The Visit

We entered the plush room, and I placed the white roses on the table in front of the Consul. I had originally intended to quote MacDermott’s lovely lines about “the little white rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet and breaks the heart”. Instead I found myself babbling about how deeply the Rowan tree was embedded in the national psyche of both Scotland and Russia, where “Ryabinushka” is a much loved theme. Confusion is a permanent state of mind with me.

Better start from the beginning. Today, the Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it’s ever been before, even at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which has been described as the most dangerous moment in history. So, if you’re not petrified, you’re not paying attention – or you are in denial. Probably the latter. It is after all, like silent desperation the permanent human condition. Nobody is worried about our immanent extinction. Like bored teenagers, a shrug of the shoulders and a lethargic “whatever” is the all too common response.

It was in recognition of this unacknowledged fear that impelled Trident Ploughshares activists to write to the Consuls of the nuclear-armed permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations (the P5) in Edinburgh, asking them to please talk with us, and inviting them to a showing of the classic BBC production the War Game (which was banned for 20 years).

The UK Viceroy Mundell (aka Scottish Office), the French, American, and the Chinese consuls did not acknowledge our request, or bother to reply. When we went to their embassies to talk with them anyway, it was to be confronted with a line of amiable but determined polis. It was Nae Pasaran. This was on Monday the 18th of February

Meanwhile, the Russian Consul had replied and kindly invited us to meet and talk with him, which is why Janet Fenton of ICAN, and I found ourselves sitting at a well-spread table talking with Andrei Anatolevich Pritsepev. It was then that I gave him my white roses.

Our conversation was open, honest, and prolonged (over an hour), although it was disconcerting to talk with a portrait of Vladimir Putin looming behind the Consul’s earnest and amiable face. Still, the fact that Donald Trump is an ignorant buffoon does not preclude dialogue with good Americans, so why should we treat honourable Russians any differently?

Andrei fully shared our fears about the extreme danger of the present situation. Any use of any nuclear weapons would be catastrophic, as it would inevitably escalate into the terminal cataclysm. The current American plan for “low-yield” nuclear weapons is fatal because it makes them more usable, and envisages the unthinkable.

Janet talked in detail about the TPNW (Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons) signed by 122 states last July in the UN. And we drew attention to Article VI of this, which invited non-signatories to participate in deliberations as observers. The Consul appreciated the vital importance of this document, and offered to participate in debates planned for the future.

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to escape” Stephen Dedalus’ words from Joyce’s Ulysses kept coming into my head when Andrei talked about the Russian perspective of political realites. Repeated invasions from the West have characterized Russian history (Sweden, Poland, Napoleon, Hitler). NATO’s relentless ever advancing Eastern front and the fear that this produces, is in line with this pattern.

As we used to say in the Latin trade, “Quidquid delirent reges, plectuntur Achivi” – whatever madness drives the Kings, it’s the ordinary folk who get the beatings”. People feel helpless before the power of their governments, because they know they are powerless. it is only by person to person contact that people will find empowerment to build a future

The example of the fifteen year old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and the incredible spread of the extermination rebellion is an inspiring model for us all. There is a reason to be cheerful, and we just might have a future after all.

James Connolly vividly presents the hellish alternative:

“What lover of humanity can view with anything but horror the prospect of this ruthless destruction of human life. Yet this is war: war for which all the jingoes are howling, war to which all the hopes of the world are being sacrificed, war to which a mad ruling class would plunge a mad world.”

Anti-Russian attitudes have a long tradition in British politics, going back to a popular song supporting the sending of a British fleet to fight Russia in 1878. The chorus ran: ‘We don’t want to fight, yet by Jingo! if we do, We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too’. This is the origin of the word “jingoism”.

During the Soviet period this prejudice was enhanced by the additional; charge of godless atheism, which tops anything else. These were unprincipled inhuman monster capable of every depravity. Never mind that it was Christian Americans, not the godless Russians, who used the atom bomb on other human beings.

Scotland had a different relationship with Russia. From the Middle Ages to the twentieth century a multitude of Scots flocked to the most immense country history has known. One need only recall the names of Peter the Great’s principal advisor, General Patrick Gordon of Auchleucheries, or Samuel Greig of Inverkeithing, full admiral, reformer of Russia’s Baltic Fleet (father of the Modern Russian Navy, Prince Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, commander-in-chief in the Napoleonic wars, etc.

An independent Scotland can surely recreate something of this positive and fruitful relationship with Russia, a magnificent country which shares, (in the lovely expression of Mikhail Gorbachev) “nash obshschii Yevropeuskii dom” – our common European home.


Comments (13)

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  1. Bill Middleton says:

    Nice one Brian Quail, I too think we dwell too much on the American and Brittish jingoism against Russia. It may be a ‘sleeping bear’ to some people but what an opportubity to open it up to friendly relations and travel for the rest of us, who think of it as an opportunity. Politics aside, we should be reaching out to people and countries on our doorstep.

    1. Joe Killman says:

      Right on Bill. I’ve met several Russians while working overseas. All spoke English at least fairly well, no pretentions. Nice people.

  2. Sandy Thomson says:

    I wish more people could free themselves from unthinking negativity towards Russia. This is one of the great contributors to our shared European culture – Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Rachmaninov – the list goes on and on. But the Western arms industry needs a bad guy, and no-one else fits the bill so well.

  3. Chris Connolly says:

    You’ve let Stalin off pretty lightly there, Brian. Have you read “Growing up in The Gorbals” by Ralph Glasser? His best friend’s family emigrated to the Soviet Union expecting to find a Workers’ Paradise and were never seen or heard from again. Letters were returned “Communication Not Allowed.” By the 1950s and 60s only the most diehard Tankies still supported the USSR, because people who know the difference between fact and propaganda believed those stories about political executions, disappearances and dissidents being sent to Gulags in Siberia.

    Obviously, the USSR wasn’t the only repressive totalitarian country in the world and it’s certainly not the only one of the Nuclear Brotherhood to have an appalling human rights record, but criticism of the Russian Government and authorities no more makes someone anti-Russian than a dislike of the Israeli Government amounts to anti-Semitism.

    Other than that, I agree with you. Get those nuclear weapons out of Scotland asap.

  4. Donald McGregor says:

    Thanks Brian – for this and for everything you are doing.

  5. Alistair Taylor says:

    Well said, and done, Brian.
    What the world needs is peaceful cooperation.
    The very idea of nations pointing nuclear weapons at each other is lunacy.
    Scotland can be a peaceful, progressive pioneer. Renewable energy, no nuclear weapons nor warmongering, and a force for good.
    We either fully wake up, or we perish.

  6. Chris Ballance says:

    Brian, I don’t believe you that confusion is a perpetual state of mind. Only someone with absolute clarity as to the moral imperative of peace activism could achieve as much as you, or be as brave as you. Thank you.

  7. Richard Easson says:


    1. Helen Pringle says:

      Also, sorry to be pedantic, but: delirant.

    2. Jim Bennett says:

      MacDermott? Who he???

  8. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    A genuinely sincere piece (peace??)

    Well done, Mr Quail.

  9. Barry Graham says:

    I think you mean MacDiarmid.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    At least after video game Call of Duty many more people now know that the Allied victory in World War 2 hinged on Soviet victory at Stalingrad, at terrible cost.

    Backwards in time, one of the most chilling games I played was Theatre Europe, which introduced me to Fire-Plan Warm Puppy, the code for NATO’s unrestricted nuclear attack on the Warsaw Pact:

    Studying the politics of the Soviet Union briefly during Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure as general secretary of their Communist Party, we were recommended the book Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams by David Shipler (from 1983, not the updated edition which I haven’t read). I cannot remember much detail, but it did have the (intended, I assume) effect of humanizing the Russian people and a broader sense of living in that sphere of influence.

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