The Arnold Kemp Archives

Poppy Fascism? Give me Strength

    Over the last few weeks, I have noticed that some of my twitter-loving friends have been posting blogs and articles about something called “poppy fascism”. What on earth they mean by this frankly ridiculous term I’m not sure. It appears to refer to the ostentatious wearing of the poppy by politicians and public figures who are keen to link themselves to the memory of Britain’s war veterans. In some circles apparently, though not any that I am in, it is regarded as obligatory to wear a poppy and people who choose not to do so feel criticised in some way. Although as we mark the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second World War, we may just pause to remind ourselves that social death is not as bad as actual death.

Scunnered by Scot-free passport design

THE ONLY WORD to describe how I feel about the new UK passport design is scunnered. Not one Scot is among the seven faces that are to be plastered across it. It is to have an embossed face of Shakespeare on every page as a security feature. But what about the other globally recognised poet these Isles have produced, our beloved Rabbie Burns?

I struggle to understand the motives behind the redesign. At the time of the referendum on Scottish independence last year, I wrote that a big part of my decision to vote ‘No’ was that I was not ready to give up my right to a British passport for what I thought was the potential mess of pottage offered by the Nats.  Commentator Allan Massie quoted me in his Scotsman column on the eve of the poll.

JK Rowling, the Tartan Tebbit Test, Scotland’s Rugby World Cup Exit

Photo: Rob Bruce. Click ‘read more’ to see the whole article.

LIKE JK ROWLING, it seems, I am an “80 minute patriot”. This is what she was called on Twitter for being a No’ voter who supported the Scottish rugby team in the World Cup.

Personally, I feel that when it comes to full-throated, flag-waving ostentatious declarations of love for one’s country, 80 minutes is probably enough. Again, for me, I don’t know about JKR, I am quite happy to stick the Jimmy hat and saltire in a bag when I leave the ground.

Why the House of Lords should scrutinise the Scotland Bill

The SNP, according to Scotland on Sunday, is ‘furious’ about plans for the ‘unelected’ House of Lords to scrutinise the Scotland Bill. (

The Lords are appointed not elected, granted. But there is more to democracy than being elected. After all, Hitler was elected.

A strong democracy relies at bottom on the protection of the rights of the individual citizen. That requires more than an elected bunch of career politicians being left in sole charge of all of the levers of power.

If The Eurozone Survives the Greek Crisis It Can Come Through Stronger


You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for the people of Greece. It seems ridiculous to hold Greek pensioners who can’t pay their electricity bills responsible for the jigsaw of calamities which mean that their government is now struggling under an unpayable mountain of debt.


The situation for Greeks has been very much worse, according to a recent report int the Ecomomist ( than it has been in any of the other hard-hit countries such as Ireland.


Within any unit of economic union, some parts are wealthier than others – in Germany the West transfers assets worth roughly £80 billion to the former East Germany each year.

( In Britain, London funds public spending in Wales, for instance.

Are Scotland’s Psephologists Riding for a Fall?

Aside from a computer on the desk, my local betting shop has a traditional look, complete with newspaper racing pages sellotaped to the wooden walls, stubby pencils and drawn blinds. As I entered, a man with a lived-in face and an unlit roll-up cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth was exchanging a slip of paper for some ten pound notes. Most betting here is on the horses, but I was looking to place a bet on politics. More specifically, I wanted to place a bet against the psephologists who are predicting that the SNP could take every seat in Scotland.

After Almost Losing the Union, Does David Cameron Deserve Another Term?


A major part of the Conservative’s election campaign has been to question whether Ed Miliband is up to the job. But what about David Cameron?

He is already the Prime Minister who almost lost the Union, and he is not being all that careful with it now as he sows the wind of Scottish Nationalism in an attempt to frighten English voters.

Looking back, the careless flourish with which he signed off on a referendum with Alex Salmond in 2012 looks at best naive, at worst complacent. With hindsight, Cameron’s decision to fly to Scotland to sign it handed a great publicity opportunity to the Nationalists.

Scotland’s Pal-ocracy Makes England Look Like a Beacon of Democracy


Where civil liberties are concerned, Scotland makes England look like a beacon of democracy. Scotland does not have strong independent bodies defending individual freedom. There is less emphasis on this in its education and culture than south of the border. I recently mentioned to a young friend studying Higher History that this year is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. “Who’s she?” he replied. Since then, I have asked a number of others including students at Scottish universities and have yet to find one who has ever heard of this historic document which guarantees the rights and liberties of the citizen against autocracy. They have all heard of the Declaration of Arbroath but only the ‘Braveheart’ section about the yoke of the English oppressor.

In 1742, philosopher David Hume wrote: “It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us and must last as long as our government remains in any degree free and independent.”

But an independent-minded observer of Scotland must conclude that civil liberties are in retreat here since the advent of a Scottish Parliament. We appear to be losing some of the recourse that citizens of Britain have historically possessed.

Lavrenti Beria and The Collapse of the Soviet Union

A column from The Herald 1992 on an article by Donald Rayfield in the Scottish Slavonic Review.


That Lavrenti Beria was a monster is well enough known, though the full extent of his activities is still dimly understood. Apart from developing state terror as an instrument of policy, he killed and tortured personally, for the pleasure of it. He became Stalin’s secret police chief. When the Soviet Union finally acknowledged its responsibility for the Katyn Massacre of 1943 – when more or less the entire Polish officer squad was wiped out by the Soviet secret police – it named Beria as the guilty man, though his recommendation was countersigned by Stalin and others.

Quiz about physically disabled students.

 This is a quiz from a fundraising event for physically disabled school students at George Watson’s College. The questions are based on the short descriptions of inspiring people who overcame disability as children and young people below. Answers are at the foot.



1 Whose musical feet found a path to success?

2 Who turned out to be a lot brighter than his teacher thought?


‘Dramatising Scotland’s Past’ at Scotland’s History Festival 2014

Actor and Gaelic singer Dolina Maclennan began this event at Scotland’s History Festival ‘Previously…’ with a reading from her recently published book, ‘Dolina: An Island Girl’s Journey’.

Maclennan read a passage about her memories of touring the Highlands and Islands in 1973 with the huge theatrical success of that time ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ , a play about the Highland clearances, and land rights. Dolina recalled the audience member who rose to her feet to deliver a Gaelic curse to the actor playing land agent Patrick Sellar; rolling up the gaffa tape on a pencil to use it again; travelling with pots and pans and taking £5 from the cast each Thursday to feed them for the week. She linked the tumultous reception the play received in its tour across Scotland to a surge of nationalism which sent 11 SNP MPs to Westminster a year later.
James McArdle and Gordon Kennedy. Photo: Manuel Harlan

History? James McArdle (James I) and Gordon Kennedy (Murdac Stewart). Photo: Manuel Harlan
Dramatising Scotland’s Past:  free event at Scotland’s History Festival, ‘Previously…’ Adam House on November 19, 2014.

“Were we just wrong Jim?” – Sillars and devolution

From Arnold Kemp’s book, a personal history of post-war Scotland “The Hollow Drum”.

…Jim Sillars told me a story about himself which, he said, explained his character. When he was 15 he was apprenticed to a plasterer and was one of a team working on a job. Although he was the junior apprentice he found he was expected to do the labouring. On further inquiry he discovered from the boss that the job had been priced to allow for three labourers, a junior apprentice, a senior apprentice and a journeyman. The boss had not employed any labourers; he was skimming more profit by making the junior apprentice do the donkey-work.

Sillars walked off the job. There was an enormous row. His father was called to a meeting. But it was to no avail and that day the plastering trade lost a recruit. 

Why I believe in Britain – on the eve of Scotland’s independence vote in 2014

From Prospect magazine website, September 11, 2014. One of Scotland’s best-known plays is Peter Pan. At the dramatic moment when the fairy Tinkerbell, traditionally played by a spotlight which flickers and then seems to go out, is close to death. Peter Pan turns to the audience and says she can only be saved if the audience demonstrates that they do believe in fairies by clapping their hands, which generally results in thunderous applause from adults and children alike.

Israeli Performers and the Edinburgh festival: A Personal View

Also published in the Scottish Review on 27 August 2014

Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre company

This year’s theme for the Edinburgh International Festival – ‘War’ – was more apposite than planned, disturbed as the city was this summer by the rumble of distant guns.

The Fringe, which took shape along with the festival in the years after the second world war, is an open access event, with every church hall and pub backroom being turned into a venue, along with temporary pop-ups, from the glamorous ‘Famous Spiegeltent’ to a tiny two-man housing the Thermos Museum. This year someone even put on a one-woman show in a Fiat, luckily a stationary one.

A defence of the Red Road flats demolition plan

Destroying the unwanted flats and using them as a metaphor for change is not a bad message to take from Glasgow’s Games, writes Jackie Kemp From the Scotsman April 8 (this plan was later abandoned). THE Red Road flats are coming down – should it be with a bang or a whimper?

How to heat ourselves and not the spaces we occupy

From the Scotsman, Dec 13, 2013. Attacking those who dare to suggest alternative ways of affording to heat homes limits the discourse, writes Jackie Kemp. A FAMOUS Punch cartoon shows a stately lady showing a guest to her room. “It’s a little chilly,” she is saying kindly. “So I’ve put another dog on your bed.”