Wednesday 9 March
Disenchantment with mainstream politics is widespread. Only those with a deep tribal commitment, who are often impervious to evidence or reasoned argument, seem content with the present arrangements. A new organisation seeks to disrupt the privileged position of existing parties. The 'Campaign for a Free Parliament' states that its aim is to work for reform 'to promote more free votes in parliament and the involvement of independent candidates in elections’. Initially it is focusing on Westminster but Holyrood is also in its sights. It is reported that the campaign is funded by ‘a reclusive Scottish millionaire’ and that there are plans to hold 'open primaries’ to select independent candidates. Those who are successful will be funded to the tune of £10,000 each.
Many people are likely to be attracted to a proposal seeking to challenge a political system which often seems to be run for the benefit of insiders rather than the citizens whose interests it is supposed to represent. In the past, the election of independent candidates has been a means of expressing contempt for the main parties, support for particular causes, or admiration for respected individuals. These reasons help to explain the successes of Martin Bell in Tatton, Dr Richard Taylor in Wyre Forrest, Dr Jean Turner in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, Dennis Canavan in Falkirk West and Margo MacDonald in Lothian.
While the emergence of this movement marks an interesting development, I think I would want to know a little more about the 'reclusive Scottish millionaire’ who is behind the scheme. One press report said that he ‘was not opposed to publicity...but did not want to become the focus of attention’. His motives may be entirely genuine and benign. But we don’t have to look very far in politics to find examples of millionaires with questionable agendas. The sponsor of the new scheme should be encouraged to reveal his identity.
Thursday 10 March
Tonight I am a guest at Kilmarnock Rotary Club, having been invited to speak about the achievements of a distinguished former pupil of Kilmarnock Academy, William Boyd (1874-1962). Dr Boyd was an important figure in Scottish education, whose contribution deserves to be better known. Appointed to Glasgow University as a lecturer in 1907, he helped to develop the study of education through his extensive writings and popular teaching. But he was much more than a conventional academic. He became an energetic activist, not only in Scotland but internationally, through his involvement in the New Education Fellowship, a progressive movement aimed at reforming the school curriculum and treating children more humanely.
He started the first child guidance clinic in Britain in 1926 and by the mid-1930s it was treating more than a 150 youngsters a year, with the caseload being carried by graduates who had attended Boyd’s courses. Both as an undergraduate, living in a students’ settlement in a poor part of Glasgow, and during the unemployment of the 1930s, Boyd was engaged in admirable community work, offering various forms of support to those in need. The Clydebank Mutual Service Association was founded by Boyd and his second wife, Dorothy, and was open to the whole community, employed and unemployed, men and women, old and young. The aim was to promote 'a fellowship of neighbourly help’ and 'a right conception of citizenship’.
I end my talk by asking why Boyd was never made a professor by Glasgow University, despite having worked there with distinction for nearly 40 years. There are several possible answers, none of which reflects well on the university. His brilliance as a teacher and his strong public profile may have been resented by more conservative academics. Again, his work with the unemployed raised wholly unjustified suspicions that he may have been a communist: he described himself as a 'Christian socialist’ and was certainly not involved in revolutionary politics.
Another factor may have been that education as a university subject enjoyed relatively low status, compared with established fields such as classics and philosophy. Finally, some reports suggest that on occasion Boyd deliberately exaggerated his Ayrshire accent to prick the pomposity of traditionalists: for the more precious among the academic community, that may have been the clincher. Whatever the explanation, Boyd’s place in the history of Scottish education is worthy of recognition and celebration.
Sunday 13 March
I am writing this at 6.30am on Sunday morning. No, I have not been out all night clubbing and am not about to report on scandalous activities (sorry to disappoint). I have always been an early riser and my sleep pattern at the weekend is just the same as the rest of the week. What has changed over the years is my awareness of dreaming. For most of my life I was unaware of my dreams, though no doubt I had them. With age has come a reduction in periods of deep sleep and an increasing tendency to recall snatches of dreams.
Unfortunately, these tend to be neither exciting nor erotic, but fragments of unremarkable events, often linking seemingly unconnected experiences. What does this signify? Are there significant changes taking place in my brain activity or is this just part of the natural life cycle? In order to begin to address these questions I would have to undertake some serious reading in the extensive body of research about dreaming. But life is getting shorter by the minute and I think I would prefer to read a good novel. It may even serve as a catalyst for more stimulating dreams.
Monday 14 March
I have been enjoying the Channel 4 'fly on the wall’ documentary showing the training programme which new entrants to the royal navy have to undergo. It traces their development from raw recruits to trained personnel ready to be assigned to ships on active service. We see them having to cope with communal life, including responsibility for cleaning and presenting their kit as part of a team. They also have hours of drill on the parade ground and a series of demanding physical challenges. Some find it hard and there are those who do not make it. But for the young men and women who manage to get through the difficult periods (homesickness, punishment for immature pranks) there is a real sense of achievement. Whereas in many cases their lives prior to joining up had been lacking in purpose, they now had a future and were equipped to follow the demanding regime of a naval vessel.
Compared with the recruits, the staff who were training them came across rather badly. Some of the petty officers seemed to take pleasure in applying the rules inflexibly (eg in finding reasons to trash a recruit’s kit for a minor infringement). They were often verbally abusive (with a limited range of expletives) and seemed unaware that they were operating a system that could be described as licensed bullying. No doubt their defence would be that they were 'building character’ and enabling their charges to cope with adversity. As for the few glimpses we saw of senior ranks, they could have served as caricatures of military pomposity.