Starling conclusions

Where have all the Starlings gone? It’s not the opening of a song but a riddle wrapped in a mystery, and there may be an enigma involved too. The birds may not quite be going the way of the dodo but their numbers have been decimated, down by four-fifths and falling, and no one seems to know why.

The composer Mozart had a starling as a pet and apparently – I’m not making this up – he taught it to warble the opening bars of the third movement of his Piano Concerto No 17 in G. But they certainly weren’t doing that when they descended on Glasgow’s George Square in the 1960s and 70s in great, balletic swirling clouds, a murmuration posh folk call it, which was an awesome sight unless you were standing directly below them.

For years nature-hating Glasgow councillors tried to get rid of them. In the 1950s they hired a guy to turn up at dusk every evening to fire a shotgun into the air (blanks allegedly) to discourage them from roosting on the ledges in the square. The bailies in the City Chambers claimed they couldn’t hear the scope of a bribe for the racket of the birds outside. The poet Edwin Morgan even wrote a droll poem about it, in part:

"Window-cleaners want protection and danger money.

The Lord Provost can’t hear herself think, man.

What’s that?

Lord Provost, can’t hear herself think.

At the General Post Office

the clerks write Three Pounds Starling in the savings-books."

Then, and I stand to be corrected, at some time in the 1970s a contract was given to a company to rid the square of the messy overnight guests. I think they were called Cameron’s Commandos and they turned up in vans with camouflage paint jobs to take on the enemy. The methods may well have been less scrupulous than allowed today. There were klaxons, netting over the ledges, gooey stuff on them, poison for all I know. But it seemed to work and the starlings flitted, probably to Edinburgh, and began to die off. They call this progress. Mozart will be turning in his grave, in a rhythmic manner.

Ron McKay: BoJo and the 72 virgins

Consider it considered

Several months ago I wrote about a complaint to the Scottish charity regulator which involved a paedophile priest and questioning whether charitable funds had been misused by the church. It’s a sad and sordid saga. The Diocese of Galloway, which is a registered charity with a turnover of around £3.5 million a year, bought a house for a retired priest called Paul Moore. Moore was jailed for nine years last year when he was convicted of abusing three children – one aged five – as well as a student priest.

The issue is that Moore had confessed to his then bishop in the late 1990s and instead of being dismissed and handed over to the police he was sent to a treatment centre in Canada and then to Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands, before retiring to the bought house in Largs. By contrast, the young priest he abused was removed from his two parishes in Ayrshire and given 48 hours to leave his parish house for allegedly speaking out about the abuse.

I’m not going into the morality issue here and whether repentance expiates the acts, or judging if the complaint about alleged misuse of charitable funds in housing Moore is justified, but it has been with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator for more than a year now, which is surely a scandalous delay. I contacted OSCR and the response was that they had been “considering a broader approach to our engagement on these issues with the Roman Catholic Dioceses”.

Whatever that means. Except that they’re still considering.

Making a spectacle

Why, oh why the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the achingly predictable procession to the Coronation of Boris when almost all of us have little interest and have no say in it? The BBC is spending our money on reaching 160,000 people who have already made up their minds to crown BoJo. It’s exactly what the French writer Guy Debord was on about in his book The Society of the Spectacle, the Situationist manifesto. This is the illusion of participation. Debord shot himself in 1994, but I don’t know what was on TV at the time.

Hatched, matched and dispatched

There must be something in the drinking water, or the DNA, of the population, which makes us repeatedly pluck defeat from the jaws of victory. The latest example is the women’s national football team who, in a magnificent match, were undone in the last 20 minutes by tactical naivety, VAR, the ridiculous new rules hatched in March in a room in Aberdeen by men in blazers and foisted without consultation, tiredness I suspect, and genetics.

I’ve made this point before and it isn’t meant to be patronising. The size of the goal-frame was decided by men for men. Senior male goalkeepers today are all at least six feet tall while Lee Alexander, the women’s ’keeper, is 5'6". Had she been a couple of inches taller, or the bar that distance lower, she would have saved the second Argentine goal and Scotland would be through, despite the subsequent nonsense, and we’d all be on the march with Shelley’s army.

But talking about patronising – at the very least, more like irremediable chauvinism – elements of the male football hack pack have taken to referring to the team as Bravetarts.

McRae’s a laugh

If we’re looking for someone to blame – and why not? After all, it's another of our greatest talents – for the rule change in men’s and women’s football which deems it a penalty if the ball strikes your arm whether it’s deliberate or not (as Scotland women suffered against England), then inch into the limelight Alan McRae.

You won’t have heard of him but he was president of the SFA in March when the new rule was agreed at the AGM of Ifab, the International Football Association Board. McRae ascended to the top job in Scotland through the gloriously quasi-North Korean method of selection, Buggins’ Turn. He was the deputy so he got the number one spot.

And his qualification? He was top man at Cove Rangers, a Highland League side with attendances which rarely top 1000, and hung in long enough to float to the top.

Ifab, another magnificently undemocratic organisation, met in Aberdeen in March. The board consists of a representative of each of the four home countries, with one vote each, and the rest of the world, in the shape Fifa, with four votes. The rationale seems to be, “well they claim to have invented the game, and although they are duff, let’s just go along with this guff”. It’s a bit like getting a seat and a veto at the UN Security Council when you can’t even muster a serviceable gunboat.

In any event McRae raised his hand for the rule which doesn’t allow you to and it went through. And Scotland went out.