Are We There Yet?

Back home again in Glasgow – the Wheelie Bin of Culture, the Dipstick of Style. The assault of Hate on Arran is successfully completed and I see the Saltire is flying from Brodick Castle which I think means I’ve converted the entire island.


At least the five-year-old came home with an Arran Yes badge along with her bag of seashells. So much of this trip was a success – the super fast road network down the M77 and along the A71 and A78 to Ardrossan, the smart ferry terminal, the fantastic voyage on the Caledonian Isles, a modern high school at Lamlash, the very good value hotel apartment, a beautiful golf club at Shishkine – that I was proud of Scotland and even wondered if we needed independence after all…I mean Lewis Macdonald opened the ferry terminal and Brian Wilson the Arran Aromatics factory. There’s no end of success under the Union.


I think every holiday should start with a Calmac ferry – it’s so much better than a plane on the runway. The red funnel, the cars disappearing into the belly of the ship, sitting on deck watching the gulls wheel and the islands slip by. We even passed the Waverley gliding elegantly downstream, propelled by the giant paddles invisible below the waterline like a swan.


We didn’t wear a coat all weekend and since it’s one hour in the car and one by boat, it’s about the same travel time as Loch Tay when we go to Perthshire.

OK. I have to stop. My seven-year-old just said this is like a school essay ‘Where I went on my holidays’. There’s no fury, no edge and no analysis…get on with it.

Well, I’m making Arran my last public event for at least a month. I can’t keep doing this at my age. I have the blog, internet radio and two kids on summer vacation and a wine habit to keep up. It’s enough to handle without travelling the country as well. It has been great though to go around not just talking at people but listening and a very uplifting thing it is too. I haven’t met a single anti-English nutter and I’ve heard a lot of common sense. The characterisation of Yes people in the media and by Better Together? No Thanks is an insult to them all and a reminder that when it comes down to it they don’t care about you – their fear is the independence movement and they don’t care who they hurt to stop it.

A couple of points stood out from the Arran event for me – the tangible resentment at a misleading media and the desire for local control. The latter is a logical extension of political engagement because when you see how decisions are made and how wrong they are, your first instinct is to want to do it yourself. It’s healthy. Why shouldn’t the community run Arran? Why shouldn’t the community own Arran? They know what’s needed, they have its best interests at heart. A new start under independence with an on-going Scotland-wide Yes movement keeping pressure on the Edinburgh government offers the best chance to achieve it. There were examples at Lamlash of people who have never been what they term political but who have been drawn out -called out – by the cause and the desire for improvement and they aren’t going to retreat after September. They are the heroes of the campaign and one of them drove me to Blackwaterfoot.

I’m afraid the BBC came in for criticism as always and it’s a trickier subject than pensions and nuclear deterrence for me to explain. I don’t agree with those who say you should shut up and accept the service you are given by the national broadcaster. You can’t opt out of demonstrating in case your opponent tries to turn it against you. They turn everything against you. Since when did silence aid the debate? In fact when I saw the quotes from Jim Murphy I realised that it backfires against him. A Labour politician accusing peaceful demonstrators of bullying the media? Does he mean like Paul Sinclair in Johann Lamont’s office demanding the Head of News at BBC Scotland balances his coverage? Sinclair who called the First Minister ‘an arse’?

Or does he mean Labour spin doctor John McTernan, as nasty an online troll as there is in the entire campaign north and south and whose vile behaviour to journalists in Australia is the stuff of legend?

Or is Jim referring to Alastair Campbell, the bully of them all, whom many suspect of helping to harass a man to his death? Campbell, who pursued and berated journalists and bullied the media, who started a war with the BBC after Gilligan and concocted false claims on Iraq which misled MPs?

Perhaps it’s plain old loopy Brian Wilson spitting bile against the new Scotland and likening critics to Nazis, the same Wilson who ran Labour’s spin machine in the Rebuttal Unit? Lot’s of choice there, no?

Demonstrating is what Labour used to do – when there were Labour people to demonstrate. Marching was what Labour did when they had a reason to march. Chanting was what Labour did when they had a voice to raise.

Now they whine and girn because we took their ba’ way.

And if it’s true that Yes people are angry – as we are all painted in their join-the-dots student politics project – well, Labour used to be angry too. When the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tells us today that for every £1 that low income working families have gained from increased tax allowances, they have lost £4 as a result of cuts to tax credits and child benefit, Labour should be angry. ‘For working families with children, if these cuts continue, the opportunity to reach an acceptable living standard may not improve, even as wages start rising again in real terms’, they say. Angry yet?

The report also found that ongoing cuts to tax credits have more than outweighed savings from higher tax allowances, increasing financial hardship for low-earning families with children. The report states that cuts to child benefit and tax credits have ‘created losses double the amount of tax allowance gain for working couples, and nearly four times the amount for working lone parents.’

That is only one reason why progressive Scots are angry because it used to be Labour that protected them. That pretence has gone as they admit they are wedded to Tory spending plans if elected.

What makes Labour angry today? Yes people standing up for themselves. They don’t like that.

No longer buying Labour lies. No, that’s awkward too.

Resentment at barely coherent MPs making a career at people’s expense. Oh dear, it really does make them fiz with anger that you’ve realized that most Labour backbenchers are little better than woodentops with no aspiration, no vision, no talent and no socialism.

But what really makes Labour angry is the knowledge that in a few weeks time, the whole house of cards could tumble taking with it salaries, expenses, free flights, subsidized meals, foreign travel and retirement in the Lords – the very birthright of the Labour MP-for-life.

At least our anger when it comes is reserved for a corrupted democracy, children in poverty, government waste, nuclear weapons and injustice. If that doesn’t make you angry, you might as well join the No campaign’s fellow travellers – the BNP and the Orange Order because, whether you’re a Labour voter or not, you’re no good to Scotland.

(Have a holiday in Arran instead)

Incidentally, you may have heard that Arran is just the latest in those communities ruthlessly used by Better Together? No Thanks who have refused to accept invitations to speak in what is supposed to be our great national debate. Even when someone is promised they end up pulling out at the last minute as they did before the end of the school term, denying young people a unique insight into the political process, leaving the organisers high and dry when it’s to late to find someone else. It is another deeply cynical manoeuvre in one of the most despicable episodes in modern political history – an official British campaign which can’t find speakers to defend its cause and can’t find a leader to present its case. Afraid, cynical, manipulative and anti democratic – and this is how they demonstrate Britain is best. It isn’t even in the tradition of the country they pretend to promote.

Any of you Labour voters who read here got anything to say yet? Are these campaign crooks your representatives? Proud of cheating the next generation out of hearing your arguments? Arran a bit far for you, is it? A bit scary having to stand up and make the case for the UK before your own people? You can hear the chickens clucking in the background as Scotland’s Labour Party members who boast of Keir Hardie run in the other direction. As you’ll see from the Ewan Hunter post alongside, Jim Murphy told him he’s a Socialist. Is Jim your kind of Socialist? Pro nuclear weapons, pro benefits cap, for Tory austerity, against restoring the cuts…that’s what Socialism is to your own leadership – a total sell-out and I don’t believe a single Labour voter intelligent enough to read on this blog doesn’t know that perfectly well. Get some guts and go public. At least express concern at the level and tone of your campaign. Ask where the progressive agenda is and the vision for a deserted working class. It doesn’t matter what your politics are if you don’t have self respect.




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Salmond Unplugged

This week’s radio programme at is a special…a conversation with Alex Salmond. I was keen to hear from the First Minister because every time he appears it’s in a formal setting like the parliament chamber or behind a podium and sometimes under pressure in a studio.

DB 2 shot


That’s normal and how it should be. The journalists and the opposition have a duty to challenge and scrutinise, it’s how our system works. But I’m fed up with only having this kind of presentation because I know how it works – a battery of arguments are prepared and an interview is really a grilling. Done it myself, got the tee shirt.

One of the formats politicians hate most is long-form interviews where they really do have to know their stuff. They can’t just punt a one-line or two-line message to the audience whatever they’re asked, they sometimes contradict themselves, their irritability rises, they have to reach deep when moved from subject to subject and overall it can be very revealing. In a bad one, it is like a slow motion car crash.

I am also desperate to hear what people really think. So many interviews end up being as much about the presenter – and the programme team’s worked-up agenda – as they are about the interviewee and the subject. They become gladiatorial, ego against ego, a fight to the death after which you ask yourself: What did I learn?

It is a necessary process for news programmes, as is deciding in advance to limit the time available no matter what the content is and how good it sounds. But what about the other side of our politicians? When do they let the mask slip? Are they real humans behind the image front?

I’ve been learning from public meetings around the country – Arran tomorrow – that people do want to listen, appraise and think for themselves and I like the idea of the conversation being taken out of the mouths of the journalists and put back into the voices of the people. I’ve ditched the old style BBC techniques in favour of letting them speak. I allow them to develop naturally their arguments and in this case, it is in front of a live audience so that Alex has to reach out to them, not to me.

The result is a different kind of talk. We hear him get passionate and thoughtful, talking about his early life and love of history and what angers him and what Scotland needs to do next. He is unrestrained – at times unstoppable! He is relaxed and in his element. We must do this with the other leaders and let them breathe. This is Salmond Unplugged. Have a listen and let me know your thoughts. It’s at

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Take Me to Your Leader

We sometimes misunderstand the character and motivations of leaders. We may see them and hear them every day and yet never really know them. In fact we project on to them our own prejudices often unfairly and frequently take the image prepared by the media and allow that to shape our opinion.


Most leaders never let their real self emerge except in small and/or private settings. Thus two I can think of, Ian Lang and Johann Lamont, allowed a distorted impression of their real self to become the persona of their leadership. Neither would thank me for the comparison, and I don’t mean it politically, but both have a sense of mischievous humour with dry and withering wit that rarely works for them in public.

Lang was famous for – apparently – writing sketches for satirical reviews but was so imperiously polite and socially correct that only those close to him ever saw that side.

How this buttoned-up Lloyds Name and Tory grandee needed a popular touch when he struggled as leader of a fast-disappearing Tory Party. Instead he was seen as a dry stick whose dealings with ordinary Scots was restricted to telling the gardener at the Ayrshire mansion to trim the lawn edges. He was achingly nice to all but never relaxed in common company.

Johann – who appeared in my dream last night wearing her coat inside out (any theories?) – has never translated her appetite for a biting one-liner into a weapon of debate. She labours jokes and people laugh out of sympathy – I know what this is like and am similarly afflicted. Her attempts at laughs sound cynical and scornful rather than witty. The advice would be – don’t bother. But in friendly surroundings preferably minus media, she can make it work. Some say her best joke was making Anas the deputy.


I mention this because the media today is trying to work out David Cameron afresh. He had stumbled it seems over Coulson and Junker. We had assumed he was smart, borderline spiv, with that posh ability to smooth over the creases. But it was surely clear from the start that with warning after warning from friend and foe alike that the appointment of Coulson was a massive risk with no upside, something he was doing wilfully in spite of the evidence because he believed himself untouchable so long as he had the Murdoch gunslingers riding shotgun in Downing Street. He left himself no wriggle room and trusted all to a troop of fellow travellers whose interests were never the nation’s but the company’s. It’s a spectacular misjudgement similar to the one he made over the second question in the referendum. He has gambled all on a straight win and now finds that is a diminishing prospect. Having put in place the Edinburgh Agreement, he has again removed all wriggle room if there is a Yes. It looks like a fatal flaw in the Cameron makeup.


But I disagree that isolation over the new President of the Commission makes him look a failure. I think he has calculated this precisely to paint himself as the outsider fighting the powers of Brussels on behalf of plucky Blighty. When he rejected a treaty change at the end of 2011 his ratings went up and his right wing anti European support rallied. He is repeating the trick by ‘standing up to Brussels’ which is the language of the little Englanders who now run our country. This is bad news from UKIP’s point of view as Cameron again becomes the champion of the Eu-exiters.

Does he really care who is Commission President? Indeed, there is a case for saying that if Junker does make bold moves towards federalism, it will again enhance Cameron’s credentials. The trouble with this bus ride of brinkmanship is that it is leading to the terminus. There is only so much anti-European spin you can feed the public before they begin to believe you and the British public is half-way there already. Cameron’s wilful ignoring of hard facts will take us to the end of the European line even though that is not what he himself intends.

I spent time with Alex Salmond this week ( details to follow) and was reminded why he has been First Minister for so long. You get so used to the relentless anti-Salmond agenda that you don’t realise how it gets into your head until you see him close up and personal, reaching out to an audience and radiating belief.


In the English media he is more often than not portrayed as assuming too much, like the ghillie getting too familiar with the laird. He hasn’t understood that Westminster leaders are the real thing – they’re national – and he is provincial.

To the London media and its laughable ‘ Scottish editions’ he is arriviste, a pretendy Prime Minister in a pretendy parliament that doesn’t realise when it’s well off. His comeuppance is clearly imminent.

It’s puzzling then why two third of Scots trust Holyrood more than Westminster, three quarters want more powers but only half think they will be delivered and Salmond has a popularity rating of plus 11 with Cameron on minus 45. And that’s after seven years in power. His party is cruising ahead of Labour in the opinion polls, his cabinet is favoured over Labour’s and his deputy is more popular than either of their opponents or indeed of Salmond himself. This by any measure is a political phenomenon which shows no sign of declining even if the referendum is lost.

My view now is that a No vote is the worst outcome for Labour which will divide over extra powers in theory and is unlikely to deliver in practice as Miliband can’t make it to Number10. Two Scots Thomas Docherty and Ian Davidson publicly oppose more powers and the talk at Westminster among Labour MPs is of cutting spending to Scotland, not empowering Holyrood for more. Meanwhile when the remaining spending cuts still unfulfilled are added to the extra £25b planned, the effect on Scotland’s working and non working people will be devastating – it already is. Opinion will demand answers and defence from the party that said there was only misery to be had from a No vote.

Salmond makes that point in our conversation and says it is fear and fear alone that prevents us taking the chance to revive our democracy and re-energise our economy.

Alex Salmond has gifts as a politician that few can match and every professional opponent knows it. Why is he always late? Because he talks to people – anyone, anywhere about anything – he stops and engages, exchanges, shares. He struggles to stick to the itinerary because he enjoys the company of people and has to be dragged away. This innate ability to communicate is Margo-esque. They may not have been soul buddies by they share the people gene. He laughs with them, looks them in the eye. Cynical manipulation? Mastery of the political arts? Perhaps. But you can’t hide peoples’ affection if you’re only mimicking lines, can’t invent interest in each person’s individual story hour after hour if you’re a cardboard cut-out. Put it this way, if Salmond’s real opponent is Alistair Darling, how many of those skills can he muster? Would you share personal stories with Alistair? Can you imagine spending time with him – how was your trip to Monaco to pick up £30,000 for corporate speaking, Al?

There is a common experience of Alex Salmond that people will tell you – the public expect not to like him and after they do, they’re won over. His real strength is in personal contact not contrived situations and the press commentators know this too but it does fit their anti independence line. And it’s worth remembering that Salmond himself hasn’t begun campaigning yet. His own personal crusade when the best of him emerges is still winding up towards the final crucial weeks.


You might not vote for him and some of you still might not like him but he has proved a worthy and pioneering leader for our times who may be on the cusp of eclipsing them all with a stunning win. Whatever does happen, the Unionist plan to crush him and his project has already failed. I think Yes or No, this is Win-Win for Salmond.

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Walking the Boards

I’m no furra huving magasatapeep by hearing dear old Stanley Baxter backs Naw. I’m even happy to be told by an anglo troubadour that I don’t know any better than to think Braveheart was a documentary and, yes, he’s right – I did come out of the multiplex ready to hurl nachos at effete Englishmen. See me, see tribal. It would have been nicer though if he’d worn an Easter bunnet and a gingham dress and simpered: ‘Nice girls do it Better Together…’


But what really got to me was Simon Schama describing the Yes movement as a tribal identity which would destroy ‘expansive, inclusive’ Britain. Read those words again and remember who put the Go Home Foreigner vans on our streets, who elected wholesale UKIP councillors and MEPs, who openly denounces Romanians and Bulgarians and wants tighter immigration. Inclusive Britain sounds like the kind of out-of-time expression that someone who doesn’t actually live here could make.

simon schama


And of course, someone who hasn’t taken the slightest trouble to examine what is actually going on in Scotland. Like so many others only fleetingly engaged, he is convinced he knows what the movement is without bothering to check – a not uncommon weakness in opinionated academics.

Tribal presumably refers to a type of blood nationalism that has never formed the heart of the SNP and which Scots have rejected. But that doesn’t fit the story Schama and the other denouncers have to tell. In following dozens of other countries into nationhood at the UN, Scotland is part of the shifting pattern of people and states away from the monolithic.


You might as well argue that if Scots are wrong to want independence, so were the Baltic states and that Soviet Russia should still exist. Does his tribalism jibe apply to Tibet trying to leave China? What does Simon imagine the optimum state to be? Is it Luxembourg, Malta, a conjoined Germany? When does a natural, human pride in nation turn into vicious tribalism? Perhaps that’s what took the British into Ireland, India, Africa and Asia to loot, exploit and subjugate. British tribalism is one of the most virulent forms of state violence in history yet Schama forgives the history (his subject) to say we should remain tied to the UK. Perhaps it’s looking at rich, multi cultural London that skews his perspective. Well, why shouldn’t we aspire to the same?

Go home van

How tribal are we that we live in a multi cultural society and recognise the need for immigration and have it as a policy to invite more in?

Schama eviscerates his own reputation when he links a civic drive for self- determination with the Balkans and puts himself alongside the brain-numbing idiocy of George Robertson. The demand to run our own multi ethnic country is the same force ‘causing ethnic and tribal wars, immense massacres,’ he says. Does he mean the re-enactment of Bannockburn? It is one silly idea after another, each one revealing the well of his ignorance which leads him to the edge of bigotry.

Which brings me to an uneasy point. Schama made The History of the Jews and is himself of Jewish stock. It may be why he detests the idea of tribalism and ethnic discrimination which I can understand, although it’s no excuse for failing to find out if that really is at the heart of Scotland’s democratic movement. His mother was Lithuanian, so does he think Lithuania would be better off as part of the Soviet Empire and was it tribalism that inspired the Lithuanians to take back their independence?

And if there is a state founded on tribalism and identity it is surely Israel itself. The ethos of the movement to make it a Jewish homeland was founded on religious belief, on literal interpretation of the bible and the idea of Jews as the chosen people.

Only today I read the government in Tel Aviv will ‘push ahead with a rare change to Israel’s basic laws – which amount to the country’s constitution – to insist Israel is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people’. Netanyahu said: ‘The state of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status.’

If Schama is worried about tribalism leading to wars, does he apply his template to Israel because it seems to me a much stronger candidate for a tribal society that leads to violence than Scotland does.

Frankly, I prefer Baxter’s account. He lives in England, has done well there and thinks we’re too stupid to understand that Braveheart was fantasy. In essence – too wee, too poor, too stupid. Seeyooyanumpty!



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Stand Up! Speak Up!

Yet another community gathering to debate the referendum and no one from the No campaign present. It really is well named No Thanks. Four times the people in the Borders made polite requests for a Better Together guest to represent the Unionist case in West Linton, four times they were ignored and eventually turned down. The explanation, after the rudeness, was that they only send speakers to events they themselves organise.


And there in a sentence is the ethos of the top-down, controlled, PR-managed project that is afraid of the people and the heat of debate. Project fear indeed – fear of democracy. I suppose as long as the landowners and corporate moguls bung in their cash and the conventional media spreads the word, there is no need of positive engagement. Just what real Labour people make of this estrangement from the people is anyone’s guess – they’re remaining quiet, or is it comatose.


I’ve said before, Labour’s involvement in this tawdry and insulting affair will be long remembered after any No vote and if, as now looks likely, they fail to win the UK election next year and can’t deliver anything for Scotland, derision will be poured over them up to and beyond the Holyrood vote in 2016. Labour could ‘win’ the referendum and lose their soul.

It’s a pity too because in a well-off, picture postcard village in the Borders there were No voters, some English-reared, who have happily settled in Scotland and are at ease with extra powers but who can’t quite grasp the concept of losing Britain which, as one man said, is his real identity, not England. They would have benefited from hearing a rational case against national self-determination from a committed No spokesman. It doesn’t do the Union cause any good that their own natural supporters who are sufficiently engaged to turn up in the village hall on a sunny evening, have only Yes voices to answer their worries.

But then it isn’t comfortably-off English folk making a contented life in Scotland that bother the No side. (I now call them Better Together? No Thanks). Their job is to terrify Labour voters into line. They have the numbers to swing this vote, they are vulnerable to appeals that a better life must be possible and they have no respect for their party leadership north or south. They do have concerns about making it work but they’ll take that risk because, frankly, the UK fails them. They look around at their surroundings, their lifestyle, falling income, long hours, friends and family reliant on benefits – now being cut – and a Britain run by Tories every 10 years, and have nothing to stop them voting Yes.

The only hurdle is that to them this is the SNP’s project and they’re not SNP, not nationalists, not natural bedfellows. Which is why No constantly refers to independence as Salmond’s project – aided by lazy BBC journalism, I notice. They must brand it as a dangerous nationalist dream otherwise Labour voters might wake up to the truth – that Yes is an all-encompassing, left-of-centre grassroots movement that wants to spread our national wealth across all communities, changing lives and caring for all. Last night’s meeting was addressed by Carol Fox, three times a Labour Party candidate, with social work experience and now an employment lawyer, committed to women’s rights and equality in the workplace. ‘I am not a nationalist’, she says. Here is a Labour woman who sees the current party and the current UK system have been proved to be ineffective in lifting people up. She sees how Scotland making its own decisions can mould policies to meet our needs. Not cutting ourselves off, but simply by taking the power that allows us to run our affairs and co-operate where that is mutually beneficial.

Labour voters ask if that can’t done within the Union. The answer is Yes. If there was a will to make that happen, the skeleton of Union could be retained and virtually all decision-making devolved. But no Westminster politician will surrender those powers, that’s not why they’re in politics – to give it away. Their offer is scant, stripped down it means raising more tax in Scotland with a cut in London support funding. That cannot transform Scotland and cannot overcome poverty or dismal lives. It doesn’t deliver more funding, as Johann Lamont admits.

And if that was their plan, they could have put it in the referendum to get it endorsed and to make sure it would happen.


So Labour is reduced to what every thinking voter knows is a scandalous and mendacious campaign of threating people’s incomes and jobs – Johann and Margaret Curran are in the papers today proudly announcing that their mighty Union will declare Clyde shipbuilders foreigners, throw them out of work and close the yards. And they’re smiling…Johann wears the same smile she had when opening the food bank. What pride.


Any socialist, no matter how disillusioned with the party, must realise this is the end game…that even in victory, if it happens, this can’t go on. These are not the politics of inclusion and progress, this is managing decline. With Balls, Rachel Reeves and Chris Leslie all spelling out the grim truth – that Labour will not reverse a single Tory cut and Reeves boasting they will be tougher than the Tories – Labour is shackled like Houdini, writhing for escape before the air runs out. No one I know in Labour thinks Lamont is a leader or that she will carry on. No one believes Miliband will be Prime Minister. We now know that if, by accident, he was, his spending policies are those of Tory austerity.

When you consider what Labour could have been offering with their own Devo Max, the dreams they could have ignited, the triumphant campaign meetings across Scotland – even in West Linton – this is a puzzling and depressing episode for historians to pick over.

We can’t wait for history. It’s time to make some of our own and people who can’t even stand up and defend their view don’t deserve our respect. That includes you, Prime Minister.

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