The crumbling wall

Many years ago when I was a student, I taught English in Finland for the summer. I travelled there by train via the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, taking advantage of the student Eurorail ticket. Backpackertastic. For about £100 you had the freedom of European trains for the whole summer, or at least you had the freedom of the western European rail network – most of Eastern Europe was still cut off behind the Iron Curtain and travelling there required visas in advance.

On the way home from Finland I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin, but didn’t go. Instead, being 18 and daft and hormonal, I went to Amsterdam for men and drugs. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a whale of a time. I must have done, because memories of that trip are hazy and patchy. But I never made it to Berlin to see the Berlin Wall and to witness a city divided in two by opposing ideologies. It will still be there next year, I told myself. Berlin had been divided all my life. Geopolitics could wait. There was debauchery to be had.

Back in the 1980s Europe was divided into two. The Berlin Wall with its concrete barrier, the 100 metre wide death strip, the barbed wire and the few heavily controlled checkpoints was a symbol of that division. It was going to be there forever. But in the space of a few short years at the end of the 80s, the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe collapsed, the Wall came down, and the Soviet Union dissolved into its constituent republics. The Wall is gone, and its passing is not mourned. But back in 1981 no one expected that the Wall would be consigned to history before the end of the decade and that Europe would change irrevocably.

Another Berlin Wall came down in the 1990s. Social attitudes towards gay people underwent a rapid shift. The barriers of homophobia collapsed. Homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1981 – although there was an unwritten rule that no prosecutions would be brought in Scotland for acts which were legal in England and Wales where homosexuality had been decriminalised in 1967. But by the 1990s public opinion had undergone a sea change. Today, although homophobia lingers, it no longer has the backing of law or widespread social support. Public attitudes have changed irrevocably. Back in 1981 I never thought that would ever happen.

Westminster is not the Warsaw Pact, it is not institutionalised homophobia, but like both it was until recently seen as a permanent fixture. Unchanging, unaltered, it ruled our lives from birth, it determined the choices that we could make, and would continue to do so long after each of us have gone the way of the Wall. At least, so we thought, before the referendum campaign. Irrespective of how the vote goes in September, Westminster rule is no longer seen as unchanging and unchangeable. The old certainties are dead and will not be mourned. Scotland has changed irrevocably.

While on my European train trips all those years ago, I was reading a book called The Shape of Futures Past by Chris Morgan. The book looked at past predictions of the future, and compared them with the reality of the 1980s. It was an examination of literary and scientific futures – the future as depicted in fiction, or the predictions of think tanks and scientific organisations, not the futures predicted by fortune tellers or Tarot card readers.

The most striking thing about these predictions was not how amusingly inaccurate they were – illustrated with quaint drawings of traffic jams of biplanes in the skies above London – it was what they got wrong. None of them predicted the rapid social changes in attitude and outlook that would occur during the 20th century. The city gent stuck in his private biplane was on his way home to a little woman making his dinner in a kitchen filled with gadgetry. Everyone was white and middle class, the men wore suits and the women frocks. No one predicted the rise of feminism, the success of anti-racism, or the annihilation of homophobia as a “respectable prejudice”. And doubtless none of them would have predicted that Scotland would regain her confidence and would chap on the door of independence.

Alistair Carmichael didn’t see it coming. He is currently stuck in a biplane in a Westminster traffic jam, trapped in a past future that will not come to pass, as the realisation dawns on him that the little Scottish wummin might not be at home to make his tea. She’s out campaigning for independence. Alistair thinks that the reason so many in Scotland support a vote for Yes is because Westminster has been hollowed out in Scotland by “nationalists”. But Alistair is living in a fantasy as unrealistic as the steam powered spaceships of Victorian science fiction authors.

Alistair got part of his diagnosis correct. Westminster rule has indeed been hollowed out in Scotland, but it hasn’t been hollowed out by the “nationalists”. Westminster did it to itself when it embarked on the privatisation of the nationalised companies and institutions that maintained a sense of Britishness. British Coal, British Rail, British Steel and the rest – they’ve all gone the way of the Berlin Wall. The safety net of the Welfare State now has more holes than net. The proud boast of the British state that it provided care for citizens from the cradle to the grave has become a bitter pill on the half-empty shelves of a foodbank.

Westminster has a plan for the future that’s already out of date. Their solution is to tweak devolution, to make more of a show of British presence in its northern province. More bunting and parades, more benefits cuts for the poor and tax breaks for the rich. And there will be attempts to ensure that Scotland can never again scare the bejeezus out of Westminster like we’re scaring them right now. Nick Clegg is calling for the UK government’s role to be “enhanced” in Scotland – forgetting that it was an unchecked UK government that Scotland didn’t vote for which produced the demand for devolution in the first place, and which is fuelling the independence debate now.

No one can predict the future accurately. So it becomes a question of faith and of trust. Do you trust Alistair and his pals to represent your best interests? Do you have faith that Alistair and his pals know what your best interests are? Look at the hollowed out rule of Westminster, and you’ll know what the answer is.

Another brick crumbles and the Westminster Wall weakens a little more.  It will fall by September.


30 comments on “The crumbling wall

  1. JimnArlene says:

    I believe your prediction, will come to fruition. You can hear the foundations, groan and fail, from here.

  2. Bamstick says:

    As ever, brilliant.
    Your writing is inclusive and, as a wee wummin and someone who has been through the ATOS process, time and again, hits the spot.
    When will Westminster realise that none of us who are ill ever looked into the future and predicted that they would not be able to work? When I graduated and got my first, second, third etc job and started to contribute I never saw myself like this. Viewed by some as a scrounger, a burden on society, someone who doesn’t have any rights because I’m not one of those “Hard Working British Families” that Cameron is so fond of.

    I can’t wait until September 19th. I’m starting to enjoy the prospects of a better future for ALL of the people of Scotland.

  3. […] Many years ago when I was a student, I taught English in Finland for the summer. I travelled there by train via the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, taking advantage of the student Eurorai…  […]

  4. allan sayers says:

    you are a brilliant writer

  5. Nana says:

    Superb writing again.

    The liberal democrats are I hope finished in Scotland.

    I recently had an ‘invitation’ from John Thurso to help him campaign for a no vote so I replied and tried my best to remain polite. I told him exactly what I thought of Westminster and Westminster mps. I did get a curt reply and was told that my views were interesting but ‘deeply flawed’

    So deeply flawed he did not even try to deny my accusations with regards to Charles Kennedy’s misleading parliament, Danny Alexander’s lies, the media bias being led by government etc etc.

    According to him 60% of scots intend to vote No, so not only have they done remarkably well in government they also have a crystal ball. I rather think it needs replacing along with Westminster.

  6. macart763 says:

    Great post Paul and handily I’ve got a JCB at the ready to clear the rubble.🙂

    When I read this statement – “Part of the reason we are where we are today is we have allowed the Nationalists to hollow out the role of the United Kingdom Government in Scotland for the last seven years and in the same way the Olympics were about reminding people they had a British identity, the Scotland Office or the UK Government has to be there, reminding people they have two governments.” – two things struck me as being wrong on every level. One pointed out by Breeks earlier on NNS.

    Firstly ‘we have allowed’. Oh really? And just who is ‘we’ pray tell big man? Secondly ‘remind’ us how? Whatever happened to guarantees of more powers, lurve ins and phone a Jock. Suddenly its 1984 and we’ve got overtones of Big Brother in the place man’s guff.

    If any statement should run a shiver of apprehension up yer average punter’s spine, the one above should do it. In fact klaxons, bells and fire alarms should be going off by this point.

    We came to this pass through public empowerment, education and a level of political engagement I’ve not seen in decades. Equally we don’t need reminded who controls the purse strings, we look at the effects of Westminster’s management style around us every day in the form of welfare reforms, PFIs, food banks, sink estates, economic crashes, financial scandals, illegal wars and corruption at the highest levels. The thought that increasing the presence and effect of this style of management is deemed a good thing by Carmichael kinda let’s you know all you need to about the man’s priorities.

    Now where’s ma pick n’ shovel?

  7. WRH2 says:

    I travel around Scotland occasionally and I realise what a wonderful country we have. To see it destroyed even more than it was in the 80’s would really break my heart. And the message from Comical Ali is that it will be if we are daft enough to vote no. Revenge will be inflicted on us even more than it was post 1979. We have made so much progress since then, we have become a much more progressive and understanding society and now have a real sense of ourselves as a nation. Just vote Yes to ensure this doesn’t get destroyed.

  8. Deedee says:

    Please will you keep writing after September no matter the result : )

    • weegingerdug says:

      I plan to. If I stop writing the blog it will be because I’ll be writing for another publication. But to be honest I can’t really make any firm plans just now – Andy’s care needs come first.

      He’s still in hospital, but is slowly getting his strength back. The brain scans they did when he was admitted a couple of weeks ago showed he’d suffered another stroke, and he’s now in a rehabilitation ward. Fingers crossed he’ll be home soon.

      Right now I’m trying to write an article for a Galician newspaper explaining why Gaelic and Scots language issues are not central to the Scottish independence debate.

      • cuddyback says:

        Oh, aye? Bit OT, but you might find THIS PAGE of interest: possible Gaelic – Galego connections.

        All the best to yourself and Andy.

        • weegingerdug says:

          You got the link wrong – disnae work.

          Here’s the correct link

          • weegingerdug says:

            Hmm – I’m not convinced by their linguistics. The resemblance between the names Gaelic and Galego is entirely coincidental. Galego is from the tribal name Kallaiko – borrowed into spoken Latin as Gallaico, whereas Gaelic is from Old Irish Goídelc. Gaelic lost original d between vowels in the course of its evolution, it is no longer written in modern Irish, but preserved in Sc Gaelic spelling as dh – which is pronounced in a variety of ways, none of which is d! In the word Gàidhlig, it is silent. However dh was pronounced as th in English the that (but not as in thin, three) as recently as the 15th century.

            The name Goídel, the final c of Goídelc was an old adjective suffix, was itself borrowed by Old Irish speakers from Old Welsh. Old Welsh *goidel was an adjective based on a word meaning wood or forest. This word derives in turn from a proto-Celtic word of the approximate form *widos plus a different adjectival suffix ending in -l. Original initial *w developed into g in the Brittonic languages, but in the Goidelic languages it developed into f. Gaelic does preserve a word natively descended from proto-Celtic *widos – fiodh ‘wood’. The English word wood is a distant relative.

            The example they give on this page of the resemblance between Old Irish medón and Galego medón which give meán in modern Irish and Galego doesn’t prove much of anything. The sound changes described on that page were common to all the Celtic languages – and to most Western Romance languages as well. You can’t use them to argue that there is a particularly close connection between Goidelic and Galego.

            The Goidelic languages and Celtiberian – the Celtic language of pre-Roman Iberia – are all so-called Q-Celtic languages, this does not mean there’s a particularly close relationship between Goidelic and Celtiberian within Celtic. Q-Celtic refers to the fact that these languages preserved an original kw (written q in older scholarship) from proto-Celtic, whereas in the Gallo-Brittonic branch of Celtic (or P-Celtic) this sound shifted to p. In Goidelic this kw later simplified to k, written c. So we get Sc Gaelic ceann ‘head’ but Welsh pen, from proto-Celtic *kwennos.

            However in linguistics, in order to prove that two languages are especially closely related, you need to demonstrate that they have innovations in common. Iceland, Scots and English are the only modern Germanic languages which preserve the original proto-Germanic sound þ but that doesn’t mean that English/Scots and Icelandic are most closely related to one another within Germanic. English and Scots are most closely related to one another, and then as a group they relate most closely to the Frisian language, which has shifted original þ to d. Icelandic is most closely related to Faroese and Norwegian which have also lost original þ.

            Goidelic displays the innovation of shifting original nt to d, and nk to g – so we have Welsh pump ‘five’ but Gaelic coig, which descend from proto-Celtic *kwenkwe. Celtiberian doesn’t show any evidence of this typically Goidelic sound change.

            Celtiberian appears to have been a variety of Celtic which split off at an early date from the rest of the Celtic languages. There is no evidence to show it was most closely related to Goidelic within Celtic, in fact what little is known of Celtiberian suggests that it was quite distinct from any other Celtic variety. Celtiberian died out during the Roman period, and despite the claims on that website there is no credible evidence for the survival of Celtic in Iberia after the end of the Roman period.

            It is known that a community of refugees from Roman Britain established themselves in northern Galicia in the post-Roman period and were distinct enough for several centuries that they preserved a separate ecclesiastical organisation, the Bishopric of Bretoña. Many would have spoken a Celtic language, but this was the dialect of Brittonic that gave rise to Breton and Cornish – not a form of Gaelic. However they have left no Celtic language place names, which suggests that they were probably already bilingual in Latin at the time of settlement.

            Still, I do enjoy reading anything that presses my linguistic geek buttons, even if it is just so I can disagree with it!

  9. diabloandco says:

    Agree with Deedee wholeheartedly.

    Delighted to see those zeros in place on the fund raiser !
    Hope that means you have a bed not a sofa!

  10. smiling vulture says:

    If it’s NO I’m going to Soho,London,Pigalle,Paris,Patpong,Thailand,De Wallen,Amsterdam

  11. When I read Carmichael’s comments my blood ran cold. Could we possibly lose all our hard won gains of the years of our Scottish Parliament? Too many indifferent people shrugging shoulders, accepting without question unionist drivel as they can’t be bothered dragging themselves away from TV or a pile of films, could bring our hopes of independence and a better Scotland crumbling to the mud. And the unionists are making it plainer by the day what awaits after a No vote. No complaints will be tolerated because they told us and so we knew what we were voting for.

    And yet… Somehow I can’t actually believe No voters want to see a privatised NHS, tuition fees, more austerity, Trident, food banks. But exactly what precious benefits, links, institutions do they want to retain that they feel in danger of losing with independence? I’m certain there are those who cling on to what they believe are real and honest reasons for a No vote, but I’m struggling to understand why they are so determined to dangle from the coat tails of a country which is facing an impending financial crisis and where there seems no plan to improve lives or the economy in the future beyond further austerity leading to an ever swifter drop down international league tables.

    • ian foulds says:

      I agree with the observations of all the respondets and believe we would realise our goal if there was a more balanced media.

      However, it would appear that will not be so.

      This leads on to Jingsand things predictions which may approach someform of reality if it is ‘No’ – God (whichever one you want) help us all.

      It appears that the only way to ken our fellow countrymen/women from their torpor is to get out on the streets every day / all day (and night) until the 17th ad tell them this is the future and were they can find the subsantiation – Yes I know, you and thousands of others have being doing this for months and years but some are slow to realisation and it is NOW that the truth may start to jolt them from their slumber.



  12. Ian Dolan says:

    Brullient blog,l just love it.Btw Berlin is still a great place to visit!PS:Berlin was surrounded by the “Wall”& not divided by it.Ian “ich bin ein Berliner”Dolan.

  13. Red Squirrel says:

    Thank you Paul for another great article – I hope you realise just what a beacon of hope your blog is. It really helps me keep positive through all the BTNT poison inflicted on us daily. A very heartfelt thank you for the wonderful work you do.

  14. hektorsmum says:

    Thank you Paul once again for bringing sanity into the whole referendum and if you move some where else we will without a doubt will follow you after September.
    Glad to hear that Andy is progressing.
    Always said after the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell that Scotland would have something remarkable happen and in 2011 it entered it’s new beginning. We will go forward of that I am positive. Scotland WILL become an Independent State.

  15. Robert Louis says:

    An excellent article, as usual. I also recall the Berlin wall, and at the time, the general consensus was, ‘it will never come down’, yet down it came. It, more than anything, showed to me, that the whole world CAN change, and somewhat rapidly too.

    Unionists like Carmichael, are stuck in a unionist bubble, where everything stays the same, and where all this ‘silly nonsense’ about independence will soon pass. The only problem is, that even (unlikely) if the vote was NO, the desire for independence will not pass, as though it never happened, as too many Scots now know the duplicity of Westminster and their propagandist chums in the BBC. You can use any metaphor you wish, the rubicon has been crossed, the genie is out of the bottle, whatever, but no matter what Westminster thinks it can do, they cannot turn back time and history. This will not go away.

    I am a cautious campaigner, but even I am now firmly of the opinion, that if we carry on campaigning as we have done, a YES vote can be achieved. Things I have seen and heard across Scotland over the last few weeks now make me certain a YES vote can be won.

    Following the Commonwealth games, the final battle will commence. Smears and lies will come thick and fast from the unionists, but we should not let them distract us from campaigning. We now need every person possible to help with local YES groups all across Scotland, to make sure we win, and win big.

    This is it. I’ve waited all my life for it. Bring it on.

  16. macart763 says:

    If you haven’t seen this, make a point of doing so.


  17. Valaquen says:

    I remember seeing a documentary about the Berlin Wall coming down. They showed archival footage from some politician or another who stated that the Wall would “never fall in my lifetime.” Six months later he was still kicking but the Wall wasn’t.

  18. scott says:

    To paraphrase, I don’t really see Westminster & bankers as ‘the enemy’. Greedy slimy bastards yes, but enemy; no. I believe our real enemy is our own ignorance. So while I pray to anyone who may be listening for a Yes vote, I’m not sure thats actually going to happen given the majority of folk that I encounter iin everyday life are thick as shit in the neck of a bottle. Not many seem to comprehend the potential of this opportunity, few are aware of the dangers of a no vote, and fewer still the sheer gulf between what our country could be and what could be inflicted upon our country. Christ, do I despair at times.

    And then I read your blog. And if you can forgive the corny metaphor, its like a beam of sunshine breaking through stormy clouds. For you actually restore my faith in people and I think, ‘yeah, we’re gonna do this!’

    Perhaps you should consider publishing a hard copy of your blog? I’m pretty sure there will be a large demand from folk wanting a keepsake of how this ‘debate’ wasnt political but personal.

    Whatever else may happen though, please keep writing.

  19. Rookiescot says:

    As a young soldier I had to do Border Patrol on the inner German border. Part of our section was a town which had litterally been cut in half. It was a brutal barrier which to any casual observer was not ment to keep people out but to keep them in. Tall wire fences. Mine fields. Savage dogs on runner wires. Guard towers every few hundred meters. Trip wires connected to shotguns.
    An old lady used to wave to us from the window of her home on the Eastern side of the border every day. We were under strict instructions not to wave back so as not to get her in trouble. I hope that old lady understood why we didnt wave back.

    But eventually the East Germans got their freedom. They had the courage and conviction to free themselves from the yoke around their neck. To make their democratic choice.

    I hope Scotland takes its chance too.

  20. yerkitbreeks says:

    Pity Dusty didn’t have an Amsterdam to go to

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