I was intrigued to observe when trying to post comments on Twitter regarding the Dominic Cummings press conference on Monday that virtually every hashtag which was trending was a variation on Mr Cummings surname, but had one or more spelling mistakes in it. When trying to tag a tweet with the simple #DominicCummings the first tag which popped up was #DominicCummngs followed by #DominicCummnings, and it is human nature to see what it thinks it is looking for and immediately select it. Anyone subsequently searching using the correctly spelled tags would be seeing the results minus the many thousands of tweets which were incorrectly tagged. Similarly #SackDominicCummings resulted in a top two of #SackDominicCummimgs and #SackCmmings. Other combinations produced similar results. I found this to be most unusual and I am surely not alone in believing that this was not accidental. Which begs the question, who could be responsible? Was the UK Intelligence services running interference on behalf of the Conservative Party? That’s a possibility but what is more possible is that Tory dark money was being used to pay for this service, completely off the books. This would follow similar patterns of suspicious pro-Brexit, Pro-Boris Twitter activity which have been observed in the past and which have been linked to bots. The common denominator in these is Mr Cummings himself, and if he is capable of manipulating Twitter in such a manner it is little wonder Boris Johnson is moving heaven and earth to keep him.
As a former member of the armed forces I’m disappointed but unsurprised by the scenes of veterans standing shoulder to shoulder with British Nationalist extremists to defend statues against an unspecified (read non-existent) threat. These actions were carried out in tandem with the English far right movement in response to events which took place there, and which had hardly been replicated here in Scotland. That’s not to say that we don’t have a problem with racism in Scotland, we most certainly do; along with sectarian bigotry we have plenty of bile in our society. What I have found most noticeable is that those groups who come from an extremist background and were conditioned to hate one group (Catholics for example) are most susceptible to being conditioned to hate another group. In the more recent past this was directed at Muslims, and now is being aimed at the black community.
The armed forces have followed suit and I had noticed many former members sharing anti-Muslim content online which could be traced back to British Nationalist extremist groups, groups who ingratiated themselves into the military community through campaigns such as that to prevent Soldier F going to trial for historical offences in Northern Ireland. Those same people are now sharing other racist material online which is clearly referencing the black community and black lives matter movement, and it doesn’t take long to expose what may appear simple and honest claims of protecting cenotaphs as being a veneer which covers their true feelings and intentions.
In all this we cannot overlook two other factors; The Tories and the British Army. The Tories (between round of military cuts) have otherwise championed the military at every turn, painting themselves as champions of veterans rights (now there’s a laugh) and have to a great extent politicised (if not indeed radicalised) the military. In return the army unwisely made a serving Tory politician in Scotland an Honorary Colonel, a thoroughly stupid and unnecessary move on the face of it, unless of course it was done precisely to signal a link between the Tories, the UK union and the military. What we now see as a result is the creation a cesspit of right-wing, pro-military, pro-Tory, pro-UK, anti-EU, anti-immigrant, racist and sectarian views circulating and drawing in people who were perhaps not radicalised before but are now. The parallels with post Great War Germany are frightening, where disaffected veterans became a core part of what became the Nazi Party because they felt that they had been betrayed by the Jews and that their jobs had been stolen, or any one of a thousand other reasons.
If I found myself protesting to save my local cenotaph and found myself shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Tommy Robinson I’d perhaps rethink my values and ask myself how did I get to this point? Unfortunately the more these traits are pointed out to those people, the more entrenched and defensive they get. This raises one final question; when the extremists are on the side of the government, who do we report extremism to? Because if no action is taken then extremism becomes policy. The warnings are there in history and we would be foolish to ignore them.
The Scottish Parliament is a relatively young parliament and as such is still in many ways is finding its feet. Apparently designed to produce a more consensual, cross party politics it has in effect produced an almost even British Nationalist/Scottish Independence split, with only the Greens tiny presence tipping the balance in our favour. Even as a young parliament though there’s now enough data on previous elections to start making changes to the way that we vote. Having crept to minority power in 2007 the SNP were fortunate to win the 2011 Holyrood election with the perfect combination of constituency and list seats to give them an outright majority. However their continued success then worked against them in 2016 as their constituency gains disproportionately wiped out their list representation. The simple to understand ‘SNP 1&2’ mantra met the real world and the vast majority of SNP voters saw their second vote sit idle as the Britnats hoovered up the list seats. It is said that he who doesn’t learn the lessons of history is destined to repeat those mistakes. Many Scots have learned and determined to ensure that doesn’t happen again, hence the formation of the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP).
There are many arguments against the formation of another independence party, given that we already have the Scottish Greens, Solidarity and the Scottish Socialists. With such a wealth of choice there is apparently little room for another, after all RISE sank, and yet Scotland’s electorate aren’t really giving them votes in significant numbers. Why is that? The latter two are simply too small, both are fishing in the same pool of socialist voters and at present don’t appeal to large numbers. That leaves the Greens, the ones who at present tip the balance in favour of independence, but whose raison d’etre is environmentalism, and who I personally view as the weak underbelly of the independence movement. We recently have seen disturbing entryism in the SNP which is raising concern but is still containable and can be dealt with due to the size of the party, but the Greens are small enough that a number of determined people of a British Nationalist bent joining could see them become neutral or pro UK. After all, where does the British Nationalist environmentalist put their vote? The Greens have also been seen to collude with the Britnats to scupper the popular OBFA legislation and even have one prominent MSP who has referred to the readers of this paper as “zoomers”, so for many people they simply aren’t a popular choice. Some people might consider the tactic of “Hold your nose and vote Green” but what should those who don’t want to hold their nose do?
The SNP will undoubtedly use the vote ‘SNP 1&2’ line again, and if the Greens would only field list candidates then they might gain from an ‘SNP 1, Green 2’ approach, but hubris will ensure that doesn’t happen. So why not consider another way?
The Independence for Scotland Party would certainly use the ‘SNP 1, ISP 2’ message and that would be a clear rallying call to the Yes movement across much of Scotland. With the SNP forecast to sweep the boards on constituency seats the ISP would not stand in areas where they would damage the SNP list chance, but where they could do maximum damage to the combined Britnat representation.
There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth from within the SNP at the emergence of this party, and that’s entirely to be expected. Having seen the horrendous infighting within the party over who even gets on the list and what position you get, there will at least be a degree of unity against a perceived external threat. But if we vote wisely the only ones threatened will be the rejected elected, the Leonards, Lennons and Lockharts who creep in to undermine our parliament via the list.
Scotland sent a majority of SNP MP’s to Westminster with the mission of settle up, not settle down. Perhaps we also need a party in Scotland with enough profile and clout to also remind the SNP that their main role is to guide us to independence, not simple to provide stable and competent colonial administration in Edinburgh. We can certainly do that if we get smart, do the homework and get behind a party like the ISP. I hope that independence supporters will go back to being the open, receptive movement they were in 2014 and give this idea a hearing. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Let’s not discount this new party out of hand.
(Letter sent to The National, 15/05/20)
Published in The National, 16/05/20
VE Day is in the air. Liberation is coming! The news that Boris “The Butcher” Johnson is planning on easing lockdown restrictions from Monday is extremely worrying. The UK government, driven by Johnson, initially planned to allow as many people as possible to catch Covid 19 to create their so-called herd immunity. Then when it was too late they implemented a limited lockdown supplemented with social distancing. Unfortunately the Scottish government has by and large followed that model, albeit with a few days difference in implementation. There has been little or nothing done here which has been radically different, and anything which has been done such as closing schools or construction sites has raised UK hackles, with British Nationalists in Scotland railing against anything which differs from the one state/four nation approach. The whole idea of devolved government is about to be put to its toughest test yet though, and possibly from next week we will see a real change in who people see as the superior parliament. Since hearing that the UK government plans to ease restrictions I have noticed a change in behaviour of the public which indicates to me that when they are given a choice between lockdown measures which are more or less restrictive a significant number of people will choose the least restrictive restrictions. If for example Johnson announces that people may meet socially and resume visiting parks for picnics and the like, but Nicola Sturgeon announces that people in Scotland must maintain the current level of lockdown for longer, whose advice will people take? This situation differs vastly from the confusion which the leader of the Tory group in Scotland Jackson Carlaw claims might occur from the use of two different tracing apps. Instead this will create a situation where people will feel that they can make the choice of whose lead they will follow. I’ve no doubt that hardline British Nationalists will make a show of choosing to follow their leader Boris Johnson in goose-step, sorry lock step, but what of the rest of us? The fact is that most people will follow the path of least resistance in life, so this will probably be no different, but people will be making a conscious decision to choose either the advice of the UK government or the Scottish one and that will be important going forward.
At the time of writing there have been around 3,000 deaths from Covid 19 in Scotland. In a country of 5 million people that is low enough that it would be reasonable to assume that many people may not have been personally affected. Some people might know someone who has had the virus, some might know someone who has died from it, but for the vast majority of people this situation has been an inconvenience which has limited their work and social life and which they have seen on TV but not up close. If we want it to remain that way, bad as it is, or get better then we need to not only continue what we have done up until now, but actually tighten up our behaviours. Recently the First Minister recommended the wearing of masks or face coverings in public places, but I’ve seen little evidence of this being taken acted upon, indeed quite the reverse. I have yet to see a policeman on the street wearing a mask, few if any shop staff wear them and those working in public transport are seldom seen with any PPE, yet all are coming into contact with the public and the public take their lead from them, from public figures of authority or responsibility. If people see that when they go into a shop or get on a train that the staff are wearing masks aren’t they more likely to follow suit? Nicola Sturgeon must now take the bull by the horns and lead us on a different path. She should make the wearing of masks mandatory in workplaces and public places as the next step in trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This will undoubtedly be resisted by some but I am sure this will be a necessary measure in ensuring that we do not have second and third waves of the virus; having seen tens of thousands die because of the actions of the UK government we must try to make a clear break with UK policy and demonstrate through decisive action the benefits of being able to make or own decisions about how and when we deal with the pandemic, and by extension any situation affecting the people of Scotland.
The behaviour of Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has caused a great deal of comment on social media over the last twenty four hours and it’s really rather sad to see how many sections of the independence movement have jumped through hoops to defend her actions when they should be raging at them. Catherine Calderwood clearly broke the very rules she was telling everyone else they had to abide by, and my initial reaction was that she had been very arrogant in doing so, however in this pandemic we really need to have the best people available, and that a heartfelt and public apology would possibly have been enough to stem most of the anger which was being aired. If people could see that even those at the very top weren’t too big to be punished then this would have sent a clear message to everyone that such behaviour would not be tolerated. For these views I took some criticism on social media as some thought such an apology was too extreme, while some indulged in whitabootery, citing Prince Charles decision to travel to his holiday home as an excuse. In their rush to defend the CMO many folk threw rational thinking out of the window completely. If we aspire to create a better society, a better nation, why should we set the base line of acceptable behaviour as that of our opponents on their worst days? That makes no sense.
I was pleased and somewhat surprised to see that this is exactly what happened and that the First Minister stuck with her, valuing the contribution her expertise brought to our country’s response to the global pandemic. This should have went some way to allowing things to settle and to get on with the very important job of dealing with virus response. Sadly this was all undone when it was revealed that she had done this two weekends running and Ms Calderwood had no option but to resign. But if she has shot herself in the foot, the press have grabbed the gun and given her the coup de grace to the head. One commentator who had vociferously called for head stated that we should all “put this behind us and move on”. Presumably to new target, because even at times like this British Nationalists will put Britain first and if they can give the SNP a kicking, directly or indirectly they will do so, even if it means doing damage to the immediate medical response. This means that the SNP need to be at the top of their game, day in, day out. As elected politicians who represent their party and (to varying degrees) the independence movement as a whole they must be aware that their behaviour is being scrutinised from every angle, be it a neighbour or constituent who doesn’t share their beliefs, by political opponents looking to defeat them at the ballot box or by the gutter press who may be seated next to them on the train. This also applies to those who the Scottish Government engage to work on their behalf. Every dodgy Permanent Secretary or adviser who thinks they are above the rules is just as much a liability as those who are actually members of the SNP who behave likewise. Scotland deserves better, and the SNP need to deliver, every single time. Mistakes like we have witnessed recently may be tolerated by the happy clappers among the party, but others in the country will not be as forgiving.
Published in The National, 07/04/20
Et tu, The National? On behalf of the many disgusted independence activists who have today taken to social media in relation to the latest hatchet job on Alex Salmond, I feel the question must be asked: “What the hell were you thinking”? I have today seen numerous people stating they will cancel their subscriptions, including one friend who has championed your paper at every opportunity, who has delivered it on the doorsteps and handed it out on the streets and who has now cancelled their subscription and has vowed never to hand out a copy again. Way to go, guys!
Alex Salmond was acquitted of every single charge, yet his anonymous accusers show no sign of relenting in their campaign to destroy him, and now continue to do so with the aid and abettance of the one paper which had the broad support of the independence movement. I say “had” in the past tense. Many were suspicious of the paper already being a stablemate of the ultra British nationalist Herald, and for them this has surely been the straw which broke the camel’s back. Others however were your core customer base and for them this will undoubtedly be a “Ratner moment” which will see them take their once valued custom elsewhere.
As a very active independence campaigner I value the contribution made by The National to our efforts over the last few years, but I can’t let this pass without comment. There must now be nothing less than a front page apology from the paper for it’s decision to give the anonymous accusers a platform and an open and honest admission as to how that decision was made. If such an apology is not forthcoming then I fear that this paper’s days are numbered.
In all the furore over the UK governments ventilator procurement scandal, no-one seems to be asking a very simple question: if the UK government acting on behalf of NHS England is not taking up the many offers to produce ventilators, is the Scottish government doing so? I’ve read that they have ordered an additional 300 ventilators, but is that really an adequate amount? For a country of our size we really need to ensure that we have as many as possible with the expectation that while most people are doing everything they can, this situation is going to worsen before it gets better. We should be hoovering up the offers from companies which the UK government has rejected as a matter of urgencySimilarly I would say that the work the Scottish Government is now doing to identify a site for an emergency facility is weeks too late and that such facilities should have been identified and operational before now. I’d also go further and say that we do not need one large facility, but that each health board should have set up emergency centres in their own area to ensure the shortest possible journey times and the minimisation of the possibility of the virus being spread in transit. The people in the Highlands, Islands and the Borders deserve to be treated in their own areas, lest we reinforce the absurd notion that only the Central belt matters; a mirror to the problem in England where the “UK” emergency centre has been established in London.
I’ve heard many people trying to point score over this pandemic, and it is all very well saying that the Scottish government is operating different strategies while pointing to deficiencies in the English health service, but the time for clapping ourselves on the back is not now. That time will be when this crisis has subsided and we can then have an honest and open assessment of what worked and what didn’t, and what we need to do in the event of future pandemics. For now we must expect to see a worsening of the situation and a subsequent tightening of the restrictions we are currently living under. I would expect to see at the very least an end to all flights and unnecessary cross border land travel to prevent the virus spreading further from the most contaminated areas, however I suspect that will not happen, which leads me to my final point.
If this virus had broken out primarily in Scotland and was seen as a threat to the rest of the UK, would the UK government even hesitate to bring in an immediate travel ban and testing regime on anyone travelling south? I don’t think they would even blink before doing so. Having demanded Brexit to take back control they left their (and our) borders open and allowed it to enter and devastate the UK. I would hope that when Scotland does become independent in the event of a similar crisis we wouldn’t be as stupid as to make a similar lethal mistake.
In the lead up to the 2014 referendum many Scottish Labour figures came out with the line that they had as much in common with the workers of Durham or Darlington as they did with the workers in Dundee or Dunfermline. It’s a much repeated trope symbolising the idea that their support for the union was based not on national lines but on class lines; a shared ethos of socialist communities working together towards a common goal, sharing common experiences against a common foe: uncaring, greedy, grasping Tories. In the last few years though it’s become apparent that Brexit has made England and Wales rethink their priorities, and it’s clear that while Scottish Labour have remained loyal to their southern counterparts, the people of Durham and Darlington have decided that their allegiance is no longer with Labour but with the Tories. Having spent all those years holding a candle for England’s working class, Scottish Labour are now left alone in the dark holding a charred stub with no idea how to get out of the darkness.
I really don’t think I could feel any more contempt than I do with anyone making political capital from the deaths of children in the QEU Hospital. The idea of these people rubbing their hands with glee at the news of a child’s death sickens me to the core; and I find it concerning that there is a mole inside the hospital whose first priority appears not to be to the patients, or the families, but the Labour Party. This chain runs like a sewer from the mole to the Labour Party and then onwards to their friends in the print media and the BBC; and no matter how tenuous the link, from there the stories filter into every home and every workplace as one voice, with one message: get the Health Minister. This message is then seized upon by their poisonous Twitterati who add their tuppenceworth before sharing their epidemic of hate.
It’s a tactic which has repeated itself over and over in Scotland since the SNP swept Labour from its fiefdom here, yet it is not a pattern which is repeated in England, either by the parties or the media. It is a truly Scottish phenomenon, but it is one which many of us haven’t succumbed to. The idea that the removal of the current Health Minister will improve things doesn’t add up, especially when the reasons for calling for her head cannot be directly laid at her door. If any deaths were as a direct result of an instruction given by the Minister then I’d have no argument with that line of attack. I’ve had issues with hospitals myself, where I’ve had to raise complaints, but I can clearly see where responsibility lies and these have mainly been with local procedures or with members of staff themselves. Unless I was extraordinarily twisted there is no way I could lay the blame for the bad attitude of an individual within the system at the door of the Health Minister. Yet this is the situation Scotland now finds itself in and a simple comparison with news output, media coverage and political posturing sees none of the same patterns occurring in England, despite there being no shortage of troubling stories emanating from their NHS.
Unfortunately I see no end in sight to this cycle of coverage in Scotland, which is ultimately eroding confidence in our entire health service. Here in Airdrie there is a consultation taking place about the replacement for the Monklands Hospital, and I heard one elderly gentleman comment that “perhaps they will learn to build a hospital where people don’t die”. There isn’t a hospital in the world where that happens, but that’s now the level of expectation displayed by so many people that I believe they will die of their own stupidity rather than a medical condition.