Clear the Bar

Iain Macwhirter is up to his old tricks today – applying logic to politics. This will never do. What where might that lead – to honest politicians, public funding of parties, fair taxation and even people admitting mistakes? It doesn’t bear thinking about. There would hardly be any need for mad bloggers like me or media commentators like himself. No, he’s gone too far this time.

He suggests http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/13507255.Iain_Macwhirter__SNP_should_lift_their_boycott_of_the_Lords_and_take_seats_as_abolition_peers/ the SNP should jettison their boycott of the House of Lords and get stuck in to the Brit establishment at its very heart. He wants Baron Salmond of Linlithgow and Baroness Black of Renfrew sitting on the red benches pointing out the eccentricities of the Ruritanian chamber and challenging legislation. Stop playing only half the game, he urges. You’re either in Westminster or you’re not. If you want to block EVEL or amend it, you can do that in the Lords. And it’s entirely logical. But then so is abandoning a second referendum for 30 years…

No, the trouble with this idea is that it IS logical. Yet so much of politics simply ain’t. You can argue ‘til your blue in the face that using the whole platform of British democracy makes sense but you’ll never convince the mass of support which has it tattooed on their backside that some things are untouchable – contaminated beyond redemption. It would make the Nats a laughing stock at the heart of the establishment if they buckled on an ermine robe and bowed to the Woolsack, adopting daft names for themselves. They’d open themselves up to an endless pantomime of ridicule even from the very same people and parties who populate the country’s biggest subsidised Care Home. Remember how much of the media failed to take the SNP or the Scots seriously during the indyref and resorted instead to cartoon clichés of Rab C neds and deep fried Mars Bars because ignorance finds an easy escape in ridicule and denigration rather than enlightenment. The laughter that would greet some Monarch of the Glen Nationalist bending the knee in the embodiment of privilege and unearned entitlement would echo round the world. It would never die down. The SNP would stand for something – until it didn’t. It would oppose something – until it could join it. What a sell-out.

The difference is that the public understands the concept of the elected Commons and it works and why the SNP needs to be there. There is already widespread unease at the casual adoption of the British monarchy for an independent Scotland with many determined it will be an early domestic referendum issue after indy. And they simply don’t grasp the concept of the Lords other than as a rest home for donors and failures.

Anyway how much influence would they really have if they humiliated themselves with 20 SNP Lairds in a house of nearly 900? How long would it take for a powerbase to emerge? Do we really suppose jaded Labour stooges – ex-MPs who hate the Nats to a man – would create a Progressive Front in the Other Place? (If that isn’t a contradiction in terms…)

And, if it’s right to apply logic, let’s do so. Who benefits from making second-class citizens of Scottish MPs? Who benefits when human rights are reduced or devolution fails to meet Scotland’s expectation? Indeed, who wins if the Tories win every single vote and both the Lords and Labour are seen to be useless box-tickers of anti-Scottish aspirations? Clearly the SNP benefits every time. Realisation hardens that this state isn’t in our interests and uses undemocratic means to reject our aspirations. On the other hand, if the system operates neatly and delivers for the majority of Scots, the demand for change declines.

The antiquated Lords is the epitome of the British state Nationalists want to leave. Joining it, even on a platform of ultimate abolition, helps defeat the case for independence. The SNP really would be assimilating into a governing system they oppose. There is only so much footsy we’re prepared to play with those whose contempt for us is their defining characteristic. The Noes have it…

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Forgot to Mention…

Following on…what is also forgotten in the unprecedented continuing support for a party in government since 2007 – a remarkable and stunning achievement eclipsing Blair. There is no sign there of a public tiring of the SNP or demanding more and radical policies. That may be a good thing in itself and to be welcomed, by among others, myself but in Sturgeon’s shoes, how much would you risk when there is no demand?

This is the madness of the frenzied punter…I’ve made a million already so I’ll just put it all on this outsider and I could get massively rich. Come on, Dead Man’s Gulch!

It is true that there is always an accounting and that will come sometime after next May when budget cuts bite, numbers have to be toted up and that fracking business will need a definite answer (from this distance I think the majority will see it as business opportunity like oil, the economics outweighing the environment but still a loser for the SNP as far as many new members are concerned).

But right now, no other party gets a hearing from the Scots, however frustrating that may be and, however clever our journalists, they are wasting their time (but still getting paid and it’s a bitch coming up with an idea every week).

We also hear repeated cries that there is a crisis in public services. Really? NHS crisis…education crisis? Myopia must have taken hold because I use the health service and I have kids at school and whatever issues arise don’t amount in my book to a crisis. We DO have a problem at our school because education officials allowed too many requests from outwith the catchment area and now there are too many pupils requiring rebuilding work at a new school. That’s officials at Glasgow City Council, not civil servants or ministers at Holyrood.

Now it’s true and it’s shaming to admit that far too many youngsters from poor homes have lower attainment – the result of poverty and social neglect which has its roots in the Industrial Revolution and hardly improved during generations of Unionist government. It is glib to assert that this is down to a Scottish Government in power for eight years. In the Joseph Rowntree report which confirmed this trend, among the 15 key recommendations, two are laid at the door of the national government – making attainment data available to all teachers and establishing a national knowledge bank and mobilisation strategy. The rest are aimed at councils, teachers, universities, parents and society generally. Yet you just know Jackie Baillie would blame the government anyway if her car wouldn’t start.

One of the first acts of the SNP government was to identify early intervention as a key to equality and social improvement and money has been invested in delivering a fundamental focus inequality – violence, poor physical and mental health, low achievement and attainment at school. That’s long-term generational investment which governments never last long enough to harvest gthemselves.

At the other end of the school process we find it reported that: Scotland is the best educated country in Europe, according to a report released by the Office for National Statistics. It says that nearly 45 per cent of people in Scotland aged between 25 and 64 have some kind of tertiary education – including university degrees and further education — ahead of Ireland, Luxembourg and Finland, which were the only other countries to get more than 40 per cent.

In terms of the proportion of the population going into higher and tertiary education, Scotland actually has just about the highest in the world, said ONS chief economic adviser Joe Grice. Scotland also does very well in terms of people in the working-age population (16-64) that have got a qualification at NVQ4 or above. So we can’t be that bad…

Is there an NHS crisis? Is there ever NOT an NHS crisis? It was born by stuffing cash into doctors’ pockets and as a cumbersome, unwieldy behemoth it devours money like my kids consume Orios. There were crises all through the Labour years and, if you value your blood pressure, avert your eyes from the mess in much of England’s NHS.

Everything in the media is a crisis otherwise it ain’t a story. Clearly folk left in corridors is crap but is that a shock at a brand new hospital merging together several separate centres? A consultant said to me of the Southern Death Star (I think that’s what the Queen called it): We expected this. There are so many different services going in and so much bureaucracy, it was bound to have problems.

Are the public disillusioned or do they see a massive brand new hospital, one of the best in the world, provided by their tax money undergoing teething problems that afflict every major move – including the BBC, if I remember.

And a word of advice if you find yourself in A and E. The staff have to make rapid judgements, sometimes life-saving ones and what you think is a tragedy, may be not be a mortal wound to them. In triage, when asked on a scale of one to ten How bad is that axe embedded in the back of your head, Mr Batemen? Always answer Ten, nurse. Honest. It really hurts.

And how many executive decision-makers to you reckon there are in a big hospital, all paid professional salaries to make the place work? On top of that there is a 30 strong health board for the Death Star. Does the public assume that a mistake in allocating space is a decision made by the health minister – the way the journalists report it – rather than a departmental error for which dozens of staff on the ground are responsible?

I honestly think the public see through this charade of blame culture and don’t believe a word Jackie Baillie says.

There is a looming shortage of doctors in general practice on top of the existing difficulty of attracting GPs to rural areas. Is that the result of government policy or is it a cultural shift in attitudes towards the professions? There are already inducements from the government but in some cases, they still don’t have an effect. Luring people into remoter areas probably needs a whole panoply of attractions from environment to good shops, guaranteed broadband, impressive schools and a local economy that might sustain a spouse’s job – the very things the SNP wants independence to deliver.

Sure, I can whitewash them till the cows come home but my argument is that the people of Scotland appear to accept the limitations imposed upon their government and would be much less forgiving if all the levers to change society were already in their hands. They’re not and we must make do. There is a sensible and hardheaded outlook at large which acknowledges they’re fighting to make it better and nobody else could do a better job. And no amount of whiney pieces in the papers will convince them otherwise.

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Making the Weather

I get asked about the weather and how I’m coping with the rain. The answer is Just fine, thanks, I’m Scottish. In fact it’s a pleasure to feel it on my face after weeks of 30 degrees and a ground so hot you couldn’t walk barefoot. It’s also the best way to see the Clyde which I sailed up yesterday redolent as it is with long-gone memories of bustle and business, now a watery road to nowhere. The only vessel we passed was itself a museum, the Glenlee. Otherwise there wasn’t another human on the water and not a single pontoon to allow the thousands who live in town-size developments on the riverbank access to a boat. Peering through roan-flecked windows seemed about right.

I’m getting flashbacks to Portugal too, like opening the Herald after the Budget to find not one but three right-wing Unionists on the same day…you can take this balance business too far, you know. There may only be three right-wing Unionists left so you don’t want to bunch them up. There was Andrew McKie (who did a balanced analysis). There was Catherine Macleod (who blamed the SNP and said it was their job to defend Scotland from the Tories). And there was Jenny Hjul. I love Jenny. She’s comedy gold. Nobody generates a sense of outrage like her – remember her piece last year on discovering that an actor who happened also to be…a…a Nationalist from…Glasgow was living next door in Inverleith. (Seriously successful David Hayman). The vapours!

This time she was pleading with fellow Tories not to start a breakaway party (!?) as it would split the vote and help the Nats. This was all discussed at the great political hotbed that is the Scone Game Fair. I pictured her – Scotland’s own Hyacinth Bouquet – in one of those silk headscarves with horses on, in a quilted gilet with a Lab on a lead. She’s leaning on the bonnet of a Landrover as Roger Duff-Pennington-Smythe pops a cartridge into the breech and announces the next one’s for Salmond.

Shouldn’t someone sign up Jenny and Alan for one of those fly-on-the-wall programmes about people whose world has stopped turning and who are inadvertently hilarious like the Hamiltons – the Dying Breed. But better be quick…

And how prescient Catherine turned out to be. It was up to the SNP to offer the opposition because the spineless drones in her own party gave up. I read and re-read how Labour had been whipped to abstain. How some had ‘rebelled’ by opposing the Tories. And then heard the abstainers brazenly claim to have opposed all along. This doesn’t qualify as politics to me but the mad rush of the headless chickens just before they drop dead. I’m of the view that Labour’s only medium term hope is that Corbyn wins, the party splits and forces for the first time in 20 years an all-members fears-and-tears debate about the purpose of a Labour Party. Its sole purpose just now is to make the Tories look like they’re right. Which takes me to my main point.

I came across an assortment of commentators whom I assembled into a New Intellectual Front because they’re all really brainy. They were moaning about the Nationalists from different aspects and concluding earnestly that it wasn’t good enough. They included Hugo Rifkind, David Torrance, Kenny Farquharson and Andrew Tickell who all had some criticism or other and they mirrored a tone that has emerged since the General Election. You may have noticed it in the writings of Kevin McKenna as well. (I suspect he was seduced by interviewing Kezia).

Hugo is fed up with the SNP braying about themselves and appearing to be morally superior and lecturing everyone on how clever they are. (Isn’t that what London commentators do, I hear you ask). I detect in this an unease about SNP encroachment from a London Scot reluctant to be associated with the more hirsute clan members bringing their unsavoury practices into polite society. It is a notable phenomenon that while some Scots become ever more stereotypical when relocated – pint of heavy, pal and don’t put water in that whisky – others come over all apologetic – I haven’t lived there for years and never voted SNP. Why the hell are so many Scots embarrassed about being Scots? I know another London Scot who was so outraged at Salmond waving a saltire at Wimbledon that he wrote him a personal letter of complaint. Eh? It’s as if they want to tip-toe around their new friends and play the role of the shy incomer who all but denies his identity. For fear of what? Can it be that over the generations we have quietly accepted our allotted role of inferior type, of not being officer material, of being the butt of jokes and that we have to demur in order to get on?

Hugo, a perceptive and entertaining writer, has form here. He once wrote a piece complaining that he worried he was too posh to be truly Scottish, relying on the generally working class nature of our country which produced cultural rules he couldn’t apply to himself. He sounded an outsider here who had found a comfort zone more suitable (and started a family) in London.

What he seemed to miss was that it might be attributable to this mum and dad that they made him one of the four per cent who attend fee-paying schools. Making an educational choice is one thing but knowingly setting your child apart and telling them they are superior with a higher expectation of entitlement is a social division which not everybody copes with. I am not convinced it is Scotland’s fault if you feel you don’t fit in. And in his case, can you really exclude the possibility of some scurrilous wretch taking exception to your famous father’s role as posh Tory lawyer and MP? I’m glad Hugo’s happily settled but I wish he’d stop blaming the Scots for his own angst.

The NIF boys are also adamant that the SNP must come up with more and radical policies and can’t just be against everything. And, as Catherine also wrote, they will have to ameliorate the hardship about to be unleashed on the poor. Are they blind in one eye? If the role of Holyrood is to exact taxes from Scots simply to allay the worst of Westminster decisions, is not the case for independence explicitly made? To argue it is Scotland’s job merely to mop up London’s mess shows how we are diametrically different countries in need of a break. Yet there is a gusto in Farquharson’s view which echoes a Twitter exchange of some weeks ago in which the Tory adviser Adam Tomkins was agreeing with Labour diehard Ian Smart that the Scotland Bill was designed to force the SNP to raise taxes to help recipients whose benefits would be cut. The phrase Tomkins used was: Money where mouth is. To be clear, this is not government for the people, this is punishment. These are people with no concern for the real victims of Tory policy – poorer Scots. Both Labour and Tory (in this case the government’s own adviser) have designed policy which forces income tax rises (the only effective route to raising extra cash) on the SNP to help the poor. If they don’t raise tax, the Unionist front believes the SNP will be exposed as frauds. That is their policy aim – defeat of the Nats – just as it was the aim of their referendum approach – defeat of the Nats, not better government for Scotland.

I suspect that almost total lack of proper opposition – Mundell, Murray and Carmichael are chocolate soldiers sent to the front – has left a vacuum that the commentators are rushing to fill. Yet what is the political imperative? Are there marches demanding local government reorganisation…petitions calling for a cleaner environment…pitched street battles over updating planning laws? The issue of the day is austerity and fighting the Tories – to deflect attention from that is to let down the public and miss their mood. And when you have detailed proposals on how that should be done differently, backed by an ambitious vision of a new country, how can you be said to need new policies…how is that being against everything rather than for something?

The Torrance variation amounted to what is now a tired agenda – that the SNP talk a good game but don’t deliver. Mmm…how’s that working with the voters? I’d say a voting tsunami with no sign of stopping and 6o per cent support indicates that David is out there on his own. Well, someone must be telling Yougov they’re a Tory.

His summation is that the SNP case is built ‘on shifting sands’. I ran this through the Bateman Political Enigma Codebreaker and it translated it as: The SNP are f***ing genius at politics.

As I keep writing – the SNP have cornered the market. Their time has come. It doesn’t matter how exasperated David Torrance gets that Scots can’t see the true path to Toryism and it doesn’t matter how much he can see through the Nat case and how they alight on each topic and carefully make it their own and hold seemingly contradictory positions. People don’t care. Why not?

Well, for a start they look at the opposition. Would you back Cowdenbeath against Barcelona? The paucity of people and policy and indeed purpose makes this a no-brainer for any sensible voter.

Then there is the Teflon and Kevlar coating of a professional, well-resourced organisation which has over the years built up goodwill and refined its message. People know what it stands for – Scotland. Simple. Nobody can compete with that. Sturgeon makes them proud, irritating Westminster (and Hugo) makes them smile and when they see one of the Westminster smart alicks in a pink bra snorting coke from a hooker’s front grille, it doesn’t exactly make them hanker after London government. And since when did the public study policy detail? Instead they know the SNP has Scotland at heart, that it will do its best in all circumstances, that it is curtailed by London and when mistakes are made they can be forgiven.

There is an example this week. The EU has obliged the SNP to ratchet up the percentage of private finance in its infrastructure plan. Labour claim this shows they say one thing and do another. But it doesn’t do that. This is the replacement for Labour’s PFI which has burdened local government with crippling generational servicing costs. The government is legally obliged to comply with the EU demand. Is that really going to change anyone’s vote when they sit on a reservoir of goodwill the size of Loch Lomond?

The brutal fact is that the SNP is smarter than the commentators and is way ahead of them. So is the public. They may be reading the New Intellectual Front but I see no evidence they are taking notice of them. Scots are settled in their view – this lot will do. For now. All that could change that now is for an MP to be found in a pink bra snorting coke from…

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It’s No Fair

Travel broadens the mind and it stretches mine to snapping point to understand why one part of Europe is burnt to a crisp under 30 degrees of heat while our own wee bit goes through a rehearsal for Noah’s Ark…in summer.

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It means vast acres of inland Algarve have the look of a post-holocaust wasteland that could be a Garden of Eden with Scottish water while the coastal strip is a psychedelic trip of colourful tourists and equally colourful ways of relieving you of your money.

To this end, the Portuguese long ago identified the climate as their selling point and it makes you wonder if we shouldn’t do the same by taking out a copyright on rain. As far as I know nobody has claimed it and the trick is to be first to the patent office.

Visitors don’t come here expecting ice creams to melt quicker than they can eat them and the ones I see in rural areas have all made a trip to Decathlon for matching neoprene outfits with day-glo cuffs and those expanding walking sticks. They come to Scotland to embrace the weather not to hide from it and who wants to go through Glen Coe in sunshine without low-hanging mist and rain-glistening rock. Rain cools the air – there is nothing like it when you step off the plane – it turns everything green and it gives us whisky. It also gives us screwed-up faces and a fatalistic demeanour, which is great for taking on the English and losing.

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Scotland needs to sell itself on what it can guarantee to deliver and our cast-iron promise has to be rain. It never lets you down. Our promise to you – real Scottish rain of your money back. If you don’t get soaked at least once, we’ll refund the cost of your holiday. Scottish Rain should be a trademark that can be stamped on all waterproof garments like Gore-tex with a proportion of sales earmarked for tourism. That way we would all have the pleasure of knowing that a rainy day was earning us cash – we wouldn’t save for a rainy day, we’d make money on a rainy day. Instead of those dreary-faced weather folk on telly gloomily pointing to nimbus-heavy graphics, we could celebrate rain forecasts. The Weather Ministry estimates tomorrow’s day-long severe rain forecast across the South and West will net £250,000 in royalties for the Exchequer…

Can you imagine if the SNP’s Moonie supporters were told Nicola loved the rain? They’d be out dancing in it like hippies at Glastonbury and taking selfies with captions on Twitter saying Proud to be Soaked for Scotland – Carluke SNP Branch.

One thing the rain and mist does well is disguise the sad light industrial estate we call Prestwick Airport, aptly marketed as Pure Dead…and so it is. So silent was it on our return – no elevator music, no public address announcements, no babble of voices – that we wondered if the Queen was dead. This surely is another marketing opportunity if Prestwick is rebranded as principal departure airport for Dignitas. Direct flights to Switzerland in a respectful atmosphere with your own super-extended two-minute silence. Prestwick – Pure Dead…Not so many return flights though.

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Sorry to have caught out some of you more trusting souls with the previous post about joining the Daily Mail. It’s a funny business how irony can catch you out – me included. I was on the beach under a coconut thatch when I decided to check something on my phone. On Twitter there was a headline: Ex BBC Man Joins Daily Mail. I thought which idiot is showing up his right-wing credentials and giving the Beeb a bad name? And it was ME! Roy Greenslade had it in the Guardian media section, re-printing the post. And there was me thinking it was obviously a spoof from about the second paragraph. The idea of me and the Daily Mail together is like a member of the House of Lords entertaining prostitutes and sniffing cocaine. Preposterous.

The laugh I got on the beach was nothing compared to the schadenfreude that gripped me during a visit to the Forteleza da Sagres when I was tweeted that Brian Wilson had been sacked by the West Highland Free Press. It seemed so improbable and yet so bitter-sweet that the great bombast himself should get the boot up the arse from the very paper he founded. The old fort was where the great navigators learned the sailing techniques that led to the Age of Discovery. It was taken by Drake in 1587 and there hasn’t been such rejoicing on the battlements since then as I roared my approval for Wilson’s dismissal. (This is what Professor Gerry Hassan calls small-minded).

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At this point, knowing me as a literary sort, you’re probably wondering what my reading list consisted of – you know the way the Sunday supplements tell you what Kirsty Wark was reading on holiday – or pretending to, when she was probably out of her skull on sangria at a foam rave.

Here it is. Lords of the Sea: How Triremes Changed the World by John R Hale. This is an epic historical examination of Ancient Greece and how it’s glory was based not on fabricating the national bank accounts but on naval prowess and especially on the three-tiered rowing warships, the triremes, that defeated Xerxes and the Persians as well as the Spartans, Phoenicians and Carthaginians. It tells too how love of Athens, collective will and ambition drove the genius of the people who gave us democracy – it’s what I call nationalism – and Pericles was a Cybernat.

Tsunami – Scotland’s Democratic Revolution by Iain Macwhirter. I downloaded this and paid even though Iain was kind enough to send it to me free. I did so to boost his sales by one. As Nicola said, every vote counts. I’m beginning to think that Macwhirter should be sainted for his work in documenting Scotland’s evolution. It isn’t just that he understands it and gives insight, it’s that he identifies with it and sounds part of it rather than a disinterested onlooker. It isn’t his greatest work and has the occasional feel of deadline fever – inevitable when writing against the clock but it catches the air of disbelief and optimism. I started it at breakfast and finished after lunch.

Close to the Bone by Stuart McBride. An Aberdeen-based thriller, if that isn’t an oxymoron.

Once Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich. Wow! The Russian oligarch phenomenon explained in the form of a thriller. True facts written as in fiction giving pace and narrative from page one and filled with illuminating detail. How Abramovich got that super yacht…

Holy Island – A DCI Ryan Mystery by L J Ross. Entertaining murder hokum at a venue I know well but where I will view the locals with suspicion from now on.

The Bow by Bill Sharrock is another History as Fiction production on the life of an English archer at Agincourt.

D Day through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz is a moving and very human account of what it was like to be a German defender as the Allied invasion struck. It is entirely composed of long-form interviews conducted with German troops 10 years after D Day when memories were still razor sharp. I tire of the ersatz history churned out by the Max Hasting’s Brit propaganda types and this is the perfect antidote, giving voice to the unknown enemy and his motivations. They were ‘defending a united Europe’ rather than a German reich. I had to stop reading at times as the harrowing images hit home, told in a soldier’s matter-of-fact language, and remind us of the terror that war exacts. As one of them puts it – we must never let this happen again. And in their testament you hear the early echoes of the EU and how it’s formation wasn’t, as the Tories have it, as a trading bloc or, as the modern Germans say, a currency exchange. It was the greatest humanitarian act in history – to embrace the peoples of Europe in a self-supporting alliance to guarantee peace and dignity. How has that impulse been recently traduced and how sad would those now deceased German soldiers be that the lessons they learned on the cliffs above the Normandy coast were now being ignored.

So, politics to follow – once I’ve caught up. And just time for a Newsnet heads up…I’m speaking to Kezia this week. Watch out for it at Newsnet. Now I’m away for a walk in the rain.

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