Carry On Kezia

None of this Sturgeon’s 100 days in Office pish from me. It’s a total media fabrication that means nothing. I am asking though if we can do politics differently for a change and actually improve public services.

The NHS ‘crisis’ is a case in point. Here we see the classic ritual dance – you go left and I’ll match you, lean the other way, and I’ll follow. Then we go round in circles and eventually fall down exhausted with no advance on understanding or development of delivery to the paying public. (The answer if you’re John McTernan in Murphy’s office is to privatise the lot and leave it to the market…brilliant)


There is no NHS crisis, I’m sorry to have to tell you doom-mongers. But there are lots of mini crises in doctors’ surgeries, clinics, hospitals and outpatients’ and very definitely in the management executive offices of the administrators charged with steering the runaway train.

There have always been such crises and there will always be crises because the NHS is an anthill teeming with activity, constantly reassessing in light of events, learning by mistakes and determined to try and get it right. It is also infected with low morale and downright callous people of a kind you might encounter just about anywhere in our routinely inarticulate and occasionally fierce wee country. (Like the nurses who told a woman in her nineties to ‘clean it yourself’ when she said the toilets needed washed).

Everybody in the health service knows this and deals with it as best they can. What they don’t do automatically is blame the government because they don’t have time to spend with a needy patient or because they’re on-shift at the weekend again. They wrestle instead with heads of department and managers and expect it to be run more smoothly but, like drivers in a jam on the A9, they don’t immediately think it’s the fault of the Transport Minister.

Ultimately the chain of command leads back to St Andrews House, it’s true but there are in the region of 25,000 admin staff in the Scottish NHS with salaries ranging from £43,400 to £174,000

whose job is to make it run efficiently before a report drops on Shona Robison’s desk.

I worked in the public sector and rarely did I blame the Culture Minister for arranging inconvenient shifts at BBC Scotland. I don’t mean it’s not the government’s responsibility (in England they’ve specifically said it ISN’T the minister’s job, a la McTernan) but that the government lays out the strategy and it’s up to managers and staff to get on with it, including allocating beds.


If winter conditions cause a flood of confinements, whose job is it to unearth an extra 20 beds at short notice – the minister’s? You can argue the funds should be there although I doubt if anybody can properly predict need except basing it on precedent. But surely allocating budget need is why there are accountants in the admin block and executives with big desks…

Is missing targets guaranteed by legislation a crisis or a self-imposed PR gaffe created by a politician’s desperation to be seen acting in the public interest?

The point is that these are all long-term, unavoidable issues that have recently been conflated into a bigger ‘crisis’. It’s in the Record, it’s asked at FMQs and the Labour canvassers are handing out the leaflets on the doorstep all bigging up the NHS failure.

Labour’s strategy was ruthlessly exposed when they rushed in to attack the NHS with inaccurate figures on cancelled operations. It’s a scam and public confidence in the NHS and the SNP’s credibility to run it prove the point. I sometimes wonder what the staff make of it all.

What to do? Well, instead of putting on her starey eyes and her ‘Ah’m no kidding’ voice, Kezia Dugdale at FMQs might like to offer a solution. So far we’ve heard an extra 1000 nurses – a nice round sum, no? Why not 500? Why not 2000? Where would they go? Would they get specialist training? Why not 500 nurses and a few dozen consultants that we need? What’s the priority? Would they have a mobile bed centre for the winter seasonal rush? Or build more care homes for those well enough to leave but unable to fend independently? How would they deal with poor decision-making by managers? Would they toughen the disciplinary regime to make it easier to sack poor performers? What would they do when the whining stopped? Is stamping a foot really all she can do…or is there a young/feminist/progressive angle that one of her generation can finally bring to our debate.nurse1


Just as the SNP endlessly praise the service, giving the sense that there’s no need to worry, so Labour destroy the currency by running it down.

I suggest we stop the Carry on Nurse routine and invite Labour into the decision-making process. Seriously. The opposition nominates a representative, presumably Jenny Marra, who is invited to take part in all government discussions about the drift and range of health provision in a cooperative spirit to have Labour input at an early stage of policy planning. That way they get a chance to influence, they can see precisely where the challenges are and can appreciate where and why they disagree and can refine their arguments accordingly. No opposition person can be held responsible for any decisions made and is in no way held accountable. It’s a no-lose proposition. And it’s constructive.

It provides dialogue and perspective and deepens understanding. It might lead to the end of the shroud-waving embarrassment of Labour’s PR offensive. Think Labour would go for it?

It would be a nice way to mark 100 days of Sturgeon. Better than: You done OK, hen

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Gutter Press

As today’s Daily Record becomes the first newspaper in history to turn itself into toilet tissue before people read it let me tell you what this despicable, unprincipled, mind-numbingly boring, Labour tribal and professionally incompetent rag is really about.


This is a true story about a young woman, emotionally vulnerable after a family tragedy, living alone in a basement flat in Edinburgh, who was physically intimidated and harassed by the Record.

They found out her address, which she did not provide. When she didn’t answer the bell, they banged with a fist against her door knowing her to be in the property alone. She knew who it was, so stayed silent, cowering inside. An aggressive male shouted through the locked door: ‘We know you’re in there. We just want a photo. We’re not leaving ‘til we get one.’

They parked outside her address for two days – two men in a car. The photographer jumped out and confronted her neighbour, thinking it might be her. He took her picture without asking.

She was scared, but she was resourceful. She escaped through the window and the rear garden and avoided going out into the street. For two days she crept about and hid while they sat outside. Eventually, as the neighbours grew restive, they gave up.

Before that they had gone to the pub in the village where she used to live and questioned locals about where she might be now and told them why they were hunting her…because she had been seen in the company of a married politician and this was big news.

Such big news that she could be terrified and hunted because this was what the journalists were for – breaking news of great importance that affected peoples lives, like who they might be drinking with or seeing or discussing a possible future with. That’s the Record’s job, when it’s not making up trick political statements to con people into voting.

The big hard men of the Record made her life a misery – a woman living alone. Brave journalism.

When her father, who was abroad as it was happening, heard about it, he said he would sort it but she said No. She just wanted them to go away and leave her alone. In fact, the father was very close to asking some thick set chums to physically bump their car down the street towards the sea. They will never know how close they came to an uncomfortable and threatening experience themselves.

All over Scotland people have equally traumatic experiences of dealing with lowlife so-called journalism which is nothing more than licensed thuggery and intrusion that is way beyond any lurid name-calling or rude suggestions by cybernats. When the Record tries to lecture Scotland on morality and behaviour, it does so not from the gutter but from the sewer. It ceded the high ground a long time ago.

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Prairie Dogs

If you need more evidence of the corruption of Westminster, the unseemly denouement of the Rifkind and Straw careers is even now being etched on to the brass plaque of ignominy. It must pain them deeply to see their hubris and smug self-regard exposed to the world. Yet neither seems to grasp in his denial of wrongdoing or promotion of entitlement, any culpability. Both belong to the days of Honourable Gentlemen, casual, unreceipted expenses and a carpeted stairway to a subsidised, gilded existence ending in the medieval museum of the Lords.

Having plateaued, the must now graze at will on the cash crop of others like buffalo on a reservation.


In their disdain for an income two and a half times the national average (plus free travel, subsidised food, supported mortgage and prolonged holidays) they spat their contempt for the people who put them there and the democracy that underwrites society. That none of these encounters and pecuniary negotiations was ‘against the rules’ – the primary defence – sums up precisely why Westminster is corroded like a leaky sewer pipe. Nobody else has such ‘rules’. They are not rules – they are subtle signposts to corruption. The chair of the intelligence committee…opening himself up to a Chinese company without a check? This is Olympian arrogance and neglect of duty.

But what is clearly on display from both is how impressively they regard themselves. Straw’s Jim Hacker-like braggadocio about the value of his name (goes without saying) and how cleverly he has acted on behalf of other masters swooping in to lift the prey from under the radar. The American CIA flights taking kidnapped innocents to undeclared prisons for waterboarding were kind of under the radar too, if I remember.

And Rifkind has delicately organised his career to his own precise arrangements, allowing some reading and walking, no doubt in the leafy boulevards of Chelsea, before chairing a board meeting of ArmorGroup, which makes millions from running mercenaries around global trouble spots.

The country has failed Malcolm. It doesn’t pay him commensurately with his professional qualifications. There are two answers to this. The first is: Use your qualifications to work as a lawyer instead and get out of Parliament. The second is: You knew the salary when you went in, so why stay? In fact he’s earning quarter of a million pounds a year like other former honourable politicians turned spivs like Alistair Darling.

If the case is that you have to keep up with changes in your profession or you lose your original career, then let’s make a special category for MPs whose service will be recognised for up to say a maximum at Westminster of 10 years. They will then suffer no diminution in their outside career status and can return to their job in return for serving the country. If they remain longer at Westminster, that’s their choice. Just stop moaning and wheedling money from elsewhere to justify your choice.


I’ve been pondering what the best fast response is to the Labour campaign ‘strategy’ of pretending a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories. Perhaps this is it…Labour want you to vote for the Tories – they prefer them to the SNP.

There is now a slew of public evidence that Labour is so rattled at the sheer scale of the SNP lead – I don’t blame them – that they are abandoning the normal protocols. The custom is to urge a vote for Labour wherever you live and indeed it is against party rules to help any other party in an election (obviously that only applies if you’re a member) although Labour were very happy to benefit from tactical voting to remove Tories in 1997.

But there are now so many eruptions of the I-prefer-the-Tories chant that they can’t all be quelled as quickly as Robert McNeil’s in Tranent.

Lewis Moonie, who was shunted into the Lords to make way for Gordon Brown,

was at it on Twitter, telling the Tory columnist Tim Montgomerie he preferred coalition with the Tories, and in my timeline I have something called Unite Against Separation run by a declared Labour supporter urging people to vote for whoever can stop the SNP.

I’m still waiting for a definitive statement from the Labour leadership laying out to Scots why they shouldn’t vote for Tories (or Lib Dems) or reminding them to vote Labour under all circumstances. Labour must have a full-time staffer detailed to remove offending online material, but disappearing the evidence won’t erase the suspicion that surreptitiously encouraging pro-Tory votes is official policy.

Maybe a mainstream interviewer will ask one day what the advice is in Moray, Perth or Dumfries and we can hear a party spokesman absolutely rule out urging a Tory vote. Meantime we have, apparently, an on on-the-ground Labour-led campaign (UAS), a party official who sits on the Policy Forum, and a Labour lord and friend of Gordon Brown, openly opting for Tories over SNP and the direct opposite of their own declared policy of removing the Tories. I suppose that’s a form of corruption too.


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Take Me to Goldbergs

I’ve only got half an hour, so just time to solve the Jewish question. Shouldn’t take long…

Jews – an ethnic, religious cohort claiming ancestry from the biblical Israelites?


Jews – People. Humans. Folk.

Question answered…problem solved.

Unless, of course, you insist on sticking on those same people the labels that gratify your own prejudices. Anti-Arab. Anti-Muslim. Militaristic. Money-obsessed or plain old Faganesque sly

I’m at a loss about the anti-Jewish sentiment that seems to be rising – at least through the media – across the European continent, because I can’t work out what it is I’m supposed to despise.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not without my own prejudices or, should I say, quasi-racial peccadilloes. I won’t go into details but there are certain accents that quite irrationally drive me up the wall; certain dress customs that leave me puzzled, and doubtful abattoir and hygiene issues in premises of ethnic origin that cause me dismay.

I recognise all these as my own problem and something that I really do disapprove of but I don’t go on to despise the human beings responsible for them. And I certainly don’t say everybody of one faith or an entire nationality is therefore to be looked down upon.


I have a troubled past in this regard in that growing up, I didn’t know the Jews were real people as I only learned about them in bible class. Really. Jews wore flowing robes and followed Moses in the desert, if I remember, and they weren’t actual people. Nobody told me about prejudice and all those whispered clues…Goldbergs Store at Tollcross. Fagan in Oliver! Even Mike and Bernie Winters! I didn’t know the Jewish origin of names like Rothschild (to me that’s premiere cru wine), Mendelssohn (Fingal’s Cave), Joel (Uptown Girl), Sasson (favourite poet), Kuenssberg (her off the telly), Silver (Bilko)

It was all a complete bloody mystery to me.

But then so was all the Protestant/Catholic nonsense too. I only learned about Billy and Dan and Bluenose and Tim when I got to Glasgow in 1969. I just hadn’t been exposed to it. I don’t remember mum and dad ever hinting at anti-Jewish attitudes but then there is always denial in a small town. For example there were no homosexuals in Selkirk (pop 5000) and probably still aren’t…

I saw a film on Channel 4 about a Jewish guy who walked through parts of Paris recording the treatment he got – insults, threatening behaviour etc. I read about Netanyahu inviting the diaspora to emigrate to avoid discrimination. I read about security stepped up at a Jewish school in Finchley and think: Who’s going to threaten children?

My only connection to Finchley is lovely Diana Wilkinson, the junior North London Trampoline Champion of 1966 whom I met and flirted with on a school cruise. (Should’ve asked her if she was Jewish…) It didn’t mean anything to me then and it doesn’t now. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and if she’d said on the starboard deck she was a Jew, I’d have converted on board. Judaism here I come…

But then last weekend Dani Garavelli wrote about worries close to home and I got worried.

I know I’ll sound naïve to anti-Semites but I simply don’t connect a person I meet with the actions of the Isreali government and judge them and their entire ethnic or religious affiliated cohort accordingly.

I’ve met the Israeli government indirectly through interviewing its representatives on air; I’ve argued with its censors in Jerusalem who wanted to confiscate my broadcast material (I won); I have challenged an IDF commander in his office over the shooting of a nine-year-old Palestinian boy in a refugee camp and travelled the dangerous back streets of Bethlehem with its soldiers in an armed patrol. I’ve met teenagers in the camps with heartbreaking stories of humiliation and despair (tomorrow’s terrorists-in-making) and heard first hand the weary story of intifada and failed peace.

I know who’s side I’m on when it comes to the politics of the Middle East. I even subscribe to the view that in their treatment of Gazans, the Israelis come dangerously close to mimicking in part the actions of the Nazis and I have broadcast as much on the BBC.

I just don’t hate Jews.

I can hate the actions of the Jewish state and argue furiously with Scottish Jews who support it, but I can’t turn that into hating all Jews. It is utterly irrational. It is exactly the same as Islamophobia.

If you can’t separate the human from the political (or religious), you’re on the road to bigotry.

In 2004 I was sitting in the hotel across the road from the BBC on M Street in Washington DC when a man at the bar asked me who I was. When I told him, he launched into a story about his university career and apologised for George Bush’s foreign policy. ‘It’s terrible,’ he said. ‘You Europeans have to remember we don’t all think that way.’ I reassured him that I got it. I knew lots of Americans who were more vehemently anti-Bush than I was and yet across Europe the demo posters read ‘Down with America’. The whole nation was damned.

It’s illogical to blame citizens of a country for their government’s actions. I’m not responsible for cutting disability benefits in the UK. And even I support it politically, do you write me off, as a man, for my opinions? Equally why should I condemn with personal insult a Scottish Jew who backs Netanyahu?

When I think of Israel, it is of the pain of the Palestinians, I can’t deny. And I know there are many Jews who share that view. When I think of Jewish people it is an overwhelmingly sense of admiration – for a collective cohesiveness, for courage and for genius. But then, if you can’t criticise all the people together, then you can’t praise them all either…No, I think I’ll just have to take each Jew one at a time and do that thing of treating them – imagine – like people…like humans…folk…and like the Scots they are.








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Brace! Brace!

I have a friend who’s an airline captain and trains other pilots. He says it isn’t the technical side of flying you have to think about, but how you react to a problem. He was monitoring an experienced flyer who responded properly at the controls to sudden wind shear on descent and immediately pulled up for a go-round. But when he asked him what action he was going to take next, there was no reply. He looked over and his colleague staring ahead, dumbstruck through panic. That pilot will never be a captain as a result.


I am wondering if that is the fate of Labour’s pilot Murphy whose leadership tenure looks like a mission in trouble. Jim can definitely do the technical driving and in normal circumstances will be on cruise control. But here, he is trying to avert a dive to oblivion and he needs not Kezia Dugdale on the flight deck but Keir Hardie, Clem Attlee and Tony Blair – with Tom Johnston on navigation.

There is now that unpredictable feeling that something might go wrong every day. The pratfall of party official Robert McNeill is a seemingly unconnected localised fault  but it illuminated a warning red on the cockpit dash. Like an SOS at 30,000 feet, it was picked up and repeated by everyone.

It is, I think, indicative of a creeping turmoil that is infecting all parts of the Labour machine. People who have never had to break sweat to win now have to think – hard. They have work – hard. And it hurts. They start thrashing around for the safety lever. ‘I know, let’s show people where they can vote for other parties to beat the Nats. Lib Dem here, Tory there…etc’

Yeah, that should stabilise the flight. In a disciplined operation on election guard, every utterance from those on payroll or with office bearer status should on message, wasn’t that the Blair way? Clearly the message from Captain Jim, if there was one, didn’t reach the fax machine in Tranent. While the party says voting SNP delivers the Tories, their own man – on the policy forum – says, eh…Vote Tory.

Forbes Masson Alan Cumming

But why would a member of the Scottish Policy Forum who works closely with Ian Gray not know that the overriding message is Vote Nat, Get Tory? The McNeill tweet says in at least six seats, do the opposite and vote for the party that Margaret Curran claims Glasgow can’t afford for another five years. Keeping the message clear, this isn’t. And it leads to a deeper suspicion that since Labour worked in harmony with Tories in the indyref, maybe they aren’t so far removed. Are they closer than we think? Is stopping the SNP more important for them than stopping a Tory government?

Flight Officer McNeill first lost his stripes (he removed his official party accreditations) and then his Twitter account disappeared into the clouds.

I had expected efficiency and direction from Murphy and Better Together’s McDougall but there’s no denying now that Labour feels like parts are falling off. They’re still flying but really, you’d be more comfortable with Air Scotia’s Sebastian, Steve and Shona Spurtle from the High Life. Not so many laughs though…


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