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I was a little disappointed to hear some English balloon with a double-barrelled surname chuntering on the BBC World Service about whether the Americans were justified in dropping  atom bombs on Japan.  Actually, that is a question worthy of discussion. I think what pissed me off was he seemed to be buying into the whole Japanese as somehow especially victimized by the war scenario. Certainly, the Japanese see themselves as victims and need little encouragement from the BBC when it comes to that feeling.  They remain woefully ignorant to this day about how their compatriots and ancestors behaved during the Second World War. The Japanese narrative is that the United States forced them into war and then committed the greatest of all war crimes by dropping the atom bomb on them. No mention is made of mass rape, murder of prisoners, torture, massacres of civilians, cruel medical experimentation or working slaves to death that took place in between. Yes, atomic weapons were and remain terrible things. But so were the fire storms created by conventional bombing raids on Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden, to name only a couple of the targets for Allied attack. Yes, the Japanese had put out peace feelers before the atom bombs were dropped. But the Germans put out peace feelers in 1916 which involved them getting to keep all the bits of France and Belgium they occupied. There are peace proposals and "peace proposals". But the disgusting behaviour of the Japanese obviously does not justify two atomic attacks. Maybe saving lives in the long run does.  Perhaps our little chum from the BBC would like to tour cities in Britain, India, the USA, China and Japan and point out several hundred thousand people for execution.  I think he should condemn to death the same number of people who would have died, including Japanese, if the war had not been brought to such a sudden and unexpected conclusion by Little Boy and Fat Man.

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I can't believe that anyone is making a fuss about an English actor being cast to play Charles Edward Stuart in a film about his escape from Scotland after his disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1746. It is just a shame that casting director could not find a part-Polish, part-Italian, part-French, part-Danish, part-English, part-Scottish actor for the role. After all, that would reflect the bloodline of the real Young Pretender. I'm guessing the implication of the media fuss is that it should have been a Scottish actor. The Great Getaway production team that chose Jamie Bacon for the lead role would appear to have a better grasp of Scottish historic reality than some in the media. And talking of pretenders, English actor David Niven was the last big star to have a go at the Bonnie Prince Charlie role back in 1948 - with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders cast as his ill-fated army. Niven, the Great Pretender, claimed to have been born in Kirriemuir but was in fact born in England. Niven was a raconteur par excellence and as an entertainer never let the facts get in the way of a great tale. His story of being at the hospital bedside of legendary Highland Light Infantry Company Sergeant Major Sixty Smith when the regimental pipe band marches as he lies dying could not have happened the way Niven describes it. Smith died three years after Niven quit the army and not, as the actor claimed, in Malta but in Egypt. But back to the Young Pretender. At least Niven did not become the drunken wife beater that the real Bonnie Prince Charlie turned out to be. 

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One of the most common complaints from authors in North America trying to publicise their new release is that most of the television and radio shows they manage to get on are hosted by people who have never read the book. But British author Stephen Grey seems to have encountered another hazard. It's not clear if he, or his North American publicist, knew he was being thrown to the cranks. One of the local radio stations here takes an overnight feed from America, I'm guessing because it is a cheap way to fill airtime when few of the people its advertising to will be listening. The show, I can't dignify it with the term "programme", mixes interviews with a call-in. It seems that most of the people calling in believe they have been abducted by aliens. The interviews are with people who, for instance, write about battles in the Irish Channel between the British armed forces and flying saucers. Those callers who have not been abducted are nearly all hard-core conspiracy theorists. I have to wonder if Mr Grey was aware of this when he agreed to appear on the show to discuss his new book about espionage and counter-terrorism. I only caught the last few minutes of the show but it seemed obvious that Mr Grey was somewhat surprised by the questions posed by the callers. The first caller did not have a question. He wanted help because the US government is holding his daughter hostage to force him to take part in its "war on terror". The second caller wanted Grey to agree that the internet is a government conspiracy. The third wanted to discuss using telepathy to spy on people. Grey's discomfort was palpable.

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When I was a lot younger there seemed to be an attitude amongst the general public that if someone was daft enough to join the Army, they shouldn't whine when things went pear-shaped.  To coin a phrase - "You shouldn't have joined if you can't take a joke".  Soldiering is inherently dangerous and training which 100% guarantees no-one gets hurt is not worth doing. But although the Great British Public appears more compassionate these days when it comes to its soldiers, especially after Afghanistan and Iraq, I'm not sure that the Army and the Ministry of Defence are not still locked in the old mindset. Reading reports of the inquest into the deaths of special forces hopefuls Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, Corporal James Dunsby and Trooper Edward Maher during a selection test in July 2013 it is hard not to conclude that their lives were squandered through carelessness. Health and Safety regulations obviously cannot be stringently applied to military operations or exercises but common sense and fore-thought can. There was a distinct lack of common sense that terrible day in 2013. And afterwards the Ministry of Defence showed a disgraceful lack of compassion. Encouraging young determined men, especially military reservists, to push themselves further than they think they can go on a remote Welsh mountainside is an accident waiting to happen. It is clear from the inquest that the people in charge did not take their responsibilities, not to say duty, seriously enough. Responsibility for the three men's deaths goes a long way up the military chain of command because many of the things that went wrong that day were the result of systematic failures. Lessons that should have been learned from previous incidents, including a similar 2008 death, were pretty much ignored. Officers are supposed to put the welfare and wellbeing of their men first. Sadly, promotion prospects and pensions still come first for far too many of the British Army's supposed leaders. Will we see anyone carry the can for this one or will the usual slight of hand make it impossible to work out where the buck should stop?

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I don't think Scots MPs at Westminster should be voting on legislation that only applies to England. It's a matter of courtesy. But this English Voting on English Legislation has me worried. I just don't trust Westminster not to pull a fast one. The flaws in the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland mean that it's not always easy to determine what legislation applies only to England. The, say, New Sewerage Pipes Act (England) seems pretty clear cut but there is other legislation that isn't so straight forward. The proper place to debate and vote on England-only legislation is perhaps an English legislature and not the British House of Commons. There are many successful democracies with federal constitutions and I am baffled as to why Westminister so staunchly opposes this system of government. By the way, I can't help feeling many of  jurisdictional conundrums we now face date back to when Labour's Tony Blair started back-pedalling on his devolution promises in 1997 when he realised he didn't need his Scottish MPs after all to ensure a majority. Another thing that bugs me about the whole EVEL debate is the hypocrisy. There are still some English Tory MPs around who flooded into the House of Commons in 1988 to impose the Poll Tax on the Scots a year before it was implemented for their own constituents. Why is this ill-considered major  constitutional change being rushed through? The fundamental issue at stake has existed since the creation of the Government of Northern Ireland in 1920 - that's almost a century ago. This issue is too important to all residents of the United Kingdom to be dealt with by pandering partisan political posturing. An all-party approach is needed if disaster is to be avoided. In the meantime, it might be nice if Scottish MPs could bring themselves to refrain from voting at Westminister on Bills that are indisputably English-only matters.

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Once, long long ago, I worked in the upper reaches of Glen Garry in Inverness-shire. The boss insisted the folk music was for the people, by the people, and truly something termed "authentic". So, at night when we got bored seeing who could hang by their arms from the rafters of the house- converted to a dog kennel- converted back into a bunkhouse for the longest time, we'd cook ourselves up some genuine folk songs. One was a song about the boss. Another was about a glue sniffer who joined a woodwork class to get his fix and at the end of the song everything he'd made fell apart because all the adhesive had gone up his nose. It was hilarious. You'll have to take my word for that because no-one can now remember a single word of the song. Now, neither I nor any of my workmates, as far as I know, was actually a glue sniffer. But then Ewan McColl was never a fisherman or a miner and he produced some pretty memorable songs about life and work as seen through the eyes of both. We have a woman here in Edmonton who regularly knocks out songs about doing jobs she's never done during time periods she never lived in. Some of her songs are OK but it is shame that the people who actually had done these jobs never put together a song about them. My old boss would have approved of that as "authentic". The problem with folk songs penned by people who weren't there is that they can slip into cliche and put thoughts into the supposed participants' heads and mouths that were quite possibly never there. I might be a little more impressed if modern song writers did a little more research into the periods and people they are writing about. "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Ozzie-Scot Eric Bogle is classic anti-war song. But how many Anzacs felt the way the narrator of the song does? One thing I know for certain is that none were given a tin hat in early 1915. And I seriously doubt that anyone straight out of school would have found themselves taking part in the 1914 Christmas Truce as John McCutcheon would have us believe in his haunting "Christmas in the Trenches". It's just a shame that few, if any, of the genuine participants in the events being chronicled had the same way with words as these modern song writers.

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I recently came across what purports to be an 18th Century recruiting poster associated with the raising of what became known as the Cameron Highlanders. Most histories of the regiment proclaim that it was originally known as the 79th Regiment or Cameronian Volunteers. But the poster names the regiment as the Cameron Volunteers. Certainly, the letter officially authorising the raising of the regiment in 1793 refers to it as the Cameronian Volunteers. If the poster is genuine, and I have no reason to think it's not, then some clerk in Whitehall got the name wrong. Not all the clerical errors committed by the military administration were so minor. Historians are still scratching their heads over the pronouncement in 1809 that the 94th Regiment was one of the regiments being stripped of its Highland status and kilts. The 94th Scotch Brigade was raised in the Scottish Lowlands by officers connected with the Scots regiments that had been part of the Dutch Army until the American War of Independence. It seems more likely that the government intended to deprive the 93rd Highlanders of their kilts in 1809. So, the decree that the 94th were being stripped of their Highland status made no difference to the regiment because it did not consider itself Highland and probably the 93rd decided not to draw Whitehall's attention to error and risk losing their kilts after all.

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This coming Sunday, June 28th, marks an important centenary - at least an import one as far as my family is concerned. On June 28th 1915 my great-grandfather was killed at Gallipoli while serving with the 8th Scottish Rifles. It was his first battle. Who knows if he even managed to fire a shot. I doubt it. He died fighting the Turks. He joined up to fight the Germans. It's quite possible he never met a Turk before he took the King's Shilling. Perhaps the only ones he ever saw were prisoners of war herded on the beach at Gallipoli. The nature of war is such that you don't always get to choose your "enemy". If you take the Queen's Shilling, you do the Queen's business; no questions, no choice. Of course, it's not the Queen who personally decides who you try to kill. That decision is down to Her Majesty's Government. And these days few, if any, of the Queen's ministers have ever been at the sharp end of a war. Too often these men, and it's nearly always men, are not even figuratively in the same room when the Pandora's Box we call War is cracked open. War is a necessary evil and should never be undertaken lightly. The attack my great-grandfather died in, at Gully Ravine, was a mess from the British point of view. It is hard not to conclude that his life was squandered by men who had yet to learn how to do their jobs properly.  I wonder how many of those back in London who were responsible for sending him into the bullet-whipped hell of Gully Ravine lost any sleep either before or afterward.

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All the British veterans of the First World War are gone, and Brits who saw frontline service in the Second become scarcer with every passing day. What is a TV documentary producer to do without all that eye-witness footage? But the fact is that perhaps that first-person testimony is not as valuable as we'd like to think. Memory is fickle. People constantly re-write their past to creative a more comfortable and comprehensible narrative. Old men come to genuinely believe that things happened in a way that they didn't. They are not lying, they are just mis-remembering with the best of intentions. Though sometimes there may be a bit of cynicism from both the TV people and the veterans. I remember when I was a reporter that the colleagues who decided what the story was before they'd spoken to a single person involved and who never let the facts get in the way of their preconceived narrative seemed to be great favourites with the bosses. Truth is stranger than fiction and the unexpected can disconcert gentle readers. Most people want their prejudices confirmed rather than challenged by messy truth. TV documentary makers have a good idea of what they want their talking-head veterans to say. Queue veteran talking about the horror of the trenches.  Blah, blah, rats as big a dogs, blah blah, the generals were butchers, blah blah, mud, blah blah, mud, blah blah blown to pieces. And there were some old veterans were wise enough to know that if they deviated from the expected script then they won't get their couple of minutes of fame. These guys, some of them badly damaged in one way or another during the First World War, were thrown to the wolves by their betters in The Depression and then saw their own sons marched off for Round Two in 1939. They had a tough life and it's hard to grudge them their 15 minutes of fame in their twilight years. Perhaps the veterans could be forgiven, but the TV people can't.

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So, what should the well-dressed reporter in a war zone wear? I remember at least one of the American reporters at Kandahar airport in 2002  kitted out from head-to-toe in US Army gear. "There are no neutrals in a war zone," he told me when I asked him why. But I found that many soldiers think that wearing nothing but military issue clothing is taking the piss. Another type of reporter shows up with a dark blue flack jacket and military helmet with a dark blue cover. Some of the this gear even carries the word PRESS. I sometimes wonder if they wouldn't be better painting the word TARGET on the gear and always carrying a bunch of brightly coloured balloons on  a string. Why stand out from the crowd on a battlefield, particularly when only the very stupid don't realise that today's insurgent actually targets members of the press. It all seems a bit like waving a press identification card in the air while under rocket or mortar attack and expecting it to do any good. There did seem to be another off-duty media uniform: some kind of casual shirt, a pair of khakis and suede boots. Though I suspect many of these media warriors didn't venture much further than the lobby of their hotel or the bedrooms of groupies. But the one thing I'll say for the dark-blue get-up is that the protective gear is usually up to code; ballistic plates and all that good stuff. What about me? Well, to paraphrase the Norwegian playwright Ibsen; one does not wear one's best trousers to a war. I opted for mute greens and browns from the local charity shop. The flak jacket and helmet colours didn't make me stand out too much at shooting distance from the crowd of soldiers around me but didn't take the piss out of them either. You can't file your story back to head office if you're dead.

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How old does a human body part have to be before its display is distasteful? Is it ever right to keep human body parts as souvenirs. The historians say it's quite probable that the people of Scotland were once head-hunters. But that was a long time ago. I recently came across a 1908 photo of a shrivelled claw that purported to be the hand and forearm of Scottish Cavalier James Graham, better known to history buffs as Montrose. A reasonably strong case was made for it being one of the limbs hacked off Montrose's body after he was hanged as a traitor in 1650 and sent off for public display in either Perth or Dundee. Certainly, the two nail holes suggest that it was pinned to something somewhere at some point. The aforementioned appendage had shown up in Yorkshire and I understand that as recently as 2001 someone there was trying to sell it. As a kid, I saw plenty of jaw bones, skulls, and other body parts in museums and never gave them a second thought. I remember being a little uneasy about a mummy in one of Glasgow museums but I was just a kid and there wasn't a lot I could do about it. Maybe it was the fact that the Montrose Claw still had flesh on it that made it so distasteful. Or maybe it was because it may have belonged to an identifiable, not to say sympathetic, human being. But I suppose all those skulls, jaw bones, hands, etc, were all parts of living and loved human beings at one time. Perhaps the time has come to clear all the museum cabinets of human remains. Let's show some respect to all people's dead ancestors. There can't really be much scientific value these days in keeping the heads of Africans, Pacific islanders and Aborigines in over-sized pickle jars. 

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This is a follow-up to a blog from last year that never appeared.  The so-called Arab Spring has proved a disaster for several countries.  Should we be surprised?  Well, many people are surprised and that does not surprise me. Our media outlets let us down badly. Often what passed for coverage of mass protests involved phoning some westernized  yuppie-type in the crowd.  Now, there’s no harm in some first-hand accounts. But these interviews with strident no-bodies, who seemed to have been selected for interview solely because they owned a cell phone, formed the mainstay of the coverage of events of many, way too many, news bulletins. Many of these interviews did little to reflect mainstream opinion in the Middle East, or perhaps even of the majority of the protestors. There are a couple reasons why this happened. Mainly, I suspect, because was  a cheap way of covering events. Just work out what the Egyptian or Yemeni  cell phone number system and dial until you get someone at the protest. Secondly, journalists desperately wanted a revolution organised on Facebook or Twitter.  Most journalists these days are only a couple of years older than the folk they interviewed by cellphone and are yuppies themselves.  Perhaps  if our media had made more effort to speak to people who were not just like them in Cairo’s Tahrir Square we would have realised where the protests would lead.  In Egypt the democratic elections which followed the protests apparently got it wrong.  A military coup was needed to correct the will of the people.  And let’s not get started on Libya.  Newsrooms throughout the western world are just too homogenized  - children of privilege abound and dominate.  Journalism has always been an occupation dominated by the privileged classes but they have now succeeded in almost entirely eliminating anyone from the news room who isn’t just like them.  A good newsroom used to keep a variety of horses for a variety of courses.  Now we have race horses making a mess of trying to pull milk carts.

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I wasn’t able to post this week’s blog on the usual day because I was off celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday.  Most Canadian provinces treat the dear old monarch’s birthday as a public holiday that marks the start of summer.  I really wanted to have a military theme for this week’s blog but I suppose we’ll just have to make do with a mention of an half-track later on in this one. I’m afraid that’s as good as it’s going to get this week when comes to matters military. Anyway, what I was going to say is that you probably won’t be surprised to learn that even Canadians feel it’s a bit of an anachronism to be declaring the official birthday of a woman who died more than 114 years ago as a public holiday.  The problem is that no-one can come to an agreement or consensus as to what should be celebrated with a May public holiday. All the alternatives are just too controversial. Only mainly French-speaking Quebec has come up with an alternative to Victoria Day, they call it National Patriots’ Day.  But basically Canada, the second largest country in the world, avoids controversy whenever possible. Sometimes I think the country is held together by apathy. Oh, half-tracks. A bloke I know sometimes dresses up as Winston Churchill and rides around the city of Victoria in a Second World War era US Army halftrack. Victoria , once home to a major Royal Navy base and still popular with United Kingdom-born retirees, likes to celebrate its “Britishness” for the sake of American tourists. Often it must feel like living in an England run by Walt Disney.

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There were two elections last week that were important to me. In one, the British General Election, the opinion polls got it wrong. They predicted a minority government for the United Kingdom. In the second, the Alberta Provincial Election, most of the pollsters predicted the end of 44 years of rule by the Progressive Conservatives and they got that right. The Tories were swept from power by the left of centre, for Canada,  Alberta New Democrats. People don't like to "waste" their vote and prefer to cast it for someone they think has a chance of winning. The problem with opinion polls is they give people the idea that a certain someone does has a chance of winning. The other problem with opinion polls is that they are terrible guides as to what the public is thinking or what it is going to do. Most polls are paid for by someone and the questions are skewed to get the answers those people want. They are as much opinion formers as opinion reflectors. I used to, if I had time, help out the poor pollsters if I could. Then I was forced in one poll to give two apparently contradictory answers to yes-no questions. Obviously, the poll came nowhere near reflecting my opinion. So, now I don't waste my or the pollster's time.  There are other problems with polls - people lie to the pollsters, who wants to admit to being a racist or a political nutcase? And there are real problems getting a reasonable sample of people to take part. Telephone pollsters tend to scoop up a lot of oldies who still have landlines and miss out on those who only have cellphones. And my maths isn't good enough to work out how inaccurate something that is correct to three or four percentage points 19 times out 20 actually is. Though I suspect the margin of error being admitted to is in the region of 20%.  In these days of social media it is impossible to ban polls. But all pollsters should be forced to preface their findings with the words "And don't forget folks, this is just a bit of fun".

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One of the best programmes on Canadian radio these days is called Writers & Co in which one author is interviewed for about an hour. But I've noticed that something like two-thirds of the British authors interviewed were privately educated. Perhaps that because of the networking opportunities that rich parents are able to buy for their children. Or perhaps it's because the children of the rich can afford to work for next to nothing. Certainly, I can't help noticing that an increasing number of actors and actresses on British television have hyphenated names and from what I can gather there are serious worries that working class thespians have little chance of a fulltime career these days. But the other thing I noticed was that Scots authors on Writers & Co are often more lively and interesting than the English ones. They were also far less likely to be privately educated. In fact I can't think of one that went to public school. Putting aside the suspicion that as a Scot perhaps I find other Scots interesting and identify with them more than with authors from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, I think perhaps there is something very wrong with the writing scene in Britain. Perhaps the time has come to redress the balance when it comes to the dominance of the British publishing industry by the privately educated. Someone should establish a publishing house which actually favours those from humble backgrounds. The criteria could be having been brought up or ever lived in a council house. With Margaret Thatcher selling off a lot of the council housing stock, perhaps, maybe, if there is a shortage of qualified candidates for publication, the criteria might be extended to include those who were brought up in former council houses. But I think we should start with those who have the strongest links to council housing. 

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The families of 24 men executed without trial by the Scots Guards in 1948 in Malaya were back in court last week. They want the British Supreme Court to order a proper public inquiry into the Batang Kali Massacre. The official British version has always been that the men were suspected communist terrorists shot while trying to escape. That version of events did not hold water in 1948, no wounded you see, and was blown out of the water in 1969 when some of the Guardsmen confessed to The People newspaper that Batang Kali was a pre-meditated massacre. A Scotland Yard inquiry into the massacre claim was quickly closed down by an incoming Tory government and in the early 1990s the British Government succeeded in foiling an attempt to Malaysian police to investigate. The cover-up, pathetic as it is, continues to this day. What is the Government hiding? The British authorities do not have a good record when it comes to protecting squaddies and in Iraq the Government fell over itself in its efforts to prosecute soldiers facing allegations of misconduct. Whoever ordered the massacre of ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers must be dead by now. In fact, everyone directly involved in orchestrating the massacre must be dead. It is obvious from the statements of the Guardsmen who blew the whistle that the cold-blooded killings were ordered from above and were not the work of a rogue patrol. By the time The People took up the story,  the man who led the patrol, Lance Sergeant Charles Douglas, was a battalion regimental sergeant major in the Scots Guards. And when Douglas was challenged by a newspaper reporter, his responses suggests he knew he was fire-proof when it came to Batang Kali. It would be interesting to know why he was so certain he would never be held to account. The Malaysians at the heart of this case are not after money. In fact, it is the British Government which is talking money because it is threatening that the Malaysians will have to pay the government's legal bills. All the Malaysians want is the truth about why their fathers and uncles were murdered in cold blood - and an apology. Some smart alecs may say that this is all ancient history and go chuntering on about wanting compensation for the Highland Clearances. But if it is such ancient history, why is the government still fighting tooth and nail to hide the truth?

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I read a lot of old books. One thing I can't help noticing is how often Scots soldiers refer to themselves in their memoirs as "English". Sadly, these men are all long long dead or I could perhaps go to them and ask why they chose to self-identify as English rather than Scots. Were they realists and knew in whose interests they were really fighting? To argue that they were fighting only for English interests is a dubious proposition when so many members of the Scots middle and upper classes benefited from the British Empire. Or where they currying favour with the Englishmen in Westminister who controlled the levers of power? After the 1707 Treaty of Union there was a strong move to destroy Scottish identity and replace it with something called North British. From 1708 until 1877 the Royal Scots Greys were officially known as the Royal North British Dragoons. And for much of the same period the Royal Scots Fusiliers were on the books as the Royal North British Fusiliers. Or did the old soldiers perhaps really feel they were Little Englanders. Certainly a large number of their parents turned their backs on Scotland and had their children educated at private schools in the heart of England. A case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", perhaps. One has wonder what would have happened if the benefits of Empire and being part of the United Kingdom had been spread a little wider in the past to include more of what my English colleagues still delight in dubbing "The Oatmeal Savages" and/or "The Sweaty Socks". The fall-out from treating Scotland as Britain's own rice-bowl economy for so long with wages well below the UK average may be about to, if the opinion polls are to be believed, have some interesting consequences at the General Election.

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The BBC World Service now has a radio programme which boasts that no men are allowed on it. I'll skip the obvious observation regarding whether The Conversation would be aired if it boasted that no Chinese or Jews were allowed on it.  Why is the BBC creating gender ghetto programming? When will there be a programme which bans all women from participation? Go on BBC, let's have a programme where men talk only to other men about their lives 100% of the time. Perhaps we can have a broadcast in which people who feel they have big noses talk about how much more difficult that makes their lives. Of course, these people would all have to be the same gender. I would be very very surprised if both men and women who have any concerns about proboscis size have anything in common at all. Hey, while we're at it let's ban men from listening to The Conversation. That way the women participants can speak more freely. We could have a programme in which Africans whose ancestors originally came from the Indian sub-continent interview each other. But once again that would have to be single gender. We obviously need more programming in which anatomy is the deciding factor when it comes to participation. Perhaps we should have two World Services, one for men and one for women. Or perhaps several world services, so that all sexual orientations are covered off. Or maybe one World Service on which only people from certain higher income bracket backgrounds interview each other, a sort of Radio Privileged (some may feel we already have that). I mean, obviously, broadcast ghetto-ization is good, and anything that suggests any communality amongst the planet's population must be sidelined.

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Many of you will be bored stiff with the whole "Lions Led by Donkeys" debate around the First World War. Certainly, many of the senior British officers during the First World War failed to raise their game enough to deal with the challenges it raised. But sensible historians generally agree that by 1918 the worst of the donkeys had been weeded out and the British Army was at least competently handled in the closing months of the war. No, what I'm wondering is if the phrase is applicable today when it comes to the British Army. I've just finished reading yet another British account of the war in Afghanistan. In it, a lot of brave and committed young men are killed or maimed. And yet by the end of the book I was left wondering what their stint in a remote fortified base actually achieved. It's an awkward question to raise. No-one likes to think the high price they and their family have paid achieved little. But reading the book, one of three things seem to happen when the soldiers left their fort:- a) Nothing. b) Someone was killed or seriously injured by a mine. c) Or the local bad guys opened fire on the patrol and the British eventually retreated back to the fort carrying any dead or injured men back with them. The British troops' control of the area did not seem to extend beyond the range of their heavy machine guns or snipers' rifles. None of this was the fault of the soldiers on the frontline. The blame has to be placed far further up the chain of command with the men who lacked the courage to call a halt until more frontline troops and helicopters were sent to Afghanistan.

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An Australian TV series about the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 has flopped and that has led to accusations of "Gallipoli Fatigue". This year, obviously, marks the centenary of the disastrous campaign to capture the Dardanelles Peninsula from the Turks and as the Anzacs are a national icon for the Aussies, and New Zealanders, it can be expected there will be a lot of media coverage. The Aussies have long felt hard done by when it comes to Gallipoli, where they believe the cream of their manhood were led to the slaughter by dim and unfeeling Pommie officers. What they seem to forget is that the British officers subjected their fellow countrymen to exactly the same treatment. There was no discrimination. And yet the Gallipoli Campaign remains focus of both Antipodean pride and anger. It's the shame the Scots don't take the same interest in the Dardanelles. It's a toss-up as to whether the Battle of Loos on the Western Front in 1915 or the 52nd Lowland Division's part in the Gallipoli fighting most deserves to be called The Second Flodden. The 9th and 15th Scottish Divisions suffered heavy casualties at Loos; with eight out of the 12 British battalions who lost more than 500 men apiece in the fighting coming from north of the Border. At Gallipoli the 156th Brigade of the 52nd Division lost 72% of its officers and 46% of its men in the Battle of Gully Ravine - 72 officers and 1,271 men dead wounded or missing. Three days of fighting two weeks later cost the 52nd Division a further 98 officers and 2,723 men. The 8th Scottish Rifles was almost wiped out at Gully Ravine. The Scots commander of the campaign, General Ian Hamilton, had sneered at the battalion when it arrived in threatre as being "from the lowest slums of Glasgow, but well officered and will fight well." He was right about the battalion fighting well. But why does coming from a slum area make a soldier suspect?

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