The Dean and New College

The Dean’s Diaries: 


 Prof. D.W.R. Purdie    

Office of the Dean:
St Andrew’s College,
                                                            King George IV Bridge,
Edinburgh EH1 3TD

    THE COLLEGE remains officially on vacation till the commencement of Martinmas Term on Monday 1st October but the Dons and the Research Fellows are now beginning to straggle back to Edinburgh. I went to a most interesting meeting, actually a book launch, at New College last night. This College, just down the road from us, is at the head of The Mound – properly The EarthenMound – a colossal ramp carrying a road from Princes Street up to the ridge on which the Old Town of Edinburgh stands. It was created in the early 19th century with several million tons of earth dug out in laying the foundation of the buildings of the New Town. Anyway, New College   is effectively the University’s Faculty of Divinity, its entry court featuring a gigantic statue of John Knox in bronze. Bible in hand and arm raised in declamation, the general impression as one arrives there is one of unrelieved menace. Heaven alone knows what he’s have made of the graffito recently discovered on a wall behind the College. Probably the work of a divinity undergraduate blessed, or rather cursed, with an heretical sense of humour, it featured that most intriguing of the Beatitudes from the New Testament;
Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the Earth

Sprayed on the wall, in a very neat hand, was the Message:

We will inherit the Earth, so we will Right ”
                                  Signed: The Meek
(If it’s all right with you…)

New College was where the Scottish Parliament first met in 1999   after its 300 year recess, when Sheena Wellington memorably sang, at the late Donald Dewar’s request, A Man’s a Man, for a’ That, Burns’s great anthem for the Common Man. And it was a most uncommon man who gave the main speech at the book-launch there last night; Alex Salmond no less. Kim Jong Eck to the Unionist press, Alex is the latter-day Moses who will lead the Children of Caledonia out of bondage to Westminster and into the sunlit, or rather oil-lit, uplands of Independence. The book being launched is by the late SNP theoretician Stephen Maxwell and is entitled Arguing for Independence . It will, to quote Eck, raise the level of the independence debate to ‘a new intellectual level.’ It had better, for Eck’s own intellectual level last night was in serious need of elevation.  For example we were told, again, that the Battle of Culloden was a disaster for Scotland and, mirabile dictu, on a par with the closure of the Ravenscraig steelworks! Culloden was indeed a disaster, but for Prince Charlie; and it brought a closure all right; the military and indeed political closure of the Jacobite campaign to re-establish the Stuarts. It thus cleared the ground for the emerging Scottish Enlightenment and vindicated the majority of Scots present – who fought for the British Army that day.

Thinking of our revived Parliament meeting at New College, reminds me that it did so because the new Parliament House at Holyrood was yet unfinished, while going spectacularly over budget. This caused considerable amusement south of Hadrian’s Wall where they were used to tales of our canniness with the currency; e.g. accidentally dropping a 50p piece from a 12th floor flat; going down to retrieve; and being hit on the head by it, etc etc.

Anyway, during the Holyrood furore over its cost, I happened to be visiting All Souls, Oxford, our sister College. In their senior common room a newspaper was lowered to reveal one of their oldest and most aristocratic Fellows. In tones which made Prince Charles sound like a welder, he said,
“It says here in theTelegraph that you Jocks, on a budget of forty million, have gone through four hundred & fifty million, building this Parliament of yours in Edinburgh. That’s a cost overrun of 1,000 %! I say, isn’t that somewhat un-Jock-like?”   I said,
“Charles, you’re right; there’s no denying it. And what’s more, I can tell you, in strict confidence mind, that it’s even worse than you think…”
“Oh really?”
” Yes, it’s your money ! ”

Anyway, that’s quite enough of politics for now. I have to be careful here, being the Dean of a college whose Dons and Fellows represent the most extraordinary spectrum of political opinion. This ranges from the Ultraviolet of our Roosevelt Fellow, the American philosopher Dr Sam Yancey who is a doyen of the Tea Party back home. Yancey is still pondering why his Party seems to be known in Edinburgh as the ‘You’ll have had your Tea Party.’ One day I’ll tell him.
At the other end of the spectrum, deep in the Infrared, is Prof. Angus McKittrick who fascinates me by combining great personal charm with being a resolutely doctrinaire anarchist. Angus does not recognise the existence of myself as Dean, or the College, or the University, or indeed the United Kingdom. Thankfully, he appears to accept the existence of the Universe, but only on the grounds that it is essentially anarchic and has been, well, just there forever. To the bemusement of our astrophysicists, he rejects the Big Bang on the grounds that it is clearly a fiendish crypto-theist device to conceal a Creator. Last year he gave a memorable and (to me) hilarious Lecture entitled, Exploding the Big Bang in which the Bang came in for some pretty rough handling for its ‘presumption’ and its ‘scientific insolence.’

Well, it takes all types to make the world, and thank God I’m not one of them. Tomorrow sees the pre-term meeting of College Council (the Supreme Soviet to Angus) There I’ll be joined by the Bursar, Warden and the Bedellus and we’ll then be blessed by our Prebendary, the Rev. Dr Hector Stuart, DD. Hector will enjoin us to seek guidance from the Almighty, before going down to New College to wipe out the Meek…