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Archive for the tag “Scotland”

Expecting the unexpected: UK leaving the EU

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading stuff people have written about the pros and cons of the UK staying in the EU, but I get the impression that few people thought about the real meaning of leaving until it suddenly became a real possibility after the referendum.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, so if I were a Brit voter I would have been undecided, at least on the merits of the question.

On factors quite unrelated to the merits of the question, however, the poisonous rhetoric of the advocates of leaving might have inclined me to the “remain” side. The “leave” advocates seemed to appeal to the worst motives and impulses in human nature.

Not only that, but the “leave” campaign turned out to the thoroughly dishonest, and did their best to mislead the voters with lies, and making promises they had no intention of keeping — this, for example:

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a"mistake"

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a “mistake”

Now that it’s over, I see there might be a possibility for the reunification of Ireland, and for Scotland to apply to rejoin the EU on its own. Perhaps that would mean that the English would need passports to
cross the Tweed. I don’t think anyone expected those as possibilities, but they’ve suddenly appeared, like new islands after a volcanic eruption.

And it seems to me that they are quite positive possibilities.  I suppose that is the result of reading a book about 15 years ago that pointed out that it would make little difference whether Scotland or Wales became independent or remained members of the United Kingdom, because being members of the EU would give them just as many, if not more advantages than belonging to the UK. I can’t remember whether the author envisaged England as not belonging to the EU, but if you are interested, the book is The Isles: a history by Norman Davies.

But that is rather academic and detached; looking at this from 10 000 kilometres away is being hopelessly out of touch. Fifty years ago I went to the UK to study theology at St Chad’s College in Durham. I’m still in touch with some of my friends from there, and I asked some of them for their thoughts on the topic. This is what some of them had to say:

What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Catastrophe. Britain has broken apart. An uprising of resentment by the left-behind has torn us in two, a country wrecked by a yawning class divide stretched wider by recession and austerity. Anger against a London establishment was deftly diverted by the Tory right and Ukip towards foreigners – enemies in Brussels and aliens in our midst. Wherever we went, the Guardian reported that same fury among those without education and opportunity, a country served right for its gross inequality. Day after day the Sun, Mail, Express, Sunday Times and Telegraph injected poison into the nation’s bloodstream with tales of foreign criminals, jihadists and scroungers. How Murdoch and Dacre will revel in their power. What of the false hopes raised for poorly paid, insecure, badly housed Brexit voters? Expecting something better, they will get much worse. “Controlling our borders”, they will expect immigrants, new and old, to be gone. They were told more housing, GP appointments and school places would be freed up from migrants. But as treasury receipts fall, there will be less of everything. Will the next call be to expel foreigners already here? What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Farage’s victory speech about the decent ordinary people taking back control “without a bullet fired” was unthinkably crass with an MP shot and stabbed to death in the heat of the campaign. Cameron  will no doubt be replaced by worse as the country is taken over by Tory extremists and fantasists, wild free-marketeer romantics experimenting with other people’s lives, alongside Ukip’s pernicious racism.

Ahead lie years of fractious negotiation, turning the EU into Britain’s number one enemy. The more these populist leaders need to prove this wasn’t a fatal error, the more they will blame all home-grown woes on our close neighbours. Britain has turned its back on the world. ~ Polly Toynbee

That from my friend Bob Gallagher, now a retired Anglican priest in Liverpool.

Another college friend, Frank Cranmer, who has spent most of his life in the fields of law and politics, writes:

Whatever the defects of the EU – and they are many – to leave just strikes us as barmy. Apart from anything else, London is the biggest financial centre in Europe, we depend on exporting financial services to balance our visible trade deficit and, once we leave, it’ll be much, much harder for our financial institutions to trade in Europe.

We both think that the vote went the way it did for three reasons. The first is that people outside London (and Scotland, which has its own agenda) simply haven’t experienced much in the way of the perceived economic benefits of EU membership. The second is a desire to kick politicians generally – of whatever party – in the teeth: even dedicated, lifelong Conservative and Labour voters tend increasingly to regard politicians at Westminster of whatever party as a bunch of spoilt, self-interested brats. Thirdly, as was pointed out in a very good editorial in, of all places, the Jewish Chronicle, the EU commissariat is perceived as impossibly arrogant and remote, merely telling people to shut up and take what Brussels reckons is good for them – and we’re afraid that there’s more than a grain of truth in that perception. And it wasn’t helped by a disastrous campaign on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn was particularly useless; and the level of debate rarely rose above the level of a school playground spat.

So here we are, on the way out. The likelihood is that we’ll end up as members of the EEA, still bound by almost all of the existing and future EU Directives but without any influence on their content. Alternatively, we go it alone – doing precisely what, God knows. As to passports on the Tweed, who knows? A much more serious issue is border controls in Ireland, where the border passes through people’s farms in some places.

And for a third view, here’s one from someone born in England but living in another EU country. I’ve never met her face to face, but we’ve been online friends for more than 25 years, half her lifetime and a third of mine. And I strongly recommend that you read it to the end, especially if you’re not in the UK: This is Cyprus…: Cyprus, the EU and Brexit

Well, that’s what some of my English friends think of it. As for me, I’m old enough to remember when the British wanted to join the EU (or the Common Market, as it was in those days), and President Charles de Gaulle of France blackballed them with a resounding “Non!”. This inspired the composition of the song All Gall, which is perhaps particularly poignant right now.

Eyetie, Benelux Germany and me
That’s my market recipe.

As I said, I don’t have a dog in this fight; what the Brits do is their business. Perhaps we might even gain from it, if the British are looking for new markets once Europe is closed to them, they might reinstate the system of Commonwealth preferences, and that could benefit South Africa — our wines could be much more competitive than French or German or Portuguese or Bulgarian ones. We might even be able to sell our sparking wines as champagne and our dessert wines as sherry.

That is, of course, if England doesn’t decide to hold another referendum and leave the Commonwealth as well.

And I’m not sure that Britain has much to market anywhere else since Maggie Thatcher killed their manufacturing industry and turned them into a nation of hairdressers.


UK trip 10 May 2005: Whitehaven to Girvan

Continued from UK trip 9 May 2005: Gobowen to Whitehaven | Hayes & Greene family history

We woke up to a beautiful view over the sea, with the village of Lowca in the foreground, and St Bees Head in the distance.

Lowca, Cumbria, with Whitehaven harbour and St Bees Head in the distance. 10 May 2005

Lowca, Cumbria, with Whitehaven harbour and St Bees Head in the distance. 10 May 2005

After breakfast we drove back through Whitehaven to Wasdale Head, where Val’s grandmother, Mattie Pearson, had told her was the highest mountain, the deepest lake, the smallest church, and the biggest liar, but he’s dead.


Wastwater, Cumbria, 10 May 2005

The highest mountain in England is Scafell Pike, and and Wastwater is the deepest Lake. We went to see the smallest church, St Olaf’s, but we could not see a tombstone for the biggest liar.

St Olaf's Church at Wasdale Head -- said to be the smallest church in England 10 May 2005

St Olaf’s Church at Wasdale Head — said to be the smallest church in England 10 May 2005

We returned to Whitehaven, passing the nuclear power station at Sellafield, which looked rather ominous, like the one in Wales we had seen, which had been two concrete cubes. We drove through St Bees, and took photos of a statue of St Bega.

St Bega.

St Bega.

According to legend, St Bega was the daughter of an Irish king, living some time between AD 600 and 900. She refused to marry the man of her father’s choice and fled in a small boat. She landed at the place now named St Bees after her, and lived as a hermit, caring for the local people. When she moved on, she left behind her arm ring. A few centuries later a male monastery was built there, and the monks kept her arm ring as a relic, which was lost when English monasteries were closed at the order of King Henry VIII.

St Bees, Cumbria

St Bees, Cumbria

After the closing of the monastery the story became more garbled, and more details were added, including the story that when she landed she approached the Lord of Egremont, asking for land to build a monastery. He promised her as much land as was covered by snow the next day. The next day was midsummer, but it snowed.

Whitehaven, from St Bees Head

Whitehaven, from St Bees Head

We stopped above Whitehaven and took photos over the town and the harbour, which had once been the third port of England, but now no longer even runs ferries to the Isle of Man, which could be seen on the western horizon. We went to Michael Moon’s book shop, and bought a Whitehaven guide and directory for 1901, which was quite expensive, but also had quite a lot of information in it. Val sent an SMS on her cell phone to Jethro to wish him happy birthday. We took photos of Scotch and Irish streets, where the Ellwood and Pearson families had lived at various times.



We went on our way, driving through winding country lanes to Keswick, where we had lunch at an Indian restaurant, the Royal Bengal, which was the closest one to the car park. They did a good lamb breyani, and had a chatty waiter from Goa.

From Keswick we headed north again, past Lake Bassenthwaite, though we only caught glimpses of it through the trees, and went through Mealsgate, where another of Val’s ancestors, Isabella Carr, had been born, and then drove through Carlisle, where we got a bit lost as the signposting was bad, and we kept getting in the wrong traffic lanes. We drove past Wigtown Bay, and up to Girvan, with its astonishing Ailsa Craig, a round mound over 1000 feet high sticking out of the sea, which I did not remember from my previous visit in 1967. If anything deserved to be called a “mump”, that did.

Ailsa Craig, off the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland, near Girvan. 10 May 2005

Ailsa Craig, off the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland, near Girvan. 10 May 2005

We looked for a place to stay, and found one a little way out of town on the way we had come
in, a bed and breakfast in a farmhouse, which was rather more expensive than some of the others we had been in, at £30 per person per night. It also turned out to offer less, as there was no tea and coffee making equipment. And, like most of the bead and breakfast places we had stayed at, there was no table where one could write, or put a laptop computer.

We went back down to the town and looked at the cemetery near the beach, where I found the graves of Thomas and Stanley Hannan without difficulty, and took photos of them with the digital camera. The inscriptions were a little more difficult to read than they had been on my last visit 38 years ago, when Willie Hannan had brought us down from Glasgow. We looked at some of the other graves, and found one more recent one of McCartneys, then went to the harbour, and took photos of the town from the jetty.

Girvan harbour, Ayrshire, Scotland

Girvan harbour, Ayrshire, Scotland

At the harbour we also watched a swan swimming in the sea, and gradually paddling into the harbour entrance.

Swan swimming from the open sea into Girvan harbour 10 May 2005

Swan swimming from the open sea into Girvan harbour 10 May 2005

We drove round the town and found Duff Street, where the Hannans had lived, but the house they had lived in had been demolished and turned into a builders yard or something similar. We then looked for something to eat, most most of the places were closed, and it was deceptively light, with summer time, and the sun setting only at about 9:00 pm, so it felt much earlier than it actually was. But there was a kebab and pizza place, so we got kebabs, and took them back to the guesthouse and ate them in the bedroom.

Continued at UK trip 11 May 2005: Girvan to Edinburgh | Hayes & Greene family history.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

Independent Scotland: rhetoric and reality

The news and social media have recently been full of this week’s referendum on whether Scotland should be independent.

ScotFlagOne of the things that has struck me about it is the dire predictions of disaster for an independent Scotland from those opposed to independence, yet most of them are not on record as having opposed the independence of several other recently independent countries on similar grounds. Why are they opposed to independence for Scotland, yet not to independence for some of the following countries?

Country Area Population

30,265 sq miles

5.295 million

Czech Republic

30,450 sq miles

10.52 million


24,938 sq miles

2.013 million


18,933 sq miles

5.414 million


19,767 sq miles

3.829 million


21,851 sq miles

4.253 million


11,720 sq miles

2.074 million


7,827 sq miles

2.06 million

I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on whether Scotland should be independent or not. I’m not voting and I don’t live there. But I am struck by the spuriousness of some of the arguments for a “No” vote, and the predictions of disaster. Have such disasters struck the other states on the list above?

I can see some good arguments for a “No” vote: the main one is that Scottish independence would be bad for the rest of the UK, because it would condemn the rest of the UK to having a Tory government in perpetuity. Perhaps the answer to that would be to have independence for Wales for a start, and perhaps Cornwall, Mercia, Wessex, Bernicia, Deira, etc, and and leave London and the “home” counties to do their merry little Tory thing.

Another utterly spurious argument was that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move its head office to London. If it did such a thing, I hope that it would change its name. And if I were a Scot, and had an account with it, I would certainly take my custom elsewhere.

I wonder where Slovenians do their banking?

Ocean-going swan

This post on Cherie’s Place | The Swan reminded me of the time we saw an ocean-going swan majestically sailing into Girvan harbour.

It was taken when we were on holiday in the UK five years ago, and visited Girvan, on the west coast of Scotland, where my maternal ancestors came from.

Now the US bullies Scotland

When Barack Obama became president of the US, some of us hoped that among the changes we were urged to believe in would be the US abandoning its role as self-appointed bully of the world.

But it seems that this was a change we could not believe in.

Laurence White: Lockerbie case has more to do with politics than justice – Laurence White, Columnists –

The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is equally convinced. Indeed, such is his fury at the release of al-Megrahi, that he wrote a letter to the man who set him free, Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, in such vitriolic terms it is a wonder it did not spontaneously burst into flames when exposed to the open air.

There can seldom have been such a missive sent from the security services of one country to a its friendliest and longest standing ally. He described the decision to release al-Meghrahi as making a “mockery of the rule of law”.

FBI director rips release of Lockerbie bomber – Terrorism-

‘Your action,’ he wrote MacAskill, ‘makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution.’

He ended the Lockerbie letter with a frustrated question: ‘Where, I ask, is the justice?’

Perhaps he should ask where the justice was when William C Rogers did not spend any time in jail at all. Doesn’t that make a mockery of the grief of the families that lost their own on 3 July 1988, just six months before the Lockerbie crash?

Are there no limits to US hypocrisy and bullying?

Celtic spirituality

At various times I have come across and even got involved in discussions about Celtic spirituality and the Celtic Church, topics that seem to be very popular in certain circles.

One of the things that surprised me was the misinformation and disinformation circulating about the topic. People expressed interest in the Celtic Church, but when they came to give reasons for their interest, the reasons were often spurious, and their understanding of the Celtic Church was often completely a-historical.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace for giving a pointer to this article, which gives a good historical summary: Celtic Spirituality: Just what does it mean? [Thinking Faith – the online journal of the British Jesuits]

But what would St Patrick – arguably the most famous Celtic saint – make of the practices and beliefs called ‘Celtic Spirituality’ today? Liam Tracey OSM examines whether the Celtic church was really anything like the romantic picture often painted of it.

Tracey says of this phenomenon:

What is so attractive about these long forgotten figures and cultures? Why has there been such a remarkable renaissance in interest in what ultimately is a small windswept island on the Western fringes of Europe? It’s hard to know and one sometimes gets the impression in looking at the phenomenon that is called ‘Celtic Spirituality,’ that what you are encountering is a screen on which is projected many contemporary desires, anxieties and preoccupations, little to do with the past and more especially with the past of these islands. Of course, one of the major problems with many of these treatments of things ‘Celtic’ is the lack of historical awareness that groups all manner of practices and writings together, with little reference to the social, religious and political context of the past and a failure to note that the same thing, seen as ‘Celtic’ was happening right throughout Western Christianity.

Scottish Presbyterians, have, of course, long been interested in Celtic Christianity, and may have been partly responsible for the popularity of the topic, because it was Irish missionaries who first took Christianity to Scotland, and in fact the Scots were originally immigrants to Scotland from Ireland, displacing the native Picts. Calvinists are not usually given to naming churches after saints, but Celtic saints, like St Columba and St Mungo are exceptions, and one sometimes finds Presbyterian churches named for these saints.

Anglo-Catholics, too, have sometimes stressed the role of the Celtic Church in evangelising the heathen Anglo-Saxon invaders, to diminish the idea of the Church of England’s dependence on Rome. The Roman mission to Kent, led by St Augustine of Canterbury, cannot be denied, but it was mostly Celtic missionaries who evangelised the northern English.

All this is interesting from the point of view of church history, especially if one lives in the British Isles, or is a member of a Christian denomination that had its origins there. It has even been made the subject of a popular historical novel, Credo by Melvyn Bragg.

But it is also interesting missiologically.

An interesting book to read is The coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England by Henry Mayr-Harting (London, Batsford, 1991). ISBN: 0-7134-6589-1. It gives a good example of premodern mission methods, and the differences and similarities between the methods used by Celtic and Roman missionaries. They were far more similar to each other than either were to modern mission.

As with Kievan Rus some centuries later, mission began with royal courts. It was King Oswald, who had just united Deira and Bernicia into the kingdom of Northumbria who asked for a missionary. He had become a Christian before he had become king, while he was living among the Irish. The first missionary proved unsuitable, so Oswald chose another, Aidan, who established a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne. Though he was bishop of the Northumbrians, he appointed an abbot to rule the monastery to whom he himself, as a monk, was subject. This was a characteristic of Celtic Christianity that has often been distorted in modern telling.

Both the Irish and English societies, like that of Kievan Rus, were warrior and tribal societies, with economies based partly on trade, and partly on conquest and looting. In such a society a “royal mission” can seem almost a contradiction in terms. The kings in such a society were warlords whose authority in the eyes of their followers was based, at least in part, on their success in conquest. After a war raid, the warriors would return with their booty and have a feasts to celebrate. The generosity of kings in giving such feasts for their victorious followers was what cemented the bonds between leader and followers. Today we would call it “organised crime”.

Christianity, with its ethic of love and meekness, hardly seemed calculated to appeal to such people. Yet it did appeal, and, once accepted, it transformed the societies into something else. Prince Vladimir of Rus, for example, abolished capital punishment, and though he still gave feasts and banquets, he invited the poor and weak, and not just the strong, the warriors.

The contrast between the royal courts and monasteries was perhaps significant in this. Many of the monks, including the abbots of important monasteries, refused to ride horses, but rode donkeys. Monasticism was thus a counterbalance to royal power. And several kings in that era retired to monasteries in their old age.

Monastic missionaries in the medieval period seemed to use similar methods, from the forests of northern Russia to the British Isles, and south into the mountains of Ethiopia. The monastic missionary was

  • the exorcist, delivering people from the power of evil spirits
  • the angel, living the angelic life, constant in prayer
  • the healer, taking no money
  • the lion tamer, protecting people from dangerous wild animals

And, unlike modern medical missionaries, they did not heal by building clinics; they healed through prayer, fasting, the sign of the cross, holy water, saliva and miracle-working ikons.

I’ve sometimes wondered what might have happened if the court of King Shaka in Zululand had he had a missionary like St Aidan in Oswald’s court, rather than the post-Enlightenment missionaries with their many words and rationalising arguments.

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