Brigadoon Square

More La-la-Land than Brigadoon

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THE VERY ATTRACTIVE, beefcake actor, Henry Caville, who plays Superman and was runner-up to Daniel Craig for the role of Bond (and is sometimes tipped as his successor), apparently eschews mixing with women these days, to protect his career. Look what happened to Arnie Hammer. A couple of allegations and Hollywood has dropped him as a major star. Caville says he cannot risk the same thing happening to him. After all, in the age of #Me Too, allegations are all that it takes. There is no question of being innocent until being proved guilty or waiting for due process to take place. You have to be like Caesar’s wife – above suspicion.

Sometimes, as recently in the case of Noel Clarke, the black British actor and director, the case gets complicated. Clarke was given a BAFTA award for his outstanding British contribution to cinema, although few people had ever heard of him, after the organisation had been criticised by Prince William for its lack of diversity. (This is NOT to say he was unqualified for the award. I myself am a big fan.) Yet even before the award had been given, he had been accused of sexual predation. Then shortly afterwards the Guardian reported that he had allegedly assaulted twenty women and in less than half an hour the award was withdrawn. BAFTA could not be accused of supporting misogyny. Clarke of course denied the allegations but as usual in these cases he was judged guilty till proved innocent. His friends then insisted he was a black victim of racial prejudice in a white industry. Poor BAFTA, in the world of woke, it could not win.

Such cases are happening everywhere. For example, the publisher W.W. Norton has just pulped a long-awaited biography of Philip Roth because its author Blake Bailey was accused of sexual assault. It had to be seen to be doing the virtuous thing despite the fact that Bailey’s potential readers were deprived of their life of Roth.

The truth is that our cultural life is becoming infantilised. Majorities are bad. Minorities are good. Whites are prejudiced. Blacks are victimised. Whites have power. Blacks do not. Men are beasts. Women are prey. Straights make the rules, those who are LGBTQIAPD (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual and demisexual) must organise to resist them. These though are not the ‘fundamental binaries’ that woke warriors invoke. For them the true ‘fundamental binary’ is the impermissible difference between men and women.

The sad thing is that the very institutions that should be defending our culture and language against the invasion of woke zombies have already been taken over by them. In a characteristically brilliant article, the journalist and broadcaster, Melanie Phillips has shown how “academics are embracing gibberish studies” and how “social justice warriors seem to prefer gobbledegook to persuasive argument”. In their eyes Western society is a web of prejudices so vast that it requires the theory of ‘intersectionality’ to cover the manifest ways in which people are oppressed. This has given rise to new departments, new chairs and a vocabulary that is both obscure and opaque.

There is ‘critical race theory’, ‘queer theory’ and many other theories which describe a world in which white heterosexuals lord it over minorities and attempt to deprive them of their past, present and future as discrete groups of persecuted ‘others’. And the fightback is always conducted by third-rate jargon-obsessed semi-literates whose unreadable products only convince the already initiated. Phillips reproduces one paragraph from a volume published by the University of Michigan Press on the subject of the novel:

“regulatory practices operating within discursive regimes that circumscribe the ‘materiality’ of the subject through the ‘citationality of norms and the ‘illocutionary hallucination of the performative as a material event of subjectivity that emerges in a discursive nexus that can generally be named ‘impersonation’.”

Got that? Good for you!

In Britain, political correctness had not yet transformed itself into wokeness by the time my own university career ended with my voluntary retirement to care for my elderly mother in 2015. Yet as early as 1990, it had already raised its ugly head. I had already become a public figure on account of my activities in the Bruges Group and although throughout my decade as a leading activist for withdrawal from the EU, the LSE imposed no impediments whatsoever to my political activities (so long as I carried out my academic commitments, which I took great care to do). My postgraduate students, however, in the master’s course on European Studies of which I was Convenor, first sent a delegation to me asking me to resign (before they had heard a single lecture!) on account of my political views, and then sent a delegation to the Director, who threw out their complaint. I did not even lecture on the EU; my own course was on the domestic and foreign policies of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy since 1945.

During the referendum of 2016 the LSE was rabidly for Remain. Afterwards  one of its deputy directors admonished me with the words: “Sked, you were only person in this whole institution to vote for Brexit.” To which I could only smile and reply: “Yes, but I won!’
Nowadays political pressure in British universities is much worse. The main driving forces behind it are race and transgenderism. Both have completely undermined the integrity of university teaching and staff-student relations – bringing about the ‘cancellation culture’, ‘trigger warnings’, ‘safe spaces’ for minorities, growing claims of mental illness, and calls for the decolonising not just of history but almost every subject in the university curriculum including music and physics. Worst of all is the ‘offence culture’ whereby anyone can demand the removal of an academic or student body or individual who has been deemed to have given offence deliberately or even through some unintended ‘micro aggression’.

Scotland unfortunately has not been spared this nonsense. A couple of years ago, it was reported that the University of Glasgow had issued a trigger warning to theology students studying Christology that the story of Christ’s life ended in a brutal and bloody episode. Its anthropology students were warned likewise that in digs they might come across human remains. Do you suppose the students involved were previously unaware of these things?

The University of Edinburgh, in an act of great shame, removed the name of Scotland’s greatest philosopher, David Hume, from the David Hume Tower under pressure from the woke mob. This has led to the latest victory of the woke warriors in Scotland with the suspension of Dr. Neil Thinn as Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology from his post, which he has held without complaint for thirty-five years. His sin?  Along with many others, including the doyen of Scottish historians, Sir Tom Devine, he publicly opposed the renaming of Hume Tower. He also criticised a campus campaign called ‘Resisting Whiteness’, which featured an area exclusively for people of colour. Thinn called this discrimination. What else was it?

The student reaction was well organised. A template letter encouraged students to accuse Thinn of being racist and sexist. Rent a mob went to work. Third year students wrote that black, ethnic minority and female students could not ‘feel safe’ with Thinn around. Did they expect him after thirty-five years of academic anonymity to turn into a werewolf? They added that they were studying social anthropology ‘to learn how to decolonise our thinking’ – which presupposed of course that they had been unable to think for themselves in the first place. Thinn’s views – presumably based on years of research ­– would conflict with their ‘core values’ (read ‘ideological prejudices’). How could they write their dissertations under his supervision? How indeed, if they would not seek the advice of an expert unless it coincided with their woke presuppositions?

Universities are about the free and robust exchange of views with evidence resolving disputes. Offence is often and indeed must be given. Otherwise seminars become silent and nothing is learned. Parroting woke views to other woke students may bring a warm feeling of virtue but is intellectually valueless – like much of what happens in today’s universities.
The trouble today in Scotland, however, is that educational standards are also falling in schools. In 2015 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that Scotland had performed abysmally in maths, science and reading. John Swinney promised reforms but instead things got worse. In 2019-20 the proportion of students achieving three Highers was only 43 per cent, lower than every year since 2015. Meanwhile Audit Scotland reported the attainment gap between rich and poor students ‘remained wide’. Today Scottish schoolchildren from poor backgrounds remain significantly less likely to go to university than their English counterparts.

The SNP dislikes international comparisons. When the Curriculum for Excellence was introduced in 2010 under Alex Salmond, the SNP withdrew Scotland from two major international maths, science and literary surveys (Timms and Pirls). Then in 2017 they withdrew from yet another international survey. The latest judgement of the OECD on the Curriculum for Excellence has now been postponed till after the May elections.

In the meantime, one commentator writing in the Spectator, concludes: “Many students have not been taught how to think, let alone have any knowledge to draw on.” Maybe this explains the pitiful state of social anthropology students at Edinburgh.

Scotland then seems to be in a bad place. It has record drug deaths, a declining health service, the largest government deficit in Western Europe and the highest level of functional illiteracy in the UK (almost 40 per cent). Yet Scots when interviewed on television seem extraordinarily complacent about the true state of their country while their major political parties just promise to spend, spend, spend.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that the country practices ‘post-reality politics’ in the words of the Spectator. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, has concluded that the spending commitments of the major parties are a fantasy: “The manifestos are completely disconnected from upcoming budget realities.”

One commentator adds: “In this sense they completely fit the groove of contemporary Scottish politics, which exists in a kind of la-la land of unrecognised truths and rehearsed pretences.”

Recent opinion polls confirm this. Lord Ashcroft found that by 48 against 42 per cent of Scottish voters believe that Scotland puts more money into the UK than it takes out. The think tank ‘These Islands’ commissioned a Survation poll which discovered that among supporters of Scottish independence, 57 per cent believe that the government’s own GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Review Scotland) figures are ‘made up in Westminster to hide Scotland’s true wealth’;  54 per cent believe that Scottish tax revenues are underestimated because of Scottish exports leaving from English ports; while 66 per cent believe that Scottish revenues are underestimated because taxes generated by the whisky industry are not properly allocated to Scotland.’ Reflecting on these figures, the chairman of These Islands, Kevin Hague, said that the poll pointed to “a fact denial epidemic in Scotland”.

The Scottish media is as complicit as are the politicians. Scots simply do not receive sufficient media programmes critical of government misinformation. The Scottish Parliament is toothless. The Herald even had a headline on 28 August 2020 which ran:  ‘Why GERS is a load of CRAP (Complete Rubbish Approximations)’ It forecast that due to its natural resources, Scotland would become the ‘Saudi Arabia of Europe’. Scotland needs to face facts but seems little inclined to do so. One day it must face the consequences.

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Photos from Brigadoon courtesy of Warner Brothers and Turner Classic Movies.

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