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Review: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, by John Lloyd

We are always pleased to feature local writers, and this review of the life and work of John Lloyd will be of particular interest to people who know him from his Anstruther days and have followed his career as foreign correspondent, journalist and editor.

Beginning to be wearied by the constant barrage of discussion about Scottish independence, I was tempted to reach for my old service revolver, go outside and do the decent thing, but I did not. I was fortunate to meet a journalist called John Lloyd at the Scottish Fisheries Museum when he was in Anstruther to visit old friends and we talked about books. That led me to reading some of his books, including The Miners’ Strike 1984­­–5, a balanced and fair account of that turning point in industrial relations; The Power and the Story about the global battle for news and information; and most recently Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot – and the spoiler is in the rest of the title: The Great Mistake of Scottish Independence. The book is thoroughly researched and unlike books by academics it is designed to be read with interest and pleasure.

John Lloyd is a distinguished journalist, foreign correspondent (Moscow Bureau Chief for the Financial Times) and an editor of the New Statesman. What is most significant however is that he was born, raised and educated in the East Neuk. Many people remember his mother, a determined and successful businesswoman who owned Joan’s Gift Shop in Anstruther. She raised her son as a single mother and gave him ambition. At the Waid Academy he was one of a group of four very bright pupils, Robert Fyall and Christopher Rush (both St Monans), Christine Keay (née Harrower from Anstruther) and himself, who formed an intellectual coterie encouraged by an inspirational teacher, Alistair Leslie. Despite his success, John Lloyd is still known by some locals as ‘Joan Fortune’s laddie’.

As a foreign correspondent he is thoroughly versed in European politics and that includes smaller regions desirous of independence like the Catalan and Basque peoples of Spain. Though the beneficiary of a first class local education in Anstruther he has no illusions about the current state of Scottish education. Once a source of pride and the begetter of the lad and lass o’ pairts, alas the glory has departed.

His basic argument is that Scotland since the Union in 1707 and more recently has done not too badly in association with England, with Devolution and a Scottish Parliament as well as MPs in Westminster. In terms of cabinet membership Scots, like Gordon Brown, Robin Cook and Alistair Darling, have had a disproportionate representation. And that’s only in the Labour Party.

In brief John Lloyd feels that Scotland may be worse off if separation takes place. He discusses the great poet of nationalism, Hugh MacDiarmid, and reminds us of the unpleasant fact that he hated England. He reminds us also of the Scottish writers, artists, film makers and historians who have flourished as never before during the last three decades.

In his book there is a brief and affectionate remembrance of growing up in the East Neuk, and in particular of a major poet who taught English at the Waid Academy, Alistair Mackie, who lived in Pittenweem. Mackie was an ardent nationalist.

I confess that I am a remainer – but still conscious of my identity as a Scot and the differences that make up our tribe. I spent the majority of my professional life in England, my children though Scots-born are thoroughly English, as are my grandchildren. But if nationalism involves hatred of the English and a victim mentality against Westminster rule, count me out.

John Lloyd, an immensely experienced observer and recorder of people and events both home and abroad, is well equipped to present a balanced view, free of phobias and the ghastly ‘Wha’s like us’ mentality that at its worst leads to racism and sectarianism.

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