August catch-up: Salmond’s big day, Brutalism and Blair in Kazakhstan

An idiosyncratic miscellany collated by our chief political browser
  • @johnrentoul

1. As Michael Moran said, this is my kind of protester. A happy bank holiday to all our English, Welsh and Northern Irish readers.

2. For Scottish readers, though, it is not a bank holiday, but this is still your kind of protester. For today is the day of the second big TV debate on independence. BBC1 in Scotland, BBC2 in the rest of the country, from 8.30 until 10. Here’s a reminder of the kind of trouble Alex Salmond got into last time:

Alistair Darling, Better Together: “It’s important that people know that their money will buy and what their savings are worth. Now you said you want a currency union after, if we vote for independence which seems to me a bit like getting a divorce and keeping the same joint bank account. If you do that, you’ve got to get agreement and other side are saying no, so it won’t happen. What’s plan B?”

Salmond: “Well, we’ll keep the pound, Alistair, because it’s our pound as well as England’s pound.” ...

Darling: “That leaves us, if you don’t get a currency union, with one option which you have said in the past you’ll contemplate and that’s using sterling like Panama or Ecuador uses the dollar. We can use the rouble, we can use the yen, we can use the dollar, but you don’t have a central bank, the Bank of England, which would then be in a foreign country which would be setting our interest rates. How can a financial services industry like RBS or Standard Life exist if there was no central bank standing behind it? You can’t seriously be saying this.”

Salmond: “I don’t think talking about the financial market is your strongest suit, Alistair, given what happened to the financial markets when you were Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

And here is advice from professional debate-preppers about what to do this time, courtesy of yesterday’s Independent on Sunday.

3. I have upset the Brutalists. I was on BBC Radio 4 PM programme on Saturday (starting at 16’30”) defending my view of Preston Bus Station against John Wilson, who wants to preserve it. When asked what my qualifications as an architecture critic were, I said, “Well, I’ve got eyes.”


Anyway, it turns out (thanks to Nick Reid) that Brutalism wasn’t originally named because of what I think of it, but from béton brut, the name for unfinished concrete, bearing the marks of the planks in which it set. Which is not actually a technique used in Preston Bus Station, but it is still horrible and so is béton brut.

4. Much excitement in the Blair-hating world of the London media and culturati about the former Prime Minister’s advice to President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. Congratulations to my former colleague Robert Mendick on the scoop, but allow me gently to draw your attention to the third paragraph from the end, which reports that Tony Blair does not make any money for himself from Kazakhstan. It goes to pay his team of advisers to the government there. If anyone is sure they are making things worse for the Kazakhs, by all means mount the high horse of liberal sanctimony.

It is also worth noticing, and I say this even more gently, that all those indignant about Blair speaking to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the president of Egypt, were silent when Reprieve, an organisation that does good work, asked Blair to intercede with Sisi on behalf of Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish teenager in jail in Cairo.

5. Penultimately, thanks to Tom Freeman for this:

“My ignorance of the triple jump knows no bounds.”

6. Finally, from Emo Phillips via Xlibris1:

“I like to play chess with bald men in the park, although it’s hard to find 32 of them.”