Felix Martin, “http://felixmartin.org/about-felix-martin/” is a macroeconomics and bond investor. He was educated in the UK, Italy, and the US, where he was a Fulbright scholar. He has degrees in the classics, international relations, and economics. He is a lifelong friend of Rory Stewart who, when asked to comment on what motivated Rory to pursue the unconventional, thematically grand, and invariably risky pursuits he was famed for said; “Rory’s role models aren’t from this century. He’s out of kilter with the modern world.”
Another quote from a friend; ” Rory’s interest in hero figures stems back to a childhood that’s absurdly precocious and doesn’t seem quite real. His entire life has the feel of an Edwardian adventure novel”.
About Rory Stewart:
Rory Stewart was born in Hong Kong in 1973. His early years were spent in Malaysia where he inherited his father’s love for the rain forest, learning lessons in jungle survival from him and the local Dayak tribesmen whom his father had worked with during the counter insurgency campaign.
Rory’s father, Brian Stewart, was an officer in the Tyneside Scottish (the Black Watch) regiment. After WW2 he became actively involved in counter-insurgency in the British colony of Malaya. Highly intelligent and almost dialect perfect in seven Asian languages he progressed into the diplomatic service. Rory’s mother, Sally was an economist and academic. A bit of an adventurist in her own right she drove herself from London to Malaysia to take up a post with the Malay University.
With such a heritage it was no surprise that Rory was a prodigy who displayed a remarkable intellect, which his parents were keen to develop. At the age of six he could recite the epic saga, (all 560 lines), “Horatius”, (a one-eyed Roman hero who single-handedly turned back the invading Etruscan).
He was never a child in the real sense of the word, being comfortable in the company of adults whom he would charm with his knowledge of poetry and the art’s. From birth to his early adulthood his life was spent in museums, embassies, lectures, universities. An added gift was his ability to listen and learn.
Small and wiry, Rory inherited his father’s physical toughness and excelled in boxing, fencing and trekking. He also embraced his family mantra of; Honour, service, self discipline, hard work and stoicism.
Rory entered Eton, (England’s most exclusive secondary school). By that time he had read the entire works of, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and T.S. Elliot. He went on to read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky before the age of 15. Sir Eric Anderson a tutor of note said, “He’s one of the most remarkable boys I’ve taught”. Invited to join Eton’s prestigious Essay Society, he wrote and delivered a comprehensive paper on the, “warrior hero”.
Rory also honed his persuasive skills and soon developed an ability to ingratiate himself to the most influential people in any company. On the occasion the School’s top students were invited to dine with Prince Charles, Stewart so charmed him that he wound up becoming the tutor to his sons, William and Harry, for a summer at Balmoral, the royal retreat in Scotland.
In the gap year after Eton, (before enrolling at Oxford) Rory spent time with the Black Watch regiment in which his father and grandfather had served. At Oxford he indulged in boisterous behavior at Balliol College. He was a leading member of the, “Piers Gaveston Society”, the notorious social club known for secret parties and skimpy dress code.
On completion of his studies at Oxford, Rory was head-hunted by the British Foreign Office. Not long with the agency he was fast-tracked and employed for two years, in London working on Japanese economics. In the summer of 1997, in recognition of his intimate knowledge of the area, he was promoted and transferred to Jakarta, a move that coincided with the, Asian economic crisis of that year. Rory predicted the rupiah would fall dramatically and it did, bringing with it public disorder and the removal of President Suharto. Rory excelled in the crisis spending most of his time developing a dialogue with the local population gathering valuable information which proved to be really useful to the British Embassy.
Expanding upon knowledge gained Rory soon became well acquainted with all the major power players in Jakarta, which helped both professionally and socially. It was a lifestyle full of fashion models, film stars and other socialites and Rory revelled in it. He developed a playboy lifestyle, in fitting with his top of the range BMW and sartorial tailored white linen suits. The elaborate dinner parties where the dress code was Mandarin-collared jackets and traditional Javanese sarongs for the ladies, were the place to be seen in the new society. Critics thought he was patronizing and a throwback to the days of Colonialism. Contrasting the lifestyle Rory loved trekking, (a trait inherited from his father) and he often spent time away from his duties, thriving on the rush of adrenalin exploring wild, remote and hazardous. Fear did not feature in his personality.
Rory returned to Scotland and spent many happy months exploring the beautiful highlands, walking many miles enjoying the solitude of thought. The stimulus drove him to the decision to walk around the entire world. His family thought he must be quite mad abandoning a blossoming career with the, Diplomatic Service at age 27y to become a hill walker. This was not the party loving Rory they were so well acquainted.
Joe Spence, Stewart’s mentoring teacher at Eton, the man who urged young Rory to read Carlyle’s classic lectures on heroes, considers the decision to walk philosophically. “A hero must have an element of danger,” he says. “And a hero is a person who works outside the expected parameters of governments and institutions. Rory is very respectful of those of us who work within systems, but he needs to work alone. When he went on that walk, he walked out of all institutions.”
Taking the advice of his father Rory decided to walk the world in chunks. Firstly, Central Asia. Then Europe. Then the Americas. In August 2000 he, (with a limited knowledge of Farsi) started a journey setting out on foot from the Turkish-Iranian border, heading east towards Afghanistan. His fathers extensive diplomatic contacts ensured there would be safe passage across Iran, The Iranian secret service authorities even assigned an experienced hill walker to him for the duration of the trek. His 3 months of backpacking was halted by the Iranian authorities who decided his presence was no longer welcomed in Iran and he was told to curtail his walk and leave the country.
The Taliban then refused him entry to Afghanistan and Pakistani authorities barred him from Baluchistan. Rory would not be denied his mission and restarted his trek in the Punjab. A determined Rory, “went native” blending totally with the locals so that he would be able to make progress undetected by the authorities. His journey took him across Pakistan and into India. He began to read Buddhist and Hindu texts and after more than a year his personality started to change. He matured losing the aggression of youth. Having crossed India Rory made his way to Nepal. In Nepal his health deteriorated and he began to doubt the wisdom of his journey. He had walked 5000 miles!! Then came the shocking news that the USA and UK had invaded Afghanistan and had cleared out the Taliban. He would now be able to walk across Afghanistan.
Using his many diplomatic service contacts Rory engineered a meeting with a senior member of the new Afghan government. In the course of the meeting the official intimated Rory was quite mad to contemplate a walk, in the middle of winter from Herat to Kabul through the mountainous snowbound Hindu Kush. There was the added problem of the on-going war in the very area through which he intended to trek. “You will surely die. Rory explained that the purpose of his journey was to retrace the Afghan hero, Babur’s winter journey of 1504 from Herat east to Kabul. If you must go it will be arranged”, said the official.
Rory, (fully attired as a native and fluent in the local language) set off on his trek in the middle of January, accompanied by a three man bodyguard. In the course of his journey he met with thieves, vagabonds, warlords, goatherds, jihads and smugglers. He learned quickly that the only way to deal with any success with the Afghan was to persuade them of your invincibility through a display of bravado and offhandedness which was usually met with humility on the part of the native.
On one occasion towards the end of his trek he was confronted by an armed gang, with whom he remonstrated over a minor matter. The leader of the group punched him in the face. Although hurt Rory did not flinch, and simply asked that the man return his walking stick since it had value to him. The stick was returned. Rory, (with his little band) went on his way. On another an armed group threatened to shoot him. His response was, “if you must you must”. They let him go.
His adventures later took him to the ancient Islamic tower the, “Minaret of Jam” which standing about 230 ft. was, isolated and surrounded on all sides by high cliffs. Local history had the place as being the fabled, “Turquoise Mountain”, seat of the last great Afghan dynasty. But this had never been confirmed.
Where archaeologists had failed Rory succeeded. He happened across a series of half filled trenches, littered with broken items of pottery and beautiful but badly damaged pieces of porcelain. Upon further investigation he discovered that locals had been digging up and taking away rare pieces of Terra-cotta, marble friezes, and ivory for sale to smugglers. Local tribesmen had succeeded where the experts had failed and had uncovered an ancient city which they stripped and destroyed in a few short weeks. Rory found the Afghan society difficult to comprehend. Violence and ill treatment of women was commonplace but he reasoned they seemed at ease within it. Rory went home to Scotland. He didn’t feel like walking any more. It was the latter part of 2002.
At the beginning of 2003 news was passed to Rory that the, “The Black Watch” His family regiment, would, (in March 2003) spearhead an allied attack on Basra, (the major port in the south of Iraq). Recent experiences in Afghanistan, (where he had observed, at first hand the happiness of locals at the removal of the Taliban) further strengthened his strongly held belief that the West had an obligation to intervene in Iraq and bring about the removal of the tyrant that was Sadam Hussein.
In Iraq, (following the defeat of Iraq) the USA & UK created the, “Coalition Provisional Authority” a civil service staffed and led organisation. Rory, by now back with the diplomatic service was appointed to the post of Deputy Governor, first in Amara then Nasiriyah in the south of Iraq. He took up his new duties in September 2003 with a primary mission to create, (before the end of 2003) a fully functioning government in the province.
Rory prepared for his task with meticulous care, convening extensive meetings, with well connected Iraqi ex-pats in London. An avid reader, he studied many Iraqi historical documents, books and journals. His Scottish heritage provided him with an understanding of the make up of the Iraqi nation and he became aware of the paramount place the, “clan” structure system held in the Iraqi society. There were 21 such clans in the areas of responsibility delegated to Rory and he knew the fine details of each intimately.
Rory achieved limited success in provinces still bogged down in the on-going aftermath of the war. He brokered an inter-clan peace agreement in the aftermath of the murder of the local police chief in Maysan. He introduced, (with limited success) a jobs program in Nasiriyah. But, as proved to be the case throughout Iraq the mission soon got caught up in tribal warfare and anti coalition protests. Violence very quickly escalated and the coalition headquarters in Nasiriyah had to withstand a siege, (lasting 3 days)in the course of which Islamist terrorists fired over 250 mortar shells and rockets into the compound. The military eventually regained control but the mission was aborted. The diplomats left Iraq.
Asked to provide a pen picture of Rory, his boss, Sir Hilary Synnott, “Regional Coordinator of Southern Iraq said, “He had zeal, and a 19th-century style. He’d wear these tailored suits and cuff links when everyone else was dressing down. The Iraqis loved it, felt it showed them respect.”
A close working colleague, Charlotte Morris said of him, “No one else had near his level of understanding. He got all of it from reading books and talking to sheiks and other people. As things got worse, people made excuses not to go out to talk to people. Rory never did that”.
The experience left Stewart feeling decidedly pessimistic about what foreigners could achieve in Iraq and the conclusion that the U.S. and Britain should pull their troops out of Iraq without further delay.
Some time later, he was appointed to a senior post in Harvard University. In a, (2 hour) lecture, (without notes) to students, on the lessons to be learned from the Iraq war he recited the entire history of Iraq, from the biblical period, to the present day, naming personalities, important historical events, the clan system, political parties and allegiances, influential religious ayatollahs and terrorist leaders and factions together with their minor but important differences. He also explained the intricacies of, “Sharia law”, (based on a strict interpretation of the Koran) which governed Iraqis in the area. He went on to advise that in any election the many various groups, (all with their own fully armed militias and differing perspectives) would be certain of gaining 90% of the vote.
In a question and answer session afterwards a student complained, “The picture you have just painted is over complicated”. In response Rory said; “the reality is that this situation is unbelievably complicated and I have only just provided you with a brief analysis of 3 of the main political parties.” He went on to say; “there were 54 political parties in my provinces, and I can, if you wish extend the lecture to include the other 51 parties.” A student piped up, “But you’re paralysing us.” Rory replied, “I want to paralyse you.” “I want you to understand why you cannot go into Iraq with a list of six easy points about how to build a democratic society.”
Rory wrote a book, “The Places in Between” about his walk across Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Afghanistan and another book about his time in Iraq, “The Prince of the Marshes.”
In 2005 there was growing concern about the wanton destruction of Afghanistan’s ancient artefacts, relics and antiquities. Rory’s response was to create a charity the, “Turquoise Mountain Foundation”. By this time he had rekindled his friendship with Prince Charles who joined with Rory gathering finance and friends to the cause. Soon after Rory returned to Kabul with the mission to create jobs and to protect and preserve the culture of the nation.
On arrival in Kabul Rory found a nation stripped of it’s culture, artistes and craftsmen who had deserted the country in favour of safer places. A visit to a much bombed and looted National Museum revealed the loss of about 70% of it’s relics and the pathetic state of the remaining collection. Observing the work of the few curators he despaired witnessing them attempting to restore ancient stone statues with glue.
Determined not to waste precious time assessing needs, preparing extensive and complicated plans bringing about improvements Rory approached one of the most powerful and influential men in Kabul. Gaining his support was the breakthrough he needed.
The, old city of Kabul, (Murad Khane) had from the early 1700’s been a prosperous trading area, a Key crossroads on the Silk Route, merchants and top officials lived there amid beautiful gardens and fabulous complexes. Time had not been kind however and it was now a warren of mud buildings, without plumbing, sewage or electricity. Residents defecated and relieved themselves in the open. The smell of hashish was overpowering and many decades of accumulated garbage had distorted passageways to a depth of about two meters. But where others viewed the area as a slum, Rory saw past the disaster and envisaged a beautiful Islamic city. Successful restoration returning the city to it’s former glory, would have immediate, lasting and far-reaching impact, for Afghanistan and, quite possibly, glory for Stewart himself.
He decided to restore the old town, but this would be a major undertaking and risky, since the area was scheduled to be levelled to the ground. Moving fast he garnered additional financial support using his, by now extensive circle of contacts in the media. Ever the hero he set about the task with gusto. He hired a team of locals and put them to work clearing rubbish from the passageways, (nearly 3000 tons removed). This done he hired builders, electricians, plumbers and a wealth of other craftsmen and repaired, rebuilt many homes. In tandem with the foregoing he established a school employing elderly but competent master craftsmen, teaching traditional Afghan woodworking, calligraphy, and pottery to students who in turn helped with restoration work. Over time parts of the old town were returned to their former splendour. Beautiful woodwork emerged, with intricate plasterwork and stained glass giving reminder of the many influences.
Undeterred by the harshness of winter Rory, slightly built and a bit bow-legged, was always on the go moving freely around in knee deep snow showing boundless energy, leading the varied teams of artisans in their work. In his mind he became as one with his hero, Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and the founder of the great Mogul Empire, who at age 22 had made the same journey as Rory, in the winter of 1504. In his book about his journey Rory wrote, ” Although ruthless in combat, Babur loved poetry, wine, music, and flowers, and he created great Mogul gardens across his empire to celebrate these pleasures.” Babur is buried in Kabul.
In Kabul, reflecting his acquired status Rory, took up residence in a 19th-century royal fort and restored it, at no little expense to it’s former grandeur. The Turquoise Mountain Foundation school in which calligraphy, woodworking, and pottery is taught is located on-site together with offices for the architects and engineers working on the Old City restoration. Each day 50 students attend classes reconnecting to a heritage brought to it’s knees by 30 years of conflict.
Rory, openly critical of western style post conflict development agencies, has been called to defend his work against his critics insisting that TMF is different. He maintains that working with locals improving their environment, over an extended period of time, ( much as the church missionaries did in times past) will provide work in the community and in consequence raise the standard of living. There is a risk that the £3 million investment will fail and all will be lost. Against this there is the certainty that all will be lost if there is no investment.
He holds a strong belief in the colonial system of government stating, “Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative,” but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing”. A colonial officer, he said, “learned the local language, spent an entire career in one place, and answered to both a strict overseer back home and a potentially mutinous population in country. Things got done.”
Throughout the duration of the project Rory, “walked the talk” always distinctly dressed usually wearing a khaki coloured shortened trench-coat and similar trousers topped off with a brilliant white shirt, jade cufflinks and highland brogue shoes. Carrying himself erectly, exuding pleasantry his conduct was very much akin to that of an old style colonial lord. In stark contrast Rory always had to hand his, cell phone, BlackBerry and laptop, constantly making and receiving calls, checking his emails and/or compiling long philosophical essays for some major media client.
Ever in demand Rory clocked up many air-miles flying back and forth to London and the USA, meeting with British and USA government ministers and attending interviews with major media outlets,raising the profile of the foundation. Topping off the foregoing he also wrote many extensive articles covering just about every country in Central Asia. His relationship with Prince Charles was further cemented at the time he and the Prince completed a very successful fund raising tour of middle east countries. Rory was a busy man
In the USA and UK, Rory had achieved the hero status he desired. At the tender age of 29, he had walked 600 miles, alone across Afghanistan, in the midst of the United States invasion and had written a best seller about it, “The Places in Between”, a book the, “New York Times” called, “a flat-out masterpiece.” Soon after that he served as deputy governor of two provinces in southern Iraq and wrote a second critically acclaimed book, “The Prince of the Marshes”. Both books provide a ground-up perspective that’s been mostly missing from the political debate over Iraq and Afghanistan, and ever since their publication, everyone from British politicians to television news programs in the United States has been clamouring for his opinions and analysis.
In the course of 2006 TMF expanded from 1 to 350 employees. Rory gained the backing of President Karzai and through him established the, “Educational Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture”. With the expansion came vastly increased financial resources, mainly from the USA government. In one year the foundation spent about £15 million on educational training, completing restoration of 60 houses.
Professor Noah Coburn, an eminent American anthropologist volunteered to work, (in 2006) in war-torn Afghanistan, for the Foundation. His wife, Shoshana, agreed to go with him. She promised her parents that she would stay for no more than nine months. Rory, nicknamed, “FLORENCE of ARABIA” because of his adventures in desert countries, worked alongside Shoshana for two years. Within months of her arrival, Shoshana, 31, was asked, by Rory, to be the chief executive of the Foundation. She accepted and went on to become its Managing Director. Little did Professor Coburn know, however, that the couple’s marriage would founder and that his wife would end up being charmed by Rory. “Noah was absolutely devastated when his marriage broke down, He loved Shoshana very dearly.” Shoshana separated from Professor Coburn in 2009. They divorced in 2010, the same year that Rory left Harvard for Britain.
In 2008 Rory was appointed to the role of Professor at Harvard University in January 2009. where, as a professor of human rights he had responsibility for teaching and running an academic faculty as the Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy. He insisted on retaining the role of Executive Chairman of the Foundation and to this end Harvard fully supported this.
In the Autumn of 2010, Shoshana, (divorced from Professor Coburn), moved to London to live with Rory, who was by then a Conservative Party MP. A mutual friend insisted that their romantic relationship did not begin until Shoshana had separated from her husband. Shoshana, using her maiden name, Clark, took up studying for an MBA at the London School of Business & Finance. She retained her role, (part-time) with the Foundation.
In 2010 Rory, one of a group of high-flyers brought in by David Cameron to “modernize” the Tories, bypassing the usual route up from grass roots level was selected as the Conservative candidate for Penrith, which he duly won for the party at the general election.
Rory, perhaps thinking he was back in Afghanistan, (not Penrith) enraged his constituents by saying at interview, “Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine and that sort of thing.” In full flow he went on, “I have a constituency with 52,000 people and a million sheep. I was in one village where a local kid was run over by a tractor. They took him to Carlisle but they couldn’t be bothered to wait at the hospital. So they put him in a darkened room for two weeks, then said he was fine. But I’m not so sure he was.” Derek Daley, 76, whose son Noel died after his motorbike collided with a tractor, said: “I take great umbrage at what Mr Stewart has said. It is extremely distasteful.” Another constituent Don Scaife, 68, of Penrith, said of Rory, “He seems out of touch with the people here.”
February 2014: Rory’s Hadrian’s Wall hand-holding Stunt
Speaking in a House of Commons debate on Scotland’s place in the UK, Rory said: “It cannot be simply economics. “If a relationship is going wrong, if a marriage is going wrong, the answer cannot simply be to say ‘you can’t afford to break up because you are going to lose the house. The answer has to be only one thing, which is ‘I love you.” What we need is the human expression and on 19 July this year I’m hoping that 100,000 people will gather along that old, foreign, Roman wall – English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, holding hands, linking arms across that border. Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind in the name of love.”
30 March 2014: Rory Stewart wants the Scots and English to join hands over Hadrian’s Wall
Britain’s most extraordinary MP is half Scottish, half English. You sense his head is south of the border but his heart has always been in the Highlands. He was, after all, an officer in the Black Watch, he wears a kilt a lot of the time and even plays the bagpipes. His equally extraordinary father, Brian, retired now to the family seat in Perthshire after a lifetime of adventures himself, “now spends his whole time eating haggis as a deliberate affront to his guests”, according to his son.
He hates the thought of Scotland voting for independence at the referendum later this year, too. He won’t have a vote himself because he doesn’t live there. His big decision would come afterwards, if his countrymen and women vote yes. “Scottish independence would mean I would have to decide either to be an immigrant with a life outside my own country, or make the more romantic choice of returning to Scotland,” he says. “I really resent the idea of having to choose.” He would rather, much rather, be British.
He reckons there was essentially little difference between Scotland and England before the Romans came. Instead, people lived in what he calls a Middle-land that stretched from the Humber to the Tyne and beyond, a place of shifting kingdoms but a common culture. Until the Romans arrived.
Then,” he says, “Hadrian literally drew a line on the map – created this pernicious scar across the landscape – and in doing so set up, in a way he could never have imagined, problems that would last 1,600 years.” In a last-minute attempt to repair the damage of history he’s hoping to get 100,000 people to link arms across the wall in July because, he says, the argument is about love not economics. We can’t talk about his demonstration, though, because it “might put the BBC in a difficult position,” which is strange, because it seems to me the idea behind his films is a not-very-thinly disguised argument for a “no” vote.
He acknowledges as much. “I think I probably began filming feeling that what the programme would discover was that there was a strong sense of British identity and that there would be no difference either side of the border. But I found that Scottishness and Englishness are actually strong, instinctive things, whatever the historical reasons. Even the accent changes – just two inches across the border.”
Was that a disappointment?
“Yes, I think it was; in personal terms, definitely. Because I thought I could undermine the whole idea of splitting by emphasising these multiple historical identities, resurrecting the old kingdom of Cumbria, or Northumbria, and making people see they have a common heritage. What was sad for me was that people didn’t feel that common heritage and that Hadrian had done his job too well”.
He thinks Britain has an identity crisis, a democracy that doesn’t work, and a power vacuum. “The politicians think the journalists have power, the journalists think bankers have power, bankers think lawyers have power. The truth is nobody has power.” He says that he at least is connected to those who vote for him. His mission, he says, is nothing less than “to imagine a more serious British civilisation. To raise our sense of ourselves.”
If the referendum doesn’t go his way, he may have unwittingly solved the biggest conundrum of a “yes” vote– what to call the rest of the UK if Scotland leaves. The Romans, he says, called the southern part of the country “Britannia Superior”, and the land to the north “Britannia Inferior”. That would teach them.
13 April 2014 BBC Border Series Designed to ‘let Tory build a case for a No vote’
The BBC has been accused of being “naive” and “insensitive” (the word missing is biased) for allowing Penrith and Cumbria Tory MP Rory Stewart ( who is planning a mass campaign to save the Union) presenting two hour-long programmes about the border between Scotland and England.
In his BBC2 documentary Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland, (broadcast over the first two weeks of April) the MP described the English and Scottish nations as artificial constructs, calling the border between them a “pernicious scar, first inflicted by the Romans 2,000 years ago”.
He concluded the series by stating that until September’s independence referendum it is unclear whether an international state boundary will return, “whether the Romans will win through — that harsh artificial line, that border that divided nations and pitted them against each other”. As a supporter of the UK, Stewart has called for people to hold hands along Hadrian’s Wall to persuade Scotland to vote against independence.
4 July 2014: Cumbrian MP’s Mass Independence Protest Cancelled
The highly publicised “Hands Across the Border” campaign organised by Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, hoping to get 100,000 people to hold hands across the England-Scotland border in a protest against Scottish independence has folded due to a lack of interest.
The symbolic gesture designed to: “show the love that exists between the four nations of the union” – was backed by David Cameron – (but ridiculed by the pro-independence movement in Scotland) was scheduled to take place on 19 July ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in September. Ever the optimist Rory said: “I am determined that Hands Across the Border will go ahead in some form or other.”
30 July 2014: Rory’s Union Cairn at Gretna
Recovering from the setback Rory tried a new tactic, “Build an Across the Border Friendship Cairn”. The initial idea was to encourage 800,000 people to bring a stone to the site near the border and help build a cairn.
The plan failed and Rory was forced to fork out £10K purchasing stones (including delivery) from a local builder. But he had no workforce (despite extensive free media coverage) and the huge pile of stones gathered dust at the site.
Salvation came in the form of a team of JCB drivers provided by boss Anthony Bamford (elevated to the Lords by Cameron after the referendum) whose donations to the Tory Party exceed £5m and include private jet travel and helicopter rides. The result was an impressive 8 foot tall cairn completed in 5 days.
Rory had his tail up and a few days before the referendum he arranged a series of media (BBC television) and press opportunities (roping in a hotch-potch of under exposed media friends) designed to give the impression to the public that the cairn had been built through the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the World.
4 September 2014: Rory’s Cairn in Danger of Collapse Due to Lack of Interest
In late August 2014, I spent an afternoon in Gretna. For centuries, the border town was a haven for eloping English couples taking advantage of Scottish law to legally wed at 14 (for boys) and 12 (for girls) without parental consent. In a field just behind the shopping centre there was a small pile of rocks. Some were coloured in red, white, and blue — the shades of the union flag — and carried slogans like “Stay Together” and “Never Apart.” Passers-by were invited to stop a while and add a stone to the pile.
This was the “Auld Acquaintance Cairn,” the brainchild of Rory Stewart, a Conservative member of parliament on the English side of the border. It was meant to symbolize the connections between the different parts of the United Kingdom. Stewart had said he hoped it would reach nine feet tall. But it was barely at three feet with less than three weeks to polling day. In the half an hour I spent at the cairn, nobody else stopped by.
The message was clear: The No side might be the media favourite to stumble across the finish line first in the coming referendum, but it had singularly failed to make an emotional case for retention of a United Kingdom. Nationalists had won the argument that Scotland could be a separate state. The question now was whether they would be able to persuade their fellow Scots that it should be. If they could, what seemed unimaginable just a few months before would become a reality.
6 September 2014: The Auld Acquaintance Cairn
On the Scottish bank of the River Sark, bang on the 500-year-old border between England and Scotland, a pile of stones is rising. Its structure, comprising inner and outer circular walls connected by a walkway, recalls a sort of Bronze Age chambered cairn. Yet this one, raised stone by stone by thousands of patriotic volunteers, is barely two months old. Named The Auld Acquaintance, it is the brain-child of a charismatic local politician, Rory Stewart. A native Scot, the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders was frustrated by the bloodless, pocket-book nature of the unionist campaign in Scotland’s independence referendum, due on September 18th and said:
“In the end this is for me not about economics. It’s about a long-term relationship. The union has existed for 300 years and we’d like it to last another 300 years. Relationships are about respect, commitment and love and unless England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland love each other then we don’t have a country. The cross-party unionist campaign, “Better Together,” has made its case almost entirely on desiccated economic arguments, concerning the risks to Scotland’s currency, state pensions and jobs that independence would entail. They may be sufficient to deter Scots from voting to leave this time—though the latest polls suggest the contest is getting awfully tight. Yet if, as an influential poll has suggested, most Scots could be swayed by whichever side, unionist or secessionist, could make them £500 a year better off, that is a paltry argument for the prolongation of the most successful union of nations in history, which leaves it vulnerable to the slightest shift in economic fortune.”
There is no other organised outlet for such sentiment. Britons living outside Scotland—including some 800,000 native Scots—have no vote in the referendum. And Better Together has created no comparable rallying-point. Remarkably, Mr Stewart’s pile of rocks is perhaps the only feature of the Scottish referendum campaign that starkly suggests it has any more import than a routine general election.
It is surprising, therefore, how little interest it has attracted from other politicians. The cairn has been visited by celebrities and senior soldiers—including the actress Joanna Lumley, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the former Scottish boss of British special forces, Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb—but by no cabinet ministers. Better Together’s Labour Party leaders have refused to endorse it, or even provide Mr Stewart with their mailing-lists.
Two weeks from the referendum vote, the cairn is complete (well done to Bamford’s JCB workers)—built to a height of nine feet, with some 230 tonnes of rock. In order to accommodate more, Mr Stewart is now commissioning dry-stone wallers to enlarge the structure. (not entirely accurate, planning permission had not been granted and the Health & Safety Executive and Local government insisted on major structural improvements or it would be pulled down)
08 September 2014: Tens of thousands of people have come from around the world to show their support for Scotland remaining in the UK.
The Hands Across the Border’s cairn reached completion almost two weeks ahead of schedule. From Aberystwyth to Australia, people have travelled to place their stones and messages at the site at Gretna ahead of the independence referendum on September 18. Rory Stewart, the creator of the project and MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “I’m overwhelmed. It’s difficult because we’re trying to work out what to build next. It’s a really good problem to have, but it’s a challenge. I’d much rather have this problem than the opposite one.”
Hands Across the Border is now developing the project so people can continue to come and add to the landmark, which is already 33ft in diameter and 9ft high. It has been filled with more than 300 tonnes of stone brought by members of the public or donated by quarries either side of the border. Stewart added: “In a debate which has been dominated by finance and economics, it represents an opportunity for the silent majority who care deeply about the Union and Scotland’s place in it to show that there is more that unites us than divides us.”
8 September 2014; Showdown in Scotland – Public Opinion is Shocking the Political Establishment – Shifting in Favour of a Break From the United Kingdom.
All of a sudden, Scotland got very interesting. That Scots would reject independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept 18 has been conventional wisdom from Washington to Westminster for practically every day of a two-year-long campaign on the matter. But not any more.
On the evening of Sept 1, the Scottish Twittersphere, febrile at the best of times, went into meltdown. A fresh poll had just been released showing the “No” camp just six points ahead of the “Yes” side. The same pollsters had put the No camp’s lead at 14 points in mid-August, and a whopping 22 points earlier the same month, excluding undecided voters. Yet the Sept 1 poll was no outlier. As if on cue, a Sept. 6 poll now had the “Yes” camp holding a 51-49 percent lead.
The polls gave a scientific sheen to what anyone who had spent time in Scotland in recent weeks had noticed: Support for independence was building. “Yes” stickers and the Scottish Saltire flag appeared just about everywhere in the first 2 weeks of September. Across Scotland, particularly in poorer urban areas, the political landscape shifted in the nationalists’ favour. Rumours were rife that Rupert Murdoch’s widely circulated tabloid, the Sun, would declare its support for independence in the week before the referendum. A “Yes” outcome was still an outside bet with the bookmakers. But the odds were shortening fast.
What made the surge all the more remarkable was that the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, was widely seen as having lost a much-vaunted first debate with Alistair Darling, head of the “No” campaign, on Aug. 5. Salmond was hotly tipped — one of his own MPs predicted a “slaughter” — but in front of a TV audience of almost 2 million (in a country of just over 5 million), Salmond struggled to answer questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use and how it would transition from the United Kingdom to separate statehood.
Despite Salmond’s televised travails, however, opinion polls rose slightly in favour of the nationalists after the debate. Then, in late August, the SNP leader wiped the floor with a lacklustre Darling in the second and final live clash. Unsurprisingly, pro-United Kingdom spin doctors in the pressroom looked visibly worried.
Unionist solicitudes may have come too late. The “Better Together” campaign, as the “No” side is called, maintained a relentlessly negative tone, earning it the nickname “Project Fear.” Just days before the latest opinion poll, a “Better Together” video featuring a housewife unable to think about independence amid the clatter of family life was roundly criticized for being sexist and condescending — which is particularly damaging, as the female vote could prove decisive in just under two weeks’ time. The video went viral many sites picking up on the “Patronising BT Lady.”
Moreover, a parade of (mainly London-based) celebrities calling on Scotland to stay in the union was more cringe-inducing than voter-swaying. Warnings against independence from international leaders — whether Barack Obama or Tony Abbott — had little effect on the Scottish electorate.
Opinion polls consistently suggested that most Scots favoured enhanced devolution (that is, more powers for the Scottish Parliament) over full independence, but the three main parties — Conservative, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats — that comprise “Better Together” failed to present a common program for greater devolved powers after a “No” vote. Instead, the parties’ marriage of convenience became increasingly strained as the referendum campaign dragged on.
Traditionally the dominant force in Scottish politics, Labour was forced to share platforms with their gravest political foes, the Conservatives. David Cameron’s Tories are pariahs in Scotland, holding just one of 59 seats representing Scotland in the UK’s parliament and blamed for the savage de-industrialization of the Margaret Thatcher years that still scars the country today.
The Liberal Democrats, once a significant presence north of Hadrian’s Wall, were routed in the 2011 elections to the devolved Scottish parliament — punishment for their decision to go into a coalition with Conservatives in London.
Meanwhile, “Yes Scotland,” the official independence campaign, did not set the pulses racing. Its messaging was vague and reports of internal splits were rife. But pro-independence forces had something their unionist opponents largely lacked: a dedicated, highly motivated grassroots political movement the likes of which Scotland (and possibly even Britain) had not seen in generations. In places like Easterhouse, a sprawling housing estate (or project) on the outskirts of Glasgow, the independence message was driven not by the SNP, but by new groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign, a left-wing organization formed in 2012 that proved effective at mobilizing disenfranchised voters.
Canvas returns suggested that most Scots in working-class communities intended to vote “Yes.” For many of those let down by the established political system, independence was seen as a risk worth taking. (Glasgow, for example, has some of the worst mortality rates in the whole of Europe. In the Calton district, infamously, male life expectancy is just 59 years.) That said, the nationalist clarion call to abandon a “broken Britain” did not just play in housing estates: Polls suggested that younger voters were coming over to “Yes” in ever-increasing numbers. Thousands of grass roots activists were mobilized, many for the first time.
How did the movement gather activists and achieve the gains? The SNP had long aped the 2008 Obama campaign, asking whether Scotland wanted hope or fear. In reality, the nationalists used a liberal amount of both, seasoning the optimistic vision of an affluent, nuclear-free, Nordic-lite independent Scotland with a salutary dose of doom-laden rhetoric about never-ending Tory rule and the erosion of the devolved parliament’s powers. But the key difference between this approach and that of “Better Together” is that the nationalists waited until the last month of the campaign to go negative — a tactic that seemed to be working, judging by opinion polls.
Additionally, while unionists had the weight of the status quo behind them — and the advantage of incumbency — the nationalists had attempted to make it a referendum about not just Scottish independence, but also the Westminster political system. In calling for “Independence in Europe,” the “Yes” campaign expressed a populist opprobrium of establishment politics that resonated with many voters.
18 September 2015: Penrith and Cumbria Now Want Their Own Deal, (free from Westminster control)
Penrith and Cumbria activists routinely crossed the border and campaigned hard against Scottish Independence in 2014 – But having been instrumental in assisting the “Better Together” campaign gaining a “No” Vote the same voters are campaigning Westminster for devolution mirroring that provided to Scotland
In the wake of the referendum Prime Minister David Cameron promised to devolve more powers to Scotland – sparking calls for greater devolution within England as well.
Carlisle MP John Stevenson, who is Scottish, told The Cumberland News:
“A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last year. I do not believe there is an appetite for another referendum; there’s an acceptance that the people of Scotland made their decision. Nevertheless, Scottish politics has changed dramatically since May 2015. There is a bill going through Parliament that will devolve significant power to Scottish Parliament. The interesting thing for Cumbria is it’s evolved, with an appetite now for similar devolution in England. We are starting to see it in Manchester and Teesside. It’s important we in Cumbria are not left behind.”
A 14-strong group – including all of Cumbria’s major councils – have united to submit a bid to the Government for a so-called Cumbria Deal. This would see them win unprecedented control over the county’s economy and public services, potentially opening the door to up to 30,000 jobs and boosting the county’s economy by an eye-watering £1.3bn. Backing the bid, but urging caution he said: “I was pleased to see the proposal but they haven’t yet addressed the issue of governance. I hope they will go on to negotiate a proper settlement for Cumbria.”
14 Feb 2016: Unionist Indy ref campaign group No Borders fined after finally lodging accounts
One of the biggest-spending “No” campaign groups in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum has been fined after filing late accounts.
The Vote No Borders campaign, spent nearly £463,000, (which made it the top spending non-party “No” group after Better Together) from March 2014 to the end of March 2015, finally lodging its overdue accounts at Companies House last week. They should have been filed in mid-December.
Founded by millionaire Scots Tory donor Malcolm Offord, No Borders billed itself as a grass roots campaign airing the views of ordinary people. However much of its cash came from established Tory and Labour donors and it paid £3,000 to Professor Adam Tomkins of Glasgow University, now a Tory Holyrood list MSP, to write for it.
Offord’s co-director in “No Borders” was Fiona Gilmore, head of London PR firm Acanchi. The accounts say Acanchi incurred “media buying and production expenditure of £128,771” on behalf of “No Borders” and that Gilmore herself donated £7,499 to the group, (£1 below the threshold for a public declaration.)
Offord resigned as a director in January 2015, leaving Gilmore as the sole director. She blamed an “admin oversight” over Christmas for the late filing. “It will be a matter for me as remaining director to take up with the accountants,” she said.
She said No Borders spent most of its money before the regulated period began as it had few rivals and could make an impact. Its output included press and cinema adverts, testimonials from the public, billboard posters, a website and a social media presence. “The monies raised were spent mainly in May 2014 to air the pre-official campaign because there were no limitations on spend at this time. Up until May many No voters were silent. Vote No Borders encouraged No voters to speak out and speak up.” No Borders is now being wound up.
November 2016: Rory and His Father’s last Long Walk Together
In December 2014, eight months before his death at the age of 93, Brian Stewart sat for a painting that had been commissioned by Prince Charles as part of a series of portraits of D-Day veterans. Stewart, who in WW2 had led an anti-tank platoon which destroyed a dozen or so enemy Panzer tanks was shown with a chestful of medals and the red hackle of the Black Watch on his cap. He was troubled by the picture. “I do not like,” he wrote to his son, “being remembered as a half-demented, melancholy, puzzled old man.”
But Rory perceives his father through the eyes of a five-year-old. When his father was the MI6 director of technical and support services – ‘Q in James Bond terms’. The casual physical intimacy of father and son showering together (Rory placing an index finger into the deep shrapnel scar, a souvenir of Normandy, on his father’s right thigh) held to his father’s chest as the water cascaded, listening to his echoing father’s baritone as he sang a folk song, noticing that his Scottish accent was stronger when he sang than when he spoke. Brian, clearly, is Rory’s hero and friend. and In later life (a mature Rory had to take on the role of a sort of parent to his elderly father) but never quite lost his feeling of inferiority.
Rory and his 93 year old father Brian decided to take a bracing walk along Hadrians Wall. Brian called the area around the Scottish border ‘The Middle-land’ feeling it ‘belonged particularly to the hybrid-Scot-Britons struggling with debates over many centuries of Scottish independence. Rory thought his father was a brilliant eccentric, a sort of cartoon laird, all tartan trews and buffered views, the Selkirk grace and a tot of whisky never far from his lips.…So the political backdrop was the 2014 referendum and national identity. In what ways are the Scots and the English different, and in what ways do they feel themselves the same?
Walking together they discuss the Romans and Rory saw parallels everywhere. The life of a prefect on the wall must have been rather like his own experience as a deputy-governor in Iraq, he thought. Likewise, a Dacian cohort in a unit which had originating in what is now Romania but representing the might of Empire for 275 years during the occupation reminded him of his father’s wartime battalion, the Tyneside Scottish, Geordie’s who felt themselves to be Highlanders. There was a sense, also, a deeper likening, an unspoken comparison Rory made between his father and himself. “I was only half conscious of the many ways in which he had modestly concealed how he was better than me,” is a self-wounding sentence. Elsewhere he reflected that the old man ‘seemed to understand more clearly than himself that we were different people’. His father tired more quickly than hoped and they were forced to abandon the walk and drive back to Perthshire. But the walk had provided opportunity for discussion and agreement that whilst there were no real material differences between England and Scotland and the two countries had “richly interwoven” histories and cultures, “there were now many differences in each countries societies.” Brian died later that year
Rory’s most visible contribution to the campaign was the much mocked Auld Acquaintance Cairn at Gretna, to which visitors were encouraged to add rocks bearing messages of support for the union.
Although born in Hong Kong in 1973, and brought up in Malaysia, London and Perthshire and educated at Eton then Oxford there was never any question that he was a Scot. His teenage years were spent attending Highland dances. ‘I came to recognise men less by their faces than by their sporrans. Duncan had a badger-headed sporran, Charles a white-tasselled, goat-hair sporran, mounted in silver. Mine for a time was a moth-eaten otter…’ He would dance till midnight, Cinderella in a sweaty kilt, and drive home while listening over and over again to a tape of Hugh MacDiarmid reading his poem ‘Wheesht, Wheesht’.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH4Q0r6C9To (the Union Jack is upside down)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWwncr7PwFU&feature=youtu.be (Max Hastings. Surely a joke)
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-auld-acquaintance-a-monument-to-togetherness (notice the first lady to appear was the mouthy one that attended the recent screened debate)
Stewart and his wife Shoshana had their first child in November 2014.
In the last few months Rory’s fortunes have seen an upturn. Already a member of the, “Foreign Affairs Select Committee” he was voted in to the powerful position as chairman of the, “Defence Select Committee” Accepting his election Rory said it was a, “a very, very great honour.” He’ll begin his duties defence policy immediately. His meteoric rise to the top continues.
His contribution to the 2014 Scottish referendum
Rory is a highly intelligent, single minded individual who meticulously plans anything he is minded or required to do. He does nothing by accident or without great thought. He takes advice from no-one whilst giving every indication that he is thoughtful and attentive. His slight figure and Forest Gump appearance is deceptive and lulls the casual observer into a false sense of superiority. He is as tough as old boot leather and in any conflict would naturally command and provide effective leadership. A tough cookie, like his father.
His contribution to the Scottish independence referendum was noteworthy for the way in which he manipulated the media and public directing their mindset towards goals he had decided on nearly one year before. Namely the establishment of a permanent reminder (the Auld Acquaintance Cairn at Gretna) of Rory Stewart to Scotland.
The foregoing witnesses the planning and execution of his agenda:
- Using his contacts in the BBC he let it be known (very early in 2014) that he intended to walk Hadrians Wall from East to West and his thoughts on the Roman Empire, environmental matters and historical relationships between the English and Scots living in the borders area might be of interest to the corporation. The BBC grasped the nettle and holding it tight committed to the production of three documentaries featuring Rory and his thoughts. Rory went off on his week long jaunt along the wall accompanied by a full BBC production team. The documentaries were broadcast on BBC2, over three evenings (at prime time) just as the Scottish referendum campaign was entering its high profile stage. A masterly manipulation of the first part of his agenda fully assisted by the strictly impartial BBC.
- Buoyed by his success, a few weeks after the broadcast Rory went on to brief parliament (televised of course) that it was his view many hundreds of thousands of individuals living in the borders and other countries did not wish to see Scotland leave the UK because they loved the Scots. To prove his case he announced that he was organising a “hands across the border” event, scheduled for late July 2014. This would entail recruitment of 100,000 of the “love Scotland individuals” who would join hands along Hadrians Wall proving their solidarity with Scots who wished to remain in the Union. MP’s in the house were seen exchanging looks of incredulity some fighting hard (but failing) not to smirk.
- The late July deadline loomed. Recruitment had stalled at less than one hundred (just enough to cover the M74) and Rory announced the project had been cancelled in favour of something more relevant but Scotland would need to wait and see what he was planning.
Mid August, in a blaze of publicity, (generated firstly by BBC Scotland then the Scottish press) Rory introduced his new project, “the Auld Acquaintance Cairn” which would be built, ( just over the border, in Gretna) by volunteers recruited from all over the world. The love in was back on.
- Over the next three weeks the BBC and press carried numerous progress reports citing the support of many media personalities (photo opportunities guaranteed). There were many photo’s of children and pensioners carrying slabs to the cairn, which didn’t seem to be getting any bigger. The media pulled back (reputedly acting on instructions). All went quiet until the second week of September when BBC Scotland and Scottish press returned to the site of the cairn with a vengeance. The cairn was complete and it was an impressive structure. The volunteer schoolkids and pensioners had excelled themselves. It was pats on the back all round. The media had an enjoyable day winding up Scotland’s “yes” supporters.What was not reported by the media was the purchase (£10K) and supply to the site of a large amount of local stone and slate and that the cairn had been built by a team of specialists provided by the JCB corporation The boss (who is also a major financial donor to the Tory party) was later awarded a peerage by David Cameron. The cairn continued to attract publicity up to and after the referendum. Claims being made that it was attracting many hundreds of thousands of visitors bringing additional business to Gretna. This is utter balderdash visitors to Gretna are attracted there for other reasons. But Rory is happy. He achieved what he set out to get. Self promotion at the hands of the plebs.Remember the foregoing when you next happen across Rory the Tory.
Rory Stewart and his book, “The Myth of Union”. (Comments by an Unknown Reader)
Rory Stewart is right to suggest that identity not economics should direct the debate over Scottish devolution, but he displays little understanding of Scottish identity and how it is viewed by many Scots today. Like his father (who appears to be an old romantic Jacobite) before him, his long sojourns south of the border and overseas seem to have blinded him to the interests, outlook and concerns of many Scots today.
If he had spent more time in the land of his birth he would have been better positioned to appreciate the differences and if he had listened to Radio 4 at 11 am today, 28th March, North and South Across the Great Divide, he would have learned something of these differences in accent, outlook and sense of identity on either side of the border which has shaped these communities.
For many Scots, south of the border is another country where they immediately feel less at home and among peoples who values they cannot always share. He appears to have an almost mystical faith in the redemptive powers of the Union of Parliaments in 1707 and in the notion of a “Great Britain” which emerged, a hangover from the days of empire which Scots find it increasingly difficult to relate to. Edinburgh, Glasgow or even Brussels, not London are our centres of gravity. Even the concept of “Little Britain” appears an amorphous entity which attempted to remove our sense of Scottish identity and no more so that in the 20th century.
We shall grow and develop further within our own homeland and find our larger selves within our common European heritage and in the larger world and in the meantime retain our bonds of friendship and family and common interests with those south of the border. The right to be governed by people who we choose – rather than governments (largely) elected by the South of England – is the real issue here. You can continue to ‘feel’ or be Scottish, British or any other nationality you like, just let me have a government that reflects the wishes and hopes of the Scottish people in Scotland.
I think this post contains a fairly high degree of hyperbole. By the logic contained therein, Ireland should re-join the UK and the Scandinavian countries should all also merge. Scottish devolution is only moving in one direction. Scots are a distinct group of people who want to be governed separately from the rest of the UK. Is the ultimate point of keeping the Union together so that members of a family can have the same passport? Who cares? “Families would be split”? Get a grip.
Families are split in war zones – families would not be split just because a document that is used a few times a year begins to be issued by a different public authority. Perhaps it is because so many people in the UK live inside an English language-centric, ‘Great’ Britain bubble that they don’t realize how normal it is for families all over Europe to have family members with different passports. And it really, really doesn’t matter.
I think the comparison with Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal is flawed and very misleading. There are many similarities with these countries, as well as differences. Just like with Scotland and England. You will still be able to be Scottish and English when Scotland is independent. Just like you can be Scottish and Irish, Scottish and Canadian, American and Scottish, Pakistani and Scottish etc – we all know people who would describe themselves in these terms.
Governments in both the countries that the person identifies with do not need to be the same – that would be silly. The argument is not purely about identity, or economics – though these are factors. The argument is about whether Scotland would benefit from the transfer of all decision making powers from London to Scotland. I believe it would. Obviously we don’t exist in a vacuum, and relationships with England, the EU, the UN etc would remain very important.