I disagree with Anna Lo on United Ireland

Anna Lo’s comments two weeks ago on the long-term future of Northern Ireland caused a furore when she said, in a personal capacity, that she thought it should unite with the Republic of Ireland.

Since I share Anna Lo’s social liberal stance on most issues, I will have no difficulty giving her my first preference vote, and campaigning for her. But I have to say I take issue with her explicit view that Northern Ireland would economically, politically and socially be better off uniting with the rest of the island.

So I guess I should come off the fence and state clearly an unequivocally where I stand. It is quite clear that, economically politically and socially, Northern Ireland should become the seventeenth state of Germany.

Economically, the case is quite simple. Over the past decade, German economic growth has been by far the fastest in Europe. German unemployment is also low at 5% (even youth unemployment is only around 7%), so you can take that map of unemployment in Ireland and shove it! Of all the parts of Germany, living standards have risen fastest in the five Eastern States, newly added to the Federal Republic in 1990. That is the type of growth which would also await Northern Ireland – except better, because DeLoreans are better than Trabants.

Politically, the case is even more compelling. Far from having to merge laws with the Republic or make up some new, unprecedented “Federal Ireland”, Northern Ireland would be joining what is already a Federal Republic – its domestic laws, legal system and education arrangements could remain unchanged, managed from the existing Northern Ireland Assembly (Nordirischer Landestag) in Belfast.

Even socially, in terms of identity, it makes sense too. Unionists will know what the Duke of Schomberg came from what is now Schaumburg, which is already in Germany. To seal the deal, Nationalists effectively get a United Ireland anyway – after all, the Republic has effectively been governed from Berlin and Frankfurt since 2008.

Northern Ireland would be one of the smaller States of Germany, of course, but far from the smallest – Hamburg is about the same size; Bremen and Saarland (itself transferred from France in the late ’50s – so a clear precedent, just in case anyone was thinking this proposal odd) are considerably smaller.

By the way, when it comes to sport, never mind a united Ireland football team – what about joining with Germany? In fact, it’s only right given that the penalty kick, which they have since perfected, was invented in County Armagh in 1891. “Wir sind nicht Brasilien, wir sind tatsaechlich besser” (“We’re not Brazil, we’re actually better”) would no doubt soon become a fans’ favourite.

Would the Germans want us? Well, probably not. But we should at least try, making the point that dealing with us would at least give them a break from having to deal with the Greeks once in a while.

The case is clear. Vorsprung durch Wheaten Bannock, as they whisper in Lurgan…

Nations’ League further example of greed

I was asked the other day what I made of the proposal for a “Nations’ League” of some sort. I can’t say I’ve had time to read the proposal in any detail, but the idea seems to be to have a scheduled set of friendlies between European countries split into divisions, with a play-off of some sort at the end (presumably in June).

In principle, I have heard of worse ideas. However, there are two big problems that immediately strike me.

Firstly, UEFA’s  and FIFA’s main events – the European Championship and the World Cup – are already limited by the fatigue of many of the best players. Rarely do Messis or Ronaldos shine on the ultimate stage, for the quite simple reason that they are tired – after playing through the quest for the national league championship, the latter stages of the Champions’ League and an array of cup fixtures all of which probably began with a pre-season tour of the Far East or North America.

To be clear, it doesn’t matter how many zillions a week you pay players, you cannot possibly maintain a mental and physical peak 12 months a year for 15 years or so consecutively. We should in fact be trying to reduce competitive fixtures, not broaden them still further. If we want to see the best players performing at their best level at the best stage, we need fewer games before World Cups, European Championships and Champions’ League Finals, not more.

Secondly, the whole thing is bound to be a damp squib in any case (or alternatively it could in fact reduce the appeal of World Cups and European Championships, in the same way the FA’s takeover of England’s top league saw the reduction of the appeal of the FA Cup). Ultimately FIFA and UEFA can stick their noses in all they like, the fact is the clubs pay the players and poll and poll shows fans are more interested in their club than their country (this explains the relative success of the Champions’ League and the lack of interest in imposing restrictions on foreign players).

The trend is already established towards bigger countries playing bigger countries in “friendly weeks” (Germany-England, Spain-Italy and so on) and the likes of Northern Ireland being left with epic fixtures away to Cyprus and home to Malta. I suspect the final playoff series will attract the same interest as the World Club Championship. Remember that? Thought not…

Meanwhile, in Catalonia…

“Everyone knows the Catalans want independence; they just don’t like to talk about it”. I had the great fortune to visit Catalonia on average every other year from 1992 to 2008, in almost every mode – business, conference, leisure, staying with a family. That sentence summed up the mood with regard to its constitutional position. However, since 2008, the changes have apparently been dramatic – I am always cautious about judging such things from afar.

Where once the impression I got was that most people there sought a federal state, or simply fiscal autonomy (as the Basques enjoy under age-old Charters), the polls and even the street demonstrations now point plainly to a desire for outright independence. My understanding is that this sentiment increased markedly upon the new centre-right Spanish Government’s insistence in 2010 on striking down aspects of the new Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia, agreed in 2006. Specifically, it sought to strike down aspects of it which were the same as neighbouring Valencia, but did not seek to do so in Valencia’s case. Catalans were outraged – and fully a third of them turned out at a single demonstration to show it.

That’s where it appears to get tricky, however. “Independence” isn’t a straightforward thing. How do you secure your markets in the rest of Spain? How do you fund, recruit and train your new diplomatic corps? How, even, do you ensure FC Barcelona can continue to play in La Liga? It is all very well to have your own national, linguistic and sporting identity – but what about the practical stuff?

The parallels are obvious. Why is nobody thinking?!

Scottish “yes” vote at over 40% heralds likely end of UK

Every reliable forecast – from bookies to pollsters to pundits – is now putting the “yes” vote in Scotland at over 40%. Just over, but over. That would be a remarkable achievement for the SNP – for it is essentially a victory.

[For the record, I am an exception; I think it will be below 40% - but for the sake of this article I don't regard myself as "reliable"!]

In fact, anything much over a third of the vote would be essentially a victory. Once the “yes” vote passes 35% or so, Scotland becomes a country unquestionably divided. The momentum, even at 35%, is all upwards for those seeking “independence” – it is essentially a tipping point.

I have written before that Scotland has already psychologically left the UK. The underlying notion that its maintenance within the Union depends on Conservative Governments being rarely if ever elected clearly points to a conditional stake in the UK. The fact that the UK Establishment has no idea what to do about this is only a further advantage to those who suggest it should cease to govern Scotland!

After all, it is accepted fact and convention that Northern Ireland is a divided country on whether or not to remain in the UK. At over 35%, and certainly at over 40%, it becomes unquestionable that Scotland is equally divided.

It is possible, of course, that after a close thing support for independence could begin to drift, as it did in Quebec. This is possible, not least because much of that support is based on the charismatic brilliance of one man, Mr Salmond. But it is not likely. The UK is a nuclear power, but Scots don’t like nuclear weapons; the UK is an economic Union, but Scots don’t want to share their oil; the UK is a broadly centre-right country, but Scots claim to be centre-left (leaving aside, ahem, their history as a disproportionate builder of the British Empire). There is more than mere identity to this.

On referendum night, therefore, it scarcely matters if the “yes” vote is over 50%. If it’s over 40%, or even much over a third, the game is pretty much up. The UK could be saved from that point – but the whole issue will be that there is likely no one in England with the nous or ambition to save it.

*Southwest* Ukraine may be next for Russia

Russian troops massing on East Ukrainian border – US says they may be preparing to invade” scream the headlines.

I doubt it. Russians are subtler than that; and in any case East Ukraine is not next.

A decade ago I spent part of the summer on a pro-democracy mission in Moldova, the outstanding aspect of which was a series of meetings in the breakaway region of Transnistria (variously spelled and even named depending on linguistic preference).

Moldova-Transnistria

At the very outset of all of this I mentioned Transnistria, and watched in astonishment as almost no one else did! Remember, its existence essentially amounts to the occupation of part of the sovereign territory of Moldova by Russian troops, and has done since 1997 (the date after which Russia had agreed to withdraw them).

Now Transnistria is mentioned, but only in the incredibly simplistic way that it is “majority Russian-speaking”. I scarcely heard anything other than Russian there, admittedly, but then I scarcely heard anything other than Russian on the streets of Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova’s capital city. As I wrote last yet, it just isn’t that straightforward – and the media shouldn’t present it as such!

A little like Crimea, most of Transnistria was simply shifted from one Soviet Republic to another during the Soviet era (effectively, therefore, between what were seen as internal “States”) – in this case from Ukraine into Moldova. The rest of what is now the Republic of Moldova had been taken by the Soviet Union in 1940 during World War Two (western Moldova wasn’t – it remains part of Romania).

As was frequently the case, people were moved about in the Soviet Union, and those being moved typically adopted Russian as their first language regardless of ethnic origin or perceived nationality (as Russian was the Union’s language of business and administration). As a result the Republic of Moldova, essentially Romanian-speaking from a linguistic point of view, developed a large Russian-speaking minority – of course, those moving went primarily to the cities, and thus often became a majority (not least because Russian was simply more useful than Romanian to just about any resident of the Soviet Union).

Transnistria, of course, hadn’t really been Romanian-speaking to start with; it was actually Ukrainian-speaking if anything. However, a combination of Moldovans moving within their home Republic into its new zone (transferred precisely because it was industrial and thus provided the otherwise largely agrarian Moldova with an industrial hub), and Russian-speakers moving in from elsewhere in the Union, saw Transnistria become effectively tri-ethnic – about 30% Ukrainian, 30% Moldovan, 30% Russian with a few others making up the remainder (noting that these themselves are crude terms doing a gross injustice to the multiplicity of identities, ethnicities and nationalities really contained within them, not least once two or three generations of inter-marriage are introduced into the equation).

At the end of the Soviet Union, as many newly independent Republics did, Moldova adopted its originally native tongue (essentially Romanian, though some prefer to call it Moldovan and it is in fact referred to officially most often simply as the “Language of the State”), notably switching from Cyrillic script to Latin. There was even talk of union with Romania. As Transnistria did not originate from this, a civil war ensued, resulting in an uneasy truce in 1992 in which Transnistria effectively became an independent state backed by Russia but officially remained recognised as part of the Republic of Moldova. I think it fair to point out that the West has to understand this – it was not unreasonable for Russian troops to remain in 1992 when there was a real risk that Russians elsewhere in Moldova would be absorbed against their will and without cross-community consensus into Romania. However, they agreed in 1994 to leave within three years, and by 1997 the “Greater Romania” issue had passed – yet they are still there.

Transnistria adopted its own language policy, becoming officially tri-lingual but banning Latin script – thus road signs, for example, are in Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian but all in Cyrillic. (In fact, we visited a Transnistrian school which broke this law and taught Romanian in Latin script – it was a horrendously uneasy atmosphere and I was unsurprised to hear that the authorities promptly bulldozed it the following month.)

You can read about Transnistria but you cannot quite grasp the discomfort of the place. The authorities had cut off all phone lines, introduced their own currency, introduced their own stamps (unrecognised internationally, meaning Transnistrians have to leave Transnistria just to post a letter anywhere outside it), stopped dual-band mobile phone access, and it was clear every room we were in was bugged. Soviet statues predominated, militaristic parades were common, and public toilets (such as they were) consisted of a less-than-generous hole in the ground. Entrance to Transnistria itself involved passing two military checkpoints (one of which was openly Russian); there was one road only into and out of any town, and it too had checkpoints. Such was the paranoia of the place, the authorities even sent someone after us to Chisinau 48 hours after our departure to pretend to be an opposition spokesperson agitating fairly and democratically for union with Romania (complete with a Romanian-language T-shirt in Latin script) – even though he spoke only Russian and was obviously acting (literally) for the government.

Here’s the historical thing: contemporary Russia’s particular interest in Ukraine itself dates from Ukraine’s (perceived “anti-Russian” but actually anti-trafficking) decision to insist essentially that any imports into Ukraine from Transnistria be registered with Moldovan authorities – the inevitable response to which was a “referendum” in Transnistria where 97% “opted” for Transnistrian independence in “free association” with Russia. Sound familiar? It is astonishing that anyone reporting or analysing the Crimean situation would have missed this – yet they all did, as far as I saw! However, it must be said that Transnistrians in 2011 were free enough to vote for the wrong guy for President (an ethnic Ukrainian opposed to both main Transnistrian parties, to confuse matters).

Here’s the contemporary thing: Transnistria is already Russian-occupied and funded; and it is to the southwest of Ukraine – but it borders a part of Ukraine on the Black Sea which is comparatively pro-Russian. Geographically this part of Ukraine, centred on Odessa, juts out geographically like Crimea. So, ethnically justifiable on the same grounds as Crimea, historically justifiable similarly, and even geographically justifiable on the map, this all means that Southwest Ukraine is the obvious next stop for Russian “intervention” - not least on the grounds that it would constitute a “reunification of Transnistria with its original hinterland (in fact, Transnistria’s Prime Minister comes from Odessa)” while at the same time “respecting the results of the [aforementioned] 2006 referendum”.

Moldova is, of course, a “brother country” of Romania, which is now part of the EU. If Russia effectively annexes part of an EU member state’s “brother country”, is the EU going to do anything (like, really do anything) about it? What happens if it annexes a bit of the neighbouring sovereign state as well?

No, obviously. We are doing the opposite of what we should be doing. Quite aside from ensuring the linguistic and democratic rights of “Russians” in the Baltic States and as far as possible elsewhere and then putting it up to the Russians to act similarly democratically, we are in fact propping up an unelected government in Kiev allowing the Russians to justify taking away chunks of their territory. And few of the people commentating on these decisions in the Western media and to Western governments have even heard of Transnistria…

Belfastisms… and Ulster Scots

The Daily Mirror published a list last Friday of 28 expressions you will only know if you’re from Northern Ireland.

This begs the obvious question – are they Ulster Scots?!

“Ach, yous-uns are eejits” – could be; Scots would have Ach, yous anes is eejits (“yous-uns” is a pluralised “you” plus “ones” or Scots “anes“).

“Yer man is doing my head in” – probably isn’t; it’s likely English dialectal.

“I’m totally scundered” – is derived from Scots although the phrasing is English; but the <d> is a hypercorrection, the Scots word is in fact “scunner” (“A’m fair scunnert“), but idiomatically it would usually be used as a noun (“A taen a fair scunner“).

“Let’s head out for a wee dander” – is derived from Scots; but again the <d> is a hypercorrection – Scots has “wee danner“.

“This jallopy is banjaxed” – isn’t; it is perhaps onomatopoiea.

“Yer ma’s blootered again” – is derived from Scots; the word “bluiter” means the sound of a gust of wind, but “bluitert” has come to mean “drunk”.

“He fell on his hoop” – probably isn’t.

“Away on with ye” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots does frequently use awa “away” almost as a verb.

“Alright mucker” – probably isn’t.

“Catch yourself on big lad” – probably isn’t.

“Do you like my new guddies” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots more usually has “gutties” (originally meaning anything made of rubber, then more specific to shoes).

“Shut yer bake” – could be from anywhere; but indeed Ulster-Scots poems from two centuries ago do use “bake” (“beak”) for “mouth”.

“My gub’s killin’ me” – again, could be from anywhere; “gub” certainly is used in Scots, including in such a context.

“Give us a gravy ring there mate” – probably isn’t; this seems to be a Northern Irish speciality!

“Shut that windee” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots typically pronounces final “-ow” in English as “-ee” (usually spelled “-a” or “-ae” – e.g. winda(e), folla(e), Glesca(e)).

“We’ve been firing bricks at the peelers” – isn’t.

“Bout ye” – probably isn’t.

“Give us a juke at that” – is derived from Scots; Scots has “deuk“, actually meaning “duck”, in this context.

“Have a wee hoak for it” – is derived from Scots, even idiomatically, although has come to be slightly mispronounced; Scots would be the same phrasing, usually written “hae a wee howk for it” (“howk”, strictly, has the same vowel as “cowp”, but then so has “bowl”…)

“My da will knock your ballix in” – isn’t really; “da” is typically Scots, but is in widespread usage across Ireland too.

“He’s half-cut again” – isn’t.

“That dinner was ratten” – hmmm, is English!

“Quit yer faffin’ about” – is derived from Scots, even idiomatically; Scots would have “Quit yeir faffin about” (though “faff” is a perfectly good English word too).

“Get your lazy hole out of bed” – isn’t, particularly!

“Do you think I came down the Lagan [more commonly actually Bann] in a bubble?” – isn’t; coming down a particular river in a bubble is known across the British Isles and probably elsewhere in the English-speaking world too.

“Give us a pastie supper” – is derived from Scots; the concept of “fish supper” and the like is understood in Scotland but not generally in England.

“This is pure wick so it is” – “wick” isn’t, but “so it is” is, so it is…

Essentially, most of the examples are relatively usual Urban Dialect English, but there is a widespread Scots influence.

Belfast doesn’t need direct flight to Canada

For some reason – inexplicable to me but demonstrative of our politicians’ complete lack of economic nous – there is a campaign for a direct flight connection from Belfast to Toronto.

This is straightforward wrong-headedness. Even the connection from Belfast to New York – the largest city in North America and main economic centre of the world’s superpower – is loss-making and effectively now subsidised by the Northern Ireland ratepayer (through lower air duty). Has any of the MLAs nonsensically promoting a Toronto link been challenged on exactly how much subsidy that would require – all for an air link to a city half the size of London in a country with half the population of the UK?

It is astonishing, frankly, that any politician could advocate a link to a distant city on another continent in a country of 30 million, while missing the obvious fact that we have no direct link to nearby cities on this continent in a country of 80 million! Germany is Europe’s obvious economic power and engine; it is the UK’s largest trade partner; and Northern Ireland has not a single air link to it!

Sure, Canada and Northern Ireland have long-standing heritage links – but that is not what highly subsidised air links are for! Those who wish to pursue them can quite happily travel via Dublin. What we need, for jobs and wealth creation, is a proper trading link to our largest economic partner right here on our doorstep.

We need a direct link to Frankfurt, not Toronto or anywhere else.

Simplistic view of “identity” causes Western confusion

Another aspect of reporting and commentary on the Crimea situation, and Russia’s interventions broadly, is the alarmingly simplistic way in which notions such as “Russian identity” or “ethnic Russians” or “Russian speakers” (or similar) are referred to. None of these is a remotely simple concept – identity, understanding of ethnicity and language choice changes over time, depending on trends and circumstances.

For example, on my own visit to Chisinau in 2004, I noted that the road signs were in Romanian (sometimes referred to as Moldovan) yet the language spoken on the street was almost exclusively Russian. When I asked about this, I was told several times that in fact the language on the street “changes depending who is in government“, and that the language had been Romanian before the Communist Party had regained power, and would probably become Romanian again once they lost power.

This whole situation was made even more complex by controversy surrounding the terms “Romanian” and “Moldovan” – while few disputed they are the same linguistically, many disputed they are the same ethnically, and thus were inclined not to use “Romanian” to refer even to the language. This again was something which had changed over time and may change again – upon independence from the Soviet Union, many Moldovans were tempted by unity with Romania (western Moldova actually forms part of Romania; Moldova is partitioned); this temptation had declined over time, yet I noted most people on my flight held Romanian (and thus now European Union) passports. On the other hand, many Russian speakers were in fact not ethnically Russian at all, but Ukrainian or something else.

In Estonia, I visited the border town of Narva, where one looks directly at a citadel and an imposing hill with the very word “RUSSIA” written on it in Cyrillic script, Hollywood-like. Narva is 96% Russian-speaking (though again, by no means all ethnically/nationally Russian). When asked where their capital was, most people said “Tallinn”, an acceptance of a degree of Estonian statehood; yet when asked who their President was, most said “Putin” – after all, Russia gives many of them a vote as Russian citizens, but Estonia disallows them because they do not speak Estonian. Such split identity is rarely stable.

It is exactly this uncertainty which Putin himself has capitalised on in Ukraine. Crimea’s population is indeed 58% ethnically Russian and huge-majority Russian-speaking, yet there had been no serious attempt on the part of its citizens to unify with Russia. Many had come to accept a trial identity – Crimean (region?), Russian (nation?), Ukrainian (state?) – without real difficulty. Yes perhaps, when their media is taken over by people suggesting they are being purged and troops enter the streets to “protect” them, their identity shifts to predominantly “Russian”. But it is far too simple to cast them off as solely that.

A further important point is this: within Ukraine itself, the prime identity shift is not west-east (the maps doing the rounds of social media displaying mere “linguistic majorities” do not do justice to the sizeable minorities across the country), but over/under the age of 25 or so. Those below the age of 25 had no experience of the Soviet Union, and grew up in a sovereign Ukraine. Few – even those who prefer to speak Russian – have much difficulty with that situation. Those above the age of 25 may long for the “good old days” as a world superpower – event those who prefer to speak Ukrainian.

In other words, “Russian identity” outside Russia often really means “nostalgia for the Soviet Union”, and perhaps for the Superpower status that went with it. Again, Putin has skilfully played to this – while the one-dimensional West has totally missed it.

We in Northern Ireland should be well versed at this. A BBC NI report on Sunday showed people at Ballynahinch Rugby Club cheering on the new Six Nations’ (i.e. European) Rugby Champions. The team they were cheering was Ireland, i.e. all-Ireland; yet we can be fairly sure that, to a man (and woman), they almost all vote Unionist (i.e. for NI to be part of the UK, not an all-Ireland). They will probably happily cheer on English athletes competing for “Team GB” at the Olympics, but probably split when it comes to their fellow Britons in the “England” football team. Of course, they will probably be Euro-sceptic, but will perhaps assemble at the very same location to cheer on the “Europe” team at the Ryder Cup later this year…

Even the “nostalgic identity” strikes me as relevant in Northern Ireland. When people say they are “British” or “Unionist”, do they really mean that in a contemporary sense for a multi-cultural UK? Or do they really mean it as a means of promoting nostalgia for a time when the UK was a Superpower? And is it this which conditions their political views – from instinctive Euro-scepticism to promoting pointless air routes to Canada rather than rationally useful ones to Germany (more of which tomorrow…)?

The Western media would have us believe identity is a single, lineal thing – you are either “Russian” or “Ukrainian”; “British” or “Irish”. It isn’t! Our misunderstanding of that is leading us to make appalling errors of judgement in our commentary on Crimea and elsewhere; and perhaps much closer to home too.

BBC completely misses the point on Crimea

The BBC is a fine institution, widely and rightly acclaimed for its impartial news service among other things. However, on Crimea it has been consistently out-reported by ITV, Sky and Channel 4 (as well as a range of non-UK channels) – because the BBC does not understand the issue and has not invested in enough quality journalism to put that deficiency right.

Yesterday’s reporting of the referendum in Crimea was a fine example of how the BBC has comprehensively missed the point. Its reporter was reasonable enough on the facts, but her analysis was shockingly inept. Essentially, she reported:

  • the referendum has taken place and been deemed “illegal” by other countries;
  • the referendum was boycotted by some groups unhappy at the absence of a “status quo” option;
  • Russia will probably be content with Crimea because it will be an economic drain, so it won’t be going for East Ukraine and certainly not for “Lithuania” because it’s in the EU and NATO.

Aside from the last (which we’ll come to), these are not unreasonable points in themselves. But they completely miss the big picture. Partly, perhaps, this is because of the BBC’s pledge of impartiality – “Other countries say it’s illegal, Russia says it’s legal, so we’ll let the viewers make their minds up”; and partly it is a failure of analysis (a growing and widespread problem).

The referendum is illegal; that is not something to be left to the viewer, that is a matter of fact. More than that, it is a very important matter of fact, for reasons well beyond mere sovereignty.

Rarely reported but fundamental to this case is the 1994 Budapest memorandum. This wasn’t just a quick chat between a few powers pledging to accept Ukraine’s sovereignty. It was an agreement that Ukraine would give up all the nuclear weapons on its territory in return for protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the three original nuclear powers (the United States, Russia as successor to the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom).

Put another way, it was agreed in return for Ukraine giving up the ultimate defence system, that it constituted a single sovereign unit (incorporating Crimea). No part of its can unilaterally secede – and if it does, all three signatories are bound to protect it.

What has happened is that one of those powers, far from protecting Ukraine, has mounted a subtle invasion of part of its territory, and thus blatantly breached the agreement. Let’s note this again: Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in return for Russia’s protection of its sovereignty – and Russia is now the very country breaching those terms!

The consequences of this do not bear thinking about. How is one to defuse the situation in South Asia, where both India and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons? How is one to defuse the situation in North Korea? How is one, most of all, to defuse the situation in the Middle East, where Israel (ahem) already has and Iran soon will have nuclear weapons? Remember, as of March 2014, “You don’t need nuclear weapons, we’ll protect you” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on…

Even leaving aside the Big Picture, there are some more details about the Small Picture any journalist on the ground at the location should have picked up.

For example, of Sevastopol’s 385,462 residents, an astonishing 474,137 managed to vote for Russia. The basic rigging of the referendum should have been first item! (Even this is before noting Sevastopol’s special status outside Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea area; there was no reason for Sevastopol to vote on any Crimea issue at all, in other words.)

Even all of this is to leave quite aside the point that the Tatars in Crimea are now completely vulnerable to the hated Russians, of whom their recent experience is one of forced deportation.

As for the last bullet point, the reporter’s answer is laughable. Here are a few bullet points of my own:

  • Putin couldn’t give a stuff about economic drains, he is all about himself and he will simply blame Western sanctions for any economic misfortunes;
  • Russia didn’t stop in Georgia so it’s hardly going to stop now – eastern Ukraine is indeed on the list (we know this because it has already sent people in); and
  • he won’t bother with Lithuania because it has the smallest “Russian” population of all the Baltic states, but he has already waged cyber-war on Estonia and stated an interest in goings-on in Latvia.

The underlying notion, stated by the BBC Reporter, that Putin isn’t really behind events in Crimea is just shockingly ludicrous. What is more, the order of events is unbelievably obvious:

  • he was already in possession of a chunk of Moldova his troops were supposed to leave in 1997 (the West did nothing);
  • he maintained possession of a chunk of Georgia by force in 2008 (the West did nothing);
  • he has now taken a chunk of Ukraine by tricks and force in 2014 (the West did nothing);
  • he may as well now take more chunks of Ukraine (the West has proved it will do nothing);
  • so why not the Baltics next, exactly? Because they’re members of NATO? You mean the military alliance headed by the two countries other than Russia which signed up to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and then did nothing about it?

Putin may well opt not to recognise Crimea as part of Russia, but as sovereign in its own right, at least initially. Why does no one mention this? It is what he or his predecessors did in Moldova (Transnistria) and Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) – frozen states under Russian domination which the West pretends are integral to their home country (and thus pretends not to need to bother with). It suits all sides.

This is pretty basic stuff, yet what the BBC reported flew directly in the face of it – one can only assume the Reporter had forgotten Georgia and knew nothing of Moldova?

It was a poor report from an organisation which has never properly got up to speed on the issue because it functioned only with reporters, not journalists. ITV’s James Mates and the entire Channel 4 crew, on the other hand, have been busy on the ground finding things out (and also, very effectively, using social media as well as broadcasts). Frankly, we would be better informed by googling stuff ourselves than from the BBC updates! The BBC needs to cut a few senior executive wages and invest in proper journalists.

Of course, another part of the problem is the BBC isn’t impartial. It has an innate bias towards professional, civilised, liberal people. Small wonder it comprehensively misses the point when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin…

Ulster Scots has words for everything – mostly similar to English

One Twitter correspondent asked a perfectly common question re (Ulster) Scots earlier this week – does it have words for everything?

Here is the thing: most German words are cognate with (meaning for the purposes of this article that they are identifiably originally the same as) words in Dutch, as is obvious here.

The same applies, of course, to Spanish versus Portuguese; or to Irish Gaelic versus Scottish Gaelic; or, dare I say, to Russian versus Ukrainian. So, naturally, the same applies to Scots versus English.

Ein wi the muin bricht owerheid, A gae intae the toun, an wantan to find the gowd thay ar leukan bi the pairk.

A fairly pointless sentence, but the point of it is this: every single word in it is cognate with English. Of course, Scots does have words entirely distinct from English (some quite common: wee, scunner, gunk; some which have even been borrowed into English: weird, daft, divot).

What we see in the above sentence is some common changes:

loss of intervocalic <v>: ein ‘even’, ower ‘over’ (also hae ‘have’, waw ‘wave’);

raising of English <oo> to Scots <ui>: muin ‘moon’ (also guid ‘good’, buird ‘board);

retention of velar written <ch> versus silent English <gh>: bricht ‘bright’ (also aneuch ‘enough’, fecht ‘fight’)

retention of long /i:/ usually written <ei> occasionally <ee>: heid ‘head’ (also deid ‘dead’, weel ‘well’)

retention of <ae>: gae ‘go’, intae ‘into’ (also sae ‘so’, staen/stane ‘stone’)

retention of long vowel written <ou>: toun ‘town’ (also doun ‘down’, nou ‘now’)

retention of short <i>: find is pronounced to rhyme with English ‘pinned’

vocalisation of post-vocalic <l>: gowd ‘gold’ (also know/knowe ‘knoll’, baa ‘ball’)

introduction of ‘y-glide’: leuk ‘look’ nearly rhymes with British English ‘nuke’ (as does beuk ‘book’)

lengthening to <ai>: pairk ‘park’ (also airm ‘arm’, yaird ‘yard’; though note warm ‘warm’ and even laund ‘land’)

This is, of course, something of a simplification and there are exceptions. However, they give a reflection of how the sounds of Scots and English had already shifted prior to the invention of the printing press, and subsequently continued to develop.

Ultimately, most Scots words are cognate with English – this does not make them ‘not Scots’!

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