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Showing posts with label UK defence policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UK defence policy. Show all posts

Friday, 18 November 2011

FMQs, sketch writers, and hounding the Wee Lord of Islay

Most newspapers carry as part of their political coverage a political sketch column. These are intended as a lighter note to the portentously-titled analysis pieces, and usually try to strike a humorous or satirical note – often rather leaden humour – but they sometimes also serve as vehicles for the sketch writer and, who knows, the newspaper itself to give full rein to blatant bias under a cloak of jollity.

Since abandoning the Scotsman to its fate, a paper which is in decline into irrelevance as a serious newspaper, I have for the moment replaced it with the Times. This choice was dictated by the fact that its layout is impeccable, and it comes in a Scottish edition, whose Scottishness unfortunately does not extend to its Letters page.

It also comes with Angus Macleod, who rarely lets his unionism get in the way of facts, because he is a fine journalist.

But back to the sketch columns, which today in the Herald and the Times both cover yesterday’s FMQs at Holyrood. Holyrood FMQs, for all its vigour, is a model of good democratic theatre, as contrasted with the baying mobs on the green benches of Westminster, and in the last term, 2007-2011, it had four fine lead actors in the weekly mini-soap, expertly cast – the rumbustious hero/villain (dependent on your political orientation) Alex Salmond, the dour, humourless villain/hero Iain Gray, a feisty heroine in Annabel Goldie and a smoothly irrelevant nice guy in Tavish Scott.

These four principals, together with some interesting support actors, provided ready material for the sketch writers, as did the finely balanced plot of a minority government struggling to stay afloat in a boat where the three other parties were in a semi-permanent state of near-mutiny, conspiring against the Captain, who despite his vulnerability, kept lashing them unmercifully. Annabel seemed to like this, Tavish didn’t and Iain Gray took it with a sullen stoicism.

Alas, the soap is now based on a new ship, with the Captain firmly in charge, having decisively put down the mutineers and packed the vessel with his own loyal crew. Iain Gray has been told by his party that he has been written out of the script, and just has the residual role of dying in a suitable spectacular manner until a replacement is found. Annabel has been replaced by a Parliamentary newcomer, a young actress who made her name in kung-fu movies, but is otherwise inexperienced. Her fellow actors didn’t want her – the one they wanted is sullenly hiding at the back of the boat – and this leaves her expecting attack from the rear as well as the front.

In replacing Tavish, the casting director has gone for someone at least as ineffectual but also lacking in presence. The fact that he is named after a popular brand of antacid hasn’t helped, and he leads a tiny, shrunken, demoralised band. Not much for the sketch writers yet.

Magnus Linklater in the Times deals with this by pretending he has watched a different FMQs to the rest of us, which I suppose was the only coping strategy open to a unionist. In the episode he watched, which nobody else has seen, Iain Gray is the hero – serious, with an air of decency about him, he rise to the challenge, and delivers rejoinders with great passion and great effect. The First Minister of Scotland, the overwhelming choice of the electorate, in contrast, has weaknesses in his truculent arguments, is supported by a backbench clique – he bridles at criticism deliver by our hero Iain, he has standard Salmond lines, etc.

The only problem with your review of this episode of FMQs, Magnus, is that no one else has seen it, only you. It must have been a discarded pilot, run by mistake on a minority channel. Or perhaps it was a Dallas fantasy dream sequence, and you and Iain will now awaken to the Gray reality on November 2011. The electorate may view the real episode for themselves, in fact, I may link – later

Ian Bell does a more objective job in the Herald, and keeps his powder dry. Rather like Angus Macleod, he does not let his nostalgia for that old-time socialist religion get in the way of the facts. But Ian is unhappy about the way that Scotland is going – he just makes a better job of hiding it than Magnus Linklater.


I am delighted to support the wee Lord of Islay’s claim that SNP critics hound him. Here I come Geordie, baying after your scent …

The noble Lord, whose life has been immeasurably enriched by his close association with the weapons of war and the merchants of death, especially the nuclear deterrent aka weapons of mass destruction, sees NATO as a job creation scheme for Scottish industry, rather than as a paranoid defence organisation. Why question the purpose of the armaments or their relationship to any real defence need, or the price in blood that must be paid for them when they are such an unfailing source of jobs to Scotland, not to mention lucrative directorships and consultancies to politicians? How else is a wee boy from Islay going to get to be a Lord? Ask John Reid, he knows – or ask Liam Fox, a wee boy from East Kilbride. No, on second thought, don’t ask Liam Fox – he never made it to the Lords, although he was well on his way. Shame, that …

So he warns Scotland of the terrible consequences of attempting to be a free nation, to have defence forces appropriate to its real defence needs, to be free of the intolerable financial and moral burdens of WMDs, to stop sending its young men and women to die in the foreign wars that are so necessary to the profit machine called the military/industrial complex.

Of course, they are not consequences, they are empty threats, designed to intimidate a free people and suppress their democratic instincts .

But then, that’s what British foreign policy is all about, isn’t it, Geordie?

Oh, my sweet Lord – with apologies to George Harrison.

EXTRACT FROM 24th September 2011 BLOG

But of course, the high road to England has been the glittering prize for ambitious Scottish Labour Party politicians, and indeed all Scottish politicians with the exception of the SNP – a route to Westminster, ministerial office and ultimately the Lords, the final escape from democracy and the tedious need to get elected to make money. They have the shining Labour examples from the past to inspire them – Lord George Foulkes, Lord Martin, the disgraced former Speaker, Lord McConnell, Lord Watson, convicted of fire-raising in a Scottish hotel, Baroness Adams, once distinguished as having the highest expenses of any member of the Lords, despite having spoken in the Upper chamber only once (2009), Lord Reid, Lord Robertson – the list goes on.

However, the last two are interesting, since they were both Scottish Labour MPs who became UK Secretaries of State for Defence, and in Lord Robertson’s case, grasped the even more glittering prize of Secretary General of NATO.

It is fair to say that no such exalted – and highly lucrative – posts would ever be open to a Scottish MP who decided to devote himself or herself solely to the interests of the people who elected them to Westminster, and are certainly not open to those who decided to become MSPS and serve the Scottish people in Scotland.

Now the most ambitious Labour MPs – and MSPs - grasp these essential facts very rapidly indeed, and at the earliest opportunity get the hell out of Scotland and as far away from the realities of the day-to-day lives of their constituents as possible. While Springburn crumbled into even greater dereliction and poverty than that which had been the legacy of decades as a Labour fiefdom, Michael Martin was sitting in the Speaker’s chair, acting as shop steward for the MPs who were ripping off the taxpayer through the expenses system.

George Islay MacNeill Robertson left Islay as fast as possible, and despite being elected six times as MP for either Hamilton or Hamilton South, moved swiftly to more exalted UK posts, and ultimately to NATO. He now bristles with directorships and consultancies.

John Reid, MP of Motherwell North and then Airdrie and Shotts soon saw the attractions of the classic route to power – Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence, and held numerous other Cabinet posts besides. A former Communist and a product of a very rough realpolitik Labour environment, he once described the Labour Party in 1983 as "Leaderless, unpatriotic, dominated by demagogues, policies 15 years out of date". Twenty eight years on, his description still more or less fits. But he saw the light and the road to power, prestige, wealth and a Lordship very clearly indeed, and the rewards have been substantial indeed for the Baron of Cardowan.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

War, the monarchy, the poppy – blood, death and glory?

I had, in common with many others, a wonderful day in Edinburgh yesterday, courtesy of Political Innovation, Slugger O'Toole, Mick Fealty and Paul Evans. I hope to cover it in more detail shortly.

This morning, Andrew Marr interviewed the new Chief of Defence Staff UK Sir David Richards, in the news because of  a Telegraph headline today, Al Qaeda can't be beaten. Military chiefs make a rapid appearance on television after such press headlines to protest that they never really said it, or that it wasn’t quite what they meant. Sir David is no exception to this rule, as the interview shows.

(Just before this interview, we had heard from a Battle of Britain veteran, 90-year old Peter Ayerst, a former spitfire pilot, bright, alert, and looking no more than seventy to my eye. This fine, unpretentious man -who had fought in a just war, a war that was truly a war of defence of the nation against an undoubted evil, Nazism - clearly did not see himself as a hero in 1940, in spite of the fact that, if that much misused word has any meaning left in 2010, he was a true hero. When asked if he had anticipated the war when he joined the RAF as an enthusiastic amateur pilot, he said, light-heartedly, that if he had anticipated a war, he probably wouldn’t have joined … But when the challenge came, he rose to it, and placed his life on the line daily in defence of the nation.)

Sir David Richards, resplendent in khaki dress uniform, sprouting gleaming buttons, medal and insignias of rank everywhere about his person, nonetheless managed to look like a friendly bank manager, or headmaster. He slid quickly from Remembrance Day and just wars (WW2) into celebrating the monarchy’s role in militarism, then segued even more smoothly into Afghanistan, re-casting expertly his unfriendly Telegraph headlines, and managing to claim a link between the sexism and brutality of the Taliban, offering this as some kind of justification for the war.

Back to yesterday’s excellent event mounted by Political Innovation in Edinburgh. In the plenary discussion and two sub-group discussion I was involved in, among the key questions on the new media’s (blogging and Twitter) impact on politics and political awareness, we debated fruitfully the significance of hit counts, what made for high visibility, were we preaching to the converted, and was a low hit count to real opinion formers more important than high hit counts that could be meaningless in terms of political impact?

There was no mention of YouTube in any of the discussion I was part of (except by me), something that puzzled me in the light of the very active political sector of YouTube and video blogging. I freely admit that my blog hit counter often baffles me, and my YouTube hit counter (TAofMoridura channel on YouTube) even more. My current recent YouTube viewing figures range from low double figures (typical) to 8,438 for Living with the Taliban – Afghanistan Conflict and 5,817 for Douglas Murray and the delights of living in Gaza.

Among the possible explanations are of course the traditional techniques for increasing hit rate – catchy title, key words in title, good tags, etc.

A key choice, however, for any blogger or YouTube poster is how to handle comments, which sometime become threads – a topic that turns into a debate. Early on, I took the decision to pre-moderate, i.e. have the ability to review and approve comments before publishing, together with the necessary verification procedures for identity to deter the spammers and the frivolous or malicious. I had seen what post-moderation did to, for example, the Scotsman’s online postings – good comments buried alive by an abusive, superficial and sometimes incestuous rabble. As for no moderation …

(Some bloggers clearly love this kind of attention, because no moderation or post-moderation clearly increases the hit rate.)

But another problem – a conundrum – remains -

Why is it that post-moderation of my YouTube channel seems to permit a reasonable volume of comment and vigorous debate and post-moderation on my blog almost kills comment stone dead?

One possible explanation, which I will investigate, may be that my blog comments are not visible under the main blog – they have to be selected by clicking on a link. I may change this.

The other is that the YouTube audience is a very different audience from the blog audience. Based on yesterday’s debate, this seems plausible on the face of it. I know I have many blog readers who never view the YouTube videos on YouTube, but on my blog, where I also place them. (If you simply click play on the blog video, it will play on the blog – if you double click, it will take you to the YouTube channel.)

Whatever the explanation, here is an example of the contrast – my blog and YouTube video on

 Does the poppy glorify war? Has the poppy been hijacked?

The comments on the blog are two in number – one comment and my reply. But here, reproduced below, is the comment dialogue to date on the YouTube video. If you have any thoughts on the disparity, I would be delighted to hear them …

EXTRACTED FROM YouTube video comments -


It's a good point- people say that we should remember soldiers fighting 'for our freedom', but it's a pretty big stretch to say that soldiers in Iraq are fighting for our freedom - obviously they aren't, they're just fighting because of a flawed government policy. Should we therefore not remember them, or not?



replying to @rickelmonoggin

Our illegal and immoral involvement in Iraq is over. The the soldiers who died or were maimed didn't start the war - they did their job. Of course we should remember them - the dead, and the survivors, whose lives have been affected by their injuries. We, the UK electorate, put the war criminal Blair in power, and returned him to power twice.

England, sadly, has three warmongering, nuclear-obsessed main parties to choose from. Scotland however has a choice in 2011 - the SNP



replying to @TAofMoridura

I agree we should remember them. But we can't say that we are remembering them because 'they fought for our freedom', because they didn't. So why make a distinction between 'good' wars and 'bad' wars. Soldiers don't get much of a choice which ones to fight in.

Much better to say, let's remember soldiers, but without all the British imperialist window dressing.



replying to @rickelmonoggin

I am in full agreement (read my blog moridura.blogspot)

The soldiers died, not for Blair and the UK but for their regiment, for their comrades, for their duty as soldiers. We mustn't make their deaths meaningless - they died because the UK electorate betrayed them. I don't want any soldier or civilian anywhere in the world to die in vain, but I can't achieve that now by a UK vote. I want out of the UK. I can ensure that Scots don't die, by my vote for the SNP in May 2011.



Well done to Celtic for calling out the war machine.

Blood-stained Poppy.

I'll start wearing a Celtic jersey next poppy season.



The only way to stop war is not to have it!


69salford69 replying to @kellystone84

"The pioneers of a War-less world are the youth who refuse military service" - the current economic crisis means ARMED FORCES offers higher-than-average salaries and training opportunities that cost thousands in society. The fact that every job vacancy out there has 10x as many applicants is forcing Army recruitment up.

The Government has done EVERYTHING possible to ensure it has plenty of recruits for the future



replying to @69salford69

I am not a pacifist, and believe in defending my nation - Scotland - and in the concept of a just war. I have only seen one just war in my lifetime - WW2. It was truly a war of defence - the nation was under attack – and the attacker was the truly evil creed of fascism and racism. Such circumstance are relatively rare.

I do not support empire, foreign adventures, involvement in American imperialism nor do I support wars over resources, e.g. oil. I believe in defence forces.

  • 69salford69

    replying to @TAofMoridura

    "I do not support empire, foreign adventures, involvement in American imperialism nor do I support wars over resources, e.g. oil. I believe in defence forces."

    - Didn't Glasgow airport nearly go up in flames a few years ago after an ATTACK by Muslims?

    So defend your country. Your Scottish, I'm English - I understand why being English would make you want to stamp my head in but what about the Muzzies?

    Someone you know could have been killed in the Glasgow attack



    replying to @69salford69

    There were no such attacks in the UK before Afghanistan and the illegal war in Iraq. The UK's ill-conceived, and illegal wars led directly to terrorism in Britain.

    Secondly, aircraft carriers, WMDs, and nuclear submarines would not have made any difference to such attacks - they are a police and security services matter.

    I have no animosity whatsoever towards the English - I have friends and family who are English.

    Lastly, your use of the term 'Muzzies' points to a racist mindset.


    replying to @TAofMoridura

    So on one hand you are standing up for our country by speaking against those who are doing harm to it. But on the other hand every ex-service man who survived the War has been deeply offended.

    Yes I'm racist, I also don't like gays and my favourite colour is red.



    replying to @69salford69

    Don't post here again - find a BNP site to express your views - bigots homophobes and racists aren't welcome here. Red is the colour of blood - and the Labour Party. It used to mean something different for Labour, but now they are steeped in it. For fascists, red and black have always been the colour choices - blood and death.



    Blood Stained Poppy



    deeds that would shame all the devils in hell, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland. Keep your blood-stained poppy off our hoops.



    replying to @gregsyswilly and Rochie2K8 and kellystone84

    The poppy once meant something to a generation that fought and died in a war - WW1 - that they came to see as meaningless. WW2 was a just war.

    The poppy has been hijacked by the UK establishment, and they have distorted its meaning, as they do with every thought of remembrance, of pity and of sadness, and of support for servicemen and women. But the Parkhead protest did no service to any cause - it was badly misjudged and harmed the cause of peace.


    replying to @TAofMoridura I couldn't care less about the British army or their regiments. I care about the people. The British state and its politicians have blood on their hands as far as I am concerned, but they have hijacked Remembrance day so that it's about paying tribute to them rather than to the people who died.


    Replying to @rickelmonoggin

    Well, I do care about them, especially since there are a number of Scottish regiments serving the UK, as they have always done. Soldiers are people, and a very special kind of people - we need them, we will always need them. That's why we mustn't allow ambitious and greedy politicians to sacrifice them needlessly.
    I want out of the UK so that Scotland can concentrate on sensible defence forces and a sensible defence policy for its own independent nation, incl. EU deployment.

    Replying to @TAofMoridura

    I do care about the soldiers, I don't care about the military paraphernalia that goes with them.