ye dae it, dinna forget the Doric, noo! We dinna a’ bide in the central belt.

        • weegingerdug says:

          That’s precisely one of the points I want to address. Doric is Scots. Doric is just the name for the Scots dialect spoken in the North East. The name Doric was borrowed by antiquarian writers in the 18th and 19th century from Greek, where it referred to the rustic dialects of the peasantry who did not speak the classical Attic Ancient Greek.

          Due to the lack of a standardised orthography, Scots has become fractured into a collection of dialects and speakers don’t always perceive these dialects as being a part of the same linguistic system. So for example you’ll see dialect dictionaries of Doric or Orkney, and they’ll list words as Doric or Orkney words – words like “hoose”, “kirk”, “bairn”, yet these words are widespread in Scots and are not specific to its Doric or Orkney dialects.

          One reason Scots is a language and not a dialect is because Scots contains dialectal diversity of its own, and all dialects of Scots – Orkney, Doric, Weegie etc are clearly all part of the same linguistic system, and sharply differentiated as a group from any other “English dialect”.

          The other point it’s important to make, is that a standardised orthography is NOT the same as a standard language. However a common standardised Scots orthography would make it considerably easier for speakers of one Scots dialect to understand texts written in a different dialect. It both promotes the unity of the language, and at the same time allows for and encourages dialectal diversity.

          But I seem to be writing the blog post already …

          • JGedd says:

            Looking forward to a blog post on this one. Appetite whetted.

          • Turra Loon says:

            Hello Wee Ginger, I am a Doric speaker from Aberdeenshire(teuchter). We were taught English at school and not allowed to speak in the Doric. Off course at home in Turra we all spoke the Doric, but if somebody could not understand me I always changed to Scots/English to be good mannered. Ye ken fit a meen. I will never forget my sisters English friend asking . Who is this Ken?

  20. dcanmore says:

    Ah but we don’t have history, culture or language, non of these things according thon George Robertson*, we’re not programmed to make political decisions either said Johann Lamont*, in fact we should be getting on with being North British and accept our lot says Gordon Brown.*


  21. Eilean says:

    I must confess apart from what I have read about him in blogs I am blissfully unaware of Mr. Mcternan. Long may that last.

    I hope you don’t mind a wee off topic this late on. It is sort of related. I was thinking earlier. Seeing how Better Together have been blowing their trumpet… Sorry tuba! about having twice as much cash to spend as the Yes campaign. Im left wondering how that will go down with their “grass roots” support that responded to their recent “We are totally skint so send us all your dosh or Alexsalmond will slaughter your firstborn. Appeal.” By rustling up a few much needed quid to donate to such a worthy cause?

    • macart763 says:

      You mean they lied? 😀

      They kinda make a habit of doing that on pretty much every subject don’t they? It doesn’t matter how much money their rancid campaign has Eilean, they’re in trouble and the electorate is nowhere near as stupid or helpless as BT would like them to be. I can’t pretend to be anywhere near objective about becoming independent, but at the start of this campaign I was prepared to wait and listen to a cogent counter argument. However after the campaign they’ve run and what they’ve attempted to do to the Scottish public, well I’m fairly pissed off to say the least. To those who’ve been deceived and let down who started out as a no vote only to become aware either suddenly or gradually of BTs tactics?

      I’m guessing there won’t be a pile of money high enough for BT to hide behind. All the astroturf campaigns or bullshit professional cinema ads won’t cover the self interested stink at the heart of their campaign.

  22. Glassbenmhor says:

    I really don’t think we need worry too much about the McTernan’s of this world and his old boss! Come the 19th of Sept. their positions could very well become ‘legally challenged’ upon a number of thorny little issues.

  23. Marieclaire Mcguinness says:


    Loved this article,  my Catalan Family are so behind independence,  as are most Catalans I know. John McTernan , waste of oxygen 

    Saludos MarieClaire McGuinness  

  24. vronsky says:

    In a previous life as an employee of the local town council ( yes, way back then) I looked through old leather bound books of minutes. They were all written in Scots.

  25. sashadistel says:

    We should maybe just be grateful John Mcternan doesn’t do Tripadvisor.
    Sorry if this has been said before but there is a poem by Liz Lochead , where she describes her first day at school.
    She mixes her own dialect ( which although we may say the words with a different accent , the actual words are known right across Scotland) with how she was then made write it down ” in black and white”.
    The thing is, written the way she ( we ) speak, the poem comes across with warmth and love, while explaining how her Mum sends her off, then when written again in ‘ the Queens English, it sounds like something by Enid Blyton , with lashings of ginger.
    At the end Liz describes it perfectly.
    The way it had to be said was as if you were posh, grown up, male, English and dead.
    Once more Mr Mcternan shows his narrow minded Brit nationalism. His mutterrings are akin to coming to Scotland to find , there was a problem with the trams, there’s weird triangles and squares on road signs (that nobody understands) and nobody speaks like either Sean Connery or Sheena Easton oh and nobody interviewed ever by the TV has ever wanted Independence.
    There are many words to describe Mcternan but I think the most polite and universally known is eejit.

  26. sashadistel says:

    By the way, the ‘synthetic Scots’ he refers to was belted out of my parents by our broad minded education system of the 40s and 50s.
    Years ago I stayed with a family on one of the smaller islands, where the wee boy of 5 ( ready to start the school) would switch regularly from Gaelic to English, depending who he was talking to. At the time, I thought of my Dad saying in his best ‘school voice’, let’s go out into the fields and pick those delicious potatos, you people who have travelled here to help, in this potato season’.
    Do travelling folk have a synthetic Scots language too ?

  27. stranger says:

    Yet another inaccuracy that you missed. That klootzak – a lovely word from Dutch that showed me that my Scots was in fact a language almost closer to Dutch than English. Also taught me why we said I’m going ben the kitchen.
    Getting back to the point,that klootzak said that the terminal 2 train doesn’t go to the main terminus, where does he think that is?? It’s Sants where the high speed trains leave from and most rodalies trains go to, not Plaça Catalunya where the tourists want to go. Of and no one pointed out that the reason that the new terminal doesn’t yet have a metro connection is because of chronic Spanish underinvestment….

    These days my Catalá is much better than my Spanish, but even when you speak Catalá, the locals spot that you’re foreign and so switch to Spanish. They seem to think that all foreigners speak Spanish, (even if you only speak English, they try in Spanish) so to speak in Catalá requires that you really insist!
    Even my Catalan wife’s grandfather and her young cousin sometimes drop into Spanish to talk to me; it’s an unconscious behaviour. So his claim that everyone spoke Catalá to him is pure bullshite!

    Another point is that Barcelona is the most pijo part of Catalunya and the place with most Spanish/south American incomers so Spanish tends to be the most spoken language and support for independence the weakest.

    Any big Catalan event has a cry for independence at it. During Barça matches it’s at 17min 14sec of each half.

    The guy is clearly a numpty. I find it strange that no one points out that he’s clearly the inspiration for the stupid, aggressive spin doctor in, In The Thick Of It. Always shitter than the Campbell character and only able to scare a few English public school boys.

    • JGedd says:

      He has been referred to as the Malcolm Tucker of Better Together and Labour. Unfortunately, I think he takes it as a compliment.

      • stranger says:

        No that’s the usual mistake and it is flattering to him. Tucker/Campbell is actually quite talented at what they do. No McTierman is Jamie, the aggressive piss and vinegar one who has no talent except intimidation. He’s played by

        Paul Higgins

        • JGedd says:

          I see that John McTernan is giving a lecture tomorrow as part of the Edinburgh Yestival. The lecture is called ‘ Patriots Say No’. With a dud title like that, I don’t think that we will have the incendiary flights of inspired flyting of a Malcolm Tucker ( with or without the violent sexual imagery). More like a damp squib of an event, with sneering.

          ( I quite liked Jamie. Does that make me a bad person?).

  28. Capella says:

    Is it possible that John McTernan is a scholar of Lallans which Hugh MacDairmid referred to as “synthetic scots” but not in a pejorative sense? or is that too ludicrous a suggestion!

    • weegingerdug says:

      I don’t have any information about that, but I’m guessing “ludicrous suggestion”. I don’t think McTernan really understands what the phrase “Synthetic Scots” actually refers to.

      MacDiarmid wanted to create a standardised Scots in much the same way that modern standard Slovene, Basque, Romantsch or Finnish were created. These modern standard languages are “synthetic” creations which take features from different dialects – they are a synthesis of the various spoken dialects and at least originally were no one’s mother tongue. There is considerable dialectal diversity in all of these languages, and there was a need for a “pan-dialectal” variety which could act as a common written language for all speakers. Dialectal diversity in these languages is so great that speakers of different dialects cannot always understand one another.

      Dialectal diversity in Scots is considerably less – for example unlike the situation with Slovene or Basque dialects there are few grammatical differences between Scots dialects. So there is no pressing need for a common standard language – a “synthetic Scots” – as all Scots dialects are (or more precisely COULD BE) mutually intelligible in writing if a common spelling system was used.

      • Capella says:

        You’re right. Any attempt to endow J McT with literary merit is probably doomed. I find it very hard to read written Doric (Robbie Shepherd used to do a column in the Press and Journal which I found unreadable though I can speak and understand it easily). Other dialects are even worse and Lallans is impossible. But poetry makes it much easier I find.

        A Scotch Poet Speaks
        Och, I wish you hadn’t come right now;
        You’ve put me off my balance.

        I was just translating my last wee poem
        Into the dear auld Lallans.

        (Alan Jackson “The Grim Wayfarer”)

        Looking forward to your future post!

  29. daviddynamo says:

    “We already know it was beyond the ken of John.” LOL, it’s beyond the Barbie of John, and since he was expelled from Australia, I think the barbies are now behind John as well! No tinnies of beer for Lost Johnny, he just has a tin ear for avoiding listening to what the people of Scotland and Catalonia are REALLY asking for.

    Does anyone else think that John McTernan is nasty, small-minded, and bitter? He is like someone who has been chewing wasps for so long, he does not know how to stop, and pretends that he likes the taste.

    More power to your pen, Paul, and please keep writing when you have time. The more we can laugh at the people who want to oppress us, the more we reduce their power, and free ourselves from their hold over us.

  30. faolie says:

    Scottish AND Catalonian Yesses in the same year? Man, wouldn’t that shake up the world.

  31. daviddynamo says:

    Forgot to say, normally travel broadens the mind, but not in John-Boy’s case. Wherever he goes, he is still stuck on Walton Mountain, living off the reflected glories of a fading Westminster system. Goodnight, John-Boy! (Or is it Jolly Boy John, for the younger readers 🙂 )

  32. sashadistel says:

    Stranger , my Granny spent half her life ‘ Ben the press’ . I never knew where that came from – cheers

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