A few days ago I was lying on a berth in the sleeper train from Euston to Glasgow, reading an old mystery novel in which the key event is the discovery of the dead body of a man on a berth in the sleeper train from Euston to Glasgow. This was a happy coincidence. The book is The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, rated very highly as a mystery writer by numerous people. This blog gives a taste of both the book in question, and Tey’s reputation. Tey was herself Scottish, from Inverness.
I was struck by this astonishingly familiar description, in a passage relating to Wee Archie, an irritating proto-nationalist:
So they made tea for Wee Archie, glum and polite. He produced his own sandwiches, and while they ate he lectured them on the glory of Scotland; its mighty past and dazzling future. He had not asked Grant’s name and was betrayed by his speech into taking him for an Englishman. Surprised, Grant heard of England’s iniquities to a captive and helpless Scotland. (Anything less captive or less helpless than the Scotland he had known would be difficult to imagine.) England, it seemed, was a blood-sucker, a vampire, draining the good blood of Scotland and leaving her limp and white. Scotland had groaned under the foreign yoke, she had come staggering behind the conqueror’s chariot, she had paid tribute and prostituted her talents to the tyrant’s needs. But she was about to throw off the yoke, to unloose the bands; the fiery cross was about to be sent out once more, and soon the heather would be alight. There was no cliché that Wee Archie spared them. Grant watched him with the interest one accords to a new exhibit in a collection. He decided that the man was older than he had thought. Forty-five at least; probably nearer fifty. Too old to be curable. Whatever success he had coveted had passed him by; there would never be anything for him but his pitiable fancy-dress and his clichés.
Anyone who in the past year has has to suffer the mad interminable fantasies of a crazed Nat, particularly in the build up to the dreaded referendum, will recognise the description. Yet the book was written in 1952, long before the rise of the SNP as a meaningful party, albeit one founded in 1934.
All the bitter, chippy losers of the 2014 referendum, best summed up by the absurd pretensions of the ’45, clearly existed in only a marginally different form more than 60 years ago.
‘Who is Wee Archie?’ he asked, sitting down at the table. ‘So you’ve met Archie Brown, have you?’ Tommy said, clapping the top half on his hot scone, and licking the honey that oozed from it. ‘Is that his name?’ ‘It used to be. Since he elected himself the champion of Gaeldom he calls himself Gilleasbuig Mac-a’-Bruithainn. He’s frightfully unpopular at hotels.’ ‘Why?’ ‘How would _you_ like to page someone called Gilleasbuig Mac-a’-Bruithainn?’ ‘I wouldn’t like to have him under my roof at all. What is he doing here?’ ‘He’s writing an epic poem in Gaelic, so he says. He didn’t know any Gaelic until about two years ago, so I don’t think the poem can be up to much. He used to belong to the cleesh-clavers-clatter school. You know: the Lowland-Scots boys. He was one of them for years. But he didn’t get anywhere very much. The competition was too keen. So he decided that Lowland Scots was just debased English and very reprehensible, and that there was nothing like a return to the “old tongue”, to a real language. So he “sat under” a bank clerk in Glasgow, a chap from Uist, and swotted up some Gaelic. He comes to the back door and talks to Bella now and then, but she says she doesn’t understand a word. She thinks he’s “not right in the head”.’
With the Nats history is always repeating itself. Apart from the above gem, this blog has identified alarming Jacobin tendencies (as did this wonderful piece by disillusioned Yes voter Ian Gillan, @faintdamnation), and a view of Scotland’s place in Europe almost identical to that espoused by Hitler’s optimistic SS postwar planner.
None of this matters greatly, given the referendum result, other than the ongoing irritation of arch-loser Alex Salmond’s typically hubristic machinations to place himself at the heart of the evil Westminster parliament.
These chancers have no shame. It’s all about them, not the UK, not even about Scotland. As Ms Tey goes on to sharply observe of Wee Archie:
‘If he hadn’t had the wit to think up this rôle for himself he would be teaching school in some god-forsaken backwater and even the school inspector wouldn’t have known his name.’