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Showing posts with label The Scotsman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Scotsman. Show all posts

Friday, 20 July 2012

Scotland as NATO’s aircraft carrier–Jim Sillar’s shining vision for independence

Commenting (Scotland’s NATO membership) on Alex Salmond’s response to George Robertson's rubbishing of his claims on Scotland, nukes and NATO, I predicted that the wee Lair of Islay would come right back at him. He promptly did, in a letter in today’s Scotsman. (PS 21st July - and today in the Herald!) I can’t abide Lord Robertson or what he stands for (UK bombers in attack mode) but he has the better of this exchange so far, and in my view, I regret to say in this interpretation he is right.

The defence debate – the true, evil heart of the UK’s opposition to Scotland’s independence – now rages across the media – sorry, across the print media, since television coverage has been woefully and shamefully inadequate so far.

Today’s Scotsman devotes acres of column inches to it, because they see it, with some justification, as the SNP’s Achilles heel. Not even Achilles managed to shoot himself in the heel with an arrow, but this is what the SNP leadership seem intent on with their NATO U-turn.

And right on cue, scenting blood and pre-conference notoriety, in jumps Jim Sillars, full of I-told-you-so and realpolitik. His article is titled We’re all in the real world in the print edition, but more cosily titled Scotland is bound to stay in the club in the online Scotsman.

He tries to beg the question by describing a “geopolitical reality” that he claims requires accepting membership of NATO. The geopolitical reality he describes is, of course, NATO’s self-justifying paranoid fantasy, an outmoded cold war world view that ignores the radical changes in geopolitics over the last twenty five years since the collapse of the Soviet bloc and notably since the world banking crisis and the Arab Spring. 

Big can no longer be presented as beautiful – its true face was always ugly and undemocratic – and the advent of the internet and social media is changing the face of power across continents. Viewed through distorting lens of NATO, the former Great Powers still seem great, but the seeds of change are altering the values of their peoples and their view of their leaders, and gradually, their political structures.

The Great Western Powers are still dangerous, of course, in their lunatic commitment to an unsustainable way of life, one that now threatens the planet itself, and the real threat to world peace comes from them, as they attempt to sustain and defend an unsustainable and indefensible way of life. The forces of religious fundamentalism and scientific  irrationality pose perhaps the greatest threat. They are present in both the East - understandable because of lack of resources, access to media and to undemocratic regimes or flawed democracies - and in the West, notably America, with none of the excuses of the Third World.

Sillars’ view of the SNP membership and its values is illuminating -

The coming referendum requires us to shed that constricting band around the national brain, especially so for that part of it represented by the membership of the SNP.”

“’No man can set the bounds of a nation,’ a quotation from an Irish nationalist, when uttered at an SNP conference, is guaranteed to win ecstatic applause.It’s guff. “

But he’s on Angus Robertson’s side. Angus – aided by polemics from Jim -is going to save the members from the constricting band in their brains at conference in October, and from false emotions such as belief in the potential of their little nation, Scotland.

You can relax, Jim – judging by my little range of contacts and from poll surveys, most of them are already either apathetic or already converted. If there is a constricting band round their brains, it’s the one causing them to underrate the dangerous implications of NATO membership, buoyed up by the “It’ll all be alright after independence” belief.

The paragraph that best sums up Jim Sillars’ cold war world view is this one -

Scotland geographically is crucial to Nato’s integrity and capability in the European sphere. Our land is Nato’s biggest unsinkable aircraft carrier, from which the alliance can prevent an attempted incursion by a hostile naval force, via the North Sea, into the Atlantic sea lanes.”

Well, you’ve certainly captured the essence of the NATO, UK and military/industrial establishment’s visceral opposition to Scotland’s independence in that one paragraph Jim. As you say in your article, you were once a staunch unionist and the hammer of the Nats. It’s seems as if you’ve come full circle again.

Sillars in effect repeats the Aneurin Bevan’s notorious opposition to unilateral nuclear disarmament - "It would send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference chamber" - that led the Labour Party into half a century of supporting the concept of the nuclear deterrent, and to Blair and Iraq. Jim’s version, commenting on the fact that, if the UK lost Trident – as it will if the SNP is true to its core nuclear principles and the consequential loss of its seat on the UN Security Council, runs as follows -

Without that seat a Westminster foreign secretary would be as influential in the world as the one from Belgium.

There is no constricting band round my brain. I’ve said about all I can on NATO in recent blogs. I have a larger concept of my native country than as an aircraft carrier – and as a prime target in the nuclear nightmare that awaits us if we see our new nation as simply there to serve the interests of the US/UK/NATO concept of nuclear intimidation (the nuclear deterrent) and its insular, outmoded, profoundly dangerous cold war mindset.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Tories, Labour careerists and old–and young – Lefties and nationalists


When Iain Duncan Smith was leader of the Tory party, he seemed to me to combine in his person archetypal Toryism and LibDem ineffectual wimpishness: he was a kind of harbinger of Nick Clegg, the Labradoodles of politics. But when he lost the leadership, the ‘quiet man’ found a cause – Easterhouse in Glasgow, and was accepted by a man for whom I have unqualified admiration, community worker Bob Holman. In pursuing this new vocation, Duncan Smith seemed to exhibit genuine empathy with and concern for the poor and deprived.

But the nasty party sets the genes, and Tories always revert to type, in an atavistic lurch into their primitive prejudices and convictions. Iain Duncan Smith has  proved no exception. In a decade, he has moved from his great recognition of the plight of the poor to blaming them: the reflex action of Tories in trouble. It’s all their fault, caused by their excessive consumption of alcohol, their laziness – it’s the family again, the lack of traditional family structures and values and poor parenting skills. At a stroke, the Tory sonic screwdriver of blame – also much used by the Labour Party – absolves this benighted Coalition of any responsibility for the havoc they are wreaking on the lives of the vulnerable.

Dorian Gray is dead, and the picture in the attic has come to life and claimed its rightful place in the power structure – or hopes to …


Going in search of Scotland's identity

It is a strange little piece, set up as a dialogue – which it patently is not – and both Gerry Hassan and Douglas Alexander start with the mandatory parade of working class credentials to exhibit their backgrounds as humble men of the people. (There was a television comedy sketch some years ago where two men tried to outdo each other in itemising the horrors of their early life.)

As an old lefty, I can play this game expertly, with the edge of having lived through times that Gerry and Douglas can only imagine and reflect vicariously through their parents.

(My early life as a torn-ersed Glaswegian, soon to be a blockbuster movie of the unrelieved misery genre: born in the 1930s in a Dennistoun slum tenement, unemployed and tubercular father who died in 1940 at the start of a terrifying war: brought up by my mother, who spent her time trying to scrape up an income of sorts from low-paid cleaning work while nursing a sickly child in pre-NHS days, being bullied and patronised by the apparatchiks of the primitive social and benefits system of those days, and patronised by the families around us who had working fathers in exempt occupations – mainly munitions - and had avoided military service. My values and political awareness were formed from the brutal realities of grinding poverty and ill-health, and by the wonderful working class men and women of the Labour party of that era, especially the Barras soapbox orators. How’s that for misery, Gerry and Douglas.? Your move …)

From the perspective of my childhood, both Gerry and Douglas were privileged children: both had working parents, in Douglas’s case both professionals, both received an education that I could only dream of, and neither of them have ever experienced anything remotely like real poverty or deprivation. But that doesn’t deprive them of their right to speak, so what are their themes?


Douglas refers to his “growing consciousness of the Scottish dimension” of his politics, Thatcherism, and says that “it felt like a struggle for Scotland’s soul”. Unfortunately for Scotland’s soul, Douglas’s epiphany was occurring at a time when the Labour Party was well on its way to losing its soul, culminating in the Blair/Brown governments who did more damage to the UK, Scotland and the world than Thatcher could ever have dreamed of.

He invokes the ghosts of Donald Dewar, John Smith and Robin Cook, probably the last Labour politicians of stature with any real values, but couples them with the living spectre of Gordon Brown (another son of the manse, but with a seriously defective moral compass), and has to go back to 1997 and the Scotland Act to find anything admirable in Labour. At the end of his first section, Douglas jumps speedily into one of the the two Labour boltholes – he is “more interested in abolishing poverty than abolishing Britain”, a glib unionist slogan that avoids the stark fact that it is the conspiracy of wealth, power, privilege and the concentration of power and wealth – of which he and Scottish Labour politicians are embedded tools – that creates and sustains poverty and deprivation in Scotland. (The other Labour bolthole is its phoney ‘internationalism’ which reached its bloody nadir in Iraq and Afghanistan.)


I am not a fan of Douglas Alexander (you’ve already guessed!) but I am an admirer of Gerry Hassan. I don’t agree with some of his analyses, but I have never read anything he has written that is not cogently argued and doesn't contains key insights that matter fundamentally for Scotland’s future, whatever it may be. He is, and will continue to be a serious voice in the critical years ahead of us. His commitment to Scotland’s independence is beyond question.

In a number of telling phrases, he captures what is wrong with Scottish Labour, but also sees another dimension to Scottish society, one that is little recognised, but vital.

For example – “Scotland is a social democracy for its middle-class professional interest groups. The system of government and public spending work best for those most entrenched in the system.”

By God, I recognise that reality, and fulminated against it as the Glasgow professional classes, blinded – and bought – by the glitz and glamour of Big Sport and the Commonwealth Games - and the Scottish Government - ignored and betrayed the vulnerable people and small business of old Dalmarnock, and the mothers of the disabled children of the Accord Centre, .

He refers to the “profound absence of responsibility” among Labour politicians as they “closed their eyes to the mediocre services the party offered” and to the “pronounced Scottish Labour entitlement culture” in Labour for the last half century.

But he also inveighs against a straw man, “the romanticising of our history” among a sector of nationalist support that denies the reality of the problems Scotland faces. Gerry is above making the tired old Braveheart taunt, but that’s what he means, and he must know that although this exists – and will continue to exist – among a minority of less informed nats (and a few well enough informed to know better), it has not been a defining characteristic of the party for many years now.

Like many intellectuals of the Left, Gerry is sometimes unaware of his own romanticisation of the potential of a new Scotland - a kind of Left-wing, cloth-capped Mel Gibson fantasy of a Scotland that will fearlessly condemn oppression across the globe, will turn away in disdain from the grubby business of trying to persuade amoral capitalists - and sometimes questionable regimes - to invest in or trade with Scotland, and will bring about the long-awaited collapse of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As one of my Barras soapbox orators of the 1940s used to say, fixing his admiring audience with a glittering, roving eye – “Aye, that day will come comrades, but it’ll no' come the morra, or even the day efter …”

Gerry, of course, can cloak all this when he chooses in dense prose and arcane economic theory, but the essence of the auld socialist cry is there – the Great Left Rapture, will assuredly come, when Scotland will be lifted to an ineffable state of social and economic morality. Unfortunately, for a century now, this has produced the Great Left Rupture, and the dream has turned to dust again and again, as economic reality, blatant careerism, money grubbing and realpolitik intruded, not to mention event, dear boy, events …

Gerry distrusts the pragmatism of Alex Salmond, and doesn’t like his economic vision. At this time of international economic and social turbulence, with the beast of neo-fascism, unbridled corporate power and religious intolerance slouching towards Bethlehem again, I think our only salvation is exactly Alex Salmond’s ebullient pragmatism, to secure jobs, futures and a life worth living for Scots young and old. But we need voices such as Gerry Hassan’s to balance that pragmatism with core values that still matter and are always, always under threat.

But we do not need the voice of Douglas Alexander, a career politician in the thing that the Labour Party has become, profoundly irrelevant to the future of Scotland – unless he and the Scottish Labour Party can shake off their obsession with the Union, abandon their fake internationalism, and embrace the independence of their truly internationalist country, where, in the immortal words of James Connolly - Séamas Ó Conghaile – that internationalism begins with nationalism.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

“… the birth of a new democratic, sovereign Scotland” Brian Monteith in the Scotsman

Tomorrow, Venus will cross the face of the Sun. No, it’s not a Page Three girl on the front page of a tabloid, it’s The Transit of Venus, an astronomical event which last occurred in 2004 but won’t occur again until 2117. It happens when Venus, the Earth and the Sun are in alignment.

The independence referendum in the autumn of 2014 will be the last for a long time, but no one can predict when, if ever, another such event will occur if Scotland votes NO. A large number of things will have to be in alignment if Scotland is to achieve its independence, and the Scotsman newspaper is doing its best to ensure that they are not, in fact, its aim is to ensure a total – and permanent – eclipse of the aspirations of  Scots who want their country to be independent by permanently keeping a dead moon, the UK, between Scotland and the light of global freedom.

However, as is their way, they do occasionally give a place to a commentator who has something useful to say about the Great Debate. Today it is Lesley Riddoch on the BBC, specifically BBC Scotland. It is well worth a read, and you can read it here.

In her trenchant analysis, Lesley makes a point that has been close to my heart, one that I have made many times, about the narrow pool – and narrow geographical radius from Pacific Quay - from which BBC Scotland lazily draws its commentators.


“... the Beeb’s own narrow selection of TV guests reinforces the impression that intelligent opinion is held only by the hyper-opinionated metropolitan few.

“... current affairs relies on a small number of conveniently located commentators who hop nightly between the Pacific Quay studios of the BBC and STV. Does no-one outside the chattering classes or the Central Belt have a view on our constitutional future?”

The main reason I suspect is that BBC Scotland only makes up its mind very late in the day to invite a commentator or panellist - often at short notice on the day of transmission - and defaults to the easy option of drawing from the Glasgow media types’ dormitories, e.g. Glasgow central and the West End. Extreme parochialism and crony networks have always been a feature of BBC Scotland in my lifetime, although there are brave and hardy – some might say foolhardy – journalists and producers who try to break down this stultifying pattern.


A regular contributor to the independence debate in the Scotsman is Brian Monteith. His right to such a regular platform rests on the fact that he is ‘on message’ in totally opposing independence, and his democratic claim to this rests on the fact that he is policy director of a right-wing think tank funded by a rich individual, Robert Kilgour.

The Scotsman give the URL of ThinkScotland as

I have news for them – this domain is for sale – I quote as follows -

This domain name (THINKSCOTLAND.COM) without content is available for sale by its owner through Sedo's Domain Marketplace.

Best get it right, guys – it’s

Here’s what I’ve said about them in the past The New Right in Scotland

Brian is full of advice for the NO Campaign today – read him here Unionists for Scotland not a contradiction

He at least gave me one laugh -

Secondly, and most importantly of all, these are swing voters; they are currently counted in the unionists’ No pile but if they move to the Nationalists’ Yes pile, they have the effect of not just adding to the Yes vote but subtracting from the No.”   BRIAN MONTEITH

Fancy that! If someone who planned to vote NO votes YES, it adds one vote to the YES’s and subtracts one vote from the NO’s. What an insight! I never thought of that! That level of deep psephological understanding warrants at least a CBE, maybe even a knighthood.

But Brian also made a kind of Freudian slip, and brightened my morning no end with this phrase -

“... the result would be the break-up of the United Kingdom and the birth of a new democratic, sovereign Scotland.”  BRIAN MONTEITH 

The birth of a new, democratic, sovereign Scotland 

I like that, Brian!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Bias by headline –The Scotsman and Ruth Wishart

I have commented before many times on the technique of Bias by Headline in newspapers. This is normally used in a news report, where the paper feels obliged to present facts that do not quite fit their unionist bias (there are no print newspapers that have a nationalist bias) but wants to create an impression in the headline that is either contrary to the body of facts, or presents an interpretation of them without offering an argument.

This approach relies on two things – that many readers scan headlines but don’t get to grips with complex reports, and that if they do read the full piece, they have already been conditioned by the headline to favour the editorial interpretation.

(Newspaper editors will reject this, if the argument of bias by headline is presented to them, saying that the only purpose of a headline is to grab the attention of the reader and briefly signal content. Aye, right …)

Unlike television channels, newspapers have a right to take a political stance and put forward a point of view. In an ethical newspaper (after Murdoch, we may ask if there is such a thing) viewpoint and polemic will be confined to editorial and opinion pieces, and will be reflected in the selection of regular columnists, e.g. The Times and Alan Cochrane, and some sort of balance will be maintained by the occasional token inclusion of views and opinions presenting a countervailing position.

Headlines are normally written by someone other than the author of the piece. I make this claim, not on direct experience of news room policies, but on the excuses offered when newspapers are criticised over headlines.  I would guess this is almost invariably true of news reports, and sometimes true of opinion pieces. We may therefore speculate that in this world, the body of the piece represents the skills of the journalist and the headline reflects the skills of the huckster and possibly the spinmeister.

Today’s example I’m sad to say, involves Ruth Wishart, a journalist and commentator who has my respect. The sub-header for her piece on the referendum debate sets out precisely what the thrust of her argument is -

Both sides of the debate will wheel out conjecture and half truths, but it’s up to everyone to vote with conviction, says Ruth Wishart

But what does the banner headline across the page say in bold type?

Beware of the sales pitch for independence

I don’t believe for one moment that this is the title under which Ruth submitted her piece. If it was, it bears a very strange relationship to her content, epitomised by this quote, where she speaks of what the voter will be subjected to in the referendum campaign -

“Over the next few weeks and months they will be fed all manner of ‘evidence’ from all sides as to the impact of their vote. Some of this will be the kind of statistics that would give damned lies a good name. Some will be little more than slightly informed conjecture, because in truth nobody in a (sic) possession of an infallible crystal ball.”

Leaving aside the fact that crystal balls are not of much use unless they are infallible, this is a fairly accurate statement of what will occur. It points to no particular side of the argument, YES vote or NO vote, as either villain or hero. Ruth, in the early part of her piece, reported on one of Angus Robertson’s roadshows. Since so far there are no unionist roadshows, she was unable to offer that balance.

The headline for her article could equally have read Beware of the sales pitch for the Union, and if such a thing as a print newspaper with a nationalist bias had existed, it might well have.

An objective headline would, of course,  have have been Beware of the sales pitches for the referendum vote.

What I would suggest to voters in search of truth is beware of Scotsman headlines. It is ironic that the headline writer managed to betray the very bias that Ruth Wishart was warning against in her plea to voters to examine all sides of the argument. But one must never look to right-wing media for a fine appreciation of irony …

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A tsunami of misinformation–polarised politics, journalists and the media

On the same day as the Bradford by-election results were announced – a landslide victory for George Galloway over his Labour opponent, winning by 10,140 votes, overturning a Labour majority of 5,763, with 56% share of the total vote – Paul Routledge, political correspondent of the Daily Mirror headed his column

Imran races to victory

By the time you read this, Imran Hussain will have been declared Labour MP

At 10.30 pm on the same evening, Routledge said -

“Well, I got the Bradford by-election wrong … but so did the voters.”

A case of very sour grapes, Paul?

A look at Paul Routledge's biography on Wikipedia may or may not go some way to explaining this spectacularly wrong piece of political journalism.

Of course, we’ve had this kind of objective political reporting in Scotland for many years now, and SNP supporters have developed at the very least a healthy scepticism over the objective political reporting of the Daily Record, The Scotsman, The Herald, The Sunday Post and Scotland on Sunday over the last decade. That is not to say that things haven’t changed a bit of late, nor do I fail to recognise that a tiny number of Scottish journalists have been consistently fair and objective, while not pretending to be unaligned in their sympathies or their judgements.

I have stated my position on journalists many times. I don’t expect ‘balance’, i.e. giving equal space to two sides of an argument – or moral equivalence - where there is egregious imbalance in the facts. I did not expect balance when reporters entered Auschwitz: I do not expect flat-earthers to be given the same space and air time as cosmologists: I do not expect creationism to be treated as an equivalent scientific theory to evolutionary theory: I do not expect balance when innocent civilians – men, women and children are being murdered in the streets, whether by a middle eastern dictator or a Western Coalition of the Willing.

And so to today in Scotland …


Sherlock Holmes referred to the case of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, and now we have The Giant Rats of the Referendum Consultations, both of them becoming smellier by the day.

The focus today in The Scotsman is the smaller of the two rats, The UK Consultation, with extravagant claims being made about its outcome, based on 3000 responses.

I am deeply uneasy about consultations such as these, although I have up till recently loyally supported the SNP Government’s consultation, on the very shaky basis of my consultation is bigger than yours yah-boo cries to Michael Moore and his UK consultation.

The Three Arse Cheeks (in George Galloway’s new phrase for Labour, LibDems and Tory parties in Westminster) of the Unionist Coalition of Opposition to the Independence of Scotland were clearly going to claim to know the mind of the Scottish People, and since the old silent majority rubbish, beloved by unionists - especially Tories - had played out its usefulness, the silent majority had to be allowed to squeak in an approved line pretty damn quick before the Wicked Wizard of the North, Alex Salmond, had his evil way with the referendum timing and the formulation and number of the questions.

So let’s scan the front page and the headlines in today’s Scotsman, guardians of the spirit and traditions of fearless factual reporting, the voice of the nation, i.e. the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (Whatever made you think the nation would be Scotland? Silly boy!)

Scots ‘to be asked one referendum question’

Scottish Secretary says straight vote on independence his ‘highest priority’

“Independence is different from devolution” Michael Moore

Two questions into one ballot paper don’t go, says Moore

Tunnock’s view on referendum doesn’t taste so sweet for Alex

The front page story, continued on to page 4,  is by Tom Peterkin, Scottish political editor. Alas, Tom doesn’t appear to rate a Wikipedia entry like Paul Routledge, and I can’t find a biography. A Google search under his name does turn up a lot of critical comments about his journalism, but the both the Scotsman and Tom will probably dismiss as them as cybernats.

In a total, including the Tunnocks’s piece, of over 1000 words, Peterkin gives about 80 words to Bruce Crawford MSP, the Parliamentary business secretary. In contrast, quotes from Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary abound in the article. There are a couple of paragraphs of speculation about the First Minister of Scotland’s position on the second question.

There is also a nice little table showing the results of the consultation, with impressively high percentage response in favour of those things Michael Moore, the UK and the Scotsman are also mainly in favour of.

The Peterkin piece closes with a paragraph that is intensely revealing, with an unfortunate choice of words that unintentionally gets to the heart of the real reason for the implacable opposition of the UK and the Three Arse Cheeks Parties – “the coalition parties” - to the independence of Scotland.

Some in the coalition parties have suggested that a UK-imposed referendum could be the ‘nuclear option’ if it is felt that the Scottish Government is taking too long to go ahead with two questions.”

Michael Moore is the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and in the 2010 General Election, he retained his seat with an increased share of the vote. In that election, the LibDems experienced what proved to be a very temporary love affair with the electorate. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is typically LibDem country. Michael Moore succeeded Danny Alexander as Secretary of State for Scotland: both owe their position quite simply to the uncomfortable realities of Coalition for the Tories, (the Tories didn’t win the 2010 election – Labour lost it) otherwise Scotland would have had David Mundel. For that, and that alone, we may be grateful to Michael Moore.

Since then the LibDems under Nick Clegg have comprehensively betrayed the electorate, their supporters, the students and the poor and vulnerable by propping up the most illiberal Government of recent times. The LibDems were all but extinguished in the Scottish election of 2011, Tavish Scott resigned as leader, and, were there a general election tomorrow, the LibDems in the UK would face a similar fate. Even the electors of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk  might re-examine their reflex LibDem voting patterns.

But this man is given a major platform by the Scotsman and by Tom Peterkin, and the Scottish Government, re-elected for a second term with a massive, unprecedented mandate to govern and hold an independence referendum, is given token and dismissive coverage.

The 3000 response, unverified, un-monitored UK referendum is given uncritical, highly selective coverage, coverage that ignores the block response of the Labour Party: 740 out of the 2,857 responses to the UK Government’s referendum consultation were the identical text from the Labour Party website. (Unless of course, you listen to John Curtice – see below)

Page 5 presents some quotes under the headline -

Hopes and fears, optimism and suspicion – people speak their minds

‘People’ turn out to be five organisations, one group of academics, two individual academics, an email from a member of the public, and Maitland Mackie of Mackie’s ice cream fame.

The five organisations I am fairly certain did not poll their members or employees to formulate their view: the joint submission from academics at the University of Edinburgh presumably did: Maitland Mackie may have sought the views of “70 staff and 500 cows work[ing] in a 'sky to scoop”  design chain”: the email from the member of the public represented a view expressed by only 4% of the 3000 respondents – that non-residents Scots should have a vote in the referendum – was presumably included because it closely accords with the view of The Three Arse and the Scotsman.

On the day after the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence, I entertain the hope that Tom Peterkin and the Scotsman receive jointly the Paul Routledge/Daily Mirror Award for spectacularly failing to predict the outcome of a vote.


There is however some balancing sanity in this total of three pages of less than objective reporting – a piece by Professor John Curtice on page 5.

John Curtice, a man whom I admire, takes a lot of stick from the kind of SNP supporters who also believe that the BBC collectively is the Great Satan, engaged in a conspiracy to frustrate the independence of Scotland. The reason for this is that he deals with numbers, with facts, and it takes a bit of effort and at least baseline numeracy and perhaps familiarity with the basis of sampling and polling opinion to come to grips with his arguments.

(As I write these words, I know that they will be closely followed by comments in the usual vein. I will publish these, providing they are not actually defamatory – as they often are – but I have given up trying to reason with with them, and have said all I intend to on that score. For those who are desperate to have confirmation of their views, they may find a more sympathetic home on Newsnet Scotland.)

I will not attempt to summarise John Curtice’s considered and precise analysis – it must be read carefully and digested. So which government is right on the big question?

It will, sadly, be promptly dismissed by some nationalists because its critique includes the Scottish Government consultation, and that kind of nationalist critic blanks off everything positive in their resentment at any objective criticism of the SNP.

Well, I support completely everything John Curtice says, I believe he is objective, a fine example of what expert analysis and criticism should be about, and I thank him for his formidable contribution over many years to Scottish life and politics and to my understanding of both.

And, no – I have never met John Curtice in my life, and have no connection whatsoever with him, except maybe a shared concern for Scotland, for truth and for factual accuracy.

And grudgingly, I thank the Scotsman for allowing him space to bring a breath of cold, fresh air to today’s coverage of the UK Referendum Consultation – and consultations … And there is a smidgeon of objectivity in their leader  on page 26.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The UK and the Lords – designed to limit democracy – now they want to do it to Scotland’s Parliament

The powerful are always seeking ways to limit and constrain the democratic voice of the people.

It is a source of constant frustration to the ‘great and the good’ and the professional and managerial classes that they either have to run for office, or remain at the mercy of the votes of ordinary people. It goes without saying that those who claim hereditary privileges are always uneasy about democracy.

The Scottish Parliament has not worked out as these people – and their political lackeys in the UK parties – had intended. Devolution and the d’Hondt method of proportional voting was specifically designed to stop any Scottish party, and especially the SNP, from having an overall majority and real power. but to their horror it hasn’t worked out that way.

Today in the Scotsman – where else – Allan Massie joins the fray – We need to take a second look at Holyrood

Allan Massie is worried about “politics gradually becoming a full-time professional activity”. I have a few worries on that score myself, mainly relating to direct entry to politics as a career by people who have never done anything else, and never will until they exit through the revolving door to consultancies, PR and the influence and access peddling known euphemistically as either lobbying or non-executive directorships, and Massie shares some of these concerns.

Massie, however, is no friend of the SNP or of Scotland’s independence, and his concerns unsurprisingly proved to be to limit the power of elected representatives whom the people – rightly in my view – expect to “devote all their time to their political work”. Massie’s answer is a second chamber, like the UK House of Lords.

Massie then tries to draw the teeth of critics and of pejorative perceptions of this institution – It is “strange and anomalous”, it is “not democratic”, it has a “small hereditary element”, and “most of its members have been appointed, not elected”.

But nonetheless, he wants a second chamber to display “an independence of mind, to revise legislation and hold the government to account”. In a sentence that is surprisingly badly constructed from a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he justifies the need for it -

A second chamber is necessary because legislation needs revised, government held to account and the political class made subject to scrutiny and restraint.

Why should legislation, properly drafted and scrutinised by professional civil servants and the Parliament need revision?

Because somebody – political minority or unelected interest group – doesn’t like it and wants to neuter it.

The political class – i.e the elected representatives of the people – can be subject to scrutiny by their constituents, by the public at large and by a free press and media. It wasn’t the House of Lords that exposed the expenses scandal, or shone a spotlight on the crime that was the Iraq War – it was a free media. The House of Lords was the bolthole for the disgraced Speaker of the Commons after his resignation.

And what unelected apparatchiks are going to place restraints on elected representatives and the Parliament?

Allan Massie’s answer is a three element body -

“ …members appointed ex-officio – university principals, representatives of the churches, business organisations, the STUC, NFU, and arts bodies, for instance; members appointed by an independent commission because of their distinction in various walks of life; and an elected element with the requirement those who stand for election free from party affiliation.”

In other words, the usual suspects – the unelected, the ‘great and the good’  – anybody but the democratic choice of the people. A second chamber that contained the CBI, a trade union baron, a cardinal archbishop, a failed and clapped out former politician or two, a couple of retired military men, maybe a director or two from the booze and nuclear industries, a token figure from the Arts, and sundry gandy dancers and railroad men would chill my blood, and Scottish democracy would fly oot the windae.

The New Club and religious, trades union, military and commercial interests would be in the saddle, and would have the ability to paralyse the Parliament and frustrate the democratic mandate of the people.

You can shove the second chamber back in yer sporran, Allan  Massie – or better still, right up the back o’ yer kilt …

(I blogged on this way back in 2010 The Establishment versus Scotland's Independence and I recently had this to say about the UK second chamber, The House of Lords.)


Here’s what says about the House of Lords -

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons. Members of the Lords play a vital role making laws and keeping a check on government.

Here’s what I say about the House of Lords – it is historical relic maintained to limit the power of elected democracy in the House of Commons – the choice of the people. It is comprised of the Lords Spiritual, who are there simply because they are unelected bishops of the Church of England, founded by Henry VIIIth to legitimise his dubious marital arrangements, by hereditary peers who are there because an ancestor either fought or bought his way into the favour of the ruling monarch of the time, and by life peers, who are unelected political appointment by one or other of the London parties, usually political hacks who once were MPs but for one reason or another were booted upstairs into the sinecure of the ermine, or former generals, admirals, etc. with a fair number of businessmen who have contributed a substantial amount to ??? - and a few figures from the arts and entertainment world.

As of 21 December 2011, this gang of gandy dancers and railroad men – and women – numbers 788, plus another 21 who are on leave of absence or otherwise unable to collect their generous attendance allowance. The elected representatives of the people in The House of Commons numbers 650 MPs. Endless rubbish is talked about reforming this pernicious, faintly ridiculous and undemocratic institution, but in the main, nothing happens because the system suits the London parties and the Establishment. (Something has been done about the hereditary peers, who never mattered much anyway, but it will be a cold day in August before the London political parties let go of their right to create new Lords.)

The Labour Party, the party of social equality, the party of the people, simply loves the House of Lords, and former horny handed Labour sons of toil can’t wait to get as far away as possible from the sordid realities of their crumbling constituencies and into the ermine and on to the red benches. Lord Martin of Springburn, the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Commons, forced to resign over the expenses scandal, was relieved to find the pain of his ignominious exit from the Commons effectively and speedily ameliorated in this way.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Ask the bloody question(s)–Professor Curtice’s two questions

Professor Curtice is an eminent and respected academic, with a long honourable record of commenting on Scottish electoral matters. I am therefore astonished at his proposal for two questions in the independence referendum in 2014.

Assuming today’s Scotsman has reported him accurately in the little graphic (not shown in the online edition) at the head of Eddie Barnes’ article Expert offers three choice-vote in just two questions Professor Curtice has fallen into exactly the dangers and pitfalls of a two-question ballot paper that have been detailed by many, including myself at some length in previous blogs.

From Drop Box

Referendum ballot paper

Referendum ballot questions

Referendum ballot question - confusion?

The first question – Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? – poses no problems. It envisages two possibilities only, and one answer only - YES or NO – gives a complete and unequivocal voter response.

But the second question – If Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, do you agree it should have “devo max” or the status quo? – has several weaknesses in construction.

Since it is conditional on the answer to the first question, it assumes a NO answer to the first question. But by whom? The voter answering the question or the outcome of the total ballot? Since answering the second question is not prohibited by answering the first, a voter may answer both questions making either assumption.

For example, a voter may legitimately answer YES to the first question and YES to the second, in other words, have a fallback choice. As a supporter of independence, that is exactly what I would do, and have the right to do, since my assumption is that if the YES vote fails, and Scotland remains a part of the UK, then I want devo max.

My YES vote to the second question would then be aggregated with what could be a minority YES to the second question by those opposed to independence. While I am clearly happy with that, it is evident from the comments of those opposed to independence that they would not be, and confusing and contested outcomes could result.

Of course, the Electoral Commission could rule that the second question will only be counted if a YES vote fails. But have they the right to make such an assumption and decision if in fact many voters quite reasonably completed the ballot on different assumptions?

The second question itself is badly structured and worded. If I say YES to the question - If Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom, do you agree it should have devo max or the status quo? - what am I saying YES or NO to?

YES I agree it should have devo max  or  YES I agree it should have the status quo?

If I say NO, am I saying NO I don’t it agree it should have devo max   or   NO I don’t agree it should have the status quo?

In my view, the Electoral Commission should look critically at these questions and tell Professor Curtice to go back and think again.


I gave Prof. Curtice the benefit of the doubt, thinking the Scotsman graphic might have been at fault. But I was wrong - list to John Curtuice state the question here.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Union – is there any case for it?

We’ve been in it for 305 years, it’s nice to be British – and we’re stronger together weaker apart. That appears to be about the sum total of the case for the Union so far – that, and a torrent of threats as to what rUK will do (the r in rUK stands for either rest or rump, dependent on how polite you are) if Scotland votes for independence. And if it’s not a threat as to what they will do, it’s a threat of what others will do, e.g. the EU, the UN, the rest of the world, etc.

As far as I’ve been able, I’ve captured this farrago of factoids in YouTube clips. It doesn’t just emanate from unionist politicians, it also keeps coming back like a very bad old song from the press and the media. Today, we have Michael Kelly at it again in the Scotsman. Where else, you may ask, since Michael’s glittering prose would be hard pushed to find a home anywhere else that values concise, elegant prose and coherent arguments.

His big insight today is in the title of his piece – Without the ability to change – Labour’s lost. Fancy that! Perhaps he’s been re-reading John McTernan’s back catalogue of What Labour Must Do articles, a theme with infinite tedious variations.

Michael Kelly article - Scotsman

Michael is confident that the SNP will lose any “fairly conducted single question referendum”, but clearly entertains the fear that the referendum might not be fairly conducted and might contain more than one question. Michael also believed that devolution would kill the SNP stone dead, that the SNP would never form a government and that the SNP would never gain an overall majority in Holyrood. Bookies eagerly await Michael Kelly’s forecasts so they can shorten the odds on the other alternative – there are advantages in always being wrong ...

He thinks the arguments for ‘separation’ are either threadbare or wrong. I would love to be able to counter by saying that the arguments of the Union are likewise, except there aren’t any so far. He selects three aspects – the oil fund, the currency and Nicola Sturgeon’s statement that “the Union is a bad for the NHS”.

The oil fund and currency questions have been comprehensively answered by the First Minister, but Michael shares the inability to hear what he chooses not to, in common with most unionists. Nicola’s criticism was in fact much wider than the NHS – she said the Union was bad for the welfare state, which must be starkly evident to the unemployed, poor, sick and vulnerable in Britain – but Michael was particularly cack-handed in focusing on the NHS, since virtually every professional body in England and Wales agrees with Nicola, and looks with envy to Scotland, which thanks to this aspect of devolution, is not facing destruction.

He goes on to what has now become the favourite ploy of the unionist – to define what independence (he actually calls it independence for this purpose) ought to mean, i.e, the narrow, separatist, anti-English, economically unrealistic caricature that unionists present – one that ignores the realities of inter-dependence in the modern world for all independent countries, and is the exact reverse of the SNP vision.

I think Michael also doesn’t really understand what realpolitik means in accusing Nicola of a “shocking lack” of it in her plans.

realpolitik: politics based on realities and material needs, rather than morals and ideals.

The essence of the SNP’s appeal to the voters is that their policies are not based on realpolitik, but on realities, material needs and morals and ideals. The reason that Scottish Labour – and UK Labour – has so comprehensively lost the confidence of the people is the fact that for over half a century, they have lost their morals and ideals, and embraced realpolitik as their core philosophy. Perhaps the last Labour minister to recognise this was the late Robin Cook, who propounded an ethical foreign policy, and resigned over the ethical collapse of the Blair Government over Iraq.

The nuclear deterrence policy of Labour, together with all three major UK parties, is realpolitik incarnate. It is one of the prime aspects of the UK that Scotland wants to break away from. The policy of privatisation of the NHS is realpolitik: the attempt to make the poorest and most vulnerable in our society pay for the economic vandalism of the bankers and the last Labour Government is realpolitik. Remaining in Afghanistan rather than lose face, when it is patently obvious that the project has failed is realpolitik.

I am not shocked by the lack of realpolitik behind the Deputy First Minister’s plan, i.e. the existence of a plan informed by the very morals and ideals that civilised societies are supposed to espouse, I am delighted by it, applaud it, and would have been horrified if Scotland’s approach to its welfare state had been dictated by realpolitik. In fact, there would have been no welfare state at all if the Attlee Government had pursued a realpolitik policy in 1945. But their morals and ideals are now an embarrassment to the the thing now known as the Labour Party, and a standing reproach to their lack of vision.

Without the ability to change, Michael, Scottish Labour is indeed lost. What you fail to understand is that the change they must make is to embrace the independence of their country, Scotland.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

O the naughty cybernats in the Scotsman!

Interesting comments float in the stagnant sea of bile in today’s Scotsman, alleged swimming ground of the nasty cybernats. Here’s one comment on the item -

Westminster may hand over control of referendum

- from a loyal supporter of the UK and all that makes Britain great.

52 B Cole

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 03:55 PM

You Scots don't know how lucky you are , We English have been successfully neutered by the Scotch Raj sitting in the English Parliament. Give us a referendum and England will ditch the United Kingdom and with it the whingeing Scots. Voila, Scotch independence by default As to starting wars, correct me if I'm wrong but the last two wars were started by the Scotch. But then again if things go wrong blame the English. Sadly the English now consider Scotland a bit of an irrelevance so get on with it and get out.

A true cybernat, Trogg, was immediately outraged by this comment – a Trogg feeding a Troll – but his complaint of foul abuse was rather blunted by his calling B. Cole a “a nasty, racist, xenophobic pig!

Lads, lads, please … (surely not lassies?)

The Scotsman, needless to say, loves this kind of thing, and as befits a responsible national newspaper, justifies it on the grounds of it being the voice of the people, rather than poor editorial standards and sloppy moderation policies.

Unionist politicians manage to avert their eyes from the UKnats and see only the cybernats, allowing them to tut-tut periodically

Monday, 31 October 2011

Playing the man and not the ball – Brian Monteith in the Scotsman

I had something to say about Brian Monteith and ThinkScotland back in July Brian Monteith - ThinkScotland July 2011 and here we are again today...

Calling something a think tank is intended to give it an air of responsibility, conjuring up images of learned, objective academics, highly qualified in their fields, detached and disinterested, considering great problems, offering their pearls of wisdom to the people.

There are probably a few think tanks internationally that more or less conform to that ideal, but many are front organisations for shadowy interests, such as the kind of things American neocons sponsor quietly. The religious right is fond of them too, and these types of think tanks offer lucrative lecture tours and sponsorships for academics and experts who display the correct political orientation, or who are happy to faithfully reflect a line, and compromise their academic integrity for the goodies they receive.

Some of the even manage to fool the charity commissioners and are set up as non-profit organisations – non-profit until you consider the substantial gain to individuals involved in them in fees, lecture tours, expenses, global travel, etc. Indeed we have a recent egregious example that brought down a cabinet minister in the UK.

Think Scotland, however, is not one of the above types, and as my July blog – linked above – shows, there is nothing secretive about them, in who their founder and funder is, and what their politics are – it’s all up there for inspection if you take the trouble to visit their website - ThinkScotland - about us

What they most certainly are not is objective about Scotland, Scottish politics or the Union. And as far as the elected Government of Scotland are concerned, well, this can be judged from today’s effusion from Brian Monteith in the Scotsman – where else – entitled

 Sinister centralism at home in SNP. Monteith's Scotsman article 31 October 2011

In his second column, para 4, Brian Monteith makes the following complaint, after asserting that anyone that is not one of us (i.e.) the SNP) … “will be ridiculed, pilloried or marginalised”.

“ … cybernat bloggers consistently play the man and not the ball when posting comments on”

He goes on to say “Sadly this style on intimidation is something that one has come to expect from the SNP.”

Of course Brian does not ridicule, pillory, or play the man, not the ball. (He can hardly marginalise the Government of Scotland, elected by a landslide majority.) The full text is linked above, so you can read it all for yourselves. But here is a flavour of Brian heroically resisting the tendency to ridicule, pillory and play the man – and woman – not the ball …


“There is a repugnant, sinister centralism in the SNP government’s behaviour …”

“All politicians suffer from hubris and Alex Salmond reveals it with alarming regularity, but what appears to be a bullying nature and a fear of losing control are now coming to the fore.”

“If this type of spinning and subterfuge continues, last week’s apology may not be the last Alex Salmond has to make.”

“Sadly, this style of intimidation is something one has come to expect from the SNP; it betrays an ugly side to nationalism that is as abusively sectarian as anything said at an Old Firm match – “

“Even the nice Mr Swinney has shown bullying tendencies that cannot be dismissed as mere political arm-twisting …”

“Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon will reintroduce her policy of minimum pricing of alcohol despite the evidence debunking the claim that price is the main factor leading to alcohol abuse. Her bullying of smokers will continue unabated …”

“In education, we can see an impatient if not arrogant Michael Russell dropping the arms-length principle; threatening the independent appointment of university principals and condoning the “merger by fax” of Dundee and Abertay universities …”

Russell’s central diktat …”

“Whichever way we look, Scotland under the SNP is becoming centralised, censored or bullied. Is it any wonder so many question privately what independence would be like under an imperious Premier Salmond?”


The above is the language of a right-wing think tank, representative of nobody but the individual who funds it and the handful of people who contribute to its ‘thoughts’. In it, I hear the authentic echoes of Fox News and Ross Limbaugh. It uses highly coloured terms, expresses contempt for individual politicians by the use of these terms, and attempts to engender an air of conspiracy and paranoia around the sober business of government, in a highly challenging time for the Scottish economy and the Scottish people, when the global economy is extremely fragile.

If this kind of journalism is what ThinkScotland produces – and what the Scotsman thinks deserves a platform - I think Scotland can do without its thoughts, and the Scotsman has to reflect on its editorial judgement. Of course, Brian Monteith can dismiss me as a cybernat blogger, part of the great SNP conspiracy and sinister centralism.

And of course he can also say that I am playing the man, not the ball.

Well, this man has no ball, so what’s left for me – or anyone – to play?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

It’s that independence thing … Letters to The Herald

I haven’t written to The Herald is some time, but a letter yesterday from Alex Gallagher of Largs on the definition of independence and devo max, focusing on the recent Newsnight Scotland programme featuring Stewart Hosie and George Kerevan caught my eye. Since I had clipped this programme and offered blog comment on it already, I thought I’d try a punt with a reply.

It didn’t make it into today’s paper for the good reason that Iain AD Mann, a prolific and formidable contributor to The Herald Letters page, who has argued in an always erudite and informed way for Scotland and independence over many years, had offered his reply, as had another contributor, and the ratio was two to one on the SNP side of the argument, which was well covered.

The anti-SNP letter today from John Milne was interesting, not for its content, but for the fact that he had submitted a closely similar letter to The Scotsman yesterday. Insofar as there is an etiquette in these matters, it is not the done thing to submit essentially similar letter content to two papers at the same time. Of course, the newspaper has no way of knowing this has been done until after the event if the letters are published on the same day, but I would have thought that the Herald might have been aware of what The Scotsman Letters page carried yesterday.

Anyway, here is my unpublished reply to Alex Gallagher, for what it is worth …

UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO HERALD – sent 18th October 2011

Dear Sir,

Let me offer some help to Alex Gallagher (Letters 17 October 2011) with the definition of independence, and also UK unionist politicians who seem to be having trouble with a concept the rest of the world understands clearly, and has done so since time immemorial.

Independence, in the context of an individual or a nation, is freedom to run one's affairs - all of them, within a framework of freely entered into - and freely exited - relationships and agreements. Stewart Hosie, who speaks for the SNP, gave a concise and absolutely clear response to every question about independence put to him. So-called devo max is a colloquial term, meaning loosely full fiscal autonomy but without independence, within the state of the UK. George Kerevan made a dog's breakfast of trying to define devo max. Kerevan is a member of a political party and has been identified with it in the past - this would also describe most commentators and journalists in Scottish politics. He was on this programme in his commentator/journalist capacity, and is not a spokesperson for the SNP, anymore than say, Bernard Ponsonby of STV is, or I am ,or Lorraine Davidson of The Times (a former Labour spin doctor) is for Labour.

The SNP wants independence - that is the party's raison d'etre, and the First Minister is totally committed to that objective. He also realises that not every one of the voters who gave his party such a decisive majority last May want full independence. Some will undoubtedly wish to remain in the UK, and must be given that choice: some may want more autonomy for a devolved Parliament while remaining in the UK. The referendum is at least two, maybe three years or more away. A considered debate is taking place in the Scottish Government and in the SNP about what choices the Scottish people should be offered in the referendum. That debate is in marked contrast to the near-hysteria and increasingly contradictory demands emanating from the unionist parties.

What is abundantly clear is that the electorate do not want to be buried alive in the detail that necessarily will constitute the negotiating agenda after a YES vote to independence. Neither do I.

As a Scottish voter, what I want is crystal clear - to the opportunity to vote for a completely independent Scotland, free to do everything that any independent nation in the world is free to do, within a framework of cooperation with our near neighbours and long-term friends in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including sensible sharing of resource and defence commitments, but with a firmly non-nuclear context for Scotland. Such agreements will extend to Europe, with Scotland as an independent member of the EU, and the world, with Scotland having a seat in the United Nations.

Like any independent nation, Scotland will be free to make agreements and treaties, and to terminate them under agreed terms when they no longer meet the needs of the people of Scotland. We made one such agreement in 1707, not entirely freely, not unanimously, but under threat, intimidation and bribery. Nevertheless, we made it and have honoured it, and paid a price in blood for 300 years. Now is the time to end it, in my view. I hope my fellow Scots agree.

yours faithfully,

Peter Curran

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Megrahi Release decision and questions of guilt or innocence

The comments that followed my blog yesterday on Megrahi attempted to focus on his guilt or innocence. As always when the Megrahi Release is discussed, those who are passionately committed to either supporting or challenging the Megrahi verdict and hold strong views on his guilt or innocence want to have their say. Nothing of what I have said about Megrahi's release focuses on this aspect, other than incidentally.

I therefore must make it clear that if you have something to say on his guilt or innocence, you must do it elsewhere – however important the issue of his guilt, it is off topic and irrelevant to the release decision.

I have therefore re-stated my position on Megrahi below, as already expressed to a regular, welcome and respected contributor to my blog.


I don't want to discuss Megrahi's guilt or innocence because I have nothing useful to contribute to the torrent of 'facts', opinions and conspiracy theories that abound. I want to believe that justice was done, and if it wasn't, or there are other guilty men, I want to see them brought to justice. I support Dr. Jim Swire in his clear-eyed search for that truth, but I can add nothing useful to his detailed arguments or research.

But whatever Megrahi's guilt or innocence, I hold no brief for the man - he was a member of the intelligence services of a brutal murderous regime for decades, a regime that, given his position, he must have known the exact nature of, yet remained with and profited from.

No one can be a member of the intelligence services of such a regime and not commit appalling acts that offend against humanity.

In spite of all that, I supported the decision to release him on compassionate grounds. In conflating the argument over his guilt or innocence with that decision, we blur the essence of the debate on the release decision, when it fact it is starkly simple - he was released under Scots law on compassionate grounds in the firm belief that he was guilty.

It is that single act of humanity and compassion, expressed through Scots law by a Scottish Justice Minister that above all else distinguished us, our civilisation and our values from the regimes that we abhor. It is a source of sadness and regret to me that Scottish politicians representing the unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament were, and still are, unable to make that vital distinction, any more than their masters in the UK parties at Westminster are, and the Scottish Press and media.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Megrahi, The Scotsman and the Unionists.

The Scotsman is in no doubt what the big story is today – Megrahi’s death bed ‘confession’. It puts confession in quotes, but it’s a nod and a wink – we know what they really believe. The justification for this is in the sub header – Lockerbie bomber: ‘My name was exaggerated’. The Unionist logic on Megrahi – and the Scotsman is a unionist paper, whatever its pretensions to objectivity and its token inclusion of nationalist commentators – goes something like this -

The SNP Government, in their first term, made a damaging political error in releasing Megrahi, an error that had to be ruthlessly exploited by Scottish and Unionist UK politicians. The fundamental political error lay in releasing him on compassionate grounds, even if he was dying, since Unionist realpolitik would never have let compassion - or indeed the facts of Scottish Law on compassionate release - get in the way of political expediency.

But just in case the Scottish public - who have an unhappy tendency to be more humane and compassionate than the Labour and Tory hegemonies that have hitherto ruled them - shared the humanity of Kenny MacAskill and the SNP Government, the question had to be raised if Megrahi was really dying or not, and here they had the advantage that estimates of life expectancy in terminal illness often prove to be too short, and many terminally ill patients live for much longer than forecast. This bet was promptly hedged. If he died as forecast in three months, they could still argue bad judgement: if he lived longer, they could argue that it was a fix.

There were also a few other inconvenient factors for the Unionist parties to consider in the exploitation of a dying man for political purposes.

A significant number of Scots did not believe Megrahi was guilty, and some believed that he was involved but did not act alone. This was compounded by the fact that Doctor Jim Swire, who had lost his daughter in the Lockerbie atrocity - and was a prominent voice among the bereaved - did not believe that Megrahi was guilty.

Tony Blair had muddied the water by the abortive attempt to secure the deal in the desert with Gadaffi to release Megrahi for cynical political gain over oil, a deal that he had no power to make constitutionally, given the devolved settlement. This meant that a potential fault line lay between the Tories and LibDems on one side and UK Labour on the other. This was compounded by the fact that the American critics of the release believed that UK Labour had stitched up a deal with the SNP Government, a proposition that was utterly ludicrous to all who knew the total hostility of the Labour Party, at both UK and Scottish levels to the elected Government of the people of Scotland, and was more than a little inconvenient for Labour, less so for Cameron.

The most inconvenient factor of all was that Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish Government took the decision in the firm belief that Megrahi was guilty under the verdict reached at the trial. (This, for the record, is also my belief – I support the compassionate release decision although I believe Megrahi was guilty, although I do not believe that he acted alone.)

The pristine clarity of Kenny MacAskill’s decision rested on the fact that he believed Megrahi was guilty, had been properly found guilty as charged under Scots Law, but nevertheless was eligible for compassionate release. The Scottish Justice Minster, in the full knowledge that he would unleash a volley of critical fire, nonetheless did what was right, rather than what was expedient. No Scottish unionist politician  had either the political or moral courage to take such a decision, and Scottish Labour were clearly kept out of the Machiavellian Blair/UK Labour loop and their machinations.

As the Gadaffi regime began its bloody collapse and Libya moved towards freedom from a brutal dictatorship, the unionist camp lived in hope of new disclosures that would confirm Megrahi’s guilt and somehow implicate the Scottish Government, still consumed by their faulty analysis of the dynamics of the situation.

They seized upon every panic-stricken defector who was prepared to say whatever was necessary to the US and UK governments to gain asylum and immunity from prosecution.

What emerged was in fact embarrassing revelations of just how close Blair, the Labour Government and now the Coalition had been to Gadaffi till the eleventh hour, when Cameron grasped his Maggie moment and found his war by joining France in supporting the rebels.

And so to yesterday at Megrahi’s sick bed and today at The Scotsman and elsewhere

What conclusions may we draw from Megrahi’s statement, and what does it signal for the future? The possibilities are easy to set out -

Megrahi is either feigning illness – the unstated sub-text of much unionist media comment – or he is dying. If the first is true, why would a man feted by the regime as a hero not be with Gadaffi in his final bunker in Sirte, instead a lying in a bed without any protection other than unarmed immediate family? To secure asylum to the West or the US by trading information? Such an explanation has zero credibility. He is pretty clearly seriously ill, has been abandoned by the regime, and does not have the drugs or medical care to alleviate his pain or prolong his life.

What would a guilty man do in such circumstances? He would admit his guilt, as other senior figures have done, and try to trade information for immunity.

What would an innocent man do in such circumstances? He would try and clear his name.

Since I believe Megrahi is guilty at least of complicity in the Lockerbie bombing, my conclusion is that he is terminally ill, has been abandoned by the regime, expects to die, expects nothing of the West, but wants to make the exact nature of his role in the atrocity clear before he dies.

Can we conclude anything from his statement, accurately reported in The Scotsman’s sub-header – “My name was exaggerated”. If this strange formulation is accurate, nothing can be concluded from it – it could mean anything. But The Scotsman, the unionist media and the bandwagon jumpers such as Johann Lamont have rapidly translated Megrahi’s gnomic statement into – “My role was exaggerated”.

Megrahi could have meant that – he equally could have meant that his name and identity, as an acknowledged senior member of the Libyan security apparatus, were seized upon by the media, even though he had no direct involvement in the plot.

But none of the this changes the analysis vis a vis Kenny MacAskill’s release decision. The situation is now as it has always been, crystal clear.

1. If conclusive evidence is found of Megrahi’s guilt, even if it confirmed him as the sole architect of the Lockerbie bombing atrocity, that would simply confirm the belief in which the Scottish Justice Minister made his decision, namely that Megrahi was guilty as charged.

2. If conclusive evidence is found that Megrahi was completely innocent of the charge, or complicit and not the prime mover, or that he was guilty but did not act alone, then the world must recognise that a compassionate decision, made in the belief that he was guilty, in fact had averted a grave miscarriage of justice.

3. If conclusive evidence was found that, in the face of all rationality and all that we know, that the Labour Government and the British intelligence services somehow conspired with Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill to find a spurious rational for releasing Megrahi, then the American Republican Right would be ecstatic, Labour's already deeply damaged reputation would be dealt a terminal blow, and the UK would be seriously damaged because of the continuity of exactly the same people in the shadowy world of intelligence across both the Brown and Cameron/Clegg regimes, a conspiracy to defeat the legitimate wishes of the American people and the families of the American victims to see justice done to the murder of their loved ones.

But we have conclusive evidence – evidence of  Blair’s Deal (a non-deal) in the Desert, of the Brown Government’s complicity and of the Cameron/Clegg Coalition’s close, intimate relations with a brutal, probably insane dictator up to the eleventh hour, while human rights were being brutally violated with the UK’s full knowledge in Gadaffi’s torture chambers and dungeons, all in the name of realpolitik and oil.

The Megrahi Affair teaches us a lot about the Scottish Government and its Justice Minister - who acted unselfishly and upheld the highest principle of law, justice and human compassion - and successive UK Governments and the three Unionist parties that comprised them at various times – who acted in the most despicable traditions of  a brutal, expedient and values-free colonial imperialism.

Saor Alba!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Booze – and VOX POP, Sunday Herald version

Don’t forget my little credo on the referendum – read here Google Docs and download and send to whoever you think appropriate if you agree with it. The SNP defence policy statement, reproduced here in my blog late last night, contains a voting mechanism on nuclear issues – go to the site and cast your vote for Scotland’s future - SNP defence and nuclear policy


THE BOOZE –  and “a nice glass of rosé after work”

The Herald and The Scotsman are both panicking about the SNP Government’s measures to combat the twin – and related – Scottish curses of alcohol abuse and sectarianism. Show me a violent bigot and I’ll show you a drunk. They are caught between a rock and a hard place – they must pretend to condemn alcohol abuse and sectarianism, but are terrified that the SNP’s measures might actually succeed in addressing these these ancient evils, because both abuses operate against the Scottish people developing a real national consciousness and democratic will for freedom and independence.

The enthusiasm with which both papers last week seized upon a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration’ - complete with large and elaborately crafted anti-SNP banners - by a small group of old firm ‘fans’ who wanted to protect their right to bellow out sectarian chants - in the name of freedom of expression and sport, God help us – was contemptible.

And today, we have The New Sunday Herald, with an ambivalent front page – Canning the drinks ban – which develops into a thinly-disguised attack on the SNP’s legislative measures to combat cheap booze promotions by supermarkets. Jackie Baillie, Labour, that stout defender of the rights of of Scottish people to have WMDs on their doorsteps and to be protected from any measures that might really help them to stop destroying themselves with cheap hooch, appears rapidly on the scene, accompanied by her sister-in-arms in these matters, Mary Scanlon, Tory, both anxious to shift the attack on alcohol abuse from minimum pricingwhich will work - back to the booze barons preferred measures, empty exhortations to behave better (called ‘changing behaviour’) – which manifestly has never worked, and never will work.

Both these women are their party’s Spokeswoman for Health, rather as Tony Blair is Peace Envoy for the Middle East.

The Sunday Herald also wandered into the streets with a camera and picked entirely at random six young Scots who are against the legislation, who all ‘like a nice glass of rosé after work’, or its equivalent, and feel they are being unfairly penalised by the legislation. They even managed to find a nurse who seemed to be against the legislation, although her views are rather confusing – if reported accurately – since her opening remark calls for ‘an overall ban on low booze prices’, but she feels that ‘it’s ridiculous and might extenuate (sic) other problems in the NHS …” and concludes with The Scotsman’s, The Herald’s, the Tory and Labour spokeswomen for Health’s and the booze business and supermarkets’ favourite solution – ‘dealing with the root cause, by educating people from school level.’ The only thing missing from the nightmare scenario was crazed latte drinkers, driven mad by caffeine.

The Sunday Herald, with no sense of irony, called this ‘sample’ of public opinion VOX POP. Well, I suppose a ‘nice glass of rosé ‘ is as close to pop as you’ll get from a supermarket’s alcohol shelves.

This randomly selected group must be congratulated for standing alone against the consensus of the BMA, the nursing profession, the police, health workers, alcohol and harm reduction workers, etc. who supported minimum pricing and control of price as a desirable and significant move to combat alcohol abuse.

I will find it hard to sleep tonight, thinking of the sad plight of of those unable to afford a nice glass of rosé after work because of this legislation, not to mention those other oppressed Old Firm consumers of rosé at Ibrox or Celtic Park, no longer able to brandish a wee bottle of Mateus on the terracing or bellow out sectarian songs as they wave the flags of nations other than Scotland. And I will spare a tear for the directors and senior managers of Tesco, crouching round an oil lamp, down to their last few million pounds, as they weep inconsolably over the 0.3% impact on their profits, and desperately try to think up new ways to circumvent the law and democratic government.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Clout, corruption, Capone – and the Neo-Scottish Unionists …

When I was a child in Glasgow, a clout was something I was regularly threatened with, and often received. Never from my parent or relatives, but often from teachers, the polis and sundry friends, enemies and the occasional gang member. A cloutie was a cloth, especially the one used to warp the wonderful cloutie dumplings that were a feature of Christmas, stuffed with silver threepennies and sixpences wrapped in greaseproof paper. We pronounced the slap around the heid as clowt, and the dumpling version as clootie, effortlessly and unknowingly distinguishing between the ancient origins of the word – the Old English clut and  and Old Norman or Frisian klut. The word was also used in archery in archaic form as a piece of cloth stretched over a frame, and in joinery to describe a large, flat-headed nail.

But for fifty years now it has increasingly come to mean influence, power of effective action, especially political  - Concise Oxford Dictionary.

This usage is now dominant, but was never used, to my knowledge, before the late 1950s. So where did it originate? Well, as far as I can determine, it was a Chicago word, describing the power of gangsters over politicians and police, and of the power of the politicos themselves, some of whom were also gangsters. It was probably confined to Chicago throughout the Capone era, which ended with Capone’s imprisonment on tax charges in the early 1930s. Capone, after his release, lived well into the post-war period and died a rich man, at home, in his bed, just as I was going to St. Mungo’s Academy in Glasgow.

But the first recorded example in print seems to have been an article in the Chicago Tribune in early 1960, as part of a four-page spread on corruption and crime in Chicago, in an article by Wayne Thomas – MOB WIELDS CLOUT THROUGH POLITICIANS, prompted by the murder of Roger ‘The Terrible’ Touhy by gunmen in broad daylight in front of witnesses in a Chicago Street.

Since then, the word increasingly entered the vocabulary of the British chattering classes, ever anxious to be up-to-date with American political jargon, without the faintest idea of where the word or phrase had come from, e.g. step up to the plate, what’s your take on this issue, the Commander-in-Chief, etc.

The UK’s web of corruption is of course much more subtle, of course, as befits an ancient empire that has been exploiting the people for centuries, and the commissioners of violence usually carry a title, or have a few letters after their names that almost always include BE – or they wear the ermine. They are distanced at several levels from those who carry out the killings, and unlike the brash gangsters of old, rarely kill each other, but target the innocent, the vulnerable, usually in another country, ideally of another race and religion. When they kill someone at home, it is usually someone outspoken who has got too close to the truth, and they are too fastidious to have them gunned down in broad daylight – the intelligence services have long experience of doing these things quietly, with minimum fuss. The UK has exploitation of booze as a nice little earner on the side – witness The Beerage – but the main honeypot is the military/industrial complex and political, Eisenhower’s nightmare forecast come true.

And now for something completely different …


An interesting day in our two national dailies, The Herald and The Scotsman.

The Letters page of both newspapers are often a better sample of the true mood of Scotland than the news, comment and editorial comment, especially in The Herald Letters page. But the Scotsman increasingly, and I hope not reluctantly, gives a platform to a wider range of views than Blackett Place, New Cutt Rigg or sundry nimby’s and landowners fulminating against wind farms from the remote airts and pairts, and today we have Ruth Marr, a regular and mordant contributor to The Herald, but more rarely appearing in The Scotsman.

I hope Ruth and The Scotsman will forgive me for picking quotes, but -

On the Labour and Tory name changes -

I’d always thought changing your name was something you did when you were fleeing from justice …”

On the newly-discovered Scottishness of the Tories and Labour -

Are we witnessing expressions of sincere patriotism or political expediency?”

Gaun yersel’ Ruth …

Joyce McMillan always has something relevant to say, Ultimate Westminster bubble boy e.g. this paragraph -

The decline of the Labour Party as a grass-roots movement, the old Blairite obsession with severing trade union links, the growing separation of the leadership from the nuts-and-bolts organisation on the ground, and (sic) makes true radicalism possible; all of this has produced a generation of young would-be leaders with only a vague focus-group image of the society they would lead, and often no knowledge at all of its rich pattern of popular and local culture, and of how those cultures interact with the task of political organisation

The above paragraph is worth more than the Collected ‘What Labour Must Do’ Essays of John McTernan to Labour, but they cannot confront the Blair Portrait in the Attic – it’s too horrible to contemplate.

Ewan Crawford offers a challenging piece SNP show the way when it gets down to business that includes this telling sentence in his closing paragraph -

“Since the SNP’s election victory, a curious phenomenon has taken place: the government and Alex Salmond have been assailed on a range of issues, but the SNP’s poll ratings have hit record highs.”

Ewan also refers to the blatant misrepresentation of John Swinney’s budget, and the notorious CPPR £850m figure, seized upon by The Scotsman among others with an agenda, although Ewan is too polite to say so. This hasn’t stopped The Scotsman and other continuing to trot the figure out, including today. A good lie is worth too much to let it die quietly. The CPPR didn’t lie of course – they were misunderstood and misquoted, poor dears.  Aye, right then …

The Great British Public think Ed Miliband is ‘weird’, rather as they thought John Redwood, a rising Tory star was weird, especially after his rendition of the Welsh national anthem. I can’t think what gives people these ideas. John Redwood at least had the popular kudos of looking liking a Vulcan whose starship was about to be vapourised by Captain Kirk. Ed Miliband? The closest I can come is a young Raymond Burr, in his nascent phase as a sinister villain, before he lost his power of movement and became Ironside.

But let me close on an optimistic note – American movies at the close of the Capone era, the beginning of the talkies, and in the early stages of the Great Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash. Will movies – and our society, ever recover this vitality, this visual flair, this great music? In this era, when pop musicians are stressed if the vocal range leaves the diatonic scale and spans an octave, if more than four primitive harmonic changes are quite impossible, and where a key change or a modulation in unthinkable, indeed literally inconceivable, it seems unlikely.

No, we must be content with the soft porn and relentless sniggering sexual innuendo of Strictly Come Dancing and, God help us all, The X-Factor. But surely if the people must have bread and circuses, we could give them quality instead of this pap to divert them from the economic horrors that await if we stay in the UK.