Keeping the faith – and why

“The bitch that spawned him is in heat again.”

As the dust settles on the recent elections, there is the chance to reflect on the results and, much more importantly, look to the future. Not to worry, I am not about to engage in party politics; I know better. I want simply to congratulate those who were elected, and reassure those who were unsuccessful that they still played a vital role. Democracy, after all, depends on the fact that everyone – irrespective of their view – must have a voice.

Looking to the future, however, we can but hope that the men and women (does wokery still allow me to say that?) who were successful will demonstrate the wisdom, the judgement, the resolution, and the courage to lead us well against the challenges we all face.

Better and stronger in the EU

Acquaintances, and sometimes even friends, question why I am still so committed to Europe. They remind me that I am a UK citizen, and the country took a democratic (???) decision to leave the EU and I have now made my home in Malta, an EU country. So, what’s the difference and why can’t I just accept the status quo? The answer? I don’t believe the so-called status quo is embedded in tablets of stone. I am a Scot, and Scotland voted positively to remain a member of the EU, and I believe passionately that both Britain and the EU would be better and stronger if we remained in partnership.

Years ago, I wrote (in another place) about Brexit. That article was called ‘Cry, beloved country’ and it ended with a plea which I repeat now to the newly elected Maltese MEPs: “Help those of us who want to remain Europeans. Keep the lantern alight in the window. Some day we will try to find our way home from The Dark.” I still keep that faith!

Interestingly, just the other day, the results of a survey by the British Social Attitudes group were published. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it has not had a lot of attention because the UK media is being buried in the welter of crap surrounding the forthcoming UK general election and, perhaps, because it is very uncomfortable reading for the mainstream British political chattering classes. That BSA poll revealed that today only 24% of British voters believe that the UK is better for being out of the EU – less than a quarter! That statistic demonstrates that more than half of those misguided souls who voted for Brexit now realise that they were conned by a right-wing, populist pack of lies which never had a snowflake’s hope in hell of delivering their dishonest promises. Correct but tardy, as they used to say in the Wild West when the accused was found not guilty after he had been lynched.

Photo: AFP

Talking of lynching, little wonder then when I switch on my TV to get news coverage of the UK election, my blood pressure soars when I have to watch Brexit’s loud-mouthed shill-in-chief parading and simpering around the country, posing like a haddie (as we say in Scotland), basking in his own self-importance, and promising to bring down the Conservative government. God knows, I am no apologist for the Tories, but they do deserve a more honest opposition than that smirking mountebank.

My faith in a united Europe

Rant over, I can now concentrate on the reasons for my faith in a united Europe. It is a matter of history: my own personal history and that of Scotland in Europe.

I am a child of World War II. I was born just as the Allied armies converged on Berlin. When I was young and being more than usually obstreperous (a not infrequent occurrence) my patient father used to tease me that I was the last straw, that when news of my birth reached Berlin just a few weeks later, Hitler finally realised that his game was up and shot himself.

I grew up then witnessing at first hand the scars of war, both the damage and, much worse, the terrible price paid by people. Malta, of course, needs no lesson from me on the harm that war wreaks. So, I’ll content myself with just a few of the human stories that influenced the young Cunningham.

There was the kindly local shopkeeper, who used to slip me the odd chocolate when my parents weren’t looking. He had only one arm, the other lost as a war injury serving with the British commandos, specifically Lord Lovat’s Special Services Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, memorably piped ashore by the legendary regimental piper Bill Millins, an event recorded by the Irish-American writer Cornelius Ryan in his wonderful history of that event, The Longest Day: “Spruce and resplendent in their green berets (the commandos refused to wear tin helmets) they were serenaded into battle by the eerie wailing of the bagpipes.” You may have seen the re-enactment of this on television during the coverage of D-Day’s 80th anniversary.

Then at school, my much-respected Latin master had a face marked by powder burns, a relic of his service with the Royal Artillery. And somewhat later in life, as I took my first steps in political administration, I was on a study trip to France to investigate French farming methods, just prior to Britain’s entry into the then European Common Market, when, as we drove into a small village near Paris, my chairman, a farmer from Fife, sat bolt upright and exclaimed: “I’ve been here before. Of course, then I was driving a tank.” I was so taken aback by the thought of this mild-mannered gentle man at the controls of a tank I almost drove off the road myself.

It was the example set by men like them and the history they represented that convinced me of the imperative of a strong and unified Europe. I am in good company. No less a Conservative icon like Winston Churchill, on one of his final public appearances, spoke movingly and indeed enthusiastically about the possibility of a United States of Europe of the future. Mind you, it is not a good idea to remind today’s Tories of that speech.

Scotland’s impact
On general history I could take up thousands of words describing Scotland’s impact on European nations. There is for example the Kings of France who had as their personal bodyguard the Scots Archers. There is the Austrian Field Marshall, a favourite of the great Empress Maria Theresia, whose family name reflected their connection with an Ayrshire district and noble family. And there were the Scots soldiers who played an important role in the 30 Years War, a conflict which had the decisive impact on the shape of Central Europe but which is little remembered and even less taught about nowadays. These young Scots warriors were later to play a pivotal role in what is mistakenly called the English Civil War: in fact, it can be argued that the Scots actually started the whole bloody business which, of course, ended with Charles losing his head.

Maybe someday I will recount these events and others in greater detail. In the meantime, since I have already mentioned the British general election and United States, I’ll settle for a very little-known example of Scotland’s international influence. The British general election is being held on 4th July, which is of course America’s Independence Day, marking the signing of America’s famous Declaration of Independence. What is almost unknown today is that the US’s declaration had as its template an earlier pledge of nationhood, the Declaration of Arbroath, signed at Arbroath Abbey in Scotland in 1320. 456 years before the Americans got their act together, the Scots had declared that they would never be subject to a foreign country. It is no great surprise: we must remember that a large proportion of the men who drafted and signed the American document, led by George Washington himself, were all Freemasons. And not just Freemasons, but Freemasons of the Scottish Rite. Examples of this can be seen all over Washington DC.

The Declaration of Arbroath is a fascinating document and is well worth a study in full. I will quote just one short extract which has stood as a clarion call for national independence for over 700 years now: ”It is in truth, not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Is there any doubt?

At the beginning of this piece, I voiced the hope that our newly elected leaders will demonstrate the qualities needed to meet the challenges of the future. I now link that hope to keeping the faith with that statement of freedom. The reason? Back in 1941, the great left-wing German writer Berthold Brecht, then in exile from Nazi Germany, wrote a brilliant play parodying the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. It’s called The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, portraying Hitler as a Chicago gangster leading mobsters to power in the violence and murder in the cauliflower rackets (Cauliflower? I kid you not.) It ends with a terrible warning: “The bitch that spawned him is on heat again.”

Mark those words and look round this world 80 years later: “The bitch that spawned him is in heat again.” Is there any doubt?

Main illustration: Daniel Zender/The New Yorker

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