Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label Scotland on Sunday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland on Sunday. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Independence and America’s Scottish heritage and Scotland’s American friends

This headline – Declaration of independence ‘wrong for Scots appeared under Derek Lambie’s byline in today’s Scotland on Sunday. I immediately emailed The SDSDI, as did Paul McMahon. Jim Alexander of The SDSDI replied promptly to both of us, as follows -

BY EMAIL from Jim Alexander of The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

This is the first time I have been able to read the results of phone interviews that John Glyn of Glen Stewart and I had with Derek.  I can tell you that many other things were said that did not make the article.

I will say up front that the only people who can decide the issue of this case are you folks in Scotland.  Nothing I can say or do overcomes that basic fact.  I can state my opinion, but I really have no say in the decisions you make at the secret ballot.

The opinions of a 7th generation émigré from Scotland are just that; opinions.  Most Americans do not equate the conditions in the colonies in 1776 to modern Europe, or the UK in any way.  I do know that there is a Bank of Scotland, there is a Church of Scotland, there is something know as the Scottish Enlightenment, and that most of Europe is facing economic hard times.  That is just context, and I am probably more aware of that than most of my countrymen.

I told the reporter that most of our members (DSDI) would probably not have an opinion one way or the other. I also never release the names and addresses of the members so I know that the reporter is in no position to say what most of the descendants of the Scottish Signers have to say.  The remark that “their descendants are opposed to Scotland taking the same road to separation”  is simply inaccurate.  2 people in an organization of over 1000 simply to not make any statement about that organization at all.

I am of the opinion that all the economic issues will not go away if Scotland decides to go its own way.  I am also of the opinion that what you gain with the complete break is another level of bureaucracy and its associated costs.

I have indeed visited Scotland twice, and the whole subject of independence never came up, so consider that when you read “I’ve yet to meet people who can give me a definitive answer as to what would be gained from independence. “  you need to know that I did not ask that question and no one answered.  With regard to a breakup as unsettling, I  did say that the prospect of Canada breaking apart as few years ago as unsettling to many Americans.

No matter what happens, we will adapt and adjust to the realities on the ground. And we both live in a system that gives us the opportunity to vote on the issue.


Jim Alexander

I replied, as follows -

Thanks for your prompt and courteous reply to Paul and copy to me.

I thought the situation would be more nuanced than the way it was reported, by a newspaper often hostile to Scotland's independence.

I will make sure that is reflected to a wider Scottish audience now engaged in the great debate taking place in the country we all love. Our First Minister recently spoke at the Brookings Institution and his speech is well worth a listen. He was received with the kind of unfailing courtesy but vigorous questioning that I have come to expect from Scotland's American friends 

with best regards


from Kirkliston - the Scottish village where the first recorded meeting of the Scottish Parliament was held in 1265

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Scottish press – contrasts between Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Herald


The MOD gravy train, a money-making machine for civil servants and career politicians that functions as a vehicle of death for inadequately equipped servicemen and women, an arm of government that is apparently incompetent and not fit for purpose, yet one that displays superb competence at enriching the politicians who have held senior posts in defence - notably senior Scottish Labour politicians - who wind up with directorships and lucrative consultancies in arms-related industries, and the senior civil servants who spin gleefully through the door to similar appointments.

(If you doubt this, examine the biographies of former defence secretaries, defence ministers, senior MOD civil servants, former NATO officials, etc.)

The Fox/Werrity affair briefly and embarrassingly lifted the veil, a veil that was rapidly dropped again as the Establishment closed ranks.

Today, the Telegraph - Ministry of Defence civil servant awarded £86,000 bonus with the sub-header Ministry of Defence civil servants have been awarded £40 million in bonuses despite fierce criticism of the department.

Search in vain for this Telegraph story in the Scottish Press today – if they didn’t know about it, they should have. But it doesn’t quite fit with David Cameron extolling the virtues of the UK and defence …

The Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday provide interesting contrasts today.Here are two Sunday Herald stories - 'Lives at risk' from poor nuclear safety regimes at Trident bases on Clyde and Anger at LibDems over Devo secrecy ruling

Search in vain for them in Scotland on Sunday – they don’t quite fit the narrative of that increasingly sad paper, although maybe they have or will appear, buried away somewhere.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Mitchell Survey of SNP members – and Scotland on Sunday

Scotland on Sunday is in full unionist attack mode today, in the guise of objective journalism. Read it and the Sunday Herald side by side and you might wonder if they published in the same country. Kenny Farquarson is in his Cassandra mode, tapping the side of his nose knowingly and making confident forecasts about SNP defence policy changes, and keeping the kind of company that goes with his theme – George Robertson and Jim Murphy.

I have to say that little in the Mitchell Report will come as a surprise to anyone in the party: the age profile of activists, the strands of opinion on defence issues and on NATO. Anyone conducting or consuming a review of grass roots membership views and their demographic profile in any major British political party and expecting to find a monolithic consensus on fundamentals of policy or a party comprised of young activists was going to be disappointed.

I know from my own writing on the nuclear issues, on defence matters and on the monarchy (I’m in favour of retaining the Queen) – and the responses to them - that my core beliefs on these matters are not uniformly shared across the SNP. Like any social democratic party, the SNP is centre left, and by definition contains some views to the right of that spectrum.

Compared to the deep schisms and near anarchy of the three unionist parties, the SNP is an oasis of consensus and rationality.

The nuclear issue and NATO are defining issues for me, but since no other major party is anti-nuclear or anti-NATO in its policy, if that policy changed I have nowhere else to go, except to some fantasy land of a re-grouping of the left in a new party committed to Scotland’s independence before the referendum. So I will stay with the party to independence, whatever shifts it may or may not make in policy.

However, I  have hopes - but not high hopes - that the SNP will move swiftly to a decisive restatement of policy on defence and NATO – the policy is clear enough – and will comment on the Mitchell Report. Perhaps it won’t, and will feel it more appropriate to keep its eye on the independence ball. I will understand that priority, but be disappointed.

If the SNP were to abandon its non-nuclear stance and compromise on NATO, it would lose part of its soul, and as the only major British party with a soul, that would be sad, and realpolitik would reign supreme.

And though they spoke with the tongues of men and of angels they would become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

(with apologies to Paul, to the Corinthians, to James Mason and Carol Reed.)

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Objectivity, neutrality and myths - Kenny Farquarson, SoS


I expect journalists to be objective, but not neutral. I expect news reporting to be factual, and not to spin the facts, but I do not expect balance, e.g. if there are ten facts that day for one side of an argument and five for another, I don’t expect the journalist to trawl for another five facts to achieve ‘balance’.

I expect a sharp distinction to be made between news reporting and commentary. I never expect neutrality, only objectivity. I expect individual journalists to have a viewpoint and an interpretation of events. I accept that entire newspapers and magazines have a viewpoint, a position, and editors that identify with that position, providing they observe good journalistic practice in relation to factual reporting and veracity.

I deeply distrust newspapers and periodicals where the viewpoint is that of the owners, rather than the journalist.

I am not, and never have been a journalist, and I have never worked for a newspaper or magazine in any capacity, nor in media. I believe strongly in a free press and media, especially in print journalism and public service broadcasting.


In the context that Kenny uses the word myth, the definition is a widely held but false notion. Norman Mailer called mythical facts factoids - something everybody know is true except it ain’t.

Today he sets out to demolish what he see as six myths about the SNP and the referendum. To some degree, he has set up straw men to knock down by stating a myth that either never existed, or exists only in the minds of a few unionist commentators. Let’s deal with Kenny’s myths briefly -

1. Holyrood’s voting system was designed to stop the SNP getting a majority

Kenny says it wasn’t - it was designed to stop Labour getting a majority. He describes his myth as “a cornerstone of the SNP’s persecution complex”.  The SNP don’t have a persecution complex, Kenny, but they could be forgiven if they had, given the history of the party, and the role of successive UK Governments and Scottish Secretaries, as revealed under the 30 year rule so cogently by Diomhair and other analyses, not to mention the hysterical campaign of abuse and flagrant misrepresentation directed at them since may 2007.

The d’Hondt system of proportional voting was set up to stop any party having an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, and in that objective, all Westminster parties were as one. As unionist parties, they last thing they wanted was any devolved administration having any real power over the levers of government in Scotland, including their own regional parties.

Since the Labour Party and Tony Blair were the key drivers of devolution, and since the only threat to London Labour’s dominance in Scotland was the SNP, there can be little doubt as to their prime motivation - the voting system was designed to keep the SNP out of power for ever.

The stunned shock of Labour when, in 2007 the Scottish people cautiously gave the SNP a chance to show what they could do, albeit in a minority government, was such that for some months Labour could not adjust to the fact that they were no longer in government - Jack McConnell was like a headless chicken for some time.

2. A devo-max option would put Alex Salmond “in a win-win situation” in the referendum.

3, Devo max requires a second question in the referendum

I’m not sure who Kenny is quoting here on win-win, but it must be either a unionist politician’s quote or an ill-informed metropolitan commentator - the SNP have never driven the so-called devo max option. They have recognised, since the previous consultation document and in the new one, that as far as polls are an indicator, there seems to be a substantial body of the Scottish electorate who do not want independence but want radically increased powers for Scotland within the UK.

We now have Civic Scotland and Henry McLeish saying that such an option must be on the ballot paper, and since the SNP is a democratic party and recognises a responsibility to the entire people of Scotland, not just those who elected them, they are prepared to respond to that wish.

Such democratic concepts are, I know, deeply alien to UK politicians, since they preside over a power structure that is only partly democratic, given the existence of the House of Lords and the visceral commitment - recently strengthened by a viciously fought referendum campaign that served only politicians - to a first-past-the-post system of government for Westminster.

The position of the SNP Government, of Alex Salmond, of his ministers, is that they want one question, they want independence, but will recognise the people’s apparent wish for another option. My own position is that I do not want devo max - I consider it a trap, and an option which, if selected by the electorate, would not be delivered by Westminster. Far from thinking it would offer Alex Salmond a win-win, I think it would represent a failure of the highest aspirations of those who want independence.  Nonetheless, I think it must be offered if the people want it as an option. The other strand of opinion that I see in the SNP is of direct opposition to devo max being offered.

Kenny’s myth no. 3 solution - don’t have a second question, just let the Scotland Act and devolution evolution do the trick reflects the unionist trap. Not only will we not get more powers, we risk  a clawback of exisitng powers caused by an English reaction against independence ambitions.

So, yes, it is a myth, Kenny - a unionist politicians’ myth, and a myth propounded by ill-informed media commentators, not by the SNP.

4. Debate on more powers for Holyrood should be left until after the independence referendum

Kenny sees this as a Labour and LibDem myth, and I agree with him on that perception. If they maintain it, they betray their own supporters in Scotland. In my more ignoble moment - and I have many - I secretly hope they do maintain it. But then the democrat in my psyche pops up again …

5. Alex Salmond is a godlike political figure with superhuman powers who can do no wrong.

If Kenny had presented this as a unionist and media myth solely, I might have agreed with him. The idea that - other than few starry-eyed, hero-worshipping groupies on the fringe - that anyone in the SNP believes in this myth is risible, as my private email correspondence demonstrates daily.

But what SNP supporters believe, what the vast majority of the Scottish electorate believe, what a rapidly increasing number of international commentators believe is that the Scottish people in this point in their history are fortunate to have a consummate politician and a visionary statesman who eclipses any other British or European political leader, yet a man who’s the goud for a’ that, and just one of Jock Tamson’s bairns - fallible, and above all a real Scot. Gaun yersel, Alex!

6. The SNP speaks for Scotland

This is no myth - it is a fact. It is also a fact that all the other parties, as well as the SNP, claim to speak for Scotland, and it’s their job to say that, otherwise, what the hell are they for?

But what is uniquely true is that the SNP speaks only for Scotland - all the other parties, by their own repeated proclamations, have at best a wider loyalty and at worst a deeply divided - and divisive - loyalty to the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government speaks for Scotland, and they were elected by a massive majority to do just that.

Kenny’s last sentence is contemptible, not worthy of him, so I won’t repeat it here. It is regrettably typical of much unionist comment, and it’s why they’re losing the argument.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Nonsense on negotiation and James MacMillan/Joan McAlpine

The papers today -

Scotland on Sunday has a piece on page 7 - Lecturer sparks race row by linking absence of riots to lack of minorities. As soon as I saw this headline, I guessed who the lecturer would be - Dr. Stuart Waiton of the University of Abertay. A quote and a link will suffice -

“However, Waiton accused detractors of ‘wallowing in bulls**t victimhood’ and backed historian David Starkey, who said the riots had happened because too many white people had adopted ‘black attitudes.”

See an earlier blog of mine on Dr. Waiton. As for Starkey - nuff said …

Elsewhere in the paper, Duncan Hamilton has an article on page 15. I am an admirer of Duncan Hamilton, and he has a lot of pertinent things to say, including about negotiation, something I will return to later. But he does use a phrase I wish he hadn’t  - the silent majority.

This phrase, once used of the dead, has been subsequently utterly discredited by populist politicians, and notable by Richard Nixon. Anyone can claim the support of the silent majority because they are - well, silent. And that’s all we know about them, Duncan - until they vote, and even then we have to rely on guesswork or some aspects. As for me, I know the silent majority always silently agrees with every word I say. My problems are with the sometimes all-too-vocal citizenry - but that’s an inconvenient fact of democracy.


I do claim considerable expertise in negotiation, both as a  practitioner and a teacher/trainer. In politics, a kind of primitive negotiation goes on within political institutions, and from what I have heard and seen of it, primitive is the word. This must be caused by the new generation of politicos, many of whom have never done and real commercial or industrial work in their lives, having entered fresh from the egg clutching their PPE degrees.

This all too often means that they have never received either formal training in negotiating skills or actual experience at the negotiating table itself. (It also leaves them wide open to the snake oil salesmen and women in motivational consulting - getting in touch with their inner selves, hugging trees and kissing daisies, and imbibing a load of dubious psychobabble about left brain/right brain. This has one - and only one - very tangible outcome - the enrichment of motivational consultants.)

So when politicians talk about negotiation, draw a long breath. (I exempt practitioners of diplomacy from these strictures - diplomacy is negotiation between sovereign states, and it is usually at least conducted by professionals.) If we leave aside the unionist nonsense about ‘Scotland has two governments’, the reality is that Scotland, in the capable hands of Alex Salmond, is to all intents and purposes negotiating with the UK government as if both were sovereign states, even though that status is aspirational only for Scotland. In a country seeking independence, this is the only possible posture.

Few journalists understand negotiation, but some do, like Duncan Hamilton. As a former politician, he uses the language of negotiation uncharacteristically well, and has grasped its core concepts, and in good analysis, he asks the question - a highly pertinent one - Is the desire for a Scottish Electoral Commission a deal breaker. He says no, I say, it probably should be, while perhaps just leaving a tiny possibility that it could be negotiable.

Elsewhere in SoS, Kenny Farquarson talks journalese about negotiation, and says nothing of value. I’ve gone off Kenny Farquarson, and doubtless he has gone off me. But the cartoon above his piece, by the mordant Brian Adcock says more about negotiation than Kenny does.

The Sunday Herald has a 13-page report, with good, solid journalism, the always balanced and relevant Iain Macwhirter, and I can only suggest that you read it - and do it by buying the paper, which needs the circulation. If you think you’ll ever get this depth online if such a newspaper ceased to exist, dream on. A key medium, vital to our democracy would be lost for ever if print journalism went.


I have this to say - I stand squarely with Joan McAlpine in what she said. Regrettably, some misguided nat bloggers, in an attempt to defend her, have sunk to Labour’s level in contemptible personal attacks on Douglas Alexander. In so doing, they have discredited our cause, and have been no help whatsoever to Joan, who as a journalist, always maintained the highest standards.

But here we have James MacMillan, Scottish composer, claiming that the SNP are anti-English, and of stoking up anti-English sentiment.  This is the man who made all the running about sectarianism in Scottish society, which he appeared to confine to anti-Catholic sectarianism, which although it undoubtedly exists and has the highest number of recorded sectarian acts against the religion, is not the only sectarianism that disfigures aspects of Scottish life and sport.

His claims about the SNP are arrant nonsense, although no one would deny that every political movement has its nutcase fringe element, and that anti-Scottish remarks occur in England and anti-English in Scotland.

However, how can this man then permit himself to indulge in this disgraceful comment, without accusations a gross hypocrisy.

“Ayrshire-born MacMillan went on to claim that the SNP fuelled anti-English sentiment, citing McAlpine’s remarks. He added that he had met McAlpine once, saying: ‘All I can remember about Ms. McAlpine was her whiney Glaswegian accent, de rigueur for parish-pump-envy-and-grievance politics in these parts, and so beloved by the rest of the country. Not.”

It’s hard to know where to start with that offensive, class-based, dripping with contempt for ordinary Scots remark. I have been arguing that prominent Scots should come out and say where they stand on the great debate over Scotland’s independence. James MacMillan is a distinguished composer and a great artist. But if he cannot find a better way than this to express his anti-SNP, Unionist position, perhaps he should remain silent. Great artistic talent is no guarantor of political maturity, or even good manners, as history show all too clearly.

This was a contemptible statement, James. I won’t demand an apology - anyone who could frame such a remark is incapable of giving one. Can I just remind you that Joan McAlpine’s remarks were directed at other Scots, not at the English? She said that the effect of their posture was damaging to Scotland. So are your remarks.

Maybe you should just stick to the music …

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Union and Kenny Farquarson

Kenneth Farquarson – now there’s a resounding Scottish name.  Kenneth, a  Pictish forename (Cinoid) linked to the Goidelic Cináed, meaning firehead or born of fire. And Farquarson – son of Farquar, the dear one.

The Farquarson clan were Jacobites, staunch supporters of the Stuarts, and fought in many battles against the British state, including  Culloden.

One might expect that those bearing this great name might put Scotland first, but strange things happened after the Union, especially among the High Heid Yins of the clans.

The present chieftain of the Clan Farquarson is Alwyne Farquharson of Invercauld, and sports a nice coat of arms with heraldic lions, a couple of daggers and two coniferous trees. But where is his seat – the seat of the clan chief? Why, it’s Valley Farm, Norfolk!

But he has a nice little business in Invercauld, one that the family have owned since before 1432 – a sporting estate in the Cairngorms, with all the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ and holiday cottages and properties for sale and rent. Chief Alwyne was educated at Eton and Magdalen College Oxford, served in the Royal Scots Greys. He has been around a long time, born in 1919. He is on Person page 8051 of Burke’s Peerage.

With that pedigree, my guess is that he is not a supporter of Scotland’s independence, but it’s only a guess …

Coming right up to date, our very own Kenneth Farquarson, Deputy Editor of Scotland on Sunday is not a supporter of independence either. He is a Unionist, and here, I don’t have to guess, since Kenny amiably and articulately argues his case for the Union in trenchant articles in SoS, and on Twitter. He is the kind of unionist one can have a rational debate with, one without acrimony, but vigorous nonetheless. I think, despite our political difference, that the New Scotland needs people like Kenny – so there …

I’m sure Kenny did not become a Unionist because of his clan chief – he is not fond of all that old emotional history stuff, and neither am I. If Scots followed their clan chiefs’ politics these days, the Tories, not the SNP would be in power, and Annabel Goldie would be well on her way to being a Baroness, or maybe a Dame – there is nothin’ like a dame!

Why do I cover this ground before coming to Kenny’s article in SoS last Sunday – Why Union’s fate depends on Fraser ?

Because the opposition to Scotland’s independence can only be understood when one looks squarely at that powerful, entrenched bastion of privilege, unelected and undemocratic – the British Establishment – and the Scottish dimension to it, to fully appreciate the forces that have everything to lose and nothing to gain from independence.

The Scotland on Sunday article

Kenny proposes that the fate of the Union hinges on whether Murdo Fraser gets elected as the new ‘Tory’ leader or not, a proposition that he recognises will be greeted with scepticism, if not derision, by many. Well, not by me …

I think that Murdo’s decision to face facts about the Tory Party and the future of the centre right in Scottish politics was brave and principled. A politician who does not take big risks when the game demands it is no politician at all. I hope he wins, because I think it is unhealthy for the centre right not to have a significant voice in Scotland, because without that voice, we head for the extreme right and neo-fascism.

I also understand and agree with most of Kenny’s analysis of the situation, with qualifications. The unionist parties are moving inexorably towards devo max – greater autonomy from the UK, both in constitutional and party terms, with a greater focus on Scotland and Scottishness. Labour, of course, is moving more slowly than the Murdo camp, but if we listen to Tom Harris, they’re pretty well there too.

Kenny says that the election of Murdo Fraser would recalibrate Scottish politics, a phrase that exactly captures what the consequences would be. The LibDems don’t really matter much, but to the degree that they do, they are a federalist party, so they are basically devo max as well.

KF says that his friends in the SNP (by that I assume he means MSPs or party insiders) assure him that Alex Salmond is still determined to offer voters three options – independence, devo max or status quo. Since I have no insider information (the party are wary of independent bloggers) I can only take what he says at face value.

So it seems assured that Scotland will – at the very least – get devolution max, with the enthusiastic cooperation of all parties. What is devolution max and how does it differ from full independence?

These are easy questions to answer for a supporter of full independence, or for a supporter of the Union, but not only do unionists not answer it, they carefully avoid the question. Home Rule, an ancient phrase from my childhood, now is in vogue again, to deflect attention from this real, crucial difference.

And Kenny is no different – nowhere in his article does he say just what it is he and other unionists are trying to preserve after devo max, not because he doesn’t know, but because it starkly exposes what the Great Game is all about.

It’s essentially defence and foreign policy – the ability to send Scots to war and to die without the consent of their devo max Parliament, or their first Minister, or Scottish voters, or Scottish mothers and fathers.

It’s the ability to make war with weapons of mass destruction called the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, one that is patently not independent, since we need the instruction and consent of the US to launch it.

It’s the ability to continue with a Ministry of Defence where incompetence often cloaks corruption, one that enriches favoured politicians and armaments manufacturers, the merchants of death,  a Ministry with a revolving door to lucrative directorships and advisory consulting posts for some of its salaried officials.

It’s the ability to allow political mediocrities to strut on a global stage, to interfere in the affairs of nations far from the UK, and to become obscenely rich in the process, while the democracy that elected them goes to the dogs.

This is the unionist vision, masked by sentimental nonsense about Britishness and shared values. This is the ugly, lethal, venal, inhuman heart of the Union that’s left after devo max. This is what those who profit from it will defend to the death – someone else’s death, preferably a Scottish soldier.

I want no part of it – I want to live in a truly independent Scotland, one where the SNP, the Scottish Labour Party, the Murdo Centre Right Party, the Scottish Greens, and the Scottish minority parties are all Scottish parties, with only the interests of the Scottish people as their primary focus, but a Scotland that cooperates in fully and intimately with its newly free neighbours, the great nations of England, Wales and Ireland, and exercises its international responsibilities through free association with the free nations of Europe and the world.

That’s the Scotland I want to see – that’s the Scotland I will vote for. I hope enough of my fellow Scots agree with me to make it happen.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The smell of the newsprint, the roar of the racks

I went into the paper shop this morning, and the newspapers stared at me reproachfully from the rack. “You’ve betrayed us,” they seemed to say plaintively, "we’ve served you for decades, and now, when we’re at our most vulnerable, you attack us … You’ve had circulation problems yourself, you should know how it feels.”

I tried to resist the seductive smell of the printer’s ink as I reached down for my Sunday morning supply, and sent a subliminal message to them – “You’ve betrayed the Scottish people – but I live in hope …”

I crossed the road, in what passes for a sprint these days, with the Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald (among others!) under my arm, firmly in what I call car jack mode.

(Carjack mode refers to the old joke of the motorist who gets a flat tyre on a lonely country road late at night. He finds he has no jack to change the wheel, and heads for a lonely farmhouse to see if he can borrow one. On the way up to the farmhouse, he reflects on the hostile reception he will get from the farmer, wakened by a stranger in the middle of the night. He knocks on the door, an upper window opens, the farmer looks out and says politely “Can I help you, sir?” The motorist looks up and shouts “Stick your ******* jack up your ****!”)

I have good reason to be in car jack mode over The Scotsman’s shameful week, where every story, however flimsy, was converted into an attack on the First Minister. But I am falling into the old trap of thinking of Scotland on Sunday as simply a Sunday clone of The Scotsman, when it patently is not, with the key difference being Kenny Farquarson.

I skimmed the headlines and got rapidly to KennyFarq (see @KennyFarq on Twitter – always thought-provoking and relevant), ready to shout “Stick the UK up your ****, Kenny.” But I am instantly confounded, not to say dumfounded, by a brilliant, visually arresting cartoon on a Glasgow zombie theme by Brian Adcock and beneath it, an attention-grabbing headline – Home truths for the new Unionist party with Kenny’s pic and by-line beneath it.

My normal approach to Kenny’s pieces in SoS of late could be categorised as hostile dissection. But this piece speaks clearly and utterly authentically for itself and says something that has never been said in quite this way, although many turgid analyses have infested the media lately on this theme.

So I have nothing to say, because Kenny Farquarson has said it superbly and concisely, and he deserves to be read, not quoted. Go out and buy Scotland on Sunday for this article and this cartoon.

Brad Pitt – eat your heart out! Sorry, Brad – it’s the other way round, isn’t it?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The riots in some English cities

The title of this blog represents the only accurate locational description of what happened over the last week. If you don’t accept this, consider the alternatives in ascending order of inaccuracy -

The English riots: The British riots: The UK riots: The Western European riots: The European riots.

When the French people riot - as they have done many times, e.g. 1968, 1995, 2005, 2011 - they are described by the international press as either The French riots, if widespread, or if confined to one city,  The Paris riots.

Riots in America are described by the city, e.g. The Newark riots, The Chicago riots, The Seattle riots - or by subject, e.g. the draft riots, the Seattle prison riot, or by the trigger, e.g. the Rodney King riots.

The BBC started its coverage of the riots accurately with The Tottenham Riots, which rapidly became The London Riots. Once other English cities became involved, they became either the UK riots or the riots in Britain. This was picked up by some foreign media outlets, and was paralleled in the UK press.

Scotland, in the middle of an economic recession created by Westminster and global factors, a country to which tourism is a vital component of its economy, was also in the middle of its tourist season and its International Festival,  with tourists thronging the capital, and more on the way. The scenes of flaming buildings, police in full riot gear appeared across the world’s media, causing understandable apprehension among those contemplating a visit or already booked for Scotland.

The First Minister made a low key comment on radio about this, and in brief TV news clips. (The  news clips reporting this also confirmed that Scotland was sending 300 police officers to assist the Metropolitan Police.)

Alex Salmond would have been in dereliction of his duty as First Minister if he had not done so. Within 24 hours, the riots were being accurately described in all BBC news bulletins and straplines as The English Riots.

A Scottish Government committee had already met at this point to consider possible responses should the riots spread north of the border. There was no complacency, simply a desire to offer practical help to our southern neighbours and friends, allied to the recognition that this was a sickness that could spread. Asked to speculate on the causes of the riots, and the possible reasons why they had not so far occurred in Scotland, the First Minister replied that we were “a different society”.

This entirely accurate observation was enough to induce hysteria among unionist politicians in Scotland, and their mouthpieces in the Scottish Press. As I observed in recent blogs, the debate then split along what I called The San Andreas Fault of Scotland - the question of the Union and of course the referendum. Every word uttered by unionist commentators since then has focused on that aspect, rather than concern for the people of England sorely afflicted by these appalling incidents of civil disorder.

From the autumn of last years onwards, when the polls punctured the complacent assumption that Labour was going to win the 2011 Holyrood election in  a walk, unionist panic grew, as they faced the real possibility that the Scottish National Party might actually be going to achieve the unthinkable - a second term, this time of five years, with its inevitable consequence - a referendum on independence. Scottish Tories, LibDems and Labour then ran about in all directions like headless chickens, vomiting out dire predictions of doom and disaster, performing incredible somersaults of policy, and totally failing to understand the mood of the electorate or the real issues involved.

When the horrifying scale of their defeat became evident, there was a brief period of stunned disbelief, followed by  a change of tack, now desperate to have the referendum immediately, in the hope that the opinion polls on support for independence were accurate. As so it has gone since May 6th, with the UK media realising that Scotland did exist, posed a threat to the very existence of the UK and its pretensions as a global power. And this was accompanied by the recognition that Scotland was different, in deep and fundamental ways, from the rest of the United Kingdom, a recognition that had briefly flickered into life after the results of the 2010 General election, when the fact that there were two nations not one became starkly evident from the voting pattern.

Since then, the strategy of the unionists, to the degree that their deeply divided ragbag of ploys constitutes a strategy or even a viewpoint, has been to emphasise the one nation concept, stronger-together-than-apart, and ‘Britishness’, a nebulous, nostalgic, imperial idea that some national character held the rickety and failing political hybrid called the UK together. A Newsnight Special even had a debate on this, with Rory Stewart MP fighting back a tear for the Britishness about to be lost if Scotland became independent  typifying the gross sentimentality and poverty of thought and political grasp in the unionist approach.


Since the Scottish press is well on its way to terminal decline and irrelevance, I probably shouldn’t waste too much time on them. But as an old print junky, and being as unrealistically nostalgic for the great days of print journalism in Scotland as Rory Stewart is for the misty imperial past, I’ll give them some attention …

Scotland on Sunday has Kenny Farquarson saying that We must be part of the great debate. The great debate he refers to is the English Riots and the questions raised, and he refers to the ‘national debate’. He raises the central questions - who are ‘we’ and what is ‘the nation’. Kenny clearly want the nation to be the UK, not Scotland, but the ‘we’ that he wants to be part of the great debate in his headline seems to be Scotland, so he seems to be in some confusion there.

He accurately identifies the real questions raised by the English riots and the frightening experience of our English neighbours - and of course of the many Scots living in the affected areas, including friends and close relatives of mine - and he place at the centre, the question “A national debate, then. But for which nation?”

He quotes David Cameron’s comments on “the rip in English society”, but then goes on to say

But as far as Alex Salmond is concerned, this has no relevance for us north of the Border.”

He then follows this with

“Scotland, says the First Minister, is a ‘different society’, by which he plainly means “a better society’.

Both of the statements above by Kenny Farquarson are misrepresentations and distortions of what Alex Salmond said, and he has not a shred of evidence for either one of them. (If he has, he should bring it forward at once.)

(His use of quotation marks for “a better society” creates the implication that Alex Salmond actually said this, when he neither said it nor meant it. This is, at best, poor punctuation from Kenny Farquarson and he should be ashamed of himself, whatever the explanation.)

The rest of the article could be taken apart paragraph by paragraph in its attempt to project a set of values and assumptions on The First Minister and by extension the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Party and those who voted for them so decisively last May, that are just not representative of the facts.

It is a grubby attempt, but since it will influence very few voters when the referendum comes, because they simply won’t have read it, given the Scotsman’s circulation decline, and because many of those who have read it, like me, will dismiss it entirely, why should I devote more time to it?

Kenny Farquarson recognises that Scotland is different from England in many respects - he just doesn’t recognise the areas that are the important differences. That’s why the unionists lost the May election, and it is why they will lose the referendum argument.

Scotland is better than England in some respect, and it is manifestly worse in others. The Scottish Government doesn’t flaunt the superiority in some areas nor does it conceal the deficiencies in others - it offers its better qualities as an example, and is dealing, and dealing successfully with its difficult areas, in spite of the fact that throughout the last Parliament it was impeded in crucial areas by a united unionist opposition, e.g. minimum pricing for alcohol.

The Scottish people are not better or worse than the English people or the Welsh or the Northern Irish, but they are different: they rejoice in their positive difference and tackle their negative differences. But the Scottish Government is different and better than the last UK Westminster Government and the present woefully inadequate Coalition, in their commitment to social justice and the poor, the vulnerable, the old, the sick and the underprivileged.

And that is our message to the people of England and Wales - stand as a nation once again, as Scotland does - rejoice in your English and Welsh identities and cultures, as Scotland rejoices in its Scottish identity and culture, and throw off the dead hand of the Disunited Kingdom - a Britain that no longer exists  - a conspiracy of the rich, the unelected, the wealthy and the privileged against the people of these islands.

Scotland will stand beside you as your friends and neighbours in this great constitutional change, and looks forward to a new era of cooperation, culturally, economically and in the defence of our islands.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Kenny Farquarson on ‘Britishness’

Kenny Farquarson has got around to the Newsnight debate on the Union and its imminent demise. It was on the 4th of July, the anniversary of that day in 1776 when the America threw off the shackles of Britain and ‘Britishness’ and proudly proclaimed their independence of the brutal empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain that was bleeding them dry to serve a lazy, corrupt elite in England.

I got my analysis, videos and comment How the English see Scotland's independence up early the following day.

Nonetheless, here is Kenny on July 10th, brushing a tear from his eye as he reflects on the delights of ‘Britishness’.

(I also managed another piece on July 6th, How the unionists share their identity crisis that explored, among other things, the well-established link between sentimentality and brutality in empires, fascists dictatorships and totalitarian regimes of all kinds.)

‘Britishness is about pop and fish ‘n’ chips’ is Kenny’s headline, and he fills me with delight with his sub-header -

I’ve never heard a Unionist argument this effective in 20 years of politics

For once, Kenny and I are in agreement. When it comes right down to it, this is what the public unionist argument is now reduced to, and it is feeble, sentimental and devoid of any true feeling.

If it’s the best they’ve got, then Scotland’s independence is well on its way.

I invite Kenny, and anybody else who might be tempted to give credence to this twaddle to revisit my two blogs, watch again the Newsnight clips and listen to the comments. We may expect more of this kind of thing as we approach the referendum. Get the sick bags ready …

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The BBC, the Sunday papers and Professor John Kay


BBC News at 1.00 p.m. led with the FIFA story, moved briefly to the deaths of two young marines in Afghanistan, the deaths of two Afghan civilians and twelve children in a Coalition strike, then moved swiftly back to what really mattered - football and the FIFA story.

The burden of the four minute Afghan story was the usual quick, token skate over the deaths of two young marines, cut down in the flower of their youth, and a report on the deaths of twelve innocent children in a Coalition strike, the burden of which was that, well, these things happen, to be regretted, etc. but don’t forget that the Taleban are as bad, or worse!

This is the UK, client state of US foreign policy - the junior partner - and the BRITISH  Broadcasting Company at its callous, jingoistic worse, serving the propaganda of war as the operating principle of the state.

I am often a defender of the BBC on this blog and on YouTube - on balance, I think it is an effective and reasonably balanced public service broadcaster, especially in Scotland, perhaps the best in the world, but when it occasionally becomes the tool of the British Establishment and the formidable American and British Zionist lobby, it is something to be deeply ashamed of, and is a threat to democracy and world peace.


Scotland on Sunday leads with that old independence thing again - SNP expert says split will hit economy.

Here we have our old friend, bias by headline - an editorial device that has become familiar in both the Herald and SoS in the last few years. Professor John Kay is a member of the Council of Economic Advisers to the Government of Scotland, and has been since 2007, that is, he is a government adviser.

He was chosen, together with others, because he is a distinguished academic, and has been a director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. What he says - most of it, anyway (see below) - should be listened to with respect, and weighed in the context of what other advisers and relevant bodies have to say about Scotland’s economy.

But in the hands of Scotland on Sunday, he is transformed into an SNP expert and a member of Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers - a not too subtle shift, the sub-text of which could be taken to be that he was selected to serve a party line on independence, and has now broken ranks. (The picture of Professor Kay carries the caption John Kay: hired by Salmond.) That contrives to be an insult to both Professor Kay and to the First Minister, one that deserves the contempt which I offer, and I hope others.

Are you editing a tabloid newspaper, Kenny Farquarson, or one of Scotland’s two quality newspapers?

I read Professor Kay’s piece, Fate of independence, carefully. I am not an economist, and therefore qualified to comment only as a lay voter who wants Scotland to be independent. But it is voters like me  who will determine in the referendum whether or not Scotland gains its independence, and they will cast their votes at the ballot box based on a complex mix of reasons and emotions. Some will have listened to the economic arguments and weighed them carefully: some will ignore the economic arguments because their minds are already made up, for other reasons.

Before commenting on John Kay’s views - the views of one informed man, one expert - let me say that my mind is already made up, and here’s why -

Firstly, I want my nation - which I define as Scotland - to be free to determine its own priorities, its own future and its own destiny. That transcends any economic consequences that may initially result from escaping from the dead, stultifying effects of a moribund Union that was entered into under the pressures of bribery and intimidation from a larger, more powerful neighbouring country over 300 years ago.

Secondly, I want to be free of a political entity, the UK, that is now wholly committed to war as the operating principal of the state and the economy, is committed to a subservient client relationship with the United States of America’s foreign policy, a nation also committed to war and the military/industrial complex as the operating principal of the state, and is committed to the pernicious doctrine of the nuclear deterrent and to the possession and use if required of weapons of mass destruction. That second reason also transcends, for me, any economic penalties or benefits that might result from independence.

The above two freedom alone are sufficient to make me vote for Scotland’s independence. But I also believe that, free from the war and weapons obsessions of the UK, free from the obsession with the principle of defence-as-a-job creation scheme, free from the delusion (or the self-serving excuse) that the US and the UK are the world’s policemen and the guarantors of the spread and dominance of their particular militaristic, exploitative capitalistic version of democracy, that Scotland will be economically, culturally and morally transformed.

Professor Kay wisely confines himself to commenting on the economic implications as he sees them of Scotland’s independence. He is not a professor of international relations, nor a defence expert and he is not a professor of international ethics or moral philosophy.

An economics expert, indeed any kind of expert, however eminent, does not reach conclusions in an intellectual vacuum. They are human beings, with a range of experiences and beliefs that extend far beyond their field, and these beliefs and experiences influence them, consciously and unconsciously, in the conclusions they reach. Perhaps pure scientists - for example in the field of quantum physics - come closest to the kind of objectivity that we might hope from them when they offer their views to us lesser mortals on matters that will profoundly affect our lives. But even this exalted group perceive reality through the prism of their human experiences, hopes, beliefs and prejudices.

So when Professor Kay says “There is very little possible autonomy for Scotland which is not potentially available for it as part of the United Kingdom”, he is referring to economic autonomy, not to defence or foreign policy, or language, or culture, or the most fundamental autonomy of all - to choose, and to accept the consequences of our own choices, something that lies in the heart of every human being.

In the rest of his article, Professor Kay sees only problems, not solutions, other than - by implication, don’t do it, and choose the middle option - devolution max. Throughout the article, I get the feel of a man who doesn’t like the prospect of independence for reasons other than the purely economic.  Since I have no idea where Professor Kay stands - nor have I the right to know - on the monarchy, on defence, on the nuclear deterrent, on foreign policy, or indeed where he is positioned in the great left to right political thought spectrum, I have no basis for knowing whether or not these matters influence his conclusions on economic matters. He is, in this article at least, silent on defence and foreign policy matters and their economic implications.

But one comment of Professor Kay’s may be significant by what it doesn’t say, rather than what it says -

In the long run, the issue is whether independence would promote economic dynamism in Scotland - or lead it into the petty, partisan corruption that, for so long, characterised Scottish politics.”

Here’s what he didn’t say - that the petty, partisan corruption that for so long characterised Scottish politics was a manifestation, since the end of World War Two, of either Labour or Tory dominance in Scottish politics, i.e under the Union and two unionist parties. This petty, partisan corruption has only begun to diminish since the Scottish National Party, committed to Scotland’s independence, took power in 2007.

The egregious corruption that has characterised Westminster politics over the last few years has happened under the Union, and has been anything but petty, including as it did widespread corruption and criminal behaviour in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, leading to criminal prosecution and imprisonment of both elected and non-elected representatives, and the unprecedented forced resignation of the Speaker.

In marked contrast, the Scottish National Party has been entirely free of such corruption, both petty and partisan, and no MSP or Scottish minister has been prosecuted for criminal actions nor been imprisoned. The Scottish National Party is committed to Scotland’s independence, something I’m sure Professor Kay is aware of.

The behaviour of the Ministry of Defence has been characterised at best by utter incompetence, leading to the squandering of huge sums amounts of tax revenue, incompetence that somehow has always managed to result in the enrichment of many former MOD senior official and government ministers through revolving door lucrative appointments, directorships and consultancies. During this period, our armed forces have been placed in harm’s way with inadequate equipment and support, and many have lost their lives.

Professor Kay is silent on all of this because he must regard it as beyond his economic expertise, although it manifestly has a major economic, fiscal and social impact. Why then did he choose to speculate as to whether “independence would … lead it” [Scotland] “to sink into the partisan, petty corruption, that, for so long, characterised Scottish politics.”

What I know, Professor Kay, is that under an independent Scotland, it is highly unlikely that two young servicemen would die in one day in a foreign occupation that has lasted a decade, serving a US President’s need for vengeance following the appalling terrorist crime of 9/11, and that twelve innocent children would be blown apart in one day by a Coalition that includes the UK’s ‘defence’ forces. It is also unlikely that an independent, non-British,  Scottish public service broadcaster would offer such an unfeeling, cynical and unbalanced report on this enormity.

But these matters are properly beyond the scope of an economic adviser, however eminent and well-qualified.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Polls and Polls - and that Independence thing …

Take your pick of the polls today. That sounds like the first line of a jolly Victorian music hall song -

Take you pick of the polls today, take your pick of the polls

Some say up and some say down, but the lead goes rolling on

SOS (that’s not a panic message from a sinking unionist ship, but the name of a newspaper, Scotland on Sunday) carries a little headline in the right-hand column of the front page - Labour slashes SNP lead in election. The pale fluid that passes for blood in Iain Gray’s veins gives a little surge, but then slows down again as the third paragraph hits the reef of reality with the chilling words

 Alex Salmond remains on course to beat his main opponent …

But the SOS poll gives a crumb of comfort to Labour, and reminds the SNP of what they already know - the game ain’t over till the polls close, on this fateful Thursday for the Scottish people.

The Progressive Scottish Opinion/Mail on Sunday poll shows the changes (bracketed) from the same poll early in March at the start of the election campaign

SNP: 45% (+8)
Lab: 35% (-8)
Con: 10% (-1)
Lib: 6% (+1)

SNP: 41% (+4)
Lab: 36% (-8)
Con: 8% (-3)
Lib: 5% (+1)
Gre: 6% (+2)

Seats projection:
SNP: 62
Lab: 51
Con: 8
Lib: 5
Gre: 3


Columnists over the last week have been liberal - if that is the right word - with their advice to Iain Gray as to how he might wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, advice that has ranged from the considered but misconceived (Kenny Farquarson) to the realpolitik expedient populist (John McTernan) - advice which, if taken, will infinitely compound Labour’s misery.

Much of it has centred on what unionist believe is the SNP’s Achilles Heel - that independence thing. And today, in the Sunday Herald, Iain Macwhirter leaps into the maelstrom, scorning the dangers, apparently unconcerned by the fate of his two colleagues, and invokes the spirit of Wendy Alexander on the independence question.

He offers a lifeline to Iain Gray if “he dares to take some bold, inspiring steps as the election nears”, the main one being to challenge Alex Salmond to call a referendum, with the inspiring Alexandrian words “Bring it on …” ringing in his ears. This will “reboot the entire election campaign … as the SNP … say what they actually mean about independence. Flags and armies? The euro? NATO? Scottish passports? Customs posts?”.

Oh, Iain - what possessed you to pen this stuff? Leaving aside the fact that the SNP have already made their intentions clear on all of these topics, do you really think Iain Gray and his team, incapable of even marshalling a few hard statistics on knife crime without bringing the derision of the numerate down upon their heads, have got the political intelligence to even begin to address such issues in the three campaigning days left?

Let me wearily set out the facts on that independence thing yet again, aware that I am talking to a man I considered as one of Scotland’s most incisive and objective political commentators - until today …

The Scottish National Party’s raison d'être is the independence of the Scottish nation by the free democratic choice of the people of Scotland, a choice that will be offered to them during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, the electorate and May the 5th permitting.

Alex Salmond’s position on that is as clear today as it was at the beginning of this election campaign, and for a long time before that. When will he call for a referendum? When he judges the time to be right for the Scottish people to be given the opportunity to make their choice within the life of the next Parliament.

Let’s move from those clear waters into the muddy pool that is the unionist parties’ collective mind, and examine the multiple contradictions in their approach, starting with about the only two things that are clear to them -

1. They don’t want independence.

2. They don’t want the Scottish people to have the opportunity to express their democratic view on whether or not they want independence in a referendum.

From what should be these two Forsythian (the wee Laird of Drumlean) tablets of dogma, they then wander off in all directions, eventually moving in ever-decreasing circles, encouraged by journalists such as the three above, eventually flying up a number of orifices into their own guts.

The tortured ‘logic’ that flow from the above goes something like this -

The best way to avoid independence is to stop an SNP government being elected, but if they are elected, as seems likely, to ensure that they don’t have enough seats to table a bill requesting a referendum, and which the combined unionist opposition could block. But if they might just get enough seats to do this, to ensure that a referendum is declared quickly, before they can demonstrate yet more effective government in Scotland, hopefully returning a NO vote (based on the present polls of voting intentions), and taking the independence question off the table ‘for a generation’.

The above is bad enough, and cynical enough in itself - a dying hegemony desperately trying to halt a people’s wish to determine their future - but what follows from it descends into farce, a kind of Carry on UK up the Khyber production.

To achieve this, the Farquarson/McTernan/Macwhirter Plan is to use the last three days of a floundering, failing Labour campaign to demand that Alex Salmond call a referendum - right now, Alex - this very minute! Gie us a date, Alex - go on, gie us a date! We dare you! Ya Boo, big fearty - gies a date noo!

This slides over the fact that Iain Gray spent the last couple of years telling the First Minister that a referendum would be an unwarranted deflection from the serious business of managing the appalling economic crisis created by Iain Gray’s UK governing Labour Party when in power, and now being compounded by the incompetent, quarrelling, collapsing ConLib coalition.

Alex Salmond, a statesman and a master tactician, has a wide range of effective responses to this, and with his usual sure touch, will select the best one.

The one I would love to see, just for the sheer delight of watching the response to it, would be to calmly ignore the playground taunting. This would produce the following risible scenario -

Iain Gray: (with Bluetooth link to advice from The Three Journalist Stooges) See ! he’s feart, he’s feart! We say he’s secretly planning UDI, and will declare independence on May 6th, with a simultaneous erection of border posts, withdrawal from NATO, the waving of the Saltire and the standing down of the army.

But he can’t do that, because Parliament would have to approve a bill to request a referendum, and that would go the Westminster - and they widnae let him dae it! Naw, they widnae …

SANE JOURNALIST IN THE AUDIENCE (probably Angus Macleod) Why then are you asking him to “bring it on” and demanding a referendum, Mr. Gray?

Iain Gray: (after long pause to listen to Bluetooth Trio) Because he widnae win it! And he’s hiding the fact he wants independence …

Sane journalist: But he’s the Leader of the SNP, committed to independence, and he has said he will request a referendum within the life of the Parliament, Mr. Gray? Do you believe him?

Iain Gray: Naw, I don’t - he disnae really want independence. And I cannae wait - I want it right now, so he cannae have it. Anyway, a referendum would be a distraction from managing the economic crisis which Labour created … (pause for Bluetooth advice)  … which the global ConLib bankers created and which Gordon Brown had nothing to do with. And I want that distraction right now! Gie’s is a referendum, Mr. Salmond - you know you want it!

Sane journalist: What if he agreed to your request and set a provisional date for say, 2014?

Iain Gray: What? 2014? The Scottish people cannae wait that long for independence! (more Bluetooth) What I mean is - if he waited that long, they might vote in favour of independence. But if we have it right now - today, or even next week, they widnae … But even if they did, we’d find a way to stitch up the result, like we did the last time. They’re no gonnae get it, OK? Anyway, he disnae want independence - he’s feart, and we’re determined to show that he is.

Sane journalist: If he doesn’t really want independence, he’s on your side surely, Mr. Gray? Don’t you think there are  logical inconsistencies in your argument?

Iain Gray: You would do well to emulate your colleagues, Angus - they’re as logically inconsistent as me … (plaintive aside to aide   That didnae come oot, right, Andy …)

Wendy Alexander, at rear of crowd, in dark glasses and a big hat: Oh, Jesus Christ …

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Scotland on Sunday - on Easter Sunday

The haar has lifted, and our back garden on this late April day is gloriously sunny.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote the droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote and bathed every veynein swich licour of which vertu engendred is the flour

I quote the great English poet, because he was an Englishman, one with a great love for his country and its language, which he immeasurably enriched, and because I love the Canterbury Tales, especially its Prologue. And I love him because I am not an Englishman, nor am I British - just an unwilling, and I hope temporary citizen of a disunited kingdom that Geoffrey Chaucer would not have understood. But great art transcends all national and global boundaries in its profound humanity, which is why it is deeply distrusted by tyrants everywhere, in every age, and why the Arts are their first targets when money is tight and the rich and privileged must be protected at all costs.

But art is politicised, and artists must engage with politics, because politics is life and failure to engage is a denial of the Zeitgeist. But that engagement must arise from the artist’s vision, and must not be distorted by being pressed into a politician’s view of Art. That way lies the art of the Third Reich, and that alliance of art and politics defines fascism.

But I must return to the mundane, indeed to the quotidian. Carpe Diem, and the diem that must be carpied is Sunday the twenty fourth of April 2011.

The news today is good, and a continuation of the good news that has built like a great, unstoppable (I hope!) wave over the last week or so. The Scotland on Sunday YouGov poll graphically illustrates the Gray Nightmare - a Holyrood seat projection of 61 for the SNP (+14), with Labour at at 42 (-4). With a Green projection of 8 (+6) that gives a potential SNP/Green coalition or working arrangement of 69 seat out of 129.

No room for complacency, however, because the unionist press are offering increasingly desperate advice to Labour about how they might recover some ground, advice which can be summarised as go negative, attack Alex Salmond and talk up the independence agenda.

(I’ll bypass The Sunday Herald for once, who are also in  the ‘rehabilitate Iain Gray’ mode. But one comment, on Tom Gordon’s piece, Glad to be Gray. His opening paragraph is -

Iain Gray is a paradox. His back-story is far more vivid than that of civil servant turned bank economist Alex Salmond, and more obviously dedicated to public service, yet it’s impossible to tell.

Leaving aside the blatant bias, any journalist with such an uncertain grasp of syntax really needs to take advantage of one of Iain Gray’s ‘pledges’, as listed to the right of the piece - a zero approach to illiteracy. Tom, one question on your second sentence - ‘impossible to tell’ what?)

I choose to focus on Kenny Farquarson’s piece, What Labour needs is some six appeal. Why Kenny Farquarson? Because, based on his previous output, and significantly on his Twitter contributions (@KennyFarq), I believe him to be committed to Scotland and the Scottish people, open to civilised debate, and generally a valuable and informed member of Scottish society. But he is a unionist, and employed by Scotland on Sunday, and neither of these things come without obligations.

So how does Kenny Farquarson address the now urgent priority of giving artificial respiration to Iain Gray’s campaign?

Well, his sub-header, Scots appear to be unimpressed with the SNP record on almost every policy area, appears to signal that it is not only the Labour Party that has retreated from an uncomfortable reality, because in the light of the polls, if that risible statement was accurate, Scottish voters have taken leave of their senses. But we’ll move swiftly on to the body of his article.

Kenny offers six ways for Labour to ‘defy all predictions and ‘win back the lost ground’.

1. Talk up independence.

By this, Kenny means frighten unionists who may vote for the SNP by reiterating the tired and entirely unsuccessful argument, trotted out and regularly demolished by Alex Salmond on almost every media channel, that the SNP is somehow marginalising the independence question. If anything demonstrates how remote the Scottish Unionist parties and their media supporters are from the mood of the electorate, it is this argument. In spite of being peddled by a range of media gandy dancers and railroad men for well over a year, the voters seem unmoved - or rather, moved towards the SNP rather than being put off by it.

If I may celebrate the Auld Alliance in a phrase, Kenny, the Scottish NATIONAL Party’s raison d'être is the independence of the Scottish nation by the free democratic choice of the people of Scotland, a choice that will be offered to them during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, the electorate and May the 5th permitting.

2. Don’t let up on the message that Scotland needs Labour now that the Tories are back in power at Westminster.

Labour voters swallowed that argument briefly after the general election, until they realised that -

a) there would have been no Tories in power if John Reid, Labour power-broker par excellence, hadn’t deliberately wrecked Gordon Brown’s attempt to form a rainbow coalition with the LibDems and the nationalist parties.

b) there would have been no Cuts necessary if Labour hadn’t wrecked the UK economy.

c) that Alex Salmond and the SNP had, week after week in Holyrood, warned of the impending ‘£500 million’ cut to the Scottish settlement by Alistair Darling, a fact airily denied and dismissed by Iain Gray when his party was in power at Westminster, and hastily re-discovered when they were thrown out.

c) that none of it would have happened if Scotland had been independent and/or in control of its own finances.


d) the financial crash would have passed Scotland by - as it has Norway - if the UK Government hadn’t stolen its oil revenues.

Scottish voters also realised, after Ed Miliband’s Labour Party Conference speech in Glasgow, that Miliband Minor wasn’t up here to fight the Scottish election, he was here to shamelessly use the puppet Scottish Labour Party and its puppet Leader to fight the next UK general election.

The Scottish electorate didnae come up the Clyde oan a bike, Kenny …

3) Go for the SNP’s record  in government.

Well, do so, by all means, Kenny - it is precisely their record in government that has inspired the confidence of a series of major Scottish business figures and the electorate.

4) It’s the economy, stupid …

Yes, it is, Kenny, and since Labour wrecked it, the ConLibs are looting the wreck, and the only hope Scots have is the SNP and Alex Salmond, the polls show that the electorate are not stupid, even if the unionist parties believe they are …

5) Wheel out Laura Norder

Wheel out is right, Kenny - in a broken pram on its way the the steamie, after Andy Kerr, Richard Baker and Iain Gray’s nonsensical statistics have been comprehensively rubbished by a series of unimpeachable organisations, including those they were misquoting. Laura Norder, a painted fraud who has little to do with justice, is the last refuge of scoundrels.

6) Finally, for goodness sake, do something about Iain Gray …

As Mae West once said, goodness has nothing to do with it. It would take a back-to-the future time machine to do something about Iain Gray, i.e. don’t elect him as Leader in the first place.

But then, what did the sea of mediocrity that is now the Scottish Labour Party have to offer? Iain Gray was thrown up, in every sense of the word, by a party bereft of values, ideals, vision and, above all, bereft of talent.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Shereen Show - sports writers give their views on the Megrahi Release

cynicalHighlander, a correspondent (see comments on my last blog on Portillo) called my attention to a radio show that I had not come across before - Shereen on BBC Radio Scotland - and its treatment of the Megrahi release issue yesterday, Sunday  13th February.

(I don’t listen to radio politics as much as I should, and I remind myself that Scottish radio has almost certainly a much bigger influence on the political thinking of the Scottish voter than I give it credit for, especially because of a highly significant media audience, those who listen in the car, an audience of which I am no longer a part.)

My first reaction was delight that Shereen Nanjiani, a broadcaster who I always liked in her long career stint (from 1987) as news anchor on STV and the first Asian/Scottish presenter in Scotland, was back. I hadn’t realised that she had re-invented herself as a radio talk show host in 2006. (I met her fleetingly in 1990 in the foyer when I was running a negotiating skills course for STV in Glasgow in 1990, but she most certainly won’t remember me.)

Unfortunately, this show in Sunday 13th was a deeply disappointing introduction to Shereen for me.

Shereen is no media airhead female selected for eye-candy reasons: she graduated from Glasgow University with an MA in Philosophy, and her long news anchor experience has left her with a wide experience of the Scottish political scene and beyond.

Her guests on Sunday’s show included three people who had something to say about the Megrahi release affair, reactivated by the Wikileaks disclosures about the UK and Libya and David Cameron’s bandwagon-jumping to discredit the Labour Party nationally. They were a peculiar mix -

Sarah Oates is Professor of Political Communications at Glasgow University, a graduate of Yale and Emory (Atlanta) universities, specialising in the study of media and democracy - a highly relevant heavyweight by any standards, and well-equipped to offer a considered view on the complex web of geo-politics that the Megrahi Affair is embedded in. But she didn’t …

Bill Leckie is a Scottish sport journalist and broadcaster who writes for The Sun. As a non-sporting person, my only knowledge of him, apart from this programme, is that he seems to excite the ire of Celtic in the Wild West of Scotland over allegations of bigotry in the game and beyond, and a sturdy response that he made to Kelvin MacKenzie’s attack on Scotland from an English nationalist standpoint. This rather contrived little spat had the feel of a gimmick to sell newspapers to me, however, I rejoice in Kelvin MacKenzie, who is exactly the kind of strident English nationalist who brings Scottish independence that bit closer every time he opens his mouth. And I fully support his wish to see an independent England again without all this British rubbish.

Bill Leckie, in his juxtaposed reply to Kelvin, Sun staff argue for UK break-up expresses the following admirable sentiments -

So here's the bottom line. We either make a fresh start as a proper, united land or admit it's over, air-kiss and go our own separate ways. There's nothing to be gained in us continually moaning that England treats us like the poo on their shoe. There's no point in the English giving themselves coronaries because we get free eye tests and bus passes.  Now that Scotland has a nationalist government, it's time we let the voters decide our destiny once and for all.

One might hope from that quote that Bill Leckie might have something useful and objective to say about the Megrahi affair. One would have been wrong …

The third guest in the discussion was Tom English, an Irishman working in Scotland as a sports journalist for Scotland on Sunday, and Scottish Sports Feature writer of the Year. (Tom English is doubtless bored rigid by jokey reference to his surname, and might well adopt the tactic of Lee Bum Suk - the Foreign Minister of Korea until his death in the  Rangoon bombing in 1983, and a distinguished UN diplomat, who used to introduce himself at conference by saying “My name is Lee Bum Suk. Please laugh now, then we can move on to serious business.”)

Exactly what a sports journalist’s views were supposed to contribute to the Megrahi discussion I am not certain, but there he was anyway.

What did we actually get from this odd mix?

Shereen Nanjiani gave a brief introduction, then played Cameron’s comment on the UK Labour Government’s involvement “facilitation of an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government”, itself a simplistic distortion of what actually happened without regard to the critical time frame. This was followed by an emotional quote from Stephanie Bernstein, an American relative of a Lockerbie victim, understandably hostile to the UK government’s position.

Shereen could  have quoted Dr. Jim Swire as a balancing view, but she didn’t. Instead, she followed with an Alex Salmond broadcast quote, in which the First Minister made the critical time distinction - that Megrahi was actually released a year later - a distinction that, however, doesn’t fit well with the shabby consensus between Cameron, the unionist press and the Labour Party, that the Scottish government was somehow complicit in the UK government’s double dealing and hypocrisy. Shereen could have had a representative of the Scottish government on her panel of guests - but she didn’t …

I suppose that up to that point, some kind of balance was maintained by Shereen and the programme’s production team. But then the discussion and the motley guests -

Prof. Sarah Oates, an American, jumped straight in with both feet.  “I mean, the more and more you hear about this story, the less and less likely it seems that this was a just a disinterested release due to humanitarian concerns.

The more and more I play that remark, Prof. Oates, the less and less likely it seems to me that this was a disinterested assessment of a complex political situation from an American academic, but more a superficial assessment - an opinion rather than a considered academic analysis, and one that has been formed without looking closely enough at the timescales, the documents, the complex nature of devolved government, the Scottish legal system and the fraught relationship between the Scottish Nationalist Government and the Unionist Labour Government of the UK at that time. But I could be wrong, Professor Oates …

Bill Leckie, sport journalist in the tabloid Sun newspaper, jewel of the News International, part of the Murdoch empire that includes the appalling Fox News in America, illegal buggers of everyone’s phone from Princes to commoners, currently the subject of multiple criminal investigations by the Metropolitan Police, has an opinion too, despite his apparent sympathies for Scottish nationalist aspirations in his Kelvin MacKenzie rebuttal.

A “bugbear”  of his, Bill Leckie confidently asserts, is that he never has believed that it was about compassionate release - “I have written from day one that I didn’t think it was anything to do with compassionate release - I’ve always thought it was business.”

This carefully formed opinion was obviously the product of deep journalistic research and reflection while on the terracing, fending off the outrageous attacks of Celtic supporters over chanting from the fans, and engaging in contrived spats with Kelvin MacKenzie.

Leckie then goes on to a quite contemptible attack on Kenny MacAskill’s integrity in his speech in August 2009 explaining and defending his decision to release Megrahi. Leckie then predictably repeats the distorted interpretation of the Justice Minister’s remark about a ‘higher power’ as suggesting that Megrahi would be judged by the Almighty, rather than what it patently was, a qualifying statement that his life span would be determined by a higher power, not by the medical forecast.

Tom English was then invited by Shereen to offer an opinion, from his deep sports expertise, on whether this was a compassionate release or not. Drawing on deep reserves of sporting journalistic experience and analysis, he reveals that he used to believe it, but no longer does, because “this week has absolutely changed my opinion.” He now believes that political expedience and not compassion drove the Scottish governments distinction.

He then goes on to accuse Alex Salmond of hypocrisy, quoting Sir Augustine Thomas "Gus" O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary for the lying, expedient Brown Labour government and now for the appalling ConLib coalition, that “the SNP were open to negotiations in the release of Megrahi.” He parrots the UK line that the Scottish Government was linking the issue of the Megrahi release to legislation on prisoner compensation on slopping out.

In so doing, Tom English unwittingly repeats and gives credence to a British Government lie - a blatant distortion and conflation of events, timescales and facts which a sports journalist, however distinguished in his field, has clearly not examined in any detail.

A Southern Irishman, even a sports journalist, should have a least some passing acquaintance with British government lies in the bloody history of his native land. The only excuse I can offer for Tom English is that, in his well-founded distaste for the UK and BP machinations over Libya and Megrahi, he has swallowed whole and entire the desperate attempts of a failing UK political culture to embroil the Scottish Government in their shameful realpolitik and deep hypocrisy.

In so doing, he and the other guests casually, and without a shred of evidence, or even apparently any real consideration of the evidence that exists, have impugned the integrity of two leading members of the Government of Scotland - the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill.

Shereen Nanjiani and her producer have failed to provide a balanced debate on a critical issue to the future of Scotland - and the UK - when a Holyrood election is imminent.

In so doing, they have also done a disservice to the Lockerbie dead and to their living, grieving relatives, who want above all, closure and justice based on the rule of law and objective facts, not on the glib and superficial opinions of sports journalists.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday, Sunday and the gentlemen of the Scottish press

Let’s start with a couple of laughs, because there’s not many to come …

The long-running lethal farce called ‘The Coalition’s War against Terror in Afghanistan’ descends even further into the absurd as a top Taliban honcho, Akhtar Mohammed Mansour meets President Karzai and top Nato commanders. This is it, the tipping point, when the tide will turn, the West will be vindicated, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of death and futility shines brightly, and Western values and culture will at last prevail in this benighted land.

The secret negotiations take place, the Mullah is feted, and leaves carrying oodles of goodwill cash. The world will soon be safe for democracy, Nato/US style.

But there’s bad news for Barack Obama and David Cameron. The Mullah wasn’t the Mullah after all, but The Conman from Quetta (in Pakistan) – a grocer - and he has simply vanished with the cash. The real Taliban fall about laughing in their hideouts in the mountains, Karzai, safe amidst his own mountains of coalition cash, shrugs philosophically, and the American military commanders utter unprintable - and most unchristian - oaths as they reflect on their future career prospects.

The Sunday Herald’s Tom Gordon, scratching around for anti-SNP stories to fill the gaps left by the dearth of real journalism at the Herald and the Sunday Herald - twin house organs of the Labour Party in Scotland - lights on the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill and a ‘story’ about the sybaritic highlife enjoyed by Scotland’s prisoners, already lying on beds of down, attended by maidens bearing grapes, soothed by soft music as they revel in the luxuries of incarceration in Scotland’s jails.

They are going to get flat screen TVs with built-in DVD players. This is bad enough, but – shock, horror – the Freeview tuners will be able to access the many porn channels now available. Why does this matter? Why will it be a gift to Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesperson, starved of raw meat since the Megrahi release?

Delicacy inhibits me from being too explicit, especially on a Sunday morning – let me just say that, for those with a long memory, it has something to do with rhyming slang and a film maker from the heyday of British filmmaking – J. Arthur Rank. I look forward with keen anticipation to Richard Baker putting his little mouth in gear at precisely the same moment that he puts his brain in neutral on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he will link his indignant assault with the dangers of prisoners going blind. I think we should be told …

Bill Aitken, MSP has predictably already sounded off on this weighty matter – there is never a shortage of Tory rent-a-mouths to comment on justice matters.

Of course, the cold facts of the matter are safely tucked away at the end of the article, remote from the rabble-rousing and misleading headline and opening nonsense, something that has now become the Herald’s signature style, seamlessly replacing the objective investigative political journalism that used to characterise one of the world’s oldest English language newspapers. When Labour and the Union are threatened, anything is admissible.

TVs have been the norm in Scottish prison cells since 1999: this is simply an upgrade from CRT sets to the new, cheap flat screens with built-in DVDs as a routine inclusion. But with that money, Labour and the Tories could have bought whips, birches, thumbscrews, pincers, tongs, perhaps even budget-priced racks! It’s an outrage!


The strange ways of the Sunday Herald with hard news is demonstrated clearly today over fiscal matters – the tartan tax row and the Calman proposals – or what’s left of them.

Contrast the approach taken by Scotland on Sunday with the Sunday Herald -

SoS lead article today -

‘Retreat’ on new Scots tax powerstwo levies not included in next Scotland Bill

Eddie Barnes’ opening paragraph encapsulates what has happened -

Two tax powers that were destined to be handed to MSPs will not now appear in ground-breaking new laws designed to create a stronger Scottish Parliament.”

On page two, Barnes develops the theme under the sub-header Scotland Bill to leave out key Tax powers. The tax powers are “less ambitious than first proposed”. The SNP position and comments is fairly and objectively reported, with the Party claiming that the proposals fall far short of what is needed, that they are half-baked and damaging to the Scottish economy.

In other words, this  is Calman minus – a hollow and ominous echo of Tavish Scott’s vainglorious posturing about Calman Plus.

But in the Sunday Herald? Buried away at the bottom of page four, we have a small headline Bill to give Holyrood new income tax powers, and a couple of hundred words which grudgingly include the following, by Tom Gordon Scottish political editor.

The Scotland Bill will omit several Calman ideas. including devolving the aggregates levy, which could raise £50 million a year, and air passenger duty, which could raise £100m.”

Well, not a lot on this fundamental issue for Scotland, Tom, but then you had to save your energies for a full-blown attack on the SNP and John Swinney (backed up by a Leader article) – The Week it all went wrong on page 20. Here, our heroically objective political editor, in what is an opinion article in the guise of political analysis, devotes an entire page to a non-issue – the tartan tax – and the attempt at the political lynching of a decent man of high integrity that disgraced our Parliament last week.

Here are a few choice examples of Tom Gordon’s objective journalism and political analysis -

After what I can only describe as a faintly contemptible lead-in referring the John Swinney’s three-week old son, Gordon opens with -

Within 48 hours, he would be denounced and vilified, and within a week he would be forced into a grovelling apology at  Holyrood.”

You got it right about the denunciation and vilification, Tom – a sad hysteria that Patrick Harvie had the good grace to try to offset by  his genuine tribute to the Finance Minister, as he belatedly realised that he had become part of a political lynch mob. Describing John Swinney’s dignified and clear apology as ‘grovelling’ is a patent distortion of the facts, as anyone who watched and heard it knows. (I have the clip and I will post it on YouTube).

First Iain Gray, in probably his finest turn as Labour Leader, accused Swinney …”

If that was his finest turn, God preserve us from his worst performance.

In the last column, there is a long list of what the Sunday Herald sees as the sins of the SNP government, then this, from Tom Gordon -

Suddenly the gilt is peeling off the administration, and the opposition sees it.

‘This raise the whole issue of competence,’ sighed one senior SNP source. ‘It all came across as shabby. We’re supposed to have a team you can trust, but they were keeping people in the dark’ “

Ah, the ubiquitous ‘unnamed source’, Tom. What would your brand of political reporting be without it.

Well, two can play that game, Tom …

My unnamed source Holyrood Unionist opposition politician says “Even by our standards of desperately trying to marginalise the government elected by the Scottish people, regardless of their real needs, this was a new low in gutter politics – an attempt at the political assassination of a good man with the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people at his heart.


Let’s look back in time for a moment and remind ourselves just what the Calman Commission was. Here’s what I said way back in the summer of 2009 -

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Playing Unionist politics with Calman

The Calman Commission, an invention of the Unionist Opposition Parties in Holyrood, specifically set up to strengthen the Union and frustrate the progress of the Scottish People towards full independence, has made its report.

Anyone who doubted the thrust of the Calman Report only had to look at who commissioned it (the Unionist Opposition Parties) and the composition of the Commission itself.

Its fifteen members included -

Two Knights

Five Lords


Three CBEs


The three non-ennobled, knighted or gonged members included -

A youth activist and former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament

A professor of Islamic studies from Glasgow University

The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group



I do go on a bit about the monumental waste of scarce taxpayers’ money by government on consultants. Well, I made my living for about twelve years as a freelance management consultant and trainer, and before that, as a senior manager and director, negotiated with consultants, so I’ve seen the game from both sides of the table.

But nobody in government seems to want to listen. I wonder why …

Today, the trams project is in trouble over consultants, and TIE says that they underestimated their consulting budget spending by a factor of 25 times. Yes, well …

Here’s a little fact to chew over -

The average industrial wage is somewhere around £21k, and that is also the watershed at which the pay freeze for public sector workers commences. Let’s allow a little licence and call it about £400 a week.

About the lowest day rate a consultant will charge these days is £500 a dayyes, a day … This would be the low end of individual freelance consulting rates, with £750 probably being more typical, and £1200/1500 quite common. But charge-out rates for the large consulting firms can easily be double these figures or even more, with £1000 a day being very much the low end.

Reflect on this. The bottom end trainers and consultants earn in a day one and a quarter times the average industrial wage. So their weekly earnings are six and a quarter times those public service workers who by current wage restraint figure highly enough paid to have their earning frozen, with no increases – in the national interest. And that’s the bottom end of consulting rates.

But the big consulting firms charge from twice to four or five times that as day rates, giving a multiplier on the £21k public service worker of twelve and a half to twenty five times their earnings.

Consultants and consulting firms can – and will – legitimately argue that they have overheads – office, pensions, holiday, other costs and benefits – and that not every day is a fee earning day. This is true, but it is grossly overstated. A generous allowance to cover all employee benefits would be 20/25% for an individual freelance consultant.  There is cold calling and marketing when no fee is being earned, and this does bear on the freelance. But they do very nicely, thank you, in spite of it all …

A net working, fee earning year of about 150 delivery days (as against say, a working year of  about 230 days for an employed person) would deliver £75,000 gross. Not bad for many of those at that end of the market, given their experience, qualifications and skills base. Most freelances would gross from £100k to £150k per annum , some much more, especially if they can get long periods of continuous fee-earning days from large public service organisations.

As for the big boys – well, the holy grail for them is to bill more fee days per consultant than there actually are in the working year – a holy grail that is regularly found, but rarely acknowledged. And many of them do not in fact maintain large numbers of salaried consultants on the payroll – they sub-contract out to freelances, but charge the client often as much as three times the day rate being paid to the freelance. (I myself have worked for many large organisations on exactly this basis.)

It’s called the fee law of thirds – the day rate paid by the client represents something like three times the rate they would have to pay to hire someone with equivalent qualifications and skills to do the job in-house, including all overheads.

What am I arguing for? Not for stopping the use of consultants – there are many ethical, competent and capable consultants and consulting firms, delivering value and charging reasonable fees. But there is also gross incompetence in resourcing consultants, in the failure to use competitive tendering, in the negotiation of fee and in the management of consulting contracts and delivery. If private industry is guilty of this, hell mend them – they should know better. But when government does it, it’s our money – our taxes – and it has to stop.

There are other malpractices in the use of consultants, some of them bordering on corruption – the use of consulting contracts as political patronage, of cronyism, of revolving doors, of jobs for the favoured boys – and girls.

But they are a matter for the National Audit Office and where appropriate for the polis!