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Angels and Demons

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I am two thirds of the way through a harrowing book, Savage Continent by Keith Lowe. I urge you all to read it over the next twelve months, but not until after Christmas. There is no need for you to upset yourselves until then. What Mr. Lowe has managed to do is describe, without fear or favour, the chaotic state of Europe after the Second World War, when all semblance of order had collapsed and men were governed by their raw instincts.

Some of the events described took place in my lifetime - I was born in February 1947. They mirror, but on a continental scale, the events that gave rise to the trial of Radovan Karadzic in the Hague and the hand wringing that followed the Rwanda massacres whose blood soaked ripples are still evident today. The systematic state violence meted out by Germany's Nazi regime against all groups who were not deemed to be pure German, dissolved into a thousand blood lettings between people who saw their identity in terms of what others were not.

Communists slaughtered fascists and fascists slaughtered communists and both slaughtered anyone who was unlucky enough to get in the way. Vengeance was rampant with Jews, Poles and Russians subjecting Germans to the horrors they had endured at German hands. Women were raped repeatedly and indiscriminately and the children that resulted were ostracized along with their mothers and woe betide any female who had fraternized with the 'enemy' during the war, whoever that enemy was.

Exhausted by their Herculean struggle, the allies lacked the strength to instill order. Instead, they tacitly sanctioned one of the biggest mass migrations in human history as ethnic minorities of all stripes were evicted from communities they had lived in for centuries and sent packing, along with whatever meager belongings they could carry, to lands they did not know and whose weary people often did not want them, getting beaten and robbed along the way. I could go on. But read Keith Lowe's book for yourself and weep.

My purpose here is to remind you (and myself) of the demons that lurk within us all and which unscrupulous politicians stir up for their own selfish ends. The benevolent purpose of nationhood was to quell tribalism and bring about sound government as communities interacted over ever greater distances. With globalization we need to move beyond traditional nations in one direction and to strengthen geographic communities in the other. I see Scotland's independence within Europe in that context.

And what of angels? At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a rebellious young man who put morality first, not ethnicity, not religion, not class. Deeds counted, not words. The Samaritan was good, not the priest nor the Levi who both passed the destitute man by. We have every right to be proud of our country and to wish to govern it for ourselves, albeit within a wider European context, but let us resolve to make it an entity worthy of that pride.