Mike Vickers' Blog

September 21, 2014

We live in stirring times; tea-stirring times ?

Filed under: In Our Time, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:01 am

‘We live in stirring times; tea-stirring times’ quoted Mr Norris in Mr Norris Changes Trains

Christopher Isherwood repented his stories later – he stated:

‘What repels me now about Mr Norris is its heartlessness. It is a heartless fairy-story about a real city in which human beings were suffering the miseries of political violence and near-starvation. The “wickedness” of Berlin’s night-life was of the most pitiful kind; the kisses and embraces, as always, had price-tags attached to them, but here the prices were drastically reduced in the cut-throat competition of an over-crowded market’.

OK – Scotland is not like Berlin in the inter-war years but there what has emerged during the build up to the Referendum is a grass roots feeling that it is time for real change and a break from the Westminster (and for that matter Edinburgh) centric, out of touch with us the people.

I was wrong – I guessed that when people actually came to put their X, they would decide to take a punt and vote Yes. In the event they did just the opposite, worrying about the risk, and voted No.  5% either way was enough to swing it.

It would have been much better if the vote had been much closer – like Quebec.

We are left with all three parties having made great promises of greater devolution which they would after the vote be hard pushed to keep to anyway if the vote had been much closer, but now the vote was not decisive for No the feel they can be a lot more relaxed. They are now squabbling about what they need to honour.  So do we live in tea-stirring times?

Let’s hope that all the articles and statements are correct that we are moving to a much more ‘federal’ Britain, but that is going to be very difficult unless or until the English regions stand up and say ‘why about us, why can’t we be devolved’. The trouble is that we are all, including Scotland, dominated by London and this continues to get worse.

Now that the Referendum is over, do we just collapse back to tea-stirring times or as Isherwood repents after WW2 that we have all misjudged the mood of ‘Joe Public’, not only in Scotland, but throughout the UK that we have all had enough of the main political parties promising great change and just falling back to political in-fighting.

Gordon Brown has a lot to answer for and to follow up. It remains unclear how much his intervention in the last days before the Referendum affected the outcome, but it is clear it did in some way and he deserves his ‘pound of flesh’ from the main Westminster parties.  Will he get it?  May be Clacton will point the way for England.


December 10, 2013


Filed under: Communications, In Our Time, Journalism, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:18 pm

From the high flying oratory of Obama that brings tears to my eyes


To the arch cynicism of Simon Jenkins and I can’t repress a chuckle


And finally to the cold reality of Okwonga


What a day!

And all thanks to one man: Mandela

August 31, 2013

British Parliament, Syria and Poetry

Filed under: History in the making, In Our Time, Poetry, Politics — derryvickers @ 9:11 am

Alf Young in today’s Scotsman quotes from Seamus Heaney on the debate on Thursday night in which Cameron was defeated in his attempt to seek permission for Britain to join the US to send a warning shot to Assad in Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people.

‘Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,

Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune

Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,

Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight

Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.

Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.

Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.’

See the full article @


Seamus Heaney died this week

If one looks at Syria itself a quote from Yeats seems more appropriate

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’

All three persona, Alf Young, Seamus Heaney and William Butler Yeats it would appear come from Ireland.

December 22, 2012

A Message for Christmas

Filed under: In Our Time, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:11 pm

Where it all began.


I have supported the Palestinians – why do the Israelis who suffered so much in  the Holocaust now persecute the Palestinians.  Is it because they want their own homeland where they hope to be safe from further persecution?

But the message here between one Israeli and one Palestinian who have both suffered at the hands of the Palestinians and the Israelis is –
we are working together to overcome the pain and suffering and ‘If you can’t be part of the solution, I would ask you to leave us alone. I really mean that’

And to me this article with its wee hope is a mind changer.

December 19, 2012

Alan Turing

Filed under: In Our Time, Philosophy — derryvickers @ 9:45 pm

Alan Turing was perhaps the UK’s most influential mathematician of the 20th century in both theory and practice – see


It’s not a pardon that should be given; its that the slate should be wiped clean.

It is ironic that Turing is to be featured on a postage stamp next year.

As the article in the Guardian points out he would not even have featured in the Press in today’s world.

I shall look out for the next epartition and sign it as I hope any readers of this blog will also.

August 31, 2012


Filed under: History in the making, In Our Time, Politics, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:01 pm

Nationhood – A discussion at the Hub on 30 August 12 – chaired by Sheena McDonald

Inevitably moved to Scottish Independence.  I collected words, sound bites!

Participants – all attached to Edinburgh University:

Susan Manning – Cultural; Edinburgh via England but born in Scotland

Alvin Jackson – History; one time lecturer at University College Dublin

Christine Bell – Constitutional Law; from Human Rights Belfast – clearly Northern Irish

Susan Manning: Scotland a land of immigrants; Marx – workers stateless Virginia Wolf – women stateless.  Language, Proximity, Union of people.  Internet creating the virtual place

Alvin Jackson:  Ireland became independent – wanted to get rid of the English connection asap.  But then Ireland fought for independence – not Scotland, at least since the 45 – SNP committed to non-violence.  Nationhood ↔ Independence. Shared Institutions.  Ireland had no permanent Royal Residence.

Christine Bell: globalised world. Realm cf internationalism.   Self-government in smaller units.  Common interests, ties, culture.  Who has the right to pick the question; who owns the debate?  Mutual constitutional settlement.

The open discussion

Form follows substance.  Who has succeeded? South Africa,
Northern Ireland > Constructive Ambiguity

Who will speak on behalf of the disenfranchised; state fails the citizens.  The State – a modern word – earlier country, nation, national identity, community

Independence will take time – not a button press, the decision is just the start

Self-defence a tricky issue, the US right to bear arms – totally changed since the constitution establishes

Civil nationalism v ethnic nationalism.  Nation / nationality / citizenship / individual v collective.

Application for British citizenship > the lowest common denominator

In the Rugby match who do you support – easy for me Scotland unless its Scotland v England then its England but not a walk over – women don’t have a rugby team!

OK it’s a mess, but then so is the Independence debate – currently bogged down in trivia – even Trident
Two key sound bites:  Form follows substance – not vice versa.  Constructive Ambiguity

August 25, 2012

Scotland – Undemocratic?

Filed under: In Our Time, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 8:46 pm

Many will have heard of the Edinburgh International Festival, many may have heard of the Edinburgh Fringe but I suspect few will have heard of the Edinburgh Festival of Politics (FoP).  FoP is put on by the Scottish Parliament and is held in the Parliament Building and runs at the same time as the International Festival.  This year’s FoP put on ‘shows’ such as Improving the Law in Scotland, impact of Scottish Art on Europe, more abstruse, Wallace and King John – no not the English King John who got trapped in the Wash but John Balliol who are various times showed allegiance to Edward 1 of England and at others fostered the Scottish cause for Independence with the backing of William Wallace (the guy portrayed by Mel Gibson).


Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament Edinburgh


But these are not my interest in this blog.  Here I want to bring out a number of points on today’s event ‘The Sound of Silence – Complacent Scotland, Undemocracy and Unspace’ – a bit of a mouthful but a very good session for all that.

Scotland is going to vote for an Independent Scotland in 2014 but apart from being independent will Scotland change.  Today’s speakers believe unless there is some form of revolution on democracy the answer is a resounding ‘No’.

The speakers were Gerry Hassan, Andy Wightman and the session was chaired by Eileen Reid.  Gerry and Andy have both voiced their views in numerous books and papers.

Gerry started by recalling the Scottish myth that Scotland is egalitarian, collectivist and democratic and somewhat left of centre.  A myth? Gerry considered that Scotland is more unequal than England and that is saying something.  Scotland is run by an Edinburgh Elite – beaurocratic corporatism.  Andy confirmed that the government in Scotland is a closed society.  He provided the statistics that ¾ million young voters didn’t at the last election.  Most European countries have local democracy enshrined in their constitution; France has 36,000 communes, Scotland has 32 Local Councils. Communes in Norway levy 25% in local tax of which 12.6% is kept local, 12.4% go to the State; in Scotland all taxes go to the Government which divvies out some to the Local Councils; the local councils provide services to the community in line with Government directives.  There is no room for local initiatives to decide on priorities.  Our local Community Council in Linlithgow has just peanuts to pay with – ironically the Town Management Group does have money to pay with but is unelected.

In Scotland house ownership is with the few – on the Continent in many cases house ownership is with the local cooperatives.

Both Andy and Gerry considered that the young and women are still effectively disenfranchised.

What can be done apart from revolution? There is no easy solution; Andy dismissed the idea that it would all be better come The Independence – the same elite groups will be still be in control.  What is required is for Scots to be less scared, find Space where they can discuss the philosophy and psychology of democracy as a prelude to a quiet revolution to realise the myth and why not start now.

The Scottish Government is to be thanked for providing a space for such iconoclastic discussion!

July 15, 2012

John Clare – a poet of a changing landscape

Filed under: In Our Time, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:46 pm


Not often George Monbiot of the Guardian is sentimental but in the attached article about John Clare he is moving that way:


John Clare a little known poet lived in Helpston 6 miles north of Peterborough at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.  His poems describe a countryside long gone as we can attest as we discovered Clare while living in Peterborough.  Well, as George says, Clare’s poems also describe the destruction of his landscape by the enclosures and the dispossession of the local people.  It would be interesting to compare Clare’s poems with the slightly earlier and much more famous ones of Robert Burns.

But of course George can’t resist relating the enclosure of the land in Cambridgeshire with the parcelling up and rationalising of the land of the Maasai in East Africa.  George could equally have compared the land enclosure with the Scottish Highland Clearances over a similar period in 19th century.  The Clearances were instigated to bring in sheep whilst the enclosures were to make farming more profitable but in both cases for the benefit of the landlords and not for their tenants.  There was a little despite for the Highland Scots with the introduction of the Crofting Act of 1886 which brought a small degree of land tenure for those crofters who hadn’t been cleared to the colonies and the US.  For those who don’t know, the Crofting Act was to some small degree as a response to the Battle of the Braes on Skye in 1882.

It could just the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments could be persuaded to protect the nomadic life of the Maasai in a modern Battle of the Braes.


October 16, 2011

A Weekend in a wigwam in Northumberland

Filed under: History in the making, In Our Time — derryvickers @ 8:19 pm

Preston Tower

Last weekend we headed south to Northumberland across the Scottish border into England – no we are still one country but the border is still closely cherished by both peoples.  We stayed in a wigwam near Bamburgh.  What is a wigwam – well here’s a small picture.


Not sunny but at least dry – Scotland has had its wettest Autumn since ‘records began’.  The North Sea coast of Northumberland is dotted with castles; Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Walkworth – some in ruins but some like Bamburgh are spectacular.  In contrast Preston Tower is just a tower, a front Gate and no back; but it has a working replica of the clock mechanism of Big Ben.

Bamburgh Castle

A major feature of Northumberland is the iron age hill forts capping the Cheviot Hills – well the lower ones and we walked up to see a couple – not much to see but the land had been clearly sculptured into defensive rings at the tops of the hills.  One wonders whether all the hill tops in Britain had hill forts and it’s only because the Cheviot Hills are so isolated that their forts have survived. 

Hill Fort above Ingram

Hill Fort above Kirknewton

We had a lovely Italian dinner at the Lord Crewe Arms in Bamburgh after our first walk.

Another unforgettable feature was the Alnwick Gardens recreated over the last 10 years by the Duchess of Northumberland.  Unforgettable but once seen, like the Las Vegas strip, is quite enough.  The Duchess looks to have had a 21stcentury Versailles in mind!

Alnwick Gardens - Waterfall

And on the second day a fully restored and working flour mill driven by waterpower.

Finally I can’t leave Northumberland on the Scottish Border without mentioning the battle of Flodden where the Scottish King James the 4th and the cream of Scottish nobles were  wiped out by an English Army directed by the 1st wife of Henry the 8th – Catherine of Aragon.

April 19, 2010

Social Media & The Future of the City

Filed under: ecademy, In Our Time — derryvickers @ 9:44 pm

I start this blog by unreservedly commending, as I do so often, the Radio 4 Programme ‘In Our Time’ hosted by Melvyn Bragg.  The programme goes out live every Thursday morning at just after 9 am.  Melvyn introduces a topic which three academics discuss for ¾ hour.  Last week it was the Zulu Wars, the previous week it was the essayist William Hazlitt but the programme I want to discuss here is the one covered on the previous two weeks before Hazlitt.  The Discussion was on The City from the earliest times to the present day.  The population of Ur in 2000 BC was sixty thousand, China too had large cities at this time, then came Athens which was in comparison relatively small, Rome was around 1 million and Bagdad was in its hey day around 2 million.  Of course much of the two programmes concentrated on European cities.  London featured large, and as a largely trading city with its narrow streets was contrasted with Paris and its wide boulevards which was built to celebrate the unity of France and magnificence of its kings. Few people actually live now in London and the better off commute into Marylebone whilst they in Paris stay in the centre and walk to work – what a nice idea!

Many interesting facts emerged: cities have always been disease ridden and their population’s death rates have been higher than their birth rates, hence they have relied heavily on immigration form the surrounding countryside.  The US being individualist favours the car as a means of transport in the city whilst Europe being collectivist increasingly favours public transport.  Cities have never lasted indefinitely; Ur, Athens and Rome all passed into antiquity.  Currently industrial cities such as Detroit and Liverpool are dying and careful thought needs to go into what to do with such cities.

One point brought up was to why cities have come into existence and have grown over time and are still appearing in South America for example. Trading was the prime reason, initially in agricultural produce, but then government needed to be centralised, and the point was made that people like to meet face to face whether for business or just socially – in clubs and coffee houses and in meeting rooms etc.   They also like to visit the big shops.

In a previous blog, Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me, I refer to Penny Power who makes the point that a major change is taking place in the twenty first century and business will cease to be conducted in closed boxes and will increasingly be open and random.  I argued that large organisations will still be needed, eg insurance and finance companies, but surely most office workers can now do their work from the comfort of their homes rather than to travel long distances to city offices.  If this becomes accepted, and most catalogue sales persons already do so, the size of our present cities could drop dramatically.  They would then be small compact units providing meetings for business and leisure, music and theatre, and for window gazing. Citizens would come to meet, and socialise, and underpin the relationships they had made through social media.

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