Monthly Archives: May 2016

Jim Sillars and the EU

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Letter to The National, 31/05/16
 
Dear Sir, 

 
Jim Sillars has been received much coverage in recent days for his anti-EU views, most recently where he stated that the SNP’s position doesn’t add up. In my view it is some of Jim Sillars claims on the EU which simply don’t add up, and I suspect that he is being given column inches and airtime on the basis of the position in Scottish politics that he once had in order to attack the SNP and by extension the independence movement.

Mr Sillars claims that if an independent Scotland were to apply to join the EU they would be rebuffed, and I quote “as they were in 2014”. Call me Mr Pedantic but while various bigwigs within the EU said that that would be the case (Mr Barroso springs to mind) the EU as an organisation was never asked the question directly, because that privilege is retained by the UK government. They refused to ask it out of fear of what the answer would be, so Scotland was never rebuffed at any time, and the question remains unanswered.

Mr Sillars also claimed that a BREXIT vote was not a trigger to a second independence referendum as this was not specifically stated in the 2016 manifesto. I’m pretty certain that the term “significant and material change in circumstances” kind of covers that, unless Mr Sillars believes Scotland being taken out of the EU if it votes to remain is insignificant and immaterial. 

As someone who has voted for the No2EU party in the past I am more than receptive to arguments about why the EU is failing and about why it may be virtually impossible to reform it from within. However I would like those arguments to be honest arguments, and not inaccurate ones which are voiced for short term gain which will no doubt be used both now and in future by those forces opposed to Scottish independence. 

Yours Sincerely, 

James Cassidy

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The Silent Minority and the OBFA

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While I understand that the opposition parties had commitments to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, I think that for many of the people who voted for them this was not a make or break issue, and indeed many of those voters will no doubt support the act in one form or another. Polling carried out on behalf of organisations as far apart as You Gov and Wings over Scotland showed that there was a wide level of support for the act, even within Rangers and Celtic supporters. The idea that the act should be repealed is utterly backwards. In the last four years we have been very lucky in that Celtic and Rangers have not been competing in the same leagues, so the problems which generated the controversy which led to the act being introduced have not been front and centre, but they haven’t gone away. Earlier this year it was reported that Police Scotland were rounding up domestic abusers before the recent cup meeting between the two teams. A 2009 newsletter issued by Greater Glasgow Health Board noted a trebling of Royal Infirmary A&E admissions following one Glasgow derby. The internet remains awash with sectarian bile and bigotry. Earlier this year an Aberdeen fan was sentenced to 200 hours community service and banned from football for his online attack on a disabled Celtic supporter. The reasons for having the OBFA remain.

So for these parties to team up to repeal the act flies in the face of what the public want and what Scotland needs. I think everyone is agreed that the legislation is not the greatest, but it needs fixed, not discarded. Opponents to the legislation bizarrely claim that the act does not convict enough people while simultaneously complaining that convicted people are unfairly criminalised. The Scottish Socialist Party are amongst those opponents who refer to the findings of a study by the University of Stirling as evidence of how wrong the act is, but fail to cite the parts of the act which run counter to their aims, such as the statement that “Eighty-five percent of surveyed fans agreed it was offensive to sing songs or make remarks about people’s religious beliefs or backgrounds and 90 percent agreed it was offensive to celebrate the loss of life”, or that “Reaction from Sheriffs ranged from strongly supportive to emphatically critical, with most in between, whilst Police Scotland felt the act gave them greater clarity on how to act.”
This runs counter to media reports of the police either not applying the legislation properly or being over enthusiastic in their interpretation of the act. Similarly there are sheriffs who have publicly criticised the act. Sheriff Richard Donaldson is often quoted by those anti OBFA campaigners as having described the act as “mince”, as though this gives gravitas to their argument. Sheriff Donaldson was also quoted this year as saying that Scotland’s domestic abuse laws were “way over the top” and an illustration of the Scottish Parliaments fixation on domestic abuse.

Perhaps it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that there are a significant number of people within the workings of the system who wish to see this legislation fail. Well, I for one don’t. If it doesn’t work, fix it. Scrapping the legislation is a rallying call to the bigots to dig out their songbooks and give it laldy, and is a moral victory for those who wish to see Scots divided against each other.

Those opposed to the act offer no solution to the problem, bar the tried, tested and failed method of educating the children. There are elements out there who are vehemently opposed the named person scheme in case it brainwashes children; those same people are hardly going to be enamoured when little Johnny comes home and asks why the teacher says Daddy is a bigot, are they?

The OBFA is but one tool in the fight against bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland, but it fails to go far enough. The police stand back and fail to act as thousands of people sing sectarian songs at the football. They will not pick out anyone and the crowds become emboldened, knowing they are untouchable. The SFA and the SPFL have to be made to take tough action in this regard, and it’s time they stopped mucking around and introduced the compulsory docking of points for sectarian behaviour by the fans. It’s time that the broadcasters faced up to the fact they have a part to play, and silence the mikes when sectarian chanting is taking place. The ultimate sanction is to have the clubs play matches behind closed doors, and perhaps it’s when these kind of actions are taken that the message will start to get through.

These days the leaders of the political parties are more than willing to comment on the most frivolous matters on social media. I asked all the opposition leaders on twitter what they would do to replace the act with something better. They didn’t reply. They are a silent minority trying to impose their will on the silent majority, and it’s time they answered for it.

The Rejected Elected

The manipulation of the party list system is an affront to democracy, a corruption of the system. Election are our chance to get rid of failed politicians, and the use of the list to avoid being sacked is just morally wrong. Either stand on one or the other, and if you are the incumbent you defend your seat with no safety net.

Of the 21 Labour MSP’s elected in the 2016 election by the regional list, 17 of those had been either been voted out of office or otherwise rejected by the electorate.

Of the 24 Conservative list MSP’s elected on the same day, all 24 had been rejected by the voters in their respective constituencies.

The SNP retained one MSP in the above manner, the Greens 2 and the Liberals Democrats 1.
As for the manipulation of the list by the parties, this must stop. Parties should be allowed to submit a list of candidates, but that list should be a pool from which candidates are selected at random. If a party gets 4 list seats then stick the names in a bowl, like the FA Cup, and draw 4 names.
No more fiddling the system so that there are permanently unsackable characters placed forever at the top of the list. To me this practice is akin to Westminsters habit of sending rejected MP’s to the Lords: it’s two fingers up to the electorate, nothing less.

Ruth Davidson: A New Hope…

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Watching the news and analysis of Thursday’s election coming it would be easy to think that Ruth Davidson of the Ruth Davidson Novelty Photo-shoots and Fun (No, we aren’t Tories, honest!) Party had won a resounding victory over the SNP, and that that Scotland was back in the unionist fold. There’s only so much I can take from the BBC, luckily Russia Today reassured me that Ms Davidson’s party hadn’t actually won, and that the world was still spinning on it’s axis as before. What did happen was that the Unionist vote shifted within itself, with one faction merely taking votes from another faction. Hardly sensational stuff, and to be honest everyone but Kezia Dugdale saw it coming. Labour have now been punished by both sides of the electorate for their treachery; by Yes voters for siding with the Tories, and by unionists angry that she wobbled in her unionism by appearing to allow a free vote in a future referendum. On close analysis the unionist FPTP vote is pitiful. Of 73 FPTP constituencies the Tories won only 7, the Lib-Dems 4 and the Labour Party an embarrassing 3. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the union, is it?
Ruth Davidson is the new poster girl of the Unionist media, be it in print, television or indeed on BBC Radio Scotland, where Kaye Adams accidentally stated that “we’re up 8 point…” before remembering where she was and correcting herself by saying that the Conservatives were up 8.1%. Tank Girl, with the aid of her chums in the media, will call on Nicola Sturgeon to forever rule out another referendum, a call she will repeat every week, day and hour for the next five years. Davidson realised that there are people who value the union flag more than social justice, more than equality, more than the NHS, more than the welfare state, and who will endorse the Tories wholeheartedly to protect the union. Never mind the policies, look at the pretty flag. For many voters Thatcher is someone from the history books, and they do not share most right thinking Scots contempt of the woman and her policies. When Margaret Curran was asked if she would prefer a Tory run Scotland to an independent one she squirmed and twisted and struggled to answer. With the death of the Scottish branch of the Labour Party she may one day have the chance to see that scenario in action.
But to spend so much time talking about the unionist situation means that we ignore the failings or successes of the Yes side, if we can still refer to them in such a manner. While most of the Yes support has gone to the SNP, those supporters must remember where they came from. Tribalism within Yes will keep us down and divided, and we must get smarter if we are to have a Yes parliament, not simply an SNP dominated one. Reaffirmation of the Yes movement is needed and agreements should be made for the mutual benefit of the independence movement. Clearly the decision by the Greens to stand against Ruth Davidson cost the SNP that seat and allowed Davidson to claim victory as an endorsed constituency candidate. In some areas such as Glasgow or Central Scotland where polling showed it very likely that the SNP would sweep the board an official SNP 1, Green 2 campaign would have had a significant effect on reducing the unionist bloc. This would mean the Greens would have to agree not to stand in the constituencies and the SNP agreeing not standing on the list. Of course where this falls down is that this would mean some people putting the good of the cause of independence before their personal ambitions.
As for the minority parties such as Solidarity and Rise, I think that we need to accept that for now they are a diversion and despite some of their fine ideals are not a realistic proposal for the pro Indy voter on the national stage. Over exposure in the National and to some extent The Herald skewed the perception of RISE, and if the don’t completely fall then perhaps the council elections next year may be a more realistic platform for them, where they can help deliver real benefits at a local level.

SNP 1&2: The Wrong Tactic in the Wrong Area

Here in the Central Scotland regional list area the SNP won every single constituency seat, and as reward gained no list places. Every silver lining has a cloud though, and Yes voters need to accept that the SNP 1&2 campaign was entirely the wrong tactic if you are looking at having a wider pro-Yes representation. The SNP were expected to win every seat, and to do so comfortably. Such was the strength of the SNP vote locally that Labour Elaine (Not C) Smith was beaten by the empty chair candidate Fulton McGregor. So an alternative strategy was a MUST here. Likewise in Glasgow. If the parties are canvassing and the returns are as good as what the polls were suggesting then a softer approach is required to and SNP 1 and AN Other 2. Agreements should be in place about some of the broader issues beforehand.
I think that what must also be accepted is that while many people are supportive of the aims and sentiment expressed by the likes of RISE and Tommy Sheridan, that they are not a realistic option for the receipt of a second vote in such a polarised contest. The YES movement has gathered round the SNP, while the hard NO vote is being gathered round the Ruthless Davidson Party for Ruthless Policy Party. Should that continue then having a number of Pro Yes parties will weaken the case for independence, not make it. Tactical voting only works where the options for choice are limited.
In my opinion the Greens are the ‘AN Other’ party in the above scenario, where they would be the main beneficiary when the SNP sweep the boards on the constituency vote.

I spoiled my paper in the constituency vote. I voted Green on the list. What happened? SNP got in with an increased vote, took all the seats in the central area and therefore got NOTHING from the list.The SNP gained a majority on the first vote alone and they simply weren’t going to get ANY list seats. It made perfect sense to vote for the Greens as the next most likely recipient. In fact it could more likely be said that RISE and Solidarity took votes from the Greens in that respect, with a combined total of all non SNP pro-independence votes being 6.5%. That meant one more unionist and one less pro-indy.
We have to get smarter about there is and adopt regional tactics. A Scotland wide call for SNP 1&2 DOESN’T work.

The Leadership Debate: No More Please!

Letter to The National, 02/05/16

Dear National,

Am I the only person who thinks that the Leaders Debates have become tired, repetitive and uninformative? The same lines, delivered in the same fashion to the same response are beyond dull. Monday’s debate was a case in point. If we look beyond the BBC using the daughter of a former Labour Party leader as a presenter and an audience which clearly didn’t reflect recent voting or polling we are left with an otherwise predictable event. Kezia Dugdale pleads that we should put the referendum behind us, as that’s the only way that people will stop bringing up her toxic Bitter Together alliance with the Tories. Ruth Davidson won’t let us forget about the referendum, while Willie Rennie just wishes people would remember who he is. Nicola Sturgeon repeats the “will of the Scottish people” line without expanding on it and rolls her eyes when another leader tells a porky, and Patrick Harvie was memorable when given a chance to speak at length, but left on the sidelines by the presenter on more than one occasion when he tried to counter an argument.
While Kezia is almost crying when she says her party isn’t toxic, she shows that she has failed to recognise that, like it or not, Scotland is broadly still in two camps and that so long as she maintains her opposition to any further referendum at any time, then a very large portion of the electorate will not vote for her under any circumstances. Ruth Davidson on the other hand has grasped the situation far better, whipping up talk of further referendums and waving the union flag at every turn. She knows full well that she can’t convert people from the Yes side but can take votes from traditional Labour voters who now value the union above all else. In the Blair years Labour espoused Tory policies, Tory values, so it’s not a great jump for these people to throw the rest of their values out the window and unite behind the flag. Dugdales Labour have not realised this and until they adopt full on Neil Oliver unionist mode shall not recover. Even then they are drinking from the same trough as the Tories and the Fib-Dems, and 3 into 55% is always going to be second prize at best.
For me Patrick Harvie made the best point of the night. Yes, we lost the referendum but our values hold true. Because we lost doesn’t mean we abandon our principles and crawl away. For the unionists to continually cry out for us to do so is utterly wrong. Our arguments were not nullified by a No vote, all those problems remain, in some cases more so. So why would any sane person abandon those principles? That may be the unionist way, but not ours. It’s about time the Three Amigos faced up to that fact and stopped their whining.
Yours Sincerely,

James Cassidy

The Oath of Allegiance: Worth More Than a Shilling

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I support an independent Scottish Republic. That’s a Scotland with no hereditary monarch for those who become apoplectic at the sight of word republic. To me, the Queen is naturally no better than anyone else, has no divine right to lord it over others and is there not by effort, by hard work or achievement, but by an accident of birth. Recently we have been ‘treated’ to coverage of her grandson, another in a long line born and bred to rule. Sickening with sycophancy, the media feed and thrive on their very existence, reinforcing their divine right to rule over us. I have a problem with this whole system. A video posted some time ago on Youtube demonstrated the hypocrisy of the monarchy, dubbing a sneering BBC commentary of a North Korean Dictator visiting his adoring citizens over footage of the Queen on a visit to her adoring subjects. Mindless, unthinking worship of foreign dictators is bad, cultish, evil and unhealthy. Mindless, unthinking worship of the Queen is patriotic, inspiring, joyful. Or is it?

In the late 1970’s I joined the Cub Scouts and it was there that I first required to give an oath of allegiance to the Queen:

I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen
To help other people
And to keep the Cub Scout Law.

Unfortunately it’s not enough to encourage kids to do their best and to help others. To join, to take part meant an oath to God and to the Queen. Don’t get me wrong, the Scout Association does fantastic work but even at a young age I questioned why I had to take an oath to the Queen. God I didn’t mind so much. “It’s only words” I was told. To participate, to take part I would have to cross my fingers and say the words. So I did just that. Kids with more morals than me have over the years stood up to this and in fact it’s only recently that the requirement to mention God has been removed, with various other deities being allowed, or indeed none at all. But while the requirement to make a promise to God was removed, the Queen remains:

Chris Foster, spokesman for The Scout Association, said the guidelines were strict when it came to the section regarding the Queen.

He said: “For people of other nationalities resident in the UK making the Cub Scout Promise, the phrase may be replaced by ‘duty to the country in which I am now living’.

“However, British subjects must promise to do their duty to the Queen. It is simply UK Scout Association policy that all British subjects must promise that.”

Growing older and moving on to the Scouts and the situation remained the same with a promise to God and Queen. The indoctrination continued.

Anyone taking up British citizenship must take an oath to the Queen, something that any born and bred British subject doesn’t have to do. In fact in 2008 the Home Secretary of the day, Charles Clarke actually proposed a citizenship ceremony for those people reaching the age of 18. Thankfully that failed to come about, such overt government enforced patriotism being perhaps seen as a step too far, or maybe just too obvious. Which leaves those who come to this country and who wish to gain citizenship required to study hard, learn a variety of odd topics and sit a test which they must pass if they want to become a British citizen. One of the topics is British values, of which the cynic in me assumes involve questions about tax evasion, the hounding of the poorer in society, a dislike of immigrants and loyalty to the Queen. Well, that’s what happens when you read the Daily Mail I suppose. The oath itself is as follows:

I, [name], [swear by Almighty God] / [do solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm and declare] that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, according to law.

Having sworn an oath to the Queen and her brood, the hopeful citizen must also make a pledge:

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

In summary, leave your own values at the door, oh, and vote Tory…

In 1987 I joined the Territorial Army. I was interested in soldiering and was asked by a workmate if I’d go along with him to find out about joining, which I did. To join, yes, you’ve guessed it, another oath to the Queen. Such little attention did I pay to this insignificant joining ritual that I have absolutely no memory of taking it. But I joined, so I doubt I must have, and I’m regularly chastised by former colleagues for openly criticising the Queen, reminded on more than one occasion that I “took the Queen’s shilling.” No, I did a job, for pay. To say that you took the Queens shilling perhaps shows an ignorance of the term and its history, having its origins in naval lore of press gangs getting unwilling ‘volunteers’ drunk, and who would wake up in possession of a shiny shilling, a symbol of their having accepted a job offer whilst inebriated. As an aside, to get paid in the Territorial Army you had to sign an attendance sheet. Failure to sign the aforementioned document meant you would not be paid, known as “to do one for the Queen”. If I recall correctly NO-ONE did one for the Queen. Nobody ever said “No, you’re alright Sir, I’ll do this for the Queen. No Charge…”

But back to the oath of allegiance; in the British Army new recruits are required to recite the following statement:

I (your name), swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.

The phrase “Almighty God” can be replaced by the words “solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm”

The observant among you will no doubt have noticed a pattern in all these oaths. In every single case God can be dispensed with. He can be changed for the god of your choice, or dispensed with entirely. But the Fidei Defensor, the Defender of the Faith remains. You can dispense with God, but not the Queen.

So, by all means argue your case. Tell me how many tourists visit because of her and I’ll tell you how many visit New York or Paris or Berlin. The UK is ranked 8th as a tourist destination, with only one monarchy above that: Spain. People don’t come to see the Queen, they come to see pretty castles and big houses and it makes not a jot of difference whether there’s a monarch or not, they’ll still come. Tell me that you would rather have a Queen than a President and I’ll ask what part does she play in the legislative process? She opens parliament, she makes a speech where she reads out her governments policies for the coming parliament. No matter how hideous, how rotten, how utterly indefensible, she’ll read it. And when it makes it through parliament she’ll give it the nod and royal assent is conveyed upon it. It’s law, HER law. Poll Tax? She’s good with that. Cuts to disability benefits? Not a problem. You name it, she’ll sign it. In 63 years she has NEVER refused to grant royal assent. In fact you would have to go back as far as 1707 to find the last time it was refused. In that case a bill authorising the arming a Scottish militia was refused assent, fearing disloyalty from the Scots in the Auld Alliance with France. Let’s face it; the Queen is but a figurehead, nothing more. The Prime Minister is the real head of state. Call the role Prime Minister or President, the role is the same. At least they can be gotten rid of if they step out of line. 63 years later and Auld Liz is still hanging on.

What we are left with is the state subsidising the richest woman in the country to remain the richest woman in the country. While people starve or go homeless or live on the breadline, one woman and her family want for nothing. They occasionally take on pretend jobs, wearing pretend medals, smiling pretend smiles. If she acted out of compassion and gave away even some of her personal fortune estimated at £550 MILLION to good causes she could still be rolling in it for another lifetime. But she won’t. The motto Service, Not Self is not applicable in her case. The round of foreign visits, sumptuous banquets and waving is the price she pays for her position. Well boo-hoo.

Saltire

While I was in the TA I mainly maintained a respectful silence where the Queen and her ilk were concerned. I bit my tongue when they played the national anthem, as it too has never been my anthem. It’s never been my country. I’m a Scot, first and foremost. In a small act of rebellion I sewed a Saltire on my Norwegian shirt, and oddly was never told to take it off. I left the armed forces in 2004. I am no longer bound to obey the orders of generals and officers. I’m back to being a civilian again, my oath is dead and I have no requirement to bow to the Queen, her heirs or successors, and I’ll quite happily say state my opinions. If that upsets some people, then so be it. In my view friendship is bound by shared experiences and comradeship, not conditional on a never ending vow to a figurehead monarch and her family. If that’s your view then feel free, count me out.