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The Death of Tory England and the Decline of The Spectator

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, May 15th 2019

For eighteen years I have subscribed to and enjoyed reading The Spectator magazine. But under Fraser Nelson’s editorship from 2009 the magazine has slowly and irrevocably gone downhill and into the gutter. Gone are the days when it was a civilised, gentle, iconoclastic read where an article could surprise and entertain from unusual angles. Good pieces still occasionally appear, but in the midst of a very different content. One that is often nasty, condemning, quick to judge people, and with a sense of profound lack of curiosity about the world – and opinions beyond the Spectator bunker.

This decline is fed by the emerging dominance of an ignoramus commentariat who seem content to blow out numerous opinions with no recourse to facts that get in away of a good polemic. This is the magazine that regularly provides platforms for Rod Liddle, Toby Young, Douglas Murray, James Delingpole and, to prove dim-witted male Brits don’t have a monopoly on bigotry, Lionel Shriver.

My weekly Spectator read has increasingly involved navigating ill-informed ranting, hatred, and bile from these and others to find the isolated oases of wit and light. Thus, The Spectator still carries erudite political analysis from James Forsyth, its Political Editor, while Isabel Hardman and Alex Massie excel online; Charles Moore, Thatcher biographer, provides what The Spectator used to – an insight into poshness and privilege – while the book reviews contain numerous gems (although increasingly Rod Liddle pops up). Read the rest of this entry »

The coming of age of the Scottish Parliament … but has power shifted to the people?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, May 8th 2019

Twenty years ago last Monday Scotland went to the polls in the first democratic elections to the Scottish Parliament. This coming Sunday marks the anniversary of the first session of that Parliament which Winnie Ewing famously opened with the words: ‘The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25th 1707, is hereby reconvened.’

The new Parliament was elected with much goodwill, hope and energy, following the decisive 1997 devolution referendum. Polls showed that large majorities expected the Parliament to bring positive change on the economy, NHS, education, law and order and more, and at the same time to become the focal point of political life and decisions.

Twenty years is an appropriate point to assess the Parliament, its role and impact, and the politics and activities around it, and to ask whether it has lived up to its initial hopes, what it has achieved, and where all this might be heading? Read the rest of this entry »

Who postponed the future? Why the power of nostalgia can hurt us all

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 30th 2019

Last week I attended a talk about one of the seminal bands of late 1970s Britain – Joy Division – where the author and cultural commentator Jon Savage discussed at an event run by Monorail, a wonderful independent record shop in the centre of Glasgow, the band, their music, originality and enduring influence.

It was a mesmerising talk about the power of music, importance of place and of Britain – both in the late 1970s and now. In one observation, Savage spoke of Joy Division as representing (in 1979-80) what could only be described as ‘music of the future’. By this he meant that it was firmly located in its social and political realities – the grimness of 1970s Britain and post-war Manchester, but that it transcended this, aspiring to a timelessness and sense of prophecy.

Such a rich talk before a receptive, if ageing, audience got me thinking about areas beyond music. There is the power of the past, why the UK and most other developed countries increasingly seem shaped by what has gone before, and what this climate of nostalgia says about our societies in the here and now, and the consequences for the future.

It is important to understand that there are at least two types of nostalgia. Svetlana Boym in her 2002 book ‘The Future of Nostalgia’ identified two that she called restorative and reflective. The former ‘puts emphasis on nostos (rebuilding home) and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps’ – a kind of homesickness for the past. The latter ‘dwells in algia (aching), in longing and loss, the imperfect process of rememberance’; and unlike the former has the insight to know that we cannot go back. Read the rest of this entry »

The importance of hearing the sounds of silence

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 24th 2019

Art Garfunkel performed in Glasgow on Easter Sunday; in an age filled with what seems to be incessant noise, it has never been more critical than to listen to seek out, and listen to, the sounds of silence. Despite everything, they can be found.

Years ago when I was thinking about public debate I read A.L. Kennedy’s first book ‘Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains’ – which has in it a passage which is an evocative hymn to the power and prevalence of silence. Kennedy wrote that in even the most noise-filled space there were gaps and silences, and these were as important as the noises. It changed how I thought of debate from then on.

Recently I came across Paul Goodman’s ‘Speaking and Language’ and in exploring silence he writes: ‘Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world and there are kinds and grades of each’. He then goes on to identify nine different types of silence, which is revealing, but not exhaustive. He does not discuss for example whether silence is consenting or non-consenting, something freely entered into, or imposed by others. Read the rest of this entry »

Dundee and the Limits of Cultural Regeneration

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 17th 2019

Dundee is the talk of the town. The once forgotten city of Scotland – certainly in the eyes of the Glasgow and Edinburgh chatterati – is now widely celebrated and recognised. It is winning piles of awards and attention, the latest of which being named ‘Sunday Times’ Best Place to Live in Scotland, with Dundee High School-educated Andrew Marr stating that ‘Dundee is certainly a very good idea’.

Dundee’s moment in the sun is well-deserved and has been a long time coming. There is an undoubted buzz, dynamism and can-do attitude which defines much of the city and its civic leadership, and as a Dundonian, I take great pride in my home town being noticed and winning lots of accolades, as the ‘Sunday Times’ states ‘Scotland’s sunniest city is making one big collective creative roar.’

The expectation, and then arrival, of the V&A has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst, but it is more than that. There is the now familiar list of the prestige of being a UNESCO City of Design, the work of the DCA and Dundee Rep, the remaking of the McManus Galleries and the development of world-class tourist experiences such as HMS Discovery and Verdant Works. Then there is the pioneering games industry, science and innovation, and stellar work of Dundee and Abertay universities, along with Duncan of Jordanstone, all of which work in partnership and have local, national and international footprints. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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