Friday, March 24, 2006

The Sons of the Desert and the Happy Scottish Warriors

Commentary by Martin Kelly
December 10, 2004

Commentators stand or fall by their ability to deliver insight. Thank God mine was wrong.

The deployment of Black Watch to Camp Dogwood, outside Baghdad, is over. Enough damage having been wreaked on Fallujah for the time being, the men from Perth returned from Central to Southern Iraq in total secrecy on December 4, and are scheduled to return to Scotland next week.

Let’s hope there’s many a cup o’ kindness taken when they get back amongst their ain folk, because like all men and women of all nationalities serving in the neocon hell of Iraq, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Thank God that, just for once, Blair and Bush, The Sons Of The Desert, didn’t renege on a promise, and Black Watch will make it home in time for Hogmanay.

The level of public trust in the government of Tony Blair is virtually zero. His is a government of libertines – the man in charge of homeland security, David Blunkett, is behaving like a stalker towards his former mistress, launching a public paternity suit in respect of a child borne while the mistress was married to another man, a man who thus enjoys a presumption in favour of his own paternity.

This is the sort of country they’re coming back to.

British soldiers enjoy nothing like the level of official support their American comrades do, both during and after service. While serving in Iraq, all Brits were still paying the full level of income tax – they receive no exemption while on front line duties.

On December 5, the ‘Mail on Sunday’ reported that, because of confusion surrounding the impact of 2001 legislation requiring military personnel to re-register their vote, the number of Scottish service personnel actually registered to vote has dropped by 90% in five years. To lose one’s life taken on active service is an acknowledged risk. To pay full tax for the privilege must be irritating. But for a government to make it difficult for citizen volunteers to exercise their franchise is reprehensible.

The UK has no GI Bill of Rights, no Veterans’ Administration. To this writer’s knowledge, there is only one hospital for ex-servicemen in Scotland, the Erskine, a charity. According to statistics published by the charity ‘Shelter’ several years ago, at least one-third of all the UK’s homeless have a services background.

When they get home, they’ll get a pat on the back. The area from which these men are recruited is an economic basket case – three Black Watch casualties, Stuart Gray, Paul Lowe and Scott McArdle all came from Fife. Fife used to have thriving coalfields and linoleum mills. They went years ago, and were replaced by high-tech assembly jobs. They’re in the process of going as well, and it’s almost as if successive governments want to see ex-servicemen become minicab drivers and call centre operators.

One great industrial site remains in place, the Royal Dockyard at Rosyth, in the constituency of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On December 5, the ‘Sunday Times’ reported that Rosyth has missed out on a naval refit contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root, a division of Halliburton.

Although Tony Blair’s commitment to the war has been ideological, one does wonder what he thought he might achieve by sharing this adventure. Some writers have formed the conclusion that his motives may not at first have been pecuniary; they’ve just ended up that way.

On October 15, 2004, Paul Craig Roberts published a column on ‘antiwar.com’ called ‘Blair Sells Britain, Buys A House’. The thrust of Roberts’ piece is that Blair has recently purchased a townhouse in London’s fashionable Connaught Square for $6.4 million. The source of his lending is not known. The mortgage payments alone would require all of Blair’s pre-tax income as Prime Minister.

Where’s he going to get the money to pay it? Roberts believes that ‘by hiring out Britain’s army to the Republicans, Blair struck it rich’ and is banking on making a great deal of money from directorships, US book deals and the US lecture circuit after his retirement as Prime Minister, a theme picked up by Peter Oborne in the October 23 ‘Spectator’, who also raised the possibility that Blair will benefit from the loyalty that the Bush family has historically shown its retainers.

American readers might be appalled by this possibility – it is, however, not at all without precedent in Scottish history.

One of the most ardent of Scottish historians was an Englishman, the late John Prebble, whose interest in Scottish history developed after listening to old Scottish guys talking, while growing up in Saskatchewan. A journalist who co-authored the magnificent movie ‘Zulu!’ Prebble wrote a marvellous series of books on Scottish history, one of which was on the period called ‘the Clearances’.

One wonder how many Americans know they might not have been Americans had it not been for the doings of a man called James Loch.

In the early 19th Century Loch, an ambitious young lawyer, took a position as factor, or land agent, to the first Duke of Sutherland. Being a man of his time, Loch was greatly interested in ‘progress’ and ‘improvement’; after a while, he began to believe that the Duke’s northern estates were better suited to the cultivation of the Great Cheviot Sheep than to cultivation by man.

The so-called ‘Loch Policy’ resulted in the dispossession of thousands of tenant farmers off the land, an act of forced population movement worthy of Stalin, aided by socially ambitious clan chieftains whose sights were fixed on the bright lights of Edinburgh and London.

Prebble acidly remarked that these chieftains had ‘bartered their birthrights for a house in Belgravia’. It’s a pity that the same mentality still applies, and that the blood of the Scots, English, Welsh, Irish, South Africans, Zimbabweans and Fijians, all of whom have died serving in the British Army in this war, is good currency with which to buy a house in Connaught Square.