My deep shame at this bigoted protest

Comment piece from the Observer September 2 2012

Batsheva, the Israeli contemporary dance group, should have been one of the hits of this year’s Edinburgh international festival. They got five-star reviews for their witty, sexy and creative show.

Why do legal loving relationships need the seal of a single word?

Comment piece by Jackie Kemp from Scotland on Sunday August 18. `Does any group have the right to demand that a word be redefined?` GAY marriage is a subject which arouses strong emotions. Many support it in the name of equality and human rights – including, apparently, virtually the entire Scottish Cabinet. Some oppose it in the name of religion. Unpleasant names are hurled across the gulf. Surely, however, this is an issue which merits dispassionate consideration.

Daniel Cohen on the Euro crisis

This brilliant and informative column appeared in Le Monde on the weekend of June 23/24. Translated by Tiffany Reed and Jackie Kemp

A few days before the European Council of June 28 and 29, the Franco-German discussion is becoming a dialogue of the deaf. The French want to strengthen economic union, the Germans want progress on political union. Neither can hear the other.

The Germans understand the French proposals as a new version of the slogan “Germany will pay”, which reverberated through French politics after the First World War; the French see political integration with Germany as handing over the right to inspect their welfare system.

The lack of mutual understanding is actually a symptom of the underlying problem. The euro is rudderless, a currency union adrift.


Creative Scotland, and  its ‘crude ethic of  sado-competition’

Creative Scotland, and its ‘crude ethic of sado-competition’

This piece appeared in the Scottish Review on May 31, 2012. For legal reasons, the last 2 pars were removed. They are reinstated here. Below is a photo of Creative Scotland execs in Cannes the same week they announced the end of flexible funding. Joyce McMillan knows what she is talking about when it comes to judging performances. The Scotsman’s theatre critic has spent a few years of her life rattling across Scotland on night trains from small towns – the proverbial ‘Shotts in the dark’ – writing reviews. The fact that she knows most of Scotland’s theatre people pretty well and in general is held in respect by them does not interfere with her ability to do her job. She can give a bad review if it’s required.

My father Arnold Kemp and the Leveson Inquiry

My father Arnold Kemp and the Leveson Inquiry

From the Scottish Review March 21, 2012. What would Arnold Kemp have thought of the Leveson inquiry? My father, journalist and editor of this parish, will have been dead 10 years this September. So it was something of a surprise to his nearest and dearest to be called by the Guardian and told that his name had been raised at the Leveson inquiry in connection with a tragic and distressing case surrounding his columnist Jack McLean in the early 90s, a case touched on by Kenneth Roy in his SR column (13 March).

The agenda behind the bill: feminisation of Scotland

The agenda behind the bill: feminisation of Scotland

From the Scottish Review, Dec 2011. This piece is also in the Scottish Review anthology, Scottish Review 2012, available from www.scottsihreview.net. It seems bizarre that the Scottish Government has forced through such a wide-ranging set of laws as the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill in the name of anti-sectarianism.

In Ireland, on the introduction of the Euro

rom the Observer, 30 December 2001

The currency may change but life goes on. Ireland, as it prepared for the euro, fell about the Christmas feast as if it hadn’t a care in the world. The free-range Wexford turkey was the least of it: the ancestral Irish festive board is not complete without a ham and a hunk of spiced beef as well.


Cronyism and Jack McConnell

  • The Observer, Sunday 18 November 2001
  • The word crony has become the standard terms of abuse for the Scottish Labour Party, but it acquired its pejorative overtones only relatively recently. Souter Johnie was Tam O’Shanter’s ‘ancient, trusty, drouthy crony’: they had been ‘fou for weeks thegither’. In his diary Samuel Pepys spoke warmly of a ‘chrony’ and some think the word sprang from seventeenth-century student slang at Cambridge University.

    In the political sense it now means something just short of corruption. Cronyism is to friendship as cunning is to wisdom – ‘Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise’, wrote Francis Bacon. Cronyism in the political meaning appears to have been used for the first time by a journalist on the New York Times in 1952. He was describing the Truman administration’s practice of appointing friends to government posts irrespective of their fitness for them.

On a resignation by Wendy and critics of Holyrood

The Observer, Sunday 12 May 2002

    I once asked a leading herbalist if he had a cure for a hangover. His reply was brief and crushing: ‘Don’t get one.’ We have to fall back, therefore, on some foul Italian concoction or Jeeves’s recipe for Bertie Wooster – two raw eggs and a dash of Tabasco. In politics, the equivalent is a spell in the wilderness. It has been the fate of many, some of whom, like Churchill and de Gaulle, have gone on to greatness.

    In Scotland, Wendy Alexander has exchanged a portfolio in the Scottish Executive for a seat on the backbenches while Alex Salmond, conclusively confounding my suspicion that he has become addicted to Westminster, has announced his intention of returning to Holyrood in 2007. By then, he appears to acknowledge, he will have been on the fringes of the main action for too long, and the expectation is that he will attempt to resume the SNP leadership.

On consultants and chief executives

The Observer, Sunday 30 June 2002

    I have always entertained an especial detestation for the Irish saint Ursicinus of Saint-Ursanne, a pal of St Columba, who loathed wine and those who served it. Down the years, only management consultants have aroused my deeper dislike. The growing scandal surrounding corporations is thus an ill wind. It has wiped millions off the stock markets but it has brought an end to the myth of the visionary chief executive and punctured the arrogance of the consultant.

    In my not always happy experience, there could often be an unhealthy degree of connivance between them. The executive called in consultants to help him force through changes on which he had already decided. The consultants, with an eye on their fee, were always happy to oblige even if the scheme were rash, dangerous and ill-advised or, as often seemed to happen, a false economy.

Decline of the Scottish Conservative Party

The Herald Jan 18-20, 1989, ran as a three-part series.

PUBLIC squalor and private affluence, Professor Galbraith’s famous phrase, implies a polity where individual wealth and consumption are encouraged and public spending restrained.

ON the rise and fall of the SDA

WE had hardly sat down for our ”power breakfast” when we got into an argument. A lecture in elementary economics is pretty hard to take at that time in the morning but that is what my old sparring partner Professor Donald MacKay was giving me.

Donald, I happen to know, was not brought up in the Glasgow bar-room school of argument but he has acquired some of its mannerisms. He hunches his shoulders to prosecute his argument with greater intensity and he wags his finger to underline his points.

An open letter in defence of perestroika

BERLIN, May, 1989.

Dear Secretary of State,

Last week you rattled your sabres in the House of Commons, and again at Perth. You reaffirmed the highly dubious principle of nuclear deterrence: states must be prepared to use their weapons even if in so doing they destroy the earth. A couple of weeks ago your boss came to West Germany to insist that the Federal Republic continues to support the modernisation of Nato’s short-range nuclear missiles.

The economy – and easy credit

From the AK archive: MOST of what little knowledge I have about economics has been gleaned from colleagues and contacts down the years, together with a bit of reading. The result is a strange brew in which the chief ingredient is confusion. I take comfort from the fact that I do not seem to be alone; our policy-makers often seem just as muddled.

Drinking with the Scottish Lords

The House of Lords remains an amiably dotty place. We are at dinner with the Scottish peers, an annual affair to which I am from time to time lucky enough to be invited. It is a very enjoyable evening, especially because they don’t allow speeches. Instead civilised conversation is the rule.

The fragmentation o the labour market

…Since the war we have, of course, lived through changes which were retarded by various conservative forces, such as managerial inertia and trade union immunities, but not ultimately denied. Our heavy industries have been in decline for a very long time (in Glasgow since before the First World War).

More recently, the drive for profitability in newly competitive arenas which have been privatised or liberalised, together with increased exposure to international competition and the introduction of new technologies, has been squeezing labour out of the system.

This process was masked by the boom in the service industries in the eighties which, as it turned out, was insecurely based on a credit binge. Had the IRA succeeded in blowing up the tower at Canary Wharf, there would have been gratitude in surprising places.

The Goschen Proportion/Barnett

The Herald 25 July 1992. This is an interesting piece from Arnold Kemp on the history of the Barnett formula. Jackie Kemp

WE start with a confession. The Herald has, these past few weeks, been mis-spelling the name of the formula by which Scotland’s share of UK public expenditure is decided.

In our error we have at least been consistent, referring throughout to the Goshen/Barnett formula. This must have set up an irritation somewhere in my subconscious. No-one had complained or questioned us. But for no particular reason beyond a vague conviction that something was amiss, I looked it up.

A flyte on the neglect of Hugh MacDiarmid

By Arnold Kemp, the Herald, August 15, 1992

THIS week has seen the hundredth anniversary of the birth of C. M Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid). The highlight was a BBC Radio Scotland broadcast on Tuesday evening, mostly from the Queen Street studio in Edinburgh before an invited audience but partly from the snug in Milne’s Bar.

There was original music, from Ronald Stevenson, Michael Marra and Hue and Cry. Some Day, a short play by MacDiarmid, was performed, together with a new work, Root to a Tree, by Donald Campbell, which explored some of the contradictions in the MacDiarmid tradition. Norman MacCaig and Adam McNaughtan read poetry, MacCaig including his famous recommendation that MacDiarmid’s centenary should be marked by a minute’s pandemonium.

On inflation

THE barber paused in mid-snip when the radio interrupted its nonstop pop to announce that interest rates had gone to 15%. That’s a pound on the price of the haircut, he said. By the following lunchtime the proprietor of a local restaurant was expressing great relief at the news that the 10% rate had been restored. We’re all working for the banks now; and many people are running to stand still.

That evening I was sitting at dinner with a leading member of the financial and business community, a pillar of the London Stock Exchange. He startled me by saying that what this country needed was a little inflation.

Devolition finance: The Barnett foumula

Derivation v Equalisation: A row over Scottish funding from the 1990s, Arnold Kemp, the Herald. It is interesting to note how the debate over funding has changed since then, I think. Jackie Kemp.

The long-standing principle of equalisation means that all revenues (except local government tax) are remitted to the centre. They are then allocated according to a formula that takes account of need, sparsity of population and so on. This system reflects the essential idea of the unitary state — that all its citizens should have a similar expectation of services irrespective of the wealth of their region.

[Critics] assumes that a Scottish Assembly would be financed by a system of derivation rather than equalisation. Under this principle expenditure is related to revenue raised in a particular geographical area.