Friday, 19 August 2016

Sùil Eile air sgeulachd an dà Dhòmhnall

Airson an Daily Record

Cha robh ach aon àireamh seirbheis eadar an dà Dhòmhnall MacLeòid, dithis shaighdearan às na h-Eileanan a chaidh dhan Chogadh Mhòr le na Canèideanaich.

Aon Dòmhnall, à Lèodhas, bha e air a leòn agus fhuair e bàs. Le mearachd bha a chorp air a chur a Bheinn na Faoghla, dham buineadh an Dòmhnall eile.

Dh’aithnich athair Dhòmhnaill Bheinn na Faoghla gur e mearachd a bh’ ann, ach thioghlaig e an srainnsear mar gur e a mhac fhèin a bh’ ann.

Thàinig am balach eile slàn tron chogadh. Cha robh fios, a dh’aindeoin oidhirp, cò leis a bha an Dòmhnall eile anns an uaigh, agus a theaglach air chall.

Sin gus an do thòisich Murchadh “Mindy” MacLeòid ris a’ chùis a rannsachadh ceud bliadhna às dèidh làimh mar phàirt de phrògraman cuimhneachaidh Radio nan Gàidheal.

Tha an sgeulachd a nochd e cho brònach ri càil sam bith a chluinneas sibh mu sgrios a’ Chogaidh Mhòir.

Feuch gun èist sibh ris An Dà Dhòmhnall air i-player a’ BhBC.

Tha an seòrsa eòlais seo a’ ruith anns an t-sruth anns na h-Eileanan, ‘s gun phrìs air idir, agus na milleanan air an cosg air taighean tasgaidh eu-dhomhainn. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

From sea to shining sea. How Donald Trump's migrant mother came to the USA

Mary MacLeod's journey from Old World to the New - America's story in seven pictures
This is a slightly extended version of my Daily Record exclusive on newly-discovered photos of Donald Trump's mother. The story, and the individual pictures can be seen here on the Record website

THEY are the pictures of his mother that Donald Trump will never have seen, bearing witness to a family saga he cannot bear to tell.

Seven newly-uncovered, black and white photos show Mary Anne MacLeod, the Scottish island girl who became
the wife of New York property magnate Fred Trump and mother to the Republican presidential candidate.

Elegantly, they click the shutter frame on the immigrant background of the US politician who wants to build a wall against the world.

Mary MacLeod’s journey from the Isle of Lewis to New York is already well known, but these newly discovered photos and the memoir of her teenage penpal cast a new light on the Donald Trump story.

In one girl’s portraits are story of how modern-day America came to be. The three phases of European emigration - the Old World home, the ocean voyage and the opening door to wealth and happiness in the New  - are captured in seven prints from the 1920s and 30s now frozen in time. 

The first picture, taken about 1926, shows a girl in the bloom of youth, collecting wild flowers by the shore of her childhood home on the Isle of Lewis. The flower-carpeted machair, the fertile sandy grass, is unmistakably Hebridean as is the tall girl on the left of the picture.

Garbed in a dark velveteen dress, Mary MacLeod is accompanied by another young woman, possibly one of her sisters who emigrated to America, Canada and Australia before her.

Born in 1912, Mary was part of a large family in the crofting village of Tong, the most-populated of the Outer Hebrides.

A second picture shows the teenage Mary sitting on the windowsill of a modern block-built “white” house of the type that began replacing the thatched island blackhouses at the time.

Mary’s father was postmaster in the village as well as a fisherman and so one of the first to elevate himself out of endemic rural poverty. Often it was money sent home from abroad that helped islanders through lean years and lack of work on Lewis had scattered Mary’s siblings across the globe.

When she started her penpal correspondence with Agnes Stiven, an east coast girl of her own age whose prize-winning painting and address had appeared in the Dundee Courier, MacLeod described “her lonely life on the island”.
Her sisters and brothers had already left home. The village story was that Mary went on “holiday” to see her older sister Catherine who had left for New York.

But the memoir of their friendship that Agnes Stiven left behind finally puts that Trump family myth to rest.

Agnes wrote: “Mary’s older sister in New York invited her to visit her there...and soon afterwards her sister found her a job as a nanny with a wealthy family in a big house in the suburbs of New York”.

Ellis Island Records have Mary MacLeod arriving in New York in 1930, yet she may have criss-crossed the Atlantic more than once.

According to Agnes the two girls met in Glasgow in the late summer of 1928 when Mary was on the way to America for the first time. The girls hit it off immediately.

“Mary had long fair hair and blue eyes, my hair was short and dark and I had hazel eyes. Each thought the other was pretty!” Agnes recollected in her journal. 

“Mary’s news in 1929 was not so optimistic. Her employers had been involved in the Wall Street Crash which shook not only America but the whole world,” wrote Agnes. “Mary lost her job and went to New York City to find employment.” 

The letters were not so frequent then but the two girls exchanged Christmas gifts. “I well remember the chic pink cami-knickers she sent me. They buttoned round the waist and fitted perfectly,” recalled Agnes.

By then Mary had met her future husband. the real estate developer Fred C. Trump. Again, the village story in Tong is that they met at a dance in New York and kept in touch even though Mary returned to Lewis at least once afterwards.

Meanwhile Agnes, a gifted linguist from a humble Scottish background, had became a post-graduate scholar at Marburg University in Germany.

She was on her way home from Marburg via Hamburg in August 1934 when President Hindenberg died, leaving
the country in mourning. “His death, alas, left a gap that was quickly seized upon by Adolf Hitler, with dire consequences.” wrote Agnes, foreshadowing the calamity to come. 

She fled across the North Sea to Dundee to stay with her parents, paralleling a journey Mary MacLeod made back across the Atlantic to visit her parents on Lewis.

Agnes wrote the friends next met in 1934 in Glasgow when Mary left again for New York “where she now seemed to have settled”. 

“We spent a hectic day together in Glasgow. In the morning  we went on a shopping spree and I particularly remember in a big store on Sauchiehall Street she bought a pair of fur-backed gauntlet gloves for her boyfriend, Fred. “I said I hoped he’d like them and she said ‘he’d better’” 

They went to view the Queen Mary on the Clyde, the world’s largest passenger ship, being fitted out and still without her distinctive four funnels.

Agnes snapped Mary on the quayside, a flared coat and jaunty hat adding to her glamour. “I thought Mary was very pretty, with her hair still quite long and permed,” wrote Agnes.

“I saw Mary off on board the ship at Clydebank that evening and that was the last time we saw each other until 61 years later in London”.

The two pictures of Mary MacLeod en-route to America are iconic images of European emigration. 

Between 1880 and 1920, more than 25 million foreigners arrived on American shores, transforming the country. Scottish emigration reached a peak in the 1920s, with 363,000 Scots leaving for the US and Canada in that decade.

Aboard ship Mary stands by the deck rail, a hairband ties her blond locks and she wears smart white deck shoes. In the next image she looks relaxed and has captivated a male passenger.

The pictures are marked on the back by her friend Agnes as being “en-route” on the SS Transylvania, the Anchor Line passenger vessel that ran between Glasgow to New York in the inter-war years.

There is no way of knowing on which of Mary MacLeod’s voyages they were taken but the confident, optimistic stance lends the impression that this was a young woman who knew where she was going.

Shipping records show that Mary MacLeod arrived again in the United States in 1934, by then 22 years of age.
The next picture shows Mary in a swimming costume on the steps of a Long Island swimming pool where the elite of New York decamped for the Summer.

The transformation is complete, the coy look of the girl on the Hebridean beach is replaced by a glossy poolside pose reflecting the golden years of Holywood. From domestic service to domestic goddess, Mary MacLeod had made it. 

Two years later she was married to Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, and would have five children: Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Robert and, of course, Donald, or Donald John as he is known in Tong.

Agnes noted: “She didn’t tell me that the man she married in January 1936 was “the most eligible bachelor in New York” as she called him in a recent letter, and also of German parentage like the man I was then engaged to marry.”.

In the final photo of the sequence Mary is pictured on her driveway holding her firstborn child, Maryanne, who as an adult accompanied her mother on many visits to Lewis. The marks one of the last contacts the two women had for years.

War separated the two friends and altered the course of Agnes Stiven’s life completely. The German man she married in 1938, in the lull of the Munich Agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler, went on to become a Panzer tank commander.

He survived the war a damaged man, and the couple divorced forcing Agnes and her children to return to Britain. 
The correspondence, apart from a few letters and photos at her parents’ home in Scotland was lost as was the link with Mary MacLeod.

That was until Donald Trump’s growing fame intervened and his Scottish connection surfaced years later.
Agnes wrote: “In June 1995 I finished watching News at Ten in bed, as I usually do, without paying too much attention to the following programme called “Selina Scott meets Donald Trump - an exclusive interview with the  Manhattan tycoon’”.

She added: “I pricked up my ears when with a jolt when Selina said that the interview was being held in the sumptuous apartment occupied by Donald’s mother, who was a Scot originally Mary MacLeod form Lewis.”

“I jumped up at the tv set to get a close look at the elegant lady with the groomed golden hair seated with lovely legs crossed just as Mary MacLeod used to do.”

A hopeful letter to “the apartment on the 64th floor of Trump Towers” received an equally swift reply and the friendship of over half a century was picked up again with enthusiasm.

The two ladies were re-united in London in August 1995 to their great delight.

Mary MacLeod regularly returned home to Lewis before her death in New York in 2000, at age 88. 

Alice Stiven died in March 2002, leaving an trove of photos and memoirs which her family are piecing together.

Donald Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior US judge, visited Lewis often with her mother and made a £150,000 donation to the island’s Bethesda hospice in her memory.

But Donald Trump appears to have little interest in his Scottish roots. He has only visited Lewis twice in a blaze of publicity to promote his golf interests but his public references to his mother’s background are conspicuous by their absence.

Maybe that is because these pictures of Mary MacLeod tell a different history from the anti-immigrant bombast of his campaign trail speeches.

From the foreshore of Lewis to the exclusive swimming pools of Long Island, from sea to shining sea, Mary MacLeod’s seven pictures are the story of a country made great by immigrants, people just like Donald Trump’s mother.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Sùil Eile air Murchadh MacPhàrlain

Am bàrd Murchadh MacPhàrlain ann a dealbh le Gus Wylie
Airson an Daily Record

Tha sreath de litirichean eadar am bàrd ainmeil Murchadh MacPhàrlain agus an seinneadair Mairead NicLeòid a’ soilleireachadh mar a thàinig cuid dhe na h-òrain as cliùitiche a th’ againn sa chànan gu bith.

Bha ceangal cruthachail, bàidheil eadar Bàrd Mhealaboist agus an còmhlan Na h-Òganaich. Tha an dàimh sin a’ toirt tiotal dhan leabhar ùr a tha a’ cruinneachadh nan litirichean, “Le Mùirn”.

Tha cunntas sgiobalta air beatha Mhurchaidh agus na bliadhnaichean rionnagach aig na h-Òganaich air a sgrìobhadh le Catrìona Mhoireach, agus abair obair luachmhor.

Ach tha “Le Mùirn” mu dheidhinn tòrr a bharrachd na eachdraidh beatha.

Tha a’ chùis a’ ceangal òrain, litreachas, obair-ealain ùr, agus sealladh air sgilean dealbhaidh Mhurchaidh fhèin.

Air cùlaibh a’ phròiseict tha Iseabail Mhoireach, a th’ air a bhith an sàs an cuid dhe na h-iomairtean as tuigsiche anns na h-ealain fad bhliadhnaichean.

Anns h-uile càil a tha Iseabail a’ cruthachadh tha ceangal ri cruth-tìre agus cuimhne -  na snàithlein as treasa ann an cultar sam bith. Sin freumhan na bàrdachd, agus sinn fhathast ga seinn.

English translation

A series of letters between the famous poet Murdo MacFarlane and the singer Margaret MacLeod illuminates how some of the most popular songs we have in the language came to be.

There was an affectionate, creative relationship between the Melbost bard and the group, Na h-Òganaich. That affinity gives the title to a new book that collects the letters, “With Affection”.

It is a nimble account of Murdo’s life and the starry years of Na h-Òganaich written by Catriona Murray, and what a precious piece of work it is.

But “Le Mùirn” is about a lot more than biography.

The idea links song, literature, new works of art, with a glimpse of Murdo’s own drawing skills.

Behind the project is Ishbel Murray, who has been involved in some of the most thoughtful and intelligent initiatives in the arts over the years.

Everything Ishbel creates connects to landscape and memory - the strongest threads of any culture. These are the roots of the poems, and still we sing them. 

Alan Cumming and acting out inner emotions

For my Daily Record column

Actors, don’t you love them? I do, actually. Their craft of exposing the emotions we, the audience, keep hidden from ourselves takes as much courage as bearing arms.

But never leave an actor without their primary weapon - lines to read. Left to their own devices, thesps invariably get it wrong.

Look at Alan Cumming, dahling of the SNP, who has just gone and blamed Brexit on the English.

He said: “I was appalled when I heard the result and I have three words to sum it up. Stupid. English. People.”

Cut! Hold it there, didn’t anyone send Cumming a copy of the script?

Stoking resentment of the “other” is an essential element of any nationalism, but the SNP has long ago excised open hatred of the English.

Under civic nationalism it is impolite to mention the English.

When the SNP talks of embracing the EU everyone knows that means the other 27 - Muslim-baiting Slovakia and Nazi-resurgent Austria among them - not the closest neighbour we do two-thirds of our trade with.

It takes an actor’s boldness to break the rules and say the unsayable. 

“How many times do we have to be slapped in the face by Westminster?” asked Cumming in an interview not subject to self-censorship.

At least he had read that cue. “Westminster” is the correct nationalist euphemism for all things English.   

Having dropped the E-bomb Cumming apologised, rather halfheartedly.

“I guess I’m just a daft jock who assumes people still find humour amusing,” he tweeted.

Well, the first half of the apology sounds sincere. Most of the regret will be for the damage he has done the cause.

Anyway, who is he accusing of being stupid? Was it the four out of ten SNP members who voted for Brexit? The hundreds of thousands of other Scots who voted the same way? Or was it the people of Wales, the most anti-EU nation in the Union?

Does he neglect how London, for example, voted to Remain? The last time I looked London was still a part of England and is not going anywhere.

Even people like Angus Robertson, an SNP statesman not a clown, can play into this grievance agenda with loose talk about Brexit being a vote by England to ”leave the European Union and declare independence from the rest of the United Kingdom”.

Maybe Robertson, facing a challenge for the deputy leader post, feels the need to connect with the SNP base but he’s bigger politician than that. He does not need to stoop to conquer.

Anti-English bigotry is not up there with full blown racism but it is felt by plenty people in Scotland with English accents.

Inevitably, after Cumming’s rant some will feel more pressure to fit in with the orthodoxy of nationalism, to keep their voices low and their friends close.

Others, I suspect, will have had revealed to them in the thespian’s courage one of the inner emotions of nationalism.

Stupid, bloody actor they must have thought in Bute House.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

David Cameron’s last goodbye

Commons sketch for The Record

“I was the future once,” said David Cameron as he bookended his career with the barb he used so effectively against Tony Blair on his first outing at the Commons despatch box.

Yesterday,  11 years later, six of them as Prime Minister, Cameron called it a day.

The scaffolding of Westminster is ritual and while the weekly jousts in the Commons follow a set pattern greater expectation is placed on occasions like the departure of a Prime Minister. 

David Cameron, who was to the despatch box as to the Manor born, did not disappoint.
With wit, both smooth and savage, he gave the Commons a reminder of what it is losing, a showman who could use the political stage every bit as effectively as Tony Blair. 

The atmosphere was variety hall light and comical, from the roars of Tory cheers that greeted the Prime Minister to the even bigger roar they gave Jeremy Corbyn. 

Cameron himself turned it into a Monty Python sketch, comparing po-faced Corby to the tenacious Black Knight in the Holy Grail film, who doesn’t accept he’s beaten even when all his limbs are cut off.

The opposition leader ploughed on with earnest questions about homelessness to a PM who looked fairly unbothered about becoming homeless himself later in the day.

As the mockery of Labour continued only one person wasn’t laughing. Hilary Benn, a man fit to be Foreign Secretary sacked by a man who can’t be a Prime Minister, stood at the end of the Labour frontbench.

He looked down Corbyn’s row of second-elevens, a grievous face as if he had just arrived from a funeral.

The debris of a life in political battle were all around. Boris Johnson in the far corner of the chamber, about as far from that despatch box as you can get while still smelling power.

There was Michael Gove, lip-biting in a mob of MPs standing by the double doors as the PM emphasised the duty of public service. On the front bench George Osborne whispered advice in his friend’s ear one last time as Theresa May, a serene, necklaced swan waited for the tide of fortune. 

To paraphrase Dennis Skinner, all politicians do not tell lies. If they did there would have been more than 12 volumes of the Chilcot report on the Commons table for the Iraq debate later in the afternoon.

But the PM did tell a final untruth when he declared his love for Larry, the Downing Street cat. As proof Cameron produced a picture of the moggie in his lap but it made him look like a second-hand Bond villain. It was the only time in the half hour when praise rang false.

Finally the Labour leader caught the atmosphere, teasing Cameron about a possible future on Strictly Come Dancing.

No paso doble, replied Cameron to the Islington revolutionary more used to chanting “no pasaran”.

But even after the ribbing Corbyn was generous in his send-off, referencing the sacrifice of political families and thanking Cameron’s mother for advice on dressing properly, which he admitted he was considering. 

All political careers end in failure, except Ken Clarke’s, the best leader the Conservative Party never had. His gets sweeter with each passing decade and there were warm exchanges between Clarke and the soon to be grandee who’d been sacked as a special adviser by the great man in 1993.

It has all been downhill for Cameron from there, you could argue. 

Cameron’s downfall is writ large in one word - Brexit - but only the SNP was so deaf to the mood as to mention that yesterday.

Angus Robertson cooled the air with serious questions about remembering the Srebrenica massacre and the Brexit vote.

Robertson, who joins the Westminster establishment as the longest-serving party leader now, could only halfheartedly condemn Cameron’s record and praised him as well.

The ungracious address was left to the SNP’s Carolyn Monaghan who was drowned out with loud groans when she complained about “unfulfilled vows” and weapons of mass destruction.

Cameron responded breezily about promises made and powers delivered but not implemented by the SNP government.

Resolutely the SNP MPs sat on their hands while the rest of the Commons applauded the departing PM. They know their audience and it is not in the sweet, mawkish backslapping one in the Commons.

But Cameron loves the place and said he would next be watching from the backbenches. “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on,” he said.

From the swift, barbed tongue, which got him into trouble as much as  it saved him, it was inevitable the best epitaph came from Cameron himself.

He regaled the Commons with his take on the New York accent of a man who once recognised him on a Manhattan sidewalk with the words: “Hey, David Cameron! PMQs, we love your show.”

With that, and a wave to his wife and family in the gallery above, the showman took a bow. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

In the space of one hour, Britain has a new PM

Theresa May, the next Prime Minister, greeted by Tory MPs outside St Stephen's Gate, Westminster
The Prime Minister has changed, just like that.

At 11.30am  this morning the Westminster journalists, those of them who were not in Birmingham for Theresa May’s leadership speech, were trooping  along the Thames Embankment towards  the venue for Angela Eagle’s planned challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.

Then the balloon went up that Andrea Leadsom, after a bruising weekend of headlines, was unexpectedly announcing that she was withdrawing from the Tory leadership race.

An about-turn that wouldn’t have shamed the Trooping of the Colour was executed.

By 12:30am we had rushed from Leadsom’s campaign headquarters to the St Stephen’s entrance of the Houses of Parliament to hear Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee, formally declare that Theresa May is the new leader of the party. She is, de facto, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Right now Theresa May is on a train back from Birmingham, David Cameron is at the Farnborough Airshow, and the Queen who would appoint a new Prime Minister is in Balmoral.

It has been a stunning hour in an incredible few weeks of British politics. We knew the fall-out from Brexit was going to be profound and dramatic but this is  a swift and ruthless unravelling of the thread.

It has claimed several careers already - David Cameron, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson amongst them - split the Labour party from it’s leader and heightened expectations for a second Scottish referendum.

There will be a new Cabinet in weeks. I thought it highly symbolic that George Osborne allowed himself to be photographed, looking relaxed and comfortable, with his children at Silverstone this weekend. He could be on the way out. 

There could be a general election in months, the pressure will certainly be on, and that will be good news for one man at least - Jeremy Corbyn.

For the far-left losing troublesome Labour MPs to Brexit-supporting constituencies would a year-zero win, allowing them to put Corbyn-friendly candidates in place next time. Losing can be blamed on the rebel MPs, so do not prepare for a Labour revival.

For the SNP in Scotland it should be relatively unaffected by an election and has the finances and organisation to be ready in no time. For the SNP an election would be a simple platform to argue against Scotland being taken out of the European Union.

Prepare for a new Prime Minister is all we can say for certainty.

Brexit has shaken Britain to the core, the centre has fallen apart.

Monday, 27 June 2016

What happened to Project Fear, George?

George Osborne press conference at HM Treasury

George Osborne always has a fairly pallid complexion on the sunniest of days. But the chancellor hadn’t been seen in the light since Britain voted for Brexit so he looked particularly ashen-faced on Monday morning.

Osborne made a 7am appearance in the Treasury in an attempt to sooth the markets and reassure the nation with a keep calm and carry on message.

How long his own political life continues is a question he demurred from answering.

Osborne had three strong messages for the markets.

He said Britain has a strong, resilient economy ready for the stormy seas ahead because he had “fixed the roof” with five years of austerity (his mixed metaphors not mine).

There was plan for Brexit all along, a contingency worked out with the Bank of England to shore up the banks and the markets with £250 billion of loans.

He will not trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the EU through Article 50 until a new Prime Minister is in place, at least the Autiumn.

And there will be no emergency budget until the Office of Budget Responsibility assesses the fall-out of Brexit, again in the Autumn.

So no emergency budget, no punishment for the voters for going the wrong way. Whatever happened to Project Fear, the dire warnings of a £30 billion black hole in the British economy that would follow Brexit? Was it just a bluff?

Far from it, I suspect. Today was about reassurance not fear. Osborne warned it would not be “plain sailing” but that Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world and prepared to absorb the economic shock. But if the economy goes of a cliff, there will be plenty to fear.

He also made an important point which, regardless of what you might think of his politics, displayed his calibre as a politician.

He said: “I do not want Britain to turn its back on Europe or on the rest of the world. We must bring unity of spirit and purpose and condemn hatred and division wherever we see it. Britain is an open and tolerant country and I will fight with everything I have to keep it so.”

He also appeared to rule out resigning in the near future, and asked whether he could serve in a government committed to leaving the EU, Osborne said: “It is my country right or wrong. And intend to fulfil my responsibilities to the country.”

Osborne will make it clear in the next few days what his plans are for the Tory leadership. His options appear to be to back Theresa May as a Stop Boris candidate or take a punt himself.

Either way we haven’t heard the last of him, or of austerity.