Wednesday, 19 September 2012

This is the time to be part of Scotland's story

In 1979, I was a third-year student and an ardent supporter of Scottish Independence. The first ever constitutional referendum for Scotland was imminent and the Yes campaign was marshalling its resources, such as they were, to fight a No campaign which included practically every political party and institution in the country and many based elsewhere.

The few opinion polls which existed then were ambiguous, but seemed to show a Yes vote would be unlikely. The Westminster government (then Labour led) was interfering with the referendum process to make a positive outcome almost impossible. And the Tories were promising jam tomorrow – just as long as we behaved ourselves and voted No. We all know how that turned out.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Satirical site fools BBC audience with spoof news stories.

A spoof BBC Scotland News site has been causing a mixture of hilarity and anger this week, as some readers have mistaken it for the real BBC site.

The site, called BBC Scotlandshire, was launched on Wednesday 12th September with a single story entitled “Andy Murray must now become English, says Cameron”.

The article, written in the style of a BBC Scotland item, claimed that David Cameron was offering a new Honour to Andy Murray, but only if he agreed to a set of preconditions which included him representing England in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

A second article, posted on Friday 14th, suggested that MPs would take over Holyrood while Westminster was being refurbished, displacing MSPs to the nearby Dynamic Earth. This article, entitled, “Cameron gives green light for MPs to relocate to Holyrood”, has even caused confusion among the Twitterati.

A lesson in how not to argue your case.

The following is a transcript of a conversation between myself and the admin of the facebook campaign page, Unted Kingdom Forever, as well as a couple of it's visitors.
The early comments seemed (to me) to be a little controversial, so I decided to join in the argument and see where it led.

What ensued became, I believe, a salutary lesson in how not to put forward an argument in support of a political position.
Naturally, not all British Nationalists are as ill-informed and poorly equipped as those below, but many on social media sites at least give the impression of being no more able than these examples.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Atos Healthcare and the Benefits of Union

During the Olympics, we were treated to the delicious dichotomy of the world's largest mixed sporting event being sponsored by a fizzy drink manufacturer and a chain of fast food restaurants. Presumably, by associating themselves with the games, both companies saw the opportunity to clean up their reputations for promoting ill-health and obesity. Only time will tell if their marketing money was well spent.

The Paralympics, on the other hand, have raised irony to a whole new level as one of their main sponsors is Atos, the giant French service company which has been contracted by the UK government to reduce welfare costs by removing benefits from millions of sick and disabled people. For most of us, this may well turn out to be a degree of hypocrisy too far.

The Westminster government has awarded Atos a contract worth £400 million under which the company will “re-assess” the ability of sick and disabled people to work. The government, of course, expects to recoup much more than this amount in reduced benefit payments if Atos do their job well. And, from Westminster's point of view, they've been doing their job very well indeed.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Jubilympics: How British do you feel?

The London Olympic games have come to a conclusion and, along with the obvious success of Team GB athletes, and their Scottish colleagues in particular, a good deal of politics has been associated with the games. This has played out as a sort of pastiche of the real independence debate, but shares many of the same characteristics.

To begim with, the opening ceremony, while spectacular in parts as a piece of theatre, was conspicuously English and Metropolitan. This was understandable, perhaps, given the location of the games but was hardly likely to inspire a feeling of togetherness and common endeavour among those unfortunate enough to live outwith the home counties.

Danny Boyle's choice of the NHS as a highlight of Britishness must surely have been ironic, given the current state of, and prospects for, the English NHS as it suffers 49% privatisation on top of death by PFI.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Independent Thought in the "Better No" Campaign?

The independence debate appears to be cautiously entering a new phase as the battle lines drawn between the pro- and anti-independence political parties begin to blur.

Before the last Holyrood elections, the minority SNP administration tried to host an independence referendum, but were prevented from doing so by a wall of opposition from each of the three London-based political parties. Labour, Tories and LibDems were united in their view that Scots must not be asked their views on the constitutional future of their country.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The only way is Ethics

Recent revelations of corrupt practices in the financial service sector are eroding even further public respect and trust for the organs of state. The combination of government collusion and incompetence which is also coming to light only serves to exacerbate this process.

Over the last fortnight we have discovered the fiddling of the Libor rates by at least 20 international banks, apparently with the knowledge (and inaction) of the Bank of England and treasury. This was combined with the admission that interest rate swaps had been mis-sold to small and medium businesses to the extent that many had been forced out of business, at the same time as the banks were deliberately failing to meet business lending targets.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

How I answered the West Lothian Question

Over recent weeks there seems to have been renewed interest in the so-called “second question” or “third option” on the 2014 independence referendum, at least among the chattering classes. The “Better No” campaign and the separate (but strikingly similar) political parties which form its membership have become increasingly loud in their opposition to the very idea of devo max, and to its inclusion as an option on the referendum ballot paper.

Over the first half of this year, there has also been an attempt by many to define the possible types of devolution which might be on offer. I even had a wee go myself a few weeks ago. The options seem to range from Calman plus, through Devo Plus to Devo Max or Full Fiscal Autonomy, with the Lib Dems muddying the water with talk of finalising their federalist proposals after a century of dithering.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Road to London


Sic a parcel, aye rogues you are and stubbornly remain

neo Englander, new Labour, just about accepted by the middle

as long as principles deeply held are dropped as readily as R's.

Denying the wealth of nations, well your very own at least

you propagate your stories of dependence and ineptitude

mouthing too wee and too poor and too stupid with equal appetite.

Your Southerly migrations of body and mind are powered by gravespinning

the genesis of your parliamentary life soon followed by an exodus

both Scotland and socialism becoming far and fearful places.

Then your bitter leavings insinuate onto Holyrood front benches

those badly-tempered yarddogs growling on their long London leash

cynically pulling the chain on neebours, lest their own be Yanked.

Your chromatic careers spin red tie to blue then red hide to green

all spent hacking benefits from those on colder benches than your own

no longer happy to be Tamson's bairns, you become our uncle Tams.

Bob Duncan

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Lie at the Heart of the No Campaign

No campaign Monger-in-Chief, Alistair Darling
There is a theme developing in the unionist camp(aign). A leitmotif with an irresoluable contradiction at its core. An ambiguity so fundamental to unionist thinking that it underpins almost every question to which they demand an answer, every dubious objection they pose, even every scare they monger.

I would like to propose the following hypotheses which can be used to test each pronouncement made by the no campaign and its media associates as we approach the referendum on Independence in 2014.

1. The national hypothesis

On the one hand the union is presented as a partnership. A marriage between two nations (or four regions). An arrangement between equals which enhances the stability, the security, the prestige and the economies of its participants. The very antithesis of “too wee, too poor, too stupid”.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Federation says "Aye Captain".

The following endorsements were beamed down to the YesScotland campaign headqaurters. These are believed to be an endorsement for the future of Scotland, from the future of Scotland.
Are we to leave the United Kingdom in 2014 then join the United Federation of Planets instead?

They're jamming all channels

Monday, 25 June 2012

The House Next Door

As a young boy, my father would tell me the story of my family in nightly instalments, with many repetitions of my favourite bits. As our odd history is possibly unique, and may well be illuminating to others, I will précis it for you now, with your permission.

We live in a large sandstone house with a substantial garden behind. These days the garden is mainly given over to apple trees, but it once held plants of every kind imaginable. Although we did not build the house, my family has owned and lived in it for many years, right back to the days of my grandfather.

Next door to us is another house which is similar to ours, but has been extended to the rear and on the roof so that it is almost twice as large. It was broken up into flats, long before I was born, so there are many more people there than live in our house. The house next door does not really have a proper garden, however, just a yard which is mostly paved over.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Imagine the Benefits of an Independent Scotland

I would like to take a few minutes of your precious time in order to imagine a Scotland very different from today's. A Scotland which could only come about once we no longer need to seek the permission of the Westminster before acting to create our future. A Scotland which could never come about under devolution, whether min, max, plus or sugar-free.

Imagine a Scotland where every citizen has a right to a basic guaranteed income, funded by the state. An arrangement very like a state pension, but paid from birth, with its value rising from infancy to adulthood.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Iran and the reputation of the BBC

At the beginning of the 1980s, I met the lovely girl who would later become my wife. She was a Persian student who had become trapped in Scotland by the Iranian revolution. Susan's family were all back in Iran and she, with no immediate prospect of being able to return home, was completely cut off from them. In those days they shot dissident students as they arrived at Tehran airport.

This was when I first came into regular contact with the BBC World Service. We both listened to the English language news service nightly, trying to get a clear view of events in Iran as they unfolded. News was difficult to come by as foreign journalists were extremely unwelcome. The Iranian state broadcaster carried nothing but propaganda. During those years, the BBC was a lifeline for Susan and the many other Persian exiles we knew back then.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Last Chance for the Unionist Case?

As I predicted a couple of weekends ago, the independence debate is beginning, at long last, to move from the procedural to the political. The argument over referendum dates, wording of questions etc. is quietening while attention is turning to more substantive issues such as the shape of an independent Scotland, her institutions and infrastructure.

The SNP and Scottish Greens, at least, have begun to outline their own visions for Scotland after the union, and are listing those aspirations which believe will become possible in an independent nation state with the full set of powers that entails.

The unionist parties remain predictably negative but have also, if reluctantly and haltingly, started to define the independent nation they would like to see – most noticeably by voting in Holyrood to retain the Queen as head of state in Scotland, once the Act of Union has been dissolved. It has been a slow start but it is, unquestionably, a start.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

So, What the Hell is Wrong with Devolution.

Ever since the SNP won a majority in the Scottish parliament in May 2011, there has been a great deal of discussion in the media about the possible alternatives to independence which might be offered as part of the referendum in 2014. I have tried to categorise the main variants below, in order to examine some of the major issues they share.

I have attempted to use the now standard "Devo" nomenclature, even though this reads like a soft drink menu. I have also given a brief description of each option. These are deliberately short, so I am sure many will take exception to my definitions.

Independence (Devo Ultra)

As currently proposed, this involves Scotland becoming a sovereign nation with all taxes and duties being levied by Edinburgh. Scotland would retain the pound, as well as partial ownership of the Bank of England, and the Queen would be the Head of State. Scotland would receive the full benefit of its natural resources, including oil and gas revenues. There would almost certainly be some cooperation with the rUK, for example on currency and defence matters, but sovereignty would rest with Scotland.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Let our Independent Nation be an Example to All

Allow me to share with you a simple tale of how the Law of Unintended Consequences can sometimes act with almost karmic irony. I offer this story, not simply for amusement, though I dearly hope it does amuse, but with a more serious purpose in mind, as those who persevere to the end will discover.

My story involves an officer of the Western isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), who will remain unnamed in order to spare his blushes, who worked for many years in the department of Education.

For decades, fourth year students of the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway have been given a talk intended to help provide them with a set of life skills to aid them when they leave school. As part of this activity, each pupil is supplied a copy of the “Young Scot” information handbook, a magazine which contains a great deal of useful advice on topics such as how to apply for a passport, pay your bills, register to vote etc.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Scottish Independence: The Dark Side

The local authority elections are finally over and the SNP has emerged as the clear winner, at least from an arithmetic point of view. Assuming the ConDems manage to hold onto power at Westminster, only the European elections of May 2014 stand between us and the independence referendum and those are likely to be little more than an opinion poll for the referendum itself.

We hear from the leadership of the SNP that the launch of the “Yes” campaign is only days away, and we can expect a “No” campaign to begin soon, if somewhat tentatively, as the pro-dependence parties begin their communal dance, circling one another as they reach towards some form of coalescence. It would seem that the phoney war is about to end, allowing the debate to pass from the procedural to the political.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Labour

In the stunningly beautiful Western Isles six brand new schools have recently been completed or are nearing completion, including a replacement building for the famous Nicolson Institute. All six are due to accept pupils by the start of the new academic year in October 2012.

The outgoing council was responsible for the commissioning of the schools and senior members have begun quoting the concurrent completion of all six schools as a triumph in their re-election literature. The schools building programme has become highly controversial, however, due to the decision to build all six schools in parallel. Here is what happened.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Very Reasonable Supposition

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Call Kaye on BBC Radio Scotland. The subject for discussion was the launch of the 'Friends of the Union' as part of the Tory conference in Scotland. With the customary impartiality of BBC Scotland, listeners were asked to call in if they were friends of the union, and to explain just why they were feeling so friendly.

By this time of day, I was already enjoying my third mug of strength 5 coffee, so I felt reasonably up for the challenge. After 15 minutes of listening to various reasons why Scotland was still too wee, too poor and too stupid to survive alone, I finally picked up the phone and dialled in. The usual slightly bored researcher answered and took my name, location and number.

“And what would you like to say?”, she asked.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Nocturnal Unionists Fiddle Scotsman Poll

Yesterday Evening, 5th April, I was reading a story in the online version of the Scotsman. It was a rather pointless little piece about the leader of the Western Isles council and how he had opined that the SNP would not do as well as they expected to in the May elections. The comments were almost universally antagonistic to the content of the piece, so I refreshed the page a few times over the next couple of hours, just to see what else might appear.

While reading the comments, I noticed the online poll which was on the subject of “Should the independence referendum be brought forward from 2014?” It was running at about 61% No vs 39% Yes - much as it had been for several days.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Local Government Candidates for Western Isles




1. Polling will take place between the hours of 7am and 10pm on Thursday 3 May 2012 for the election of the number of councillors indicated below for each of the under-mentioned electoral wards, there remaining in each case more validly nominated candidates than the number of councillors to be elected.

2. The name, description (if any) and address of each candidate remaining validly nominated is as follows:

Click here for the  list of candidates

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

How The West Was Won

The Emergency Towing vessel which was withdrawn from service by The UK government on cost grounds
Last week the Stornoway Emergency tug was mysteriously withdrawn for the second time in six months, with no indication as yet from the British Government as to when and if it might be restored. This has left a huge area of coastline, with many of the busiest, roughest and most complex seas in the UK, with no emergency cover whatsoever.

To the casual observer, this might seem like a serious blow for the beleaguered people of the Western isles and the North West mainland of Scotland. It would seem to demonstrate the total indifference of the ConDem administration to the needs of this part of the UK, underlining the argument for self-determination. What could be more damning for proponents of the union as they try to persuade Scottish voters to vote no to independence?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

First Minister's Questions

Editor's note:
This post was written in late March 2012, following a First Ministers Questions where Johann Lamont brought to the chamber 2 pensioners who had experienced difficulties getting blankets whilst in hospital. This cynical attempt to embarass the covernment backfired completely.

PRESIDING OFFICER: We now move to First Minister's Questions. Question number one, Johann Lamont.

JOHANN LAMONT: Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Can I ask the First Minister what engagements he has planned for the rest of the day?


ALEX SALMOND: Welcoming the announcement of hundreds of new jobs, and generally making Scotland a much better place to live and work, as per usual.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cllr. Donald Manford Slates CNeS Leader on RET

The SNP Group at Comhairle nan Eilean is saddened by the position statement on RET issued on Monday 19th March 2012 in the name of “all Councillors".

One of the things that makes people tire of the current way things are done in the Comhairle is the lack of willingness to accept the existence of different views that you would expect to be evident in any democratic body.

So when a highly politicised statement goes out during the Purdah pre-election period, supposedly in the name of "all Councillors", based on no more discussion than an email round Councillors on a Friday afternoon with a warning that if you don’t disagree with the wording on a pre-prepared draft text by the Monday lunchtime, the Comhairle will presume to speak for everyone, we know something is wrong.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sic a Parcel o' Lairds in a Nation.

The first quarter of 2012 has seen an unprecedented level of growth in the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, that growth has been limited to the frequency of outrageous statements and grotesque assertions coming from arch-unionists in support of their anti-independence cause. This is hardly a substitute for economic expansion, but it is still worthy of some analysis.

It is tempting for those disposed towards Scottish independence (and for those currently undecided) to view this phenomenon simply as a cynical tactic intended to “frighten the horses” and lessen the likelihood of a Yes vote in 2014, but this would be an over simplification. Rather, we should attempt to understand from where these stories, and the attitudes which underpin them, are coming.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Master Class in Labour Spin

The following is a story which was published in Hebrides News Today on the 2nd of February 2012.
Highlands & Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has accused the SNP Government of playing fast and loose with the Air Discount Scheme by excluding business, public sector and charities from the scheme.

The scheme was introduced by the Labour-led Scottish Executive in 2006 to address the social and economic disadvantage suffered by communities across the Highlands and Islands as a result of the high cost of accessing lifeline air services.

However in April 2011 the Scottish Government cut any and all work-related travel from the Air Discount Scheme on the pretext that it was following demands from the European Commission.