Friday 31 October 2014

Halloween and is spooky good?

I think I've confessed before to a weakness for a 'good' (ie utterly dreadful) horror film. One of the major causes of rows in our house is my insistence on checking out the 'Horror Channel' first in any assessment of a possible evening's viewing...

I'm not entirely sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing or a harmless eccentricity or what. I was reared (parents were entirely 'hands off' liberals in terms of TV and reading matter) on a diet in which Denis Wheatley figured quite heavily both in his novels and in the various film versions on TV. In my more reflective moments, I do wonder whether (or perhaps in what way) this early exposure to supernatural trash literature (and, I'm afraid, my abiding low taste in this area) links up to my conversion to Catholicism. (One can imagine Dawkins shaking his head sadly at yet another young life blighted by an indoctrination in the supernatural. He may have a point in this case.)

Our society is in the odd position of saturating the young in ghosts and vampires, and yet pleading a sort of ironic detachment from that obsession. For a culture which is ostensibly 'secular', the parade of werewolves and the like that rampage across (particularly) young adult entertainment is quite remarkable. Of course, we don't really believe it (do we?) but in many ways, an obsession that we don't really believe is more remarkable than one we do. The current popularity of Zombies (frankly, my least favourite form of the genre) perhaps represent naturalism hitting back. Unlike the supernatural world of ghosts and vampires (presenting difficulties for naturalism in survival after death, curses and odd powers  of physical transformation), Zombies are scary but simply the result of some sort of microbe.

Anyway, I'm basically torn between the thought that the survival of an interest in the supernatural is a reassuring sign of (albeit imperfect) resistance to secularity, and the thought that it's merely another aspect of the abandonment of Christianity, this time in favour of the demonic. Certainly, the sort of 'supernatural' that is the commonplace of this sort of culture isn't one that is subject to the overarching control of God (rather than gods or powers). The universe is not the Christian one where the ultimate reality is rationally consistent and moral, but rather the pagan one where competing very, but not absolutely, powerful entities compete for success. Paganism perhaps even has the advantage over the modern age of taking such entities seriously: if you think that the furniture of the world really contains demons and ghouls, you are, essentially, back in the position of the naturalist who has to explain why contingent things exist, and thus back into the proofs of natural theology. (Thor in metaphysical terms is no more surprising than an extremely fierce tiger.) Modern-paganism-for-entertainment postpones that sort of serious thinking by ironic handwaving: one lives as if one believes in these things but one doesn't need to think about them seriously as, really, one doesn't.

And the final complicating factor for Catholics is that here one is dealing with real malevolent entities and not just ideas. You may think an interest in the occult is just playing with ideas; the demons you address are under no such illusions. (I'll just give a few seconds for secularist readers to withdraw quietly now they recognize that I actually am sufficiently nuts to think that demons etc exist.) I frankly don't know what to say about that: if one looks back at Catholic culture at its mediaeval highpoint, there is clearly a relish and enjoyment in the portrayal of the demonic. Is it better to avoid any mention at all? Or is it better to mention but with the risk of fascination?

A mulling without any real conclusion. I go on reading horror stories and watching horror films, but sometimes with a slightly uneasy conscience. On balance, I'm rather in favour of Halloween and its popular celebrations provided that it's balanced by the proper celebration of All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, and the remembrance of the dead in November. Spooky and a fascination for spiritual danger is probably as natural as a fascination with physical danger. It's the danger of a lack of a correcting balance from the theism of organized religion that leads to the problems.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Welcoming gay orientation?

I was going to put aside any direct and general consideration of the Synod at least for the moment: as the Blessed Leonard Cohen said, 'It did some good/It did some harm.'

But the contrarian in me still wants to tackle one specific issue summed up in paragraph 50 of the relatio:

 Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

I'll also couple that with the question of welcoming people who identify themselves under the description of 'gay'. Indeed, let's go for broke: I'm going to argue that we can and should 'accept and value' a gay orientation.

Before I get stuck into that, some ground clearing. 99.9% of the time you hear someone arguing that the Catholic Church should 'accept and value a gay orientation' it means something along the lines of that pushed by Martin Pendergast: the Catholic Church should simply accept active homosexuality as another valid expression of sexuality alongside heterosexuality. One reason many orthodox Catholics are hostile to a claim worded in the way I have ('we can and should accept and value a gay orientation') is that activists like Pendergast send up a cloud of words and theology which covers up a fundamental change in morality under a lot of fluff about valuing and welcoming. (Reading his latest article, you wouldn't/needn't find anything that insisted he be free to have sex with another man, but that is simply what he really means.)

So let's rule that out immediately: I'm not arguing that. I straightforwardly accept that any sexual action between the same sex or indeed outside marriage is sinful. And, as a result, 99.9% of the time, when claims such as 'we can and should accept and value a gay orientation' are made, in terms of the substance of the argument, I disagree. But although it would certainly be simpler -and perhaps often less misleading to stick with this rough and ready rejection- I think it's worth pushing a little deeper, in part to do justice to the 0.1% of times when you hear people who are genuinely not trying to undermine Catholic teaching by making the claim, and, perhaps more importantly, to extract the nugget of truth that is expressed on those occasions.

The Catechism (para 2358) says:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.

(It's also worth noting (just to get the ducks up in a line) that para 2359 refers to 'homosexual persons'. That's worth stressing because it's sometimes argued that describing yourself as having a homosexual identity is, in itself, wrong, rather than (say) describing yourself as having (or even 'suffering from') same sex attraction.)

Two aspects then:

1) Is the substitution of the word 'gay' for 'homosexual' a change to be avoided?
2) Is it right to accept and value a gay/homosexual orientation?

On 1), I'm beginning to think that insisting on 'homosexual' rather than 'gay' in every context is beginning to be distracting. The Catechism -as noted- mandates the use of the phrase 'homosexual persons'. Now that perhaps is where the objections should be made: I'm not at all convinced that talking about 'homosexual persons' (or indeed heterosexual persons) doesn't essentialize an identity which is purely accidental. But, from the Catechism, that boat has already sailed. And if it's a toss up between 'homosexual persons' or 'gay people', I think that in many situations (not all), insisting on using 'homosexual persons' is beginning to make you sound flaky: rather like insisting on calling women 'the ladies' (or that use of 'homosexualists' that certain loons used to go in for about a decade ago). (Indeed, the ill motivated might well point out that, judging from my children's peer group, since the ordinary meaning of 'gay' is 'a bit rubbish', it's rather their look out if homosexuals insist on using the term...)

Anyway, putting that question aside, can a 'gay/homosexual orientation' be rightly accepted and valued? And there I think we have a truly difficult issue. IF (and let's stick with 'gay'), IF 'a gay disposition' just means a disposition to commit sinful acts with a member of the opposite sex, then it clearly can't be valued/welcomed in itself. (But even there, it might bring you into situations where, as an accidental consequence, good came of it: you might fall in love with a man who ran a Catholic charity for example, and thus end up getting involved in its good works.)

But does it just mean that? I rather dislike the use of 'heterosexual orientation', but, if one accepts it as a legitimate usage, it surely means more than just wanting to have sex with women. It involves finding women attractive,and that means valuing certain aspects of female physiology and psychology. Equally, finding the same sex attractive involves more than just an inclination to copulation. Moreover, if we do stick with 'gay', it has got aspects that are even wider than homosexual/heterosexual. What precisely these are is difficult to pin down (we shouldn't assume that there is a neat definition for every English word). But it certainly has connotations which go beyond 'wanting to have sex'. In fine, to gave a 'gay orientation' is more than just wanting to have sex with your own gender; and to that extent, it is possible to value and welcome that orientation. (And, a fortiori, it is of course clearly right to welcome gay people: that simply isn't in question. The only question is whether that welcome directly extends to their orientation.)

The above is really all quite theoretical and, to orthodox Catholics, probably looks like a silly attempt to wriggle into a less countercultural position, while, to non-Catholics, probably looks like a scholastic analysis of beating puppies to death. So let's get concrete. When I look at Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, it strikes me as clearly as anything can that a) their relationship made them both the artists they were; and b) Britten's homosexuality, in particular, deeply affected his work. Now I suppose one can imagine a *Pears-Britten couple which is identical to the real Pears-Britten couple, except that they make the changes to meet Catholic teaching. (So they could live together, but in a chaste friendship etc.) I think I can imagine that (indeed, one might actually wonder quite how important the sex act was in the partnership certainly as they grew older). But still one would want to say, would one not, that their love for each other and the orientation that made it possible were valuable precisely because they weren't and wouldn't be just about the desire to have sex with that other person?

[Having thought about this after drafting, I'd add that the one question the modern mind fails to ask -or rather just assumes the answer is going to be copulation- is what are friendships objectively for?  (Within the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition, you have the general choices of bonum simpliciter, delectabile and  utile (Aquinas' Commentary on the Ethics -ad 1538): ie the good simpliciter, the pleasurable and the useful.) The Pears-Britten friendship is for the sake of art; the (Catholic) heterosexual marriage is for the sake of procreation. Both aims take the participants towards the transcendent good. God help either heterosexuals or homosexuals who answer 'sexual pleasure'. And that is to say, God help most of us trapped in the secular mindset.]

I think this sort of line of thought is what the Synod was (or at least should be) striving for. But it is dependent on a corresponding clarity: an orientation towards love for one's own sex isn't a bad thing, indeed can be a good thing, precisely so long as it contains elements that go beyond the sex act. An orientation towards love for the other sex isn't a bad thing, precisely so long as it contains elements that go beyond the sex act, although here, provided it is open to procreation, this too can be redeemed. It's that clarity which is lacking and, given past performance particularly from many Western churches, is unlikely to reappear even, indeed, especially, if a pastoral approach is developed which allows the above valuing of a gay orientation. The modern Western Church just doesn't do fine distinctions any more, certainly not in the parishes. From that point of view, it might just be better to stick with an unsubtle rejection of the orientation rather than offer an unsubtle welcome holus-bolus...?

In the end, this all goes back to the idea that 'finding someone sexually attractive' is self interpreting. Well, it hasn't been for me. (I can think of lots of occasions in my youth where I hadn't been sure what I felt about a woman: not (just) because of a lack of self-awareness, but also because the distinctions between different types of interest in another just really aren't clear (ontologically as well as phenomenologically one might say).) In particular, sexual attraction doesn't come in a neat compartment separate from attraction tout court. If someone has a tendency to find their own sex attractive, that isn't reducible to simply sexual attraction. And even sexual attraction isn't simply reducible to wanting sex. That bundle of confusions is at least a big a problem in our society as anything to do simply with homosexuality.

[And a final post drafting thought. When did bishops and priests become just pastors? The Church has always been a teacher -a Rabbi- as well as a prophet: both require clear effective speech in the public sphere. Protestant Churches -particularly the national ones- often have built into their DNA the Erastian idea that they're there merely to comfort citizens after the State has done all the really important cultural stuff like legislation, education etc. When did Catholics buy into that nonsense?]

Friday 17 October 2014

Odd sins and synods

                              Flock of Cardinals. (Seems to contain a few wrong 'uns.)

Oh, I've really got little idea what to say about the Synod. Over the week, I've found myself going backwards and forwards: wanting to think it's all right (and so retweeting soothing tweets from soothing others); and then getting worked up a little (so retweeting apocalyptic announcements based on 6th century Irish sources); and then.... Well, you get the point.

As an individual Catholic, I've long come to the conclusion that's there's no point in getting worked up by the daily news cycle: the frenetic need for novelty and emotion is simply bad. Nothing worthwhile is achieved. Perhaps the greatest (and worst) change since my childhood is the abandonment of Sunday closing and the tendency to shut shops for a half day on Wednesdays. We need (regularly) to do nothing. Bring back the Sabbath.

But as a key Catholic commentator with a worldwide audience sometimes reaching into double figures, I realize that this is shirking my responsibilities. And so...

There are a couple of different aspects that struck me. First, there is the politicization of the process. Something that's striking me more and more is the absolute mystery of the individual's journey to God (or just truth). You can't (eg) institutionalize Socrates: the whole point of his prodding and maieutics was to get people to live out that journey themselves. Now this is of course the substance of (especially) the Eastern Orthodox attacks on Catholicism: that it tends to turn the mystery of faith into a bureaucratic process. (Think Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor.) Turning to the Synod, the process of lobbying, preparation of papers etc, just seems to be making a category mistake: whatever will bring people to God, it won't be this sort of committee meeting and position papers.

Now, I'm completely unconvinced by the general attack on Catholicism from this direction. (You need the ability to be clear and even bureaucratic to exist effectively in the world.) On the other hand, in this case, I do wonder what on earth is expected from this Synod: is there some magic formula that will reverse the decline in religious practice when serious Catholics such as Louise Mensch in irregular relationships have already found a way through under the present system? This isn't a bureaucratic problem to be solved by committee but a problem of attitude. The problem is existing in societies which are no longer Christian and even positively anti-Christian: of course that makes living out Christian teachings more difficult, but no tinkering with admission/exclusion from Communion will alter that fundamental fact. (There was a similar sort of pretence about the possibilities of bureacratic process with the vox pop surveys that preceded the Synod (my previous post). We pretended they mattered but really they were the sort of dismal process that bureaucracies indulge in, and which require that everyone pretends to think them important whilst knowing they are useless. Think setting out transferable skills for academic courses.)

One other aspect that struck me is that I was totally unsurprised by some of the liberal posturings that came out of the Synod. It really can't be a surprise that we have a Church where (some? many?) Bishops sound like liberal Protestants. Anyone who's lived in the Catholic Church in the West knows this is the state we're in. It is, moreover, something that exists in all parts of the hierarchy. (The conclusion I draw from Father Lucie-Smith's reflection that the Synod only repeats what he was taught by theologians at the Gregorian is that the rot existed there as well. But again, really, are we surprised at that?)

What we have here is a crisis of one type of authority in the Church: that of the hierarchy. The Synod exists because lay Catholics won't listen to the teachings of the Church with docility if they clash with their secularized consciences. The Synod has got into trouble because an increasingly more theologically aware body of practising Catholics won't accept the sort of back of an envelope theology that Anglicans have specialized in since the sixties. At one level, that might suggest that the Catholic Church is caught in a terminal bind: since its main 'attraction' for such refugees from secularity as me is precisely its claims to supernatural authority, the loss of trust in the representatives of that authority surely means an end to its USP? Perhaps. But let's try a different view. Docility towards the hierarchy has always been one element in the Church's package of authority. It has operated, for example, in conjunction with the development and articulation of doctrine, and the examples and teachings of Doctors and Saints. We have never simply obeyed Bishops; we have always to some degree looked to the other elements of authority. To take Vatican II at its word (and to take St John Paul II's emphasis on that personal element in theology) modernity has seen a rebalancing of that complex interaction of authority away from the persons of the hierarchy towards a reliance on other sources (of which, perhaps, the Catechism is symbolic). If that is the case, Bishops etc need to recognize that they are becoming less important than they once were. (Which is not to say that they are unimportant.) Instead of trying to sort it out via a Synod, why not point away from themselves, towards an encouragement of the laity to engage with St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis, St John Paul etc etc? (Or even pray a little more??) )

So, in modernity, we have to do it for ourselves. But that doesn't give us carte blanche to find authority wherever we like. Every time a progressive Catholic stands up, Bishop or laity, ask them where they think more authority lies: in the Summa, or in feminism? In the whining of secularized Westerners, or in the lamentations of the psalmist? I'm not a great fan of ressourcement as a twentieth century concrete phenomenon. But the essential idea is fine. Whom do you trust for your authority? Saints or sinners? Yourself, or the holy men and women who have gone before you?

Monday 13 October 2014

In memory of Richard Collins


Having once been at a funeral where the distraught wife had to spend much of her time comforting a complete stranger who'd managed to get swept up in the feelings of the occasion, I'm conscious of not wanting to pretend to anything other than a marginal connection with Richard. My main purpose here is simply to offer my prayers for the repose of his soul and for the comfort of those who were close to him.

However, I have always felt an odd link to Richard and his blog, Linen on the Hedgerow. His was one of the first Catholic blogs I read and I have gone on reading it regularly. He was one of my earliest followers and we have exchanged friendly comments over the years. It sounds like little -and indeed, in the wider scheme of things, it is. But a few friendly words and attention from a more established figure can mean a lot when you're starting to expose yourself to the public, and I've remained grateful for that support.

There were two aspects to his blog that always struck me. (Well, actually three: I always thought it was a terrific title for a blog!) First was that sense of anger (or perhaps sadness?) for those years after Vatican II when good, ordinary Catholics found the traditions of the faith ripped out of their hands. Perhaps I wouldn't put it exactly like that, but I think Richard would or near enough. And his perspective reminded me of all those people I have talked to over the years who have stories to tell of Church furnishings sitting in skips waiting to be taken away, or priests who have wrecked parishes by wilful eccentricity (a euphemism). It's easy for a convert like me to ignore those wounds, but they're there and they're real.

Secondly, we seemed to share a devotion to Blessed Miguel Pro (see here for some of his posts on this). Quite apart from the personal qualities of this martyr, the photographs of his death are, for me, some of the most moving images of sanctity I have ever come across. I'm extremely disorganised in my devotions as in  much else. But I could rely on Richard's annual posts to remind me of his feast day.

My prayers for and best wishes to his family and friends.

Beate Michael Pro, ora pro eo.
Requiescat in pace.

[The image of Richard Collins has been downloaded from the blog, Ora Pro Nobis.]

[Update: Mary O'Regan's appreciation of Richard is really lovely: here]

Friday 10 October 2014

Spinning straw into gold (or gold into straw)

                                       Definitely not a bishop on a pastoral visit

About this time in the year, I find myself heartily sick of my own voice (and thoughts): I pity those who have to listen to me without the (slight) comfort of actually being me.

Aquinas is supposed to have compared his work to straw after a mystical experience. I suppose the usual way of understanding this remark is that everything looks rough in comparison with a glimpse of heaven. But it might be taken as simply sober reality: 99% of our time is spent with straw, and there is nothing much to be done or complained of about that. So I comfort myself with the thought that my strawiness is simply the human condition rather than some particular failing of my own, and that even straw has its place in the world.

Countercultural Father's (as usual excellent) take on Bishop Conry reminded me of the mood which settled on me after the Cardinal O'Brien affair. It's less the one off failing of this or that particular priest which is so dismaying, but the suspicion that it is in some sense typical: that the failing of a particular bishop is part of a wider and general failing in the Church. And when you add to that worries about (shall we say?) the moral fibre of the papacy or the Synod on the Family, it is very easy to start seeing the modern Church as rather more strawlike than it should be.

Being a nasty, petty minded Anglo-Saxon empiricist, I tend to avoid the longue durée. But I think there's at least something to be said for seeing the Middle Ages as being a constant struggle by the Church to hold out for the true, the beautiful and the good against a bunch of murderous Germanic warlords. If seen from the point of view of a handful of missionaries plonked in the middle of societies that regarded rape and pillage as the height of workaday fun, the Middle Ages seem less a period of sad decline and stagnation between the Glory of Rome and the Renaissance, and a really quite remarkable triumph of patient, Godly persistence in the face of a world of brutality.

And fast forward to the twenty-first century. For all the (correct) cavilling about whether or not we live in a Christian society, in substance, it's clear we don't. Catholicism is a handful of missionaries in a society of Hottentots. (I apologize to Hottentots.) That its successes are few, that many of the 'converts' are lukewarm and sneak off to their ancestral spirits, that many of the missionaries give up and take on the colour of the society about them: this is all to be expected and can be mirrored by similar histories of similar missionary endeavours. Just as the mediaeval Church took on many of the bad habits of the warlords, so the modern Church has taken on the bad habits of the lotus eaters we live among (and indeed are). That isn't an argument for complacency in the face of backsliding and inadequacy, but it is an argument for resolute persistence. All flesh is straw: God makes it into gold. (And we do our best to turn that gold back into straw.)

The only really remarkable thing is that, if you look, you do still find gold. The Catholic intellectual who succeeds in retaining his integrity in a secularized academy. The Catholic musician who succeeds in bringing the transcendent to an audience drugged on love ditties. The Catholic mother who fights to keep holiness in her family. And -not as uncommon as it should be really if we were going by earthly probabilities- the priest who, day after day, really does incarnate Christ for his flock.

Most of us are straw, most of the time. But not everyone, not always. And that's the surprise.

Friday 3 October 2014

Still going on about that Referendum...

               Enthusiasm 'rises from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain' 

Still, I suppose, thinking predominantly about the aftermath of the Referendum. There are perhaps three blogposts lurking here which, in an attempt to smother any lingering spirit of separatism, shall henceforth be enfolded in a Most Glorious Union...

With the massive increase in the membership of the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, the nightmare scenario of the lunatics taking over the asylum may well have arrived. As I blogged before, one of the worries about Independence was that it would deliver Scotland over to a bunch of progressive loons. On the other hand, one of the strongest arguments in favour of Independence was the responsibility of self-government would force a more mature political culture to develop as reality began slapping Holyrood in the face like an old kipper.

Welcome to Nightmare Plus: none of the reality checks of Independence together with the complete absence of any conservative restraint on Scottish politics as the SNP (with a new leader more inclined to progressivism) looks over its shoulder at an opposition consisting of Patrick Harvie and worse.

Part of this brave new  world will of course be the new found mass membership of the SNP and other progressive parties. This leads me on to the question of the much vaunted success of the Referendum in boosting interest in politics. Now, before I go all grinch on you, I suppose I'd better concede that the 80% plus voting rate in the Referendum was a good thing: a gradually increasing non-participation in elections is a bad thing, and I'm pleased this trend has been reversed (at least in this special case). But whilst good in itself, such participation is a paltry thing in the big picture. Unlike many other commentators, I've never met someone who isn't interested in politics: they're interested in whether they have work, how their children are educated, whether the roads are repaired etc etc. What they're very often not interested in (or perhaps more accurately, not interested in participating in) are the practices of modern party politics: either voting, or (still less) the slog of active membership in a constituency party. Such an attitude is entirely understandable. Voting has an extremely limited effect on how most people's lives are run: unlike the very clear cut choice in the Referendum, the choice between one soggy progressive party run by PPE graduates and another soggy progressive party run by other PPE graduates is not epoch making. (And then factor in how much influence one vote has.) Even if you think the decision not to vote regrettable (and I do), it is understandable. Even  more understandable is the decision not to get involved in party politics. My own (very limited) experience of this suggests it requires both a high tolerance for odd personality types, saintlike patience, a complete indifference to domestic comfort etc. Again, I think that non-participation is regrettable, but in this case, it is entirely rational for most normal people: most people will not (cannot) be party activists.

So how can this enthusiasm for 'politics' be sustained? I think the simple answer is it can't and it shouldn't be imagined that it can. The heart of life isn't in the machinery of democracy: it's in the home, in art, in work and in religion. One (the key?) problem of democracy is that participation in it is necessary to the preservation of what we value, yet, to serve that preservative function, it has to become too dull to encourage participation. There may be little, ameliorative solutions to all that, but no silver bullet. (Well, unless you bring back religion into the sphere of government... That's a) true and b) there to wind up the Scottish Secular Society.)

Which, tertio, brings me on to the old. The current urban legend is that it's-the-old-wot-lost-it. Kevin McKenna (in an excellent piece) summarized the view:

The yes campaign maintained a sense of verve, excitement and drama that was largely supplied by young Scots who had previously been left unimpressed by the normal methods of party politics.

Sure, all the old footsoldiers of nationalism did their bit, visiting houses, handing out leaflets, but there was a fresh sense of unbounded optimism; of we-can-achieve-anything, and it was this that drove them to the outskirts of victory. By contrast, more than 70% of Scotland's pensioners voted no, fearful for their pensions and their end-of-life care.

Despite the fact that the figures don't really bear this narrative up, it is true that the strongest vote against Independence in any age group was that of the over 65s. I'm not sure what we're supposed to conclude from this: that the old, having a greater sense of corporeal frailty and the vicissitudes of life than testosterone fuelled young men with immature frontal lobes are clearly wrong? That because they are the other to us (about thirty-five, white male, full head of hair) that their sensibilities are somehow aberrant? There are all sorts of alternative, non-debunking explanations for the suspicions of the old other than the claim that they were simply too moronic or weighed down by a culture of deference to vote properly. (I thought it particularly unfair of Lallands Peat Worrier to complain about the unwillingness of a group of old ladies to give the time of day to a charivari of Yessers. Dodging crowds full of their own self importance is Urban Living 101, whether this is a matter of chuggers, Mormons or double glazing salesmen. And it's often accompanied by the emotional uneasiness and self-justification resulting from the habits of politeness being overridden by the need to avoid spending 25 hours a day explaining that you really don't want a new boiler or indeed, fundamental constitutional change, thank you.)

Anyway, surely the most important task in hand is the choice of a new National Anthem for Progressive North Britain. Judging from the progressive antipathy towards coffin dodgers, might I suggest Bloodhound Gang's I Hope You Die? (It's the Bloodhound Gang, so don't watch it if you mind rude.)