Peter Geoghegan

Peter Geoghegan lives in Glasgow. He is the author of The People’s Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never Be the Same Again.

From The Blog
10 September 2020

Less obvious is what Johnson and his Vote Leave administration have gained from the week’s machinations. At one stage a press spokesman for Number 10 said that October’s deal – which the Conservatives won a general election on the back of – needed to be rewritten because it had been rushed through without time for scrutiny. Then it emerged that the new Internal Market Bill would be fast-tracked through the Commons.

Short Cuts: Brexit and the SNP

Peter Geoghegan, 3 November 2016

In​ his recent book, The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After (Birlinn, £9.99) Tam Dalyell, for many years the Labour MP for West Lothian, identifies several points at which the march of Scottish nationalism could have been halted. His list is typically eccentric: had Willie Whitelaw succeeded Ted Heath, Scotland’s industrial base would have been saved from Thatcherism; had...

The End of the Scottish Press?

Peter Geoghegan, 21 April 2016

Late last year,​ Rangers played host to Hibernian. Both teams are currently in the Scottish Championship, the second tier of Scottish football – after going into administration in 2012 Rangers had to work its way back up from the bottom division. The two first played more than a century ago; this time Rangers won 4-2. I watched the game on a dodgy internet stream, but could still...

From The Blog
18 July 2016

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service logged 123 calls between 9 p.m. last Monday and 1 a.m. on Tuesday, of which 42 were related to the annual Eleventh Night bonfires. The fire engines were ready and waiting when a pyre of wooden crates about seven storeys high was set alight in a cordoned off car park in Sandy Row at midnight. There were loud cheers as the flames engulfed a large Irish tricolour with ‘KAT’ (‘Kill All Taigs’) scrawled in pen across the flag’s white third. (A Taig is a derogatory term for a Catholic. The white is meant symbolise peace between the Protestant Orange and the Catholic Green.) The heat was so intense I found myself squinting. Beyond the car park railings, firemen hosed down windows to cool the glass, but it wasn’t enough. A Bangladeshi family in a flat overlooking the bonfire watched on as their window shattered.

From The Blog
2 April 2015

At 5 p.m. on 18 September 2014 the Scottish National Party had 25,642 members. Last Saturday afternoon Nicola Sturgeon announced that membership was 102,143 and rising. After the referendum, it was thought that the new intake – widely assumed to be more leftwing – might undermine the nationalists’ discipline. But there was little discord among the 3000 people at Glasgow’s SECC last weekend for the SNP spring conference. Resolutions on all-women shortlists, land reform and the Chagos Islands passed almost unanimously. Sturgeon pledged that her party would block David Cameron’s attempts to return to Downing Street. She said that the SNP would supply the ‘backbone and guts’ needed to force Labour to construct a radical post-election government. Trident would go; austerity would slow; the minimum wage would rise by £2. The loudest cheer came for a call to scrap the House of Lords.

From The Blog
20 October 2014

'I came down here to support Tommy,' the man said when I asked why he'd given over his Sunday to stand in the middle of George Square and listen to a stream of speeches, mainly about the perfidy of Albion. 'I think he's had a raw deal.' Tommy Sheridan was on stage in a Yes T-shirt. Between the bronchial sound system and us was a sea of Saltires and homemade signs. A trio of mocked-up heads with the faces of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alistair Darling bobbed above the crowd, with a placard labelling them the '3 stooges' and 'traitors'.

From The Blog
22 September 2014

On Friday evening, hundreds of loyalists congregated in George Square. Some bought union flags from hawkers; most brought their own. Women in red, white and blue wraparound skirts sang 'you can stuff your independence up your arse.' Expensive cars disgorged burly men from Ayrshire and Fife onto the square. A Rangers banner was attached to the metal railings in front of the city's cenotaph. Sections of the crowd chanted 'Rule Britannia' and 'No Surrender'. Some gave Hitler salutes. In the gloaming, pro-independence supporters and non-aligned passers-by were attacked. So far eleven people have been arrested.

From The Blog
17 September 2014

On Saturday, with only days to go before the independence referendum, thousands of Yes supporters gathered on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, waving Saltires and singing ‘Flower of Scotland’. At around the same time, more than ten thousand Orangemen staged a pro-union march in Edinburgh. The standards at the head of the flute bands hailed from Portadown and Coatbridge, London and Liverpool, Leeds and Stockport.

From The Blog
6 August 2014

At eight o’clock yesterday evening, Alan Titchmarsh: Love Your Garden aired on ITV in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish TV broadcast a two-hour live debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. Billed as an evening that would decide the future of the United Kingdom, the first televised debate ahead of next month’s independence referendum was available only to viewers in Scotland. (The STV live stream, accessible throughout the union, reportedly crashed early on.)

From The Blog
28 May 2014

I had coffee with Sudbin, a human rights activist, in northern Bosnia last month. We met at a roadside bar called Sidro ('anchor') in the village of Carakovo, and talked about the difficulties facing Bosniaks who returned to Republika Srpska after the war. Heavy rain was falling. The River Sana was seeping over its banks. Dark brown water swirled around the wooden stilts that supported a two-storey house beside the river. 'I've never seen it like this,' Sudbin said. 'Nobody, not the government, has done anything to stop it, to make defences.'

From The Blog
4 February 2014

'I like heckling, polite heckling,’ George Galloway told me over a cup of tea in an Edinburgh hotel yesterday afternoon. A couple of hours later, the MP for Bradford West prowled onto the stage at the Assembly Rooms dressed like a white soul singer – black fedora, black jacket, white shirt pinned with portcullis cufflinks – to the sound of Stealers Wheel's ‘Stuckin the Middle with You’. Outside, a dozen or so members of the far-right Scottish Defence League shouted ‘George Galloway betrays his own country’ and waved Union flags. When I tried to take a photograph one rushed towards me bawling ‘Next time there’ll be violence.’ A larger counterdemonstration chanted ‘Master race, you’re having a laugh.’

From The Blog
29 November 2013

John F. Kennedy is supposed to have been able to read 2000 words per minute. Alistair Darling must be nearly as quick: the Scottish government published its 670-page White Paper on independence at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. By midday the former chancellor had reached his verdict: ‘a work of fiction, thick with false promises and meaningless assertions’. Alistair Carmichael was lagging behind; it was the early afternoon before the Scottish secretary declared of the White Paper: ‘Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little.’

From The Blog
21 October 2013

The Scottish National Party conference used to flit around Scotland: Dunoon, Oban, Dundee, even Rothesay have hosted it. Nowadays Perth concert hall, a glass-fronted building near what remains of the old city walls, is one of the few places large enough to hold everyone. ‘It’s got bigger,’ two white-haired women from Moray answered in unison when I asked what has changed since their first SNP conference more than three decades ago. ‘But it’s still lots of fun, especially in the evening.’

From The Blog
18 September 2013

Nate Silver told the Scotsman last month that there was ‘virtually no chance’ of a Yes vote in next September’s independence referendum: ‘If you look at the polls, it’s pretty definite really where the No side is at 60-65 per cent and the Yes side is about 40 per cent or so.’ The comments were hardly revelatory, but they were seized on by media on both sides of the border as evidence that the independence campaign should pack up and go home. A few days later, Silver told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival that he was less than happy about the way his throwaway remarks had been interpreted. ‘Taking a comment based on a thirty-minute interview that becomes front page news is not the precedent I want to set,’ he said. With a year to go till the vote, both sides seem more interested in quoting wildly divergent opinion polls than discussing policy.

From The Blog
15 July 2013

The Palace of Culture in Tirana has housed Albania’s national library, opera and ballet companies for almost 50 years. Khrushchev laid the first stone, in May 1959, during what one American newsreel described as a ‘lengthy visit with mysterious overtones’. These days the ground floor of the opera is a count centre during national and local elections. At around 10 p.m. on Sunday, 23 June, three hours after polls closed in parliamentary elections, a queue of officials carrying clear plastic ballot boxes snaked up the steps outside the opera. Policemen in wide-brimmed hats formed a porous cordon around the votes. Party loyalists, with pens and notepads to tally the votes as they were counted, hovered on the terrace, waiting for the lobby to open. Counting had been scheduled to start at eight.

From The Blog
10 May 2013

Michael Gray is a 21-year-old politics student at Glasgow University. On 7 April, an article he wrote appeared on National Collective, a Scottish independence website. The piece used sources already available online to paint an unalluring portrait of the business dealings of the Vitol Group, an energy trading giant. That day, Better Together (the No campaign) had announced that it had received more than £1.1 million in donations, including £500,000 from Ian Taylor, Vitol’s CEO (and a major donor to the Conservative party).

From The Blog
2 April 2013

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners in Scotland, recently released a promotional video to tie in with its submission to the Scottish government’s Land Reform Review Group. The ten-minute film opens with a reassurance from Luke Borwick, the group's chairman, that Scotland’s landowners aren’t all plutocrats: ‘The vast majority of our members are medium and small owner occupiers.’ As he speaks, the film cuts to shots of a couple strolling beside a massive country pile and an inebriated dinner party. This is Roshven House. Set on 50 acres near Fort William, Roshven is available to rent (for £11,000 a week).

From The Blog
6 March 2013

When John McCallister resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party on 14 February he accused the party leader, Mike Nesbitt, of ‘forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches’. Hours earlier, the UUP, the Democratic Unionists and the anti-St Andrews Agreement Traditional Unionist Voice had announced that a Unionist unity candidate, Nigel Lutton, would stand in tomorrow’s Mid-Ulster by-election. Martin McGuinness resigned the seat at the end of last year; the Sinn Féin candidate to replace him is the deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Francie Molloy. In 2007, the DUP MP David Simpson, speaking under Parliamentary privilege, claimed that Molloy was involved in the IRA murder of Lutton’s father in 1979. Molloy denies the allegations. The Unionist candidate’s uncle, Joey Lutton, was jailed for his part in a 1976 Ulster Volunteer Force murder.

From The Blog
17 January 2013

Last March there was an explosion at a semi-detached house on the Gleann Riada estate in Longford, seventy miles north-west of Dublin. The blast – which blew out the sitting-room window and left a hole in a ground floor wall – was caused by methane that had accumulated underneath the property. The two men who rented it were in the kitchen. In October, Ireland’s Health Service Executive said that Gleann Riada was ‘unsafe’ and called for ‘necessary and immediate remedial work’. Residents were told not to light fires and to keep their windows open.

From The Blog
14 December 2012

Apparently there were 43 illegal roadblocks in Belfast on Monday night. In a bar with Christmas lights on the ceiling, a hundred yards from a City Hall not flying the Union Jack, most drinkers were glued to their smart phones. The man beside me was scrolling through the #flegs hashtag on Twitter. (So was I.) His friend was trying to work out if his bus was running. In the end they decided to share a taxi home.

That night, in East Belfast, a firebomb was thrown at a police car outside the constituency office of the local MP. Naomi Long is the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, which came up with the compromise solution to the problem of the Union Jack on Belfast City Hall: the flag will now fly on 15 designated days a year, not continuously as it did until last week.

From The Blog
5 December 2012

‘This is the day the Scottish left came out of its ghetto,’ Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said towards the end of last month’s Radical Independence Conference (RIC) in Glasgow. Around 800 people had paid £10 a head (£4 unwaged) to listen to speeches from socialist and green politicians, trade unionists and disability activists in the rather incongruous setting of the Radisson Blu hotel near Central Station.

From The Blog
26 October 2012

Earlier this month, Providence Resources announced that an oil field at Barryroe, off the coast of Cork, is expected to yield 280 million barrels. The company’s CEO, Tony O’Reilly Jr, the son of the media mogul, told the Today programme that this was ‘very good news for Providence shareholders and the Irish economy’. The first part of his statement is undoubtedly true: Providence’s share price rose sharply on the back of the Barryroe news. That Ireland’s economy will benefit is much less likely.

From The Blog
26 September 2012

How George Robertson must regret saying in 1995 that ‘Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead.’ Robertson, then the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, was trying to appease sceptical unionists. Last weekend, 13 years after a devolved parliament was established at Holyrood, somewhere between 4000 and 10,000 people attended a ‘March and Rally for Scottish Independence’ in Edinburgh. Organisers said that it will be an annual event until the independence referendum in 2014.

From The Blog
3 September 2012

The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels has been called ‘the last colonial museum in the world’. It’s not hard to see why: in the marble lobby a statue celebrates ‘Belgium bringing civilisation to the Congo’; the Memorial Room lists the names of the 1508 Belgians who died in Africa between 1876 and 1908 but doesn’t mention the millions of Africans who perished during King Leopold II’s brutal reign in the Congo Free State; the painted wooden carvings from Tintin in the Congo that decorate the restaurant are in dubious taste, to put it mildly.

From The Blog
9 August 2012

Ian Wilson, a former Grand Master of the Orange Lodge in Scotland, addressed the annual Orange parade in Broughshane, Co. Antrim, on 12 July. After describing Martin McGuinness’s handshake with the queen as ‘a humiliating surrender’ for Sinn Fein, Wilson turned his anger on a ‘more cuddly and user-friendly’ nationalist: Alex Salmond. ‘The ultimate aim of Mr Salmond is precisely the same as Mr McGuinness – the destruction and break up of the United Kingdom,’ he said. The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is not the political force it once was – in the 1920s it had hundreds of thousands of members, including the secretary of state for Scotland, John Gilmour – but there are still more than 180 lodges in the Glasgow area alone, and around 8000 people attended July’s annual Orange Walk in the city.

From The Blog
25 June 2012

In April, a video entitled ‘Iceland forgives mortgage debt of its population’ went viral. The 30-second clip, a Spanish-language news broadcast by the Latin American TV network teleSUR with English subtitles, reported that the mortgage relief was ‘a response to citizens’ demands’. Within 24 hours of being uploaded, the report had been watched tens of thousands of times (videos on teleSUR’s English-language YouTube channel often struggle for double digit viewing figures). Activists on Twitter and Facebook hailed Iceland as an example to the world, reposting as they went.

From The Blog
30 May 2012

‘Go on, Dougie,’ the man beside me shouted. His silver and blue lapel pin twinkled in the wan light of Screen 7 at Cineworld in Edinburgh. To my left, a woman beat her foot as Dougie MacLean shuffled with his guitar across the makeshift stage at the launch of Yes Scotland last Friday. In the front row, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister sang along to ‘Caledonia’; Alex Salmond grew lachrymose, or at least appeared to in the footage broadcast on the evening news.

From The Blog
18 May 2012

On Wednesday afternoon, excerpts from a speech by the Irish finance minister Michael Noonan to the Bloomberg Ireland Economic Summit in Dublin, purportedly copied from the Irish Times website, appeared on PoliticalWorld.org. The contributor, PaddyJoe, accused the newspaper of removing a paragraph from an earlier version of the story, in which Noonan, speaking about the Irish government’s ability to secure a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming referendum on the European fiscal compact, was apparently quoted as saying:

From The Blog
1 May 2012

‘Death to the Euro.’ The handmade sign was pinned to the wall of a community centre in San Luis, a gentrified neighbourhood just inside the boundaries of Seville’s old city. It was a balmy Friday evening, but inside a crowd of around a hundred people were listening to a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation on puma, a new local currency for San Luis launched last month. Puma is the third local currency to be introduced in the Andalusian capital this year. Pepa and jara already circulate in Macarena, a working-class district on the other side of Seville’s city walls.

From The Blog
16 April 2012

In 1971, a parliamentary Working Group criticised the speed with which walls, gates and fences were being put up to separate Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland. The ‘peace lines’, constructed mainly by the British army, were creating an ‘atmosphere of abnormality’, the Peace Walls Working Group warned. But they did ‘not expect any insurmountable difficulty in bringing together well-meaning people from both sides’, and believed that before long, the barricades would come down; ‘normality’ would return.

From The Blog
14 March 2012

In January, Transport for London applied for anti-social behaviour orders to be issued against four unnamed young men. Under the terms of the ASBO, they are prohibited from speaking to one another for ten years, carrying equipment that may be used for exploring after dark or blogging about ‘urban exploration’. Their crime: in the early hours of Easter Monday last year, as ever-tightening security encircled London ahead of the royal wedding, the group entered Russell Square tube station, and walked along the deserted train tracks and closed tunnels to the abandoned station at Aldwych.

From The Blog
27 January 2012

Supporters of Occupy Edinburgh were thin on the ground at the city’s sheriff court on Wednesday, 25 January, Robert Burns Day. Only 15 or so activists went to protest against their eviction from St Andrews Square, outside the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland (whose chief executive has just received a £963,000 bonus). ‘Oh, you’re with that lot,’ the security guard manning the metal detector said when I asked where the Occupy case was being heard. ‘Should have got rid of them months ago.’ After rummaging through my rucksack and confiscating my Dictaphone, he pointed in the direction of Court 13.

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