A Fun New Game

The UK government has recently brought back an old idea about plastering “Funded by the UK government” on lots of things in Scotland, with a big Union flag somewhere.

This is supposed to make us forget about the various disasters that the UK govt seem to be hoping will just miraculously disappear by themselves.

However, sticking “Funded by the UK government” on lots of things does seem like a fun idea. Anyone can play, it’s free and it doesn’t take up much of your time.

For example, here are 11 of them I managed to knock out in lunch break. Feel free to download.

Scotland’s Missing Histories – Episode 2 – Mairi Mhor nan Oran (with Liz MacRae Shaw)

Maira_Mhor_nan_OranAnd when I am in the boards
my words will be a prophecy.
They will return, the stock of the crofters
Who were driven over the sea.

And the aristocratic ‘beggars’
will be routed as they (the crofters) were.
Deer and sheep will be carted away
and the glens will be tilled;

A time of sowing and a time of reaping,
and a time to reward the robbers.
And the cold ruined houses
will be built up by our kin

Over the years I have had many conversations in which there has been the complaint that large chunks of Scottish history, both events and people, have been left out of our education.

I therefore thought that, in addition to our other shows,  it was about time that some of these stories and people should get some more publicity, and so here is the second in a new series of podcasts- Scotland’s Missing Histories.

For the second episode I spoke with author Liz MacRae Shaw about the life of a woman so remarkable that they named her several times – Mairi Mhor nan Oran, Mairi Mhor, Big Mary of the Songs, Mary MacPherson and others.

Liz wrote a biography of a woman who lived through and fought against, and then to reverse the highland clearances. Mary also went to prison despite very possibly being innocent, and did something that Beyoncè et al tend to do these days long before it was normal, Mhairi’s was not a normal life.

Mairi Mhor 1

Hope you enjoy…

You can download here if you right click THIS LINK and “save as”

You can listen to the show online at its web page or you can subscribe with itunes. We can alse be found on youtube and on facebook too.

These podcasts are independently minded and independently funded, you can help to keep them going by making a donation.

If there is any story from Scottish history that you feel people need to know more about, leave a note in the comments or email me and I will try to put something together.

Independence Can Be Difficult, Except When It Isn’t (But We’re Not Mentioning That)

This morning I came across this…

Succession of secession holds no template for success

Be it Scotland or South Sudan, Kurds or Catalans, the nationalist dream of independence is often tempered by a harsh reality

BUKIobwCYAAKGqQ.jpg largeIt’s more of a list than an article and the bizarre nature of it is apparent from the beginning…

Nobody would dream of suggesting similarities between supporters of Scottish independence and the crack-brained inhabitants of the anomalous “dukedom of Burgundy” in south London who secede from the UK in the uproarious 1949 Ealing Studios comedy classic, Passport to Pimlico.

Most importantly, the Pimlico palaver ended happily with a negotiated deal,… But as Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists are doubtless aware, past and present secession movements around the world have not usually enjoyed such cosy outcomes.

The author Simon Tisdall then goes on to list some nations which have separated or have separation movements and which had problems.

The thing I find puzzling about the article is the connection of any of these places to the current situation in Scotland and the reason for only selecting countries that have had problems for his article rather than looking at succesful ones too.

Why doesn’t he want to mention the list of countries that have gained independence from the United Kingdom, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, for example.

He could have also mentioned Norway and Sweden who split up and it didn’t seem to do them any particular harm.

Obviously looking for full marks in alliteration, rather than full marks for having a cogent point, he divides it all into 3 groups, Secession Successes, Secession Setbacks and Secession Successions, all of which seem to be a bit mixed-up.

For example, The Czech Republic and Slovakia are mentioned in passing in the introduction but he doesn’t even put that one in the “Successes” part.

The only point I can think he is trying to make is “Ooooohhh Independence Baaaaad”.

You’d probably expect better from an assistant editor of the guardian but hey-ho. He has written other articles about national international affairs in which he seems to misrepresent or not know what was actually going on.

For example, he seems to believe that it was Thatcher that convinced Bush Sr to attack Iraq in 1990. I’m dubious about that but there’s a (very) outside possibility that it is true. However, what he goes on to say…

Bush got the message eventually, announcing that he was “drawing a line in the sand”. Despite entreaties from Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and others to allow an Arab solution, Bush told Saddam to get out or face military action. In the event, Saddam was evicted in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm – the first Gulf war.

…neatly skips over the fact that Saddam offered to withdraw but was ignored and the attack went ahead anyway.

He goes on…

a4_booHer period in office saw a series of momentous global challenges, culminating in the impending implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war.

In much of this, Thatcher’s Britain was often intimately involved. Despita4_booe the rhetoric of subsequent prime ministers, it was perhaps the last time that fading British power really did punch above its weight.

Now, nobody would dream of suggesting similarities between Simon Tisdall and the crack-brained loons at Fox News and their my-country-right-or-wrong rants, but I think that last part that I put in bold seems to be what he really worries about – the secession of Scotland probably won’t be too good for that fading British power.

That might well be why he wrote an article listing as many negatives as he could think of sticking “Scottish Nationalists” into it somewhere, however spuriously.

Great Missing The Point Moments In History – 6 – Most People, President Included

This “missing the point” episode is a little different from the others in the series in that this time, it was the majority of people who missed the point.

1385main_MM_Image_Feature_17_rs4Giovanni Schiaparelli was born today in 1835.

Schiaparelli was an astronomer and a historian. His most famous discovery was of what he called “canali” on Mars and here is where the problem begins. “Canali” could mean “channels”, as in river channels, or “canals” is in man/alien-made. It was  translated into English as “canals” – and that word implies something that has been constructed and is artificial.

People around the world took this as evidence of life on Mars and subsequently all kinds of theories sprung up, books were written, maps were published, and all of these, without meaning to exaggerate, were utter bollocks. Some of these were even written by astronomers who in other areas were extremely successful, such as Percival Lowell.

Nevertheless, in an age where telescopes were not yet powerful enough to disprove the outlandish theories that had been constructed around the mistranslation, there were many true believers.

The best part of this story is that it provides a good example to point to when we would like to show that our (sic) leaders have any better idea what is going on than anyone else.

This example came when the story was finally disproved by the Mariner missions taking photos of Mars from closer in. Apparently, when Lyndon Johnson was shown the first pictures the first thing he said was “But where are the canals?”.

It would have been rather interesting to watch the presidential aides trying to explain that without offending him.

The Scottish Independence Podcast 17 – Lorna Waite

928008e0-c274-4489-8084-393746de259dThe Scottish Independence Podcast is back after a little break and I hope to have the regular Wednesday = Scottish Independence Podcast, Sunday = For A’ That podcast up and running for the forseeable future.

For this 17th episode I spoke with poet Lorna Waite , author of The Steel Garden, and we had a few topics of conversation.

Firstly we speak about Lorna, herself and her work, and why she believes that any division between the cultural and economic reasons given for independence are false.

We talked about the role of women in the Indy debate and also the more unpleasant colonial aspects of the union, and how we might combat the lack of self-respect that those colonial problems have created in Scotland.

Language got a look in as we spoke about t9780956628343he historical suppression of both the Gaelic and Scots language.

Lorna is also a Rangers supporter and in the second part of the conversation we moved on to talk about a topic that I began with Kris Kujawa in a previous podcast, and talked about how the debate is playing out among football supporters, this time specifically amongst Rangers fans.

We didn’t come up with the brightest prospects in that bit.

As usual this is direct download link (right click and “save as”)

Or you can listen on the show’s homepage.

Or you can subscribe and get it on itunes.


Not Always The Most Romantic Day

Something nice for Valentine’s day I think…

It is so often said that war is natural part of human behaviour that many people just accept it. Conflict or disagreement certainly might be, but full-on war is a different matter.

Most people know about the 1914 Christmas Truce in WW1 when the British and German soldiers played football and exchanged gifts (note for some American readers – WW1 started in 1914, not 1917 and WW2 started in 1939, not 1941).

This is usually presented as a one-off – a freak occurrence, but that simply isn’t true. It also happened in 1915 with the Germans and the French and in 1916 there was a truce on the Eastern front.

When I was at school and computers were in their 64k stage we were given a programme to play around with in one history lesson. Extremely basic though it was, the idea was that you were the British General deciding what tactics you could use to defeat the Germans in World War 1 given the tactics and equipment of the time.

The trick was that although it was possible to win the game, it wasn’t possible to do it without a bloodbath on both sides. I think it in its own way, it was meant to be a little anti-war statement.

However, the game didn’t give you the option of simply not attacking and not attacking was the way that many people survived in World War One.

In the earlier stages of the war informal truces sprung up all over the place. Both sides would aim artillery far and wide, this was understood as an offering of peace and reciprocated. In many places it then became a kind of game. Snipers would aim to miss but in a showing-off ‘look what I can hit’ way. This was partly to pass the time and partly to warn that if the truce was broken then there was a capability of reprisal. Contrary to popular belief the conflict was very low-intensity in many places at different times. There are many eyewitness accounts of the soldiers apologising to each other for firing too near.


This changed of course when the officers – the ones far removed from the front line that is – heard about it. They were appalled by this sort of behaviour and devised new tactics like surprise raids and so on which destroyed the fragile trust that opposing soldiers had built up.

After the war of course it was the generals that had insisted on the continuation of mass random slaughter that were awarded medals and had statues of each other erected. Of the officers in the field who insisted on pressing on, well, many of them were shot in the back by their own side as they advanced toward the opposing army.

In many societies around the world in pre-industrial times the object of war was not the genocide of the opposing group but rather the humiliation. From some of the Native Americans to societies in Africa, actual fatalities were very unusual. Some sources even describe what is essentially a high-intensity game of tag (involving a smack with a stick). In other places a tit-for-tat, one of yours for one of ours kind of conflict often persisted over a long time but without an eruption into absolute warfare.

It may be that there is a part of our genetics that leads us toward conflict but it is certainly not the cause of the mass slaughters that have happened through history. Rome wanted to conquer, other groups wanted to live and let live. Genghis Khan would wipe out thousands, other groups at the time didn’t.

It is demonstrably untrue that the Romans and other groups throughout history that have and are conducting mass slaughter and conquest on the genocidal scale are genetically diverse enough from those living next to them to have a different set of genetic imperatives, so it must be societal conditions that lead to this kind of behaviour. And as we all know, societal conditions can change.

Why mention all this today?

Today is an anniversary. Not valentines day, but the anniversary of an atrocity carried out by British and American forces in World War 2 – the bombing of Dresden which occurred on the night of the 13th/14th February 1945 when the war was nearing its end. Dresden was not regarded as a strategically important city, which is why it hadn’t been bombed up until then. Russian troops were also closing in on the city.

The BBC, in their ‘On This Day‘ section are showing the report from 1945 and there is a little section which says..

The Dresden raid caused a public outcry. Even Winston Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, tried to dissociate himself from it. However, they miss an important part out. They say that explosives and ‘incendiary bombing-of-dresdenbombs’ were dropped, which is true. What they don’t say is phosphorus was dropped – a chemical weapon. Eyewitnesses reported that the temperature was so hot in some places that in the wreckage of homes were found puddles of metal that had once been pots and pans.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote brilliantly about this in his book Slaughterhouse 5. He was a prisoner of war in Germany at the time.

Oh, and the BBC neglected to mention for a long time that white phosphorus was used recently in Fallujah. This was despite the fact many people were giving them evidence and urging them to. Even when they did mention it it was very brief and swiftly consigned to the memory hole.

Sincerely Not Yours

I recently downloaded A Short History of Scotland by Andrew Lang (free audio book version, get it here).

monty-python-holy-grail-clip-clop-300wThere are a few things I could say about the book, as much of it is surely contentious.

Firstly, there are definitely many things in there that the modern historian would take issue with in terms of how it is framed. Secondly, it is an outdated style in the subject, in that large sections, particularly in the early parts, tend just to be names of rulers, dates, treaties and so on and how titles changed hands over the years. This makes it somewhat dry. Thirdly, when the traditional story or legend played a part in the story this is just given as fact without analysis e.g. (though I’m paraphrasing a touch) “…and then this miracle happened with St Thingummy and consequently this next thing happened.”

However, given the recent discussion about the differing legal points of view on the actual existence of Scotland, there was a little passage I found rather interesting that I’ve decided to show you…

In 924 the first claim by an English king, Edward, to the over-lordship of Scotland appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The entry contains a manifest error, and the topic causes war between modern historians, English and Scottish. In fact, there are several such entries of Scottish acceptance of English suzerainty under Constantine II, and later, but they all end in the statement, “this held not long.” The “submission” of Malcolm I to Edmund (945) is not a submission but an alliance; the old English word for “fellow-worker,” or “ally,” designates Malcolm as fellow-worker with Edward of England.

This word (midwyrhta) was translated fidelis (one who gives fealty) in the Latin of English chroniclers two centuries later, but Malcolm I held Cumberland as an ally, not as a subject prince of England. In 1092 an English chronicle represents Malcolm III as holding Cumberland “by conquest.”

I am pointing all this out not to claim that Lang or other historians are right or wrong on the matter, but rather to show that legal jiggery-pokery and the importance of defining terms is not a new thing in the history of the struggles between Scotland and England.

Maybe Salmond was right when he said the Edinburgh Agreement is a very important document because it sets out certain rules that must be adhered to both before and after the referendum.

Then again, if they lose, the UK state might just ignore or reinterpret it however the hell they want, as is the norm for aggressor states in these circumstances.

A Bit Of Memory Hole Action

Well, not exactly, or even not at all, but it can’t be allowed to pass and I just liked that title.

Let me explain.

Last night I was listening to the podcast Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist from the BBC (at time of writing I am talking about the second episode down on that page with Doc Elizabeth Hagen). It is basically a science Q & A show.

Someone phoned in and asked a question about weapons being used to plant thoughts in people’s heads. Now, it sounded dodgy territory to me and the said Dr Karl went on to explain that the technology to do it in the way described doesn’t really exist. What the guy was saying sounded a wee bit conspiracy theorist for my liking.

Anyway, what got me interested after that was that Dr Karl then went on to mention the MK Ultra experiments and asked his friend if she knew what it was. She said “that was when they gave people LSD or something”.

Now, Dr Hagen is an anthropologist and also studies human evolution so she can’t be expected to know and therefore I am not suggesting conspiratorial cover-up or anything of the sort, I mean, he actually brought it up.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to add a few things to that summation of the experiments, so here are some of the facts from the wiki page…

  1. Project MKUltra, or MK-Ultra, was a covert, illegal human research program into behavioral modification run by the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Office of Scientific Intelligence. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and finally halted in 1973. The program used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy.MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people’s individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
  2. A precursor of the MKUltra program began in 1945 when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency was established and given direct responsibility for Operation Paperclip. The program recruited former Nazi scientists, some of whom studied torture and brainwashing, and several who had been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.
  3. Go to this link to see the goals of the experiments.
  4. The experiments were exported to Canada when the CIA recruited Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron. Cameron had been hoping to correct schizophrenia by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. He  was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 to carry out MKUltra experiments. In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power. His “driving” experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced coma for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were typically carried out on patients who had entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression, many of whom suffered permanently from his actions.

This little article is not an accusation, more of a correction. These experiments were a lot worse than giving people LSD to see what happened.

I am just uploading the audio clip now so you can hear it so this article will update in a minute.

There were three ABC documentaries about the experiments from the 70s. You can watch them here.

There is plenty of reading here too.