Noli Timere Messorem

No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.
Reaper Man

I haven’t written anything on this blog for a wee while, it’s been hectic with work and I haven’t had the time; however, I felt compelled to sit down at the computer and, for the first evening in a few months, do something other than work. And that thing is explain just what Terry Pratchett (technically: Sir Terry) and the Discworld novels (in particular) meant to me as a child, a young man and, now, as a man in his 30s.

Undoubtedly you, gentle and not-so gentle reader, know the sad news. Terry Pratchett is dead. His death, announced, in typically irreverent form via his Twitter account, with the final appearance of perhaps his greatest creation, the anthropomorphic (and anthropogenic) Death.

 

I first read The Colour of Magic when I was about eight or nine. I first stumbled across the landscape of that marvellous world when I sneaked into my brother’s bedroom and pinched his copy. That world was only four or so years old and yet it was already seven books deep. If I remember correctly, I finished – no – I devoured, that first book in the space of one day and night; a habit I would keep up through increasing page numbers and multiplying footnotes until last Christmas with Raising Steam finished before Boxing Day. By the end of the week I was reading the latest in the series, Pyramids which, to this day remains one of my favourites.

Pyramids was the fantasy I wanted to read, the fantasy I wanted to live. I believe it was in Pyramids that the wonderful metropolis of Ankh-Morpork first takes centre stage. As Teppic studies at the Assassin’s Guild and walks the streets, the city springs to life, a life which would reach its adolescence in the still exceptional Guards! Guards! This was not fantasy as I had previously experienced – in the joyless, archaic and downright dull pages of assigned readings of The Hobbit. It was the fantasy of humour, of lives led in difficult times, of the Everyman even when that Everyman is heir to an ancient kingdom. Teppic, as he reaches maturity in that damp, muddy, dirty, smelly, and above all, organic city – so far from the dead mineral land of his birth; Teppic becomes a liminal figure belonging to both and yet, belonging to neither. Simultaneously of both worlds and of none. This fascinated me; not because of any equality of situation; but because thresholds enrapture me because of the possibilities that frontiers imply. When the book finishes with unresolved destinations for Teppic, it did not feel like the end of a story but the beginning of another adventure. Teppic, unlike so many of Pratchett’s characters, never made another appearance in the world and now he never will and that adds to the sadness at the loss of such a fantastic writer.

Pratchett’s works, like the lives of many of his characters – of which Teppic was just an apposite example, occupied the boundaries of fantasy and literature; something he recognised early with the tongue in cheek acknowledgement that he had been “accused of literature.” His works have even inspired philosophical discussions with a volume of essays published examining the epistemological, existential and moral implications of his writings. Indeed such is the ease at which he could move from the ridiculous to the sublime that one has to remember that a particularly stentorian or profound phrase has not been taken from a great work of philosophy or theology but rather had sprung from his remarkable mind. Neil Gaiman, another author with similar prowess, tells us that this extraordinary talent came from Pratchett’s fury. Indeed, with his turn of phrase one can imagine Pratchett as a Old Testament prophet but one that, instead of heralding divine wrath, brought forth exacting morality based upon simple decency and tolerance. One of my favourite of these phrases is one that is inspirational and, again, expresses the wonder of the limen. In Hogfather, Death, that great creation of his, the mirror in which Pratchett reflects our best and worst, explains that the point of Man – if such a thing there is – is to be where the falling angels meets the rising ape; that Man is capable of acts of both intense profanity and sublime reverence and, indeed, such contradictions can exist within the breast of one man. With nine simple syllables, Pratchett captures the existential struggle of humanity.

We are much diminished by his death and what is a personal tragedy for his family is a collective woe. His death is our loss but I shall remember him through his books and his writings and in the one personal anecdote I have of him. Shortly after Carpe Jugulum was released in 1998, Terry Pratchett embarked upon what was, I gather, a regular occurrence: a book signing tour. I suspect it was regular, though this was the only one I went to, because I know he used to joke about unsigned copies being worth more than signed copies because they were the rarer. But in the autumn – I think – of 1998 he came to, what was then, Heffer’s bookshop in the centre of Cambridge. My brother’s birthday was approaching and I decided to get him a signed copy of that, the latest novel. In the queue I met some friends from school and we waited. And we waited. It was a very long queue, snaking out of the heavy shop doors and down, along Trinity Street  towards St John’s College. The wait was long and the time at which the signing was due to end fast approaching. As we, ourselves, approached the doors of the shop that time went past. By the time that I stood in front of the man himself, clutching the gloss black hardback book, the scheduled end of the signing had come and gone over two hours earlier and yet, here he was, Sharpie in hand busy signing books and not just signing them, personalising them and including an aphorism on each. As I was whisked away to pay for the book, the line behind continued through the doors and down the street. I do not know how long he stayed, but I would suspect until everyone who wanted a book signed had a book signed. This anecdote is not a humorous one nor a particularly inspiring one, but one I think – I hope – shows the kind of man that I think he must have been; more falling angel than rising ape.

RIP Sir Terence Pratchett. Thanks for everything. You will be missed.

Gorgeous George

With his fedora at a natty tilt, George looked every inch a Men’s Rights Advocate, the sworn nemesis of the Social Justice Warrior. To his right, Ruth took a deep breath and muttered quietly. George could barely make out her words

Over and over again, like a religious mantra, she muttered, “Please don’t let him mention the Nazis, please don’t let him mention the Nazis.” George turned and assured her that he’d do nothing of the sort. “Best behaviour, doll. Promise. I’ll be indefatigable,” he said but Ruth just glared at him.

Behind her, talking quietly and confidentially to a smart, balding man in a neat three piece suit, her opponent Nicola laughed.  Nicola turned to Ruth and, with a wry smile, commented, “I see you’ve got the use of the pink jaiket today.” But Ruth just glared at her.

This was not what she had signed up for. And to share a platform with a rape apologist. Was this Johann’s revenge for her wee joke about being astonished that Ed could find Scotland on a map let alone in person? She stared out at the massed ranks of adolescence, the hope almost palpable in the air. Half listening, she wasn’t quick enough…Too late! George had opened his mouth and, with one breath, patronised Scotland’s women by suggesting they should shut up and let the men talk. In the stunned hush of the auditorium Ruth just glared at him.

Back stage, the debate over, Ruth sank down in a chair. The pink jacket lay forlorn on the floor ready to be couriered to Margaret. Next door, she heard the sounds of weeping. Phlegmy coughs of despair, moans of anguish with periodic cries of “I used to be a socialist!” A small ember of compassion flickered in the stony chambers of her Tory heart.

In the peeling painted darkness of the room next door a sad and lonely broken husk of a man lapped despairingly at a bowl of milk. From rheumy eyes, tears streaked lines through gaudy make up. “Why hast thou forsaken me, Rula?” He cries. “Why?”

Answer came there none.

Further journal entries

Unfortunately, in the interests of decency much of Sir Augustus’ diary entries from his time in Africa are not fully suitable for reprint without very significant editing. I have had difficulties with this job since reading these entries makes me feel like I need a long, hot shower afterwards. In March 1933 Sir Augustus had exhausted the tolerance of even the colonial authorities with his licentious ways, and was recalled by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 14th March. Rather than proceed directly back to the United Kingdom, Sir Augustus decided to travel to Europe. He did so in his inimitable style, travelling first class in the SS Cassiopeia to Malta via Gibraltar.

18th March 1933, Gibraltar
I awoke at 10am, only partially refreshed after a late night of conversation. The day must have dawned a long time past for the sun was already very hot on the deck. In the glorious light of the late morning Gibraltar was some sight, a truly marvellous structure. I am sitting on the deck with the rock about half a mile in front of me. It is a gigantic mound about a mile in length and, at its centre, about 2,000ft high. On the right side it tapers towards the side it tapers towards the edge to about 100 ft high and is slightly hollowed at the centre. The left half dips about 260 ft then rises 180 ft, dips a further 100 ft then rises to a height of nearly 2,000 ft again before dropping sharply to the water. On the slopes may be seen quite a fair sized town, which to look at appears to be very slightly built. The town looks white in the brilliant sunshine. Shrubbery similar to trees and bushes is everywhere apparent. A clayey soil appears where the trees are not growing. This soil is brownish grey in colour. The left hand portion looks like solid rock. Indeed it is nearly all rock. On the right of the ship I can see the dim outline of the African hills. Behind me on the other side of the ship there stretches the Spanish coast. It looks very hot in the sunshine. A haze of heat hangs over everything.

Before luncheon a small boat appeared with three young [Spaniards] in it. They were shirtless and, in the sun, their skin was as dark as walnuts, glistening with either sweat or sea water. The boat itself was half full of grapes. They had a basket attached to the end of a rope. The rope was thrown on board, and the basket was supplied with two 1/- bunches of grapes. By raising and lowering the basket time and again, money changed hands rapidly and soon nearly everyone on board was eating grapes. More boats arrived soon and the price of grapes was lowered to 6d per bunch, owing to competition. In addition, cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, Turkish delight, singles, slippers, apples, unripe peaches, and black grapes were obtainable. Cigarettes were 50 for 1/-; tobacco was 1/6 per lb; and cigars were 4/- per 100.

I partook considerably and was well satiated, and not only on tobacco and food.

Edited slightly for language.

Scotland’s (Interim) Constitution

A few quick wee thoughts on the SNP’s draft interim constitution.

I. 2.2-3 Sovereignty.

Much has been said about the first line: “In Scotland, the people are sovereign”; and rightly so. No mention in this section is made to monarchical or parliamentary sovereignty. In one line, six words long, the interim constitution is fundamentally more democratic than all the constitutional acts of Westminster are in their millions of words. As others have spotted, its a throwback to enlightenment democratic liberalism and to be welcomed. It also has, I am sure not un-deliberately, shades of the Declaration of Arbroath.

II. 2.5-8 The State

“(1) The name of the State, by which it is to be known formally, is Scotland.”

This, to me is interesting. Just “Scotland”. Not “The Kingdom of Scotland”; just Scotland. Most countries have much longer, more complicated formal names. Germany’s is “Federal Republic of Germany”, France, one of the oldest continuous countries in the world, has a formal name of “The Republic of France/French Republic”, enshrining in its formal name its constitutional structure.

For all that section 2.7 states that “Scotland is an independent, constitutional monarchy”, this is not reflected in its formal name. Why not? It does open the way for the constitution to be altered to reflect a growing republican mindset. Would an independent Kingdom of Scotland survive a Carolinian succession?

III. 2.9 Head of State

The above is particularly poignant given section 4 of 2.9 which confirms that, while Elizabeth is Head of State and her heirs are her successors, this is contingent upon the continued approbation of the people of Scotland who reserve the right to, through plebiscite or Act of Parliament, alter the Head of State. Revolutionary (literally) stuff and, technically, tantamount to treason.

IV. 2.28 Equality

Great to see no fewer than 9 protected characteristics enshrined in the constitution, including sexual orientation and both sex and gender reassignment.

V. 2.30 Island communities.

Likewise, it is edifying to see that Scotland’s unique geographical characteristics are represented and enshrining the need of the Scottish Government to “take account of the particular needs of island communities, having special regard to the distinctive geographical characteristics of each of the areas inhabited by those communities.”

Finally back to the journals

It’s been a long few months in the Centre. Sir Augustus is a very busy man, engaged with all kinds of speaking arrangements at which I must, of course, be present. The founder of the centre, the great Coloradian goat whisperer and auto-didact, Wayne T. Ransom has been visiting and, as director, Sir Augustus has been entertaining him. My position as secretary demands that I am there in order to facilitate their meeting and to ensure that their conversation is recording for inclusion in the archives of the Wayne T. Ransom Centre for Omniscience, which is another problem entirely. Our archives have grown so much, and the correspondence of Sir Augustus and Wayne T. Ransom (both between them and to other) has increased exponentially ever since Sir Augustus has discovered Twitter. What a mistake that was. How the great mind continues to condense his voluminous thoughts into only 160 characters is still a mystery.

Well, Mr Ransom has now returned to his llama ranch in Maine and Sir Augustus has retreated to his meditative state so I finally have some time to go over his second volume of journals. These date back to his time as Archbishop of Southern Matabeleland (now in Zimbabwe). He spent much of the summer, autumn and winter of 1932 in this position before contracting a particular virulent form of eczema and returning to Britain in the early spring of 1933. While the reasons for his hurriedly accepting this position, albeit at the personal request of George V, are known to myself; in the interests of discretion it might be best if a veil is drawn across the matter. After all, while illegal at the time, a similar indiscretion might well never find its perpetrator in front of the magistrate. Not that Sir Augustus was hauled before the beak either.

Sir Augustus’ journey to Africa was not one fraught with over exertion and given his extreme youth, it is not perhaps surprising that Sir Augustus seems not to have learned many lessons from his previous indiscretion.

Much of the current volume is concerned with the indolent procession of the steamer from Southampton to Cape Town, from where Sir Augustus was to progress to Matobo. However, one particular entry is of note and may be of interest to more than the passing scholar of young, fainéant Anglican Archbishops of remote British colonial possessions and puts context to Sir Augustus’ first St Andrew’s Day lecture. It reads,

27th June 1932, Bay of Biscay
Expecting to see the coast of Spain tonight. I saw a shark about 6 feet long coming up to breath. It was a quite a plain sight, mottled grey with a dull snout. It was only about 300 yards from the ship and, should I be a sporting man, I am sure that I could have shot it.

Yesterday was the sabbath and spent it in meditative thought; reading, drinking lemonade, and eating sweets galore. My wrist watch shifted again, absolutely no good trying to keep time here. It was an exceedingly calm sea with hardly a ripple on the water which is a pulchritudinous azure. A sailing ship was sighted, but no land. I retired with the sun and slept soundly until about 10pm when I awoke with the feeling that land was approaching. I arose and went forward and to my delight I saw northern Spain.

Despite the interruption to my usual period of somnolence, I awoke remarkably refreshed and spent the morning reading Sapper’s latest. The afternoon was spent playing bridge with an elderly clergyman and his sisters. In the evening I ate, naturally, at the Captain’s table. Joining the usual suspects was a young American academic by the name of Henry Jones. I believe he indicated that he was an archaeologist and I gathered the impression that he was somewhat of a theologian himself as well as being well versed in the historical superstitions of the native peoples of Africa and further afield. Ordinarily I would consider him to be a remarkable fine gentleman but it is to be regretted that he is an American, even if part-Scotch. Though their intellects are of an equal they really are most uncultured; he insisted on wearing his hat to dinner. To add insult it is a disgustingly dirty brown felt encumbrance of a particularly unpleasant and vulgar style with a [Spanish] name and which is uncommonly popular with uncouth gangsters of the sort that fill the silver screen. That aside, our conversation has given me cause to think and raised a nugget in my mind for my first sermon, the eleventh verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Genesis: “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.”

Here the entry ends. Edited slightly for language.

On Nationalism(s)

Earlier this week saw a barrage of vitriol hurled, not at a politician or a criminal, but rather at that most dangerous of individuals: a playwright. Alan Bissett was accused of being anti-English, of being an ethnic nationalist and much more. Now, Bissett does not need me to defend him. He has done an excellent job of that himself over at the always estimable Bella Caledonia.

Unlike Bissett’s adversaries, let us, first off, be very clear what we mean by “nationalist”.  Too often, in the inadequacy of the English language we focus more on the noun than on the adjectival descriptive. What we, in every day parlance, mean by “nationalist” is “ethnic nationalist”. This has allowed unionists and British nationalists (note always the lower case ‘n’ to distinguish them from British Nationalists aka the BNP) to smear Scottish nationalists (and indeed Scottish Nationalists) with the lazy and invidious “all nationalists are the same” meme and move on, hoping that the implicit slander is sufficient to taint by association.

saltiska

Scotland on Sunday’s rather ham-fisted attempt at implying civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism are the same thing.

However, it seems that the meme just isn’t working anymore, and so the smears have had to become more specific. When nearly 40% of the country can be defined, loosely, as nationalists – they believe Scotland should be a nation – the term “nationalist” is not sufficiently powerful to conjure by. Therefore, the use of the far more damaging term “ethnic nationalist”. The trouble with smears based on specifics, however, is that they are far more easily proved wrong. You can defame someone like Alex Salmond by calling them a nationalist and leaving the “ethnic” part unsaid, because you are not inherently wrong. You are implying that he is an ethnic nationalist and thus a fascist but you haven’t explicitly said that. The image above is an example of Scotland on Sunday‘s rather ham-fisted attempt at that of which I speak. Sometimes the implication is much clearer, as a tweet from Tuesday by an actual MP shows.

sheerman

Barry Sheerman implies that Alex Salmond is a National Socialist aka Nazi.

The words are not, inherently, wrong. But the juxtaposition of the words “nationalist” (not “Nationalist”, you’ll note but who bothers with capitals?) and “socialism”, of course, has connotations beyond “vote Yes for socialism.” Such juxtaposition was not, obviously, accidental: Sheerman knew exactly what he was doing; his aim was to call Salmond a fascist without explicitly doing so because he knows, as any fool does, that Salmond may be many things but a fascist he is not.

When you start being explicit, however, it is far easier to be held to account. If you were to openly call Salmond a fascist, only the credulous would believe you because you would have no evidence for that accusation and, despite what many unionists think, you do actually have to have evidence for accusations, otherwise you run the risk of being the boy who cried wolf.

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Laughing all the way to the bank

Today was April Fools’ Day and the Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Independent and even the Guardian ran with Scottish independence themed April Fools jokes.

It’s hard to trace the tradition of April Fools’ Day back to any one event. Certainly, it bears much resemblance to the Roman festival of Hilaria, celebrated in March; and to the traditional Feast of Fools celebrated in December. Some suggest it may have something to do with the Early Modern switch from beginning the new year in March to beginning it in January. In Scotland, the tradition was to pass a sealed envelope on, an envelope that told the recipient to send the messenger on another wild goose hunt.

The media has a long and distinguished history of pulling April Fools’ pranks on April 1st. The BBC’s 1957 Panorama on spaghetti trees is perhaps the most famous, but others include Smell-o-vision (also by the BBC) and the Guardian’s 1977 seven page pull-out on the fictional semi-colon shaped mid-Indian ocean state of San Seriffe.

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What all these hoaxes have in common is the whiff of truth. It is only with the benefit of hindsight or context that one can see that the original story is obviously a joke. That spaghetti might grow on trees is patently absurd, at least to us, but to the audience of 1957 – not used to being lied to by the BBC, the story must have seemed plausible. Britain in 1957, after all, was only 12 years distant from a devestating war and rationing had only ended three years earlier. To the people of the immediate post-war period, spaghetti must have seemed a relatively exotic and unknown food stuff. San Seriffe is a clear pun on a style of font type and, in this increasingly graphically designed world where anyone with Microsoft Word has access to a dozens of different fonts, both serif and sans serif, the play on words is obvious. But how many of the Guardian’s regular readers in 1977 recognised the pun? And, to the credit of both the BBC and the Guardian, both of them put effort into the stories. News reports in 1957 did not come cheap, nor do seven page colour supplements.

Today’s efforts, therefore, are rather lacklustre and one wonders if that is because the writers began to recognise that the joke isn’t on Alex Salmond, the SNP, or the Yes campaign. It’s not even on the ordinary readers of the newspaper, but rather the joke’s on Better Together.

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Winning the Peace (part deux)

Beekeepers hate wasps. Wasps, left alone, can cause great devastation to a hive. Terry Pratchett, in his 1992 novel Lords and Ladies, emphasises this point:

Wasps looked pretty enough. But if you were for bees, you had to be against wasps.

Beekeepers, therefore, have many ways in which to try to draw wasps away from their hives. One way is to partially fill an empty, but unwashed, jam jar with water and punch a hole in the lid. Wasps, drawn to the remaining jam in the jar enter, cannot escape and drown.

This is what Labour gave us yesterday. It wasn’t even the promise of jam. It was the promise of a soggy jam jar filled with dead wasps.

Two days ago I wrote a brief, slightly rambling piece about how the No campaign has alienated many Scots who have been turned off by their relentless negativity. I included in this campaign the massed voices of the media. I deliberately did not include in my commentary the Labour Party in Scotland, for they are the issue I wish to address today. I held off writing and posting this until I had the chance to read and digest Scottish Labour’s constitutional proposals and to watch Johann Lamont’s (execrable) interview with Gordon Brewer of the BBC.

I do not, however, wish to discuss in too much detail these proposals. Others, elsewhere, have done a better job including Stuart Campbell over at Wings Over ScotlandPaul Kavanagh at Wee Ginger Dug, and the always excellent Derek Bateman, whose first post on the matter was masterclass in comic timing.

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Winning the Peace

After the “war to end war” they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making a “Peace to end Peace.

Archibald Percival Wavell

In January 1919, just two short months after the Armistice of Compiègne was signed, men and women from all over the world gathered in Paris to turn a ceasefire into a lasting peace. The Paris Peace Conference took six months and was largely run by the Big Four, the heads of government of the largest four victorious allied nations: Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States; David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France; and Vittorio Orlando, Prime Minister of Italy. The conference was marked by high handed unilateral diktat towards the defeated powers. Indeed, so imperious was the whim of, particular Lloyd George and Clemenceau, that Wilson did not stay for the end of the conference in July 1919, and Orlando left in a rage.

Despite the months of negotiation, the Conference, unlike similar previous undertakings  in Vienna in 1815 and Westphalia in 1648, was unable to come to a conclusion that would leave Europe in peace. The Treaty of Versailles and the humiliation it visited upon Germany is often blamed for the rise of the Nazis; the Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire was unenforceable and had to be replaced three years later by a far more favourable (to the Turks) treaty signed in Lausanne. Indeed, so fractured was the result that the US Senate failed to ratify any of the Paris Peace Conference treaties and concluded their own peace with the defeated Central Powers.

Some historians, for example, Margaret MacMillan in Peacemakers, have tried to argue that the Peacemakers of 1919 should not bear the full blame for the events of the 1930s and 1940s: that they tried to be evenhanded but that their goals were unrealistic; that they have been made scapegoats for the mistakes of those that came later. However, even voices at the time cautioned that the Peace Conference would not end war.

This post begins with a quotation from Archibald Wavell and is marked by a political cartoon prophesying that the youth that would come of age in 1940 would spill their blood once more because of the folly of their elders. Of the Big Four, only Vittorio Orlando would live long enough to see VE Day.

One wonders if Better Together and their supporters in Pacific Quay and in the editorial rooms of our country’s newspapers have any concept of historical nuance. Given the vitriol and negativity that has poured forth from their pens and shone into our living rooms these past many months, it is hard to see how, in the event of a No vote, the peace can be effectively won. Having shunned a respectable and respectful campaign, the No campaign has managed to alienate approaching forty percent of the Scottish electorate. For the likes of Blair McDougall, winning is everything: Total War, and it will make no difference to him the shattered society left in his wake. For the BBC a No victory in September may well be more Pyrrhic.

PEACE AND FUTURE CANNON FODDER / The Tiger [Clemenceau]: "Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!" / Caption above the child: "1940 CLASS"

PEACE AND FUTURE CANNON FODDER
The Tiger [Clemenceau]: “Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!”
Caption above the child: “1940 CLASS”

What to do about the problem of the Irish?

Thus, I’m sure, begun most cabinet briefings of the 1980s.

Paul T. Kavanagh in his excellent blog Wee Ginger Dug, talked about the Irish. He said they’d be bugging him. Not in an NSA kind of way, but rather in the way that they’ve been ignored in this whole debate.

The problem, mainly for the Better Together campaign, is that the Irish are an example of how independence (or secession, or separation) from the almighty British state can be successful.

Whenever Ireland is mentioned it’s virtually always in the same breath as Greece as some kind of Eurozone basket case. Certainly, their travails in the banking crisis were unfortunate, but it’s a difficult thing to sustain through into reality when the truth is that Ireland’s recovery is supported by its export market, whereas what there is of the UK’s recovery is based upon a repeat of a property bubble in the south-east.

But, despite an A-Level and a few 20 credit university modules in Economics, I am not here to talk macroeconomics. Rather I’m going to talk about something I am much more comfortable and conversant in: socio-political factors.

Ireland is a problem for Better Together because of the 1949 Ireland Act.

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