Yes? NO!

I think we’re all supposed to be cock-a-hoop in contrast to the expected deflation of defeat as we were supposed to grub around for some vestige of consolation. Personally, I’m not dancing in the street yet but I am buoyant and confident of where Yes is leading and if this is second prize, I’m happy with silver.

Yes or No

A burgeoning engagement, new media, astonishing membership stats and a pervasive mood music of positivity is infecting everyone – we are all lit up in vivid colours while Unionism fades into monochrome. I can’t think when a leadership contest for Labour caused so few ripples, so much indifference.

From now on the darker elements of our politics which have become stuck in the repeating echo chamber of cynicism will tell us the optimism will fade, the branch meetings will decline, disillusion will follow, the polls will narrow, Murphy will win and the dreary conventional formula of machine politics and media compliance will gather pace.

Maybe. I’ve been wrong before. I was wrong about the referendum result and I was only partly right that there would be a sympathy vote for Alex Salmond after a respectable defeat. But I didn’t foresee just how energised we would be.


Ridiculously, we are in a quiet period. Post-vote there was bound to be a lull and we are now in the dark days of winter with holidays and current affairs fallow periods ahead. Yet with the SNP conference and the new leadership there is a continuing platform, Labour will produce a wee hiatus in December and the travails of Miliband are morbidly fascinating – and as predictable as Jingle Bells playing in Debenhams mid-November.

I have a caveat though…I am uneasy at casual talk of a second referendum.

This is not how democracy works. First comes the vote and the result. Then comes the acceptance. The people have spoken. That is, just for the record, the Scottish people in a deluge of 85 per cent from the Northern Isles to the Border. The referendum is over and the referendum issue is laid to rest until circumstances change.

I don’t believe this is a time question as in waiting for five or 10 years for it to return as postulated in a poll this week. This is an events question because only an undeniable and ground-shifting change in circumstance can justify a second vote.

To argue otherwise isn’t just anti-democratic, it is anti-Scottish. The 55 per cent are our countrymen.


For my taste there are far too many assertions that it will magically come round again as if No voters are already filled with regret. Maybe they are but hell mend them. The answer is not to pretend September was a mistake or we weren’t quite ready or the Unionists lied. (Of course they lied. This is the British state – it’s in the DNA. And if any adult Scot couldn’t tell that was happening, they were either too dim to merit the vote or would vote No regardless of the facts). The answer is to say out loud: The referendum settled the debate.

There is no longer a mandate in winning half the Scottish Westminster seats. It was, pre-devolution, the benchmark that was set by the SNP but it was trumped by the referendum, the internationally acknowledged method which leaves no doubt about the electorate’s intention. Any process less than a Yes/No referendum will henceforth lack legitimacy. The UDI brigade are also shouting down an empty tunnel. Bald statements of sovereignty apply when a nation is oppressed and denied access to democratic solutions. And what is independence anyway without international recognition – which would be denied while London resisted.

There is another reason why strident claims of indyref2 should be put on mute. They are troubling the No Scots who look on in wonder at how their victory is being treated like a scrag-end, a threadbare, unloved thing despised as soon as it entered the world. This has the effect of painting what we regard as a glorious, reforming democratic movement as demagogic and intolerant, hell-bent on getting its own way no matter what the rules say. It also turns them away from us rather than inviting them in to think again. If there ever is to be a future vote, we will need a significant number of them to get on side and to do that they must not only buy the arguments but feel at ease in our company. The affront Yes people feel about the shredding of the Vow is the same emotion No people feel about demands for a re-run.

Judgement on Unionism and the Smith process will be played out in the elections of the next two years and there is no doubt in my mind that an abject failure by Smith allied to a Tory-led Euro referendum would constitute a change of circumstance that would justify unwrapping the referendum package a second time. But that is for then not for now.

Hurt as I am by the outcome and – at times mad with anger at the No folk – I believe we live or die by democracy and that in time it is democracy that will frame the next step. The Unionists traduced the ethos of our democracy by their behaviour in the campaign but we are in danger of dishonouring it ourselves with reference to another referendum. If it is to be, then it will happen through events and a sense of democratic outrage. It should not be openly talked about it now.

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The Party That Time Forgot

Some decent reads in our beloved Scottish Press this morning…the Herald redeeming itself with Ian Bell after my criticisms earlier this week. (Although quite what I learn about the new First Minister by reading where she buys her shoes and what colour her carpets are is beyond me).

But my Saturday morning entertainment was made complete with Brian Wilson’s latest homily in the Scotsman from his Hebridean croft. I gave up reading him during the campaign after concluding that there may be personal factors beyond journalism that informed his neurotic and splenetic outpourings and it was polite to look the other way.


Now, thinking it safe to return, I find him in customary dyspeptic mode, deflecting attention from the real story – the stunning success of post-referendum nationalist politics – in order to attack his own side. The comrades truly are revolting…

This is an object lesson in bilious propaganda and demonstrates better than Johann Lamont’s resignation fireworks why Labour is unfit to lead the working people of Scotland. The message, stripped down, is that they hate each other and will risk all in order to settle scores. Labour are happier running down each other than in running Scotland.

The headline alone is straight from the satirical handbook. Brian Wilson: Blast from the past hits Labour race. This is a reference to Unite’s Len McCluskey but applies so neatly to Wilson himself that you begin to wonder if this is a deliberate joke by mischievous sub editors.

Even the strapline is ripe with irony… ‘Being endorsed by a political dinosaur (like McCluskey) is something Jim Murphy can do without…’

Here is Labour cavorting in Jurassic Park with one tired old party fraud who sold out every socialist ideal he ever had berating another monster from the deep for bellowing his opinion about the Scottish leadership. Unreconstructed creatures from another age wrestling each other to the ground while all around them the landscape blossoms and a new age of enlightenment dawns.


The intended thrust of this piece of course is that a left-wing union leader has no business criticising a right-wing candidate like Jim Murphy because Brian wants Murphy to win. We can’t allow dialogue to intervene when personal promotion is at play – dialogue being exactly what should be happening long before broken-backed Labour start playing leadership personality politics.

Now if McCluskey had been endorsing Murphy instead of excoriating him, do you suppose the tribally prejudiced Wilson would complain? Indeed this morning’s Scotsman would have been treated to a ‘Wilson welcomes late conversion by McCluskey’ column on how the Labour family was pulling together.

The depth of Unionist hypocrisy also lives on here because of course we hear that (in times past): ‘…no London-based general secretary would have dreamt of treading on Scottish territory in this way’. Really? The leader of a UK union which funds Labour should butt out of the leadership race in Scotland because they’re based in London…?

I may have misunderstood the Better Together message but it seemed to me to imply we shouldn’t differentiate between England and Scotland and that we were one happy family with shared interests and pooling of resources and there were 800,000 Scots living in England who would become foreigners overnight and it was only narrow nationalists who wanted to separate and divide…

Yet here is arch-Unionist Wilson doing exactly that when it suits his own petty interests.

This most right-wing of former progressives who, I understand, brokered the £500,000 Ian Taylor (of Vitol) donation to Better Together – the single most morally repugnant act of a despicable campaign – declares airily this leadership contest should not be about ideology. Read that again…not about ideology – a political party lost in the wilderness, haemorrhaging votes, with no story to tell, dislocated from its core, trapped in age of austerity while families use food banks – and in the mind of millionaire Wilson this is no time for ideology.

On the contrary, this is the time for ideas, vision and reconnection starting with a brutal admission of what has gone wrong. Even this most basic of requirements is brushed aside with majestic contempt.

He calls to his aid the likes of Hugh Wyper and Mick McGahey (whom Labour disdained) to remind us of great trade unionists from the past who combined ‘principle with pragmatism, underpinned by loyalty to both class and movement’ as if today’s union leaders were made of lesser stuff.

But isn’t the truth that it is Labour itself that no longer has principle, loyalty and connection with the working people? Isn’t that exactly why they are struggling now – because self-seeking careerists like Wilson and his leader Blair abandoned every vestige of social solidarity to embrace the crudest of capitalism?

There are no principles left for Labour, only a wolverine hunger for winning – but to what end and to achieve what exactly? They can’t even tell us.

Wilson’s utter lack of self awareness and criticism exposes him as a deluded hypocrite, perfectly articulating everything that Labour now represents – Neanderthal argument and pointless self-promotion – a mere shell of a movement that is being deserting for a vibrant and meaningful alternative.


With this kind of naked disclosure – a sort of public post mortem in which we can all peer inside the cadaver – universities are rendered redundant. Why waste money on tuition fees at all in politics departments when all the explanations for failure are plucked out and offered to us for our perusal? I don’t believe Wilson knows what is happening in our country let alone inside his own party. He is writing of what he wants to believe is happening and has convinced himself is true rather than the utterly changed picture of modern Scotland.

It is too late for Labour to change in time for next year’s election or the Scottish one the year after. Their course is set and the idea that the spitting, hissing hatreds epitomised by Brian Wilson will dissipate is perhaps the biggest delusion of all.

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In their Own Write

More examples today of how easy it is to manipulate the Scottish media. The first is a happy-clappy item in the Herald trumpeting the views of the house-vending industry on a recent ‘surge’ in activity (I think that means folk are buying and selling houses).

There is a rising chorus of optimism in this report which makes it sound as if the world has emerged from a dark place into the sunny uplands of cheap mortgages, paper profits and market upgrades into ‘more desirable properties.’ It could have been written by an estate agent.


Boom for Property Market After No Vote is the headline and those who make a living from this artificial pumping up of nominal values get a say including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the barra boys of stately homes, Rettie and Co – all cock-a-hoop that the political nonsense is over and the right decision was reached and they can all get back to money-making.

I seem to remember Rettie issuing a statement during the campaign ‘warning’ Scots that the monied mafia had stopped scouring our country for shooting estate bargains while we weighed up independence. We made it inconvenient for them by playing our democratic games.

Now they’re roaring back into business after No voters cleared the way for them by ensuring there would be no tricky questions over taxes and money exchange. It’s odd though because Scotland still has, and is consulting on, powers over land ownership which I believe should be used to limit the number of acres any one person or entity can own and to charge them for unproductive use. It is time the Scots – rather than a self-selecting few – benefited from the wilderness that comprises our country and time we stopped pretending that rising house prices is anything other than the beginning of another inflationary bubble. If there is one area where Ms Sturgeon could legitimately burnish her supposed left wing credentials without damaging the SNP support base, it is land. And wouldn’t it be worth it to hear Ruth Davidson championing the landowners’ case?



But the Herald has no interest in wider land use issues and plays the consumer card by indicating industry satisfaction at an upturn as if it were universally welcomed. Interestingly, it touches on what may be the real reason most of the high-end property diggers are queuing up to buy now – the impending arrival of the land and building transaction tax which will hammer high value properties when it replaces stamp duty. Purchasers are rushing to beat the deadline.

The surveyors’ organisation merely needed to pass on a thin report based on assumptions about market activity and the media prints it, unchallenged. No scrutiny of underlying attitudes to the market or mortgages, families or inflation AND a free advert for Rettie.

No challenge either to the latest offering from the obscure and somewhat secretive Fiscal Affairs Scotland which commands column inches and broadcast appearances just by stating mostly the bleedin’ obvious. It is also in the Herald today to tell us our longer-term public budgets will be cut. Who’d have thought, eh? Seven years of austerity and counting…an ideologically committed party of small government in power…an opposition in agreement with them…declared additional cuts of £25billion now exposed as £48billion over the next parliament…Scotland voting to stay in the Union…Barnet under threat…and the economic experts can bravely predict budgets will be cut! Well, thank you, Professor.

This tiny outfit is given space to inform us that if you ring-fence budgets in, say health spending, it means more cuts fall on other areas. That’s the kind of blinding insight you need crack academics to reveal. Or are they just using these reports and their ready access to the media to advertise themselves as economic analysts to corporate Scotland and that’s where the real money is made – writing reports and forecasts for companies? They tell us ‘revolutionary’ thinking may be required to deal with future spending. What does that mean? What is their proposal? We are not told although I suspect it means stopping universalism which is what every soft left neo liberal (Labour) apologist goes for because cutting expenditure is the limit of their imagination, locked as they are in the mindset of conventional orthodoxy.

Here’s a thought for the pot of revolutionary thinking. We could grow our economy. One of the reasons I backed independence was to have strategic capacity – the ability to move all the levers at our disposal so they aligned in Scotland’s favour. That means we would control competition policy, public procurement, taxation, immigration, investment, land use, inward investment and every other tool which other countries adjust to produce the perfect mix for their own benefit. (It’s also a reason I didn’t back sharing the pound as it denies us money control and interest rates).

Independence would have provided the jolt our country needs to boost the economy. No more relying on policy and support from the south but finally it would all be in our own hands. All across the economy we could have made improvements. The North Sea needs a new dynamic regime as all sides agree. Do we really think the same people who took all the tax, sold off the national oil company and invested not one penny of the windfall are better at it than the Scots?

If we ran energy policy, wouldn’t the dream of re-industrialisation through renewables have more chance of happening? The so-called think tank simply dismisses our constitutional status as irrelevant to the cuts needed – yet how could they know what deal Scotland might have struck on, for example, debt? Suppose there was a trade-off between sovereign debt servicing and Trident, seriously reducing Scotland’s share of UK indebtedness?

At least Professor Brian Ashcroft – elsewhere in the Herald – has the flair to come up with some answers and goes beyond the arid Fiscal report by pointing out that these relentless cuts are themselves damaging the economy and risking the recovery. We need in injection of investment to protect the signs of growth and that should be the Scottish government’s job to borrow. New beefed-up borrowing powers would mean extra economic control here in Scotland where it’s needed. (He might not like it, but that chimes broadly with my own view). In fact Ashcroft is a lot closer to the declared aim of Fiscal Affairs as stated on the website… ‘to understand the effectiveness of economic policies’. Clearly they have failed to do that in this case, merely accepting the diktat of Westminster policy-makers.

The authors at Fiscal Affairs sound like the Labour Party to me. ‘We’re a’ doomed,’ is their motto. There is nothing to do but suck it up and stop resisting, stop campaigning, stop trying. This is Britain. Just give up.

But who are Fiscal Affairs Scotland to command acres in the national Press with such ease when other organisation have to hire PR help just to get a mention? As discussed here previously, they are what used to be CPPR, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (that’s Scotland, by the way) – semi detached from Glasgow University. They appear to have been spun out of that entity, a fact hard to deny when their own website points you to the work they did while at CPPR. The only staff appear to be John McLaren and Jo Armstrong.

What I always want to know with self-styled think tanks is Who’s paying? And the awkward truth here is that we don’t know. There is no public information on who is paying salaries and costs or under what contractual arrangements reports are produced.

Under Trustees on the website there are five individuals. Among them Robert Black was auditor general, Gavin McCrone is well known, Richard Harris was director of CPPR, and there is Lorna Jack of the Law Society. (She is also a trustee of Jack McConnell’s foundation against poverty in Africa.) The drop-down for Advisory Board is empty, as is the menu for News and Media, and Contact has only personal emails and mobiles for John and Jo which may mean there is no office. (The charity regulator has the principal office as a chartered accountants premises on an industrial estate in Glasgow which looks like an administrative nicety).

So two economic academics register as a charity ‘for the advancement of education, or citizenship or community development’ with no specific beneficiaries in mind, to ‘carry out activities or services itself,’ according to the regulator – all meaningless charity legalese – and on that basis are feted by the national media whenever they turn out a report whether it is informative, incisive and helpful, or not.

So far they’ve been pretty helpful to Labour. Their previous effort at independent, politically non-aligned analysis was welcomed by Jenny Marra when they warned that handing all tax powers to Scotland exposed us to falling oil prices, dovetailing with the Unionist case against Devo Max.

And when two years ago, at the CPPR, they previously made the case about falling oil forecasts, they were contradicted by the man they had quoted in their support, Professor Alex Kemp.

There is a tendency in our short-handed, Google-based newsrooms to buy whatever sugary line they are presented with and just to ‘bung it in’. There is in Scotland right now a profound debate about politics and government and how we improve peoples’ lives. Journalists like to claim a special role in for themselves in our society at such times but unless they can bring a deeper insight and wider understanding than the Herald today, they will increasingly be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. All the conventional sources are on trial post-referendum as normally compliant citizens had their eyes opened to the institutional shortcomings of the society they knew and trusted.

We have learned not to believe them and it’s clear with the media they still don’t deserve to get back our trust.

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Your Friends For Life

Today’s headlines on the BBC made my thinning blood boil.

Five banks have been collectively fined £2bn by UK and US regulators for traders’ attempted manipulation of foreign exchange rates. HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Swiss bank UBS and US banks JP Morgan Chase and Citibank have all been fined. A separate probe into Barclays is continuing.


To most of us this is unknowable corporate chaff that members of some satanic sect make up to entertain themselves. Bankers might as well be alien lizards secretly destroying our planet. They are not of our race.

And as scandal crashes over scandal – Libor fixing, sub prime, PPI, terrorist financing, bonuses, Goodwin’s risk-taking, tax avoidance – the story changes from Why Does It happen to Why Do We Have Banks?

If, as is now indisputable, the banking sector and related financial institutions are proven to be crooked, anti-social, economically destructive entities, why do we allow them to carry on? The Tax Justice Network estimates up to £20trillion is hidden from the world’s tax authorities in offshore banks alone.

In the case of the much smaller but equally insidious payday lenders, there have been Commons debates and quickly-organised fixes limiting how much interest they can charge. The result is that most are likely to go out of business. Yet when we compare the degrading effect of banks’ behaviour on our lives, we see they have been massively more harmful and but carry on with the blessing of the political classes, stacking up profits where possible, shoveling millions in bonuses to investment staff and, with the aid of the government, campaigning against EU limits on bonuses.


This is a sacrosanct regime, forgiven its excesses through pathological reliance on its activities.

One answer is to nationalise the banks but in a better-regulated and well-organized system isn’t the competition between institutions potentially a good thing? Might not a better idea be to bring into public ownership the money supply? I’ve been reading the thoughts of James Robertson, a former senior civil servant, now writer and co-founder of the New Economics Foundation His website is here

He gave evidence to the Treasury Select committee inquiry into the banking crisis in 2009. He writes:

‘Money and finance now constitute a worldwide system. As it works today, it results in systemic inefficiency and injustice in almost every sphere. It imposes a perverse calculus of values, compelling or encouraging almost everyone in the world to compete against one another for a greater share of planetary resources and, in doing so, to turn planetary resources into waste.

Money is the foundation of national and international monetary and financial systems. How the supply of money is created and issued, who by, and in what form (as debt or debt-free, in one currency or another), goes far to determine whether a money system is stable. If money continues to be supplied for national economies and the international economy as it is today, they will inevitably continue to suffer damaging crises of financial instability.

The public money supply is at present created as follows. Less than 5% of the estimated UK national money supply is created and issued as banknotes and coins by agencies of the state. Most of the remaining 95% is created and put into circulation by commercial banks and building societies as loans to their customers in the form of bank-account money (still often called credit as if distinct from money).

If that were not the status quo and we were starting from scratch, nobody would seriously suggest that the same businesses and procedures should combine the two conflicting functions – putting 95% of the public money supply into circulation efficiently and fairly on behalf of society as a whole, and competing for profit in the market for lending and borrowing. It would be obvious that to mix them up together would reduce the efficiency and reliability of both functions.


The proposal is that the operationally independent central bank should continue to implement monetary policy objectives published by the elected government. But it will no longer implement them indirectly by managing interest rates to influence the amount of new money created by banks as loans. It will itself decide at intervals how much new money needs to be added to the money supply, create it and transmit it as public revenue to the government. The government will then put it into circulation by spending it on public purposes along with other public revenue, as decided through normal parliamentary budgeting procedures. Only in exceptional monetary crises like the current one, which will then arise less often, will the central bank play a part in deciding how the money is to be spent that it creates to meet monetary policy objectives.’

He wants to take commercial banks out of the monetary system and make them mere companies reliant like everyone else on public policy and accountable institutions. As he says: ‘It will prohibit anyone else, including commercial banks, from creating bank account money out of thin air – just as forging metal coins and counterfeiting paper banknotes are criminal offences.’

Meantime, can we criminalise the behaviour of these crooks and start jailing the bankers?









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Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch…*

I was walking through Buchanan Galleries today (November 11) when a voice on the loudspeaker asked everybody to stop what they were doing and observe the two-minute silence in honour of the dead in two world wars. So I did. And as I stood there I thought: What – again? I had been in exactly the same mall at 11 o clock on Sunday morning when they had a two-minute silence for the war dead.



I had already watched the silence at (Saturday) rugby matches and heard it on the radio and was beginning to wonder if there was no coordination. Or does everybody just have as many salutes as they want? It’s not as if you can carry on yelling into the iphone as silence descends…‘I said the plumber promised he would come on Tuesday…’ and march on through the indignant statue shoppers, is it? ‘ Sorry, I’m in a rush and I did the two minute silence earlier…’

For weeks we have watched the build-up get underway like an army preparing for departure – all active personnel start wearing a poppy to act as a spur to the rest of us then we have a programmed series of media events advertising ceremonies of wreath-laying and remembrance films and stories. The BBC has a Head of World War One and is planning coverage to last for the full equivalent duration of the war itself – four bloody years.

Here’s what one BBC producer wrote about it.

‘Put simply we will gather 100 stories in eleven English Regions and the three nations (BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland), and showcase them on radio, online and on TV. This of course makes it a hugely ambitious project; 1400 stories, which must all be well told, and which reflect a whole range of different perspectives, across different media. The scale is dizzying, but I’m heartened by developments so far.

First and foremost I am delighted with the sheer enthusiasm from the 40 plus (yes  40!) BBC producers from across the UK who are currently gathering these great stories. This plays to our strengths in the BBC’s Nations and Regions – telling stories steeped in a sense of place, through the eyes of the people (and their relatives) who lived through the experience of the First World War.’

Wow. What fun! Sounds great, doesn’t it? It could be the BBC’s Summer of Family Fun Coming to a Venue near You…let’s hear your stories of growing up in the 80’s – Multi Coloured Swapshop, Transformers and Cabbage Patch dolls.

Apart from the mega network productions, the regional BBC is putting up 40 producers paid at your expense to tell family stories about life during the war. But hold on. Where does the excited BBC man mention the horrors experienced by the million who never returned or the pain and disfigurement of those who did?

The machine gun killed more soldiers overall and death was frequently instant or not drawn out and soldiers could find some shelter in bomb/shell craters from gunfire. A poison gas attack meant soldiers having to put on crude gas masks and if these were unsuccessful, an attack could leave a victim in agony for days and weeks before he finally succumbed to his injuries.


On the Western Front the lucky ones were killed instantly. The majority of wounds were mainly from artillery. Steel shrapnel from exploding shells was white hot and travelled at two times the speed of sound. It literally tore men to pieces.

Among the most tragic of injuries were horrific shrapnel wounds to the face, in thousands of cases the entire face was torn off and the men were unable to see, hear, speak or drink. These injuries were so severe that returning soldiers were unrecognizable to their families. Most found it impossible to assimilate into civilian and were left destitute. Thousands committed suicide.

The war claimed millions of civilian victims through malnutrition and famine, forced resettlement, herding into camps, epidemics, forced labour and aerial bombing. In addition, the war saw the first genocide of the 20th century, that of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. That violence would not be restricted to armed combatants (as the pre-war Conventions of The Hague had prescribed), soon became clear; for the war started with massacres of civilians.

I agree with this from a former BBC religious affairs correspondent Ted Harrison.

The British Legion was set up after the First World War to help the thousands of soldiers, many suffering from horrendous disabilities, who had returned from war to find themselves betrayed by the political classes. They did not find the land fit for heroes that they had supposedly fought for, but one of deprivation and unemployment.

Within 20 years an even greater betrayal became evident. Far from being the war to end all wars, the politicians had so badly handled the peace that a second military conflagration engulfed Europe and spread to the rest of the world.  By 1945 a new cohort of war victims required British Legion help.

He reminds us: It is part fiction and part propaganda designed to reassure those bereaved, traumatised or wounded in warfare that their ‘sacrifice’ had a noble purpose. While some soldiers have indeed died courageously in battle defending the innocent or protecting colleagues, huge numbers have not. They died because of incompetence, inadequate preparation, disease, and sometimes in pursuit of futile objectives. Many fought because as conscripts they had no choice; or, they joined up through peer pressure; they signed on through immature bravado; or because they had no other chance of work.

When I think of the world wars, I don’t think in terms of millions but of one. I imagine what a young man of 20 would think in the mud of France as comrades were ripped to pieces and mustard gas floated on the wind, of the crash of weaponry and bedlam of conflict and of what it meant to stare into the void of death. Did he see honour and national pride all around? Did he feel heroic as the day he signed up? Did he imagine home – a kitchen, a mother, a coal fire, a warm bed? I have seen his grave – many times in different places from Scotland to Normandy. I wonder how I would have coped and feel eternally grateful that I will never find out.

I honour him. I do it at different times in different circumstance and am touched every time, either in the war museum at Ypres or at the Menin Gate or in the cemetery at home where the ages on the tombstone give it away, or on my sofa when a poignant programme reminds me.

I also recognize that there is value in a collective remembrance which demonstrates a national gesture of thanks. This was originally designed as one moment when everybody knew to show respect in an age before electronic media and marketing. It was heart-felt. And then it was done.

What I can’t abide is being dragooned into wearing my heart on my sleeve with a poppy weeks in advance and being forced-fed a constant diet of media splurge that demands the attention of my feelings when the schedulers decide.

I am cynical enough watching the earnest faces of men (and women) who have consigned later generations to their death, often to recover their own reputations, as they stand in solemn solidarity. You can count them at the Cenotaph, not one I reckon who has held a gun let alone dodged a bullet.


Do we remember those we killed? Or more accurately in many cases, murdered? Do we atone for the lives destroyed by our incursions and the legacy of hate Britain has trailed across the continents?

For years now I have called for our former enemies to be present at the commemorations because all nations are caught in the maelstrom of death and because – to be prosaic – the war is over. Where are the Germans, Italians and Japanese? Did their soldiers not also fight for their nation and are we not allies now with a joint interest in learning from the past? Isn’t that what the EU is for and the UN? Where are the children? Why not the voices of those too young to know as a reminder to the older generation of why we must avoid war and never – never – argue for it as a political tool.

It has taken 100 years for Britain to invite the Irish to the Cenotaph. It’s a sign of warmer relations since peace was – legally at least – settled. But it’s also a sign that the undeclared war of the Troubles is also mutually forgiven at official level and it is now time to move on – by rightly and belatedly remembering Irish volunteers who fought for the UK. But if we can do that in the case of a struggle in which violence still hasn’t been totally eradicated, why can’t we turn the remembrance of a war from a century ago into a multi-nation celebration of European peace…with our former enemies.

Style Brooch RBL Kleshna LB-Hero1523367346581

The bit that niggles at me is the tone of glorification implied by designer poppies, of showers of the damn things falling from the roof like party balloons and the art installation of thousands of ceramic examples at the Tower of London which seeks to press our pleasure buttons at its visual luxuriance instead of reminding us of the ripped and smashed faces of the war-wounded.


I fear the memory of tragic loss has been hijacked by the establishment and their media cohorts. It has been turned into a winter holiday ‘event’ where we’re encouraged to feel pity and share a sense of involvement, just like any other charity offering. And, don’t forget, it is charity. For all the pious platitudes of a David Cameron, the funds for old soldiers come from donations, not from the Treasury.

Here’s a story from two weeks ago. Medical experts have accused the Government of failing to honour its promise to care for armed forces veterans injured in Britain’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Professor Tim Briggs, a leading orthopaedic surgeon, have said commitments made in the Armed Forces Covenant that veterans should receive priority treatment in the NHS for injuries suffered in the line of duty are not being fulfilled. They include former service personnel who have lost limbs in the course of operations as well as those who have suffered mental health problems.

Politicians aren’t fit to stand beneath the Cenotaph let alone immerse themselves in poppies as if they were party rosettes. I agree with Harry Patch, the last WW1 Tommy who died in 2009.


‘When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?’

*Sigfried Sassoon – The Rank Stench of Those Bodies Haunts Me Still

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