Columns

Tartan and home truths

Oh, the swing of the kilt and the skirl of the bagpipes! The tens of thousands who gather annually to try their strength at tossing Scottish cabers around ... in Leipzig.

A mania for "the heedrum-hodrum Celtic twilight", which is afflicting parts of northern Europe, is one of the topics to be researched at a new centre for the study of the Scottish diaspora at Edinburgh University.

But since its launch at the end of last month, the new centre, funded by a £1m donation from a Scottish financier, has been caught up in controversy. Its founder, perhaps Scotland's foremost historian, Professor Tom Devine, announced in the opening lecture that he intended to challenge the "Burns supper" school of Scottish history. As a result, he has been subject to attacks by nationalists accusing him of "unionist revisionism".

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Heat is on as US drowns and browns

IN some parts of the US there is water, water everywhere, but in others there's hardly a drop to drink. Last week in Texas eight people and thousands of cattle drowned when 30in of rain fell in just a few days, causing flooding along the San Antonio river, which crested 30ft above normal levels. Meanwhile, in prairie states such as Wyoming, less than a
quarter of the normal expected level of rain has fallen. Farmers are making special prayer appointments with ministers as they watch their land turn  dustier by the day.

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European integration

WHEN you are climbing a steep hill, sometimes it is good to turn round and look at how far you have come. Saturday, May 1, will be such a day. That is the day when the iron curtain that drew over Europe half a century ago and that was pulled open with the collapse of the Soviet Union, will be torn down completely and consigned to the tip.

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Heady days in pursuit of the redcoats. Reminiscence about the pleasures of hunt sabbing

The start of autumn always reminds me. The thud of Dutch paratrooper boots
on our door at 4am and young voices yelling: ''Get up everyone. It's the
vegan police.''

Once someone let them in, they would clatter up and down the stairs of our squatted terrace in Brighton, hammering on doors and blowing horns.

After rising in the pre-dawn chill of the unheated rooms, throwing on parkas or bomber jackets, we would stand outside waiting for the convoy of Land-Rovers that came to pick us up of a Saturday morning. Amateurs like myself would stand to one side, thin roll-ups in shivering fingers, hung-over and grumbling. The real enthusiasts, however, were always raring to go. This was the highlight of their week, a holiday from the urban ghetto. Suddenly, they had an identity and a purpose. They were hunt saboteurs.

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Abortion

A woman's right to choose has been for decades one of the central planks of feminism. Safe, legal abortion must be available on demand. And looking back from the relative freedom women have gained today, it is hard to imagine how bound women once were to their biology, how they were once as Simone de Beauvoir put it ''slaves to the species'', unable to pursue achievement as individuals because of their role as vessels for future generations.

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