Britain will never end, unless there is such catastrophic climate change that the sea floods through the Scottish/English border. Until that happens, it’s one island formed, amazingly, from two continental landmasses joining at that border. Many islands are divided as political and state entities, Ireland, Cyprus, Hispaniola to name but three, and where united, there may have been much bloodshed, as in Sri Lanka.

No one is suggesting any form of political violence is likely to occur here, although the treatment of 'illegal' migrants by the UK gets rather too close to that for comfort. Looking over the North Channel, though, one does get nervous about what the future may hold for Ireland, and its currently totally open border, post-Brexit. Political violence, in any form, stems from political failure.

The new populism that has given us Brexit and imposed Donald Trump on the world, with its parallels with the extremism of the 30s, appears destabilising, and undoubtedly challenges the entrenched political establishment. Perhaps politics has become too much of a career choice, increasingly made in the teenage years, where our lives are dominated by people who appear to live in a parallel universe.

Such is the conservatism at Westminster with its huge, entirely unelected House of Lords and grotesque, first-past-the-post Commons that no new major decentralising constitutional amendments will be initiated there. That leaves the rest of the British Isles, where the Irish Free State was formed almost 100 years ago, and Scotland has had a parliament for almost 20 years, along with the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies.

Within the UK, Scotland has led the way in many respects, particularly under the SNP at Holyrood. Alex Salmond’s independence referendum opened up perceptions of Scotland dramatically, within and far beyond the country itself, and Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership values were exemplified by the European referendum vote in every local authority to remain. Scotland has a distinct polity that invites comparison with other states.

Where do we go from here? Well, we are in a period of tumultuous political change, with Brexit inevitably causing substantial constitutional alterations. Brexit has become a political coup, led not by a weak and inept Westminster government, but by a handful of media moguls secure in their tax havens. There’s always money to be made by betting the right way, and that’s easy if you can create the desired conditions first.

The economies and peoples of the whole British Isles will be the losers if Brexit proceeds. It hasn’t even started to impact yet, other than the two-edged sword of a plummeting pound, where the potential short-term gains inevitably mean long-term pain. Scotland stands to be the biggest loser economically from leaving the EU, and that is the sole reason why we need to have another referendum in our constitutional future.

In proceeding to an 'indy-new' referendum, younger people need to be heard and their views particularly respected. Maxwell MacLeod and Gerry Hassan can lob ripostes at each other, and here I will be inevitably controversial: give weight to the well-researched and perhaps more informed views of the younger man. In years I’m much closer to Maxwell than Gerry, but I’ll keep an open mind. The UK appears to be in poor repair and adrift on a hostile sea.

Bryan Stuart

Apologies to Catherine Czerkawska for the late response, but before charging atheists with 'fairly dogmatic persuasion', perhaps she should self-administer two simple tests.

Test one: ask yourself whether there is any evidence that would persuade you that the specific God you believe in is in fact a man-made artefact. I have asked this question to many god-believers and the overwhelmingly large majority of them either wriggle out with some platitudes about blind faith or, more honestly, confess that their belief is beyond evidence. Ask the corresponding question to an atheist and the answer is invariably 'yes', the evidence in question ranging from $1 million in a secret Swiss bank account (Woody Allen) to stars rearranged in the night sky to spell 'I am God' (Christopher Hitchens). My own road-to-Damascus piece of evidence would be the re-growth of an amputated limb (why do all miracle-dispensing gods hate amputees so much?).

Test two, part one: remind yourself that you, as a self-confessed Catholic, do not believe in a generic, amorphous, luminous god, but in a very specific revealed divinity, born of a virgin mother, announced by a speaking winged angel, resurrected and flown heavenwards, and so on.

Test two, part two (the so-called Loftus test): on what basis not only do you believe all of the above (and many more incredible fables), but at the same time firmly refuse to believe that Mohammad flew to heaven on a winged horse (with a female face, for realism’s sake)?

Depending on your answers, perhaps you can understand why it may be difficult for atheists to conceal a degree of smugness, which, I agree, is never an attractive feature in personal interactions.

Manfredi La Manna

If Islay McLeod had read my absolutely stupendously gripping book, 'Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil', about Cowdenbeath's football team, coal mining, politics, and religion – described in Scotland on Sunday by someone called Kenneth Roy as 'not only the story of a triumphantly doomed football club, but the sad and funny chronicle of Cowdenbeath itself' – she would have discovered the reason for the club's nickname. I quote from page 151 of the new, updated edition:

No, Stuart Juner’s suggestion that Cowden were called the Blue Brazil because they played in blue and had the same debt as a third world country is not the right answer. The true answer, like many of the profound mysteries in life, lies in Lochgelly.

So who dunnit? Out of the shadows steps Lochgelly citizen Colin 'Chalky' Whyte.

'It was in the early 1980s, 1982 or so', Chalky told me, looking pale. 'I’d always loved Brazil and the way they played the game. I was standing on the terracing one day and Cowden were playing well – in fact they were playing like Brazil. So I shouted, "C’mon the Blue Brazil!" It just seemed to take off'.


It certainly did. They talk of nothing else in the streets and cafes of Rio, never mind Lochgelly. Chalky Whyte. Jim Leishman. Just how many geniuses can Lochgelly legitimately lay claim to? (Unlike Cowdenbeath, though, Lochgelly has never produced a Nobel prize winner.)

'Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil' – now out in paperback by the way – might even be described as a brilliant Scottish dystopian novel. It's not for nothing that I am known in the literary salons of the world as 'Kirkwall's Kierkegaard'.

The Fife angst goes on and on. Cowdenbeath FC is currently agonising over the fate of one of the team's best players, who has been caught betting against his own team. Not only that, the club is struggling against the possibility of a third relegation in a row – one which would take the club out of Scottish senior football altogether. Dystopia? We could run a master class in the subject.

I'm glad you asked that fundamentally important question, Islay. Did I tell you that the book is now out in paperback? And that it has forewords by Sir Alex Ferguson, Craig Brown, Rev Kathy Galloway and Lochgelly's own Jim Leishman? You and Walter Humes, I'm sure, will be at the head of the queue.

Ron Ferguson

My question is – why are Dunfermline Athletic called The Pars? Screeds have been written about this, with no persuasive explanation. A favourite is that 'pars' comes from 'paralytic' – meaning paralysed rather than drunk. It certainly rhymes with Athletic, though whether Dunfermline were particularly stiff and hopeless when the name was first used – possibly in the 1930s – is impossible to know.

Of course, disability is no laughing matter.

Ian Jack

Rachel Sharp’s analysis of what turns some of the sounds we use into 'bad' language in the eyes and ears of society reminds me of the story – no doubt apocryphal – of two girls caught fighting in the school corridor. Separated and taken aside, each was asked to explain her behaviour.
'Oh, Miss, she called me a really terrible word', said one.
'What was the word?'
'I can't say it'.
'Well, if you can’t say it, spell it out'.
'Miss, she called me a fucking C-O-W'.

James Robertson

Send your Cafe contribution to rachel@scottishreview.net

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DAVID TORRANCE


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Goodbye to Britain? Goodbye to God?


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Bridge 44: the canal and me
ALASDAIR MCKILLOP


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Scotland the inert

1
Upfront
A gift from London
DAVID STRACHAN


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Scotland's circle of patronage
WALTER HUMES


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A question of trust
ALLAN SHIACH


Diary
We hug for a long time, scared to let go
NANNIE SKÖLD

Upfront
A Scottish dystopia
JAMES ROBERTSON
and Craig Weldon


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What's in a nickname?
ISLAY McLEOD