One reason for reading – and, by extension, going to book festivals – is to understand more about ourselves. Most of us don’t expect that to apply on a molecular level, but Alistair Moffat’s book The Scots – A Genetic Journey is rewriting much of what we thought we understood about Scots’ DNA.
Moffat has a gift for making this complex subject both graspable and immediately engaging. We begin in the rift valleys of Africa more than 150,000 years ago, where homo sapiens first walked, a single male and female individual from whom everyone alive today is descended, whom scientists have named “Adam” and “Eve”. Thence to Caithness, where Moffat’s research project has found a man called Ian whose DNA is only three “branches” on the molecular tree away from Eve’s – perhaps because one of his ancestors was an African slave.
It’s a story about journeys: a small group of people travelling north from Africa to begin the settlement of Europe around 60,000BC; and others, some 50,000 years later, travelling from continental Europe to Britain after the last ice age, arriving in what is now England, meaning that (like it or not): “All Scots were briefly English”.
There are surprising revelations at every turn: Scotland is one of the most genetically diverse countries in the world; Tom Conti shares a common ancestor with Napoleon; one per cent of Scots are descended from Touareg tribesman. There is no space here to explain how porridge sparked a population explosion, but, like much in Moffat’s book, it is both entertaining and revelatory.
Meanwhile, Roy Hattersley, not deterred by the fact that he had a pacemaker fitted only days ago, was as astute and impassioned as ever, addressing a sell-out crowd on the importance of ideology in politics. In a interview he once conducted with Tony Blair, the then prime minister said: “The people out there don’t want ideological stuff, they want good government.” Hattersley takes issue with that, contending that a strong ideology could “rehabilitate” politics in an age of mistrust and disillusionment.
The Left has never been big on ideology, he said, but it is more important now than ever, particularly since party politics no longer operates along class lines. It’s heartening to hear a political veteran argue for a return to issues and debate rather than celebrity, not for reasons of nostalgia but because it might just work better that way. His trade, he said, was “a noble trade”, and he was determinedly optimistic that it could again become so.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West