Wednesday 29 August 2018

Things people said to me while I was in Great Britain

I avoided talking about Brexit or Theresa May, two subjects that everyone finds painful and done to death, but I seem to have talked a lot of politics. 

A Russian expert, who sympathises with Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia, told me that Putin is the least bad leader Russia has ever had. I mentioned Czar Alexander II and later thought of Stolypin. Still, my friend might be right.

I shared a table in a pub in Fort William with a young Swedish woman prison officer who had just completed  the West Highland Way, which lasts 96 miles from the outskirts of Glasgow, camping on the way. It sounded fun, if one stayed at B and B's. I asked her how many of the prisoners in her prison (all convicted of drug related crimes) were from ethnic minorities and she said about half.

I had a long conversation with two very pleasant Scottish nationalist women on a train. I was surprised at how little they seemed to be nationalists. Neither cared about the monarchy, though it dates back to the very start of Scotland, neither were sure if they were even patriots, both said that the Scots want more immigrants because the economy needs them. They said they were civic nationalists, a catchphrase I have heard other Scottish Nationalists use. One said she preferred Sinn Fein to the DUP.

They thought, as I do, that Mrs. Thatcher and her decision to impose the poll tax on Scotland before she did so in England, were a large part of why devolution happened.

Later, talking to a Scottish academic who specialises in Scots language and literature and who is a passionate Unionist, I thought that she seemed more concerned about Scottish history, tradition and culture than the nationalists. She told me that this was usual.

A Scot in the Western Isles, who had lost some of his Scottish accent from serving in the army abroad, told me that he and his English wife encountered anti-English prejudice on the island from Nationalists.

A British Indian, born in Britain, who works in the arts in London, told me that he strongly supported Donald Trump and Ukip but does not dare tell anyone except me. I suggested that his colour gave him, as it were, carte blanche, but he said it didn't. He thinks Britain is headed to a race war if immigration is not halted. I mentioned Eastern European immigrants and he said they came from a culture similar to Britain's, implying that they were not a problem. 

He was brought up as a Hindu and has not decided his religious opinions, but is tormented by what he sees as the persecution of Christians worldwide. 

A school friend who votes Conservative had told me that Ukip were vile racists, so I wanted to know if this opinion was widely held. 

A British Indian friend who thinks there has been much too much immigration into Britain thought they were racist.

One old friend whom I asked said that they were "borderline respectable". 

I was extravagant and took two London black cabs, both driven by Brexiteers, one of whom told me that Enoch [Powell] was right. Neither sounded interested in Ukip but the man who liked Enoch said "at least Farage speaks his mind" and the other said that "you've got to give the Ukippers the credit for the referendum".

Brexiteer friends I spoke to seemed uninterested in Ukip or in Nigel Farage. One friend said the new Ukip leader (who he?) looked interesting.

A man who writes for the Economist said that identity politics were a disaster for everyone (Marxists thought so too) and that the European empires did enormous good for the colonies "by providing them with order". 

Simon Schama, he thought, is not an interesting thinker but has a remarkable gift for retaining information. 

A friend who is something senior in the City was assured last year by her important American friends that Donald Trump would not win a second term, but they have now told her that he will.

I asked an American friend who dislikes Donald Trump whether he has done anything good and was told yes, his tax cuts were very useful to the world economy.

An American from Washington D.C., who rents flats to political aides, told me Americans used to go into politics from idealism but now it is only for money. Big companies reward staffers with highly paid jobs when laws are passed that favour them, as a form of legal bribery. 

I had dinner in London with two British journalists working for national papers. One, in her twenties, suddenly asked when we thought civil war would start in Britain. The more experienced journalist, usually pretty canny, guessed in ten years. The younger one said five. 

I said I thought it had begun already.


  1. People have been predicting civil war in the US and the U.K. since we were children. We are now deep into middle age.

    1. I heard them after the 2008 financial crisis, during Vietnam in the US, during the 2016 election, and of course from Mr Powell a long time ago.

    2. Mr Powell predicted violence caused by ethnic minorities.

  2. Wish you had asked everyone about Trump

  3. Interesting. Britain doesnt seem be heading into civil war, say I who has spent three hour in Winchester this time round. Sweden, whose travails the Economist trivialises, seems much closer.
    Pelle Neroth Taylor

  4. Very articulate and colourful piece. I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Civil war!

    The Free Press has lost, true enough...