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The light in the Orkneys is so clear, so bright, so lucid, it feels like you are on top of the world looking though thin clouds into heaven.
It doesn’t even feel part of the UK: when you sail off the edge of Scotland by the Scrabster to Stromness ferry, you feel you are departing the real world to land in a magical realm.
Nowhere else on earth can you go to a place and see eight thousand years of continuous history in such a tiny space.
Skara Brae is what remains of a neolithic village, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids, kept secret underground until uncovered by a severe storm in 1850. You can walk in and sit down, look around at the stone walls, stone beds, stone cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Recognizably human people lived here, seeing this same landscape and coast, feeling the same wind on their faces that you do, their eyes resting on the doors, hearths and toilets (one in each dwelling).
This is ‘stone age’ but talking about such ages is a misnomer in the Orkneys where they had no appreciable bronze age nor iron age so proceeded from the non-use of one metal to the non-use of another in what is now the best preserved neolithic site in Europe.
The Orkneys have been so fascinating for so long that even the vandalism needs to be preserved. In Maeshowe burial mound you can see where Viking tourists who came to the monument, already ancient by their time, wrote graffiti about their girlfriends on the walls. They wrote in Norse runes.
The Orkney islands were the headquarters of the Viking invasion fleets, and to this day the Orkneys are the only place in the world besides Norway where the Norwegian national day is celebrated.
The islands are filled with Tolkeinesque place names like the Ring of Brodgar, the Brough of Birsay, the Standing Stones of Stenness. Sagas were born here, like that of the peaceable 12th century Earl of Orkney, treacherously assassinated and now known as St Magnus, after whom the cathedral is named.
Sagas were created here in living memory. This is where the British home fleet was at anchor and the German fleet still lies. The battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow in 1919 to await a decision on its future. The German sailors could not bring themselves to give up their ships; they opened the seacocks and scuttled them all. At low tide you can still see the rusting hulks of Wilhelmine ambitions to dominate Europe.
If the Orkneys sound bleak and rocky, that would be the wrong impression to leave. They have rich and fertile farming land with green plains rolling on under a pearl sky. People tell folk tales around the peat fires, drinking ginger-flavoured whiskey; an orange cat pads around the grain heaps in the Highland Park distillery, and the islands shimmer under the ‘simmer dim’ of nightless summer days. I should be there now.
With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year 2014, we asked a few of our staff members who hail from Scotland to share their thoughts about home. They responded with heartfelt opinions, patriotism, nostalgia, poems, and a little homesickness. Here are their thoughts about Scotland being voted Place of the Year:
* * * * *
If I had been given a penny each time I was asked in 2014 about the Scottish referendum, I could quite possibly have written off the UK national debt. However, while there was no financial gain in these chats, I did sense that something much more valuable was happening; Scotland was finding its voice again. In the referendum, political debate was no longer a pursuit reserved for a privileged few, but open to everyone. There are some famous traditions in Scotland like haggis, tartan, and 12 year old Speyside whiskies (and I love all three), but I think the most lasting Scottish tradition is a readiness to stand at the vanguard of change. Whether this is manifest in new inventions, poetry, or indeed in changing the nature of political debate, Scotland’s voice is often worth listening to.
I’m glad that Scotland’s story is still being told as part of the United Kingdom but I remain grateful for the events of 2014 and the good they can bring. This year has allowed us to take stock, and hopefully, in the words of Rabbie Burns, ‘To see oursels as ithers see us’ and to change for the better again. I may be biased, but Scotland will always be my place of the year.
– Alistair Shand, Marketing Executive, Oxford Journals, from Markinch
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I’m delighted that Scotland has been voted Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. If nothing else, I hope it means that people will think of something other than the stereotypical kilts, haggis, and bagpipes when they think of Scotland. It is a vibrant modern nation full of fantastic culture, rich history, and as we have seen this year, progressive politics. No matter which side of the referendum debate you were on, the level of engagement was really heartening, and spanned the generations; for the first time 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. While 55% of voters decided against independence, the referendum has elevated Scotland in the world’s consciousness, and that makes me one tremendously proud Scot.
– Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager, from Glasgow
* * * * *
It’s a great choice having Scotland as Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. Despite having lived away from Scotland for the best part of 20 years, I’m still a fiercely proud Scot (you can take the girl out of Scotland….). When people hear your accent for the first time, they always want to talk to you about Scotland. Where should they visit? (where do I start!) Is Glasgow scary (not in the least!), do you support Rangers or Celtic (neither, I’m a St Johnstone fan). It’s such a beautiful country, something of which I am reminded every time I take a trip across the border. The colours in autumn are spectacular, the natives are friendly, and its cities are vibrant, cosmopolitan places with plenty to explore. But if you asked me what I missed most about The Homeland, my answer might surprise you. It’s the drinking water. Crystal clear, straight out of the tap, and with no limescale — I’m homesick already.
– Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, from Grangemouth
* * * * *
I don’t think there are many other countries that provoke such a positive sense of belonging as Scotland. We may well have a reputation for being travellers, but no matter how far from ‘home’ or how long you’ve been away, that pride remains strong. When I think of home, it’s not the spectacular scenery that springs to mind (nor the much-maligned weather!), but the warm spirit, welcoming nature and humour of the people. We saw this in the summer of this year where Glasgow was the perfect host for the ‘Friendly Games’ and we see it annually in Edinburgh where the Fringe and Hogmanay are the focus of a global audience. However, my own favourite example of our welcoming, humorous people came in a football match against Italy in 2007 where the visiting Italians were treated to a rendition of ‘Deep fry your pizza. We’re gonna deep fry your pizza.’
— Paul Repper, Commissioning Editor, Primary Maths, Oxford Education, from Aberdeen
* * * * *
‘Ah dinna ken whit like your Scotland is. Here’s mines. National flower: the thistle. National pastime: nostalgia.’ — Liz Lochhead
In recent years, the whole world has caught a glimpse of my nostalgic Scotland. This is something we can all thank Alex Salmond for. As the referendum loomed, it seemed as though the drastic change in governance we were pursuing was based entirely on the first verse of ‘Flower of Scotland’. For those of you who may need a refresher in unofficial Scottish national anthems, this football fans’ favourite refers to Scots king Robert the Bruce sending Edward II of England ‘homewards, tae think again’.
Whichever way we voted in September, I’m pretty sure we Scots can all agree that our nation has been invented by nostalgics. We can wince all we like at Mel Gibson’s attempt at William Wallace, and shout down anyone who asks if we solely eat haggis and shortbread, but we’re just as guilty as the rest of you. I personally, having moved to England less than six months ago, have spun many a yarn about the mysterious land in the north, trying to appear exotic to my Oxford colleagues.
Scotland being chosen as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year warms my nostalgic tartan heart; I always welcome an excuse to quote Rabbie Burns and raise a glass to Caledonia.
— Kathleen Sargeant, Marketing Assistant, Oxford Journals, from Falkirk, Stirlingshire
* * * * *
I may be somewhat biased but I thought it fitting that Scotland was announced as Place of the Year 2014. In a shortlist dominated by war and varying degrees of civil unrest, Scotland was a beacon of progress and positive political involvement. In the lead up to the independence referendum, held in September, the people of Scotland engaged with their future and their choices in a way rarely seen today, with 97% of people registering to vote. It was amazing to see my relatively small country become the focus of worldwide attention, especially for such a positive reason.
– CJ Cook, Marketing Executive, Law Marketing, from Livingston (but an adopted Glaswegian)
* * * * *
Scotland is my favourite place in the world and I’ve never found a bunch of friendlier people than those you find in Glasgow. Our sausage is square, our squash is called juice, and our pigeon holes are ‘dookits’. You’re guaranteed to make a friend if you travel any distance on public transport. My favourite bit about going home to Scotland is standing in the queue to board the plane. I never truly realise how much I miss the accent until I’m standing there, surrounded by people who over pronounce their ‘r’s’ in the same way I do. That’s when I know I’m nearly home.
– Jane Williams, Senior Marketing Executive, Medicine Marketing, from Inchinnan
Heading image: Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the ironies of the Scottish independence referendum is that Scotland is widely recognised to be a changed place despite the majority voting in favour of the union. It became clear during the course of 2014 that something significant was happening. Scotland witnessed levels of public engagement and debate never before seen. Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Glasgow 1960’ comes to mind. Returning to Glasgow ‘after long exile’, MacDiarmid’s narrator encounters packed trams heading for Ibrox, the home of Rangers football club, but discovers that the crowds are going to listen to a debate between ‘Professor MacFadyen and a Spainish pairty’ and that newspapers with headlines ‘Special! Turkish Poet’s Abstruse New Song’ were selling ‘like hot cakes’.
The Scottish Question may not have been debated on quite so elevated a level but debates were conducted the length and breadth of Scotland in a remarkably civil, engaging, and open manner. Those who sought to portray these debates as something sinister could do no better than refer to a professional politician who had an egg thrown at him while he addressed meetings on top of an Irn Bru crate. The dull, limited, predictable, binary debate of the conventional press contrasted with the expansive, lively, and engaging discussions that took place in often novel venues in every nook and cranny of Scotland. The Scottish Question, as debated by the public, was not restricted to a narrow constitutional question but became a genuine dialogue about what kind of place Scotland should seek to become. The referendum started a process that has not been halted by the outcome of a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country, the formal question that provoked this all-embracing national conversation.
The result of referendum and reaction to it has been in stark contrast to the referendum on devolution 35 years ago. In 1979, Scots had narrowly voted for a very limited form of devolution – 51.6% in favour on a turnout of 63.7% – but the measure on offer was not implemented as it failed to achieve the weighted majority demanded by Parliament at Westminster. The expectation in the run-up to that referendum had been that a decisive majority would vote for devolution. The slight numeric majority hid a defeat in expectations. Expectations were very different in the months leading up to September 18th this year. Early in 2014, opponents of independence thought that they might push support for independence below 30% and were still convinced that it would win less than 40% only a few weeks before Scots went to vote. In the event, 55.3% voted for the union on a record turnout of 84.6% but it has been the 45% that has been celebrated as victory. It has been the membership of the Yes parties, that has increased dramatically, with the membership of the Scottish National Party now dwarfing that of the other Scottish parties. With just under 100,000 members, the SNP can claim to be the only mass party in the UK today. Politics is an expectations game and supporters of independence knew that they had a ‘mountain to climb’, in the words of the chair of the official Yes campaign.
As opinion polls narrowed towards the end of the campaign, a ‘Vow’ was signed by the three main UK party leaders promising substantially more devolution while protecting Scotland’s share of public spending. This means that even the debate around the narrowed constitutionalist understanding of the Scottish Question will continue. More powers will be delivered with ramifications for the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland is a changed place but an answer to the Scottish Question remains as elusive as ever.
Headline image credit: Glencoe, Scotland panorama by Gil Cavalcanti. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
This is an excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction by Rab Houston. Although the book was published in 2009, long before the Scottish independence referendum, the thoughts Houston expresses in the conclusion on the future of the country certainly proved relevant in the Scotland of 2014.
What are the implications of the past for Scotland’s future? First, Scots retain a deeply embedded sense of history, albeit a selective one. Like others in the Anglo-Saxon world, they understandably seek identity, empathy, and meaning for their private present by researching family or local history and they want to know about wars and history’s celebrities. They are less interested in the public past that creates the context for the social and political present, including for Scotland a separate national church, a distinctive legal code, and a very different experience of government. This detachment may be linked to any number of factors — a preoccupation with individual personal authority, disenchantment with politics, secularization, and electronic communications — but its effects are clear. Yet Scots still feel themselves touched by history and that awareness is a strong part of their identity. Modern Scotland is solidly grounded on historical foundations and the continuity this provides helps in dealing constructively with change.
One manifestation of the public past is a ﬁrm civic sense, which helps Scotland’s communities to score highly in polls of the most desirable places to live in Britain. Coupled with this is the enduring importance of locality and all the variety and the non-national solidarities it implies. An important reason Scottish devolution has worked so well is that historically Scotland had less centralized government than England and there was an effective civil society: precisely those forms of association below and outside the apparatus of the state, such as churches, communities, and families, mediating between public institutions and private lives, which now so concern the modern West. The notion of civil society empowering citizens has appeal both to the New Right and to left-leaning communitarian ideas of voluntary association, because it insists that people cannot have rights without responsibilities and that individualism has to be tempered by acknowledgement of a common good. Based on their historic experience of government, Scots felt that central authority could and should intervene for benign ends, but that most power should be diffused.
This appreciation of civil society is not rose-tinted. Scotland’s history has a dark side of greed, social inequality and injustice, the oppression of women, children, and other races, and bigotry towards different faiths, all repulsive to modern sensibilities. In the present too, there has been sleaze (notably in Labour’s ‘one-party states’ in west-central Scotland), there is a legacy of social conservatism that may encourage ignorance and intolerance, and there are problems of drug and alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour, and crime, like anywhere in Britain. ‘The street’, once indicative of intimacy, has become a by-word for danger. Yet a vivid sense of the past, a ﬁrm national identity, and a strong civil society rooted in locality mark out both historic and modern Scotland.
History touches modern politics too, for as well as being Scottish, many Scots also feel British. The most important implication is that Scotland’s near-term future is unlikely to involve shunning community with the rest of Britain, because it has for hundreds of years been locked into a British paradigm. That does not mean Scots are always comfortable with their past or present relations with England, and they have never been slow to speak out when they perceive injustice. Less laudably, they have long played a ‘blame game’ against their neighbours. History shows they have a point, but to be a victim is to deny oneself agency. Better to accept how much has been gained from association with England, to recognize what is shared, to take justiﬁed pride in what is good about being different, and to change what is not.
The political implications of Union with England are still being played out three centuries on, albeit in a very different world. The component parts of Great Britain (and Ireland, both before and after independence in 1922) developed separately, but they also progressed together in ways that modiﬁed their experiences. In some regards, the parts have grown closer over time, but in important ways they remain different. All modern states are artifacts based on conquest and colonization, and laboriously created national solidarity (including Scottish, English, and British identity). Held together for centuries, the integrity of states everywhere is now maintained only precariously, their sovereignty and supposedly inviolable borders steadily eroded. Easy travel, immigration, trans-national crime, and global terrorism, capitalism, and environmental degradation are challenging and complicating our understandings of geography and politics. After 500 years of multi-national accretion, nation states, including Britain, are crumbling back into their component parts. Founded on centuries of uncertainty, experimentation, and compromise, the relations between Scotland and England remain open-ended.
During that time, Scotland has not been a backward version of England waiting to catch up, but something quite distinct. Politically, Scots have known what it is to be both independent and semi-detached in a way that is less true of Wales (whose institutions, if not its language, culture, and habits, were more completely assimilated) and wholly untrue of English regions since the early Middle Ages. Naturally the past should not determine the future, or we should never have shaken off the multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender. But history can liberate as well as limit and attempts to make a destiny that works with rather than against it are likely to be easier, more successful, and longer lasting. If one day Scotland did take the path of independence, it would be as much in tune with its history as would a future within the United Kingdom.
Image credit: Common Green, or ‘The Green’, Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
When one thinks of traditional Scottish music, one instrument usually comes to mind: the bagpipe. Although bagpipes are prominent in traditional music from Scotland, Scottish music branches far out beyond that. In light of Scotland receiving the title of Place of the Year for 2014, we’ve put together a brief playlist of music from Scotland, from chamber music to modern classical.
Here at Oxford University Press, we’re getting ready for the holiday season, and we were inspired by the new, twenty-first edition of the Atlas of the World to explore holiday traditions from around the world, including our 2014 Place of the Year, Scotland. Take a look at the map below to learn and see a little bit about the food, decorations, and other traditions of holiday celebrations taking place around the world at this time of year.
Image credit: Christmas lights on the tree in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC by Jonathan McIntosh. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
With Scotland voting on independence on 18 September 2014, the UK coalition government sought advice on the relevant law from two leading international lawyers, James Crawford and Alan Boyle. Their subsequent report has a central argument. An independent Scotland would be separatist, breaking away from the remainder of the UK. Therefore, the latter (known as restUK or rUK) would be the continuator state – enjoying all the rights and duties of the existing UK, while Scotland would be new state having none of rUK’s rights and especially no membership of any international organizations it enjoys now as part of the UK. The bargaining power of rUK as to what it might concede of the UK’s rights would be complete, e.g. with respect to a common currency. This legal opinion has created a confrontational atmosphere around the referendum vote and caused anxiety among Scottish voters about to ‘jump into the unknown’.
It is essential to unpack the distracting complexity of the expert international law professionalism of this advice. Firstly, Crawford and Boyle gloss over the actual legal circumstances of the contract of union between Scotland and England, in particular that the Union was a bargain among powers equal in the eyes of international law at that time. More specifically, the England which, with Wales, concluded the Treaty of Union is exactly the same entity standing opposite to Scotland now as then (leaving aside the North of Ireland which has the option under the Belfast Agreement of leaving the UK by referendum).
There is no international standard, in the event of a dissolution of a union, which can provide any objective criterion to determine that Scotland is the breakaway entity. In international law, recognition of new states is largely a matter of the political discretion of existing states. It depends on an international consensus, or lack of it, where political preference may or may not trump any possibly objective standard of political legitimacy, e.g. self-determination by democratic consent. The vast amount of state practice which Crawford and Boyle’s legal opinion displays is misleading insofar as there is, in fact, no definitive legal marker of guidance. This is shown by the fact that England is the continuator state because it is larger than Scotland. Legally, there has to be a continuator state. But since this obviously cannot be Scotland, it must be England. Even Scotland assumes this to be the case.
It is necessary to focus upon an international legal history of the individual states, rather than the more general international law offered by Crawford and Boyle. The Anglo-Scottish Union displays a phenomenon that Linda Colley has referred to as the composite state. This is where two or more sovereign nations agree to merge their highest governmental level institution (parliament) into a single state made up of several nations – a state-nation – but other lesser local institutions might remain. In the Europe of the 15th to the 17th century this was a common phenomenon, the most celebrated being in Scandinavia, involving Sweden, Denmark and Norway in a variety of partnerships from the Kalmar Union (1397) onwards. The logic of these partnerships was that they were always open to renegotiation. Now, this is precisely what the English generously recognize in the Edinburgh Agreement. The logic of the composite state does not cover the many cases in which a core nation forms itself into a state and then jealously guards its territorial integrity against dissident minorities, which are then regarded as separatist and destructive of national unity. It is possible that an aura of this type of scenario runs through the legal opinion of Crawford and Boyle, although they have to accept the consensual context of the advice they are being asked to give.
The real issues facing Scotland have to be confronted on a basis of equality and mutual consent in accordance with the international law established as apposite for this case. These issues are a matter of history, not merely that of the 17th-18th century, but also the evolution of the 1707 Treaty of Union (implemented through separate Acts of Union passed in the Scottish and English Parliaments) to the very recent past – especially the Thatcher years and the neo-liberal revolution in English-dominated UK politics. It has to be recognized that there are profound differences of social philosophy now between Scotland and England around the issue of neo-liberalism and the defense of community. These provide good reasons to revisit that 1707 bargain. This revisiting should be on the basis of complete equality. The sharing of common institutions of the United Kingdom, such as the currency, would have to be negotiated after reaching an agreement in which neither side – as so-called continuator state – would have a higher standing.
Traveling through Scotland, one is struck by the number of memorials devoted to those who lost their lives in World War I. Nearly every town seems to have at least one memorial listing the names of local boys and men killed in the Great War (St. Andrews, where I am spending the year, has more than one).
Many who served in World War I undoubtedly suffered from what some contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists have labeled ‘moral injury’, a psychological affliction that occurs when one acts in a way that runs contrary to one’s most deeply-held moral convictions. Journalist David Wood characterizes moral injury as ‘the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation’ and declares that it is ‘the signature wound of [the current] generation of veterans.’
By definition, one cannot suffer from moral injury unless one has deeply-held moral convictions. At the same time that some psychologists have been studying moral injury and how best to treat those afflicted by it, other psychologists have been uncovering the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for our moral convictions. Among the central findings of that research are that our emotions often influence our moral judgments in significant ways and that such judgments are often produced by quick, automatic, behind-the-scenes cognition to which we lack conscious access.
Thus, it is a familiar phenomenon of human moral life that we find ourselves simply feeling strongly that something is right or wrong without having consciously reasoned our way to a moral conclusion. The hidden nature of much of our moral cognition probably helps to explain the doubt on the part of some philosophers that there really is such a thing as moral knowledge at all.
In 1977, philosopher John Mackie famously pointed out that defenders of the reality of objective moral values were at a loss when it comes to explaining how human beings might acquire knowledge of such values. He declared that believers in objective values would be forced in the end to appeal to ‘a special sort of intuition’— an appeal that he bluntly characterized as ‘lame’. It turns out that ‘intuition’ is indeed a good label for the way many of our moral judgments are formed. In this way, it might appear that contemporary psychology vindicates Mackie’s skepticism and casts doubt on the existence of human moral knowledge.
Not so fast. In addition to discovering that non-conscious cognition has an important role to play in generating our moral beliefs, psychologists have discovered that such cognition also has an important role to play in generating a great many of our beliefs outside of the moral realm.
According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, quick, automatic, non-conscious processing (which he has labeled ‘System 1′ processing) is both ubiquitous and an important source of knowledge of all kinds:
‘We marvel at the story of the firefighter who has a sudden urge to escape a burning house just before it collapses, because the firefighter knows the danger intuitively, ‘without knowing how he knows.’ However, we also do not know how we immediately know that a person we see as we enter a room is our friend Peter. … [T]he mystery of knowing without knowing … is the norm of mental life.’
This should provide some consolation for friends of moral knowledge. If the processes that produce our moral convictions are of roughly the same sort that enable us to recognize a friend’s face, detect anger in the first word of a telephone call (another of Kahneman’s examples), or distinguish grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, then maybe we shouldn’t be so suspicious of our moral convictions after all.
The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.
The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/?p=75592&preview=true#sthash.aozalMuy.dpuf
In all of these cases, we are often at a loss to explain how we know, yet it is clear enough that we know. Perhaps the same is true of moral knowledge.
Still, there is more work to be done here, by both psychologists and philosophers. Ironically, some propose a worry that runs in the opposite direction of Mackie’s: that uncovering the details of how the human moral sense works might provide support for skepticism about at least some of our moral convictions.
Psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene puts the worry this way:
‘I view science as offering a ‘behind the scenes’ look at human morality. Just as a well-researched biography can, depending on what it reveals, boost or deflate one’s esteem for its subject, the scientific investigation of human morality can help us to understand human moral nature, and in so doing change our opinion of it. … Understanding where our moral instincts come from and how they work can … lead us to doubt that our moral convictions stem from perceptions of moral truth rather than projections of moral attitudes.’
The challenge advanced by Greene and others should motivate philosophers who believe in moral knowledge to pay attention to findings in empirical moral psychology. The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.
And if there is moral knowledge, there can be increased moral wisdom and progress, which in turn makes room for hope that someday we can solve the problem of war-related moral injury not by finding an effective way of treating it but rather by finding a way of avoiding the tragedy of war altogether. Reflection on ‘the war to end war’ may yet enable it to live up to its name.
Thanks to everyone who voted over the few weeks as we considered our 2014 Place of the Year longlist. Now that the votes are in, we’ve narrowed the nominees down to a shortlist of five, and we’d love your thoughts on those as well. You can cast your vote using the buttons and read a bit about each place and why they made the list below.
The highest peak in the United Kingdom is Ben Nevis, which is located in Scotland and measures 4,409 feet or 1,344 meters.
The Scottish referendum, held in September 2014, drew a staggeringly high percentage of the population and resulted in Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe.
Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine, was universally recognized as part of Ukraine until a referendum held in March 2014 resulted in Crimea voting to unite with Russia, a union that is not universally recognized and has caused controversy in Ukraine and the rest of the world.
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country.
Brazil was the host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro.
Ferguson is part of St. Louis County in Missouri, about twelve miles away from the county’s namesake city.
The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, and the protests that followed, sparked a worldwide conversation about race relations in summer 2014.
The Palestinian Authority was given control of the Gaza Strip by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2001.
Gaza has been the site of a great many disputes between Israel and Hamas. Most recently, the region saw fifty days of violence stretch through July and August of 2014.
Keep following along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous winners.
Image credit: Old, historical map of the world by Guiljelmo Blaeuw. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Immigration is an inflammatory matter and probably always has been. Immigrant groups, with few exceptions, have to endure the brickbats of prejudice of the recipient population. Emigration, by contrast, hardly troubles people — but the departure of one’s people is not a trifling matter. I wonder why these differential responses occur. It seems to me that humans are highly territorial and territory signifies resources and power. Immigration usually means sharing of resources, at least in the short-term, while emigration means more for those left behind and brings hope of acquiring even more from overseas in the long term. This might explain why those most needy of settled immigrant status — asylum seekers, the persecuted or denigrated, and the poor — are most resisted while those least in need of immigration status, such as the rich, are often welcomed.
Notwithstanding, consternation about migration it is rapidly leading to diverse, multiethnic and multicultural nations across the world. Many people dislike the changes this brings but it is hard to see what they are to do except change themselves. The forces for migration are strong, for example, globalization of trade and education, increasing inequalities in wealth and employment opportunities, and changing demography whereby rich economies are needing younger migrants to keep them functioning.
Whether you are a migrant (like me) or the host to migrants it is wise to remember that migration is a fundamental human behavior that is instrumental to the success of the human species. Without migration Homo sapiens would be confined to East Africa, and other species (or variants of humans — all now extinct) would be enjoying the bounties of other continents. Surely, migration will continue to bring many benefits to humanity in the future.
My special research interest is in the comparative health of migrants and their offspring, who together comprise ethnic (or racial, as preferred in some countries) minority groups. There is a remarkable variation in the pattern of diseases (and the factors that cause diseases) among migrant and ethnic groups and very often the minorities are faring better than the recipient populations. Probing these patterns scientifically, especially in the discipline of epidemiology, which describes and interprets the occurrence of disease in large populations, helps in understanding the causes of disease. There are opportunities to apply such learning to improve the health of the whole population; migrants, minorities and settled majority populations alike.
Let me share with you three observations from my research areas that help illustrate this point, one concerns heart disease and diabetes, another colorectal cancer, and the third smoking in pregnancy. Coronary heart disease (CHD) and its major co-disease type 2 diabetes (DM2) have been studied intensively but still some mysteries remain. The white Scottish people are especially notorious for their tendency to CHD. Our studies in Scotland have shown that the recently settled Pakistani origin population has much higher CHD rates than white Scottish people. Amazingly, the recently settled Chinese origin population has much lower rates of CHD than the white Scottish people. These intriguing observations raise both scientific questions and give pointers to public health. If we could all enjoy the CHD rates of the Chinese in Scotland the public’s health would be hugely improved.
Intriguingly, although colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes share risk factors (especially high fat, low fibre diet) we found that Pakistani people in Scotland had much lower risks than the white Scottish Group. This makes us re-think what we know about the causes of this cancer. In our scientific paper we put forward the idea that Pakistani people may be protected by their comparatively low consumption of processed meats (fresh meat is commonly eaten).
Might the high risk of CHD in Pakistani populations in Scotland be a result of heavier tobacco use? The evidence shows that while the smoking prevalence in Pakistani men is about the same as in white men, the prevalence in Pakistani women is very low. Smoking in white Scottish woman, even in pregnancy, is about 25% but it is close to nil in pregnant Pakistani women. This raises interesting questions about the cultural and environmental circumstances that maintain high or low use of tobacco in populations. These observations raise public health challenges of a high order — how can we maintain the cultures that lead to low tobacco use in some ethnic groups while altering the cultures that lead to high tobacco use in others?
The intermingling of migrants and settled populations creates new societies that provide innumerable opportunities for learning and advancement. While my examples are from the health arena, the same is true for other fields: education, entrepreneurship, social capital, crime, and child rearing to name a few. This historical perspective on human migration, evolution and advancement can benefit our health, as well as providing a foundation to contextualize the challenges and changes we face.
Heading image: People migrating to Italy on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea by Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy (Immigrati Lampedusa). CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
As voting on the Place of the Year shortlist continues, we’d like to spotlight a second contender in the race – Scotland. Scotland drew the world’s attention this year as a referendum was held for the country’s independence in September 2014. Test your knowledge of the country by answering the following questions.
As voting for the shortlist came to a close, Scotland took home the title of Oxford’s Place of the Year 2014. This region of the United Kingdom came into spotlight when nearly half its citizens fought to pass the Scottish independence referendum, which would have allowed Scotland to declare itself as an independent country.
But what happened in September wasn’t Scotland’s first effort to break away from the United Kingdom. Back in 1979, the majority of Scottish residents were in favor of devolution, which would pass the powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom over to the Scottish Assembly. However, despite the public favoring this move, only 32.9% of the electorate voted “Yes” to this referendum.
Then Scotland appealed for power again. In 1997, the second devolution referendum made way for the formation of the Scottish Parliament, which effectively gave Scotland control of its domestic policy. At an overwhelming majority nearing 75% of citizens and 45% of electorates in favor, the Scottish Parliament was established and held its debut session in July 1999.
After surpassing the other shortlist contenders — Ukraine, Brazil, Ferguson, and Colorado — Scotland undoubtedly marked the history books despite the referendum failing to pass. But as evident in Scotland’s history, this probably won’t be the last we hear of them.
Read up on our Place of the Year archive, and remember to check back for more posts about Scotland. Let us know what you think of this year’s Place of the Year in the comments below.
Featured headline image: Calton Hill. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.
With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year for 2014, we’re looking back at some of the key events that put Scotland in the news this year. News of the Scottish Independence Referendum dominated the headlines, and politicians, economists, and analysts discussed and debated Scotland’s role both in Europe and on the global market. However, a number of other important events also put Scotland in the news this year, including playing host to multiple sporting events, passing a bill that will legalize marriage in December 2014, and seeing the first female First Minister of Scotland take office. Here is a look back at Scotland in 2014, in pictures.
February 2014: Scottish Parliament votes in favor of same-sex marriage
In February 2014, Scottish Parliament votes overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. The bill received Royal Assent on 12 March, and will take effect in December 2014. (Image: Rainbow flag breeze by Benson Kua. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
June 2014: the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn
June 2014 marked the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which saw a victory for Scotland in the First War of Scottish Independence in 1314. (Image: Battle of Bannockburn from a 1440s manuscript of Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)
July-August 2014: the 2014 Commonwealth Games are held in Glasgow
The XX Commonwealth Games took place in July and August 2014 in Glasgow. Athletes and fans from all over the world descended on the city to compete for and cheer on their teams. Teams with the highest medal count were England, Australia, and Canada, with Scotland coming fourth. (Image: Commonwealth Games 2014 by Graham Campbell. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
September 2014: the Scottish Independence Referendum is held
After Scottish residents vote “no” in the referendum, Alex Salmond announced his resignation as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party. (Image: Alex Salmond in 2007 by the Scottish Government. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
September 2014: the Ryder Cup takes place at Gleneagles
Scotland held a second major international sporting event in 2014, the 40th Ryder Cup, which was held at the Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder in Perthshire. (Image: Gleneagles Hotel and grounds by Simon Ledingham. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
November 2014: Nicola Sturgeon succeeds Alex Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Alex Salmond as leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland after she was the only candidate to put their name forward in the party’s leadership election. She is the the first woman to hold either of these positions. (Image: Nicola Sturgeon by The Scottish Government. Open Government Licence v1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
December 2014: Dundee is named the UK's first UNESCO City of Design
In December 2014, Dundee became the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design, for its “diverse contributions to fields including medical research, comics, and video games,” according to BBC News. (Image: Midsummer night by Val Vannet. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
In British constitutional history, 2014 will undoubtedly be remembered for one thing and one thing only — the Scottish independence referendum. ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ was the deceptively simple question that veiled a far more complex reality. This complexity was revealed in the pre-election build-up as the three main parties offered concession upon concession in order to head-off a ‘Yes’ vote. As such, ‘No’ did not mean ‘no’ but a preference for ‘devo-max’ and a model of devolution that was ‘as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85% of the population’ as Gordon Brown put it. But what did the Scottish independence referendum really expose about the changing nature of politics?
This week’s recommendations by the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution (full control over income tax rates and bands, devolution of some element of VAT plus Air Passenger Duty, the devolution of responsibility for some welfare benefits, etc.) represents the latest but not the final stage in the post-referendum politics of devolution in the UK. Indeed, just hours after the Smith Commission had been published more than 100 English councils demanded more powers — ‘Its England’s turn now’ — and David Cameron committed the coalition government to publish an English votes plan by Christmas. English votes for English laws are not quite the same as the devolution of powers that is demanded by local authorities from Cornwall to Cumbria but it does suggest a need to stop — step back — and reflect upon the broader implications of the Scottish independence referendum. I’ve attempted to answer five questions below to help tease out some of the broader issues.
What did we learn?
We learnt a huge amount about democratic energy and participatory zeal. Doom and gloom about democratic apathy and public disengagement from politics was replaced with a vitality and verve that was almost tangible as every school hall, pub, and youth club was filled with debates about the pros and cons of independence. The lesson for the political parties and politicians is that public will engage in politics when they feel they have been given a meaningful role, a real choice, and a say in matters such as their country’s fiscal policy. The statistics speak for themselves: 4,283,392 people voted (85% turnout) and as Robert Crawford hoped, Scotland has emerged as a stronger country with an intensified (and globally admired) sense of itself as a democratic place.
What is the key challenge?
The Scottish independence referendum breathed new life into politics and the question for all the main political parties is how to sustain and channel that democratic energy in other ways and across the UK. This won’t be easy as the Scottish referendum tapped into a number of very deep historical and cultural issues in order to generate its energy but there must be some way to harness and replicate the civic energy and civic engagement that Scotland displayed with such pride. Put slightly differently, if the main political parties cannot offer some of the hope and belief that energized the referendum campaign on both sides then the more extreme populist parties will feast upon the political frustrations that currently exist.
Where does this leave us now?
Confused and divided. Confused in the sense of lacking any real understanding of what the United Kingdom is any more, both constitutionally and politically; divided in the sense that there is no shared agreement amongst the main parties about what is to be done. To some extent — and as James Mitchell highlighted, this is not a new situation for the UK but I would argue that the situation is now more extreme. It’s increasingly a unitary state in the very loosest sense of the term but the parties are divided on the best way to deliver a new sense of equilibrium within the system. More devolution to Scotland unleashes similar demands from other parts of the UK but the culture of Westminster and Whitehall lacks the capacity to deal with the constitution in a ‘joined-up’ manner. The current situation is therefore one of classically British ad hoc, unprincipled muddling through — with the recent devolution agreement between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the leaders of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority being a case in point.
Is the post-referendum UK experiencing a ‘constitutional moment’?
Yes, it probably is but this is the problem. The Scottish independence referendum was a ‘democratic moment’ in the sense that there was a bottom-up pressure for change that was accommodated by the democratic process. The post-referendum discussions and debates have, however, been undertaken at an elite level and the most telling evidence of this comes not in the form of the Smith Commission but in the work of William Hague’s committee on ‘a fair settlement that applies to all parts of the UK’. When announcing this committee the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that ‘it is also important we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance in our United Kingdom…we will say more about this in the coming days’. But so far these plans for ‘wider civic engagement’ have remained undisclosed. The idea of a national Citizens Assembly has been rejected and as a result the UK is experiencing an elite-driven top-down ‘constitutional moment’ but certainly not a ‘bottom-up public-led’ democratic moment.
What is the big issue that no one is talking about?
One of the most positive elements of the Scottish independence referendum had nothing to do with the quality of the debate, the inclusion of a cross-section of society, or the level or turnout. It had everything to do with the simple fact that two countries were able to decide upon their mutual futures through peaceful and democratic means. This was an independence referendum that was not driven by war, crisis or disaster; nor did it demand battle or bloodshed; and the results were peacefully accepted with grace and goodwill on both sides. In a world that too often seems bloodied and bowed by territorial politics maybe this is the ‘big issue’ that we should be talking about and learning from.
Heading image: Flags outside Parliament by Calum Hutchinson. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“When twelve-year-old Colt Humboldt’s dad drags the two of them from perfectly good Dallas to ancient Edinburgh for a “fresh start,” Colt knows e’s in for a long, boring summer. Fat chance. That very first night, the peculiar Alesone and her little brother Peer crawl out of Colt’s closet, begging for his help to save their family from a horrible fate. Unfortunately, the instructions for doing so are contained in a fickle book that lies to make it up as it goes. Worse, those instructions give this ragged trio one week to journey across Scotland in a impossible adventure to capture three treasures—treasures fiercely protected by a hidden, treacherous world determined to see Colt fail . . . preferably by death. But if Colt and his new friends can survive a horror novel come-to-life, a madman and his minions, a disagreeable folklore legend, and the shocking discovery of just why Alesone and Peter are so odd . . . Well, the next wo treasures won’t come so easily.
“The flight attendant standing along the curb resembled a ripe blueberry volcano about to blow its top, thought 12-year-old Colt Humboldt from the backseat of the taxi. Her head-to-toe blue uniform appeared dangerously close to its design limits, with a blue cap squeezed over short blonde curls and three very prominent chins squeezing out of her collar.”
Not long after Colt’s mother died in a tragic automobile accident—which Colt survived—his dad accepts a position at the Edinburgh Zoo. Colt is not happy about moving from Dallas to Scotland. He chooses The Keepers room for his bedroom, not knowing the room’s history. This begins the history kids will learn about while reading the book. There are many pieces of knowledge inside the story, the biggest being the black plague that wiped out many in Europe.
What Colt thinks are ghosts awakens him the first night. These “ghosts” are actually two kids from the 1645. Alesone and her five-year-old brother Peter are running from the soldiers who want them back into the close in which the government has trapped all the inhabitants, thinking it will stop the black plague. The two kids are after a cure for their parents. To get the cure and passage back to their own time period, they must complete three missions, which get progressively harder and more dangerous. Colt agrees to help them. He is smitten on Alesone and bored without his friends.
Peter, Alesone & Colt
Throughout the story, Colt must explain items that are commonplace in the twenty-first century but unheard of in the 1600’s. Many appear to be magic to the two kids. Peter has a habit of smashing things he does not understand, like alarm clocks and television sets. Five-year-old Peter experiences his first sugar high after a breakfast of Frosted Flakes™. He loves the cereal so much he sneaks a box home with him. Sugar highs are not common in the 1600’s as they are now. Peter also likes Colt’s Dallas Cowboys helmet, which took an arrow, saving the boy’s life on one journey.
Peter is an interesting character. He never utters a word, is very resilient, and handy in some of the sticky situations the three kids get into. Pretty good for s five-year-old out of his element. Peter also supplies much of the humor. I did think it odd that Alesone, a bright girl, is oblivious to the changes from her world to Colt’s. It takes her quite a while to accept that she is not in her 1645 world, as she continues to search for a pastor from 1645 and runs from/is afraid of the present day police who have no interest in Alesone or Peter.
Kids who like adventures with fantasy and humor mixed in will love Colt Humboldt. I read the 445 pages in two sittings, staying up late at night. If I were a kid, I would have taken a flashlight to bed just to keep reading the book. I love the characters. They are easy to care about and actually fun to root on as they continue searching for the three items needed to send Alesone and Peter back home. Nothing is what it seems on these journeys. Some of the secondary characters suddenly pop up, instantly twisting the story. Colt Humboldt is not difficult to understand or keep track of these twists and turns, but one does need to pay attention.
Much of the humor comes from Alesone and Peter being out of place in Colt’s world. He has no idea why they are so surprised by much of what they encounter, not knowing for a long time where the two kids have come from. All he knows is their parents will die if they do not collect the three treasures the Brown Man requires. The Brown Man of the Muirs (folklore) is but one of the folklore and creatures of Scotland legends included in the story. The true villain will be quite a surprise. Though the big villain in Alesone’s world, Mr. Vermyne, is rather easy given his name. He is a rat all right. Vermyne is one of those twists that will surprise you, yet make sense.
Mr. Anderson’s writing is excellent. Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death is the first of a series of adventures involving Colt. I am anxious to read the next volume. I love the way Anderson told Colt’s first story, though he could have made this into three books. A nearly 500-page book, with multitudes of folklore creatures, can look rather daunting to some middle graders. The pacing is great and the adventures are believable, though the last mission is a tough fight. Kids are in for a wonderful ride. A publisher would be very smart to get Anderson under contract. Colt Humboldt, with some high-powered marketing, and focused publicity should take flight right onto the bestseller list where it belongs. It is that good. Colt Humboldt is also T. A. Anderson’s debut.
Who even is Emily and where did she go? Those are the first two questions that spring into the mind when reading ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ by John Lees, Iain Laurie, Megan Wilson and Colin Bell. A mystery series which quickly leaps into the horrific and fantastical without a word of warning, this month sees the book head out into the previews catalogue. The first series published by ComixTribe, the series was originally published last year in black and white – however, for this second time round, it’ll be in full colour. Each member of the creative team is known for their own work, making this a bit of a Scottish supergroup thing – like The Reindeer Section! Lees is probably best known for writing superhero series ‘The Standard’, and Laurie for a whole load of books including Metrodome and Horror Mountain. Wilson can also be seen colouring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,whilst Bell is the writer of Dungeon Fun and owner of Dogooder Comics. They’re busy people.
But they all very kindly took the time to talk to The Beat about ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ – delving into all aspects of the creation of the book, and the journey it’s been on. With the first issue about to launch at Glasgow Comic-Con this weekend, it felt like the perfect time to take a closer look at the series. Read on!
How did you meet each other, specifically for this project? And what was it that made this the project you decided to collaborate on?
JOHN: Well, I’ve been a fan of Iain’s for years, so I’d been wanting to work with him for some time: it a quite large-scale anthology with a pretty big publisher interested, and had enjoyed that taste of the partnership. So, when that project stalled, Iain and I decided we were going to develop a comic of our own to work on together. And so what made this the project we decided to collaborate on is that, from the ground up, it was something we cooked up together as essentially our dream project, a mash-up of a whole bunch of ideas and influences that we shared a passion for.
IAIN: I saw a copy of The Standard and was really impressed. I was trying to move away from the more experimental stuff I’d done with Craig Collins or on my own with Powwkipsie and Horror Mountain, and I thought John would be the best guy to do that with. Luckily he wanted to do something with me. In terms of collaborating on this, it’s very much everything that both of us are into thrown into a meat grinder really.
Where did your respective interest in horror stories come from?
JOHN: I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember. Monster Squad was an early favourite film in my house, and one of the earliest toys I can remember having was of Frankenstein’s Monster. Me and my cousin were equally mad for scary movies at a very young age when we really should have been watching cartoons, and while other kids were playing Cops & Robbers or Soldiers or whatever, my cousin and I would play “Horrors,” where he’d pretend to be Freddy Krueger and I’d pretend to be Chucky from Child’s Play, and we’d take turns murdering invisible victims. I had a very happy childhood, it was only fucked-up in retrospect!
IAIN: I’m not a huge horror guy in the traditional sense but a lot of what I do is influenced by being a teenage Stephen King fan. I really like the idea of the horror beneath the surface stuff he was so good at. And that also plays into my love of David Lynch too. But most modern horror leaves me pretty cold.
Is it difficult to translate a horror experience to comics? Is there still a capacity to shock and startle within a comic page?
IAIN: If I’ve got a technique its always to try and make something that looks like a normal comic but isn’t, so your mind traditionally expects a certain progression of the story and framing choices – close-up, wide shot – that reflect the story and the intentions of the writer and artist. By refusing to follow this it unsettles the reader. So if you have a really intense scene where you would expect a close up if you instead use a long shot it throws you and you’re not sure why. Hopefully that makes sense a bit.
JOHN: It’s certainly a challenge. Much of the power of horror books comes from the words inspiring you to imagine in your head something far more terrifying than any visual that can be reproduced, but comics are a visual medium and so you have to create something that’s as terrifying as what the reader pictures in their mind’s eye in order to be successful. Meanwhile, in horror films, so much of the scares come from the use of sound – be it atmospheric sound design or a Luton bus jump-scare – and with comics that’s a whole box of tools that just isn’t at your disposal. But I think it is still possible for a horror comic to frighten. Just look at manga cartoonist Junji Ito, in my opinion the master of comics horror. With a combination of expert pacing and skin-crawling imagery he’s been able to make some really scary comics.
In the American comics industry there’s been a flourishing of genuinely frightening horror in recent years, with Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Severed by Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki immediately springing to mind. I think something that is an effective strategy in horror across all mediums is to make your audience uncomfortable, to make them feel like they’re in a world that isn’t quite right and where something horrible could be waiting around the corner.
And that’s what we’ve tried to do with And Then Emily Was Gone: create a comic that reads like a bad dream, drifting gradually deeper into nightmare.
What has the collaborative process been like, as a whole, for the story? Were there any points where you surprised each other with where you took the narrative?
JOHN: Working with Iain Laurie has been an absolute joy. Because we co-created this comic and developed it together, when I was scripting each issue I constantly had an eye to thinking up stuff I, as a fan of Iain’s, would be excited to see him draw. Some of that was hoping to stretch him and have him tackle stuff that was a little different than his previous output, but a big part of it was relishing in writing “Iain Laurie’s Greatest Hits,” repurposing some of the most notable recurring motifs in Iain’s unique body of work.
But even so, Iain has managed to constantly thrill and surprise me in the pages he’s sent back, taking my weird ideas and pushing them so much further into the realm of bonkers invention. There’s one page in issue #1 where the script says, “Close-up of Hellinger, looking worried,” and what I got back was this jaw-dropping collage of Greg Hellinger and the monsters that hound him. There’s been loads of experiences like that, Iain finding grimy little details between the scripted panels and blowing them up to add a whole new dimension to the storytelling, or portraying a bit-part character so powerfully that I want to go back and write a bigger role for them!
IAIN: Yeah it’s been great, and I’m not the easiest person to work with as I’m sure anyone I’ve worked with in the past will tell you. I very much like to do things my own way which can annoy writers and I totally get it but with John it’s been a really great time. I think were both aiming for the same things so while we might argue about directions, we both want to get to the same destination.
MEGAN: I’m jumping in here too. There is this one particular panel in issue #3 that comes to mind where John wrote something seemingly normal in the panel description and what Iain translated it to was hilariously bizarre. It stayed true to what John’s script was trying to convey, but I have no idea where Iain came up with his interpretation of it. You guys completely feed off of each other and it turns into this wonderfully charming collaborative thing and I wish everyone could see the scripts to really see this dynamic.
COLIN: Having known Iain and John and their respective work prior to Emily it’s been really fun to watch the two of them bounce off each other and see the effect this has on what they produce. Iain’s artwork, at least for the first couple of issues, is the most restrained I’ve ever seen from him, played totally straight - and I mean no disrespect to the vast body of his wild work that we all fell in love with prior. It’s like there’s an insanity, caged, just bristling to get out, and it’s unnerving – which is the desired effect, I’m sure. Meanwhile, John’s scripts feel like Iain’s work has goaded him to being the most evil, terrifying, horrific version of himself. It’s fascinating. We should get to what that narrative actually is. The story starts off with a series of disconnected strands, but the core of it is a mystery disappearance. How did you approach structuring the series? Did you start off with this central mystery, and build around it?
JOHN: While that central mystery of “Where is Emily Munro?” is the through-line that spans across the series, I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to say that the whole story is built around it. While we’ve billed And Then Emily Was Gone as a horror mystery, I’d certainly say the pendulum progressively swings more and more towards horror as the narrative unfolds. While I love a good whodunnit, I feel like the problem with many serialised mysteries is that they are most interesting at the beginning and the end, while what happens in between can be a lot of going through the motions with false leads and red herrings. I wanted to avoid that here, so I’d say it was more the desolate atmosphere of Nordic dramas like The Killing that we incorporated rather than the plot mechanics.
What interested me was the notion of stepping away from that procedural element, and crafting a mystery that would only become more horrifying and unknowable the deeper you dig into it. I’d say the focus is more on the characters and their deeply damaged headspaces. If anything, it was them – Hellinger, Fiona, Vin – that were our starting point, fully formed as individuals, and the plotting from there was more about what dark places we wanted to take those characters.
What prompted the idea of incorporating Scottish folklore into the story? Was part of your intent to make this a uniquely Scottish storyline?
JOHN: It certainly was for me. I wrote a graphic novel called Black Leaf, in the process of being drawn by Garry McLaughlin, which was another Scottish horror, set in the Scottish Highlands. And Then Emily Was Gone takes place on a remote island community in Orkney. I just feel like Scotland is such a fascinating, diverse country with locations rich in storytelling potential that has been largely untapped. And given that Iain and I (and Colin) are Scottish, why not make the most of that and inject a unique flavour into our comic that might set it apart from its American counterparts?
Iain, I read your interview with Multiversity where you said that your artwork was inspired by, amongst other things, Reeves and Mortimer. And it’s noticeable – they have that same mix of dark comedy, surrealism and a little horror which marks your style. How have you found the balance of horror and comedy within the story? Is it a difficult line to balance?
IAIN: Yeah, I’m pretty open about the fact that the biggest influences on my work are Reeves And Mortimer, David Lynch, Dennis Potter. Creepy blue-collar surrealism. In terms of Emily, I don’t really see any comedy in there. Other people have told me they find it funny but I’m never going for that. To me it’s a bit like Chris Morris’ JAM in the sense that some people found it hilarious (me) while others thought they were watching something really disturbing. One of the more interesting things about the way you structure page layouts is how much negative space you leave. There are several points where you ‘skip’ a panel, essentially [you can see this in the below images]. Was this a conscious design choice on your part?
IAIN: Yeah absolutely. This plays into my earlier answer of throwing the reader off by not giving them the panel or the facial expression they expect. Again, I take a lot of this from film directors. My drawing styles got a million influences from Ken Reid to Frank Quitely to Peter Howson but my framing is very much influenced by movies rather than comics.
There are a series of strange characters in the book, marked by Iain’s sense of facial design. Where do you begin with a character? Do you bounce ideas back and forth – the scripted personality affecting the design, the design then deepening or changing the scripting, and so on?
JOHN: I would say the process of character design was very much a symbiotic one. With the main characters, Iain and I started off by talking about them, their role in the story and their personalities. Based on that Iain did some sketches, which were so evocative that they’d further inform those characters and give them a voice in my head. And that translated into how I’d write them in the script. Then when it came time to draw them on the page, Iain would often further refine his design of those characters based on how I’d written them.
With supporting characters who we perhaps discussed less beforehand, and whose roles in the scripts were more limited and functional, so much of their personality comes from how Iain draws them. There’s no such thing as a background character in Iain’s artwork: every character, even ones who only appear in one panel, has a story written into their faces. A lot of the time, it’s hard to tell where I end and Iain begins when it comes to these characters… we’re like a comic Human Centipede!
There was a certain starkness in the black and white version of the series. What prompted you to bring in Megan Wilson as colourist?
JOHN: It was actually Nick Pitarra’s idea! Iain and I had originally envisioned the comic as being black-and-white, and had produced the first issue with that in mind. Iain had been showing pages to Nick, who’s been incredibly supportive of the book and a major cheerleader for us. While we thought this would be a little personal comic destined for the British small press scene, Nick was perhaps the first person to suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone could work in the American market, and that colouring it would make it more appealing to that demographic.
And so he suggested letting Megan Wilson, who he’d worked with before, try her hand at coloring. And the rest is history. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular covers and how they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her now.
IAIN: Yeah, Megan’s amazing. I love how her stuff complements my drawing.
MEGAN: This is probably a weird part of the interview for me to add to, but whatever. You guys always have such wonderfully nice things to say in interviews about me and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to chime in, so I just wanted to add that YOU guys are amazingly talented and infectiously enthusiastic and I’d be happy to work with you forever and always. What do you think the transition to colour lends the book?
JOHN: Megan has become an integral part of the creative team. She’s the ideal tag team partner for Iain, as her colouring seems to fit Iain’s art like a glove onto a gnarled, clawed hand. When I’ve seen Iain’s stuff coloured in the past, it sometimes seems like the effect has been to mute the weirdness of the linework and make things a bit smoother and more palatable. Not so for Megan, who has brought this askew, almost rotten aesthetic to the colours with sickly, grainy shades that actually accentuates the inherent “Laurieness” of the image. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular colours and how perfectly they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her.
IAIN: Yeah exactly. It just plays into how I want the book to be read, beautifully. She’s a wee genius.
Megan, is it daunting to work colours on a comic which has previously been released in black and white, or do you enjoy that challenge?
MEGAN: I live in the US and have still never seen a hardcopy of the B&W version so I actually hadn’t thought about this before – of course I’ve seen the original B&W as digital, but I suppose that doesn’t have the same impact since scans are always my starting point.
It can be daunting to realize there is an existing fan base and that you could do something that they completely hate, but I elbowed my way into the project because I loved it and wanted to be a part of it, so I guess the worrying part became somewhat irrelevant (notice I didn’t say non-existent!). But yeah, I guess I’m up to the challenge!
How did you develop the colour palette for the series? What were your aims as a storyteller?
MEGAN: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I didn’t really develop a specific palette for this, I just kind of make it up as I go. I’ll go back and grab colours off of pages from earlier pages as needed for consistency, but other than that, it’s pretty much a free for all. From a storytelling perspective, to me this felt like an escalating fever-dream, and so the colours start to get a little more weird the further into the book you get.
And Colin, how do you approach lettering horror? Do you find that you have to work in specific ways in order to maintain or enhance that atmosphere?
COLIN: It was a conscious decision to utilise lower-case lettering because there’s a kind of innocence to it that I thought would play well against the art and lull people into a false sense of security. I can echo Megan in the sense that as the issues progress, I’m able to crank up the weird factor to accentuate what’s happening on the page. Also worth mentioning is the logo for the book. When we started we talked about these filmic covers like movie posters, and it inspired me to go down the rabbit-hole of 80s horror movie poster typography.
When there were no typefaces that really sold what we were going for (or were basic pastiches of existing horror film typography), we got Iain to scrawl the title in his own inimitable terror-screed, which I tidied up a bit, coloured and now happily slap across every cover sent my way. I feel like knowing that it’s Iain’s handwriting on them lends a kind of unity to his covers as a whole. But really it’s just my job to try and help guide the reader’s eyes where appropriate and for the most part stay the hell out of the way of Iain and Megan’s work, which I’m very happy to do.
Alternate cover for issue #1 by Riley Rossmo and Megan Wilson
There’s an interesting group of Scottish comic-makers right now, with yourselves, the Master Tape team, Team Girl Comics, Dungeon Fun, and many others. What has been your experience of this Scottish community?
JOHN: Scotland is certainly a major comics hub, and my native Glasgow is a great comics city: not just in terms of the dedicated readers – enough to support 9 comic shops, 2 comic cons and multiple marts, clubs and public events – but also in the volume and quality of creative talent. I’m a founding member and the current chairman of the Glasgow League of Writers, a kind of writing circle for comics where creators meet to discuss and critique each other’s scripts, so I get to see first-hand some of the amazing talent in the Scottish community.
Iain McGarry is a writer who’s been quietly producing some excellent short stories for various anthologies over the past year or two, and once he collects them all into a volume of his own and gets his name out there some more, he’s going to become a big deal fast, mark my words. John McCusker is like 21 years old, was totally new to writing comics when he first joined, and already he’s better than me. His debut book, The Alchemist, is in production with artist Jason Mathis, and is going to be incredible. You mentioned Master Tape, and Harry French is another guy primed to blow-up: his other series, Freak Out Squares, is even better. And Freak Out Squares artist Garry McLaughlin is also kicking ass on his own series, Gonzo Cosmic.
NeverEnding, by Stephen Sutherland and Gary Kelly, is a hidden gem of a comic which should be getting distributed by a big publisher yesterday. Gordon McLean won a SICBA award for No More Heroes, which was ace, but the stuff he’s been quietly working on since is so much better. Dungeon Fun by the sublime Neil Slorance and our own Colin Bell - the first issue was one of the best single issues produced by anyone of any level last year.
Team Girl Comics, Black Hearted Press, Unthank Comics, there’s so much going on I can’t hope to cover it all.
IAIN: Yeah, there’s so much interesting and diverse stuff coming out of Glasgow, and I think John’s covered most of it. I live in Edinburgh and older than most people in that group but they’ve always been really welcoming and friendly to me.
MEGAN: I’m completely jealous of the vibe you guys have got going on over there. Can someone please adopt me so I can be Scottish too?
JOHN: Working on this comic has made you an honorary Scot, Megan!
COLIN: Congratulations Megan! The Broons are your Gods now. My experience of the community has been nothing short of lovely. Everyone’s dead nice. And talented! I could sit here for ages and reel off so many Scots comickers deserving of attention we’ve not mentioned yet - Craig Collins, Edward Ross, Stephen Goodall’s IMR, Chris Baldie and Holley Mckend’s Never Ever After… there’s LOTS.
Do you feel there is a movement in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, where different groups of creators are all starting to rise up together? Even Colin Bell?
IAIN: Colin Bell is the sun we all revolve around.
COLIN: Shucks. But also, correct.
JOHN: EVEN Colin Bell!? He’s going to hit the big-time quicker than any of us. He’s already a comics mogul who seems to have lettered just about every comic in Scotland and now half the comics in the UK as a whole. As for whether or not there’s a movement with groups of creators all rising together, I’d say, “yes and no.”
Yes, there are many indie creators – both in Scotland and the UK as a whole – on the cusp of breaking out, producing quality work, and I take pleasure in seeing their successes, but ultimately everyone is doing their own work, and I think most would rather get recognition based on the merits of that work rather than through riding the wave of a movement. Though I’d say the one exception is that I’m happy to ride on Iain Laurie’s coattails to comics glory!
How did ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ find a way across to ComixTribe, who’ll be publishing this five-issue run?
JOHN: I worked with ComixTribe on my debut comic, The Standard, and that experience has been a pleasure and a privilege. You won’t find a more passionate, professional group of people than Tyler James, Steven Forbes, Joe Mulvey, Samantha LeBas and co at ComixTribe, and they’re super-nice people too. Anyone who works with them once would want to work with them again in a heartbeat, so when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at the chance to pitch And Then Emily Was Gone to them.
They’re the kind of publisher who will get behind their titles and their creators 100%, and given that a comic as weird and out-there as And Then Emily Was Gone might not be the easiest sell, I wanted that kind of support network behind us. ComixTribe took a chance on us, and thankfully that seems to have paid off, as initial Diamond order numbers suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone #1 will be the biggest first issue Diamond launch they’ve ever published!
How do you feel about the story, as a whole now, looking back across it as it heads to the new colour printing
IAIN: Well I’m still drawing #5, so I’ve not had time to reflect yet!
JOHN: Looking back at the story as a whole now, which at the time of this interview has been 100% written and 80% drawn, I’d say this could be the proudest I’ve been of any comic I’ve ever created. I don’t know, choosing between this and The Standard is like choosing between my children! But with The Standard, right from the beginning I approached it with this goal of escalation, of having every issue be better than the last building up to a blow-out final issue that was the best of the bunch. And I think I’ve been consistent with that in my approach to And Then Emily Was Gone.
Looking back, as a reader, I feel like each issue is not only better than what came before, but darker too, scarier, and by the time you get to the last couple of issues hopefully it’ll be a bit of an onslaught. As I touched on above, the story starts relatively grounded, but steadily gets scarier and more bonkers with each passing chapter!
MEGAN: I’m in last place here (colouring #4) and I have no idea what happens in #5 yet since I have been purposefully not reading ahead so I can experience the story and art together. That being said, I’m really excited to see how this all wraps up!
COLIN: Well, I’m after Megan, but having been in the Glasgow League of Writers I’ve been privy to the scripts for the whole series. I’m still recovering.
What are you working on next? Where can people find you online?
JOHN: I’ve got more work with ComixTribe on the horizon. I’m currently co-writing Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare with Tyler James. It’s a spin-off from Tyler’s comic series The Red Ten, taking the villain from that book – masked psychopath The Oxymoron – and removing all superhero trappings and dropping him into more of a crime procedural milieu where regular cops have to deal with this larger-than-life, monstrous master criminal. Alex Cormack is on art duties, and the pages I’ve seen thus far are delightful. Looking further ahead, Iain and I have also been talking about further collaborations, since we had such a blast working together on this.
Remember, And Then Emily Was Gone #2 is currently available to order in this month’s Previews, order-code JUN141021, and you should still be able to order issue #1 – due for release July 30th – with the order-code MAY141251!
IAIN: Next thing for me is a story with Sam Read (Exit Generation) for Grayhaven, then a Standard story with John and a few other things in the wings with Owen Johnson (Raygun Roads) and Tim Daniel (Curse) hopefully. And then onto the sequel to Emily: AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE AGAIN, where they all go on holiday to Spain!
Many thanks to the whole of the creative team for being so generous with their time in the interview. I hope you enjoyed it! As mentioned above, issue #1 of And Then Emily Was Gone will be released on July 30th.
Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic. (Advance Reader Copy)
After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian. Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.
When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,
"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw!Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away. On my second shot I split the leaf in two. As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze. I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world. Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk. For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now. When the time is right, I will shock them all. So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."
The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.
"... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth. I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all. They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils. I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier. Now I see what he means."
The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.
A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls. There is room for a sequel.
On shelves 8/26/14. Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7 352 pages
Is the UK really in danger of dis-uniting? The answer is ‘no’. But the more interesting answer is that the independence referendum is, to some extent, a red herring. The nationalists may well lose the referendum but they have already won the bigger political battle over power and money. All the main political parties in the UK have agreed give Scotland more powers and more financial competencies – or what is called ‘devo-max’ irrespective of what happens on 18 September.
Viewed from the other side of the world the Scottish independence referendum forms part of a colonial narrative that underpins a great deal of Australian life. Some commentators take great pleasure in forecasting ‘the death’ of the United Kingdom and the demise of the English. Michael Sexton’s headline in The Australian, ‘Scotland chips away at the English empire’, is high on hyperbole and, dare I say, even colonial gloating. It sadly lacks any real understanding of British constitutional history and how it has consistently managed territorial tensions. The UK has long been a ‘union state’ rather than a unitary state. Each nation joined the union for different reasons and maintained distinctive institutions or cultural legacies.
The relationships among and between the countries in the UK have changed many times. Like tectonic plates, the countries rub and grate against each other but through processes of conciliation and compromise (and the dominance of England) volcanic eruptions have been rare. In the late 1990s devolutionary pressures were channeled through the delegation of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament. Different competencies reflected the extent of popular pressure within each country and since the millennium, with the exception of Northern Ireland, it is possible to trace the gradual devolution of more powers. Wales wants a Parliament, Scotland wants a stronger Parliament – but few people want independence from a Union that has arguably served them well.
But has the Union really served the Scots so well? It is true that the UK as a whole and not justScotland has benefitted from the North Sea Oil revenues. ‘It’s Scotland’s oil!’ might have been the Scottish Nationalist Party’s slogan in the 1970s but it captures a sentiment that underpins today’s debates. It also overlooks the manner in which Scotland also receives a generous slice of the financial pie when public funds are allocated. Fees and charges for many public services that exist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are absent north of the border. The nationalists argue that public services could be increased if Scotland had more control over North Sea Oil but they play down the fact that many analysts believe that the pool of black gold is nearly empty and that an independent country would have to take its share of the UK’s national debt. Depending upon how the debt-cake is cut this would be a figure around £150 billion.
The UK Government claims Scots would be £1,400 better off if they stayed in the union, the Scottish government claims that they would be £1,000 better off with independence but the simple fact is that independence is a risky game to play for a small state – the political equivalent of Russian roulette in an increasingly competitive and globalised world. There are lots of questions but few answers. On independence would Scotland remain in the European Union? How would an independent Scotland defend itself? What currency would they use? What kind of international role and influence would an independent Scotland have? Would a ‘Yes Vote’ be good for business? What happens in relation to immigration and border controls? What would independence mean for energy markets? The simple fact is that there are no clear answers to these basic questions. The nationalists understandably define many of these questions as little more than ‘scare tactics’ but independence must come with a price.
Nationalists (such a tired and simplistic term in a world of multiple and overlapping loyalties) may argue that independence is about culture and identity, heart and soul – not bureaucracies and budgets and I would not disagree. The problem is that when stood in the voting booth the Scottish public is likely to vote according to their head (and their wallet) and not their heart. The twist in the tail is that support for Scottish independence has at times been higher amongst the English (and that is 54 million people compared to just five million in Scotland) than the Scottish. Therefore if the referendum on Scottish independence was open to the whole of the UK, as many have argued it should be, Scotland may well have been cast adrift by its English neighbours.
And yet the strangest element of this whole Scottish independence debate is that the model of independence on offer has always been strangely lacking in terms of … how can I put it … independence. What’s on offer is a strange quasi-independence where the Scottish Government wants to share the pound sterling and the Bank of England, it wants to share the British army and other military forces and what this amounts to is a rather odd half-way house that is more like greater devolution within the Union rather than true independence as a self-standing nation state. The risks are therefore high but the benefits uncertain and this explains why the Scottish public remains to be convinced that the gamble is worth it. The latest polling figures find 57% against and 43% in support of a ‘yes’ vote but a shift to the ‘no’ camp can be expected as the referendum draws closer and the public becomes more risk averse.
But does this really matter? A ‘yes vote’ was always incredibly unlikely. Mass public support has never existed and the referendum is really part of a deeper power game to lever more powers from London to Scotland and to this extent the game is already over. Devo-max has already been granted. The 2012 Scotland Act has already been passed and boosts the power of the Scottish Parliament by giving it a new ability to tax and borrow along with a number of new policy powers. (The most important new measure – giving the parliament partial control over setting income tax rates in Scotland will come into force in 2015.) Since this legislation was passed the three main political parties in Westminster have all agreed to devolve even more powers, specifically in relation to tax and welfare.
Mark Twain famously remarked that ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ and I cannot help but feel the same is true in relation to those who like to trumpet the death of the United Kingdom. The Scottish independence referendum is highly unlikely to amount to a Dis-United Kingdom or the ‘unraveling’ of the union. It may amount to a ‘looser’ union but the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster has always been one of partnership rather than domination. My sense is that what we are witnessing is not ‘the end’ as some commentators would like to see it but the beginning of a new stage in a historical journey that has already lasted over three hundred years.
In a week’s time, the residents of Scotland (not the Scottish people: Scots resident south of the border are ineligible to vote) will decide whether or not to destroy the UK as currently constituted. The polls are on a knife edge; and Alex Salmond, the leader of the separatists, has a track record as a strong finisher. If he gets his way, the UK will lose 8% of its citizens and a third of its land mass; and Scotland, cut off, at least initially, from every international body (the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU) and every UK institution (the Bank of England, the pound sterling, the BBC, the security services), will face a bleak and uncertain future.
In the first century BC, the Roman republic was collapsing as a result of its systemic inability to curb the ambitions of powerful politicians. Everyone could see that the end was nigh; no one could predict what would follow. The conditions were ideal for the development of political oratory, and Cicero emerged as Rome’s greatest orator, determined to save his country even at the cost of his own life. During his consulship, he suppressed the conspiracy of Catiline, denouncing that man and his deluded supporters in his four Catilinarian Speeches. He pulled no punches: he did not hold back, like the supporters of the Union today, for fear of appearing too “negative”. So he informed the senate:
“A plot has been formed to ensure that, following a universal massacre, there should not be a single person left even to mourn the name of the Roman people or to lament the destruction of so great an empire.”
For Catiline’s supporters, he had nothing but contempt, telling the people:
“Reclining at their banquets, embracing their whores, heavy with wine, stuffed with food, wreathed with flowers, drenched with perfume, and worn out by promiscuous sex, they belch out their plans for the massacre of decent citizens and the burning of Rome.”
Cicero went straight for the jugular. Two decades later he denounced a more powerful adversary, Mark Antony, who was attempting with much greater forces to seize control of the state. Cicero attacked him in a series of speeches, the Philippics; but Antony did a deal with Octavian, got what he wanted, and had Cicero killed. Cicero’s words at the end of the Second Philippic were prophetic:
“I defended this country when I was a young man: I shall not desert it now that I am old. I faced down the swords of Catiline: I shall not flinch before yours. Yes, and I would willingly offer my body, if the freedom of this country could at once be secured by my death. Two things alone I long for: first, that when I die I may leave the Roman people free; and second, that each person’s fate may reflect the way he has behaved towards his country.”
Where is Cicero today when we need him? The debate on the future of Scotland, and hence of the UK, has been conducted in newspapers, in TV interviews and debates, and in social media. Anonymous internet trolls hurl abuse at celebrities who dare to express their affection for Britain. The Westminster Parliament stays silent. One MP, however, is free of the party whips, and has been touring Scotland delivering passionate, hard-hitting and unapologetically negative speeches in defence of the Union. This is George Galloway, and the speech he gave in Edinburgh on 24 June can be read and listened to here.
Like Cicero, Galloway pulls no punches. He compares the current crisis with 1940, the last time the UK faced an existential threat:
“And not one person asked in that summer and autumn of 1940 and into 1941 if the pilots who were spinning above us defending us from invasion from the barbaric horde were from Suffolk or Sutherland. We were people together on a small piece of rock with 300 years of common history.”
Referring to his political differences with the other supporters of the Union, he says, “We have come together but temporarily at a moment of national peril”, declaring:
“There will be havoc if you vote Yes in September. Havoc in Edinburgh and throughout the land and you will break the hearts of many others too.”
This preference for extreme, unambiguous statements, delivered with the greatest possible emotional force, and this recognition of the significance of the historical moment, is pure Cicero. But what is most Ciceronian in Galloway’s speech is the moral dimension. Galloway is not concerned with whether the new Scottish state would have to concentrate its spending on benefits or foreign embassies. Instead, he harks back repeatedly to the Second World War, that conflict of good against evil, contrasting it with Bannockburn, “a battle 700 years ago between two French-speaking kings with Scottish people on both sides”. And, as Cicero would, he judges an issue by the moral character of the people concerned: on the one side, Brian Souter, “the gay-baiting billionaire” and major donor of the SNP, and on the other, the children’s author J. K. Rowling, “one of our highest achieving women in the history of our entire country”, whose moderate and reasoned support for the Union has earned her hate mail from fanatical separatists. Morality runs like a thread all the way through Galloway’s speech.
How come so few women are in favour of independence? Why are Scotland’s women the most resistant of all the demographics in this contest? The reason is that women simply don’t like gambling. And everything in their project is about gambling — for your future, your pension, your children and their children’s future.
“Let it be inscribed on the forehead of every citizen what he thinks about his country”, Cicero told the senate. Next week, the future of the UK will be decided by a secret ballot. If Britain survives in a political and not merely in a geographical sense, part of the credit will be due to the Ciceronian eloquence of Mr Galloway.
Here's the video of our Summer Reading Challenge visit to Leith Library! Philip Reeve came along and made a very elegant flip-chart stand. I love it when the boy says, At first I thought, wow, she’s posh! She had like, that bird in her hair, and fancy blue ribbon… and a dress with lipstick on it… and it was like, really posh.
Philip noted that support for Scottish independence has soared since our visit; I hope we weren't a contributing factor...
In other news, after my meeting at Scholastic yesterday, I stopped into Foyles on Charing Cross Road and found this book looking up at me from the display table. One of my all-time favourite illustrators that I'm always going on about, David Roberts, and... hats! Oh my word, you guys!!! Why didn't no one tell me about this book??
David worked as a milliner, and you can tell, in the sculptural way he draws his figures and their patterns. I put together my hats with a bit of lick and spit - I don't really know what I'm doing - but I often daydream of taking a year out of publishing to work as an apprentice for Philip Treacy, with access to all that great kit. I don't generally get excited about the whole fashion industry (and its emphasis on being super-thin), but I make a huge exception for hats, which can be worn by anyone. Andrea's website also has some examples of hats that you can make yourself:
Hat lovers and fashionistas around the world, you're going to adore this book. You can follow Andrea on Twitter as (@andreabeaty but sadly, David Roberts is not on Twitter. (He's too busy pumping out a prodigious amount of incredible work. How does he DO it??!)
On 18 September 2014 Scots will vote on the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
Campaigners for independence and campaigners for the union agree that this is an historic referendum. The question suggests a simple choice between different states. This grossly over-simplifies a complex set of issues and fails to take account of a range of other debates that are taking place in Scotland’s ‘constitutional moment’.
Four cross-cutting issues lie behind this referendum. National identity is but one. If it was simply a matter of identity then supporters of independence would be well ahead. But identities do not translate into constitutional preferences (or party political preferences) in straightforward ways. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections more people who said they were ‘British and not Scottish’ voted for the Scottish National Party than voted Tory. Scottish identity has survived without a Scottish state and no doubt Britishness will survive without a British state. Nonetheless, the existence of a sense of a Scottish political entity is important in this referendum.
Party politics, and especially the party systems, also play a part in the referendum. Conservative Party weakness – and latterly the weakness of UKIP in Scotland – north of the border has played into the sense that Scotland is politically divergent. This trend was highlighted by William Miller in a book, entitled The End of British Politics?, written more than thirty years ago. It has not been the geographic distance of London from the rest of the UK so much as the perceived ideological distance that has fuelled demands for Scottish autonomy. Polls continue to suggest that more people would be inclined to vote for independence if they thought Mr Cameron and his party were likely to win next year’s general election and elections into the future than if Labour was to win. It is little wonder that Mr Cameron refuses to debate with Mr Salmond.
The dynamics of party politics differ north and south of the border. Each side in the referendum campaign works on the assumption that membership of the EU is in Scotland’s interest, suggesting that Scotland will find itself outside the EU if the other wins while a very different dynamic operates south of the border. Debates in immigration and welfare differ on each side of the border. While there is polling evidence that public attitudes on a range of matters differ only marginally north and south of the border, the much harder evidence from election results, evident in the recent uneven rise of UKIP, suggests something very different.
It is not only that different parties might govern in London and Edinburgh but that the policies pursued differ, the directions of travel are different. In this respect, policy initiatives pursued in the early years of devolution, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats controlled the Scottish Parliament, have fed the sense of divergence. The SNP Government has only added – and then only marginally – to this divergence. The big items that signalled that Holyrood and Westminster were heading in different policy directions were tuition fees and care for the elderly. These were policies supported by all parties in Holyrood, including the then governing Labour Party and Liberal Democrats. There is fear in parts of Scotland that UK Governments will dismantle the welfare state while Scots want to protect it.
The constitutional status of Scotland is now the focus of debate. This is not new nor will the referendum resolve this matter for all time, regardless of the result of the referendum. Each generation has to consider the relationship Scotland has with London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. This is currently a debate about relationships, articulated in terms of whether Scotland should be an independent country. Relationships change as circumstances change. The backdrop to these changing relationships has been the party system, public policy preferences and identities. The role and remit of the state and the nature of Scotland’s economy and society have changed and these changes have an impact on the constitutional debate.
Adding to the complexity has been a development few had anticipated. Both sides to the debate report large turnouts at public meetings, engagement we have not witnessed in a long time with a far wider range of issues arising during Scotland’s constitutional moment than might have been suggested by that simple question to be asked on September 18th. Prospectuses on the kind of Scotland people want are being produced. This revival of political engagement may leave a legacy that reverses a trend that has seen decline in turnout, membership of political parties and civic engagement. That would make this referendum historic.
The UK Government will no doubt be shocked if the referendum on 18 September results in a Yes vote. However, it has agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum and so we must assume that David Cameron will accept the Scottish Government’s invitation to open negotiations towards independence.
The first step will be the formation of two negotiating teams — Team Scotland and Team UK, as it were. These will be led by the governments of both Scotland and the UK, although the Scottish Government has indicated that it wants other political parties in Scotland to join with it in negotiating Scotland’s position. We would expect high level points to be set out by the governments, the detail to be negotiated by civil servants.
What then would an independent Scotland look like?
The Scottish Government plan is for an interim constitution to be in place after March 2016 with a permanent constitution to be drafted by a constitutional convention composed of representatives of civil society after Scottish elections in May 2016.
The Scottish Government intends that the Queen will remain head of state. But this and other issues would presumably be up to the constitutional convention to determine in 2016.
Similarly the Scottish Parliament will continue to be a one chamber legislature, elected by proportional representation, a model rejected by UK voters for Westminster of course in a referendum in 2011.
The Scottish Government seeks to keep the pound sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland. The UK Government’s position is that Scotland can use the pound but that there will be no formal currency union. After a Yes vote this position could change but the unionist parties are united in denying any such possibility.
The UK has heavily integrated tax, pension, and welfare systems. It will certainly be possible to disentangle these but it may take longer than 19 months. In the course of such negotiations both sides may find that it makes sense to retain elements of close cooperation in the social security area, at least in the short to medium term.
The Scottish Government has put forward a vision of Scotland as a social democracy. It will be interesting if it follows through on plans to enshrine social rights in the constitution, such as entitlements to public services, healthcare, free higher education, and a minimum standard of living. The big question is: can Scotland afford this? It would seem that a new tax model would be needed to fund a significantly higher commitment to public spending.
A third area of great interest is Scotland’s position in the world. One issue is defense. The SNP promises a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, including the removal of Trident submarines from the Clyde. This could create difficulties, both for Scotland in seeking to join NATO, but also for the remainder UK, which would need to find another base for Trident. The Scottish Government rejects firmly that it will be open to a deal on Trident’s location in turn for a currency union with London, but this may not be out of the question.
Another issue is that the Scottish Government takes a much more positive approach to the European Convention on Human Rights, than does the current UK government. In fact, the proposal is that the European Convention will become supreme law in Scotland, which even the Scottish Parliament could not legislate against. This contrasts with the current approach of the Conservative Party, and to some extent the Labour Party, in London which are both proposing to rebalance powers towards the UK Parliament and away from the European Court in Strasbourg.
Turning to the European Union, it seems clear to me that Scotland will be admitted to the EU but that the EU could drive a hard bargain on the terms of membership. Compromises are possible. Scotland does not, at present, qualify for, and in any case there is no appetite to join, the Eurozone, so a general commitment to work towards adopting the Euro may satisfy the EU. The Scottish Government also does not intend to apply for membership of the Schengen Area but will seek to remain a part the Common Travel Area, which would mean no borders and a free right to travel across the British and Irish isles.
The EU issue is also complicated because the UK’s own position in Europe is uncertain. Will the UK stay in the EU? The prospect of an in/out referendum after the next UK general election is very real. Another issue is whether an independent Scotland would gradually develop a much more pro-European mentality than we see in London. Would Scotland become positive rather than reluctant Europeans, and would Scotland seek to adopt the Euro in the medium to longer term? We don’t know for now. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, then this may well be the only option open to an independent Scotland in Europe.
To conclude, a written constitution, a stronger commitment to European human rights standards, a more pro-European Union attitude, and an attempt to build a more social welfarist state could bring about an independent Scotland that looks very different from the current UK. However, the bonds of union run deep, and if Scotland does achieve a currency union with the UK it will be tied closely to London’s tax structure. In such a scenario the economies, and therefore the constitutions, of the two countries, will surely continue to bear very many similarities. Much also depends upon relationships with the European Union. If the UK stays in the EU then Scotland and the UK could co-exist with a sterling currency union and a free travel area. If the UK votes to leave then Scotland will need to choose whether to do likewise or whether to align much more closely with Europe.
The Union of 1707 – which by uniting the English and Scottish parliaments created the new state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain – was enthusiastically sought by some Scots and grudgingly accepted by many more, even if most people would have been happier with a federal union. What until recently most historians had missed was the identification with the Union of Scottish politicians and their supporters who had suffered under the later Stuart regime. In some cases they’d been forced into exile in the Low Countries They were backers of the Revolution (of 1688-90) in Scotland, which they saw as truly glorious. They advocated union as a means of securing the gains of the Revolution (constitutional monarchy, the re-establishment of Presbyterianism and certain civil liberties) and keeping the Jacobites’ hands off the imperial crown. This was a union based on Whig principles – religious, civic and economic. It was effected, as far as Scotland was concerned, through the persistence of a number of driven individuals some of whom had advocated closer union with England in 1688-9, and were still around in 1706-7 to vote for this in the Scottish Parliament.
I take issue with the centuries-old shibboleth that in 1707 the Scots had been, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘bought and sold for English gold’, by a ‘parcel’ of roguish politicians. The Union of 1707 was not the betrayal of the Scottish nation its critics had long asserted, a measure to be overturned if Scotland was to be set back on its rightful constitutional trajectory – not as a stateless nation within the British union state but as an independent nation state.
Yet support for the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland has grown strongly since the 1970s, along with disenchantment with the British state and Westminster. Scots’ identification with Britain has fallen sharply, with most Scots now feeling more Scottish than British.
It’s pretty clear that the Union is more vulnerable today than at any previous time since the Jacobite risings of 1714-5 and 1745-6. The props upon which it was built either no longer apply – its core purpose was to ensure that Queen Anne was succeeded by a Protestant (thereby excluding the Catholic claimant, James Edward Stuart, later the ‘Old Pretender’), or are less important. Presbyterianism, the security of which was enshrined (in theory at least) in the first of the two acts that comprised the Union agreement, has ceased to matter for most Scots. Scotland’s economy is no longer under-developed – unhindered access to the English market and to England’s Atlantic and Caribbean colonies were attractions even for Scots who were otherwise opposed to incorporation.
In short, there is a case for saying that the Union is past its ‘sell by date’. Those who are keen to maintain the United Kingdom need to come up with a vision for a Union for the 21st century – or at the very least a rationale – of the kind that inspired Scots to push for such an arrangement in 1707. Many more rallied to defend it – sometimes by risking life and limb – against the Jacobite incursions of 1715 and 1745. Until recently the main pro-Union campaign, Better Together, has been criticized for emphasizing the negative aspects of Scottish independence – ‘project fear’ – rather than the positive virtues of the Union.
Yet support for Yes Scotland – the separatists’ campaign – is (at the time of writing) apparently no higher than around 40% of the electorate, suggesting that when the referendum vote happens, on 18 September this year, a majority of Scots will vote No. Comparison with other nations in Europe that have recently struggled for and achieved independence may tell us something – not least that Scotland’s experience of union with a bigger neighbor has been somewhat less oppressive. Like being in bed not with an elephant as some allege, but a teddy bear. And that currently, notwithstanding its failings, more Scots than the nationalists hoped for still feel comfortable within the Union. It’s a habit that’s lasted for more than three centuries. As things stand, not enough people have found compelling reasons to give it up.
This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.
While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.
One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.
Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.
One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.
One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).
The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.
In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.
And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.
Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.