My country

If memory serves, it was the winter of 2013. The festive season. Although it didn’t feel at all festive. A midweek, mid-December afternoon which, despite the relatively early hour, was already dark with a depressing darkness that seemed to suck the cheering glow from the lights decorating Perth High Street into its dismal, smothering maw. And dreich. The ‘Perfect Dreich’. Every permutation imaginable of rain, sleet, snow, hail and biting, bone-chilling, skin-searing cold running in random, swirling cycles as if seeking the ultimate combination that might deter even the most abject slave to the annual consumer-fest that is Christmas.

Don’t ask me why I was out and about on such a day. I really can’t remember. But there I was, battling the elements as I made my miserable way along Perth’s main shopping thoroughfare when, through a sudden sheeting downpour, I spotted someone I recognised. There, in the middle of the street, stood Deputy First Minister of Scotland and then Finance Secretary, John Swinney.

The tall, slim figure of our local MSP was unmistakable despite the gathering gloom and the fact that he was unnaturally diminished in stature by being hunched against the cold, as if trying to withdraw entirely within his dark overcoat, and stooped as he attended, against the dull roar of wind and rain, to a couple of comparatively diminutive ladies.

It took no more than a brief glance to see that John was getting a bit of a hard time from the ‘little old ladies’. Fingers were being wagged in a way that made it all too easy to imagine the tongue-lashing he was having to endure without actually being able to hear a word.

In that moment, with an unexpectedness that left me momentarily confused, my heart swelled. Despite the wretched weather, I felt the chill of the day dispelled by a warm glow of something between pleasure and pride. I was struck by the sudden realisation of how much I cherish living in a place where one of the most senior political figures in the land isn’t being whisked around in a bullet-proof limousine, but is standing in the middle of a pedestrian precinct being berated by voters. A place where our politicians aren’t isolated from us behind a wall of stone-faced security and mealy-mouthed minders, but are as exposed to the slings and arrows of outraged citizenry as we all were to the foul weather on that grim December afternoon.

It dawned on me then just how much I value the kind of society that still allows our First Minister to go walkabout at the foot of the Buchanan Steps organising selfies and having a blether and being entirely at ease with the people she answers to and not an agitated political aide or concerned police officer in sight.

I became freshly aware of the preciousness of a political culture in which it is possible for politicians to feel sufficiently protected simply by the respect they earn.

I felt inordinately pleased that this was my country.

I may have told this story before. I don’t care. It seems particularly apt to tell it again now, as armed police and military personnel are being deployed on the streets of Scotland at the behest of a British political elite which insists that it alone is capable of protecting my country.

But this is not my country!

When I walk down the street in my country, I encounter a cabinet minister carrying a briefcase – not a man in a Kevlar vest carrying a Heckler and Koch. When I walk down the street in my country, I see people confronting their elected representatives – not people being confronted by soldiers. The sight of automatic weapons and military fatigues on the streets of Scotland isn’t a sign that the British state is protecting my country. It is proof that the British state has failed to protect my country.

I want my country back!

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The ‘grand coalition’ of doom

It really comes as no surprise that this “grand coalition” of British Nationalists is being proposed. It is a threat that has been looming over Scotland ever since the No vote in 2014. If the British establishment cannot crush political dissent in Scotland by democratic means than they were always going to seek ways to circumvent the democratic process.

Seizing control of the Scottish Parliament is critical to the ‘One Nation’ project. Only by ousting the SNP can Scotland be brought into line with the rest of the UK (rUK). And, despite the collusion of almost the entire mainstream British media, the concerted efforts of the British parties have utterly failed to make a significant dent in the SNP’s electoral dominance.

Think carefully about what is meant by Scotland being brought into line with rUK. The Tory manifesto is littered with references to “one nation” and UK-wide policies in devolved areas such as agriculture and fisheries. British Labour shares the Tories’ commitment to ‘One Nation’ British nationalism. But it goes much deeper than matters of policy. It is Scotland’s distinctive political culture which is being threatened.

What that means is that all our public services and democratic institutions are in jeopardy. If the British parties are allowed to take over Holyrood then it will mean an end to free prescriptions, free tuition, free personal care, concessionary travel and much else besides. It will mean an end to the principle of universality that the SNP has fought to defend since it formed the first real Scottish Government since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened.

There is a reason so many people vote SNP. It is because they value the political culture which has developed in Scotland under a decade of SNP administration. They see, or at least sense, that this administration is endeavouring to be as responsive to the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people as is possible within the stultifying strictures of devolution. It is not the SNP that has created this distinctive political culture. It is the people who have done this. The SNP has merely facilitated the process.

All of this will forfeited if our nation comes under the heel of a ‘grand coalition’ of British Nationalists. Everything Scotland has achieved with devolution will be undone.

If British Nationalism wins, Scotland loses.

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The great unwashed…

Well it would seem that in Scotland, politically at least, the SNP have become the great unwashed.  No-one wants to work with them.  Arguably, we could agreed that the along with the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, these parties have worked either on the Left or centre Left.  Not any more.  Labour and the LibDems seem to be rather happy working with the Tories.  Take Aberdeen for example.

You may find these tweets by Guy Ingerson very helpful:

All eyes are on Kezia Dugdale.  What will she do.  To her credit she did say no deals with any Party that supported austerity.  If it were me I’d sack the lot of them.  They’ll continue as independents or maybe even join the Tory Party.  I don’t really care, I’m more interested in seeing if she has any moral backbone as a leader.

As for the people of Aberdeen, and really this is a country-wide issue.  If you are stupid enough to vote for Tories and Labour then you’ll get what you deserve.  You were all warned before the Local Elections.  Unfortunately, the people in Aberdeen may pay a heavy price.

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This is not a pencil

This is not a pencilThis is not a pencil.

This is a sword with which we can strike a blow in defence of the weak, the disadvantaged and the powerless now preyed upon by a vicious Tory regime that would make us all powerless.

This is not a pencil.

This is a club which we can wield against a vile, pernicious ‘One Nation’ British nationalist ideology that menaces our public services, our distinctive political culture and our essential democratic institutions.

This is not a pencil.

This is a lever with which Scotland will extricate itself from an anachronistic, dysfunctional, corrupt political union in the sincere hope of creating a better association with our neighbours. A partnership freely negotiated as equals in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

This is not a pencil.

This is the dibber which we will use to plant the seeds of a better, fairer, greener nation and a society shaped by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

This is not a pencil.

This is the stake that will support this sapling nation as it takes root and grows and blooms.

This is not a pencil.

This is the shield with which we will defend this nation against any new tyranny of the few over the many.

This is not a pencil.

This a weapon and a tool. A weapon to strike down that which you abhor. A tool to fashion something better.

Register to vote by midnight on Monday 22 May.

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The Tory cesspit runs deep…

If you don’t already know who this is, please let me introduce you to James Heappey.  Mr Heappey is the Tory candidate for Wells in Somerset.

This ball of charm was talking to a group at an all-girls school, when one of them, who was Scottish, said that she supported independence (wise girl). Did Mr Heappey just have a laugh with her about this?  Oh no, not him, this guy decided to tell her to, “f**k off back to Scotland then”.  That’s right, he actually told a school girl to f**k off.  When talking to the Sunday Mirror he said it was meant as a joke and that no offence was intended.  You’d think an ex Army major would have more sense and be a bit more courteous to a young lady.  Putting aside the misogynistic attitude of what he said, there lies the more serious problem that the Tories just cannot hide their contempt for Scotland or indeed the Scottish, which begs the question, why would any self-respecting person in Scotland vote for the Conservatives?

I know that the Unionist vote up there seems to be gathering under their banner, but, and again, I have to ask, why would they?  I know that I couldn’t vote for a Party that holds my country in contempt.  Indeed just look at the Tory talent-free that is their list MSP’s. Murdo Fraser and Adam Tomkins.  They have never hidden their disdain for Holyrood, yet they don’t seem to  mind taking a very good salary for being members of it.   Yet, and yet, incredibly they are given air time to spout their nonsense.

We have had almost a week of various Tory Councillors either being suspended or getting embroiled in one scandal or another; usually around the topics of racism or sexism.   We have rape-clause Ruth trying to politicise   Irish politics for her own opportunistic gains (she failed rather spectacularly).

I’ve tried to think of reasons why people in Scotland would vote Tory or against independence and I have come to some rather stark conclusions (all of which could be wrong…it does happen from time-to-time).  You’ll vote Tory because:

  • You don’t really care about what happens to Scotland at all as long as it stays in the UK.
  • You don’t care that the Tories despise you.
  • You’re British – not Scottish regardless of how ugly being British looks like right now.

If, like me, you wouldn’t vote Tory, even if it was the only option on the ballot, then please, any Unionists who vote Labour, do not, DO NOT, vote for a Party that hates you.

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Homelessness is a prison

Death on the streets: Shock figures reveal horrifying extent of homeless fatalities in Scotland

As someone who has direct experience of being homeless, I have some sympathy for those charged with addressing the problem ‘at the sharp end’. The mistake far too many people make is to assume that homeless people are actively seeking help which ‘the authorities’ are denying them or failing to provide.

The problem is vastly more complicated than that. Homelessness is commonly associated with varying degrees of detachment from ‘normal’ society and, therefore, disengagement from the agencies which might help. Homelessness is a symptom of a ruptured society. There is a gulf between the homeless and functioning society as great as that which sets apart groups such as refugees and, ironically if counter-intuitively, the very rich.

It’s not that people want to be homeless. Although some undoubtedly do prefer the difficulties and deprivations of homelessness to the complexities and pressures of ‘normal’ society. It is possible to be institutionalised to life on the street just as it is to be institutionalised to life in prison. Both can have attractions for people who are broken.

But even for those who haven’t come to find in their circumstances a satisfactory cocoon protecting them from social pressures they cannot cope with, homelessness can be a prison. A place in which the things we take for granted become the objectives of a daily struggle which is all too often futile. And the more the struggle fails, the more the individual is locked into their condition.

Few who have not experienced it can imagine what it is like to have the very fundamentals of existence – nourishment, warmth and shelter – loom so large in life that there is no possible space for thoughts of escape.

It’s not poverty that kills, but despair. The grinding, soul-destroying, spirit-sapping conviction that there will be no end to end to the struggle. That it is all of life. And it is intolerable.

The answer is not additional funds, or better programmes, or extra staff. None of that will repair the widening, deepening fissures in society. At best, it might build some fragile, temporary bridges. If we want people to fit in society then we have to create a society fit for people. And that’s not a task we can palm off on some government agency.

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The incredible rebel

Ian Duncan – Fake Rebel?

My attention was caught the other day by an item in The Courier in which current Tory MEP and candidate in the coming election, Ian Duncan, makes a claim which is both extraordinary and dubious. Campaigning alongside Ruth “Rape Clause” Davidson in the Perth & North Perthshire constituency that he hopes to seize from the SNP’s Pete Wishart, Duncan told a doubtless carefully selected audience that he would gladly defy his party if he thought a particular policy would be detrimental to Scotland.

I scoff! Despite Davidson supporting his attempt to portray himself as some sort of rebel by calling him a “pain in the backside”, the reality is that nobody gets selected as a candidate for any party by declaring that they will work against that party in parliament. And even if they were both selected and elected, they would be subject to the party whip at Westminster just the same as any other Tory MP. Big talk from Mr Duncan. But utterly meaningless.

But there’s more. Prompted by my now habitual distrust of British politicians, I was very suspicious of Ian Duncan’s ‘evidence’ for his claim to be a political rogue prepared to “defy the UK Government line”. He said,

I am the chief whip of the MEPs and I have defied my own line because I fight for Scotland because you have to fight for the people who sent you into the parliament. Full stop, first priority, always.

In the first place, there’s a glaring contradiction in terms there. That bit about being the chief whip and defying his own line is simply nonsensical – if you bother to think about it. Being the chief whip and being a rebel are mutually exclusive roles.

Ian Duncan’s record as a ‘rebel’ from the VoteWatch Europe website

And, as far as I can determine, his portrayal of himself as a thorn in the side of his party is as false as Theresa May’s claim about the SNP having been fined by the Electoral Commission. According to VoteWatch Europe, Ian Duncan has been loyal to the European Parliament group of which he is chief whip – European Conservatives and Reformists Group – an impressive 91.61% of the time. But his allegiance to this group is outstripped by his devotion to the Tory party, which is rated at a massive 98.29%.

Is that what it takes to be classed as a rebel in the British political system? If all you have to do is defy the party less than 2% of the time it might well be possible to become a rebel by accident. VoteWatch tells us that there are no fewer than 476 people more rebellious than Ian Duncan. Perhaps the Perthshire Tories should have picked one of them to stand against the estimable Pete Wishart.

The choice facing informed voters is quite clear. On the one hand we have Ian Duncan, a man who feels it necessary to make a highly dubious claim to being a rebel prepared to go against the party he nonetheless chooses to be a member of in the hope of persuading us that he has Scotland’s interests at heart.

A man who thereby acknowledges that at least some of his party’s policies are incompatible with Scotland’s interests. A man who admits that he is selling himself on a false prospectus by standing on a manifesto which includes policies that he does not support and are potentially harmful to Scotland.

A man who asserts that he will defy the Tory whip when he has been elected on a Tory ticket despite surely knowing that he would be under a strict obligation to obey.

A man who, in accepting nomination as a candidate for the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) at least tacitly undertook to accept the whip and now declares than this promise is worthless.

Pete Wishart – Real politician

On the other hand we have Pete Wishart, a man who doesn’t have any need to feign commitment to Scotland’s interests as he has proved his dedication over 16 of diligent service to his country at Westminster – latterly as chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

In the interests of openness I will acknowledge at this point that Pete Wishart is a personal friend. But my concern for Scotland transcends personal relationships. I won’t be voting for someone who considers defending Scotland’s interests to be an act of rebellion. I will be voting for Pete Wishart, the man who considers defending Scotland’s interests to be the standard priority for a Scottish MP.

I will be voting for the man who, to my certain knowledge, has never lied to us.

This piece was originally published on Indyref2 as part of a longer article titled Real liars and fake rebels.

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