Simply the Best

Isn’t it a pleasure amid the relentless media-led gloom about Scotland to celebrate an unalloyed triumph by one of our own? We’re so used to being told how laughably incapable we are that you can almost hear the grudging acceptance… ‘Oh, sure, we’ve got Andy Murray but only because he trained in Spain. Anyway Novak’s off form and Roger’s past it.’

The corrupted national psyche that is trained to fail struggles to believe that someone without privileges can be as good as anybody else and even, at times, better. And you have to whisper that bit. The idea that Scotland or the Scots might actually utter a claim to be the best at anything sparks a mass Shhhh as if someone who really does know best hears us and laughs at the presumption.

We’re allowed to be world champion boozers and record-breaking obesity kings but Scotland forgets its place if it imagines there might be a guaranteed place in the global order for a tiny, bankrupt basket case. *Even if the mad Nats get their way and we go it alone, imagine the catastrophe of our debt, the drastic cuts in services, the hike in living costs, the exit of companies. Nobody’s ever done it before and succeeded. Except for Ireland, obviously. Losing people and jobs at the time of independence, with a rural economy, only patchy native industry and few natural resources – not to mention a civil war – the Republic nevertheless today is forecast to end the year as Europe’s fastest growing economy.

Or New Zealand, clearly. When the UK joined the EEC, it ended the lucrative trade deal between the nations which, although ameliorated by temporary arrangements, forced New Zealand into diversification and a search for new markets – all at the time of a huge oil price rise when NZ imported all its oil. It’s now one of the happiest and well-run countries on the global index.

But, you see, they’re not Scottish. So Irish and Kiwi can do…Scottish not much. That’s why I love Andy Murray. He refuses to be an also-ran. That’s what we did in the indyref – declared ourselves also-rans – people who regard ourselves as unworthy. Just not good enough to run ourselves and to forge functioning, friendly relations with our near neighbours that would reassure those who value strong British ties.

Ach, I know you can’t take one person’s story and extrapolate to the whole nation but, come on, I’m a journalist. It’s what we do…And there is something elemental about Murray that speaks of the Scotland we know. I don’t care where he was born. That isn’t what makes him a Scot. It’s in his attitude and demeanour, in his fragile confidence, his trembling emotion, his spasms of frustration. And it’s in his unflinching honesty about his failures and shortcomings. Any PR adviser would work night and day to make him sound sparkier and upbeat but he remains doggedly dour, proudly thrawn, even turning his reputation into humourous self-deprecation.

There is an attitude bred in us that is suspicious of the contrived. I don’t know anywhere else where people who have manifestly motored through the social mobility barriers with degrees, position and wealth still insist on calling themselves working class. Even when we know we’ve escaped from the manual labour family and the council estate, it remains a badge of pride to have that background. It says that some part of us will never change, that there is no desire to desert our roots and that social advancement never weakens our origins. It’s a form of solidarity and it’s held out to another generation like a rescue ladder. This way, son. Take my hand…

I like that the Murrays are in most ways an ordinary family – state school, even split family – when so many of the success stories in Britain revolve around posh schools and Oxbridge. I like that Andy manages to look awkward and a bit embarrassed in his kilt. And I like that his mum is still there beside him. I used to fear that there was something unnatural about a pushy parent never letting her son be himself (as I would have felt). I just didn’t know how they really were – a family. And as time has gone on, my respect grows for Judy Murray as single mother, family helmsman, constant supporter and, well…as woman. She brought them up, believed in the boys and backed them. There was no Tim Henman Oxforshire childhood with tennis court in the back garden and family connections. Their story is really an old one – if you want it, you can have it. But only if you believe.

Of course, the reality is we can’t all succeed but they make us feel we might. If they can, so can we. The Murrays provide the inspiration that allows the rest of us to dream. And I bet there are Scots out there today touched by an air of defiance because of Murray’s achievement, privately savouring and sharing the success. Scottish success.

*Isn’t it amazing how every warning of disaster we were given during the indyref is now being reversed in headlines before our eyes?

UK economy heads for £100b black hole.

Ordinary families will lose £2400 a year.

Brexit to force up cost of living.

Companies prepare to leave London.

Social care faces breakdown.

Britain to suffer hard Brexit from EU.

Britain’s naval defences woeful.

Britain’s spy security threatened by Brexit.

Clyde naval orders reduced.

UK loses triple A credit rating.

Pound tumbles.

The list goes on…

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We’re all having to rethink our position these days to respond to fast-changing events. We try to hold on to our principal aims as long-term objectives while readjusting to the here and now. To me that means I yearn for independence but accept that remains on the horizon while I deal with immediate Brexit concerns.

One way I changed my own mindset was in admiring the bold pro-EU stance taken by Tim Farron who is the only UK leader talking my language about the need to stay inside the European family of nations, not just for trade purposes but for humanitarian ones of mutual support and social solidarity. It means standing against public opinion as expressed in the referendum because it is a point of principle, one that can’t just be dropped because of a short, dishonest campaign based on xenophobia. That’s not easy when the ‘people have spoken’. So there I was adjusting all my partisan dials to accommodate the Lib Dems whom I’ve previously written off as dishonest and untrustworthy, when the Scottish branch actually vote against single market membership being protected. Against the single market. It not only destroys my touching faith in Liberals, it confirms their place back at the bottom of the trust rankings. Good night, Tim.

What possesses our representatives when it comes to protecting the national interest? For Liberals who have been in my lifetime the most pro-European lot of all to perform a U-turn at the very moment their country needs them is pretty shocking. Did they really consider their constitutional role to represent and defend the Scots or did they only look at their narrow and short-term self-interest…

Yesterday’s vote I find hard to take. My Liberals were people like Russell Johnson, Charles Kennedy, David Steel with solid European credentials. When they merged, none other than the former European commission president Roy Jenkins joined them.

The group Liberal Scotland in Europe wrote: This period of political history may prove to be the most significant for our constitution in 300 of years. It is for the Scottish Liberal Democrats membership to decide what role the party will play and what route we will choose. But if we are to secure the best future for Scotland and the strongest relationship with both the UK and EU, we will need to leave no possibility unexplored. If we fail to do that our children and grandchildren will not forgive us.

That’s the basis on which the autumn conference debated options including independence – and threw it out, even as a theoretical possibility if it became clear it was in Scotland’s interest. The one-eyed, one-way approach was perpetuated at Holyrood yesterday and taken to the extreme. Voting effectively against Scotland in the single market contradicts everything Liberal Democrats have said for 25 years and renders their pro-European credentials nothing more than weasel words. As soon as Farron stands up to say he’ll vote against Article 50 or will campaign in the next election calling for an end to Brexit, his critics will simply demand to know how that squares with his Scottish branch voting against market membership.

I’m puzzled too by the Tories voting the same way. It was their party under Margaret Thatcher and guided by Lord Cockfield that brought about the single market which remains British Conservatism’s greatest contribution to the EU. To abandon it now – in favour of what, exactly – is revisionism. It sounded at first as if Davidson’s Tories were anti Brexit, explicitly backing Remain and the single market. Even after the vote as she slithered and dithered into an accommodating stance, she was at pains to welcome free movement. Then, come the crunch, she and her party defect…all ideals in tatters. I suppose this is what she calls effective opposition – opposing the government irrespective of logic or principle even if it means contradicting her own party’s history. What a kick in the teeth for Thatcher’s legacy.

I leave the mangy old cur of Scottish Labour to last – the pathetic, cowed runt of a political movement devoid of impetus or idea. Like a doe-eyed bag of bones curled up beside the fire and good for nothing, it somehow pleads to be treated gently, as if this sorry pass is not its own fault. ‘I used to be something, you know’, it seems to say but those days are lost in the mists of time. If the questions were worth asking they would be of the fundamental kind – what are you for? Who do you represent? What is your policy programme? What is your objective? How will you attain it?

Labour can’t hold a policy position for more than 24 hours, its message fleeting, incoherent and irrelevant. Brexit threatens to be the most important strategic change in direction the UK has taken in 50 years with clear warnings of economic destruction for hundreds of thousands, company closures, rising living costs, a currency slump, literally unknown future trading arrangements, with doors slammed in the face of essential immigration with our global relationships and image harmed. When the call came for decisive action and unity in the face of such catastrophe, Labour, the people’s party, collapsed. With no position worth sustaining, they opted out and abstained. Truly Dugdale leads a pitiful mob.

I know the get-out: Access is different from membership and membership implies sovereignty. Well, tell that to any of the 300,000 Scots whose jobs depend on it. Tell that to the hard-pressed families whose household bills tip them over the credit limit and tell that to the overseas students whose fees keep our universities thriving. How does it look to the public? I’d guess it fits perfectly in the wee box marked Hypocrites that cynical voters keep their prejudices in. Smug politicians on £60,000 play games with my job, my mortgage and my future…

Nobody was being asked about independence in this vote. Nobody was being asked to abandon principled positions, not pro-Union nor pro-independence. They were in effect being asked for unity – to put Scotland first, the Scotland that voted clearly to Remain. The opposition instead said: ‘Nah. You’re alright. I’ll pass.’

What they have done of course is undermine Scotland’s long-term chances of getting a hearing in Brussels for any kind of exceptionalism, never mind a deal. That may depend not on Nicola Sturgeon and her skills but on a country united and imploring the 27 to look kindly on us as fellow travellers. A country that can unite across parties and with everything else, including independence, put in second place, presents a case that’s hard to dismiss. When roughly half the voters are represented by voices that are seen to be actively against membership or couldn’t care less, the entire case is weakened.

It is perhaps understandable that Labour, Lib Dems and Tories in Wales have an anti-EU stance despite its crippling implications for the local economy. They can argue the people are with them. Not so in Scotland where, in Labour’s case, the idea of party ‘autonomy’ could have been used to support a position different from that of the London leadership based on the referendum result.

It seems nothing, not even economic meltdown, can persuade Unionist politicians to utter any word – even ‘membership’ – that just might imply a sovereign Scotland some way down the line. The Liberals of course have thrown the idea out irrespective at their conference. It allows the elected members again to trade on the Tory and other anti-independence votes that elected them last time but it raises a question: If it comes to it and the only option is hard Brexit and a poor deal for the UK outside the single market and facing years of tariffs while new trade deals are negotiated, is it still Union or bust? What if there is an offer from Brussels for Scotland to inherit the UK membership, if it demonstrates a desire for independence? As it stands the Liberals won’t even consider it – the people can go to Hell. Is Labour far behind? Will the outright resistance to self-determination withstand even economic catastrophe, turning a Brexit Union into a suicide mission? Is the self-loathing they project on to Scotland so extreme that it overrides rational thought?

These are complex and fluid times when flexibility and manoeuvrability are called for. Closing off any option is clod-hopping politics at the best of times. To do so today is against national interest. We can celebrate the common sense that delivered the vote to protect our place in the market – along with the Greens – because it really matters. But for the Union, it was a day to be ashamed of our parliament.

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Draining the Swamp

Oh lighten up…how bad can it be? Really? OK, a narcissistic sociopath with the petulance of a five-year-old and no governing experience wins the White House. But what can he do? OK, he can do a hell of a lot. But will he? And, as importantly, will he be allowed to?

Think about it. He wants to round up and forcibly deport 11 million illegal individuals, a feat on a scale not attempted since the Nazis targeted European Jewry. He’ll need a force the size of an army – at what cost to the nation? They are illegals. By definition, they are loose in the system, mobile and unrecorded. How do they survive in the US? By working mostly as low-paid easily hired and fired sweat slaves who are the backbone of American seasonal agriculture, the building trade, hospitality, cleaning and every other casual work across the nation – including the home helps and nannies to the professionals. Just as vegetable growers in East Anglia warned that Brexit would destroy their business or force it abroad, so American business will lobby to stop the harassment of illegals without whom profits would nosedive. A roundup of these numbers will take years, if it’s actually possible to locate them, hold them and transport them, and to where – the Mexican border? From there they can return.

No, because he’ll build a wall. Of course he will (with illegal Mexican labour perhaps?) The border with Mexico is 2000 miles long. It would be like building the pyramids. The Berlin Wall was less than 100 miles and from original wire to stone completion took nearly 15 years. This is a child’s fantasy of a policy which appeals to simplistic desires for retaliation against perceived enemies. He will laugh it off in office. Anyway it would be denounced by the UN (which doesn’t guarantee anything as Israel will tell you).

Right, well The Don will repatriate American jobs from China to the Rustbelt. Presumably he’s invented a money tree then because since 2001 an estimated 3.2 million jobs have gone oriental. He will need to instruct the owners of literally thousands of American corporations that they must withdraw from China – which won’t cause the merest ripple of protest from Beijing, of course. He will provide them with new factories and facilities at astronomical cost, help them hire US citizens who can be trained to standard, subsidise the entire move back stateside and, obviously help pay the living wages the companies wanted to escape from in the first place. Total cost? Probably equivalent to the American military.

At least he’ll stop muslims entering the country. No, he’s already reneged on this. It can’t be done. Who is a muslim? A woman in a headscarf? Any of us can convert to a religion without any outward sign of our devotion. So what he means is checking out people from countries with Islamic cultures – that is, one massive passport and visa checking ritual for half the world in addition to the security hold-ups at airports. Sounds like a plan that will start and quickly disintegrate under the strain of making it work. Imagine the reaction from around the world at such heavy-handed discrimination – which can work both ways if countries retaliate. He calls it extreme vetting- or maybe he said heavy petting.

He’ll govern for every American. Mmm, to do that in reality you’d need to introduce communism in order to treat everybody the same and that’s not what he means. So he’ll govern for the little guy? That implies a massive transfer of public money to the have-nots from a man who boasts about not paying his own taxes.

He’ll jail Hillary. No. No he won’t. An abuse of executive power would outrage America. No, once inaugurated Trump will step back from saying the mad things that got him elected. It isn’t that he isn’t capable of executive madness – there’s no doubt his reaction to being thwarted is Putin-esque – but Trump has been performing like a trooper to tap into the mind of angry America in order to get elected. In office is a different thing, surrounded by political advisers, yes, but also circumscribed by civil servants in security, military and economic affairs. Now he has won, he will find it convenient in burnishing his reputation to be magnanimous, as he was to Hillary in his victory speech – no mention of crooks or nasty women. In the same mode there will be draining of the DC swamp since he will enter fully into its warm, velvet-lined embrace where he will be endlessly flattered and courted.

He will henceforth be the model of discretion with all women and turn on the charm as he lives out the fantasy of being the new century’s Kennedy or whichever later ego his narcissism chooses.

There will be terrible decisions for sure but I think he will moderate his outpourings dramatically in office and will fail the test the voters set – to protect the middle class and the forgotten millions. They were his passport to power but there is nothing of the real rebel about Trump, he simply denounced the establishment as a campaign slogan. He is of them, just as Hillary is. That’s the real danger he poses – that he lets down the redneck rebels who cheered his angry invective. Once they realise he lied and either will do nothing for them or simply can’t…well, that’s when the trouble really starts.



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All Come to Look For America

As an officially registered Friend of America, I have some dark thoughts about our cousins in the USA. It isn’t that I haven’t tried to understand the motivations and mindset of the self-styled ‘greatest democracy on earth’ (surely, that’s India?). Growing up in the fifties and sixties, America was bright – colour television! – breezy and smart. We had American pen pals who sent packages at Christmas loaded with candy. We were goggle-eyed at their cinematic culture, our love of adventure and cowboys implanted from the velvet seats of the Picture House. Apart from my Scottish football annuals – and I still have the 1961 edition complete with England 9 Scotland 3 – my favourite books were cartoon stories of Gene Autry, the Cisco Kid and Hopalong Cassidy. Favourite TV? – Champion the Wonder Horse. At the time British television offered me the Wooden Tops…

When I took a sabbatical from the Glasgow Herald in the late seventies, I wangled a flight with British Airways to New York. Like many, my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline lit a flame that’s never died. I wandered the downtown canyons like a country boy come to Glesca wi’ ma big Kilmarnock bunnet.

I’ve returned several times for presidential elections and to make radio documentaries, but most memorably in 1991 as a guest of the US Information Agency, a now disbanded body created by Eisenhower to promote America’s world view – in other words propaganda. If you’re hoping I was recruited by the CIA, I hate to disappoint.

I crisscrossed the states for a month in a group of journalists from twenty countries from Chile to Zimbabwe, Nepal to Thailand. We were indeed subject to material that fits the propaganda bill. It was the time of the first Gulf War so we went to the State Department, got a briefing from a general at the Pentagon, met the management of Voice of America and got the government line from an academic. The interesting thing was: we didn’t buy it. The poor witnesses were bombarded with challenging questions from journalists whose own lives in South America, Asia and Africa had been touched, often disastrously, by American foreign policy. We caused such a stir at the Pentagon that we appeared in the pages of the radical magazine Mother Jones in which I was quoted (political editor of Scotland on Sunday).

Were our American ‘handlers’ furious? Far from it. They loved the rows we engendered and the anger many of us displayed straight to the face of official America. Then I realised they were also opening us up to another side of the US – progressive, liberal, internationalist America which objected to military interventions. We had dinner with a professor whose dissidence over Iraq had earned him an arrest and conviction. He was going to jail the following week. In San Francisco we met the other side of the dream, the homeless and the AIDS victims. The experience changed my view which tended to see the States in one dimensional terms. The depth of distaste liberal Americans held for their own government was underlined when I later spent time in Washington where it was hard to find anybody outside the Republican right who fully supported the Bush presidency.

Yet it seems this alternative America gets buried in the blizzard of machine politics surrounding elections. Hillary Clinton doesn’t represent it. I suppose Bernie Saunders kind of did. The effect of course is we see a tiresome shouting match with hysterical partisans chanting slogans. I think coverage of the presidential contest demeans the nation. It is so shallow, it embarrasses the whole country.

So what goes wrong? Well, in such an outspoken and opinionated country, the intellectual and the considerate often get shouted down and crowded out. If you watch the networks they give you the tabloid perspective, the noisy overview. One of the aspects I enjoyed best at election time was watching C-Span, which was a live TV service before online live video streaming. (It now is digitised). It was often a single fixed camera in a room with maybe four experts and an interested audience at, say, Georgetown University. You could sit in the hotel room and effectively eavesdrop on nuanced, informed debate on subjects never touched by the mainstream broadcasts.

But the viewing figures were tiny. The danger with professional messaging is that content is relegated in favour of sound bite and point-scoring. If you screech about believing in God or holding a gun in your cold dead hand, you get an instant, mass reaction. Nuanced argument requires patience and concentration. There just isn’t time for it no matter how many months the campaign runs.

I wonder if this may be connected to the birth of the nation, a mere 240 years ago, and events which still resonate, however bizarrely. The folk memory of early settlers still runs through the unconscious of many Americans. The myths of the frontier (like cowboys) echo down the ages. The story of the struggle of the first arrivals who brought God and the Gun is like their Bannockburn (or Waterloo). And it’s comparatively recent, as well as compounded today by images of God-fearing and gun-toting in pretty much every movie made in Hollywood.

I’ve been reading The Pilgrims by Sam Fitzgerald detailing the arrival of the first waves of European settlers including the hardy souls on the Mayflower, among them William Bradford who became governor of the Plymouth Colony. I think the following passages sum up my dark thoughts about the States today with their religious fundamentalism, a seemingly casual relationship with violence and a reliance on personal independence. See what you think.

‘…the Pilgrims’ treatment of the Quakers was mild in comparison to the extreme measures taken by the Puritans. Quakers caught by Puritans were flogged, branded with hot irons, had their ears cut off, their eyes put out, were stripped of all their possessions and even put to death.

‘…(Bradford) took a bold step. From here on each family would have its own plot for planting corn. They would be responsible for their crop and whatever they produced would belong to them. The effect was instantaneous. Everyone became much more industrious. Women and children who had complained they were too weak to work in the fields eagerly tended their crops. More corn got planted and more got harvested.’

In the first we see the Puritans who followed the original Pilgrims descending to medieval brutality against fellow Europeans who worshipped differently – Christian compassion indeed. But the Pilgrims themselves banished those who failed their dogmatic tests and they killed. Local natives were massacred – women, children, the lot. In today’s religious zealotry, which afflicts so much of the USA, we hear the argument of an eye for an eye. We see doctors murdered by the so–called God fearing outside abortion clinics. How often have we seen the personal Armageddon of a gun slaughter to express disaffection? We hear how one religion – Islam – must be banned from the country. The case for the Mexican wall is another fundamentalist example. Childish and simplistic, it degrades all those it seeks to banish and all those who support it.

The adherence to guns as a routine part of life follows on from the days when a firearm was as necessary as a knife, a fire and a water source. On Channel4 this week a documentary in an Ohio gunshop showed how people are training their children how to shoot. Men are taking home assault rifles (‘my wife will kill me for this!’). A revolver is sold to a woman as having the safest trigger lock (‘when you come home with the groceries you can put it on the worktop without the fear of it going off.’) The Old Testament religion of the born again Christians and the fetishising of guns represent a weirdly similar mirror image of jihadis – simultaneously devout and tooled-up.

The second quote from the book comes after a description of the dismal attempts to stave off starvation in the early years when everything was done on a communal basis. In theory it should work but human nature kicked in and those who worked hardest resented doing so for those who didn’t. There were malingers – and elderly – who didn’t contribute so much but took the benefits. So Bradford listened and threw out one of the Christian principles the Pilgrims adhered to – universal sharing. At a stroke and in every succeeding year, the self-interest and individualism of each family drove better harvests when they worked for themselves. They went from famine to prosperity. It’s an uncanny echo of the individualism of America which rewards ambition and enterprise and rejects the communality of, for example, fair taxation and public health provision.

It’s a theory anyway…that somehow, for all the surface progress in technological sophistication, at base the fundamentals of Pilgrim America still run deep. Like river courses, they may change direction over time, but down the centuries the water still flows the same way.

The difference is, the Pilgrims needed guns to hunt and defend. They needed God in a pre-science age which was to give rise to the witch hunts of Salem. And they adhered, in their primitive ways, to a higher purpose – the building of a new country. Quite what America is reaching for right now, I’m at a loss to know.

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The Inquiring Mind

Should there be a separate Scottish inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike? If, like me, you’ve still got some lefty instincts even as you head yearly into the Cardigan Zone, the default answer is Yes. It was a cataclysmic event of the last fifty years defining the attitude of a British government working against the interests of its own people. There was no mature dialogue to streamline the industry, invest in new techniques and retain what capacity was needed for our energy needs. There was no relocation or retraining programme or investment and diversification for communities devastated by closure and unemployment (there would be an EU fund though).

It was centrally controlled and the police were used as a political weapon, not just a security one. The imperative was to crush the miners and hit the union movement which had humiliated Heath’s Tory government and blocked the way to Thatcher’s liberalisation programme. It was planned for years and timed to coincide with huge stockpiling of coal. In essence, it was a class war. Somebody had to be punished and the powers of the state were utilised to beat the workers, up to and including imprisonment. Criminal records were established for petty offences of dubious legality. How did the Scottish Office respond? Who did what? How did the police supervisors react? Who stood up for the rule of law? Did anyone in authority resist in the name of a separate home affairs and policing administration in Scotland? Is there a case for a mass pardon of those convicted?

So is there a case against?

I suggest there is. All the above is a traditional left-of-centre view of a major industrial dispute handled badly by a provocative leadership – a leadership under Arthur Scargill which was the perfect fit for the ‘modernising’ Tories to portray to the country as volatile and scheming. The fact that Scargill was detested by just about everybody with any public presence in the Labour movement – the parliamentary party and the TUC – meant at a personal level, support was going to be lukewarm.

Any inquiry will reveal again all the cracks in the Labour wall including a common view that the Kinnock leadership failed. There was ‘…the deadening effect of the Labour Party’s role in the strike. The Party rank and file were with the miners. Labour Party activists, premises and equipment were involved in the miners’ strike to a degree probably not seen in any dispute since the 1920s. The National Executive Committee backed the miners and called for a levy to support them. Conference condemned police violence and defied Kinnock’s request to condemn pickets’ violence.

But what most people saw, courtesy of TV, was the public weaseling of Kinnock, Hattersley and others. We should not underestimate the role played by this in dampening the spirits of the labour movement.

To rally around the miners and against Thatcher, the movement had to have the feeling of being a movement, the feeling that it could win, that its leaders wanted to win and would fight. It had to have its leaders saying, with political boldness to match the boldness of the NUM’s industrial challenge to Thatcher: “there is an alternative to Thatcher”. The leaders had to say it, mean it and fight for it, and in the first place back those already engaged in the fight against Thatcher.

A politically confident movement could have boosted the industrial solidarity by countering the fears, depression and hopelessness that held back many workers from acting who sympathised with the miners. Kinnock and his team played a fatal role here. Instead of creating a movement against the Tories around the miners, they made the emergence of such a movement impossible. They acted like acid corroding the links and sinews of the movement.

The leadership could have swayed it. A leadership which puts the issues squarely and is visibly prepared to fight to the end can rally the faint-hearted. In the charged atmosphere of summer 1984, there was a lot of potential militancy that could be rallied.’ (This from Workers’ Liberty)

However tightly you focus on aspects of the strike, the background and the role played by Labour will emerge. Today Labour propagandists like Neil Findlay are allying the SNP with the Tories (by both failing to open up to inquiries on Orgreave and Scotland). Make no mistake, reminding everyone of the miners’ strike will reopen wounds that today’s decrepit Labour Party will regret. Like so much else in recent history, it was not Labour’s finest hour as the party tried to appease the Press and the public while claiming the mantle of workers’ champions.

There is lingering sourness over the history of Labour in failing to stand up for strikers. It is a theme from the early years of last century when hundreds of stoppages occurred and four strikers were killed. It continued under Arthur Henderson in 1912 who tried to make striking illegal. Ramsay MacDonald made a state of emergency when threatened with dock strikes and declared it unsocialist to stop work. Labour did little better in the General Strike in ’26, MacDonald saying: ‘It was one of the most lamentable adventures in crowd self-leadership of our labour history’ For Labour this is a can of worms that can be prised open by artful witnesses. Be careful what you wish for.

Another issue is that there was no separate Scottish government in the 80’s. There was a Scottish Office but it was, and is, answerable to Whitehall. Even if government witnesses were willing to attend (can they be obliged to?) do they have the authority to speak to events they may argue are still covered by official omerta? And who can it blame when it reaches a conclusion: surely only one side – London government. Are we content that again the finger is pointed away from ourselves…?

Does the Scottish public think this is best use of parliamentary time and resources? It seems a prosaic question until you remember that we are confronted as a country with the historic quagmire of Brexit which will take years to unroll with collateral damage across the economy and national life even as we contemplate second referendums. The public is told these are the pressing issues of the age – while the opposition say one week it’s education and the next, it’s health – only to find that there’s now time to organise a (possibly year-long) review of an event from thirty years ago. Labour tell us we need Scots to pay more in tax, so dire are our national services, yet they’re happy to find a few million for a pet project – as many will regard it.

We already have a four-year-long inquiry into abuse of children in care. No one can argue that isn’t current and justified but, however aggrieved the miners, will Scots think that of an historic industrial dispute from another political age – one before there even was a Holyrood Parliament?

I remember the miners’ strike well. I was, as they say, there. I heard first hand the weasel words of the pit management, shared midday drams with Mick McGahey and saw the rough stuff on the picket line. McGahey was a hero of mine. In an age of Tory smoothies and Labour apologists, his throaty directness cut through the coaldust. That rasping voice, the ferocious stare, the unbending belief…and beneath it a vulnerable man with weaknesses and a soft side that was affecting. The last time I saw him he was giving his time for the old folks in Gilmerton. Mick oozed a quality we overlook too much today – I call it pride. It’s a fierce conviction that challenges you to disagree. Alex Ferguson has it, Bill Shankly too. Mick also became a critic of Scargill.

I certainly saw rough treatment of individuals although it was difficult to know what else the police could do against a seething mob – which at Bilston Glen they often were. I saw more rough treatment by miners on the scabs who ran the gauntlet. Those men got away with it despite violence witnessed by police officers. I sometimes think events like this are of their time, that they unfold in the only way they could in those days. And, let’s be honest, that was a time when Thatcher was the revolutionary, not Labour, overturning a way of life and a vested interest in the most brutal way she could get away with. On balance I think she, her Tory ministers in Scotland and our senior police shouldn’t get away with being part of it. It is an important aspect of balancing history to understand who did what in the past. And it helps those who were part of it for better or worse.

Meanwhile, an idea for an investigation I have no doubts about – what happened to Scotland’s oil?

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