Daily Archives: June 15, 2015


The Bagh I Wah

I am sleeping four hours a night in my push to get the book finished by Friday. I felt an overwhelming urge to share at least a passage of what I am working on, I suppose because it is one of the few passages that is about feeling not policy, and feelings should be shared. Or something like that, maybe its just lack of sleep. This differs from previous passages I have published as it is going to be in the book, not something I have removed in editing down.

On 1st August they were joined by Hugh Falconer and his collaborator Captain Proby Cautley. Burnes received a letter from Dost Mohammed explaining that he was receiving proposals and diplomatic representatives were being sent from both Persia and Russia, but he would do nothing until Burnes arrived. Burnes immediately wrote to Colvin and Macnaghten insisting that he needed more powers and discretion to act in these circumstances, noting in his diary “I am to talk, they [the Persians and Russians] are to act. They had better recall me than act thus.” He was to repeat often a belief that Auckland was placing him in an impossible situation.

But that same evening there was time for enjoyment amid the gloom. They dined al fresco in the beautiful but decaying Mughal garden, flooded with roses, the Bagh-i-Wah. “We pitched our camp by the crystal rivulet, filled our glasses with Burgundy, and drank to the memory of the fame of Noor Muhal and her immortal poet Thomas Moore.”

Burnes frequently quotes Moore and his “Mughal” poetry, especially Lalla Rook. He had met Moore in London, and Burnes’ own works are accounted an influence on Moore’s poetry. Undoubtedly this poetic sensibility affected Burnes’ attitudes, particularly his partiality for Islamic culture. Moore’s reputation has not proved “immortal”, but he was enormously popular at this time, across all of Europe. His poetry inspired music by Schumann and Berlioz, and countless artists and writers. The passage Burnes is here referencing – and presumes his readers will get the reference – is

The mask is off – the charm is wrought –
And Selim to his heart has caught,
In blushes, more than ever bright
His Nourmahal, his Haram’s light!
And well do vanish’d frowns enhance
The charm of every brighten’d glance;
And dearer seems each dawning smile
For having lost its light awhile;
And happier now, for all its sighs,
As on his arm her head reposes,
She whispers him, with laughing eyes,
“Remember, love, the Feast of Roses!1

That was a wonderful evening under the stars in Hasan Abdal – the rivulet, the roses, the burgundy, Goncalves’ guitar, the poetry and added to Burnes’ mission of already very remarkable men, the great paleontologists Falconer and Cautley, who much influenced Darwin. Cautley also was the genius who designed and constructed the great Ganges canal.

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Britnats’ Divide and Rule

David Torrance quotes me as evidence – indeed the only evidence – of a “Great Divide” in the SNP between fundamentalists and gradualists. There certainly are differences, but they are just differences over tactics rather than goals.

I am quite open that I fear that the trivial diversion of extremely shallow extra powers for Holyrood will consume energies better spent on campaigning for independence. And it is certainly true that I believe that during this very right wing Tory Westminster government is the best time to hold another referendum, and that missing the chance could be a disaster.

But there are others just as committed to independence who are more tactically cautious. This is a debate about tactics in which people can quite legitimately hold different opinions. I bear no grudge towards the advocates of a cautious approach, and I have experienced not one iota of hostility from anyone in the SNP following my article which Torrance quotes.

The one point on which I do feel extremely strongly is that the decision on the party’s position on a second referendum must ultimately be taken democratically by the membership, not handed down by the leadership. As long as the way forward is democratically decided, there will be no “great divide” in the SNP, no matter how much the Britnats may yearn for it.

Jim Murphy is getting almost as much extended coverage on quitting in abject failure as leader, as he did when appointed as head of the Scottish accounting unit. For the uninitiated, a particular Blairite reduction in freedom was new legislation stipulating that you could only have a registered party name or “independent” on the ballot paper in elections. Before you could have any brief description you like, such as “fight the bypass” etc. But the Electoral Commission ruled that “Scottish Labour” could appear on ballot papers even though there is no such registered party. When challenged, the Electoral Commission invented the pathetic excuse that “Scottish Labour” was the name of an accounting unit within the Labour Party and – they made this next bit up on the spot – descriptions of accounting units within registered parties are allowed on the ballot. Somebody should set up a party with an accounting unit entitled “the Electoral Commission are Corrupt” and put that on the ballot.

Anyway Jim Murphy today “likened the atmosphere in the TV debates in Scotland to a “quasi-religious rock concert so whatever truth you told it did not really matter”.” This is a ridiculous lie. The TV debates audience in Scotland were dour and aggressively unionist, notably vocal in opposition to any second referendum. This is because the broadcasters selected the audience according to the results of the 2010 General Election, meaning only a quarter supported independence and they were massively pro-Labour. Murphy could not have had a more sympathetic audience. He failed in the debates because he was rubbish.

I am willing to lay a large sum of money that the TV companies never select an audience based on the 2015 General Election results.

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