Saturday, 26 May 2012

An Apology

On behalf of the people of Scotland I would like to apologise for Johann Lamont.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Here goes then. You've probably figured it out by now. It's `courage' of course! If the Scottish Parliament's mace had had room for a fifth word, alongside the worthy foursome of wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, that's what designer Michael Lloyd would have gone for, as he told me in a recent conversation.

I think I see where Michael is coming from.

Here's a practical example of the contribution courage might have made.

As ever more doubt is cast on the conviction of  `Lockerbie bomber' Abdulbaset al Megrahi, the Scottish Government's capacity for displaying wisdom, justice, compasion and integrity is (at the time of writing at least) completely nullified by the lack of courage to do something about it.

I for one would be proud to be a citizen of an independent Scotland that had shown the braveheart spirit needed to face up to and deal with this issue, but ashamed if we are to be a nation prepared to live with the stain.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The 5th Word

Mace designer Michael Lloyd told me he would have liked to include a fifth word, alongside wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, but there was no room for it.

I mentioned this in an earlier blog but did not reveal the word.

The word is contained in my last posting - the Lockerbie Test. I think I see where Michael was coming from because wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity - fine as they are - can lose their power without the fifth ingredient.

The campaign of the Glasgow Girls, iconic of Scottish values, was not short on this!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Lockerbie Tests the Scottish Government

The mace in the Scottish Parliament is inscribed with the four words `Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity'. Sadly none of these most worthy aspirations has been conspicuous in the Scottish Government's inaction over  the Lockerbie problem.

Where is the wisdom in simply refusing to acknowledge the body of evidence suggesting the Megrahi conviction may have been unsafe? How is justice for the victims served by failing to pursue the truth? Where is the compassion for the bereaved relatives? And if there is fear of reputational damage to the Scottish justice system , would it not show more integrity to have the courage to face this possibility honestly and then, if necessary, put it right?

Arguably, Lockerbie is the litmus test of whether this government has the character the Scottish people aspire to in the four words on the mace. With the world watching, it may also be the test that determines whether Scotland has the confidence to stand proud as an independent nation.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Where's Werrity?

The Fox-Werrity thing. Fox resigned. Werrity disappeared, not that he had ever really been in view in the first place. Fox took the rap for getting into a bit of a muddle about where the line was between his friendships and his political duties. And that was it. A line drawn, so to speak,  and the media moved on.

Only, it can't really be that simple can it? I mean Mr Fox isn't really that simple, is he? So what was really going on? And why have the media dropped the whole thing like a well-fired tuber?

I think we need some answers. And not the tired old lifestyle insinuations, it's the political deimension to this story that just doesn't smell right.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Truth about Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity

Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - these words are set in gold on the ceremonial mace in the Scottish Parliament. They assert the Scottish people's aspiration for the character of its government. Whether we are heading towards `devo max' or full independence, you are almost certain to hear much more about them in years to come. 

A future history of Scotland might begin, "In the beginning, were the words.. ."

And - you might not know this - just like the Beatles there was nearly a fifth one, but  more of that later.

The Mace was presented to the Scottish Parliament by the Queen, but the words first entered the nation's consciousness through Donald Dewar's speech at the opening ceremony: "Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - timeless values, honourable aspirations for this new forum of democracy."

I don't remember giving the words much thought at the time. I may have assumed they were either Donald Dewar's own idea  or borrowed from the writings of  someone like David Hume. Or perhaps the selection was approved by some grand overseeing committee for the new Parliament.  

The Mace was presented by the Queen on the opening of the Scottish Parliament

It was a few years before I heard mention of the four words again. Keir Bloomer, a titan of educational thinking in Scotland, was addressing a gathering of aspiring Head Teachers in Seamill Hydro. His exhortation that day was that these four qualities - wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity - were just the values that should underpin the endeavours of all those working in Scottish Education. Not long afterwards, they were. Officially. The founding committee of Scotland's new Curriculum for Excellence decreed that these words should be at the very core of everything the education system should aim to achieve. I am sure it was no coincidence that their most vocal champion, Keir Bloomer, was a prominent member of this committee.

The Scottish Education Weave - an aide memoire for teachers to help them recall key principles of the Curriculum for Excellence. Everything flows from the four values: wisdom - justice - compassion - integrity

I was yet to be convinced, however. These are great-sounding words, I thought, but why these four in particular? There are lots of other great-sounding words after all - honesty, fairness, tolerance, trust for example. And since we are talking about Scotland, how about thrift, prudence or financial propriety? (This was of course in the golden age pre-Fred Goodwin.)

But the more I thought about it, the more these four words in particular seemed especially well chosen. Just as the primary colours can be mixed in different ways to produce every other colour, it struck me that these four `primary' values could be used to generate the other contenders. Honesty and trust, for example, can be seen as implicit in integrityMercy? I would say it is mainly  compassion, with a dash of wisdom, and maybe a soup├žon of justice.

That thought got me wondering once again about the origin of the four words. I was astonished when, on using wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity as the search terms in Google, the first document listed was a blog posting of my own from 2009! I took this as a sign that I needed to do something to justify this ludicrously exalted position and repay Google for its misplaced faith in me!

Bizarrely an earlier posting of mine was #1 on Google. I took it as a message to get busy.

Enquiries to the Scottish Parliament produced an abundance of helpful information, including this: 

"The four words inscribed into the Mace of the Scottish Parliament – wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity - were selected by Michael Lloyd, the silversmith who designed the Mace. It is believed that Mr Lloyd selected these words as the ideals that the people of Scotland would aspire to for their Members of Parliament."

So I would need to speak to the creator himself. Michael Lloyd is a highly respected silversmith, one of ten invited to submit a design for the mace. He lives in Galloway, and his work reflects his love of nature.

Beyond `Galloway' the internet was silent on how I might contact Michael. More traditional methods were called for. Scotland, it is sometimes said, is just one big village. My mother happens to live in a Galloway village. A family friend, the traditional clogmaker Godfrey Smith, lives in the next village. Godfrey duly intervened and soon afterwards Michael Lloyd phoned me up.

Michael Lloyd, with the mace that he designed and made.

Michael told me how the brief he was given for the design of the mace was that it was to represent the authority of the Parliament, and that this authority would only be valid if given by the Scottish nation. The Queen had announced that she would present the mace herself. Everything was on a very tight timescale - he had just three months to design and make the mace.

"And what about the four values - Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - what gave you the idea for them?"  I asked. "I felt that these values and hopes were very much in the air to be collected and celebrated," he told me. He went on to explain his surprise that they were simply accepted, without the need for debate or approval by a grand committee.

Grand committe or not, I felt honoured to have the opportunity to congratulate him on his excellent choice.

"Oh I nearly forgot," he said. "There was another word that I thought would be very suitable, but there was no room for it." And he told me what it was.

The fifth word. What do you think?

I will reveal all, but it would be fun to hear some suggestions first. Over to you!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity and . . . .

I have now learned the origins of the four words inscribed on the Scottish Parliament Mace. I also know what the 5th word would have been, had there been room. My next posting here will tell the story.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Let it Bee

And the Lord said
let there be bees
and let them buzz.
And there wuzz.

(c) Michael Warren

A Personal History of Coffee in Scotland

I may be in the Grumpy Old Man age group now, but I can remember being grumpy as a teenager - I know you are supposed to be surly at that age, but I plumped for grumpy. Back then I had three pet hates - the three Cs: caravans, coffee and Cream.

Caravan loathing was easily explained - family holidays in the Highlands mostly spent on the tortuous roads of the 60s in a barely mobile queue behind the inevitable caravaner. The proud owner of a powerful Rover 2000, with a front grille festooned with a row of hefty metal badges like Prussian campaign medals, proclaiming his allegiance to the AA, RAC and the Handlebar Moustache Drivers Club of Great Britain, he just knew that the `road unsuitable for caravans' sign couldn't possibly apply to him.

You'll have noticed the capital letter and twigged that coffee and Cream are not a pair. Yes, astonishingly it was the rock band I couldn't stand. Admittedly I had only ever heard `Badge', which I rather liked. It was in fact nothing to do with the music, but a reaction to boys a year or two older who, unlike me, had sneaked into the Cream generation and didn't they need you to know it. Nowadays I love most of Cream's music, though I still think Clapton lost it with `Layla' - ever tried dancing to the last six and a half minutes?

And then there was coffee. Fancying myself as a teenage iconoclast, I defined myself as a non-coffee drinker for no other reason than that virtually everyone else seemed to revel in it: remember that in the 70s there was still something faintly louche about coffee. The story of every addiction has its defining moments, and my first one came as a student. Our hall of residence rooms were furtively equipped with a surprising gift at the start of each term - a little tin of Nescafe (remember the tins?). To begin with, I simply gave them to my coffee-drinking neighbour. Then, with my first major exams looming, it occurred to me that the sleep-denying qualities of coffee might come in handy. So one evening, with a view to extending my studying time, I took a spoonful of the stuff, washing the gritty granules down as quickly as possible with copious amounts of water. And it worked! I was able to study for a full hour longer before the equations started swimming across the page.

With the psychological barrier broken, it was not long before I started to accept the occasional social coffee. Mostly these were those milky concoctions with a digusting skin of sickly slime and the merest suggestion of a coffee taste - a recipe dating from 1950s Scotland and our nation's dubious contribution to coffee culture. It was coffee made for people who didn't like coffee but thought they ought to drink it. The Dutch have an apt word for this coffee-esque drink: koffie verkeerd - coffee gone wrong.

But slowly the Scottish palate was becoming more sophisticated, with foreign holidays in France and Italy introducing many of us for the first time to a completely new style of coffee. Unfortunately, in our attempts to emulate this, we chose as our coffee-maker of preference the percolator.

The percolator was the wedding gift de rigeur of the 80s, and the centrepiece of many a Thatcher-era dinner party. You can still find a few, sold as retro chic, on eBay. But some things from the past are best left there. The percolator was always an unneccessarily complicated means of arriving at another version of coffee gone wrong - the tepid, insipid and lifeless version that was Scotland's second flirtation with coffee culture.

Only in recent years have we arrived at the happy situation in Scotland where you can get a decent coffee in most of the larger towns and cities, though you still need to know where to look and only a few offerings match what you can confidently expect from even the most un-prepossessing cafe in France. Nowadays, in the grip of a joyous addiction, a morning in town will often start with two double espressos. Which brings me to one last grump. I don't mind paying £1.50 for a tiny coffee when a larger measure is available for a sensible increment. But there are still places that will try to fleece you by simply doubling the price - deftly insinuating strong coffee into the same aspirational class as malt whisky. Such places are best avoided, and not just on grounds of cost: your coffee will be made and delivered by a genuinely surly teenager.

Life is a contradictory undertaking. With age comes not just grumpiness, but mellowness. Nowadays I can think of few things better than waking in my caravan, on a sunny west coast pitch with views out to sea, and starting the day with a generous cafetiere of Taylor's Hot Java Lava (Strength 6) to a soundtrack of Disraeli Gears.

Descartes Visits Scotland

Descartes Visits Scotland

I think.
Therefore I am.

If I think
I am Scottish.
am I?

I think
I am Scottish
Therefore I am.

(c) Michael Warren