No Offence

I found this on the internet and liked it….Offence seems to be an obligation…a natural response to someone else. When we see things that we do not like, we feel we have no choice but to become upset and express it adamantly. Like most things, however, offence is really an issue of the self. It has nothing to do with the person who is offending you and everything to do with you.


122So what is my crime that has offended some on Twitter? Two posts ago, I wrote this: ‘Have we become Irish? I ask because there is such a hilariously contradictory mood around that it could be St Patrick’s Day.’ (In reference to Yes movement joy and SNP re-birth after referendum defeat).

This is taken to be anti-Irish by some readers and a stereotype. Seriously.

They claim it is anti-Irish to describe the mood and behaviour on St Pat’s as hilariously contradictory. What? Grown men in leprechaun hats? Presenting to the world an image of a modern European state as a demented, raucous, day-long party? With drink. Dancing in the streets, wearing cartoon green outfits and having a bloody good laugh? How would you describe that?


In my personal experience the Irish people enjoy mixing their identity as a go-ahead country with the ironic pastiche of Ould Ireland – Guinness, the Green and all – and love the idea of being party people…and, yes, of being (once a year) drunks. Who tells most Irish jokes…the Irish. Who makes a point of parodying the stereotype of the cantankerous peasant who turns out not to be as daft as he lets on and who constantly points out how the rules of life are more liberally applied in Ireland? That’s right, the Irish. It’s why we love them, isn’t it?


Of course it’s a stereotype. You can’t have a conversation, let alone write, without versions of stereotype. There is a current controversy about (Irish-connected) Celtic Football Club not paying the living wage. This is mostly a Celtic story because it has branded itself as a charity-minded organization, proud of helping those in need. (Which is true). That view of the club – ‘charity is in our DNA’ – is a stereotype accepted by all, which is why their policy against the living wage is news.

Scottish opinion about uncaring (evil) Tories is a stereotype – I know Tory voters who aren’t arrogant self-seekers (but not many).


You can only be anti-Irish if that’s your intention. And mine isn’t. On the contrary, I have no ‘West of Scotland bias’, no anti-Catholic nonsense, no wish to demean. All my experience of Ireland both the country and its representatives in Europe, has been totally positive and my time in the North is the most deeply moving experience of my professional life.

In fact, I took offence at the offended. Who do these self-selecting thought police think they are? Who and what do they imagine they are sticking up for? And if you do take umbrage, as I do at stuff I read, isn’t the first obligation to explain what it is that gives offence, because I am truly puzzled what I could have written differently while conveying the point – that party-going, foot-stomping, burgeoning Yes is having a ball against all expectations and has thrown off its inhibitions in wild abandon. It feels liked St Patrick’s Day.

Perhaps the arbitors of Irish pride would rather we didn’t mention her at all and leave it to them as the font of all knowledge. What a bloody awful party that would be…


(My favourite St Pat’s Day story is true. It has two stereotypes, one Irish and one Scottish. I went into my local in East Lothian which was decked with shamrocks, harps and shillelaghs with accordion music blaring and some folk in green outfits dancing. Pints of Guinness were being carried head-high through the crowd and at the bar I spotted Jock. I pushed through the merry throng as they sang the Fields of Athenry. He looked downcast amidst the singing, laughing mob and I asked why. He had to shout in my ear above the din. ‘I’m a bit low. My old dad died this morning…’ He shook his head sadly. But the thing is – it was only a pound a pint. A deal not to be missed by any Scotsman.



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Delete as Applicable

I suppose it’s called democracy. Politician totally changes position on policy in light of voters’ opinions. Or is it cynicism, self-preservation and manipulation…


Today, according to the briefings swallowed whole by the media from Jim Murphy’s campaign team, he will indicate his support for full devolution of tax powers (or at least he will mangle the language to hint his lack of concern should Smith suggest it).

‘Even before the Smith Commission reports, we should agree to the full devolution of income tax to Scotland, if that is what emerges,’ is his quote.

Yet only three weeks ago, this was reported in the Times: ‘Jim Murphy took a major gamble in his attempt to become Scottish Labour leader by rejecting the prospect of full devolution of income tax yesterday, despite the majority of voters calling for the power to go to Holyrood. The MP said that by voting No in the independence referendum, Scots had endorsed the Union and the cross-border tax system. His concerns about more powers echo those expressed by Gordon Brown — that full devolution of income tax would drive a wedge between Scotland and England.’

Right. So, that’s clear…Murphy is first AGAINST tax devo and now he’s FOR it…just weeks apart. Why?

Perhaps one reason is a sidebar story in the same edition which reads: ‘Labour faces near wipeout in Scotland next May in a setback that could cost Ed Miliband the general election, according to a new poll for the Times. Mr Miliband’s personal ratings have also plunged since the referendum seven weeks ago…’


Polls showing the SNP anything from low 40 per cent to over 50 per cent have terrified the life out of the Branch Office, just as polling did two weeks before voting in the referendum and panic has set in. Panic on a level that all common sense and patience can be jettisoned as behind the scenes the party hacks seek a Houdini escape from the electoral fish tank. How to get free from this straightjacket…perhaps if we just agree to anything like we did on the referendum, the Scots will cut us some slack.

So Jim, notably not the other candidates, is given the script to read which will sound like he is the true champion of Home Rule while the pragmatists are left floundering because they realise the potential bear trap of Scotland supported mainly by a single tax power, piling the eggs into one leaky basket. (This is precisely why independence is the answer – control over all the levers of the taxation and economic system, permit policy to be tailored to national need).

It is a reminder of another Labour leader whose U-turn was more of a backward flip with twist and double pike.

This from Iain Mcwhirter in the Herald, March 2011.

‘The SNP are particularly peeved about Iain Gray’s dramatic U-turn last week on tuition fees. The Labour leader cheekily challenged Mr Salmond at the weekend to back Labour’s commitment to free higher education. Yet only a few months ago, Labour were saying the present system of tax payer-funded higher education was not sustainable and that a financial contribution from graduates was inevitable. Not any more. Labour realised that losing a couple of hundred thousand student votes in May was even less sustainable. They have now declared themselves the belated champions of the democratic intellect by ruling out any price tag on learning for the duration of the next parliament.’

You see, when the politician’s mind is focused by the prospect of losing votes, anything becomes possible, even eye-watering reversals of policy with nary a backward glance.

Which raises further intriguing questions. What happens if Trident truly emerges as a keynote issue as some left-leaning Labour types might decide to make it…the polling evidence is clear. Within the Union, a poll last year had opposition to nuclear weapons at 66 per cent with only 15 in favour. Both Boyack and Findlay, as nuke objectors – in principle at least – can outflank Murphy on the Left which is not what his campaign message is supposed to be as he ingratiates himself with the Scottish core vote.

Therefore – you see where I’m going – is it conceivable that Murphy, Labour’s Dr Strangelove, could abandon not just a Westminster career but a dogmatic adherence to the nuclear deterrent? If it meant the difference between winning and losing in what is the gamble of his political life, I am convinced he would denounce Trident. Or he may renege on its replacement in the biggest boomerang of a U-turn so far.

All it requires is for someone to turn the heat up…Unknown

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Surreal Scotland

Have we become Irish? I ask because there is such a hilariously contradictory mood around that it could be St Patrick’s Day. ‘Happy? Of course we’re happy. We lost our independence and our living standards are going backwards but isn’t the party grand?’


Makes you wonder just what we would be doing if we’d won the referendum… ‘Cabinet members arrived for their first meeting dressed in assorted onesies. First Minister Sturgeon came in a panda outfit accompanied by the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band…The Cabinet sang Do They Know It’s Christmas before going into Bute House where they debagged Brian Taylor and threw his trousers on to the street. Reflecting off the windows were the flames of bonfires set by the mob in Charlotte Square gardens…’

Thousands of Yes Scots, many with no previous political history, clapping and stomping as political speeches are mixed with music represents a new and surreal Scotland. It isn’t simply a coalescing of the campaign, it is overtaking it in determination, identity and commitment to participate, even if the details of platform and policy are undefined. To be fair, the neighbouring RIC event was already past the hangover stage and into the tidy-up and allocation of cleaning duties. (The Left does planning ahead? Even more surreal).

I haven’t seen anything like it and with an awareness back to the days of Harold Wilson in government, my view is governed by grim experience. So, I am reduced to asking balefully: When does it all go wrong? And then I remember that I am out of time, that politics in my lifetime has been formulaic and only occasionally people-led and that I am forever cast in the role of questioning outsider, not joyful participant – the journalist’s fate.

The only real change in my 50 years of politics-watching has been the rise of the SNP because it, uniquely, threatens total change by forcing the disintegration of the British state. Even UKIP doesn’t offer such drastic revision. But for most of that time, although I knew it was my intellectual home, the SNP was, like me, the outsider. It was dismissed and reviled, consigned to popping up in sporadic outbursts before subsiding again. Devolution has changed all that and proved to be the perfect platform for power, forging the party into a national movement reaching into every corner of every home and street.

So why shouldn’t they be right now? Why should this not be a new politics, a new movement in a new Scotland? Maybe the balloon doesn’t have to burst and maybe the party, in every sense, will go on. After all, the national cause is still there to be the engine that drives ambition. Meanwhile, there is much to be done is reshaping the country with new laws and powers and a titanic struggle with Labour to hold the focus. Can I suggest for next year…St Nicola’s Day?

Others of course are not just puzzled but sneering. In one of those creepy London pieces by M25 media luvvies in the Times, there is an object lesson in why Scots feel aggrieved at their portrayal by an ignorant mainstream and why we need a media rooted in our own country. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester interview Jim Murphy for the obvious reason that he’s the one they’ve heard of. He has a London profile so readers in Surrey might have heard of him.

The bold Murph is billed as ‘ the unexpected star of the referendum campaign’. In case you missed it, this is what he did…. ‘touring the cities and glens, street corners and village halls with his Irn-Bru crate. He was heckled, splattered with egg and had to shout his unionist message above baying Yes campaigners.’ What a hero! How the kilted peasants must have cheered and waved their sporrans in the glens. Our London feminists fawn over their subject oblivious to the contempt his juvenile antics are held in across Scotland. But see how the myth he created and our brave media perpetuated, is now standard usage in English journalism? Baying mobs, thrown eggs, defenceless, brave Jim. They swallowed it whole because they are conditioned to do so. He fashioned a story they couldn’t resist because it fitted their prejudices and desires. No mention here of the provocation of a man with a mike shouting at passers-by, of three men and a dog and his own henchmen making up the numbers, of ignoring the question and insulting questioners, of seeking police protection and hiding for three days after having an egg cracked on his shoulder in what many of us regarded as the nearest act of cowardice to Iain Gray’s sandwich shop retreat. No mention of his two-faced policies like voting for tuition fees for English students and now, to get the job, opposing them in Scotland – an issue, by the way, that really does irritate Times readers in the south.

The interview wasn’t just to boost Westminster’s man in his bid to lead the branch office, it was to ridicule the post-referendum Yes success which has them deeply worried (not on our behalf but because it might mean Scotland matters to their beloved Westminster election). On Twitter this hagiographic twaddle was paraded by more London luvvies, Times colleague David Aaronovitch and Blair biographer John Rentoul of the Independent, who’d love a Blairite to help them understand Scotland and stop these bloody Nats from enjoying themselves so much. ‘Why can’t they stay defeated?’

PS. If you need a reason to buy the new National, it is surely David Torrance displaying more bile about Alex Salmond in the comment section of the Herald.

He has never forgiven his humiliation at the hands of Salmond who dismissed his attempt at biography so neatly. (His charge that Torrance doesn’t know him was echoed to me by a professor of politics who had read the book. ‘It is obvious he has no understanding of Salmond’s character or motivations’, he said).

In contrast we are told by Tory-supporting Torrance that Douglas Alexander is ‘typically thoughtful’ and Gordon Brown’s failings ‘were largely presentational’. Brown is full of substance in contrast with the mere presentational strengths of the SNP. (How gullible the stupid Scots are for not realising). Anybody outside the Unionist bubble agree?

In my memory Brown destroyed the pensions of millions of Britons, sold off the gold reserves at knock down prices to support the bankers’ profits, devised the failed financial services regulatory system, bailed out the same bankers and organised for working people to pick up the bill, ended the 10p tax rate, sacked 100,000 public sector workers, kept quiet about his concerns about the Iraq war, stabbed colleagues in the back and orchestrated a coup against the elected Prime Minister. But then to David Torrance, he is first a Unionist and anything is justified to preserve the mighty Union, even the reputation of the great deceiver that is Brown.

We need the National, not because it is pro independence but because we need balance in our media, never more so than today.

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Left Turn

Amid the peeling of bells and peasants dancing in the streets, gorging themselves on idylls of Labour Party wipe-outs in six months time, it’s been hard to discern just what thinking No people make of it all (I’m excluding Jackie Baillie).

So I was pleased to have sent to me this piece by Jean Barr, emeritus professor of Glasgow University and a confirmed Unionist, published in the Left Review.

I recommend it, not just to support the team at Review, but to benefit from a glimpse into a mindset that is blinded by revulsion at belief in country and allows her entire political outlook to be defined by it – in a way only a fundamentalist nationalist would recognise. How ironic is that?

I think it is insightful by revealing the convoluted emotions that cloud the judgement and steer the mind towards rejecting the very ideals the author espouses but is, through her prejudices, obliged to reject because of their nationalist branding. Progressive ideals are dismissed because they are labelled with the Scottish flag – her own country’s flag.

This is, to be blunt, a form of narrow-mindedness which Unionism has made its own by trumpeting British national interest from immigration to defence to euro-scepticism while simultaneously scoffing at Scottish pride as something lesser and faintly sinister. British nationalism is the NHS and the Olympics but Scottish nationalism is border guards and Anglophobia.

Left-minded Unionists are trapped in aspic, seeing the changed world outside but unable to join in, wallowing in their memories of the Cold War, communism and anti-Vietnam marches. ‘It was the real thing in my day, you know. None of this pandering to identity.’

Jean Barr lards her case against the new Scottish Left with what I can only call mis-readings of events. One wonders which campaign she was following when she is able to write… ‘In the run-up to the referendum and in its aftermath, the leftist case for Scottish independence reveals a dogged reluctance – even refusal – to engage in robust democratic dialogue with critics, especially those who also identify with the left. Dialogue means people together examining their thoughts and assumptions. It demands effort as well as empathy and imagination.’

A reluctance to engage…? Is that what the Yes movement was about…hundreds of them springing up from Shetland to the Border…staging public events, hustings, stalls, publishing papers, opening blogs, forming new media, knocking doors…and inviting Unionist speakers of any and all stripe to come along and join in and yet were either turned down or promised speakers who never turned up, cancelling meetings all over the country. Every Yes activist has a similar tale to tell. Did Better Together stage a single, open public meeting in the land? I know they didn’t have a single one in Glasgow. Where was the non-nationalist Left…hiding from the people, it would seem, or lost in space while their case was made by George Galloway.

Come to it…where was Jean Barr? ‘Challenging thoughts and assumptions’ is exactly what was happening under her very nose with trade unionists, food bank volunteers and lapsed Labour voters standing up in public to tell their stories of enlightenment and transformation. It was wonderful to behold. This was the greatest dialogue Scotland has ever had on any area of public policy and here is an intelligent citizen blind to it. Staggering.

She clearly feels that the sense of community and belonging we felt at reshaping – or trying to – our country was nothing more than a form of exclusion, which demonstrates our limited outlook and lack of universalism. She quotes Adam Smith. ‘For Smith, sympathy, the ability to put oneself in the other’s shoes rather than standing in judgement of them, requires continuously challenging one’s own assumptions: too much emphasis on belonging and on being the same limits and stultifies, leaving those outside the clan ‘in a limbo of coldness and indifference’.

Is that what Asian for Independence was about? Is that why the SNP declared that everybody living in Scotland was a Scot – no exclusions – and colour, country and religion made no difference at the same time a Unionist British government had vans touring London telling immigrants to go home?

I suspect the author felt cold and indifferent because she couldn’t come to terms with events and has projected it on to the movement which was precisely the opposite. This is what I mean by a prejudice that stains every thought. I defy anyone who joined in a Yes event, perhaps the Calton Hill rally, to say it was judgmental of anyone who disagreed or that it excluded anyone. The international media agreed.

There is much worrying analysis which describes Yes as sectarian – yes, the biggest single movement in modern history which has harnessed public mood into an array of parties and organisations and which commands groups of hundreds for political branch meetings and this week 3000 prepare for the RIC conference. It is almost unbelievable that an idea which has gripped public imagination and galvanised all sections of our society including our youth could be dismissed as sectarian and exclusive. Indeed, one is forced to conclude that that if anyone is judgemental, it is the author herself whose assessment flies in the face of the facts.

The total lack of critique of the British state and its systematic abuse of low paid workers and families, its militarism and campaign against civil rights shows where Jean Barr’s heart lies.

‘And a labour movement united at British level is better able to challenge the concentration of power and wealth at that level and bring the economy under more democratic control. Dealing with the limitations of nationalism will challenge the new left formation that is emerging in the wake of the referendum, in light of its apparent abandonment of class-based politics.’

So we are better able to cut the ruling class down to size and re-order society in favour of the poorest by maintaining the state which bankrupted the country, bailed out the bankers and cut living standards. Is Jean Barr living in the belief that there will be a Labour government with a radical agenda along any time soon?

Well…. ‘The Labour Party in Scotland and at UK level must speak of inequality and poverty as obscene; advocate redistribution and progressive taxation, including council tax reform; pursue public ownership, social housing and employment rights; and reverse the creeping privatisation of the NHS.’ (I think you’ll find the NHS privatization isn’t true, if you check with Labour).

To me those are exactly the policy ideas discussed at Yes meetings that Jean Barr couldn’t attend because she was scared of their sectarianism. I suspect she is whistling if she expects Miliband to deliver that lot.

This article ends with a cri de cour repeating the old canard that voting SNP will prevent a Labour government – no stats provided because they don’t stack up.

If this is a glimpse into No progressive thinking, we should begin to worry. Or Labour should, for this is another portrayal of Labour’s denial of SNP success, of refusal to accept that within Scotland we have created a new platform demanding social change and it doesn’t need the Labour Party or the United Kingdom to achieve it. The people are doing it for themselves…the people of Scotland.

Yes and the SNP need critics and need robust challenge but the British Left will have to do a lot better than this if it is to resonate.



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As I was saying…there will be no second referendum without a material change in circumstance. One of the dismaying aspects of the referendum experience has been the blind eye turned to the democratic process by some Yes voters who have begun to sound like zealots rather than campaigners by refusing to come to terms with defeat and instead playing victim to British propaganda.


Did Better Together lie and cheat? Yes. When the referendum was announced, it was clear that in a struggle for the survival of the British state virtually any device or stratagem would be deployed to get the result they wanted…short of selective assassination*. Every department of state was given instructions to produce reports damning the nationalist critique and, amazingly, they all did. Not one examined the evidence and concluded that independence might have benefits. This was an exercise in state propaganda. They utilised their cohorts in academia and industry to weigh in with unsubstantiated claims of contractual complexity and additional costs, some of which were embarrassing in their schoolboy naivety.

But this is a political campaign. Did we expect them to acknowledge Scotland would have been as rich as Switzerland if we hadn’t let them take our oil revenues? Did we expect them to concede the balance of payments would be unsustainable without our exports? (I myself suggested Cameron should have met with Salmond to thrash out a deal between the two before the process started but that would have required a maturity and vision lacking in the Prime Minister. He prefers to deal in war games and subterfuge).

Can anyone on either side be remotely surprised at the British approach? This is how every election I’ve ever known is run – with highly contentious claims and warnings and threats.

Did Yes play the same game? Well, not to the same degree clearly since a principled decision was taken by the board to play a positive tune and avoid the negative and discordant. There are many out there who believe this was a mistaken policy and that we sacrificed the chance of being independent today by playing nice when the waverers should have been reminded of the horrors of modern Britain – a system channelling money to the rich while child poverty increases; working families, some with more than one job, picking up benefits to make up a living wage; sanctioned claimants committing suicide; benefit levels so low the Council of Europe calls them illegal; a government working in Brussels to defend bankers bonuses while throwing out the ECHR; corrupt politicians paid by corporate interests while they sit as legislators; an economy built on unsustainable and mounting sovereign debt and a people borrowing to eat. But we didn’t do it. (To be fair, I did).


On the other hand, there were somewhat extravagant claims by the SNP about how welcome we would be in Europe and how soundly that was based on legal advice. To many, the late claims that the NHS was threatened by a No vote were contrived and at the very least, overstated. An independent parliamentary report by SPICE contradicted the claim that free nursery care for all one to five year old would draw 104,000 women into work when there are only 64,000 mums of one to five year olds in the country and only 14,000 of them wanted to work. Is this designed to win over voters with assertion or do we take everything the SNP says as the truth? Elections are about winning and each side does what it thinks will achieve that.

It isn’t disloyal to the cause to concede defeat and regroup. But it is, in my view, disloyal to Scotland and to democracy to begin immediately arguing for a re-run. It implies No voting Scots don’t count as much as Yes do. It implies they were too thick to see through the lies (as we were smart enough to do) and that if we believe something, then all must agree. It suggests fanaticism and lack of compromise.

Turn it round and imagine if Yes had prevailed by one or two percentage points. Some of us actually postulated that in the event of a narrow win, forces in London would object and suggest there were flaws in the process, that Salmond had made claims to win over voters that were manifestly untrue. They would lodge a legal challenge, find lawyers to say a constitution can’t be changed on a simple majority etc.

These, I said, would be the dark forces of Britain, the non-democrats who can’t accept an outcome that doesn’t fit their world view and personal interests. And that would be right. Wouldn’t every Yes voter be outraged that after a prolonged and legally binding exercise, the validity of the result should be questioned by the losers? We would berate and deride them for their extremism. This isn’t an edifying place to be.

We are fortunate in having a second focus for our disappointment and rage – a full-blown British General Election in six months time which has the capacity to blast the tired Westminster boys’ club out of the water depending on the way the seats fall.


If other events unfold, an EU exit poll holds within it the key to another test of democratic will for Scots, both in our own Holyrood election in 2016 and in the Scottish Parliament’s own powers to consult through referendums. The issue has not died but is on life support and must be left in a darkened room meantime.

As Alex Salmond steps down today, we should remember that the party didn’t go down the route of change through threat or violence. Everything the SNP and Salmond has achieved has been through democratic mandate which is why they are held in high regard – and fear – in Westminster and why so many people felt at ease in rushing to join them. The defeat was as much a declaration of democracy as a victory would have been. The suggestion that it wasnae fair or we didna ken sullies the history and ethos of the SNP.

This is not over. It will, I believe, return because Britain will simply fail to deliver or understand. I will go to my grave believing in independence and I will also go to my grave as a democrat.


*This used to be the responsibility of the Home Office but is now outsourced to Serco.

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