The Scotsman is publishing a selection of its best opinion articles from the previous seven days to showcase some of the most insightful writing in Scottish journalism.
Kenny MacAskill ripped into Jeremy Corbyn following the Labour leader’s speech on Brexit. “On he marches in step with the Tories, if just a few strides to the left. This isn’t Clement Attlee giving full support to Churchill, establishing a war economy in a fight to the finish against fascism and using it as a basis to create a welfare state. It’s absurd nonsense that’s unleashing xenophobia, empowering the hard-right, and will see the dismantling of the welfare state and the impoverishment of the working people he claims to represent. That a Tory like Anna Soubry can bravely call out the Brexiteers for what they are, yet he remains not just silent but complicit, says it all.”
Joyce McMillan noted the growth of nostalgia for wartime Britain, in both the gallows humour of the hashtag “tweetyourstockpile”, mocking the UK Government’s plans to start building up national food stores because of the risk of a no-deal Brexit, but also among Brexiteers.
“Britain’s sense of identity has become stuck, and indeed almost fixated, on that defining moment 78 years ago, when – according to legend – a nation of plucky amateurs stood alone against the mechanised might of the Third Reich, and managed to face it down,” she wrote.
While “every nation has its myths”, some of which could be used in a positive way, there was now “a mood of militant denial, a reactionary impulse to slam up the drawbridge, and retreat into more reassuring times”.
She found words of wisdom from a perhaps-unlikely source. “It is 41 years since the Sex Pistols told us, in a historic moment of clarity, that there is no future in ‘England’s Dreaming’ of a supposedly glorious past. And there is no future in it because it is based on a tissue of lies about the moral high ground on which England – and by extension Britain – is supposed to stand; when in fact we, including all four nations of the union, are just one state among others, with our moments of glory, our moments of shame, and our enduring need to come to terms with the past, and look towards a viable future,” she added.
Sandy McCall Smith, the author, had a novel suggestion about how to settle great constitutional issues like Scottish independence and Brexit.
Given the considerable upheaval involved, he suggested they should only come about if sanctioned by two referendums, five years apart.
“dare one suggest that all referendums should be repeated after, say, five years have elapsed. The first referendum would decide nothing – people would really have to mean it, and vote accordingly in the second referendum, in order to make fundamental constitutional change. That would mean that a settled, long-term view could emerge, giving a result that nobody could argue with. It could be a concomitant of such a system that no referendum on the issue in question could then legally be held for at least 20 years,” he wrote.
Brian Wilson provided some alarming context following recent visit of Catalan president Quim Torra to Bute House where he met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“In Mr Torra’s considered view, Catalonians who speak Spanish rather than Catalan are ‘scavengers, vipers, hyenas’, not to mention ‘beasts with human shape’. Spaniards ‘know only how to plunder’ while immigration threatens that ‘the nation disintegrates like sugar in a glass of milk’ ... we must watch which other charmers from Europe’s ‘civic nationalist’ fringes will adorn Bute House, surrounded by saltires and silence despite the most obnoxious views,” he wrote.
Lesley Riddoch highlighted the plight of Scottish fruit farmers as a combination of factors persuades workers from Eastern Europe to stay away.
“Rumours of a hostile environment in England have created uncertainty about conditions in Scotland too and this has combined with a tangible fall in the value of sterling against the currencies of neighbouring countries, which are easier to reach. Meanwhile improving east European economies can offer better-paid professional employment to their graduates than the manual labour that used to take them here. Apparently, many Polish fruit farms now employ Indian migrants to harvest crops. Times are changing. The result in Scotland has been pretty tragic. About 20 tonnes of strawbs and rasps were left to rot last week alone in Perthshire – Scotland’s soft fruit heartland. It’s an emotional issue – for politicians, would-be consumers and stressed-out growers.”
READ MORE: Brexit puts our fruit farmers in a jam
Professor Sir Tom Devine, the leading historian, gave his verdict of the record best-selling book on Scottish history, John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances, ahead of the publication of his own work on the subject The Scottish Clearances, which is out in October.
“The book is an accessible and fluent read, in part because the author does not even try to come to grips with any of the many challenging complexities of Highland history. Those in the dock are always the former chieftains of the clans, by the later 18th century transformed into commercial landlords, whose greed, Prebble insists, led them to sacrifice their erstwhile clansmen for filthy lucre,” he wrote.
“Prebble himself never claimed to be a historian and always referred to himself as a historical writer. He seems to have been taken aback by the storm of criticism generated in some circles by his book, especially by the intervention of the late Professor Gordon Donaldson, a former Historiographer Royal, who bitterly denounced Prebble’s work on the Highlands as ‘complete rubbish’.”
READ MORE: Revisting the nation’s historic bestseller
Darren McGarvey, aka the Scottish rapper Loki, found himself amid a tragi-comical spat about whether he was a “Scottish” or a “British” rapper. After an article in The New York Times referred to him as a “British” rapper, the story was tweeted by a Scottish journalist, Angela Haggerty. Some members of the nationalist Twitterati then cited this as evidence she was “a mole, working for the British State”. “Comedy ensued,” McGarvey noted sarcastically.
But he then went on to explain that, while he had no problem with an American newspaper calling him British, he was, in fact, a Scottish rapper.
“Hip Hop is about representing not only yourself, but also your ‘hood’. Which is why so many regional artists retain impenetrable dialects and obscure slang, despite commercial and cultural pressure to conceal or renounce them. I’m a ‘Scottish’ rapper, not because I want to deny Britishness, but because I live in Scotland and perform in a thick, Glaswegian accent. It would be unthinkable to suddenly rebrand, throwing the very community that gave me a voice under the bus, simply because I’m enjoying some mainstream recognition,” he wrote.
READ MORE: Am I a Scottish or a British rapper?
Paris Gourtsoyannis warned that no-deal Brexit could see the rise of the far-right in Britain. He pointed to the support from groups in the US for jailed former EDL leader Tommy Robinson and how far-right figures were becoming mainstream in the media.
“Nine years ago, the BBC’s decision to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin onto Question Time provoked protests and complaints. Now [former Trump adviser Steve] Bannon appears in British media on a weekly basis, his ideas barely challenged by friendly outlets. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising when the US President can stand alongside the Prime Minister and rattle off far-right talking points about immigration destroying European culture, and face little official opposition,” he wrote
“David Cameron’s former speech writer Clare Foges used a column in the Times to suggest that ‘timid’ leaders could learn from the likes of Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte, she wrote, is popular with his people thanks to his ‘disdain for etiquette’, a novel way of describing his decades-long campaign of extra-judicial killing that has claimed hundreds of lives and drawn condemnation from Philippine and international human rights monitors.”
Ayesha Hazarika, who thanked God she was heading up from London to perform her comedy show Girl on Girl at the Gilded Balloon during Edinburgh Festival Fringe, confessed she was in a state of despair about British politics.
The pairing scandal, in which Conservative MPs took part in a close Brexit vote despite agreeing they would not do so as other MPs – like Lib Dem Jo Swinson, currently on maternity leave – were unable to vote, was “outrageous”.
“The Tories are saying this was an innocent mistake. Do me a favour. We weren’t born yesterday like Swinson’s baby! Lewis and Smith clearly lied, and should be sacked,” she said.
“And don’t look to Labour for any comfort on Brexit. Yesterday Corbyn showed his true Eurosceptic heart by making a speech where he tried to sell us the economic “benefits” of Brexit, which got praised to the rafters by the Leave campaign. He also has a massive bridge to sell you, with a unicorn waiting for each and every one of you on the other side.”
John McLellan urged Theresa May to “work the room” as she tries to win support for her Brexit proposals – but also to make preparations for a no-deal departure from the EU.
“Without proper preparation to walk away, and calm heads at all levels, the Europeans will wring concession after concession because, to borrow from Margaret Thatcher, there will be no alternative,” he wrote.