Queen Street to Bangalore!

On my way to Inverness for the National Collective event at Bogbain Farm (me and all the other creatives!) My trip brought to mind what Jean Urquhart said at the Yes meeting at Portree.

She said all new MSPs should be obliged to travel around Scotland for six weeks after their election – by public transport…

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They would get an understanding of their own country and would find out first hand just how poor some of our infrastructure is from no phone signal, no wi fi, no radio reception, dismal facilities, dodgy services, lack of information, toilets, and comfort despite some pretty high charges.

I decided I’d try to go by train (like the new Scotrail bullet train above!) on the West Coast line as far as Fort William and tried to find out how I could then get to Inverness – by train. No amount of hunting the net could explain and the Scotrail website only responds to specific questions. Since it couldn’t answer this one, I was suspicious that my first instinct was right – you can’t train it to Sneckie from FW.

I called the information line where an unconvincing young man told me I could indeed train from Fort William to Inverness – via GLASGOW! ‘Do you know the geography of that’, I asked, to be told that was what it said on the screen in Bangalore.

I tried saying that I was actually starting out from Glasgow but he had no idea what I was talking about. Satisfied that there was no rail line between the two places, I went ahead to book a ticket online for the East Coast line. Success! Using my Old Geezer’s Pass I reserved a First Class seat with the saving as befits a man of my status.

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It was only when the ticket arrived in the mail that it said the departure was from EITHER Queen Street or Central. Now I know they go from Queen Street but should I take that at face value? I went on to the Scotrail site and my eye caught the sidebar information about work on the line and disruption.

There it said that my train would not run from Queen Street at all and I would be going by bus instead as far as Perth. But nowhere was that info available while I bought a ticket and it didn’t say so on the ticket. In fact it didn’t even say at any stage that I would change at Perth – something a visitor would surely need to know…

Now I am stuck with a First Class ticket that befits my etc…and I’m going by bloody coach! Do I get my money back? Will have to sit with Yes-voting riff-raff?

I called up Bangalore again to double check all this and had it confirmed by a nice young man looking at the screen thousands of miles away. But he doesn’t know what the work is, what they’re doing or why I wasn’t informed on booking because, nice as he is, he might as well be a machine. An information serviced needs staff in command of knowledge and able to reassure, not parrot down a bad phone line.

I regard this type of misleading service as slippery merchandising – money for old rope and much too hard work for a paying customer.

I suggest Jean’s idea for MSPs be extended to all managers of Scotrail. Take away their staff travel passes and make them do what we have to…this is not a front-facing customer-driven business. It’s a make-do, ‘we’ve no competition’ model that doesn’t try hard enough. (Maybe we should tie the boss to the line and ask him to guess if the train’s going to be on time…)

We DO need a better Scotland.

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The Dogs in the Street…

It’s funny how Tony Blair’s Christian crusade to open up the workings of undemocratic states repeats the same errors of those states. Thus, like the Taleban, he has God on his side and a gun in his hand and invokes a devout belief in the rightness of his cause when he opts to kill.

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Calling for fairly elected governments abroad didn’t lead to proportional voting or the abolition of the unelected Lords at home. Belief in ‘What’s Right’ doesn’t prevent earning millions from advising others, like Kazakhstan, producer of oil and uranium, run by an authoritanian ruler who regularly amasses 90 per cent ‘support’ in elections.

And today the Avenging Angel of Moral Superiority hovers over us flitting just out of range of justice – but not of judgement.

The tortuous, three-year-long deal concocted between Blair, Sir John Chilcot and the key individual, Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service and formerly Blair’s right hand man during the war, is designed to save what’s left of the great man’s reputation over the Iraq War.

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It saves nothing of the kind of course, because the dogs in the street know that Blair gave private unconditional backing to Bush for any and all action over Saddam, ignoring advisers, commanders, Cabinet, Commons and people. The result was an ill-prepared operation without long-term objective or plan for peace, deaths in the hundreds of thousands, massive destruction, the radicalisation of young British muslims and a terror campaign at home, continuing mass suicide bombings and the wilful rejection of the authority of the United Nations and a global message of contempt for international law. It gave us rendition for torture. And of course, lies to parliament.

It was also a gravestone for the moral authority of the Labour Party. It is notable that so far there is no response from Labour to the deal done with their former leader. I find no statement from Ed Miliband or his front bench team – but I read that Peter Mandelson has advised him not to say too much for fear of hurting Labour’s reputation. It is left to the mavericks like Paul Flynn MP to say what everyone knows to be true.

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Blair is wriggling out serpent-like from a tight spot because, like all attempts at transparency in Britain, they are diverted and corrupted by the hidden forces of the British state. There are always ‘wider interests’ than democracy and the people’s knowledge which must be served, be it Bloody Sunday, the Franks inquiry into the Falklands, Hillsborough or Hutton and Butler into Iraq. They should never be witch hunts – no one starts out to make mistakes and many regret decisions later. But they must be truthful and honest and treat both the participants and the people with respect.

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As if…

I don’t trust any government – the temptation to use their powers to cover their tracks is too great, aided of course by the hysteria of the opposition to the slightest hint of weakness. You couldn’t have a clearer example this week from the British Treasury which trades on the solemnity and grandeur of a mighty institution but is in reality a morally bankrupt set of charlatans shuffling numbers around as Britain goes bust. When the banking crisis broke I spoke to a public figure who said his recently-graduated economist daughter had been fast-tracked into the Treasury because they had no one on the staff who knew about banking.

When the mask of integrity was torn away from them by Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE, it encapsulated everything that is wrong about the collective psyche of Britain. They have no capacity for honesty. It isn’t a club in their bag. They do and say what is necessary at the time and right now the need is to keep Scotland in the Union to benefit from its oil revenues and its export earnings, it’s markets and expertise and to avoid the humiliation of its loss – and 10 per cent of the UK economy – to British prestige. Therefore numbers can be twisted and contrived deliberately to misinform the voters, as they did over currency, defence and Europe. They can’t help it. It’s what they do.

Equally, I don’t believe the Scottish government can’t produce a figure for set-up in a new state. There must be an estimate, otherwise it is dereliction of duty. I’m just not sure why it’s so important. It will cost something – let’s take the LSE figure of quarter of a billion. Set beside likely savings after the split of £5b, it’s not a game-changer, so why the controversy? It’s like the EU advice fiasco where they got into an unnecessary mess. Why not put the case honestly and learn to rely on common sense?

One of the worst current examples of deliberate deceit is the Labour mantra that under the SNP, ‘A billion pounds of anti poverty funding has disappeared.’ You’ll hear Jackie Baillie deliver that line with mock outrage but I no longer believe anything she says and instead mentally check every word for double meaning – which is where her routine mendacity takes you.

First of all how likely is it that £1billion could disappear? On a scale of one to 10, what is the probability that could be true? Of course it hasn’t. This is what happened. The government took a series of generally anti-poverty support programmes – the Community Regeneration Fund, worth £113m; the Supporting People Fund, worth £384m; and the Fairer Scotland Fund, worth £145 and a £307m cut in the housing and regeneration budget over three years, and a £15m cut in Education Maintenance Allowance.

They then handed the programmes over to local government to administer in their areas. In other words, instead of centralizing the decision-making on how the money should be spent, they let councils do it for themselves where their local knowledge can be used and needs would be best served – exactly what Labour has been calling for when they complain about centralisation. Johann Lamont made a speech calling for powers to go to councils. Yet when the government does exactly that, Labour objects…

No wonder one side tries to hide facts from the other…no matter what you do, you lose. The money is there in council accounts and by my count, more councils are Labour controlled today than SNP ones so if it isn’t being spent properly who’s really to blame?

Even the cut to the housing budget is another example because it is made as a result of budgets being cut by Westminster. Labour doesn’t object to London controlling and setting the Scottish budget but talks about the SNP ‘ making the tough choices’. Yet when the SNP does exactly that, they’re pilloried.

The same happened with colleges. The Scottish budget gets cut so the response is to reduce the costs by merging institutions. This has been successfully achieved. Labour has not supported those measures to streamline and save as they can’t allow for any SNP success. Part of the saving was in the number of short-term courses like day release which have been reduced. This is a shame for all those who benefited from them, many of them needy people and a high proportion of women. But the result is that colleges concentrate their resources on full-time qualification-based courses with a proven record in access to work. It means that the college money goes to helping students get employment after qualification. That is the main aim of the colleges at a time when the economy and incomes need to be revived. It is a tough decision. Labour spins it as denying education to those who no longer get short-term courses, so what’s their answer?

Perhaps it’s charging fees. Would they like to tell us?

Student maintenance has been cut also as a result of falling budgets but that too is a trade off. Scottish students pay no tuition fees so get a massive advantage therefore isn’t it reasonable to ask them to get by on less state support? Tough choices…

I think the public understand those choices when they are explained to them and are sick of the politicos claiming to be all right while the others are all wrong. That world exists, but only in nursery school.

And would they like to tell us now what Blair DID say to Bush and stop treating us like fools because it makes not just the individuals look untrustworthy but the entire system of government. We have no guarantees of redemption after independence but we have a chance. That’s what people are realizing – Britain can’t and won’t change because it’s incapable of doing so – but a new and democratic Scotland just might.

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My Eyes Are Stinging….

I’d better add my opinion to everybody else’s after pointing you to last night’s first edition of Scotland 2014. What are they going to call it next year? (I know, I know the answer but it’s a stupid title because it tells you nothing except maybe that it’s supposed to start at nearly quarter past eight.)

Was the set designed by Andy Warhol? I wondered at first if it was a solidarity statement with Glasgow Art School as the colours blazed and flared around Sarah.

If I were her, I’d object. How the hell is she supposed to match her wardrobe with that pulsing behind her? I’ve been in more sedate discos in the seventies. When I heard the low level signature music I thought it would burst into Stayin’ Alive, thus bringing the first reference of the Bee Gees to the referendum. (BT tell me they would be voting No).

The opening story was strong. I like Sam Polling. She looks like one of those women who instinctively suit leather trousers and would melt you with a stare if you said No Comment. Scary but nice. I’d tell her anything…ANYTHING…if she came after me with a mike.

I did rather think though I’d have preferred a government minister to get a studio grilling rather than a copper in one of those tunics like the ones the waiters wear in the sushi bar – black turtleneck, no buttons. Still, good stuff and just a bit chilling even when our expectation of the outsourcing carpetbaggers is so low.

Good to see Ken on telly again. Somebody seemed to decide he shouldn’t be on screen much a while ago and missed a trick. Whatever he does is unmistakable and it’s clever. Irony in broadcasting sounds easy. It isn’t.

Danny Alexander was the political heart of the show and was asked good strong questions and was given time to answer. But he got away with a lot. When the government is caught out lying to us over the future of our country, there should be no escape, no talking over, no elongated answers, just a finger-jabbing interruption and a voice that says ‘Minister’ but sounds like ‘Bastard’. Whenever I heard one of them say Scotland would be worse off after independence, I didn’t always challenge the numbers but the implication. ‘Are you proud that after 300 years of Union, your own country is too poor to stand on its own feet? Can you explain how 20 per cent of our children living in poverty is Better Together?’ It is clear to everyone except the die hards that the British case is built on sand. They have exaggerated from the start and show nothing but contempt for us. We will never know until we try it if Salmond’s case is solid but at least it’s clear that we’ve been subsidising the rest of the country for 30 years and no one denies the basics are in place for a robust new country. Britain’s debt alone is grounds for questioning their argument.

So I was disappointed that a lightweight like Danny got away with it and the problem for them now is that if they go ahead with a Yes person tonight, they have to give a similar impression. Sarah can’t do a Naughtie and hurrumph and contradict after making it so easy for No.

I didn’t know what the end of the programme was about, I’m afraid. If they think a hip young audience is tuning in, I’ve got news for them. I’m the nearest thing to a hippy watching Scottish current affairs at 10.30. And I’ve got my pension.

(I did like the STV debate though. Good, meaty and telling. Simple, really).

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Going Live…

Is tonight the night? Is it true that this evening BBC Scotland’s new, classy and (allegedly) controversial replacement for Newsnicht will air for the first time and change the political landscape? Well, let’s hope so.

It isn’t just the BBC that needs a good show, it’s Scotland. We have been dismally served by the national broadcaster in our hour of referendum need and this is the last hope that something can be saved from the wreckage of Kenny McQuarrie and John Boothman’s uninspired handling of this key role in our society.

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I’m optimistic, although I said that about the £500,000 of extra money forced into McQuarrie’s pocket by a new Director General desperate to save the corporation’s reputation and look what that gave us…Sanjeev ‘blethering’ and dated bollocks about how today’s players are connected through personal links – I kent his faither for the digital age.

In all this time the only shows that impressed me on television and met what to my eye is an appropriate professional standard in content and style were Allan Little’s exploration of Scandinavia and the James Cook presented Question Time format touring the country – neither made by the referendum unit. Nothing in all this time has been unmissable. No programme on BBC or Scottish has lit a fire and become the talk of the steamie, a sad reflection on complacent and tired broadcasting in Scotland.

And, as we prepare to wave off Paxo from big Newsnight, it is a startling fact that not one of our front line of interviewers has come close to ripping up the politicians and exposing them. No one has earned the crown of King, or Queen, Tormentor. Even Andrew Neil did a job on Salmond and lately, on Douglas Alexander, in a way we rarely see here. The closest we have come is the now-disappeared Gordon Brewer playing innocent daft laddie and letting Johann Lamont blast craters in both feet with a toe-curling explanation of her devolution plans, and the general performance of Bernard Ponsonby whose thundering theatricality always threatens to explode if he gets a wrong answer. I suffer from interaction reflex which means I know exactly where the interviewer should intervene to challenge and shout at the screen to tell them – the practical application of airwave transmission technology not being my strong point.

Everywhere I go in this debate, the same questions come up…what’s wrong with the BBC? Why aren’t the interviewers any good? They’re not informing us…

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Well tonight is the BBC’s last chance and there are sound reasons to think it may work. The first is simple: It has to. The coverage has been so peely wally and the Beeb’s journalistic reputation so shredded, that it is imperative that it ends this campaign on a high. I truly hope so. The criticism is not going away after the vote in September – dissatisfaction is high and change demanded. I think Yes will carry on and there could well be a coordinated campaign of non-payment of the licence fee. 100,000 should do it.

Then there is the key person – the presenter. From what I know Sarah Smith is a real pro. She exudes the charisma of a media heavyweight, seems at ease with the exposure and remains grounded. She is a publicity trigger – note the space devoted to her so far in the Press saying absolutely nothing but it’s nice to be back in Scotland! How the managers at PQ love all that stuff. To them, if she appears in the Scotsman mag, their job is done. The people like her, so that’ll do. Sadly the management forget that what counts isn’t appearances but content, a lesson they forgot many years ago.

I don’t buy all this Daughter of John stuff either. It’s insulting to any intelligent person to suggest they will think or vote like daddy. I didn’t. I don’t think I agreed with a single political point my dad every made. The trick in broadcasting is to make sure the audience doesn’t know your own view however they like to think they do. I have letters of complaint from Lib Dems, Tories, Nats and Labour and got a reputation for being pro independence because I understood the subject and asked the questions that blew away or challenged the Unionist orthodoxy- that’s all. But in tribal Scotland, you’re either in our gang or you’re in somebody else’s and frankly, Labour couldn’t operate any other way. When I came out for Yes all the clever dicks said: Told you so. Then a few weeks later a senior Labour person told me he’d had a conversation with a BBC executive and told him he was convinced from listening to me that I was a Tory!

I don’t fear for her impartiality for a moment and it’s important she doesn’t let that get to her either. She must be herself and allow her own style and approach to come out. I have one concern though and it’s beyond her ability to change it. I know from experience how important it is to have enough background knowledge and detail to pick up the contradictions and hypocrisies as they spew out live before you and judge which is worth pursuing and which isn’t. A generalised understanding of modern Scottish politics may not be enough to achieve this and the fact is that Sarah has lived outside Scotland throughout the devolution years leaves her at a disadvantage. Be sure – her politician adversaries will know that.

Therefore what she needs is informed back-up at the pre-programme briefing stage and in her ear while on air and that will be up to the output producer. I don’t know who that will be but I understand the two key producers from Newsnight, both political experts, are reassigned to Reporting Scotland instead.

The bigger issue with this programme is its leadership. Marcus Ryder is the editor and that should send shockwaves through the team as to my knowledge he has no interest in Scottish politics and has never expressed any. He was editor of the investigations section where a major role was to sell programmes to the network so his focus was always on what London wanted. His understanding of Scotland is, by repute, scant. One producer tells of him watching a clip of Nicola Sturgeon circa 2008 and saying: If that’s what the SNP are claiming, we’d better get a reaction from the Scottish government – only to be quietly told the SNP WERE the government…

There is also a big difference between looking after a programme which transmits weekly, or only sporadically and handling the pressure of nightly transmission. Even four nights a week generates a relentless weight of effort to get the story, keep it fresh and make it controversial – which seems to be one of the aims. With a reporter as good as Lucy Adams they may be expecting to break news not just follow up the morning papers…we’ll see. That needs proper production back up, planning and prep time as well as camera crews available and editing access. It is also many times harder to generate controversy when you are tied to the strict rules on balance which apply from Sunday.

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Any new show is exciting but I do question why they are only starting a new format less than four moths from voting. All programmes need time to establish and bed down, win over an audience, earn trust and become authoritative. I argued that this is what should have been done soon after the SNP won in 2011 and it would have been the broadcasting focus of the whole debate. And, glad as I am about both Smith and Adams, was there really nobody already in the BBC who had earned the right to join a new programme? One of the great strengths of the BBC was that it trained the broadcasters of the future. That a new show at a vital time is dependent on hiring in new staff is hardly an advert for the nurturing of talent at PQ, just as the hiring of Jim Naughtie gave a message that London was sending someone north to help the Scots cope with a tricky story. Anyway, good luck to them all.

By the way, who’s replacing Gary Robertson, unceremoniously banjoed from GMS?

(You may have noticed the conventional media is beavering away for someone to ‘blame’ for the UKIP election. Call me old fashioned but I blame the voters – the ones who voted UKIP, no? That’s how it works. Who knows why a few thousand more went for them and a few thousand didn’t back the SNP but it’s a bit contrived to blame Salmond for someone else getting elected. It may have been the wrong thing to make the sixth seat a Them or Us choice but that’s only in retrospect. Like most of the mainstream commentators, they’re smart after the event. I think only Macwhirter got close to calling that in advance. It’s as likely that Tasmina’s Tory past turned off enough, that the collapse of the Lib Dems diverted a few to UKIP, that the Tory and Labour appeasement of anti immigrant sentiment pushed some over or that the effect of a small turn out was all that was needed. The triumphalism of Adam Tomkins, Margaret Curran and sundry others pretending to be progressives will be remembered as one of the nauseating highlights of what for them has been a despicable campaign.

How the Times today in a leader could suggest that momentum behind Yes had stalled because the SNP didn’t add to their total compared to last time looks like a search for another twig to flay the dug. Is there a paper or a commentator who has recently pointed out the extraordinary achievement of the SNP in remaining not only in power but ahead of their rivals in every measure of opinion seven years after entering power?  Has Cameron done that? The pro Union bias is to assert that the Euro elections backfired on Yes because they relied on UKIP being shut out. I would have deeply preferred that. But surely they miss the obvious – that the odious Coburn, a man who doesn’t fit the stereotype of UKIP nasty because he’s gay, according to David Torrance in this week’s  twisted logic category, is now an outspoken and about-to-be frequent interviewee on behalf of Better Together. Johann Lamont is now holding hands with the Tories on one side and the UKIP on the other. How is this a win for No? Or is just the case that they are, as usual, utterly devoid of political instinct and manically self-congratulatory in their ignorance?

The same media – hello BBC –  which projected UKIP as the election story and helped get them elected will now regularly seek out a willing Mr Coburn for his delicious capacity to produce droplets of Unionist balm which turn into suicide pills.)

 

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Better Together: The Proof

Proof at last we are Better Together…just when nationalists tried to claim there was something distinctive about the Scots and their political culture, the strength of the Union shattered the myth and confirmed we are just as racist, bigoted, small-minded, self-seeking, regressive and primitive as anybody else in Britain.

The pathetic claims to a more enlightened and community-minded country opposed to misogyny, racial discrimination, class bias and elitism are exposed as delusion propagated by naïve fantasists. How deeply satisfying is the old security blanket of self-loathing and deference, of sly prejudice and the reassurance that we deserve nothing better than to be run by a club of trough-scoffing careerists.

We really are just a lumpen herd of numpties to have our base instincts teased out by manipulative blowhards. Ambition? Inspiration? Aspiration? Don’t be silly. They’re for real countries, not our inept little rock of failure. Think we’re better than the nutters? We’re not. We’re just like them and that means Labour can rejoice as it stays in business even when there’s a Tory-UKIP coalition government. As the British government’s legal advice said: Scotland no longer exists. It is now part of Greater England.

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The future stares us in the face…saddled for ever to the blood-sucking Britnats and their Neanderthal new friends. Here’s what we can expect when Dave invites Nigel to be deputy Prime Minister.

No support for immigrants – all must pay for themselves for five years – meaning only the wealthy can come in, most of whom do not work and are elderly, the opposite of Scotland’s requirement.

Immigrants must pay for private health insurance, hastening the end of a free NHS. Tourists cannot enter without private health insurance, forcing a serious downturn in a vital Scottish industry.

Exit from the EU will destroy Scottish businesses and jobs, prevent students studying here with a serious impact on universities, restrict European visitors and jobseekers and cut us off from our friends in Europe, leaving us to find other markets and without shared services.

Scrapping green taxes and wind power subsidies, ending Scotland’s new powerhouse energy sector, renewables.

The introduction of fracking.

Cut foreign aid which helps the less well-off in the developing countries and creates a constructive relationship with the world.

Get rid of the European Convention on Human Rights which safeguards all of us from abuses. It is the ECHR which brands as illegal Britain’s low benefits levels.

Bring back elitism into education with grammar schools.

And, of course, ‘only UKIP will return self-government to the British people’.

Self-government, you see – a highly desirable objective and a political slogan…so long as you apply it to Britain. Britain is their country, not Scotland. That is exactly the choice we face in September, more glaringly now than ever – either Britain, with all of the above, is your country and you vote No, or Scotland is your country and that means Yes. It was only the need to canvass in Scotland that led to UKIP reversing its policy of effectively abolishing the Parliament by using Westminster MPs to replace MSPs.

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I think the Unionists celebrating the election of an odious right-winger are completely wrong – this result will galvanise a section of the vote which believed that it couldn’t happen, that just because we’re Scots we would prefer anyone to him. Well, they were wrong. It did happen and so can a Tory-led government overtaking a comatose Labour Party…a Tory government with much in common with UKIP and which makes a much better fit than wet Liberal Democrats. (If you’re looking for someone to blame for UKIP’s advance, look no further). The contest now is between two different futures and those who have been complacent should now grasp the reality. While it could be written off as an England only issue, we need not worry. But that has changed. The wolf is at the door and there is now no room for error. As the Tories trim and twist to accommodate the extremists even with the possibility of an electoral pact, we are about to subsumed into the woman-hating, foreigner-bashing Daily Express twilight zone of casual bigotry under the banner of Britain.

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The sick irony is that the Labour leadership prefers that to an independent Scotland. The omens couldn’t be clearer…we are embarrassingly well set up for independence – no country has been better prepared – and now a bleak future of right-wing cuts and cultural ignominy awaits. Every warning light is flashing red. The klaxons are blaring. It is now urgent and demands a response.

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