Friday, 29 July 2016

Sùil Eile air Murchadh MacPhàrlain

Am bàrd Murchadh MacPhàrlain ann a dealbh le Gus Wylie
Airson an Daily Record

Tha sreath de litirichean eadar am bàrd ainmeil Murchadh MacPhàrlain agus an seinneadair Mairead NicLeòid a’ soilleireachadh mar a thàinig cuid dhe na h-òrain as cliùitiche a th’ againn sa chànan gu bith.

Bha ceangal cruthachail, bàidheil eadar Bàrd Mhealaboist agus an còmhlan Na h-Òganaich. Tha an dàimh sin a’ toirt tiotal dhan leabhar ùr a tha a’ cruinneachadh nan litirichean, “Le Mùirn”.

Tha cunntas sgiobalta air beatha Mhurchaidh agus na bliadhnaichean rionnagach aig na h-Òganaich air a sgrìobhadh le Catrìona Mhoireach, agus abair obair luachmhor.

Ach tha “Le Mùirn” mu dheidhinn tòrr a bharrachd na eachdraidh beatha.

Tha a’ chùis a’ ceangal òrain, litreachas, obair-ealain ùr, agus sealladh air sgilean dealbhaidh Mhurchaidh fhèin.

Air cùlaibh a’ phròiseict tha Iseabail Mhoireach, a th’ air a bhith an sàs an cuid dhe na h-iomairtean as tuigsiche anns na h-ealain fad bhliadhnaichean.

Anns h-uile càil a tha Iseabail a’ cruthachadh tha ceangal ri cruth-tìre agus cuimhne -  na snàithlein as treasa ann an cultar sam bith. Sin freumhan na bàrdachd, agus sinn fhathast ga seinn.

English translation

A series of letters between the famous poet Murdo MacFarlane and the singer Margaret MacLeod illuminates how some of the most popular songs we have in the language came to be.

There was an affectionate, creative relationship between the Melbost bard and the group, Na h-Òganaich. That affinity gives the title to a new book that collects the letters, “With Affection”.

It is a nimble account of Murdo’s life and the starry years of Na h-Òganaich written by Catriona Murray, and what a precious piece of work it is.

But “Le Mùirn” is about a lot more than biography.

The idea links song, literature, new works of art, with a glimpse of Murdo’s own drawing skills.

Behind the project is Ishbel Murray, who has been involved in some of the most thoughtful and intelligent initiatives in the arts over the years.

Everything Ishbel creates connects to landscape and memory - the strongest threads of any culture. These are the roots of the poems, and still we sing them. 

Alan Cumming and acting out inner emotions

For my Daily Record column

Actors, don’t you love them? I do, actually. Their craft of exposing the emotions we, the audience, keep hidden from ourselves takes as much courage as bearing arms.

But never leave an actor without their primary weapon - lines to read. Left to their own devices, thesps invariably get it wrong.

Look at Alan Cumming, dahling of the SNP, who has just gone and blamed Brexit on the English.

He said: “I was appalled when I heard the result and I have three words to sum it up. Stupid. English. People.”

Cut! Hold it there, didn’t anyone send Cumming a copy of the script?

Stoking resentment of the “other” is an essential element of any nationalism, but the SNP has long ago excised open hatred of the English.

Under civic nationalism it is impolite to mention the English.

When the SNP talks of embracing the EU everyone knows that means the other 27 - Muslim-baiting Slovakia and Nazi-resurgent Austria among them - not the closest neighbour we do two-thirds of our trade with.

It takes an actor’s boldness to break the rules and say the unsayable. 

“How many times do we have to be slapped in the face by Westminster?” asked Cumming in an interview not subject to self-censorship.

At least he had read that cue. “Westminster” is the correct nationalist euphemism for all things English.   

Having dropped the E-bomb Cumming apologised, rather halfheartedly.

“I guess I’m just a daft jock who assumes people still find humour amusing,” he tweeted.

Well, the first half of the apology sounds sincere. Most of the regret will be for the damage he has done the cause.

Anyway, who is he accusing of being stupid? Was it the four out of ten SNP members who voted for Brexit? The hundreds of thousands of other Scots who voted the same way? Or was it the people of Wales, the most anti-EU nation in the Union?

Does he neglect how London, for example, voted to Remain? The last time I looked London was still a part of England and is not going anywhere.

Even people like Angus Robertson, an SNP statesman not a clown, can play into this grievance agenda with loose talk about Brexit being a vote by England to ”leave the European Union and declare independence from the rest of the United Kingdom”.

Maybe Robertson, facing a challenge for the deputy leader post, feels the need to connect with the SNP base but he’s bigger politician than that. He does not need to stoop to conquer.

Anti-English bigotry is not up there with full blown racism but it is felt by plenty people in Scotland with English accents.

Inevitably, after Cumming’s rant some will feel more pressure to fit in with the orthodoxy of nationalism, to keep their voices low and their friends close.

Others, I suspect, will have had revealed to them in the thespian’s courage one of the inner emotions of nationalism.

Stupid, bloody actor they must have thought in Bute House.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

David Cameron’s last goodbye

Commons sketch for The Record

“I was the future once,” said David Cameron as he bookended his career with the barb he used so effectively against Tony Blair on his first outing at the Commons despatch box.

Yesterday,  11 years later, six of them as Prime Minister, Cameron called it a day.

The scaffolding of Westminster is ritual and while the weekly jousts in the Commons follow a set pattern greater expectation is placed on occasions like the departure of a Prime Minister. 

David Cameron, who was to the despatch box as to the Manor born, did not disappoint.
With wit, both smooth and savage, he gave the Commons a reminder of what it is losing, a showman who could use the political stage every bit as effectively as Tony Blair. 

The atmosphere was variety hall light and comical, from the roars of Tory cheers that greeted the Prime Minister to the even bigger roar they gave Jeremy Corbyn. 

Cameron himself turned it into a Monty Python sketch, comparing po-faced Corby to the tenacious Black Knight in the Holy Grail film, who doesn’t accept he’s beaten even when all his limbs are cut off.

The opposition leader ploughed on with earnest questions about homelessness to a PM who looked fairly unbothered about becoming homeless himself later in the day.

As the mockery of Labour continued only one person wasn’t laughing. Hilary Benn, a man fit to be Foreign Secretary sacked by a man who can’t be a Prime Minister, stood at the end of the Labour frontbench.

He looked down Corbyn’s row of second-elevens, a grievous face as if he had just arrived from a funeral.

The debris of a life in political battle were all around. Boris Johnson in the far corner of the chamber, about as far from that despatch box as you can get while still smelling power.

There was Michael Gove, lip-biting in a mob of MPs standing by the double doors as the PM emphasised the duty of public service. On the front bench George Osborne whispered advice in his friend’s ear one last time as Theresa May, a serene, necklaced swan waited for the tide of fortune. 

To paraphrase Dennis Skinner, all politicians do not tell lies. If they did there would have been more than 12 volumes of the Chilcot report on the Commons table for the Iraq debate later in the afternoon.

But the PM did tell a final untruth when he declared his love for Larry, the Downing Street cat. As proof Cameron produced a picture of the moggie in his lap but it made him look like a second-hand Bond villain. It was the only time in the half hour when praise rang false.

Finally the Labour leader caught the atmosphere, teasing Cameron about a possible future on Strictly Come Dancing.

No paso doble, replied Cameron to the Islington revolutionary more used to chanting “no pasaran”.

But even after the ribbing Corbyn was generous in his send-off, referencing the sacrifice of political families and thanking Cameron’s mother for advice on dressing properly, which he admitted he was considering. 

All political careers end in failure, except Ken Clarke’s, the best leader the Conservative Party never had. His gets sweeter with each passing decade and there were warm exchanges between Clarke and the soon to be grandee who’d been sacked as a special adviser by the great man in 1993.

It has all been downhill for Cameron from there, you could argue. 

Cameron’s downfall is writ large in one word - Brexit - but only the SNP was so deaf to the mood as to mention that yesterday.

Angus Robertson cooled the air with serious questions about remembering the Srebrenica massacre and the Brexit vote.

Robertson, who joins the Westminster establishment as the longest-serving party leader now, could only halfheartedly condemn Cameron’s record and praised him as well.

The ungracious address was left to the SNP’s Carolyn Monaghan who was drowned out with loud groans when she complained about “unfulfilled vows” and weapons of mass destruction.

Cameron responded breezily about promises made and powers delivered but not implemented by the SNP government.

Resolutely the SNP MPs sat on their hands while the rest of the Commons applauded the departing PM. They know their audience and it is not in the sweet, mawkish backslapping one in the Commons.

But Cameron loves the place and said he would next be watching from the backbenches. “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on,” he said.

From the swift, barbed tongue, which got him into trouble as much as  it saved him, it was inevitable the best epitaph came from Cameron himself.

He regaled the Commons with his take on the New York accent of a man who once recognised him on a Manhattan sidewalk with the words: “Hey, David Cameron! PMQs, we love your show.”

With that, and a wave to his wife and family in the gallery above, the showman took a bow. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

In the space of one hour, Britain has a new PM

Theresa May, the next Prime Minister, greeted by Tory MPs outside St Stephen's Gate, Westminster
The Prime Minister has changed, just like that.

At 11.30am  this morning the Westminster journalists, those of them who were not in Birmingham for Theresa May’s leadership speech, were trooping  along the Thames Embankment towards  the venue for Angela Eagle’s planned challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.

Then the balloon went up that Andrea Leadsom, after a bruising weekend of headlines, was unexpectedly announcing that she was withdrawing from the Tory leadership race.

An about-turn that wouldn’t have shamed the Trooping of the Colour was executed.

By 12:30am we had rushed from Leadsom’s campaign headquarters to the St Stephen’s entrance of the Houses of Parliament to hear Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee, formally declare that Theresa May is the new leader of the party. She is, de facto, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Right now Theresa May is on a train back from Birmingham, David Cameron is at the Farnborough Airshow, and the Queen who would appoint a new Prime Minister is in Balmoral.

It has been a stunning hour in an incredible few weeks of British politics. We knew the fall-out from Brexit was going to be profound and dramatic but this is  a swift and ruthless unravelling of the thread.

It has claimed several careers already - David Cameron, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson amongst them - split the Labour party from it’s leader and heightened expectations for a second Scottish referendum.

There will be a new Cabinet in weeks. I thought it highly symbolic that George Osborne allowed himself to be photographed, looking relaxed and comfortable, with his children at Silverstone this weekend. He could be on the way out. 

There could be a general election in months, the pressure will certainly be on, and that will be good news for one man at least - Jeremy Corbyn.

For the far-left losing troublesome Labour MPs to Brexit-supporting constituencies would a year-zero win, allowing them to put Corbyn-friendly candidates in place next time. Losing can be blamed on the rebel MPs, so do not prepare for a Labour revival.

For the SNP in Scotland it should be relatively unaffected by an election and has the finances and organisation to be ready in no time. For the SNP an election would be a simple platform to argue against Scotland being taken out of the European Union.

Prepare for a new Prime Minister is all we can say for certainty.

Brexit has shaken Britain to the core, the centre has fallen apart.