Due to one of those vagaries of the internet that beset the aged, I have just learned that a research team at Glasgow University have analysed the impact of Robert Burns on Scottish tourism. Apparently, the Bard and his memorabilia generate £200 million a year for our economy.
In January, they urged the powers-that-be to use this powerful asset as a new driver to boost Scotland's international appeal. The university experts helpfully listed a number of actions that would ensure success. One was to rename Prestwick Airport 'Robert Burns International'. Among the many reactions to the proposed airport change was a press comment calling it 'that old chestnut'. They pointed out, for example, that the Robert Burns World Federation had put forward the same idea in 2014.
The chestnut is a lot older than that. In fact, it dates back to the 1960s and was inspired by the aftermath of the killing of John F Kennedy. At that time, Britain's major airports were owned and run by the British Airports Authority. In Scotland that included Prestwick, Edinburgh, and later, Glasgow. The deputy chairman of the authority, with particular responsibility for Scotland, was Sir Robin MacLellan – a man of great charm and ability but with unbending views on how Scotland should be shaped. A manufacturing man to his toenails, he railed at any 'heuchter-teuchter' nonsense. Scotland had to be an engineering nation and not be side-tracked by notions of kilts, haggis and bagpipes.
My little public relations firm, I think there were about six of us then in the country, was hired to promote Prestwick while a fellow pioneer, George Hodge, laboured for Edinburgh. We did our research and decided on a cunning plan. In 1963, New York's Idlewild Airport had been renamed JFK in honour of the slain President and, overnight, became the best known airport in the world. Our job was to promote Prestwick worldwide with particular emphasis on the States and the expatriate market. Prestwick was in Ayrshire so it wasn't hard to pick a symbol.
And so, we presented the big idea of Robert Burns International and waited for the applause. Sir Robin, with simple charm, waited three weeks before labelling the idea 'tawdry and vulgar' and consigning it to the dustbin. He agreed, reluctantly, to a tartan-covered brochure that was sent to American Scots organisations. I have never lost my admiration for Sir Robin and his legacy of achievement awards are a testament to his contributions to Scotland. It would have been nice, though, if he had planted our 'chestnut'. It might have changed what has been the rather sad history of an airport – but maybe not.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for all those everywhere who walked in support of justice for George Floyd. For the rioters and looters in the streets of American cities who exploited the situation for their own ends, I have only contempt. Watching the scenes around the destruction of the Colston statue in Bristol, I felt something else. Fear and dismay. As the protestors dragged the statue through the streets, stamping on it, kicking it, kneeling on its neck, I saw only mob rule. But also something worse. The violence of the emotions on display was such that had the statue become a living body nothing would have changed. In the dark past, blacks were lynched. This was the lynching of Colston. If this behaviour were to become the new norm, we would no longer be living in a civilised society.
Reading Tom Chidwick
last week on Alec Douglas-Home, one of the Prime Ministers I watched in the Commons, brought back a memory that will not have made any of the articles about him. The great thing one needed back then when following a politician on the stump was a handout of the speech – it meant you had a marked up text to help you write your story, an invaluable aid no matter how good your shorthand, when the time came to get on the phone in a telephone box. Bad light, someone thumping on the door to get in, and hard to read shorthand made the text invaluable.
In this instance, I was at some event in his constituency with David Bradford, then my opposite number on The Scotsman
who went on to be its political editor. Sir Alec was a nightmare when it came to wandering from the words in front of him and sometimes he managed to omit those that were meant to be the story. Before this speech, David tackled him about his behaviour, pointing out the problems it caused us and that it also did him no good. Sir Alec, always a gentleman, readily agreed to mend his ways and stick to the text. Speech delivered, he left the stage, gave David the smile of a man who had done what he had been asked and said – 'Well, I stuck to it'. He hadn't.
How well remembered he is today is anybody's guess – his premiership lasted less than a year after all. But it did include the memorable moment when Harold Wilson, who as leader of the Opposition proved to have a hitherto unexpectedly sharp tongue, or perhaps a very good script writer, mocked his arrival at the dispatch box as Prime Minister of 'the 14th Earl of Home'.
It should have been a killer crack. Sir Alec, however, replied: 'I suppose when you come to think of it, the Right Honourable member is the 14th Mr Wilson'. Result was collapse of stout party – and he made that list of memorable sayings which few achieve. Harold had several which he did say and the hapless Jim Callaghan – 'Crisis, what crisis?' – which he did not.
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