By Kenneth Roy

When I called one day at his lovely old house in Aberlady, Nigel Tranter was hard at work on the beach. The beach was his office. It could be reached by walking to the foot of his garden and on to the sands of East Lothian, where he could be found sturdily dressed as a country gentleman, notebook and pen in hand, writing on the hoof some adventure novel set in a steamy Amazonian jungle.

He paused long enough to write the next sentence before resuming his walk. When another sentence occurred to him, he stopped briefly again. The routine never varied from season to season, but although the torrid heat of the Amazon was rarely a problem in Aberlady, persistent rain often was. The writer's notebook had an all-weather cover.

I thought of Nigel Tranter at the weekend when I looked at the list of Alex Salmond's literary luvvies – the writers who have signed up as the advance guard of Yes voters in the distant referendum. Mr Salmond seems to be looking for a million signatures and hopes that the endorsement of these and other cheer-leaders will help him to achieve his goal. I should be impressed. Somehow I'm not.

The closest parallel to the present campaign was the phenomenon of the Scottish covenant movement in the late 1940s/early 1950s, organised by John MacCormick and his young friend Ian Hamilton with the help of Nigel Tranter and others. The covenant movement had no showbiz razzmatazz behind it, no million quid from a dead poet bankrolling it, and the media exposure was mostly hostile. It depended on the efforts of a bunch of volunteers and students who chapped tirelessly on doors.

Some local authorities – by no means all – were generous enough to provide booths where people could sign. One or two influential figures in Scottish life, including the dean of the faculty of advocates, John Cameron (later Lord Cameron), spoke eloquently in support. The trade unions backed it, and the Communist Party of Great Britain; the churches too.

At a great event in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, the Duke of Montrose was the first to sign the covenant. After that day, two million people followed him. Now, it is true that what they were signing was a demand for a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. Sixty years later, Alex Salmond wants a Scottish Parliament outside the UK. But given his enormous comparative advantage, he ought to be aiming to at least equal the covenant movement's remarkable total.

Mr Salmond has decided to place his faith in the cheer-leaders. He feels, perhaps, that the ordinary people cannot be relied upon to make up their own minds about the merits of an independent Scotland – that they need to be inspired by expat strolling players and an assortment of fiction writers. Precedent suggests that this policy is misguided.

I barely know Alex Salmond's literary luvvies. No doubt they are genuinely devoted to the crusade. But I wouldn't discount the possibility that one of them will thrust a dagger into Eck's fast-beating heart when our leader least expects it.

Nigel Tranter was an exception. He was that rare bird, a benevolent figure in Scottish public life as well as a writer. He led the campaign for the Forth road bridge, although he failed in his opposition to the introduction of tolls to pay for it. Even in old age, that walk of his across the beach at Aberlady spoke of a man with a purpose.

But the other writers involved in the post-war home rule movement were more or less unqualified nightmares. Naomi Mitchison, an office-bearer in Scottish Convention (John MacCormick's original vehicle for promoting the cause), claimed to be the chief of an African tribe which she ruled from Carradale House in Kintyre. From there she fired off shrill, slightly batty letters to the press. She was not a tremendous believer in the innocent pleasures of the common people, demanding at one stage that films made in the United States should be banned from British cinemas.

She was, however, relatively harmless – until, with a single letter to the Glasgow Herald, she undermined the political ambitions of her friend John MacCormick while he was fighting a winnable by-election in Paisley. With friends like that...

But Mitchison, even Mitchison, was a model of loyalty compared with another literary supporter of home rule, Christopher Murray Grieve (who wrote as Hugh MacDiarmid). A charming chap socially (as I can personally testify), in public and in print he could be, and often was, the purest poison. His racial loathing of the English was boundless and frankly expressed, yet he got away with it. And he could never be trusted. At the great event in the Assembly Hall, a large representative gathering unlike last week's corresponding bash in Edinburgh, Grieve delivered one of his tirades, refusing to sign the covenant. Of course, the anti-home rule press loved it and the wonderful day was spoiled. Years later, in his autobiography 'The Flag in the Wind', John MacCormick wrote bitterly of Grieve and of the damage he caused to the movement.

I barely know Alex Salmond's literary luvvies. No doubt they are genuinely devoted to the crusade. But I wouldn't discount the possibility that one of them will thrust a dagger into Eck's fast-beating heart when our leader least expects it. They're writers, after all. Had I been advising the first minister – a fate we have both managed to avoid – I would have counselled against the use of cheer-leaders and put myself at the disposal of the people, even if most of them don't look too good in this heat.

But a million signatures? Mr Salmond, if he is to guide us to the promised land, really should do better.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy - read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review


# GerrySNP 2012-05-30 10:14
I fear that Kenneth Roy could be prescient.

I well remember that day at the Assembly Hall, and the joy of adding my name some way after Montrose's. I received an invitation to last week's "launch", but when I replied accepting discovered that my place had already been taken - by one of the "luvvies" ? Or by one of the bandwagon jumpers more likely. I dont object to bandwagon jumpers that much, but reserve the right to have concern about their late conversion to open support. And have discovered that I am now not a "team-player" - translation - I dont always agree with those in command. But then I didnt agree in days gone by, which is why I joined Robert McIntyre's small band of brothers (and sisters) then.
# Exile 2012-05-30 10:19
"Mr Salmond seems to be looking for a million signatures and hopes that the endorsement of these and other cheer-leaders will help him to achieve his goal. I should be impressed. Somehow I'm not."

Kenneth, I think that says everything about you, and nothing about Alex Salmond. Do you perhaps need a holiday?
# rhymer 2012-05-31 15:42
Quoting Exile:
"Mr Salmond seems to be looking for a million signatures and hopes that the endorsement of these and other cheer-leaders will help him to achieve his goal. I should be impressed. Somehow I'm not."

Kenneth, I think that says everything about you, and nothing about Alex Salmond. Do you perhaps need a holiday?

I bet you are "one in a million" , exile
# Jim1320 2012-05-30 10:22
I don't think the intention is to stop at a million. Let's just get to a million and carry on...sounds like a plan to me.

As to the great and good. They have lent their name to the launch but the next couple of years it is going to require the ordinary enthusiast to do the footwork (or blogwork) via facebook and twitter and other events.

Lastly, this is not the 1940s it is 21st century and it is damned hard to get more than 60% to vote on anything. The tactics that worked 65 years ago don't have quite the same impact today.
# Exile 2012-05-30 10:26
"But a million signatures? Mr Salmond, if he is to guide us to the promised land, really should do better."

Given that the idea is apparently to spread the word and garner support and momentum towards the vote that really counts, I don't see what's so unambitious about a million signatures. I'm sure the idea is that, if a million people can be bothered to sign it, their enthusiasm will rub off on perhaps a couple of million more, helping to sway the undecided. Seems sound enough to me.

And Kenneth, if you want to be 'guided to the promised land', perhaps you could be a little more upbeat yourself.
# snowthistle 2012-05-30 18:40
Absolutely agree Exile, it is about confidence. It is about some of the 'I would love it but I'm not sure we could manage' folk thinking 'well if a million folk are going to vote yes, maybe we can'
It is encouraging people to jump on the bandwagon and what's wrong with that? We will need people to jump on if we are going to succeed
# xyz 2012-05-30 11:16

If people knew just how much Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK they would jump enthusiasticall y into the independence camp. Independence is the only way to a fairer, wealthier Scotland.

Look at how Westminster hid the facts about Scotland's oil wealth for over 30 years. It was only revealed after a freedom of information request by someone in the SNP. Westminster is desperate to hang on to Scotland to drain every last drop of the oil revenues. Scotland's oil still pays 30 percent of the UK's corporation tax for example. Just one of the subsidies we pay to London.

Furthermore, do you think Westminster manages the country well? Does it look after the people? Is it a force for good in the world? No, no and no! Westminster is rule by the rich for the rich, and it makes no difference if its Labour or Tory. Both parties are captured by the corporations. .. .. and well, Iraq, need I say more?

.. and finally .. I really can't understand Scots who want Westminster to rule Scotland, have they no sense of pride? no sense of history? No vision for an independent Scotland joining the family of independent nations and being a force for good in the world?

Please read this:

Cheer up ,, and sign up:
# Suomi 2012-05-30 14:24
sadly,I find this article from Kenneth Roy disapointingly negative.I take the point that we should try to get as many people as we can ,from all walks of life,to sign up.However,I rather thought that was exactly what Alec Salmond and the Yes campaign intended.The campaign has only just started and the initial launch is promising in the sense that it appears broad based and encompasses people across the entire political spectrum,and those who are not political.Plenty of ordinary people,includin g myself have signed up and I expect that plenty more ordinary people will.I would have respected the points made if the aricle had avoided put downs such as Eck's literary luvvies.Is Kenneth suggesting that some occupations are less worthy than others? I am an academic,does our opinion count? Personally,I don't care whether a person is a scientist,actor ,bus driver,labourer ,businessman,nu rse,unemployed etc.In my view they are all valid and I predict that we will see all of them in the Yes campaign.

Kenneth should recognise,in any case that it is a Yes campaign,not an SNP campaign,or Alec Salmonds campaign.I thought we had moved beyond that?
# Merouane 2012-05-30 16:21
The yes campaign need around 1.5 million votes to win.

Will everyone who is going to vote yes want to sign the declaration? Some will never have the opportunity, others will not want to put their name to it, fearing for their privacy, others will feel they are not so committed to the cause to want to sign up, but will still vote yes.

So perhaps 1 million signatures is too low and will need to be surpassed. But think of the PR when we hit 1 million - especially if met months before the vote. It will feel like a victory and could lead to a snowball effect that takes us all the way to a majority.

Alternatively, to get to the vote with less than a, say, 2 million target would feel like defeat. Perhaps that's what defeatist KR is hoping for.
# Bambi 2012-05-30 18:06
The point of the million is that it's more than half of the turnout at the last Holyrood election. Much as I'd like the high turnouts and voter engagement of the post war period (reflected in the total covenant signatures) I suspect that it will be somewhere between the 1999 referendum and May 2011 turnout.
# H Scott 2012-05-30 18:44
Oh Dear. Kenneth Roy is like Iain McWhirter. They both can write extremely well but sometimes just have to write something, so they just write something. I'm guessing Mr. Roy is in the No camp as he personalises the whole referendum issue in terms of Alex Salmond. In reality Mr. Roy, this is Scotland's referendum, giving Scots the first real chance in 300 years - including decades of 'democracy' - to determine our future ourselves. No surprise it was an accident then and wasn't meant to happen.
# Talorcan 2012-05-30 22:51
The fact that Kenneth Roy refers to the First Minister as 'Eck' says quite a lot. It's nothing if not insulting.
# Edna Caine 2012-05-31 00:49
Hopefully, we haved moved on from the ego-driven nutters who used to be Mr Roy's friends.

The "luvvies" (???) who have expressed support for the YesScotland campaign (not just "Eck", Kenneth, please!) seem to be a much more balanced, informed and less egotistical bunch.
# ds12 2012-05-31 05:45
Kenneth really does seem to have a problem with Alex Salmond that clouds much of his writing.
People have campaigned for Scotland to be independent before the ink was even dry on the act of union.This is not some grand idea of Alex Salmond's .
Any campaign has many many facets to it but the one thing they all usually have in common is a big launch.
# tartanfever 2012-05-31 07:18
Mr Roy actually makes a reasonable point. Relying on the famous can be as damaging to your own cause, look at what Trump has just done to Mitt Romney with his allegations about Obama's birthplace which borders on racism:

If only Mr Roy wouldn't repeatedly keep name dropping - why is the whole episode with Nigel Tranter in this piece ? It bears little relevance to the actual story save to act as another line for Roy to talk about himself or to present himself as 'one of the crowd'. I've never known a writer to be quite so self-obsessed.
# Albamac 2012-05-31 08:05
Quoting tartanfever:
why is the whole episode with Nigel Tranter in this piece ?

Perhaps Mr Roy has his own list of preferred 'literary luvvies'.
# Wave Machine 2012-05-31 07:23
The trouble with Ken is he personifies the problem that has plagued Scotland for decades; the lack of a voice in the world. It should have had a political voice, but didn't and now that it has one, in the shape of the SNP, the previous people who attempted to fill the role are now ever so slightly peeved.
Who are they? Well Ken is one of them. It's the press and media, who with the lack of a credible political voice (and yes, I don't include the Labour Party and others) saw themselves as the mouth piece of the Scottish people. The touble is that they were not equipped intellectually, nor morally, to actually do this to any great degree, certainly not well. So now things have changed and those chips on shoulders are now starting to get itchy. This is Ken feeling his itch on his chip, just like many others have felt the same sensation.
It's sour grapes that they are being cut loose and increasingly seen as yesterdays news (no pun intended) and irrelevant.
# Albamac 2012-05-31 08:58
"But I wouldn't discount the possibility that one of them will thrust a dagger into Eck's fast-beating heart when our leader least expects it. They're writers, after all."

Better that than Mr Roy's slow-dripping poison, I think. This is a perfect example of the type of mean-spirited, hypocritical comment that forces me to forget anything of Mr Roy's that was worth reading. Nice to see that he holds writers in such high regard. Tranter and Orwell will be pleased.

By all means let's have constructive criticism, considered opinion or genuine expressions of doubt and disagreement but let's have it without malice and, especially, without malice aforethought.

Newsnet has explained to its readers that it owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Roy because he supported the site, in its early days, by allowing his work to be reproduced on these pages but content-sharing is commonplace on the web. The quality of that content and conditions for its use require careful consideration. Generally speaking, you publish or reproduce articles that will appeal to your target audience. Content, whether free or paid for, is only good if it fits.

From my point of view, some of Mr Roy's work just doesn't fit. When it chafes, pinches and leaves us raw are we expected to wear it anyway?

What portion of this site's popularity can be attributed to Kenneth Roy?

Every Newsnet reader contributes to the success of the site by continuing to read it. Many have given support in a variety of other ways. Whatever the level of commitment or support offered, none of them, I think, would expect free rein. Each of us is subject to rules that afford Newsnet and its members some protection from abuse. Our comments are monitored, edited and, sometimes, removed. Newsnet's guardians would, no doubt, ban anyone who persistently insulted others, pursued a personal vendetta or attempted to use the site as a vehicle for a smear campaign.

When Newsnet publishes repeated attacks on the Government that I voted for I expect to read something that justifies that decision. I'm astonished at Newsnet's willingness to give space to poorly constructed contrivances which demonstrate the author's lack of of respect for the reader. I'm offended and insulted by their indulgence of his conceit and that, in my opinion, puts Newsnet in the awkward position of being at odds with the majority of its loyal and supportive audience.

Unfortunately, I'm whistling into the wind because there's more to come and the next episode is a humdinger!

The latest instalment, 'Vacuous and semi-literate; the state of political language in Scotland', is a tale of two disasters.

'Disaster' 1:
The destruction of the English language by politicians and bureaucrats.

Disaster 2:
The destruction of PanAm 103

Yes, really! From a mountain of documents, offering rich source material for his subject, Kenneth Roy chose the Scottish Government's statement on the death of Megrahi to illustrate an article on poor language skills.

I agree that much of what we read, nowadays, is vacuous and semi-literate but the decline in language skills is widespread, even amongst journalists. I formed that opinion without any help from Mr Roy. No planes were blown out of the sky, no lives were lost and not a single family was left to mourn the loss of good grammar during my deliberations.
So, why would he narrow his study of it to one document, created by one group in one of the four English-speaking countries in the UK?

The answer, I think, is simple. The document was produced for the Scottish Government and it provides Mr Roy with yet another opportunity to attack Alex Salmond and the SNP.

You may be inclined to question the state of mind of any journalist who would use Megrahi's death, the bombing of PanAm 103, the dead victims and their bereaved families as padding for an insignificant filler. That question doesn't arise, in this case. Mr Roy is a seasoned, Scottish journalist and he knows exactly what he's doing. The headline is a deception and anything, no matter how distasteful, can be tailored to support the lie.
# edinburgh quine 2012-05-31 09:27
I'm so pleased with this post. It kind of (politely) encapsulates all that is wrong with Roy's writing.

I dont read his stuff. After the first one of two articles with their constant name-dropping, I just wanted to reach for the puke bucket. He talks about Alex Salmond's luvvies. Strikes me that he should use his article as a mirror on himself.

So well done Albamac. Going by a lot of the comments above, there's more than me agrees with you.
# Aplinal 2012-05-31 12:41
Well said. However of course, you can not directly comment on ANY of the contributions on Mr Roy's site. You can only send "letters" to the Cafe - whatever the hell that is. I have never managed to find it.

At least on here people can critique what he says, otherwise there is no formal means of correcting a wrong.
# Aplinal 2012-05-31 12:37
A fairly objective article in the Scottish Sun - worth a look. (cc. Kenneth Roy)
# mordor 2012-05-31 16:17
Over 2 million signatures were collected in 1951 out of an adult population of just 3.1 million for Home Rule and that was without the wonderous modern gizmos that we have nowadays so 1 million is not a high bar to reach and one that should be leapt over.
# sneckedagain 2012-06-01 19:33

Every time i have produced a "critique" on Kenneth Roy and posted it here it has disappeared.
# clootie 2012-06-03 18:49

It must be a new low - even for you. I always suspect those who have to name drop to show their "track record". That a pedigree from yester year somehow entitles insults to be paraded as journalism. I for one object to the First Minister of Scotland (of any party)being addressed by a nickname. If you do not respect others then do not expect to receive it.

I blame myself for reading your articles - I should know better by now.

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