Wednesday, 11 November 2020

The Significance of Ideas

 Last night I had a flash back nightmare, it was bad enough to set my dog barking at 4 am and brought me awake with smells, sounds, tastes and on the sharp edge between cowardice and competence; along which folk stagger in combat situations. It is not the sort of nightmare you wake and can go straight back to sleep. It is the sort of nightmare that is far too real in your own experience to do that. It is the nightmare state where you almost strangle your wife because you can't see her as such. This sort of nightmare requires time to recover your senses, it needs a book.

Last night was not the time to delve further into the venal failings of the papacy nor was it fit to chew through an Iain M Banks Sci-Fi so I went to the shelf and selected an auld threadbare pal o mine; "Twelve Modern Scottish Poets". In itself it is a throw back as all the poets in it are noo deid and few fowk would consider poets writing between 1920 and 1960 as "modern", yet that is hoo this particular tumshie tummles.

So I sat and reread, for the umpteenth time, Hugh MacDairmid's "In sic transit Scotia" a poem where he rages against "shortbread, tartan and bagpipe" Scotch over the world. His particular ire is for those Scotch in select Burns Clubs who pontificate about Burns without any understanding of what he is actually saying:

"Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name, Than in ony barrin liberty an Christ"

 "Rabbie wads't thou wert here - the warld hath need, And Scotland mair sae, o the likes o thee,"

 MacDairmid is the man in the corner of the pub, pipe in his moo, sat in a fug o smoke an whiskey fumes, chuntering tae hisel aboot how Scots need tae ca lug tae whit he's speirin as aa body else is wrang. A werse curmudgeon wha's ae wies up fir a fecht.

 Take his view of England in "My quarrel with England":

"For I stand still for forces which, were subjugated to mak way, For England's poo'er, and tae enrich The kinds o' English and o Scots, the least congenial tae ma thochts"

There are many today in Scotland who have come to agree with McDairmid in this, a poem written just short of a hundred years ago.

Edwin Muir, a contemporary of MacDairmid, but from Orkney; is more open of the world around him and memories of plough horses:

"Their conquering hooves which trod the stubble down, Were ritual that turned the field to brown"

 There is not the anger or bitterness of Edinburgh's famous flytin man, even when Muir turns to the subject of Scotland he reflects the pass Scotland had become, more in sadness than anything else in "Scotland 1941":

"And spiritual defeat wrapped warm in riches, no pride but pride of self."

 From the Western Isles, Lewis in particular, came Ian Crichton Smith. A native gaelic speaker to whom Scottis was a second language and English a foreign one in "Culloden and after" he makes the point of the suppression of his native language and culture:

 "And how much later, bards from Tiree and Mull, would write of exile in the hard town, where mills belched English, anger of new school:"

 Again there is not the anger of MacDairmid, in fact there is a hint the Gaeltacht have given in and failed to protect their voice from the abuse offered it by the imperialism of English culture and language:

"The silly cows were heard mooing their sorrow and their Gaelic loss."

 The underlying drive in all the poems is one based on the belief that Scots do not have the courage to stand up for themselves against all the known abuses of the British State in its suppression and control of Scottish culture, the attempt to kill off its defined languages and its support of those Scots who "Up; and play the game". They each, in their own way, attack what we now call the "Scottish cringe", the concession of British Imperialism being superior to Scotland's native culture, abilities and place in the world.

Here we now sit in 2020, still facing the Scottish cringe in all its manifestations, opposed by a British Imperial State, still ever more oppressive, run out of control and yet, the sunny uplands of independence are ever nearer as there is less of the cringe about Scotland, more of the assertion that to be Scottish is a "guid thing" no matter from where you hail or your colour, religion, culture or creed. 

Maybe all we had to do was remember we are truly are, "Aa Jock Tamson's bairns" anent our family squabbles and stramashes.

On the matter of us being "Aa Jock Tamson's bairns" I will leave the last word to Edwin Morgan, from "King Billie":

"Deplore what is to be deplored, and then find out the rest."


Monday, 9 November 2020

Naked Power

 I am reading John Julius Norwich's study of the Popes from the start to the present day. I had hoped to find some redeeming features in this history, some glint that the purpose of a religious community actually carried out the teachings, the self same community which had selected the "best fit" versions in the course of numerous 4th and 5th Century Conclaves as they bent their belief to fit with the Roman Empires wishes.

Sadly at every turn, right from the start, it appears the Christian religion was bent to seeking temporal power. Even after it split in its first schism into the Western Empire (Roman) church and the Eastern Empire (Orthodox) church over the nature of "God the Son" the reality was one of seeking influence over the two Emperors to enable them to wield power.

As the western empire waned so did the church until one Pope in around the 10th century decided to re-invent the Western Empire as the "Holy Roman Empire" unified under Charlemagne which held on in ever decreasing parts until the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Hapsburg, Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On page after page the story is of Popes seeking to exercise political influence over all of Europe, especially Italy, while procuring and spending millions of pounds as they did so. Routinely by selling Papal offices to the highest bidder or offering Papal indulgences from sin and purgatory to those with cash to spend. On top was the levy paid by each Bishopric to the Vatican and other money wells such as the Papal states and the Inquisition.

By the Renaissance the Popes were splurging vast amounts on "new art", the building of St Peters, the remodeling of Rome but little was done for the ordinary people of Rome until the stink and risk of plague and malaria was such the current Pope decided to do something and began reviving old Roman Aqueducts and improving the sewerage system, not because the people needed it but because Papal envoys to the Vatican complained and would not come to Rome from May until October due to the risks. Many Popes were driven out of Rome over the same period for the same reasons.

Fast forward from the end of the 16th Century until now:

What we see in the UK Government is one which seeks power for its own ends and is happy to use corrupt practices, indulgences, to give their friends UK Government contracts on the sly, no matter their competence or ability to deliver the services required. The UK Government "Test and Trace" contract is an eye opener where the "Excel" database could not cope with the number of tests it was required to and could not extract the information Public Health Officials needed to control the disease.

For self glorification projects look no further than the billions being spent on HS2 to reduce travel time to Birmingham by 10 minutes and to Manchester by 20 minutes. Who actually benefits? Certainly not the people along the route who will have to travel to use HS2 at its "node"points, who are seeing tracts of ancient woodlands ripped up and local beauty spots put under concrete.

Yet, just like the people of Rome in the 15th and 16th century, most of the UK population's basic needs are ignored and in one of the world's supposed top economies children go hungry and adults become homeless with no cognition by the UK Government of their role in all of this.

The Roman Church had its big shake up with the reformation, one which nearly destroyed it and forced it to look at what it and the Papacy stood for, in a period during the late 16th and early 17th century it was saved by its firm footings in Spain and Italy as even the Holy Roman Emperor saw the need to do a deal with the Lutheran Reformists in what is now Germany rather than the costly war of suppression his Spanish cousin was waging in the Netherlands and his equally costly attempts to remove Elizabeth the First of England.

Today the reality is there is no drive for the true reformation of the UK Parliament. Neither of the two right of centre main parties see it to be in their benefit, there is no popular pressure from the English electorate to bring change to the current set up. 

Once again it will be up to Scotland to move forward on its own and reform its country as an independent nation state which understands the EU's flaws but sees greater benefit for its people in being a part of the EU, a view supported by two thirds of Scots who voted in the Brexit referendum. An important point the anti-EU independistas should bare in mind.

Onwards to the next Scottish civil reformation and a chance to break free from the chains of a UK Parliament as equally pernicious and venal as the Papacy of the 15th and 16th Centuries.