Saturday, September 20, 2014

More Fun With Whisky: Space Whisky!

The BBC's headline says it all: Ardbeg 'space whisky' set for return to Earth. Ardbeg is a fantastic, peaty whisky from Islay, and it became one of my personal favorites in Orkney. As I've mentioned before, Ardbeg 10 is one of my personal favorites, and I happen to have a bottle of it in my whisky cabinet - of course, my bottle hasn't been to space, but I'm still looking forward to cracking it when my current bottle of Highland Park 12 is finished.

Ha! "Space whisky"! Love it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scottish Secession: And Suddenly, It Ends

Well, it's all over. A convincing majority of Scots have voted to maintain their union with the United Kingdom. Contrary to the prediction made by Captain John when I spoke with him this morning, Alex Salmond will resign as Scotland's First Minister later this year, having failed to deliver the result he had campaigned on for the last six years. Even though Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom, Westminster will continue to devolve additional authority to Holyrood. As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I actually suspect that this was Salmond's goal, though his gamble failed to pay off.

The first person I spoke with this morning was The Director, who was quite relieved. He believes that this will lead to a healthy federalization of the United Kingdom, so that Scots will handle specifically Scottish affairs, while the other constituent nations (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) will do the same, in various manners; he was quick to note that individual national parliaments on the Scottish model would not be necessary, though some facility for accomplishing this would be developed for each constituent nation. The four nations will join together in making those decisions that impact the United Kingdom as a whole. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out in the coming years.

I listen to Around Orkney every morning on my way to work, and one of the best quotes I've heard about the referendum results came from one particular election observer (I hope I've not gotten his name wrong):
"I think the signal that's being sent, and I think it'll be sent from the whole of Scotland, is that we have got to recognize that power mustn't be concentrated in the south, so there's going to be change in Scotland anyway, and I hope it'll be good for Orkney."
- Hugh Halder Johnson, Orcadian ballot count observer
You can see the raw numbers here, or see the statistics in map form here. Some of the statistics I found most interesting were as follows:

  • Of thirty-two individual constituencies, only Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, and North Lanarkshire voted for secession, with Dundee leading the pack at 57.35%.
  • Much to my delight, Orkney satisfied a long shot prediction I made to my mother last week by voting more than two-to-one against secession - 67.20%, the highest "no" percentage of any council area. Orkney's turnout was 83.7% of eligible voters. Orkney was the first to declare their turnout and the second to (officially) declare their results.
  • For their parts, Shetland voted 63.71% against; Aberdeen City voted 58.61% against; Aberdeenshire voted 60.36% against.
  • Overall turnout for the referendum was 84.6% of eligible voters, which included constituents sixteen years of age and older.

    Once Orkney had announced its results (which happened earlier than most folks had predicted), E tagged me into a post on Facebook. He and another guy I knew from the university said a bit later that Edinburgh, East Lothian, and Stirling appeared to be leaning "no", and at that point I allowed myself to relax just a bit. I wouldn't say that my sleep was restful, but it was sufficient, and I was overjoyed when I awoke to learn of the news - having made a concerted effort to avoid the results before I went to bed.

    Key figures and prominent businesses have been reacting to the results. In my final pre-referendum post, I noted that a number of businesses had pledged to leave Scotland in the event of a "yes" vote. Several of the business I mentioned made the following statements:
    Clydesdale Bank: "Business as usual, with strong roots in Scotland."

    Standard Life: "We have no plans to move any part of our business out of Scotland."

    Royal Bank of Scotland: "Following the result, it is business as usual for all our customers across UK and RBS."
    Most of what I've been catching up on today has been from the BBC. Here are some of the highlights that aren't already linked above:

  • Scotland votes 'No': How the 'No' side won the referendum
  • Scottish referendum: The morning after the No before
  • Scottish referendum: North east and Northern Isles vote "No"

    A comic artist and humorist whose work I sometimes enjoy is J.J. McCullough. McCullough is based in Vancouver, Canada, and typically writes on a mix of Canadian and American political issues. Yesterday, he wrote an interesting critique of the referendum and its origin entitled Why does Scotland want to leave?; it leans a little bit further into the realms of sociology than I tend to, but he makes an interesting case, and even though the referendum is over, it's worth reading.

    I ran across a couple of videos today. Apparently some pranksters erected a Scottish passport control checkpoint...

    ... and one of my friends tagged me into a Facebook link to a video from The Guardian entitled Scottish referendum explained for non-Brits; it's an adequate, if tongue-in-cheek, explanation of what was going on, though I would have spun a few things a bit differently. For context, though, you can't go wrong with CGP Grey's excellent video entitled How Scotland Joined Great Britain, which I've posted previously.

    I expect that this will be my penultimate post on the topic. As fate would have it, one of my best friends is a teacher, and he decided to call me on Thursday in order to put me on speakerphone so that I could tell his high school history class about the referendum. It may have been done elsewhere, but I think that there's merit in briefly discussing the overall history that got Scotland to this point in history.

    * * *

    Credit for Photo #1: Yours truly.
    Credit for Photo #2: source, © 2014 Leanne Boulton, all rights reserved.
    Credit for Photo #3: source, © 2014 INNES/pentlandpirate, all rights reserved.
  • Sunday, September 14, 2014

    Musings on Small Scottish Islands

    My daily news intake includes news from Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland - specifically the BBC's RSS feed, and BBC Radio Orkney's Facebook, and Soundcloud pages. Last week, I saw an article entitled Tidal energy project to be constructed in the Pentland Firth. Having crossed the Pentland Firth on a number of occasions, I was interested to see what was going on.

    Orkney has become a prominent research site for marine renewable energy, particularly tidal energy. The new turbines will be constructed just north of the isle of Stroma, which has traditionally been considered part of Caithness. (You could theoretically swim from the Pentalina's pier to Stroma, but with the currents and the coldness of the water, I wouldn't recommend it!) Stroma was abandoned decades ago, and the infrastructure is apparently in a state of slow decay. Having looked at that picture (which is featured in the BBC article and can be viewed here), I think that the picture was probably taken somewhere around here. It's a neat island to pass by on the ferry, and if you the boat gets close enough you might see the Swilkie whirlpool. You can see some of the disused cottages as well. Stroma is the largest of several islands in the Pentland Firth, the others being the Pentland Skerries (the largest of these being Muckle Skerry, which hosts a lighthouse) and Swona, which was abandoned by its inhabitants in the 1970's and hosts a herd of feral cattle.

    This sort of reminded me of another picture, and I inadvertantly found it (and I think I may have either seen or even purchased a post card of it at one point): Foula, in Shetland. I've talked about Foula before, as I saw it from Sumburgh head, and then subsequently on the observation deck of the ferry while leaving Shetland. I had wondered if it was the Fair Isle, but subsequently learned that the Fair Isle was south, not west, of the main Shetland islands; and also, just over the horizon. Being that far from the main isles of Shetland, it's one of the most remote points in the United Kingdom. I love that photo, which was taken in the 1960's. It's right here. You can read more about Foula here and here. Unlike Stroma, Swona, or the Pentland Skerries, Foula is still sparsely populated. You can see more pictures of the Foula post office here, here and here.

    Since the photos above aren't my own, I'll do the gentlemanly thing and cite them accordingly. Per Geograph, here's the citation for that phone box on Stroma:
    Telephone box (disused), Stroma

    This telephone box dates from the 1960's when the last of the islanders left for pastures new. The track to the left of the telephone box goes down to the South Harbour.

    © Copyright George Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
    And from Wikimedia, here's the one for Foula:
    "Foula post office" by Dr Julian Paren - geograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
    These are the sorts of islands that one might be forgiven for considering settling on: remote, solitary, and beautiful. That said, they certainly have their drawbacks, among these being extreme isolation, a lack of fresh water, and the kind of wind that must be experienced to be believed.

    I may try to post about a few more islands in the coming weeks, be they in Orkney or Shetland. Stay tuned.

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Scottish Secession: Final Deliberations

    We're down to less than a week until the referendum, and there's a lot to catch up on. This will most likely be my last post on the topic before the referendum, the day after which I'll post some of my thoughts.

    Early this week, the big news was that the Yes(!) campaign polled ahead of Better Together for the first time. This seems to have taken just about everyone by surprise. Although the nationalists were bound to close the gap to some degree, they've consistently polled so much lower that their ability to win even a single poll came as a surprise. (There are rumors that there was a coordinated effort by nationalist activists to mob the YouGov poll, but I can't speak to this aside from reporting the rumors.) Since then, al Jazeera has reported twice (1, 2) that regardless of that one YouGov poll, the Scots are likely to vote to remain within the United Kingdom by a six point margin. British bookies tend to be a surprisingly reliable indicator of coming events, and it looks like the betting pools were unconvinced by the YouGov poll.

    Although the betting markets weren't affected, the financial markets were: the British economy took a significant hit upon the announcement of that YouGov poll. A couple of weeks ago, varying businesses were either questioning or endorsing secession. Meanwhile, there were reports (1, 2) that Scotland would be unable to join the European Union without a central bank, or without its own currency, neither of which are included in the SNP's stated plan. The list of companies that have pledged to leave Scotland in the event of a secession vote, or simply warned of negative economic consequences, has also grown. These include: the Kingfisher Group, John Lewis, Asda (the British incarnation of WalMart), and Marks and Spencer; the Royal Bank of Scotland; Sainsbury's and Virgin; Clydesdale Bank and Standard Life; Tesco Bank, TSB, and Lloyds. Aside from these warnings about relocation and/or price increases for Scottish consumers, the warnings from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Clydesdale Bank should be clarion calls, as these are two of the three banks that issue Scotland's bank notes. (Most sterling is issued by the Bank of England, but Scottish banks issue their own bank notes; Bank of England notes are accepted but uncommon in Scotland, whereas the Scottish notes can be difficult to spend outside Scotland.) The idea that Scotland would keep the pound sterling when two of the three Scottish banks that issue it plan to vacate Scotland in the event of a "yes" vote should be unnerving to the nationalists.

    Oil continues to be in the news. Better Together Orkney reposted the accompanying comic from a Scottish newspaper, which takes jabs at both the SNP's estimates of remaining oil, and presumably at First Minister Alex Salmond himself. The BBC recently ran a fairly balanced and diplomatic headline: Scottish independence: Experts set out oil prediction views. However, those who make the claims of a future renewed Scottish oil boom seem to do so without presenting any evidence to support their claims, and tax revenue from North Sea energy exploitation has fallen in recent years. In fact, Better Together has recently and devastatingly highlighted a six billion pound shortfall in the SNP's proposed post-independence budget, a gap that would impact the welfare state that the SNP has repeatedly promised as the result of a "yes" vote.

    Unfortunately, with the vote fast approaching, the rhetoric has devolved in the last few days. I've discussed the referendum with two friends from back in the old country, and received these thoughts, which I won't attribute:
    "Scotland’s not much fun at the moment. It’s all very divisive and I’m hoping earnestly that the Nats will not prevail. On the plus side it’s a lovely day."

    * * *

    "I'm worried. I'm quite happy with the way things are right now, so I don't want change. The independence referendum is dividing families at the moment because some members are voting yes and some are voting no. It's quite serious."
    Conduct has been a bone of contention lately. One of the issues that First Minister Salmond and his party have been most vocal about is the so-called "Bedroom Tax"; last week, Better Together highlighted the fact that when a vote to repeal the bedroom tax was recently held in Westminster, all of the SNP's members of parliament were no-shows.

    In another story from last week - this one Orkney-related - the Chairman of NHS Orkney, John Ross Scott was made to apologize for comments made in the Press and Journal favoring independence. Aside from questioning the veracity of his claims about the future of the NHS under an independent Scotland, Orcadians at the Better Together Orkney page offered their varied skepticism:
    "If that is the case council leaders and other high profile people who have been told to keep quiet by the YeSNP should be able to give their "personal" opinions. (link)"

    * * *

    "Give the man a sweety Alex."

    * * *

    "I don't have a problem with JR-S expressing a view and making it clear that it's not the corporate view of NHS Orkney. Where there's a difference as between him and a Steven Heddle or a Bill Stout is that the latter are ultimately accountable at the ballot box whereas JR-S is not. I think that means JR-S just has to be incredibly careful about how he prefaces what he says."

    * * *

    "JRS's view are well known which is fine. Whether he should use (or has used) the Chair position as a pulpit to politicise is a different question altogether, especially as the truth of this statement is very far from clear."
    The first comment alludes to repeated allegations of bullying and attempts to stifle debate on the part of the Yes(!) campaign. Personally, I question whether anyone in the public sphere, as Mr. Ross Scott is, can claim to give their "personal view" - the comment about using his position as the chairman of NHS Orkney as a soapbox for advancing an agenda that a private citizen couldn't rings particularly true.

    This week, something unprecedented happened: the leaders of the United Kingdom's three major parties, the Conservatives, Labo(u)r, and the Liberal Democrats, made a joint trip to Scotland to urge a "no" vote. According to a report I heard on the BBC Global News podcast on Friday (probably from one of the Thursday editions, if I remember correctly), they were greeted by protestors, some of whom went so far as to say that those who were against independence "weren't welcome in Scotland". Late in the week, former SNP deputy Jim Sillars was quoted as threatening a "day of reckoning" for those businesses that were urging a "no" vote, even going to far as to threaten the nationalization of their businesses in the event of a "yes" vote - again, hardly the conduct one would expect of responsible leaders.

    One questions whether the endorsements of newspaper editorial boards carry the same weight that they once did, but essentially every newspaper, to include The Scotsman, The Financial Times and The Guardian, have endorsed a "no" vote. The Guardian's editorial endorsing the Union carried the following tagline: "Nationalism is not the answer to social injustice. For that fundamental reason, we urge Scots to vote no to independence next week."

    (I would be remiss if I didn't honor CN Ness, himself a passionate Better Together campaigner, by noting that while China is wary of Scottish independence, Kim Jong Un of North Korea has allegedly endorsed secession.)

    I've read it, and I question whether it carries any information that I haven't already covered ad nauseum, but CNN ran an article earlier this week entitled Scotland's vote on independence: What you need to know.

    It's quite long, and I haven't had a chance to read it, but the BBC did something I've been waiting for someone to do: they actually got someone to write a thoughtful, detailed analysis of how the Scots came to this point. It discusses the political history of recent decades, as well as some of the reasons why Scots feel alienated from and/or subordinate to England and the rest of the United Kingdom. It's written by Allan Little, and it's entitled Scotland's Decision.

    I've been covering this referendum here on the blog for a very long time now - going on two years, in fact - and as this is the last post before the referendum, I want to share some observations before I close this post. These may be a bit stream of consciousness, and they're not as organized as I'd normally work toward, but hopefully they'll give some insight into what I've observed and come to conclude over the course of the last two years.

    1) One of the most frequently repeated complaints I've heard from the nationalists is that Scots are tired of voting in elections, only to see their votes ignored and Conservative governments elected to Westminster. Scotland is a reliably Labo(u)r constituency, and like various other constituencies in the United States with which I'm familiar, the nationalists don't seem to understand two concepts. The first of these is that, regardless of whether Labo(u)r is in government (under the parliamentary system, of course), the Scots are still being represented in the minority, and their MPs still get to vote. In other words, it's not an all-or-nothing system, parliamentary politics is specifically designed to maximize the influence of the political minority. In fact, I suspect that there are many English Conservative voters who could have said the same thing during the tenures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; unfortunately, that's the way democracy works, and although it's flawed, it's better than the alternatives - in fact, it was Winston Churchill himself who said that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." The other concept that the nationalists don't seem to understand is that any government will be more responsive to swing constituencies than to reliable constituencies, regardless of whether those constituencies are demographic or geographic in nature. In essence, the disconnect between the Conservatives and the Scots has been a self-fulfilling prophecy for decades, and for no particular reason that I can discern.

    2) It could be because I'm American and there's far more difference between the Democrats and Republics than there seems to be between Labo(u)r and the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, but I really can't wrap my head around the irrational hatred that Scots seem to have for the Conservative party. They most frequently mention their hatred of Maggie Thatcher, their reason being Thatcher's institution of the Community Charge, which they pejoratively refer to as the "Poll Tax". I've heard many of the nationalists claim that Maggie Thatcher was making a concerted effort to deliberately harm Scotland by instituting the "Poll Tax" in Scotland first, apparently oblivious to the fact that Scotland was the logical place to first implement the system for a number of reasons. They also seem to completely ignore that the Community Charge was the predecessor of the present day Council Tax system that they all take for granted. Perhaps someone will give me a more comprehensive explanation someday, but given the intellectual depth of the Yes(!) campaign's rhetoric, I'm skeptical that that will happen.

    3) The SNP and its supporters portray Scotland as an oppressed colony of England, rather than acknowledging the historic partnership between Scotland and the other component nations of the United Kingdom. When lamenting Scotland's alleged lack of influence in the United Kingdom, they constantly ignore the disproportionately widespread representation that Scots enjoy in various UK government ministries, to include the fact that the United Kingdom's most recent Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is a Scot. In fact, Better Together leader Alistair Darling was Labo(u)r's Chancellor of the Exchequer (the United Kingdom's version of the Secretary of the Treasury) - a position arguably more influential than that of the Prime Minister.

    4) One thing that continues to frustrate me - and the same thing frustrates me in American elections, so I suppose I'm being consistent - is that the entire independence agenda revolves around the welfare state. The infamous SNP white paper, Scotland's Future, along with all of the SNP's rhetoric, is little more than a utopian laundry list of government-funded social services, financed by the nebulous promise of limitless oil wealth, and wrapped in a decorative package of faux populism and rose-tinted nationalism. Having studied history, strategy, and international relations, it boggles my mind that the Yes(!) campaign can be having a last minute surge in popularity when it's quite obvious that the responsibilities and challenges of seceding from a successful three hundred year union with the rest of the United Kingdom have yet to be addressed, or even considered.

    5) In addition, the argument for secession displays a paradoxical historical disconnect. On the one hand, voters are mainly basing their votes (for or against) upon how secession would benefit or harm them in the next five or ten years, rather than the long term. Better Together tends to talk about the risks and the uncertainties, and seldom discusses how much better Scotland's grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as members of a United Kingdom. The Yes(!) campaigners promise the moon and stars for the next five or ten years, never discussing what Scotland will do about its current challenges, or the challenges it's set to face in the future. For such a historically consequential vote, one would think that a discussion of the long-term ramifications would be a higher priority than it appears to be, particularly for the Yes(!) campaign. Despite discussing a nebulous future, there seems to be little consideration of how the vote will impact future generations, or even something as simple as how future generations will be impacted by the end of the oil supply. I find that highly frustrating, because I love Scotland and I want it to be successful and prosperous. Instead, I believe that a "yes" vote would put Scotland in serious danger of becoming another Ireland, a nation which I suspect few would care to emulate on a political of macroeconomic basis.

    6) I also find it exceptionally frustrating that First Minister Salmond has been caught out for a variety of lies and distortions, and it doesn't seem to make any difference. This goes for the false claims about Scotland's future status with NATO, the European Union, the pound sterling, the post-secession budget... The list goes on. The whole thing is incomprehensible.

    7) In all honesty, I think that much of what's happened in the last year and a half has been the result of Alex Salmond being called out on a bluff. When Holyrood and Westminster were negotiating the terms of the referendum, Salmond wanted two questions on the ballot: the first would address whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, while the other would address further devolution of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Westminster rejected that suggestion and said that the referendum would be one question, yes or no. I suspect that Salmond may have really been pushing for devolution, but had backed himself into a rhetorical corner and felt that he had no choice but to go all in. In addition, support for secession has always been contingent upon mutually exclusive conditions, which has precluded Salmond and his subordinates from being sufficiently clear on their alleged plans for fear of losing support from one voting bloc or another. In my opinion, a man of integrity would have, at some point, walked back from the brink and said, "I can't do this, this is bad for Scotland and, as a Scottish patriot, I can't do something that would damage my nation." In a few days, we'll find out whether Prime Minister David Cameron was right to call Salmond's bluff, or if Cameron's gamble will backfire and damage Scotland in the process. Regardless, the cynic in me (who, I might add, tends to be right) believes that Alex Salmond, like too many elected officials throughout the world, is a politiican concerned with what's best for his party and his career, rather than a statesman whose sole concern is for the welfare of his nation.

    So, those are my thoughts. I suspect few Scottish voters, if any, will actually read this, but if you do and you're undecided: please vote "no". I've lived in Scotland, and I love Scotland. I want Scotland to be prosperous and successful as a nation. From the outside looking in, and based upon my lifelong study of history and strategy, I see no way in which the universal desire for Scotland's prosperous future is in any way compatible with its secession from the United Kingdom under the circumstances outlined by the SNP. I have seen no evidence that Alex Salmond has a credible plan, a credible budget, a credible strategy for the Scots to govern themselves; if there were a plan and I just disagreed with it, that would be one thing, but the Scotland's Future white paper isn't worth the paper it's printed on. When you go to the polls on Thursday, please, please, do what's best for Scotland by voting to remain a partner in one of history's most successful and productive political unions. Scotland and its partners in the United Kingdom are truly better together. Please, please, please, vote to sustain that partnership.

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Around Aberdeen: The Legend of Shite Piper

    Earlier this year, I talked about Shite Piper. During my time in Aberdeen, Shite Piper was a popular topic of conversation, because he was ubiquitous, and he was bloody awful. I already posted some of the comments that some of my friends and I came up with. Here's what the Internet has had to say about him over the years (mainly here and here):
    "Scottish piper my erse! Useless American eejit"

    * * *

    "There's a tartan-clad guy that stands on Union Street in Aberdeen from around 12-6 PM almost every day, and can't play the pipes to save himself. It sounds absolutely horrendous (he can't hit the high notes) and my heart genuinely goes down to anybody who works in any of the shops or offices within three hundred meters of him. I want to throttle him just waiting at the traffic lights for thirty secs, never mind the whole day.

    I'm guessing that councils can't tell buskers to GTF if they can't actually play the thing correctly?"

    * * *

    "WHAT??? Is this the guy that stands on the corner of Union Terrace? He's absolutely terrible."

    * * *

    "X Factor and that piper should be barred for crimes against music."

    * * *

    "Hang on, this Will Daniel guy is deemed talented? I always thought he was really awful, but it's hard to tell with bagpipes."

    * * *

    "That bagpipe guy is awful!"

    * * *

    "Get rid of that piper that stands on the corner of Union Terrace. If he really played that often, the term "practise makes perfect" is utter bollocks - like him."
    There are a couple of clips of Shite Piper on YouTube: here and here. In all honesty, though, you don't really get the impression of just how bad he was. I can't remember a single occasion in which he was playing on key. My favorite, though, is this one (turn your volume up):

    By way of a friend, I learned his name: Will Daniel. Here's his Facebook page. He once put up an advertisement on Gumtree, which is sort of like Scotland's version of Craigslist, except without the personals section. His Gumtree listing is mostly lost to history, but Google's preview retains a snippet, which reads: "My name is Will Daniel, and I am a piper in Aberdeen. I have played for weddings, parties, and some... " William Daniel ("Will" to those who knew him) was actually from Georgia, and arrived in Aberdeen as early as October 2011, according to one of those videos. He'd recently appeared in a couple of photos posted to Flickr (here and here). He was interviewed in early 2013 - while I was in Aberdeen - about an Aberdeen City Council plan to introduce auditions for local buskers. According to the STV article:
    Mr Daniel, who moved to Aberdeen from Georgia in the USA took to piping on the busy high street after finding it difficult to get a job.

    He said: "I'm out here five hours each day and I'm still looking for work."
    So what that tells me is that, despite his inability to play the pipes, he stayed in Aberdeen for at least three years, playing the pipes on the corner of Union Street and Union Terrace.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have the unfortunate duty of bearing sad tidings: Shite Piper can no longer be counted among the living.

    A few days ago, I received a call from GBU-16 asking if I had heard anything about Shite Piper lately. She said that she had walked past his regular spot - right here, next to the statue of Edward VII - and seen a wreath with the name "Will" on it. She told me that she'd seen him recently, leaving his spot for the night, and he was apparently stopping for breath after about every ten steps. Another friend tagged me into a conversation about him, which featured the following exchange:
    "Oh no! The spot was looking rather gloomy and quiet these few days i walked past it. May he rest in peace."

    "What happened? Is he deid?"

    "Unfortunately so."

    "How? That's very much a shame."

    "Don't know. Just heard through a friend, and now people are starting to put flowers by the statue."

    "Not meaning to disrespect the poor chap, but 'how'?! Seriously?"

    "He was looking less healthy with each data that passed. Sometimes he looked blue."
    I don't know much about him, as I only spoke to him once - he approached me one afternoon, fairly soon after I'd arrived in Aberdeen (maybe January or February of 2013?). He'd seen my American flag patch on one of my every day carry bags, and asked where I was from. I was stunned to learn that he was an American from Georgia and had served in the U.S. Navy. According to that STV article, he was thirty-nine years old in January of 2013, which means that he'd be either forty or forty-one by now.

    Unfortunately, I can't be gracious about Will Daniel's performances, as his piping was awful and, apparently, didn't improve at all despite his playing for five hours daily for at least three years straight. I also find it peculiar that he would have stayed in Scotland for so long, despite his inability to find another job. That alone is peculiar, because Aberdeen is one of Scotland's most prosperous cities. Regardless, he was friendly to me the one time that we spoke, and he appears to have left behind some Aberdonians who thought well of him as a person. What's more, he deserves some credit for doing something that many folks never do: chasing that dream of playing the pipes in Scotland.

    Fair winds and following seas, Will. You may have been a shite piper, but here's hoping you've gone on to an eternal reward.

    Saturday, September 6, 2014

    One Year Later

    This is the one year anniversary of one of the most momentous and fateful weeks of my life.

    On Tuesday, the 27th of August 2013, I submitted my dissertation. On Saturday the 31st, I took the surveys Gus and I had filled out in November to the Gordon Highlanders Museum; on the afternoon of Tuesday the 3rd of September, I was back at the Museum, meeting with the curator. That meeting would eventually lead to a mission to document the Orcadian Gordon Highlanders of the First World War.

    I spent the next week and a half settling my affairs in Aberdeen, and then on Friday, September 6th, I stowed half of my stuff in a friend's basement and took the rest of it onto a train. The first, far too early leg took me from Aberdeen to Inverness; the second took me to Thurso, at which point I made the ill-advised trek, on foot, from Thurso to Scrabster.

    The next day, I went for a bit of a stroll through Stromness, and ended up sitting on a bench and snapping a picture. I just sat there - me, the guy who's always in a rush to be productive. I sat there for at least an hour, drinking the wind and feasting upon the beauty of Hamnavoe, Scapa Flow, Graemsay, Hoy, and the Inner and Outer Holms. I reflected on what I'd done over the course of the preceding year, and the work it had taken to get me to Scotland in the first place.

    Early the following week, I got to Bournemouth by sea, ground, and air - with a brief stop in my old stomping grounds to meet up with Pockets. I spent two weeks on a close protection course, and then it was back up to Orkney.

    That hour in Stromness was amazing. I can't remember ever being that relaxed. One year later, I find myself reflecting once again on my time in Scotland, and what's happened since. Because, y'know... Holy smokes, I spent over a year in Scotland, three months of which was in Orkney, right? I mean, who pulls that off?

    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

    Scottish Secession: Two Weeks Left

    "This debate has raged around money for years! The English have been saying, 'Yeah! We subsidize you, and we needed that money for our own hospitals!' and Scots were like, 'Yeah! And you took our oil, and we needed that for cookin' chips!'"
    - Bruce Fummey
    In July and August, the BBC ran several audio segments about the impending referendum on their Global News and Newshour podcasts, which I listen to at work. One particular segment featured the that quote from Scottish comedian Bruce Fummey, so I figured I'd share it as a rare example of the lighter side of the referendum debate. That reminds me, I need to figure out how to make my own chips, cheese, and chicken fillet (pronounced "fill-it" - even the Scots love mispronouncing French words) like they did at Lionel's...

    The BBC asks: Scottish independence: Does the rest of the UK care? In true BBC fashion, it says a lot without actually saying very much. However, in my last post on this topic, I discussed defense issues, and there are indications that Scotland's absence from the Union would be felt in the Ministry of Defen[c]e. General Sir Richard Shirreff is a Scot, a recently retired British Army officer, and the recently retired NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. In a recent op-ed on the SNP's controversial white paper, he described its defense pronouncements as "amateurish, unrealistic and lacking any clear strategic purpose". He notes:
    As for the nuclear issue, NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance and all NATO states must accept the principle of nuclear deterrence and being part of the NATO nuclear command and control system. Whilst the SNP may accept the principle of nuclear deterrence, it remains unclear how other members of NATO will view the disruption to the coherence of NATO defence caused by moving the submarine fleet out of Scottish waters[...] There is no mention of any naval aviation (yet Scotland would need a primarily naval force), no mention of air-to-air refuelling capability, no Mountain Rescue and no Search & Rescue capability[...] In particular, the financial services industry benefits from the robust protection provided against increasingly dangerous and sophisticated cyber threats. Customers and markets must have confidence in Scotland’s ability to transact safely and securely. Not only does the White Paper fail to make any provision to deal with this threat, it doesn’t even recognise it.
    Those are the arguments I find most pressing, but his piece is brief and it's worth reading in full.

    Gizmodo has an interesting, albeit far too long, aritlce on what will happen to the Union flag if Scotland secedes. It's really long, and I hope to go back and read it in full soon.

    I've repeatedly tried to highlight elements of the Orcadian perspective with respect to the referendum. Last week, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister Salmond's deputy) visited Orkney, and she was interviewed by Robbie Fraser. For the time being, you can listen to the interview on BBC Radio Orkney's Soundcloud page. Mr. Fraser does an excellent job, in a way that he's uniquely qualified to do, of gently but decisively calling Ms. Sturgeon out for the outlandish claims of the Yes(!) campaign. I found it particularly interesting when Ms. Sturgeon, whose party is keen on selling Scotland as a rich (and well governed by the SNP!) nation that can have it all if only it were independent, but she blames budget cuts on recent shortfalls in frontline policing. On Friday, Better Together Orkney quite sensibly noted:
    The SNP today patronisingly claimed Orkney was "waking up" to Yes. As their case for independence crumbles - with no answers on currency, no answers on EU membership, dangerous economic over-reliance on volatile oil prices and scaremongering over the NHS - hollow rhetoric is all they have left.
    On the topic of Deputy First Minister Sturgeon, she's also just taken the position that she'll never support requiring tuition fees for Scottish students. This is a particularly prickly issue for me, as I paid a lot of money for my tuition and fees, and worked really hard as a result to ensure that I got a return on my investment. CN Black Sheep was the same way, he was paying out of hide and he was always on time and always busting his ass. Two of my coursemates, CN Ness and CN Homeboy, were Scots who qualified for free tuition, and I'm not sure whether they paid any tuition and fees (given that it was postgraduate study), but at the very least they were heavily subsidized. They were great guys and they did good work, but their attitudes reflected the fact that they didn't have much/any skin in the game. Free tuition is a wonderful benefit for Scottish students, but it produces the same problems that similar programs do here in the States: first, that you/the government still has to pay for it somehow; and second, that when something is free, people don't appreciate its value. The social drawbacks of free tuition aside, this is yet another case of the SNP promising the moon and stars without a credible plan to finance it.

    We're down to the two week mark.