An Auld Sang

One of the satisfying aspects of running a blog is the quality of response it can elicit. It doesn’t matter if the replies agree or not with the original but that they are insightful and written to inform (I get plenty of the other kind). I have broken out this contribution to Alasdair Stephen’s blog because it lends perspective and analysis to the topic as well as a different outlook and optimism. My thanks to Steven Asaneilean in Skye. He writes:

Housing is a long-standing issue in Skye and elsewhere – as it was 20 years ago. I, like Alasdair, could no longer afford to buy the land and build the house that I did in 1998 (land cost then £18,000, now £70,000 for example).

But the problems begin when we look at these challenges to rural areas in isolation. We need an umbrella approach that looks at housing, transport, school, sustained (and well paid) employment, etc.

I am sceptical too about Alasdair’s faith in IT. My own interest is in healthcare delivery to remote communities. To quote a recent iScot article:

“The Dewar Committee Report of 1912 led to the formation of the Highlands and Islands Medical Scheme which itself formed the blueprint for the NHS over 40 years later.

One of the issues highlighted by the Report was the poverty of telecommunications in rural areas – “There is abundant evidence to show that liberal extension of telephone communication in connection with the medical service would be a great public boon, and pre-eminently in the case of insular and remote centres where a trained nurse is stationed. She could discuss a case with the doctor and take his detailed instructions. At present efforts are often made to communicate by telegraph, which for purposes of medical inquiry and advice, is cumbersome and unsatisfactory. The Committee were surprised to be told that the Post Office was contemplating the withdrawal of telegraph service from some of the remote Western Islands. We strongly deprecate any such action”.

Sadly 100 years later perhaps not much has changed. The Offcom report “Connected Nations 2015 (Scotland)” found that “it remains the case that the individual nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as rural England, see lower availability of communication services”.

On every measure Scotland fares worse than the rest of the UK. For “old fashioned” 2G voice coverage Scotland stands at 95% compared to 98% in England and 97% for the UK as a whole. For outdoor 3G voice and data the figure for Scotland is 79% compared to 88% for the UK and 91% for England. And for superfast broadband coverage the figures are 73%, 83% and 84% respectively.

But when we “drill down” to rural Scotland the differences are even starker. The coverage for super fast broadband in rural Scotland is as little as 31% and whilst urban Scotland enjoys average download speeds of 31Mbits/sec in rural Scotland the figure is only 11Mb/s. Overall in Scotland only about 14% of premises are unable to get download speeds in excess of 10Mb/s. But in rural Scotland it’s 57%, with Argyll and Bute fairing even worse at 70% and the Western Isles at a whopping 90%.

Around 20% of premises in Scotland are complete or partial “not spots” for indoor voice and outdoor data coverage. But in rural Scotland the figure is 73%.

Dr Andrew Inglis, a Consultant in Emergency Medicine who works for Scotland’s Emergency Medical Retrieval Service, says “a modern reliable mobile phone network across remote and rural Scotland would benefit the NHS in terms of improved quality of healthcare and reduced costs. The use of phone, camera, video and computer technology can enhance the delivery and sustainability of locally delivered care with savings in time and cost. Rural general practice is challenging with recruitment and logistics difficulties. Communication is a key issue. Out-of-hours cover for remote general practice can be problematic and many rural areas have concerns regarding emergency ambulance provision”. He distributes regular updates on communication issues but hasn’t done so now for about 11 months. When asked why recently he said it was because nothing had really changed in that time.

There is a growing body of evidence from across the world as to the value of out of hospital photographic and video links e.g. with road traffic accidents and other case of trauma, dermatological conditions, etc.

In addition, the ability to transmit data remotely can be invaluable – a ECG in someone with chest pain or the home monitoring of someone with a chronic medical condition – reducing the need for costly and time consuming visits to hospital clinics and allowing early intervention from local primary healthcare teams. A project in the Western Isles showed that the use of such technology reduced appointment cancellations and as a result reduced travel costs for visiting consultants.

A poor rural mobile network prevents communities from taking advantage of these advances in technology and ends up costing the NHS more.

In 2015 the Scottish Government, working in partnership with COSLA, BT, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the EU Regional Development Fund, launched an ambitious £412 million project aiming to extend high speed broadband to around 95% of Scotland by the end of March 2018. But a target of 95% of the population still excludes quarter of a million people.

And there are major challenges for delivering such services to rural Scotland compared to other rural parts of the UK. For example, longer line lengths and longer distances from exchanges results in serious signal deterioration between the fibre cabinet and the end users of the service.

The Scottish Government’s programme is being monitored by Audit Scotland who published their latest update on 18th August 2016. It talked about the “good progress” being made but acknowledged that “extending coverage to rural areas remains a challenge”. So far the Government scheme is ahead of target but “the remainder of the roll out will be more challenging”.

Caroline Gardner, Scotland’s Auditor General said “It’s encouraging to see good progress being made in rolling out fibre broadband. However, there is a lot still to be done by the Scottish Government if it is to achieve its vision of a world class digital infrastructure, particularly in improving download speeds in rural areas. It’s important that it continues to monitor the cost and progress of broadband roll out so that these communities aren’t excluded”.

There is also another potential “dark spot” on the horizon over which Scottish Government has no control.

The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is the means by which emergency services communicate within and among themselves. The UK Government put the current Airwaves service up for tender and awarded the contract for providing a new system to EE – a company which recently advised some customers in rural Scotland to switch to alternative providers as they could no longer guarantee a service in their locality. It’s clear that if EE are to match the existing Airwave service they will have to significantly improve their current level of remote rural coverage.

Those of us working in remote rural healthcare can look with some degree of envy at other parts of the world. The following was gleaned from a recent email exchange with international colleagues.

In Labrador, Canada telehealth via 3G wireless is provided to all remote communities and between a general hospital in Goose Bay and a specialist hospital in St Johns, Newfoundland. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The emergency department in Goose Bay uses telehealth to support the management of cardiac arrest or major trauma by remote teams on the ground. The Labrador telehealth system also supports primary care in the management of acute and chronic disease and provides access to specialist opinion. The service is felt to save money and save lives.

Meanwhile remote rural healthcare workers in Queensland, Australia use telemedicine as a routine part of their medical practice. Tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait routinely uses telemedicine to link with specialist centres over 1000Km away.

And a conference held in Inverness earlier this year heard how a community-led health service uses telecommunication to support healthcare assistants to provide services to remote Alaskan communities sometimes with as few as 20 households; in northern Sweden the remote area of Norrbotten, an area larger than Scotland but with only quarter of a million people, has universal 4G coverage; the Peruvian part of the Amazon basin mobile phones, charged with solar energy, are being used to help local women to provide healthcare in their own villages; in Kenya nomadic people are using mobile phones to access healthcare consultations remotely; and in Rwanda they are aiming to provide 4G coverage to over 95% of their population to allow a new generation of doctors and healthcare workers to work in remote parts of that country.

British Telecom seems to be aware of the challenges. They have recently launched a trial project covering only 20 household in the Township of North Tolsta in Lewis. A new technology, Long Reach VSDL, aims to overcome the loss of speed caused by the long distances from the fibre cabinet to the end users.

Other rural communities in Scotland are taking matters into their own hands. The local community development trust on the island of Coll have teamed up with the Scottish Futures Trust and Vodafone to have a community-owned mast providing 3G and 4G signals for the island as an alternative solution to the provision of broadband.

In Argyll a community-led and community-owned project, GigaPlus Argyll is being supported by Highlands & Island Enterprise in their attempts to download speeds from 2Mb/s to as much as 50Mb/s in Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Jura, Islay, Lismore and Craignish.

So whilst the doubts of Hollyrood’s opposition parties and the caution expressed by Audit Scotland are undoubtedly justified there are definite glimmers of hope out there. And perhaps by 2020 we here in rural Scotland can have the kind of telecommunications network that other remote parts of the world already take for granted.

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A Highland Home

I know the SNP are at fault for rail delays and that Humza Yousaf puts on a uniform every day and drives the train to Edinburgh but keeps making mistakes and lets it break down. I even know it’s the government’s fault when a landlord kicks a tenant farmer off his land. Indeed, it’s clear to me that letting Donald Trump build a golf course here led directly to his election as President. Thank you, Mr Salmond.

But there’s another couple of things I believe the SNP is responsible for and which require prompt action. The second of my ‘things’ I’ll come to in a later post. But first, the following plea reveals a dearth of pro-active thinking and smart action that lets down the record of our government – genuinely. This is not a contrived partisan moan designed to turn people against them but rather a desperate appeal for the kind of rapid, flexible thinking that should be the hallmark of a smart, successful government. It is written by a pro-independence friend and neighbour who runs an architectural company and is reprinted with his permission. It first appeared in the West Highland Free Press….

On Saturday evening I met the contractor who built my house on Skye 20 years ago. I pressed him for two figures: How much would that house cost to build now to the same specification? £150,000 he replied. How much to meet modern building regulations? £250,000 he answered. The next morning this was the basis of my ‘update’ on Facebook. I contrasted this with the costs of my house 20 years ago.

Land valued at £9,000.

Construction cost of £35,000.

A Rural Home Ownership grant from the government covering a third of my costs. My contribution; £22,000. That was two and a half time my income – the expectation at the time as to what the limit of your mortgage should be.

Today’s figures: £80,000 for a plot in Sleat (although some sell for well over £100,000).

£220,000 to build the house (I though £250,000 was a bit high).

No Government grants.

Two and a half times a typical salary of a 26-year-old? Perhaps £50,000.

Money required to build a house as I did? £300,000.

I outlined the consequences of such arithmetic…young people leaving…schools losing children…young people being internally displaced on Lewis to find accommodation in Stornoway…communities and Gaelic dying. The reaction to the post was telling. Almost immediately it went viral. By the next day it had been shared 500 times, liked 1.2 thousand times with hundreds of comments. It had revealed an anger and a sadness from the younger generation. They wanted to stay in their communities. They wanted to have jobs and families and homes. But that chance was not there for them.

The situation is worse than the bald numbers suggest. Self-build mortgages for young people who – as they often did in the past – construct their own houses with their own labour, help from friends and favours from local tradesmen – have almost disappeared. Even if you have family land from a croft, the figures still make it almost impossible to build. Areas like Lewis are in a worse predicament than Skye. Land may be more expensive on Skye but house values are much higher. Build on Lewis and you are immediately into huge negative equity. What bank will lend on that basis?

The housing situation is therefore grim. But if it is solved the rural economy could be utterly transformed. Why? The simple answer is the IT revolution and tourism. This summer saw a record numbers of tourists flock to Skye and across the Highland and islands. There are countless opportunities for small businesses to be set up and offer high end tourism experiences.

The best people to do this are the locals within the crofting communities. A few years ago I remember the Highlands came second to Norway as the best tourist destination in the world in a Lonely Planet survey. What marked the Highlands down? People wanted to hear Gaelic. They wanted to see crofting. They wanted traditional music in pubs. The wanted to interact with real local life. This cultural tourism could transform the Western Isles especially. There is a huge market waiting to be tapped. But who will exploit it if the young cannot build their own homes let alone build their own businesses?

Likewise, the Highlands and island should be given broadband. Not mediocre broadband but the internet as fast as London, Hong Kong or Singapore. This infrastructure investment is more important than any new road, bridge, ferry or airport. Countless businesses could be established and could thrive providing a mind-boggling range of services. Ok, the petrol is more expensive, as is the local shop. The roads are not very good but you are living in the most beautiful place on earth!   But again, to do this there needs to be access to housing, not just for the business owner, but also for staff.

Because I built my house 20 years ago I could start a business with my brother. It now employs 20 people. We are lucky enough to be able to rent an office at the Sabhal Mor Ostaig. In the same building is Young Films, a previously London-based company that moved to Skye partly because they have access to super-fast broadband and talented graduates from the university – an example for the rest of the Highlands. But half of our staff are in Glasgow. That is simply because of a lack of suitable housing on the island.

So what is to be done? First of all vision and leadership is required from Nicola Sturgeon (this is not an issue for a junior Housing Minister). The vision is the thriving, dynamic economy that could be created. The leadership is in making it happen. That is the difficult bit. I have some ideas.

Firstly, the approach now and of the past will not work. There are lots of great people involved in charities, housing associations and cooperatives who have been working for years to provide social housing. It is scratching the surface. This requires massive state intervention.

The government should build the biggest cross laminate timber (CLT) factory in the world. This new construction technique – houses built from a solid wood laminate made from the pine forests of the Highlands – will be an incredibly green form of construction. It will also be a new industry for Scotland, linked to research at our best universities such as Napier, and one that will also transform the economics of forestry. CLT kits should be modular and cutting edge, developed in tandem with changes in building regulations that will allow these to be built cost effectively, providing high quality, well designed housing. The kits should be provided free to young people who qualify. Local tradesmen and contractors can erect and complete.

The fundamental purpose behind crofting should be to keep people on the land and to allow communities to grow. If you are a crofter you should be obliged (or forced even) to provide a small plot of land for any family member who wants to stay. Children at the local school are more important than sheep. Likewise a portion of common grazing in each township should be set aside for housing for the wider community. Younger brothers, older and younger sisters (as well as other locals) should not be denied the opportunity to build a home just because they did not inherit the croft.

Crofters should be given something very important in return. That is access to loans so they can diversify their crofts into tourism. That could mean money to renovate blackhouses, or to build modern sheilings – holiday homes on the crofts that can provide income and employment and an authentic cultural tourism experience for the visitor. This will also take pressure off the existing housing stock, much of which is being used as holiday homes when it could be rented as family homes.

Land reform, Land Value Tax, compulsory land purchases, council housing, changes to planning and building regulations could also help as well as some limited grants to service sites.

This is not a problem that will be addressed by devolving more power to local communities. It is not a problem that will be solved by giving more power to crofters and community councils. Unfortunately, people argue, fall out and become unreasonable when it comes to housing. This requires Big Government to say, I am sorry, but a generation has been let down. We will not stand by and watch them be betrayed any longer. These amazing young people that the Highlands produce every year should be given the chance to live, love and prosper in their own communities. We will make it happen.

Alasdair Stephen, Director of Hebhomes, Glasgow and Skye.

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Lift Thine Eyes

The SNP favour the Norway option which I can’t stop thinking of as a Monty Python sketch in a pet shop involving a dead parrot. ‘That’s a Norwegian Blue, sir.’

Alex Neil thinks we should embrace Brexit along with UKIP, the Tories and, now I see, the Labour Party. So it’s about taking back control. You know, like the lunatics taking over the asylum. There are side dishes of EFTA and EEA to complete the whole dog’s breakfast. I have no idea how we expect the public to sift through this and make sense of it without clear leadership.

We need to go back to basics and remember that if we’d voted to become a proper country we wouldn’t be in this mess at all. Oh sure, we’d be in a different mess of a post-vote new order with currency questions and deficit problems – except of course that’s exactly what we’ve got anyway by ducking out of making the big decision. Almost every one of Better Together’s predictions of doom after a Yes vote are coming true after a No vote. Caveat emptor.

We could now be safely inside the EU club as an aspiring member state waiting to take the rUK’s place instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines pleading to be heard. This is our reward for being good British citizens and depending on the experience of the UK to do the right thing. Vote No to stay in the EU – except when we change our mind in which case you’re out along with us. And, by the way, this is going to hurt.

There was always a risk in designing the Yes case as a silver bullet. Voters know life isn’t like that and, as I keep saying, we should have given a more realistic picture of post-referendum Scotland. Because even with forging new partnerships, seeking funding and rebalancing our commitments, we would still look at today’s Brexit mess and feel a sense of relief that it didn’t apply to us. Indeed Brexit without Scotland would have added impetus to the process of entering us on to the Brussels club membership. There would be urgency to settle our case before EU talks started with London. It would also have turbo charged the discussions between Edinburgh and London paving the way for Scotland leaving the Union. Downing Street would be under pressure to settle the Scottish issue quickly before moving on. Meanwhile we would have the support of friends in Brussels where we would be on the front line of maintaining the European ideal in the face of the separatists.

Too late now, of course. Except it is a reminder of what our case is and has always been – independence. It has become the word that dare not speak its name as we wrestle with accommodations, trade deals and customs unions. We need to remember the cause is greater than the compromises. I am a committed European but if you ask me to vote for independence outside the EU, I vote Yes. Equally I expect anti Europeans to back independence in the EU if that’s the option.

It’s hard to think of anything worse than being an afterthought in a xenophobic Tory Little England outside the European mainstream, begging for deals with Trump while the national debt balloons and the deficit grows. I can’t see how remaining locked in to London and a political system in which even the opposition has given up, is beneficial. It surely is the unyielding Unionists who are cult-like in adherence to the suicidal incompetence of Johnson, Fox and Davis who are making the UK a laughing stock. For many of us the British government failed to speak our language a long time ago but we still heard echoes of our view in the Labour Party. Yet the meandering contradictions and sophistry of Corbyn’s regime denies us even that.

Revealing, I thought, that the never previously shown Better Together film appearing on the internet through Buzzfeed doesn’t reference Scotland at all. It is entirely focussed on Britain with a commentary making absolutely clear that the UK is the Unionists’ country, not Scotland. It is about retaining the UK hegemony in which it implies Scots only play a part for the charity available. There is no attempt to portray any difference or variation or native distinctiveness – just Our Britain. It shows how Scotland continues to be enveloped in the maw of collective British identity and in their mind deserves no distinct recognition.

We didn’t want to press too hard for indyref2 because the SNP wanted to go forward with the other parties arguing for our place in the single market. That was a wasted idea with pygmy politicians voting down anything the SNP propose and to hell with public interest.

Whatever you think of our railways, the current Ruritanian row demanding a resignation as if it would change anything, signifies an opposition bereft of realism let alone ideas. When the country faces the looming implosion of Brexit, wouldn’t a real politician apply his energy to finding a unified resolution before it’s too late?

It’s hard not to conclude that even after a Yes vote the same Lego legislators would spend their time on diversions and fail to do their duty to the voters and the nation.

From now on I’d like to hear independence again used as the ultimate option whenever an aspect of the Brexit business is raised. Yes, we could possibly have a different deal with the EU inside the UK. Or…we could take what is ours and work directly with European neighbours to deliver the goals of a united Europe. We’re in danger of combing through the minutiae looking for morsels when by lifting our eyes we can see the whole horizon.


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The People’s Flagging

The post truth agenda majors on Brexit and Trump of course, but omits one of the crazier aspects of the last wee while…the rise of Corbyn. It is turning into one of the more puzzling conundrums of our times. A mass membership party chooses a leader without leadership skills and gorges itself on a struggle to get rid of him before eventually re-electing him with an increased majority. Meanwhile effective opposition is dissolved in the democratic acid.

Yet curiouser and curiouser…the radical politics Corbyn represents have been muted to the point of a whisper and compromise has blunted any cutting edge. Now we hear that Labour will not oppose Brexit and wants to make it work – just like the Tories and UKIP. They may be giving up on globalised trade as represented by Brussels but are they also surrendering on workers’ rights? With the Tories in the ascendency do Jeremy and John McDonnell really think they will influence decisions on employment and markets?

And they may have truly sold the pass on Europe now because May’s announcement to business leaders that she seeks a transitional arrangement to avoid hard Brexit opens up a soft underbelly ready for a killer thrust. The Prime Minister is effectively saying she wants the 27 to agree an overlapping period beyond the exit date in which the UK’s right of access to the single market will continue, allowing business to relax and plan longer term. But that is tantamount to saying Britain won’t be leaving at all as market entry is in reality a key part of membership, requires payment of subscriptions to Brussels, compliance with its regulations and standards and, erm, immigration. To any Leave voter in a barren northern city, that is not Brexit.

In any case, her declaration omitted a telling caveat – any transitional arrangement will need the agreement of the 27. In typically British manner, she has assumed she can get whatever she wants without first testing her plan with the only people who can deliver it. No wonder European leaders can sometimes sound hostile. So far all the signs are that Brussels is sticking to a hard line of following Article 50 precisely – that means negotiating a UK exit, not redrawing a new arrangement to stay in. Every official word thus far has made clear there is a process of extrication and disaggregation that must be completed before subsequent talks on any new deal can proceed.

And why should the leaders of the continental project make life easy for a country that has spent the last decades sniffing at every reform and threatening to leave if it doesn’t get its way, then putting Tory Party obsession before solidarity and misjudging its own people so it falls out unintentionally? The UK’s departure destabilises the bloc when it faces the largest existential threat in its history – the rise of the far right. The way to face down the extremists is to unite and celebrate shared values, offering a clear vision of hope to those seduced by fear mongering and bogus claims to take back control. This is already happening as support for the EU climbs in the wake of the British vote and possible European fears of a buccaneering America under Trump. Le Pen must be stopped next year and Merkel re-elected giving a new impetus to the original founding principles of the EU. It is in nobody’s interests in European capitals to allow the Brits to wheedle a soft deal by voting to come out. The opposite is true – showing how much pain life outside the bloc entails is the best corrective. Britain’s imperial bleat that we are somehow essential to the world community and have automatic rights to trade is easily answered: Member states must choose between trading with a market of 50 million or one with 500 million.

So May’s admission that she is seeking a non-exit or at least a heavily compromised one that keeps us in the EU for an unspecified period against the wishes of the voters, is a soft touch for Labour were they in a position to seize it. They are not.

Odd too that McDonnell has backed the spending of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. I too favour protecting important buildings and believe public cash should be used but when the inhabitant is as wealthy as the Queen, merely signing off on £350m without any element of personal contribution from those who are allowed to live there is preferential treatment. That’s not how the benefits system works for example. Someone I know has been out of work for six months so has Jobseekers Allowance stopped because she has a partner who earns. If you have £6000 in savings, it affects how much Housing Benefit you get and if you have £16,000 you get nothing. Want to take your employer to a tribunal? You have to pay £1200 up front. That’s how the state works – you get nothing for nothing. Except if you’re already housed free in castles and country homes from Windsor to Sandringham to, of course, Balmoral which she owns privately. We are preached to about austerity and how it is essential to make the poorest carry the biggest burden but we reverse the whole philosophy when bending the knee to the Royals. Why would Labour support that when it appears to be a slap in the face of working and non-working families?

Now we also hear the Corbyn leadership supports Tory plans to cut the tax bill of higher earners. If you earn £43,000 today you pay the higher rate of 40 per cent and the Tories are increasing the threshold to £50,000. That’s the amount you can earn without paying more tax, so you’ll get to keep another £1300 a year. (Poorer families will lose £2400 from benefit cuts and Brexit fall-out).

This is the same threshold that Nicola Sturgeon was attacked over. When she refused to raise the tax levels she nevertheless said she wouldn’t pass on George Osborne’s raising of the 40 per cent tax for higher earners. Labour scoffed yet here is their own leadership doing the Tories’ job for them by putting more money in higher earners’ pockets through the higher threshold. At the same time Corbyn himself says he would re-introduce a 50 per cent tax rate. Radical, eh?

I thought Jeremy’s election would precipitate a genuine debate about Labour values and aims. It didn’t. Labour has shown it is incapable of such a dialogue. Instead it fell into internecine warring. Now it is stuck with a weak leadership, confused policies and disillusioned voters. That’s before we take account of the Scottish wing. And what has it spawned? Nothing less than the re-emergence of Tony Blair as the centrist avenger, aided by Jim Murphy (with McTernan touting for work).

The People’s Flag is Deepest Red;

From Shame at Where New Labour Led…

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Sadness in his Eyes…

The idea of a post truth era helps explain a lot. Today for example Labour front man and unrepentant Unionist Duncan Hothersall tweets: Can anyone seriously deny that Our People First is a shared value between Trump and Sturgeon? Horribly uncomfortable though it makes you?

Now Hothersall has been Labour clickbait since pre indyref and still has only got 7000 followers despite being editor of Labourhame and chair of Edinburgh South CLP and running a programme of relentless self-promotion. Tells you something. But Duncan’s real gig is winding up the Nats and that’s fair enough albeit desperately shallow. However I am playing his game today because that little tweet is, for once, entirely relevant to part of today’s debate and symptomatic of where the rump of Unionism now stands.

First, to the question he asks…my reply is: Can you name a politician in any country on earth and in history who hasn’t been elected to put his country first? Try this on a Glasgow doorstep – Hello, I’m from Labour. We’re the party that doesn’t put you first.

Then ask Duncan his own question: Who do YOU put first? Who are your people?

How is it possible to engage in elective politics without committing yourself to defending the people you represent? Does Duncan have an answer? Indeed, since I had to, I saw on his timeline references to eradicating poverty in Scotland and improving transport. Whose poverty and whose transport? That’s right, the Scots.

So on a political level Duncan is deeply concerned about the issues facing the Scots but when it comes to making those shallow observations on Twitter he implies he has a nobler constituency in mind. Who? Does he mean British voters outside Scotland? Could that be Labour’s real problem – that they have failed consistently to give the impression of caring enough about the Scots individually and as a nation? And, indeed that’s exactly the finding of the post-2007 election research – Scots no longer believed Labour represented them or stood up for their interests. So by playing rhetorical games, he does in a way reveal the deeper truth, that his default position is not defence of Scottish interests at all. In reality Labour is ready to run in the other direction if the Scots need their help…horribly uncomfortable though it makes you.

Oh, come on, it’s only Twitter. And that’s true, it is. But that’s where so many of our random thoughts now emerge and this little emission suggests that Duncan is desperately trying to align the excesses and unpleasant impulses of volatile right wing Trump with Sturgeon with the SNP – a party that Trump has made his sworn enemy. Why would anyone honestly engage in serious political discourse do such a thing? Or is it a joke? If not, it tells us Duncan has some profound issues over understanding. Put aside tribalism in so far as any of us can and ask yourself if left-leaning, socially conscious, EU-supporting, anti-Trident Sturgeon who entered the Forbes List of the world’s top 50 most powerful women this week – at number TWO in the UK – is on any level remotely similar to Trump. Ah, but he only meant in one respect. And so he did and of course the reason is that there is no other basis for a comparison except on the weasely rhetorical point he concocts. Even that is paper-thin because Sturgeon constantly references other nationalities in her remarks, she welcomes immigration, she engages with Muslims, her internationalism is clear and has European cooperation at its heart. Those are her people – all of us in Scotland, irrespective. And Trump’s concept of putting people first…?

There is no rational connection between the two – she’s even publicly criticised the President elect. But when truth, or even serious discourse, is deemed irrelevant it’s a field day for pedlars of distortion and innuendo. It is so nakedly contrived that, far from challenging Sturgeon, it tells us more about Hothersall himself. As I’ve argued often here, the desperation evident in this kind of infantile barb demonstrates the failure of their arguments. Nobody with a serious and respectable case to put to the people or with the remotest chance of opposition, let alone government, would engage in such pointless tactics. It’s now commonplace for oafish and maladroit remarks to emerge for example from the once solid Murdo Fraser who had a strong claim on leadership of a rebranded party of the right, but is now reduced to joke tweets. These are the gambits of the defeated who see no prospect for improvement, the argument having been lost. They become careless with fact and generous with contempt.

How much more respect would you have for a Labour front man who decried Trump’s xenophobia and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t shared by our leaders and our nation. To be fair, that’s what Kezia has been doing. Get on message, Duncan. Or it won’t just be a post truth era – it will be post Labour.

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