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Through the looking glass

Brian Taylor | 17:46 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The seminal literary works on politics are, of course, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

“When I use a word”, said Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

Could be a role model for elected members. Or how about the Queen, with her offer of “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today.” Ministers take note.

But my personal favourite - also from the Queen - is the declaration of intent to “believe six impossible things before breakfast".

Politicians, voters and the onlooking media in Northern Ireland have had to accustom themselves to a similar phenomenon.

They’ve seen the restoration of devolved power. They’ve seen Dr Ian Paisley enter office as first minister. In a coalition with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

'Chuckle Brothers'

They’ve seen them prosper personally to the extent that they have been dubbed “the Chuckle Brothers.”

Both arrived in Scotland for talks with Alex Salmond, a trip to reciprocate Mr Salmond’s visit to Belfast last summer.

Think of it. Ian Paisley, the arch unionist of old, declaring common cause with the leader of the Scottish party which wants to end the Union.

(Mr Paisley reminded me that, as privy counsellors, they had both sworn an oath of allegiance to the sovereign.)

Martin McGuinness joining them in Edinburgh Castle. A British Army base. In the Queen Anne room, constructed in 1708 just after the Union between Scotland and England.

Symbols all round. And yet, gloriously, the talk is mundane. It is of co-operation to enhance transport links. A revived ferry between Campbeltown and Ballycastle.

It is of mutual development of renewable energy.

'Robust' defence

It is also of political challenges in Northern Ireland - but within the DUP rather than between parties. Dr Paisley’s son, Ian Jnr, has quit as a minister because of persistent questions over links with developers.

He says the claims are utterly unfounded - but is stepping down to ease the pressure. Until his successor is appointed, he remains in office and was in Edinburgh.

Asked about the resignation and the impact upon himself, Dr Paisley Snr was robust. He told Gareth Gordon, my BBC NI colleague, that he “would not be skinned by you or the likes of you.”

Some things, it seems, never change.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 08:23 PM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • karin wrote:

You know the more of ian paisley i hear the more i like him.

Did you know brian that alice in wonderland is described in wikipedia as a work of literary nonsense.

Not in the same league as 1984 at all.

However the talk of caterpillars, grinning chesire cats, painting white roses red and alice mentioning the date is the 4th may makes me wonder if it is required reading in the labour party.
The only thing i do know is that unlike real life alice wakes up to find its all a dream. Bet labour sometimes wish they could do that.

One more thing brian. Why didnt you ask the PM why the commission was now a review. Did you and i had tuned out by then?

  • 2.
  • At 08:44 PM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • Conway wrote:

Step by step the UK heads towards a confedaration of states. Nothern Ireland,Scotland,Wales and of course coming up the rear the English. Each state working for the good of there citizens and working together on common issues.So come on England catch up and get with the program.

  • 3.
  • At 11:21 PM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • bob wrote:

fantastic!

yes ... the world is actually a wonderful place, and working for an organisation that wee alec is actively cavorting with ... i'm fed up of him being "abody's" pal.

i voted snp. will always vote snp. wee alec needs to stop selling out as soon as possible, he doesn't need to.

might mention that to him when i see him next, but he doesn't know my name, so i suppose it doesn't matter!

  • 4.
  • At 02:36 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Math Campbell wrote:

I concur with No 1. (Conway). A confederacy of small sates is much better for each of it's wholly disparate citizenry than a huge sprawling overarching government based in only one of the nations, looking to only one of the nations citizenry. If this truly was a "United" Kingdom, then why is it's capital London, not somewhere equidistant from all 4 nations, or somewhere like the Isle of Man?
Why are virtually all UK govt. agencies in London or close by (with the notable exception of the DVLA)? Why isn't the MoD in Glasgow near it's nuclear sub bases? Why isn't the Ministry of Justice * near Oxford, or Cambridge, the University towns that supply most of it's employees?


I'll tell you why. The UK is, and has always been, an english-only institution; sure, the odd nod was given to Scotland, NI, and sometimes, even Wales (still part of England & Wales to this day). But at it's heart, the UK is England, run from London, for the English who make up the overwhelming majority of it's citizens.

That's fine. The time has come to take Scotland out of this mess, keep our tax money for ourselves, not spending it on Olympics we'll only see on TV, not wasting it on millennium dome's in another country. I think it's time for independence. And, according to the polls, an increasing number of other people in Scotland agree with me.

  • 5.
  • At 08:36 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • HughB wrote:

Brian, you and your fellow Labour friends wallow in the past too much.

We, the people of Scotland, look to a bright new future of self-determination. This is democracy in action.

Funny how Westminster goes around the world with America trying to install democracy in other countries, when it should think about trying a bit more democracy itself.

Interesting programme on the banking crisis last night on Dispatches. That's another thing that Scotland gets dragged into. We need to take control of our own affairs, including regulation of the financial services. Of course, it's all too late this time, as G Brown has already worked his magic on the economy.

  • 6.
  • At 09:54 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Evan Beswick wrote:

In response to Math Campbell's post, I suspect the siting of the United Kingdom's capital on the Isle of Man might raise a few eyebrows. Not least from Brits who wake up to find that their capital is no longer in the United Kingdom.

  • 7.
  • At 10:01 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Craig wrote:

On the point why is all UK departments in London, the same question has to be asked of the scottish departments..why they all in Ednbrugh and not in the middle of Scotland, in places such as Falkirk, Stirling or Perth..Mr Salmond has been quiet and regressive on this issue

Still overjoyed to be N. Ireland is still working and that is one area where Tony Blair can take great credit for..as if it wasnt for him not only would N.Ireland still be controlled by Westminster but we would too

  • 8.
  • At 10:32 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • d. hooper wrote:

for all that you say about the meetings between alec salmond and ian paisley its not covered in the main scottish media which is frankly appalling!

  • 9.
  • At 10:42 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • LYDIA REID wrote:

When I watched the program the other night about the vote organised by the media on whether Berwick wanted to be Scottish or English. It struck me how vehement the English are in their believe that they support us financially. Do they not ask the question of themselves " If Scotland wants to be independent and the Scottish cost us so much money why not give the Scottish people independence". The gentleman on that programme actually stated that he did not mind us having free care for the elderly and free prescriptions and so on but not when it came out of his pocket. Have you ever heard such dribble or arrogance in your life. Maybe though we should have kinder thoughts and make the offer that our Scottish Government should go down and sort out their finances. I hope the conversation between Alex Salmond and Ian Paisley did centre round how it would be possible for our countries together to make it plain their is now no place for the fat cats in Westminster to continue spending our tax money on all that they do without our permission. Maybe with independence of their own and the relief of "not having to support Scotland Ireland and wales" they may cheer up a little find out the truth and even smile a little, we could teach them how.

  • 10.
  • At 11:31 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Jeff wrote:

Great to see mature politicians getting along with each other to their countries mutual advantage. What a change from the grudging, petty responses from the likes of David Cairns. A federal system in the UK would not work as England has a much bigger population than the rest of the constituent nations. Attempts to create regional assemblies within England to address this imbalance have failed, and are unlikely to ever work. Each nation running its own affairs but co-operating on issues such as transport and security within the EU is the only way it will work. This will require maturity, the likes of what we see between the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish administration. I only hope Westminster is up to the challenge

  • 11.
  • At 01:20 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Deasún wrote:

Craig - Many people can take credit for progress in Norn Irn, not least the people and politicians of the North - unionist and nationalist - themselves. You could also have mentioned Bertie Ahern, John Major, General de Chastelain, George Mitchell, Dermot Ahern et al. So to state, "if it wasn't for [Blair] Northern Ireland would still be controlled by Westminster" is, to say the least, distinctly Anglo-centric and disingenuous. Mind you, just what is Blair's legacy, apart from the Iraq war?

As you know Brian, perception is more important than reality. You and I and thousands of other political anoraks may know the agenda was mundane, but to the voter it appears that Prime Minister Salmond is being recognised by other governments and of course the use of the castle, a little touch of genius I think.

A happy by product of this meeting of course will be the softening of the attitude of the Orange fraternity towards the SNP.

Equally the PM having Martin McGuinness on his other side won't do him any harm with Glasgow's green and white brigade either.

All in all, another wee victory for the PM I think.

  • 13.
  • At 02:08 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • JulianR wrote:

On the one hand, Gordon Brown is acting to push Northern Ireland out of the UK (well, how else can you describe a plan that means that, from 2009, it will almost certainly be necesary to produce a passport or other form of ID to travel between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK?); on the other he is desperate not to grant Scotland anything close to the independence that Scotland's SNP Government wants.

The hypocrisy stinks, and the whole situation shows just how far the disintegration of the UK has already gone.

And no wonder Ian Paisley and Alex Salmond want to talk to each other...

  • 14.
  • At 02:46 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Saltirist wrote:

Brian says:

Think of it. Ian Paisley, the arch unionist of old, declaring common cause with the leader of the Scottish party which wants to end the Union.

(Mr Paisley reminded me that, as privy counsellors, they had both sworn an oath of allegiance to the sovereign.)

No contradiction or surprise there Brian - Alex Salmond is not a declared republican and the SNP does not have abolition of the monarchy as part of their manifesto. It is the abolition of the Union (of Parliaments) that the SNP and Alex Salmond stand for.

  • 15.
  • At 03:32 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Conway wrote:

#10
In response to your post Iam more of the inclination for Scotland to become independent and be done with it and lets move on ,however I agree that a federal UK could be a problem however a Confederation of States "Countries" is a looser arrangement. Take Canada as an example the provinces of Canada are all different sizes and populations they are very independent of each other some more than others but Canada as a unit is still there .
I think our problem in the UK is that we have been conditioned into Westminster government knows best mentality ,we really need to learn from the rest of the world.

  • 16.
  • At 03:32 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Conway wrote:

#10
In response to your post Iam more of the inclination for Scotland to become independent and be done with it and lets move on ,however I agree that a federal UK could be a problem however a Confederation of States "Countries" is a looser arrangement. Take Canada as an example the provinces of Canada are all different sizes and populations they are very independent of each other some more than others but Canada as a unit is still there .
I think our problem in the UK is that we have been conditioned into Westminster government knows best mentality ,we really need to learn from the rest of the world.

  • 17.
  • At 03:36 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

In comment No. 9 Lydia Reid wrote “It struck me how vehement the English are in their believe that they support us financially”, well the point is that Scotland is 7% of the population who get 10% of public spending. That may not be such an issue for the like of me living in London and working in the City. But it is an issue for the English regions (like the North East). All objective analysis must agree this is not fair.
On the issue of the oil. If Scotland was independent then it would be Scotland’s oil unit then it belongs to the whole United Kingdom. Be honest Scotland has gained much benefit from the oil as has England as well.
I have a personal stake in maintaining the union as my mother is Scottish and I see my self as British rather than English. However if Scotland decided to leave and break up the union then that would be ok as we would just have to get on with it.
The one thing I have never understood in what as you Scot Nats so angry about? Why are you so bitter? The past is the past and we can not change it. And what a past we have had with this union of ours. I think on balance Britain is a county to be proud off and we as a nation have done more good than bad during our shared history.

  • 18.
  • At 05:07 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

In comment No. 9 Lydia Reid wrote “It struck me how vehement the English are in their believe that they support us financially”, well the point is that Scotland is 7% of the population who get 10% of public spending. That may not be such an issue for the like of me living in London and working in the City. But it is an issue for the English regions (like the North East). All objective analysis must agree this is not fair.
On the issue of the oil. If Scotland was independent then it would be Scotland’s oil unit then it belongs to the whole United Kingdom. Be honest Scotland has gained much benefit from the oil as has England as well.

  • 19.
  • At 06:49 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Rob Anderson wrote:

#1 Karin

If you go back to the Scottish Parliament debate on 6th December 2007 during which the commission was proposed and then voted upon, you'll see that the motion proposed that a Commission be established, which will carry out a Review of the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998.

Gordon Brown's non use of the word commission may actually just have been semantics, rather than an attempt to change the nature of the beast.

However if it was such an attempt it can only fail because on 6th of December the Parliament voted for an "independently chaired commission". It also instructed the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: "to allocate appropriate resources and funding for this review".

If they now wished to set up something that was not an independently chaired commission someone would have to propose it in Parliament and the Parliament would have to vote for or against it.

To mis-use funds set aside for an "independently chaired commission" in this way would be clearly illegal, and the Labour MSP who proposed the commission, (Hint - initials W.A.), would surely never break the law, well not on a day of the week that ends with a Y anyway.

(And even if they did, they would admit to it before getting off with it).

  • 20.
  • At 10:09 AM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Sandy wrote:

Salmond declares that Scotland can 'learn' how to tackle its own sectarianism from Northern Ireland.

Scottish sectarianism is essentially a fiction, accounted for about 0.1% of all crime in Scotland. What we need to learn (including you, Brian) is how stop pretending that it's a 'deep-rooted' problem that needs to be 'tackled'.

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