Artist - Writer
Belfast | Dublin | London

www.brianjohnspencer.com/
  • "To be able to earn a living as a freelance writer in this country is damned hard; there are very few people who can do that."
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  • "I was fascinated early by seeing my byline in print. It was a rush. Still is."
  • "I’ll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence."
  • Niall Ferguson (@nfergus) - For most of the early modern period, the Scots kingdom was Europe’s Afghanistan

    He wrote in the Telegraph:

    "For most of the early modern period, the Scots kingdom was Europe’s Afghanistan. In the Highlands and the Hebrides, feudal warlords ruled over an utterly impoverished populace in conditions of lawlessness and internecine clan conflict. In the Lowlands, religious zealots who fantasised about a Calvinist theocracy – government by the godly Elect – prohibited dancing, drinking and drama. John Knox and his ilk were the Taliban of the Reformation. Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland, not in England.

    Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs. James I was murdered. James II died besieging Roxburgh Castle. James III also died in battle. So did James IV, at Flodden in 1513. James V died after yet another defeat at the hands of the English at Solway Moss. Mary I – Mary Queen of Scots – was actually imprisoned and executed by the English. James VI’s reaction on hearing that he had succeeded the woman who had condemned his mother to death was not one of repugnance but relief. As King James I of England, he could not wait to relocate south.

    A key difference between Scotland and Sweden in this era was that Scotland was both small enough and weak enough to be the object of constant interference by its bigger neighbours, England and France. The Reformation made the problem especially severe because it divided Scotland between the Calvinist Lowlands and the mainly Catholic Highlands. This meant that, after Henry VIII’s Reformation, the Catholic powers of the continent could always look to the north of Scotland for support. Yet, as Charles I discovered, the Lowlands Scots were so zealous in their Protestantism that they were just as likely to revolt against an Anglican King if he showed signs of “Popery”. The net result was that from the 1630s until the 1740s Scotland was a far bigger source of political instability than Ireland.

    The Union of the Parliaments in 1707 turned “Scotlanistan” into the Silicon Valley of 18th-century Europe, with Glasgow University as Stanford. The Union was a success partly because it sublimated these bitter Scottish divisions in a larger United Kingdom, while at the same time launching the country on an extraordinary economic boom that only really ran out of steam in the Sixties.

    As in every heavy industrial economy, Scotland’s coalmines, steelworks and shipyards were bound to be shuttered or shrunk in our time. Pittsburgh, Essen and Turin did not fare much better than Glasgow. Yet somehow the story took root that Scotland’s economic restructuring was all the fault of the arch-bampot Margaret Thatcher. And then came Alex Salmond with his fairy tale that an independent Scotland could become a Scandinavian paradise.

    Hardly any Yes voter appears aware that Sweden turned away from egalitarianism long ago. None of them seems to ever have bought an eye-poppingly expensive drink in Norway, much less seen a Danish tax bill.

    The reality is that, as an independent country, Scotland would be far more likely to revert to its pre-1707 bad habits than to morph magically into “Scandland”. For this debate on independence has opened some old rifts and created some new ones, too.”

    In full here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11102126/Scottish-referendum-Alone-Scotland-will-go-back-to-being-a-failed-state.html

  • Niall Ferguson (@nfergus) - The Union of the Parliaments in 1707 turned “Scotlanistan” into the Silicon Valley of 18th-century Europe

    He wrote in the Telegraph:

    "For most of the early modern period, the Scots kingdom was Europe’s Afghanistan. In the Highlands and the Hebrides, feudal warlords ruled over an utterly impoverished populace in conditions of lawlessness and internecine clan conflict. In the Lowlands, religious zealots who fantasised about a Calvinist theocracy – government by the godly Elect – prohibited dancing, drinking and drama. John Knox and his ilk were the Taliban of the Reformation. Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland, not in England.

    Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs. James I was murdered. James II died besieging Roxburgh Castle. James III also died in battle. So did James IV, at Flodden in 1513. James V died after yet another defeat at the hands of the English at Solway Moss. Mary I – Mary Queen of Scots – was actually imprisoned and executed by the English. James VI’s reaction on hearing that he had succeeded the woman who had condemned his mother to death was not one of repugnance but relief. As King James I of England, he could not wait to relocate south.

    A key difference between Scotland and Sweden in this era was that Scotland was both small enough and weak enough to be the object of constant interference by its bigger neighbours, England and France. The Reformation made the problem especially severe because it divided Scotland between the Calvinist Lowlands and the mainly Catholic Highlands. This meant that, after Henry VIII’s Reformation, the Catholic powers of the continent could always look to the north of Scotland for support. Yet, as Charles I discovered, the Lowlands Scots were so zealous in their Protestantism that they were just as likely to revolt against an Anglican King if he showed signs of “Popery”. The net result was that from the 1630s until the 1740s Scotland was a far bigger source of political instability than Ireland.

    The Union of the Parliaments in 1707 turned “Scotlanistan” into the Silicon Valley of 18th-century Europe, with Glasgow University as Stanford. The Union was a success partly because it sublimated these bitter Scottish divisions in a larger United Kingdom, while at the same time launching the country on an extraordinary economic boom that only really ran out of steam in the Sixties.

    As in every heavy industrial economy, Scotland’s coalmines, steelworks and shipyards were bound to be shuttered or shrunk in our time. Pittsburgh, Essen and Turin did not fare much better than Glasgow. Yet somehow the story took root that Scotland’s economic restructuring was all the fault of the arch-bampot Margaret Thatcher. And then came Alex Salmond with his fairy tale that an independent Scotland could become a Scandinavian paradise.

    Hardly any Yes voter appears aware that Sweden turned away from egalitarianism long ago. None of them seems to ever have bought an eye-poppingly expensive drink in Norway, much less seen a Danish tax bill.

    The reality is that, as an independent country, Scotland would be far more likely to revert to its pre-1707 bad habits than to morph magically into “Scandland”. For this debate on independence has opened some old rifts and created some new ones, too.”

    In full here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11102126/Scottish-referendum-Alone-Scotland-will-go-back-to-being-a-failed-state.html

  • "Everything may change in this country tomorrow [September 18 2014] and 96% of the UK electorate will simply wait and watch and see what Scots do."
    Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor
  • Jenni Russell (@jennirsl) - There’s nothing inevitable about the victory of enlightenment values, the spread of secularism or the appeal of democracy

    She wrote in the Times:

    "Most of us have grown up with an unconscious acceptance of the Whig view of history. Progress is inevitable; rational values will prevail. That was only reinforced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism. Liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed. The West had won the ideological battle. It was only a matter of time, we assured ourselves, before Russia was embarrassed into becoming a full democracy, China abandoned communism as inefficient and religious differences began to fade. Sometime soon everybody would want to shop, vote and think like us.

    Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Syria, Libya, Boko Haram, Putin, Ukraine. These are not just troubling diversions on the way to a better future. They remind us that there’s nothing inevitable about the victory of enlightenment values, the spread of secularism or the appeal of democracy. Raw power and brutality are flourishing and we are navel-gazing rather than working out how to deal with it.”

  • David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch) - The Yes campaign has been the much bigger negative campaign

    He wrote in the Times:

    "There was a much bigger negative campaign going on — and it was the negative that has underpinned the Yes campaign from the start. This was, and is, the systematic denigration of Great Britain."

    He gave an example:

    "The UK is “crumbling” (Alex Salmond), it is uniquely debt-ridden, it is more unequal than anywhere else, it is undemocratic, failing, feeble, bullying, imperial and backward. Perhaps it was all right once (but when did nationalists ever really believe that?) It is holding us back.

    And exampled Ian Bell:

    "A near perfect expression of this nation-trashing was to be found yesterday in the columns of The Herald. Written by Ian Bell, a winner of the Orwell Prize for political journalism, it was something of a paean of hate to the Union, one that found quick favour among senior Yes campaigners.

    Why break up the United Kingdom?” asked Bell, replying to himself: “Because, in this 21st century, such things must be broken up, for the common good. The only thing worse than Great Powers are those with pretensions to stay in a murderous club.”

    The “British state”, said Bell, “is hideous”. It is characterised by “institutionalised corruption, the self-perpetuating Oxbridge elite, the fealty to the City, the brutality towards the poor, the veneration of stolen wealth, the local military-industrial complex, the decadence of the Commons, media stooges” and so on. As to virtues, Bell could think only of Charles Dickens.”

    And summed it up:

    "As a balance sheet it could have appeared on the smudged A4 leaflet of a mid-1970s Maoist sect. And here it was in the heart of the case for independence. Because what would you lose if you left such a place? Nothing. In fact Britain is the place that created the NHS, allowed (pushed, in the case of Wales) its national regions to move towards devolution, agreed an independence referendum (as Spain has not for Catalonia), and has managed easily to cope for centuries with a separate legal and education system in Scotland. It has punished Scots for this uniqueness by electing and appointing them to the highest offices of state. Again and again."

    And finally:

    "Today a “yes” is the most negative vote you can cast. “No” is the next step on our common journey."

    In full here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4209750.ece

  • "It’s not original. [I haven’t created something new] because it’s easier to do."

    - Andy Warhol

    In full here (27m15).

  • "Not poor in the sense that they don’t have electricity and not poor in the sense of living in those appalling conditions, but [they are living] a hand-to-mouth existence and counting every penny."
    Alan Johnson
  • How Matisse inspired Miffy the rabbit, here (45m50).

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  • thelivedrawer:

    My cartoon on the passing of Ian Paisley, after Steve Bell and Gustave Dore.

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  • thepeoplesrecord:

    Today in history: 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963
    September 15, 2014

    The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shutterworth. Tensions became high when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign to register African American to vote in Birmingham.

    On Sunday, 15th September, 1963, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Soon afterwards, at 10.22 a.m., the bomb exploded killing Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast.

    Civil rights activists blamed George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, for the killings. Only a week before the bombing he had told the New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.”

    A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On 8th October, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

    The case was unsolved until Bill Baxley was elected attorney general of Alabama. He requested the original Federal Bureau of Investigation files on the case and discovered that the organization had accumulated a great deal of evidence against Chambliss that had not been used in the original trial.

    In November, 1977 Chambliss was tried once again for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Now aged 73, Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Chambliss died in an Alabama prison on 29th October, 1985.

    On 17th May, 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group, the Cahaba Boys. It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry had been responsible for the crime. Cash was dead but Blanton and Cherry were arrested and Blanton has since been tried and convicted.

    Source

    (via monaeltahawy)

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  • Richard Curran - Large chunks of Ireland are being bought up by foreign investors

    Curran wrote in the Irish Independent:

    "Large chunks of Ireland are being bought up, mainly by foreign investors. Office blocks, hotels, golf courses, apartments, loans and bonds are being snapped up as buyer from Russia, the United States, Israel and pretty much every else, spend billions of euro here.

    That was the conclusion of the fascinating RTE TV programme by journalist Ian Kehoe, called Who Is Buying Ireland. Aside from outlining the extent, motivation and origins of the buyers, the programme also raises a few obvious questions. Is this a good or bad thing?”

    In full here: http://m.independent.ie/business/irish/whos-buying-ireland-international-investment-is-a-good-thing-29825853.html#sthash.3zvTAN30.dpuf

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  • "Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."
    - Thomas Jefferson