Tag Archives: Britain

Arachnophobia

A few weeks ago, during the days when summer transitioned into a wintery autumn, our household was struck by an immigration issue. They came in all shapes and sizes, some small, some large, some black, some brown, but all with the same intent: feeding off us, using our benefits, impinging off our heating and lighting and making zipwires from my light-shade to my curtain-rail.

I was working one day (surprisingly) and I saw something out of the corner of my eye, something which scuttled with malice and a vengeance across the floor. This eight-legged horror froze as I turned my gaze upon its features, eyeing me back with contempt. I didn’t move either, and, summoning up my courage, I called my sister to remove it to a more suitable location. Then I knew. I had arachnophobia.

It lasted less than a week. I still don’t pick them up and let them run across my hands, and they’re not coming anywhere near my food, but I’m not afraid of them any more.

The word phobos is often translated as fear, but that’s not its true meaning. It’s the intertwined mix of hate and fear which supersedes reason and common sense. Paraphrasing Ovid, what is more influential than mankind, what less than an insect? Yet mankind screams and runs away from the insect.

The spiders have truly come out of the woodwork in the last few parliamentary years. In the midst of the populist web of disruption lies Nigel Farage, spinning out attractive propositions to win over the British electorate. The established parties, in reality, have nothing to fear from Ukip, electorally speaking. First-past-the-post, whatever disadvantages may be found with it, ensures that, even if Ukip come a close second in every constituency, they still won’t gain any seats. The spiders won’t eat the human.

Just as with the Anti-Waste League in the early 1920s, the Conservatives will inevitably shift more towards the right to eliminate the usefulness of Ukip, since they are more effective in government than the untested and globally unpopular Ukip.

Of course, the European elections show that Ukip has a mandate to voice Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom, but these cannot be taken as a prediction for the general election, given that the turnout was much lower (so those who did bother were probably more motivated to make it count anyway) and works on proportional representation.

The spider may not be able to do anything disasterous, but I still engineered a pretty comprehensive series of traps to stop one crawling onto my face during the night. Ukip may not win a majority in government, but they can still force Cameron’s hand in the EU, push for a reconsideration of the immigration laws and of the judicial infrastructure.

It isn’t logical to fear/hate spiders. In actual fact, they do some good, such as controlling the fly numbers…and probably other good things too. And Ukip have one good point – they’ve forced a reconsideration of the status quo and have ridded the established parties of the complacency in policy and in action they have enjoyed for a long time in Westminster politics.

We can prohibit spider from impinging on our territory by covering the vicinity in peppermint essence, or we can suck up each one with a hoover. We could discredit Ukip on the grounds of racism, sexism or whatever else the media can find, or we could seriously consider how they have enjoyed such a surge in popularity despite their ostensibly massive flaws.

I don’t have arachnophobia any more. I got over it. Maybe it’s time Westminster did too.

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Heather on the Mountainside

When the heather is still to be seen all around, and the mountains are littered with forests of deer and capercaillie, a whisper flies over all the mountaintops and treetops. A magnificent stag, resplendent with antlers of shining bone, raises himself from his rest. The whisper flutters between pine and fern and, brushing the tufted fur of the stag’s ear, imparts its news. The stag, it says, could leave the pine forest and wander over bracken and thorn to another forest on the eastern slopes of the mountain, where the clearings are said to be grander, the herd smaller and the rivalry lesser. The stag could determine the lineage of the herd for himself, upon which plants his herd ought best to graze and in which location. Otherwise, the stag could remain in the larger forest, not the primary stag amongst his large herd but nevertheless possessed of the prestige thereof, staying with grasses he knows to be fertile and ground he knows to yield goodness.

Whilst composing this rather crude tale in German (during a lesson which wasn’t in fact German – sorry), all the romanticism of the Scottish landscape seemed to fill up my thoughts, as perhaps the state of the post-1918 Liberal party ought to have been doing. The emotion Scott evoked in his readers, imbuing Victorian England with a new-found alacrity for all things Scottish, has almost been aped by Salmond in his drive to secure Scottish independence.

It’s all been analysed in much finer detail in the media, especially R4’s excellent Today, but I think where Salmond has truly excelled with his campaign strategy has been the targeting of the emotional vote. Because, in the end, an important section of the electorate will be swayed not by the fiscal difficulties ensuing from the pound sterling issue, nor by the perilous diplomatic & treaty consequences of independence, but whether Scotland is good enough to stand alone. Whether they feel proud as Scots. Whether they want to honour their heritage, the efforts of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

In taking IndependentScotland’s online survey, I apparently am 75% No Thanks & 25% Yes. Going on to read their reasons for both sides, I was immediately reminded of an episode of Yes, Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey tells Bernard how to fix the outcome of a poll.

Since I’m of dual heritage from both countries, I have a vested interest in keeping our kingdom united, as I previously bleated about. I can also see the clear advantages in an independent Scotland, so I thought I’d make my own reasons for swimming with Salmond (**bad joke**) or against him. If I was allowed a vote, these 3 reasons would be why I’d vote for either side.

1. YES – Scotland was once independent, and did pretty nicely, thanks very much.

Well, that’s almost true, barring the awkwardness of the Darien failure, the mess during the Protestant Reformation (partially alleviated during Mary’s short active queenship) and the feudalism of the English ‘overlordship’. With a single head of state, and massive loans required to keep one partner afloat, the Act of Union made sense. Now that the monarch wields little real political power, that’s out of the 1707 equation, whilst Yes say North Sea oil will keep the country afloat in addition to cutbacks on defence expenditure. Holyrood is 17 years old so the political infrastructure is almost there.

2. NO – Scotland enriches the other kingdoms and is equally enriched.

Everyone uses Andy Murray so I’ll use his mother – captain of the Davies Cup team and one of the most interesting prospects for Strictly Come Dancing this year. In seriousness though (actually I was being serious, because I’ve drawn Judy in a sweep-stake), culturally speaking, the unity of intra-UK interest really does benefit us all. It’s more accessible than it is with other states, and is therefore more beneficial.

3. YES – Scotland has a different political agenda to the rest of the UK

There are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs – an oft-quoted but nevertheless funny fact. With an effective Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition ruling from (ahem) Westminster, how can Scotland’s needs and priorities be given full importance when most of the Scots MPs are just hurling insults (and empty promises) from the opposition benches? Scotland can govern its economy, citizenry and everything else in better accordance with its wishes and needs from Edinburgh. Scotland wants subsidised university fees – they can have them. No nuclear weaponry? Fine. More pandas? Fine.

4. NO – **Diplomatic warning lights**

By sticking in the UK, Scotland has a voice at the highest diplomatic summits and conferences and carries much more weight than it would as a separate state. Barroso and several other European persons of importance have said that Scotland would not be welcome in the EU – most Scottish politicians claim they don’t want to be either. But without a place in the EU, how can Scotland expect to improve it, to work in close harmony with its European partners? Various treaties would need to be constructed which would take several years – it can of course be achieved, but at the cost of important roles in global discussions.

5. YES – We can make it!

Norway used to be under Danish rule until the 19th century, and they’ve done jolly well as an independent state. Their topography, economy & demographics are comparable to Scotland. There have been years of English gain at Scottish expense – the Wars for Independence, the Highland Clearances, the industry – it’s time to reclaim the land as Scottish and construct our own corridor to our future.

6. NO – Carving

Many British families are a patchwork of all the constituent nations, and so to ‘be Scottish’ has various interpretations. Many people are simply and indistinguishably British, so why should we be forced to choose between our genetic allegiances?

The emotional emphasis of Salmond’s work has had a positive impact on his polling – when the referendum was announced I assumed No would win, but will they? In less than 9 days we shall see if sense and sensibility prevails over pride and persuasion.

http://www.independentscotland.org/content/voting-yes-for-scottish-independence.htm
http://www.independentscotland.org/content/voting-NO-for-scottish-independence.htm

Union

Despite being a girl who loves motor racing, someone who didn’t vote for Andy Murray to be the 2013 Sports Personality and someone who thinks watching “Downton Abbey” is more painful than doing the 1500m in a hailstorm, undoubtedly one sentence always seems to shock people the most, whether they’re strangers, mere acquaintances or good friends – “I’m not English”.

For most people, this seems very confusing, in addition to the fact that far too many people don’t differentiate between hailing from England and being from the British Isles. My accent is (so I’m told) ‘BBC’, my birthplace Derbyshire and my favourite meal a roast dinner. Why, then, am I so determined to refute suggestions of Englishness?

Writing this in the wind-battered, snow-covered Cairngorms, my explanation never has felt stronger or more real to me. I’m not English. I’m British. With a haphhazard conglomerate of Scottish, English, Northern Irish and French antecedents, I seem to be some sort of walking version of the Union Jack or the Auld Alliance (sorry Wales). My Scottish blood in particular is very important to me; being a quarter Scottish and living up here for a period every year, I always feel that this glacially sculpted Caledonian landscape is at my core. And, having inherited Pictish resilience to harsh weather, I always yearn for the mountainous vistas and heather valleys of the Highlands.

But I belong in England too (especially when it comes to cricket). Walks along the sandy cliffs of Cornwall or trips to the magnificent capital rekindle the importance of my English fraction, whilst being much further from Glasgow is always reassuring (I’m joking…).

Haggis or roast beef? Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart or Stirling Moss and Damon Hill? Irn Bru or English Breakfast? Deciphering Glaswegian accents or Yorkshire accents? Sometimes such quandaries are exasperating if one wishes truly to emanate cultural stereotypes (witty though they may be). Yet they make everyday life so much more varied and interesting.

Preferences such as pipe bands over ska bands, kilts and sporrans over waistcoats and pocket watches and Elgin tablet over fudge demonstrate my descent from the northern side of the border – yet those such as Mars Bars in normal form instead of deep-fried, Tim Henman over Andy Murray and the Wesley brothers over John Knox convey my Englishness. Even the title of this blog transports the indelibility of this dual heritage – classic English love of the brewed beverage and the classic Scottish love of the homemade shortbread.

Although I’m nescient of any Welsh connections, I still love to sing “Guide Me, O, Thou Great Redeemer” and pick daffodils like any other Briton; the bravery of the Northern Irish in almost perennial adversity I find astounding and, in the proper use of the word, amazing. I am British and proud.

As our prime minister scarcely neglects to proclaim, we’re all in this together – 1707 until total annihilation do us part.