23 August 2010

Any Questions? Crushingly fatuous answers...

I can understand pandering to an audience, up to a point. With all the room's attention fixed upon you, rapt attention turned to whatever idle toadstool thought you happen to have recently cultivated, it takes an honest spirit, fundamental decency, sincerity or practice not to assume drawlingly provocative airs, overheating the milder rhetoric of one's mind and generally turning into a confounded ninny. Alternatively, of course, if you are already a blustering gobjobber, full of egotism and demi-profound maunderings, the attention is likely to induce an excruciating concentration of your ordinary vices. So it seems on Friday's edition of Any Questions? on BBC Radio 4, excerpts of which have been inflaming corners of Scottish opinion since*. Two speakers in particular have quite properly invited a contemptuous analysis, Baroness Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray. The question concerned the release of Megrahi. Clearly the panellists didn't know much about the subject. Modest people, sensible people - might have decided to reserve judgement, with a nod to the complexity of the issues, perhaps lingering on one known element or another. There is no shame in a shrug. Unfortunately, a surfeit of modesty was not in evidence. In contrast, modest command of fact and inflammatory opinions were to be found in abundance. Sans informed opinion, both Murray and Deech took the opportunity to give free rein to their prejudices in the most depressing and personally discrediting fashion. For those gentle spirits, unwilling or unable to endure listening to the exchange themselves, here is a transcript of the panel's full remarks.

Eddie Mair: “Was the government sensible to release the Lockerbie bomber?”

Baroness Ruth Deech: “No it wasn't sensible and it was wrong. First of all because of the health issue and he wasn't properly checked up. Though I know that Ronnie Biggs is still alive, is he not? And we've been told I don't know how many times that he is at death's door and he was let out.”

Mair: “- Is continuing human life not something to celebrate.”

Deech: “Erm. I'm very glad that people live but if you start letting out a prisoner, everyone who has a dodgy medical history - well we'd save money wouldn't we but I'm not sure it is a very good reason. Secondly, there may be doubts about his innocence but Al Megrahi himself or his advisers dropped the appeal. If he was so sure he was innocent, he should have allowed that appeal to go ahead and then he could have walked out a free man with his head held high. And from what I've read there is a fair chance he would have won that appeal and the fact that he didn't pursue it seems to me very odd. But the final reason is I'm fed up with this Scottish waving of nationalism when it suits them. All right, they're devolved. I think they did this just to show the rest of us - oh! that we are independent, we make our own decisions. And it has been very embarrassing to the rest of us and it started me thinking along these lines. If Scotland wants to be independent - OK - be my guest - go ahead. Do what you want (*applause from the audience, cheers*) and please take back with you all the Scottish politicians (*laugher*) starting with Blair and Brown and Campbell. Take them all back and off you go on your own because actually we’re all subsidising them, I think, by way of benefits and all sorts of reasons and if they want to show how independent they are – okay, thank you and goodbye (*applause*)...”

I'll assume, being a generous sort, that the reference to Ronnie Biggs' compassionate release is not here being attributed to the Scottish Government, and is merely being included by Deech by way of thematic inclusion. Briefly, paradoxically, Deech also appears to believe simultaneously that Megrahi would probably have been released on appeal, and somehow, the dropping of his appeal indicates that he was - difficult to say - guilty? She introduces this as the second reason why the release was wrong. She may be proceeding on the mistaken assumption that compassionate release disallowed a further appeal. As we know, it did not. As it is, Alexandrian prowess would be needed to chop Deech's knotted mental fibres and tease out precisely what she is getting at. My guess is that she only had minimal consciousness herself. Her first two points are tepid. She only really reaches a boil, warming to her third theme. The Scots being referred to as "them" on the BBC presents an interesting dilemma for a Scottish nationalist. Deech does this three times explicitly in her rousing, dough-headed peroration, and makes sundry other references to an unexplained community - the we, the us and the our - which I can only assume primarily denotes our English and Welsh friends south of the Tweed. On the BBC's avowed purpose, the public them is a united British public, an encompassing we. The show was recorded in Sutton Coldfied, so we can reasonably calculate that the us in the room is primarily an English we. Radio expands that audience Britain-wide. Deech seems not to notice or not to care. She was rewarded with applause, no doubt sending a glad frisson tingling up her warm spot.  If Deech comes across as a bumptious nag, airing her vacuity in public, Douglas Murray more thoroughly discredits himself in his drawling outburst:

Douglas Murray: “I absolutely agree with that. Megrahi should have died in prison, no doubt about it. And er. The advice ... er ... of the alleged doctors is galling here. Because Kenny MacAskill, the so-called Scottish Justice Secretary – there’s not very much to do if you are the Scottish Justice Secretary in a devolved Scottish Assembly. You can at least read the one important bit of news that’s come across your desk the last five years. The problem that I think the most galling thing about this whole thing is this pretend, horrible, charade building in Edinburgh called the Scottish Parliament and the horrible charade politicians who inhabit it and who occasionally crawl out of the eh darkness and explain something to the to the rest of us as if, as if we we we’ve never thought of moral questions before. I mean Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond these horrible grandstanding, em, y’know Mickey Mouse politicians have been parading around talking about unique compassion of the Scottish people. We we are uniquely compassionate no one else feels compassion like me I’m feeling so compassionate at the moment I can hardly bare it (*laughter*) - I think this is appalling and the most appalling way to do politics and no good can come from this institution – the Scottish uh, uh, Parliament and whilst it’s there and the Union continues to fragment while mini-nationalists like Salmond and MacAskill are around – whilst this continues I say no good will come from it and this country will continue to be faced with these ridiculous figures making ridiculous pronouncements which embarrass us all (*more applause*)...”

I despair, truly despair. The remark is honestly too absurd, too excessive to spend too much time rebutting. No serious minded person would have made it in earnest. By making it, Murray foregoes any claim to be taken seriously. This is the self-importance, poseurish flippancy and exaggerated manners of a buffoon vaingloriously striving to coax a titter from his audience. Is he seriously suggesting that the various drafts of the Criminal Justice & Licensing and Sexual Offences Acts which have been on MacAskill's desk over the last years are not serious documents? Does he not find rape, knife crime, rates of incarceration, numbers of police officers and their use of taser technology or serious organised crime offences "important bits of news", as he puts it? How sad, that such a man has grown to find his own ignorance charming. The programme ended on a mirthful note, only slightly abashed by this baseless vitriol...

Maajid Nawaz: Just to say for our Scottish listeners, just to say that we do love you all , you know (*more audience laughter*) I love the Highlands -

Alex von Tunzelmann (chortlingly): They're not listening any more, they've all -

Murray (titteringly): - they've just turned off! -

Nawaz: I just wanted to add something. I think there does have to be a full inquiry into this and there needs to be an enquiry - 

Mair: Into this programme? (*laughter*)

Nawaz: Into the anti-Scottish rhetoric on this programme? No but into the decision made by the Scottish Government but also the involvement of generally of the UK in this, not just the Scots but everyone else as well.

One final thought. I wonder, in part, how Murray and Deech's respective half-Scottishness and riotous Unionist personas contributed to these high-handed, but tellingly implausible condescensions. They are, after all, fairly familiar if extreme examples of a genre fairly regularly appealed to by entrenched Scots Unionist characters like Fraser Nelson, making their way in London and in "British" institutions. I've certainly met folk with similar attitudes before, who feel terrifically urbane and are generally terrifically scornful if discussion turns to nationalist politics. What always strikes me is that in the name of generosity, open-mindedness, non-parochialism - they so often produce snarling diatribes similar in content if not extremity to Murray's comments above.

*My sincere thanks to Bugger (the Panda) for first alerting me to the programme..


  1. Ah, the failure of the English to comprehend nationalism, you have to love it. Murray in particular should know better, and I'd say his views on the Scottish Parliament throw much of his other political work in to question, since he clearly lacks any sense of empathy, judgement or common sense.

    Still, a group of D-list talking heads is slightly less patronising then the Tory Party's continued moans about why they cannot get votes in Scotland. As I've told Iain Dale before, all they need to do is read David MacCrone's books.

  2. No doubt the erudite and lettered Mr Dale will earnestly pursue your suggestion, Hammer. In other, unrelated news, winged porcine shapes have been spotted migrating towards the London Borough of Camden....

    Entirely agree on David McCrone. I've no doubt that many Scots would also find it a revelatory experience to read his autoanalysis in Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Nation. I know I certainly did.

  3. The thing is that if Scotland was an independent country they wouldn't talk like that. Paradoxically they are only able to be so contemptuous because Scotland is part of the UK.

    I find these people doubly annoying because I am one of those nationalists who believes that we will only be ready for independence when we stop thinking of ourselves mainly in terms of our relationship with England. We need to define ourselves without constant reference to our neighbours down south. These people make it doubly difficult to do that!

  4. I moved to Scotland from England for work, and am thus Scottish by residence and, I suppose, British/English by birth. I am totally "cringed" by this. It is truly embarassing. I am sorry.

  5. Indy,

    As a sociologist might say, one of the paradoxes of subalternity is that it is premised on inclusion, at least on some level. Doubtless some postmodern soul would be keen to point out here that such distinctions between in and out, relevant and irrelevant, included and excluded are oft-times profoundly ambivalent, contingent, even internally contradictory judgements. And in many cases they'd be quite right.

    Scots will be quite used to these vacillations between inclusion and exclusion which you describe. For example, consider the idea of "northern-ness" in British terms. Scots, while geographically hailing from more northern climates than our friends in Lancashire and Yorkshire, nevertheless aren't "northern" in the same sense. I knew one chap who worked in the South of England but "retained" his "regional accent". This, much to the surprise of a bluff, idiotic southerner who expressed surprise that he "hadn't lost his northern accent yet". In the RP past, such a remark might well have been applicable to the "Scotch brogue". It is significant, I'd suggest, that these days even to describe a Scottish accent as "regional" would seem rather odd. Assuming that you are comprehensible, I've yet to encounter a cosmopolitan Englander who would remotely anticipate I or any other Scot flattened my vowels and gave the growling 'r's a bit of a rest. Meanwhile, the unfortunate northern Englander is left to contend with his fellow's pompous snobbery.

    Its a small example, but I think an intelligible one, suggesting the liberties which can attend the distinctions of otherness.

  6. Anonymous,

    Don't be daft. They're numpties, certainly, but unlike Baroness Deech and Mr Murray, I've no enthusiasm for collective punishment.

  7. Well written Lallands,

    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

    Converts and other peripherals are often the most zealous.

    They feel the need to be seen to belong.

  8. FYI

    I penned a Panda mail to Maajid Awaz


    Dear Mr Awaz

    I am a Scot and listened to the Radio 4 Any Questions broadcast on Friday 20th August from Sutton Coldfield with jaw dropping incredulity which has since boiled into eruptive outrage. The thinly veiled bilious and outrageous racist comments made by two of the panellists, both claiming a modicum of Scottish parentage, was beyond parody and had they been verbally Paki bashing should have brought stout riposte and a skewering from yourself.

    Forlorn hope, eh?

    Instead, what did you say?

    “Just to say for our Scottish listeners, I think you know, just to say that we do love you all [Laughter from audience AND panel members] I love the Highlands.”

    For the record Mr Awaz, some of my best friends are Pakis from the Punjab and disgruntled Anglicised Jewesses.

    I hope the irony of that is not lost on you?

    As for the other two grandstanding clowns, they will be spit roasted by others.

    I made me sad that you do not see the implicit racism; remember the cheering from the Sutton Coldfield mob to Deech and Murray?

    Sutton Coldfield is in the West Midlands?

    Maybe their pent up xenophobia, which they are now unable to vent publically against anyone of a darker hue, has found a “safe” home and you were there when it happened, on the BBC, live.

    You missed an open goal.

    Not all whities live in Sutton Coldfield and I am proud to say, Scotland, whilst a long way short of being perfect in this regard, is trying much harder, certainly than that zoo audience on Friday, to dismantle by example, racial and national stereotyping. The Scottish Government, and particularly the SNP, are well in the vanguard of this. Check out their definition of who is a Scot and their record on opposing forced deportation of assimilated law abiding asylum seekers of all hues.

    Also if you want, you can look at the SNP website and click on the obituary section of images mid right, and follow the link to Bashir Ahmed MSP.


    I think you have chosen unwell your pied-a-terre in this “United Kingdom”. You are, however, most welcome in Scotland

    It is ironic, that the Scottish Government was nailed by two self seeking Numpties in a racial/national diatribe.

    It is equally ironic that had Scotland been independent of this Disunited Kingdom, these carbuncles on humanity would have been constrained in venting their spleen against a neighbouring country. Do you think they would have tried it on with Eire or Luxembourg or Pakistan or Israel? Ironic?

    I await the day when we are free of this racist, empire loyalist, festering corpse of a Union.

    We are really only honorary English you know, and that honour is being stripped from us daily as we dare to think and act differently from them.

    I hoped and expected a little bit more from you. Maybe your jaw had dropped too?

    Happy hunting Mr Awaz.

    I wonder if he will reply but of he does shall I share it?

  9. Lallands

    I had the courage to listen to, as Bugger put it, "the thinly veiled bilious and outrageous racist comments", and to be honest, I'm becoming numb to this kind of thing. I hear comments (& applause) such as these, to varying degrees, on many public service broadcasts these days. Most are not as obtuse as those on the said broadcasting, but the subtle ones can be just as offensive.

    Whether Scots wish to stay in the Union or become independent, this is a timely reminder that all is not right within the UK, and radical change is required.

  10. Sorry about the Bugger Up and Multiple posts.

    It said I had posted too much to be published so I tried to send in 3 mails and then the priginal entire post turned up!


  11. No worries Bugger. I exercised my editorial discretion and deleted your deleted posts. No harm done. I'd be interested to hear if Nawaz responds to you. I'm generally leery about alleging the racist charge, myself. Certainly it is overused. Analytically and politically, I think it is helpful to limit the concept of racist to organic ideas of certain groups possessing inherent, ineffaceable characteristics. Bizarrely, Murray's remarks resonate, even on this comparatively "high" standard. No matter what we do, apparently, the Scots parliament is damned.

  12. I find that decidedly sad, AndrewBOD. Jeff, the erstwhile SNP Tactical Voter, recently discussed the extent of the Scotophobia he has encountered since his move to England. For myself, perhaps owing to the international qualities of my milieu, I tend not to experience this dimension. On the British airwaves, however, such notions regularly - all too regularly - find a mouth to emanate from. Unlike you, perhaps naively, I'm always a little shocked.

  13. lallands

    It is all part and parcel of the same thing.

    Despising and decrying another group of people.

    If not racism in a "classic" sense it is stereotypical abuse?

    I note that the English court system has ruled that Scots are not a "racial" group and thus not entitled to protection under the appropriate legislation whereas in Scotland someone who was English and was not appointed to a position in the Scottish Police Force had his complaint of "racism" upheld.

    At least I think so so, and if so, does that mean we Scots are more liberal and compassionate in our interpretation of race law?

  14. Bugger,

    You emphasise an important point - just because something isn't racism according to a specific idea or definition - it may be equally egregious in its own way. I entirely agree with that position. I'm not being legalistic anal - for a change - so much as wanting to preserve the historical specificity of racist ideas. I think there are benefits to not collapsing everything into the category of "racism", but now isn't really the moment to delve into those. We should hopefully all be able to agree that this is stereotyped and bigoted nonsense.

  15. Aye OK Lallands, your legal definition of racism and the importance of not allowing it to be devalued by by being subsumed by stereotypical abuse is accepted.

    Racism really is a filthy business and beyond the pale of other abuse.

    Let us not forget religious intolerance and abuse either, when we are at it; oh and the people with pointy heads and legal qualifications as well.

    First we'll kill all the lawyers!

    I yield to your legal position for obvious reasons.

    Abuse is still abuse and abuse of a national group is, in my book, only just short of the extreme abuse that is manifest as racism.

    As I said, what if you transposed Israel or Ireland for Scotland. Are Israelis and Irish not a national, or religious, group rather than racial?

  16. "One final thought. I wonder, in part, how Murray and Deech's respective half-Scottishness and riotous Unionist personas..."

    Douglas Murray is half-Scottish and was born on the Isle of Lewis and despite the fact that he was educated in the English private school system the core of Douglas Murray's rant is most likely a fear of being thought provincial due to his Scottish roots. Ruth Deech said her mother was Scottish so this may also have a part to play in her description of the Scots as, "them", and the fear of being thought provincial is probably also at the heart of the other Scots who have gone south and become more British than the English such as Fraser Nelson and Gordon Brown.

    This fear of being thought provincial when Scotland is a nation can only be explained by giving Great Britain its proper title of Greater England, a Greater England which comprises England proper and three northern and western provinces. It also explains the refusal of the establishment to regard Scotland as a nation and Scotland's classification as a region of Greater England. Despite being regarded as Greater English in nationality Scots are not considered as, "us", by the establishment as they have been born outside England proper. Devolution is a classic example of provincialism being forced on Scotland as devolution is a provincial system of Government and quite different to federalism and the failed plans to devolve power to English regions in stage two of devolution shows the true status of Scotland within the thinking of the establishment.

    Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish can be considered as citizens of Greater England but are not English and the best description which would match the establishment mindset would be to describe them as, "Provincials". What I'm trying to say that both Ruth Deech's and Douglas Murray's diatribes were driven by snobbery. To rid themselves of the taint of provincialism they have to asssert their distance from those far away provinces and assert their right to be regarded as being members of England proper. It is a snobbery which arises from regarding Scotland not as a partner nation in the UK but as a province of Greater England. Accusations of of racism will be met with surprise. How can you be racist against a province?

    "I've certainly met folk with similar attitudes before, who feel terrifically urbane and are generally terrifically scornful if discussion turns to nationalist politics. What always strikes me is that in the name of generosity, open-mindedness, non-parochialism - they so often produce snarling diatribes similar in content if not extremity to Murray's comments above."

    For a snob the fear of being tainted with provincialism is the greatest fear of all. As Scots they're probably working to Gordon Brown's plan which was not to identify himself as being from England proper but to try and bury the differences between Scotland and England by making everything British. You can't be a provincial if there are no provinces but a resurgent Scotland remakes the boundaries.

  17. As someone from the West of Scotland, i can only really think of one description that fits these two clowns.


    PS: Has anyone complained to the BBC about this slippage in the standards of their guests. Surely Jordan awaits on next week's show.

  18. Ha!

    Sounds like a sound stratagem, Bugger, speaking as an unofficial representative of the legally(ish) qualified pointy-headed contingent. That said, since you quoted Shakespeare at me, I can't help but notice that your own napper seems to have been whittled to a keener point!

    For myself, I'm not at all keen any categories of "race". I'd rather all racialising ideas were effaced from our lexicon, these being generally associated with ideas of inherency and the unscrubbable organic evil or inferiority of a particular group, typically and historically coded to human skin pigmentation. Its this "racism" which I'd want to keep distinct from the equally ugly but fundamentally rather different group hatreds that abound, whether premised on religion, apprehensions of culture, socially-begot and perpetuated group tendencies and so on. Others, reasonably enough, disagree and prefer to extend the category, precisely along the lines you suggest Bugger - arguing that they're fundamentally manifestations of the same terrible tendency.

    You're right, however. Mostly I'm just quibbling.

  19. Splendid analysis, DougtheDug. I rather tacked that thought on at the end, an unchewed inclusion. I'm sure there is a literature somewhere on this curious form of social movement which seems to generate this godless permutation of the zeal of the converted. Particularly in Murray's case, your argument seems to me persuasive. It is sad really. Such a vinegar-still insecurity can be.

  20. Allan,

    I'm sure we'd all be simply fascinated to hear Ms Price's views on the burning issues of the day...

  21. DougTheDug

    I have just read your piece on Greater England and what I have classed as our position as "honorary" English. This is being stripped bare from us, day by day by the bastion of all things M25 central, the BBC, as we have the temerity to be different.

    Devolution certainly was a bone to a mangy dug, designed to maintain our subservience.

    Excellent piece

  22. Those two are totally and utterly bonkers. Noticed this morning on Radio Scotland's CallKaye that Murray is a trifle sensitive when it comes to receiving criticism. Prat.