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Monday, 30 April 2012

In The Footsteps Of Giants

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
                            Margaret Meade

Later today, I'll go out and do some last minute leafletting on behalf of my local SNP candidate standing in the Glasgow City Council elections. It will be a small contribution to a much wider effort - not just in this ward, but across the city and throughout the entire country. Only through my recent acquaintance with Twitter, and by following a number of activists (of all parties) on there, have I understood the enormous amount of work that goes into these elections. I won't embarrass anyone by naming them but I have noted that some are consumed by their activism. They spend their days pounding pavements and on doors; braving assorted dogs and vicious letterboxes in Scotland's ever changing weather; attending meetings and hustings; and, perhaps most difficult of all, canvassing in the streets and shopping malls. Amazingly, many have the energy to spend their 'free time' on Twitter engaging in debate and trying to preach to even more of the unconverted. I salute them all.

Although I have voted for the Scottish National Party in every election in which I was able, it wasn't until last October that I actually joined the Party. This was due, in combination, to working for 15 years in London before returning to Scotland in 2000, and in positions that disqualified active participation in party politics. It does make me feel like 'less' of a member than many; that I've jumped on the bandwagon near the end of the journey. I wish to pay tribute, therefore, to those that have gone before.

Many, perhaps, having grown up with the main political rivalry in the UK being Conservative vs Labour will be unaware that for 250 years of our parliamentary system the main battle was fought between the Tories and the Whigs (Liberals). This situation persevered until relatively recently - the Labour movement emerging at the turn of the twentieth century; actually becoming the Labour Party in 1906; and first tasting power in 1924 as a minority administration.

Despite the enmity that has grown up in Scotland between the parties as the SNP have grown and replaced the Labour Party in their heartlands whilst standing on a broadly similar policy platform, it is, perhaps, right that we also acknowledge that the Labour movement made it possible for political parties of the Left and Centre-Left to develop in Britain.

Tory/Whig politics was effectively a battle between different strata of the ruling elite. Of course there was some crossover but the Tories were the party of the lesser landowners and the Church, while the Whigs represented larger landowners and the business classes. Only the emergence of Labour gave the working men and women of this country a real stake in the political process.

Labour, in turn, owe their emergence to other radical movements, amongst them the Independent Labour Party, Fabian Society, Social Democratic Federation and the Scottish Labour Party and a number of these organisations would amalgamate to become the Labour Party we know now. As one might expect, given our nation's commitment to radical, progressive politics many of the main protagonists in this movement were Scots - Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and James Maxton. All were committed to Home Rule for Scotland. Without diminishing in any way the three great Scots already mentioned, the fourth member of that illustrious group, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, is perhaps the most interesting in a number of ways.

Perfectly naturally, Hardie, MacDonald and Maxton turned to socialism after experiencing poverty; Hardie and MacDonald actually living through it whilst Maxton witnessed it in the pupils he taught. Cunninghame Graham, though, was born into a wealthy family. His early childhood was spent on the family's Finlaystone estate in Renfrewshire before he left to attend Harrow. When he returned to Scotland as a 31 year old, he had already travelled extensively - primarily in Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Morocco and Spain - and indulged his sense of adventure to the full.

Interested in politics, he entered Parliament three years later as the MP for NW Lanarkshire. Despite entering the Commons as a Liberal, he supported a radical programme including the abolition of the Lords; votes for all; provision of free school meals; nationalisation of key industries including mining; disestablishment of the Church of England; and an eight hour day for workers. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take him long to be suspended from the House after showing disrespect to the Lords. He later became the first MP ever suspended for swearing ('Damn!') in the House. His commitment to the poor, the unemployed and to civil liberties and free speech were well known. Indeed, he was imprisoned for six weeks in 1887 after being arrested and beaten at Trafalgar Square's 'Bloody Sunday' protest in support of civil rights in Ireland. A third suspension wasn't long in coming. Whilst protesting about working conditions, he was asked by the Speaker to withdraw his remarks. His famous response, "I never withdraw."

Becoming increasingly radical, Cunninghame Graham formed, first, the Scottish Labour Party with Keir Hardie in 1888 and then the Independent Labour Party (again with Hardie) five years later.

His own parliamentary career ended in 1892 when he failed to win the Glasgow Camlachie seat standing as a Scottish Labour Party candidate but the light never dimmed. His commitment to Scottish Home Rule (shared with Hardie, MacDonald and Maxton) only intensified and, in 1928, he helped establish the National Party of Scotland. When the NPS merged with the Scottish Party in 1934 to become the Scottish National Party, Cunninghame Graham became the first President of the Party.

It is, perhaps, fitting that a Party often derided by opponents as being insular, parochial and anti-English should elect as its first President a man born in London of Scots-Spanish heritage; whose first language may even have been Spanish; who married a woman half French, half Chilean; and whose outlook was so international in perspective.

As those of us in the Party know, that outward-looking and inclusive attitude prevails to this day. Opponents who continue to use this line of attack will soon discover that they do so only to their own detriment.

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham continued to live a full and varied life and I recommend that all modern day SNP supporters should examine it further and get a sense of a man who could truly be described as a 'father' to our Party. His friend, G. K. Chesterton, wrote of him that while he would never have been allowed to become Prime Minister, he instead "achieved the adventure of being Cunninghame Graham." Another friend, George Bernard Shaw, claimed that was "an achievement so fantastic that it would never be believed in a romance."

We truly do walk in the footsteps of giants and every step that every activist takes in the next few days and in the next two years, takes us one step closer to realising the dreams of those giants. I salute them, just as I salute all of you.

For Scotland.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

"Alec, there's been a Murdump"

After almost five years as Scotland's undisputed champion, Alex Salmond faces what are perhaps, thus far, his most difficult times as First Minister. Even so, it seems inconceivable that these will threaten his position at the head of the Scottish Government or his own Scottish National Party. They have been leapt on, though, by his opponents to try and penetrate his hitherto impregnable defences. Since 2007, he has commanded the centre of the Holyrood ring, swatting off the attacks of other parliamentarians with equal measures of brilliance, badinage, bluster and mastery of his brief.

At today's First Minister's Sparring session, however, Mr Salmond seemed slightly less assured than normal. He still probably emerged as a 'points winner' over the challengers - L.D. LabTory - but there were none of the knockdowns we've become accustomed to seeing whenever he enters the arena. Unsurprisingly, given his past record, it's taken a combination of two of the world's most feared marketplace maulers to force the nationalist champion on to the ropes, albeit temporarily one assumes.

It's probably an exaggeration to call it a perfect storm but the 'Tycoon Typhoon' has rained a little on what many suspected might be Salmond's triumphant, two-year, ticker-tape parade to Independence. Indeed, in recognition of this moment, any future difficulties in the SNP camp might be greeted by the plaintive cry, "Alec, there's been a Murdump."

So cutting through all the accusation and innuendo what, if anything, has the First Minister been guilty of?

Let's dispose with Donald 'The Evidence' Trump first. There probably never was an issue for the First Minister to concern himself with in 'Windgate' anyway but that is almost now immaterial as 'The Donald' single-handedly destroyed his own credibility as a potentially hostile witness.

Most opposition figures assumed, no doubt, they'd never encounter anyone within the Parliament building so convinced of their own infallibility as the FM. Mr Trump, however, takes self-satisfied and self-assured to a whole new level. Apparently he considers himself a world authority in a number of areas. That might explain why - when he has the finances to seek the assistance of the world's best - he also seems to be self-coiffured.

Trump seemed to think the Committee Room was actually his boardroom during shooting of The Apprentice. He would deliver his verdicts (my golf course is great; windpower is shite; McConnell lied; Salmond lied; I've been duped; no-one will invest in Scotland. Again. Ever.) and walk out without being challenged. Indeed, when his dubious timeline of events was challenged by Patrick Harvie, one of the businessman's advisers leapt to his defence, 'This is not the Trump Inquiry', he bleated.

When he then desperately conflated 'Windgate' and the decision to release Al-Megrahi (claiming they were the 'same kind of thinking') one wondered if he was losing his faculties. When he claimed that Al-Megrahi was seen jogging in a park last week, one stopped wondering. It also revealed Trump's tenuous relationship with the truth and rendered the rest of his submission almost worthless. Admitting he had no proof for any of his claims, no written undertakings, that he had embarked on a billion pound project with no demonstrable assurances he proclaimed 'I am the evidence.' In that case, Mr Trump, the verdict must be 'Not Guilty'.

The Murdoch/BSkyB imbroglio is potentially more damaging for the First Minister. Even here, though, there is little clear evidence of any wrongdoing. Admittedly, much of the issue is down to individual interpretation of some third party email correspondence and how one imagines that stacks up with the statements of the various parties and the personal judgements one has of the people involved. Invariably what this will mean is that political opponents will try to believe the worst of Salmond and supporters will accept his explanations. The verdicts of the uncommitted will likely not to be known until Autumn 2014. By that time more pressing issues are likely to have assumed centre stage.

It does seem clear to me, even as an SNP and a Salmond supporter (not always the same thing), that some vague undertaking was made to give support - or, at least, not be unsupportive of - NewsCorp's attempted takeover of BSkyB. I have little doubt that it occurred to the First Minister (widely recognised as the sharpest operator in UK politics) that this would not damage the chances of securing some Murdoch-media support for the Scottish National Party - whether that was explicitly voiced or not. I have few qualms about that. Regardless of what they are currently saying publicly, even in the wake of the phone-hacking allegations, all other political parties would gleefully accept the implied support of The Sun in advance of an election. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

Even assuming the worst - that the mutual back-scratching was explicitly voiced and agreed - my criticism of Salmond would be muted. This was, let us not forget, regardless of how Opposition leaders try to confuse the issue, before the Millie Dowler incident had become publicly known. Though some will claim it is still 'supping with the Devil', it is still a Devil that all parties were keen to sup with. The real outrage in all of this - particularly from Labour - is that Murdoch chose the nationalists over them.

There are still, though, unexplained elements. Portrayed, as it has been, by Salmond detractors as a sordid 'quid pro quo' arrangement, it remains difficult to see what NewsCorp believed they might get out of the deal. Exactly what influence did they believe Alex Salmond might have with the ConDem Coalition?

Were Jeremy Hunt, Vince Cable and David Cameron going to usher through a deal on the say-so of the SNP leader? Were the regulators at the Competition Commission and OFCOM beholden to Alex Salmond? The answers to both of those questions must be an unequivocal 'No'.

If we were talking about the starstruck directors of a Scottish SME, I might concede that Salmond could convince them that he had enough 'pull' in Westminster to help their cause. This, however, as everyone knows is one of the most sophisticated, politically-savvy corporations not only in British terms but worldwide. NewsCorp had to know that the First Minister would be relatively useless to them in their bid to take control of BSkyB. That strongly suggests to me that there was no 'quid pro quo' arrangement of the type alleged by the Holyrood opposition parties.

Where then is the benefit to NewsCorp? What's the skinny? Here's my assessment.

Gallons of ink have been expended on how influential mass-market newspapers are in determining elections. Although there are still some who believe 'It's The Sun What Won It', the majority are now inclined to believe that they are followers rather than leaders - skilled at picking up on prevailing moods and siding with, rather than selecting, election victors. This view is supported by studies showing voting patterns of those who read and those who don't read newspapers.

Is it not simply the case that NewsCorp, News International, and The Sun have seen how the political cookie is crumbling in Scotland? They have chosen the party they believe will win. Not only in the upcoming local elections but in the Referendum of Autumn 2014. They wish to be associated with winners. This is what the anti-Independence parties find hard to stomach.

And if, in News International's mind, that places them advantageously in the marketplace post-Independence, then they have their 'quid pro quo'.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I Confess...

There comes a time in the lives of many young men when they must embrace the truth at the core of their being. If he has been particularly adept at hiding his secret, this can be a devastating moment for the woman in his life. Even though we live in a more accepting age, her initial anger is likely to turn to introspection.

Did I deliberately ignore the signs? Is it something I did? Or didn't do? Why wasn't I enough to make him happy? Those nights when he disappeared down the pub with his 'friends' start to take on a new meaning. It was a 'tradition' he said. But who gets that excited about Monday nights?

So, okay, I'm gonna to say it.

My name is Jock. And I am a football fan.

I admit it. Watching twenty-two other men chase a vinyl bag filled with air around a grassy rectangle can make me lose my sense of perspective from time to time. Those times are limited though; it only happens when I watch it. Even if I have no particular interest in either of the teams it can induce euphoria, awe, frustration, anger, disbelief, joy, bewilderment, depression, selective hearing loss and a sense of wonder at the athletic possibilities of the human form. When I actually care about the teams involved (Kilmarnock, Tottenham Hotspur or Scotland) that's when I can really go daft!

However, as someone who has other interests, I have occasionally fretted about whether I shouldn't be expending that time, energy and emotional investment in something more 'worthy'. When mixing with political acquaintances, business associates or just some of my more 'cultured' friends, my obsession with football isn't likely to feature on my internal 'A list' of discussion topics. That's a lie. It is and it does. It always does but I self-discipline.

Golf is normally 'allowed' and, even as a five-handicap player and a qualified coach, I have to concede that, as a pursuit, it is equally pointless. Rugby too, in certain circles, is acceptable despite being a quite brutal, almost gladiatorial, contest where thirty extravagantly-shaped individuals pound each other into exhausted submission. Don't get me wrong, I love rugby. Fancied myself (quite literally, some might say) as a schoolboy stand-off/inside centre but why should rugby be kosher dinner-party conversation when football isn't?

That's why, I suppose, I have yet to throw in my tuppence worth on the Rangers situation. There are other reasons. As a supporter of a 'provincial' club, I have a default setting of antipathy towards both Glasgow giants and I did worry that this would influence any comments I might make. On reflection, however, it is precisely supporters like me who should be heard. The alternative is to leave the field to Rangers and Celtic fans who have even greater personal stakes and entrenched views.

Well, after the SFA panel announced their adjudication late on Monday night, it's become increasingly likely that Rangers will be forced down the path of liquidation-NewCo. Potential investors seem to be backing away, with only Bill Miller the American tow-truck tycoon left standing. As his plan always involved some strange liquidation-NewCo/CVA-ExistingCo hybrid anyway, the die seems to be cast. The question now is what happens from here.

The £160,000 fine imposed by the SFA now seems the least of their worries. It is dwarfed by the implications of the twelve-month transfer embargo. Especially when those senior players, universally lauded for taking pay deferrals (not cuts) earlier this year, desert the sinking ship in the summer using the release clauses they negotiated in return for their selfless act. Most will end up in the English Championship with perhaps only goalkeeper Allan MacGregor winning a transfer to a top Premiership club.

Reduced to playing youngsters, it would be interesting to see how Rangers fared - especially starting from minus ten points as will be suggested at next weeks SPL vote. Kids under pressure from day one, playing against seasoned professionals and with a demanding support on their backs are not the ingredients for a successful campaign.

The seventy-five per cent reduction in league generated fees plus the loss of income from UEFA competition - both over a number of years will also hit hard - making it more difficult to retain any high earners who can't find alternative employment.

Taken together, it seems that the best option might indeed be that seemingly accepted by manager Ally McCoist last night. Abandon the SPL and their penalties; start again in Division Three and work their way back. The youngsters will be under less pressure and the club, even with substantially reduced income, will be financially dominant in the lower leagues and should progress quickly.

The problem remains, certainly, of how the rest of the SPL will cope financially. Primarily, their great rivals, Celtic. Despite Peter Lawell's protestations (no pun intended), the Old Firm do need each other. Their huge supports are only energised by the rivalry of the other. Does he seriously believe that 67,000 will turn up at Celtic Park every week to watch the Hoops canter to a league title devoid of the glory of beating Rangers? Crowds will inevitably drop in the east end of Glasgow. And if Sky pull out of Scottish football, Celtic take another massive financial hit.

Conversely, attendances might even rise at other SPL grounds as a number of teams start the season with second place and European qualification a distinct possibility. The trend of some provincial clubs losing a percentage of home supporters when the Old Firm visit is also well established. The thought of paying to see your club well-beaten, often via dubious refereeing decisions, whilst being exposed to sectarian chanting is not a pleasant experience for many. Might games against Dundee United, Motherwell and Hearts become more attractive when the stakes are, potentially, higher?

Can we find any other positives?

In the absence of Rangers for at least three seasons, will Celtic cut their cloth accordingly, meaning a levelling off of Scottish football and creating more meaningful competition?

Lower league clubs will certainly benefit financially of hosting Rangers supporters (though those supporters are notorious for deserting in droves when times are hard, see attendance figures in early and mid-eighties for evidence of that).

Will Rangers return to the SPL a more humble and reasonable animal?

In their absence, might a more equitable and democratic voting structure be established in the top division?

Will all clubs take a more responsible view of club finances?

Could Sky be convinced to hang around and document the rebirth of Rangers as they climb back up the ladder?

Or will, as many of us fear, Scottish football sell its soul, forego all credibility and demean the competition even further by finding a solution for even a destitute, NewCo Rangers to remain in the SPL? The world watches...


Monday, 23 April 2012

Democracy, Corporate Media and Internet Freedom

"The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed" is a quote often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany. It is also often claimed that he was referring to Nazi disinformation techniques when making the statement. In fact, the 'quote' has been paraphrased from the following:

"One should not as a rule reveal one's secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous."

I give the quote in full not to have a dig at the English - to Goebbels the term would presumably have been synonymous with British and he could just have easily applied his assessment to any of the Great Powers - but only to demonstrate again, if proof were needed, that truth can be twisted by history's winners and by those in authority.

The big lie being pushed at the moment is that we still have a mainstream media that safeguards the health of our democracy.

The first part of the lie is that we even have a 'mainstream' media. Let's look at the definition of mainstream. Most dictionaries define it as 'the prevailing current of thought, activity or influence'. Consider the media that you are exposed to everyday. Can you seriously claim that it embodies your 'prevailing current of thought', or of those you know? No, what we now have across the developed world is a 'corporate media' which is a different animal entirely.

The 'corporate media' do not do mainstream. What they do is operate within a narrow band of acceptable corporate interests; that narrow band of interest sitting comfortably with those of our major political parties. In effect it means we receive all our 'corporate-mainstream' news within a pre-determined and controlled range.

Anyone who still listens to radio (by actually using a radio) will know that, in the UK, the FM broadcast band spans from 88 - 108 MHz. If Conservative party policy can be said to be at 96MHz and with Labour positioned at 100MHz, that means we are only exposed to a range of opinion and ideas covered by 4MHz while four times that amount of relevant information is denied to us. It is precisely because they are in thrall to the same corporate interests that we see so little difference in policy. Labour were unelectable in this 'brave new world' until Tony Blair ditched the progressive, social democratic policies of the past. He created a party so akin to the Conservatives that even Margaret Thatcher could rest easy in the knowledge that Blair was 'one of us'.

That's why we have seen Labour distance themselves from the unions (though not their money); ditch their opposition to nuclear weapons; continue the previous administration's sell-off of publicly-owned utilities; introduce tuition fees for the ConDems to later multiply; attempt to introduce an ID card surveillance society; embrace foreign conflicts and the never-ending War on Terror against the wishes of the electorate; and raid our pension funds whilst bailing out the bankers with trillions of our pounds and ineffectually regulating utility companies who have introduced the term 'fuel poverty' into our lexicon.

How many Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters thought they were electing MPs who would turn over the National Health Service to private companies who would insist that twelve-week foetal scans were unnecessary? How many thought that, having fought Labour's ID card bill, those same parties in power would be introducing their own draconian attacks on our civil liberties? How many thought the Government would embark on stringent austerity measures while continuing to spend hundreds of billions on conflicts abroad, upgrading Trident and throwing good money after bad to the IMF? Who knew they were going to spend billions more of our money to upgrade infrastructure in industries that have long since been privatised - when do their corporate friends who were sold the 'family silver' take responsibility for the costs as well as the profits of these enterprises?

Those who do not believe that our national Government have sold out to corporate interests have not been paying attention. Admittedly, it is made more difficult to remain aware when the 'corporate media' attempt to obfuscate what is really happening. Where is the outrage in our 'free press' who are meant to be the guardians of our democracy? How many in the media are warning about this creeping corporate influence? Is Government now merely a tool to divest us of our incomes for corporate gain?

As I've stated before in these pages, when corporate interests merge with those of the Government's we have Fascism. It is not a statement I make lightly but it seems to me the only deduction one can currently make.

All of us, then, must become the 'mainstream' media. On social networks, blogs and alternative news sites we must share information and hold the authorities to account, if others will not. It also means that we must resist any government moves to clamp down on internet freedoms.

We will only ever get the democracy we deserve. If we give it up through apathy not only will we have ourselves to blame but our children and grandchildren will rightly join in the condemnation.






Sunday, 22 April 2012

Why I'll Be Watching The Bahrain Grand Prix

Let me be completely upfront from the start. I am one of those who will sit down at lunchtime and watch the Bahrain Grand Prix. What's more, I will feel no pangs of guilt about doing so. Let me explain why.

As a Scottish nationalist, no-one would expect me to do anything other than support pro-democracy movements wherever they are in the world. Bahrain is no different and, accordingly, I wholeheartedly support the Shiite majority in their fight against the Sunni elite for greater political freedom and respect for human rights. I am as concerned about these issues as any of the people calling for the race to be cancelled. Indeed, I am certain that I am more concerned than many of them.

I have a real problem with Ed Milliband, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper calling for the race to be called off. Where have they been on this issue for the past twelve months? Why have they been opportunistically latching on to this issue in the last week or so? Have I missed something or were all three not intimately involved with our previous Westminster Government? The same Westminster Government that enthusiastically sold the Bahrain Government the very tools it now uses to suppress the protesters they now claim to be so concerned about.

Let's be clear. Twenty-four high-powered racing cars screaming around a racetrack in the desert does not bolster or legitimise the Bahraini regime. What does bolster the regime are self-proclaimed 'ethical' Governments who are prepared to sell oppressive regimes the means to carry out their repressive actions. By trading with any given country - particularly when it involves armaments - our Government effectively gives them our stamp of approval, legitimises them.

When Labour were in power, were Bahrain's rulers any less repressive? Did they call for the Grand Prix to be cancelled in any of the years between 2004 and 2010? If not, why not? The 2011 race was called off but that was initiated from with Formula One not the Government.

I am frankly sickened by Governments and officials who will happily trade with any number of dubious regimes but who are happy to use sport as a means to an end. If that was to punish or moderate the regime, I might have some sympathy but it is not. These empty words and empty condemnations are used only to bolster their own ethical credentials; the problem being, of course, that their previous actions reveal those credentials to be as worthless as their current empty and manipulative pronouncements. Anyone who actually believes that those three care a jot about ordinary Bahrainis should check the back of their heads for buttons.

There is an argument to be made about whether all links (including sporting ones) should be cut with regimes such as the one in Bahrain but I will not hear it made by such hypocrites.

The media should also be examining their own involvement. Although there was reasonable coverage of the problems in Bahrain last year when the whole Arab world seemed to be on fire, where have the reporters been in the last twelve months? In some senses, the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain should be thankful that the arrival of the F1 circus has catapulted them back onto the front pages and into the public consciousness.

I am no admirer of Bernie Ecclestone. Nor do I have any reason to demonise him. I am certain, however, that these three Labour Party opportunists will once again be willing to afford him any leeway he asks for should he deposit another £1 million in their coffers.

Friday, 20 April 2012

What Do You Really Know About The Bank of England?

There's a lot of confusion about how the Bank of England operates. That's not entirely surprising because, frankly, you're not meant to know.

To make it simple to understand let's imagine we've wiped the slate clean and we're starting up a brand new economy. There is no National Debt, there's no money in circulation, and you are the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister has just popped through from Number 10 and told you of his plans to build roads, schools and hospitals. Along with all the other Government expenses for this month, he's going to need £1 billion pounds.

You sit confused for a moment - it's your first day in the job after all - until a helpful civil servant passes you the phone. It's the Governor of the Bank of England and he's happy to lend you the £1 billion. It's a great deal too because he's only going to charge 1% interest. Problem solved, you do a little jig then sit back and flick on the telly to watch Jeremy Kyle - you want to keep in touch with how ordinary people live.

Let's keep it simple from now on, just so we all follow the thread.

The Bank of England deposit £1 billion in the Government coffers. To do so cost the Bank of England approximately £1,500 in printing costs. So, for a £1,500 investment, the Bank is now owed £1 billion pounds by the Government (ie. taxpayers). Plus 1% interest.

The Government contracts with various companies to carry out the works and distributes the money to them in payment. These companies, in turn, distribute the money in wages to their employees. There is now £1 billion in circulation.

To pay back the Bank, the Government collects various taxes from the workers and businesses. Eventually they collect the £1 billion back in and pay their debt to the Bank. Everyone's happy.

But wait! The Bank is still owed £10 million in interest. Unfortunately the Government has used all the money in circulation which it collected as taxation and has nothing left to pay the interest charges. What to do, what to do.....

Not to worry, the Bank has an answer. We'll lend you the £10 million at 1% interest. And, of course, for the next part of your programme, you're going to need another £1 billion this month. We'll lend you that too. At 1% interest. Ad infinitum.

I urge anyone who doesn't believe me that this is exactly how the Bank of England and the Government operate to do their own research. It isn't an unusual system. It is how central banks and governments operate the world over - with very few exceptions and perhaps we'll deal with those exceptions in another blog; you might just spot a connection between the countries that don't operate this system!

But it gets worse. Despite some legislative sleight of hand (particularly in 1946 and 1977), the Bank of England has always been a privately-owned corporation and remains so to this day. Regardless of what anyone tells you, it is not Government owned and never has been. Again, do your own research.

So why do our Government operate under such a system? They are legally able to print their own money, interest free. Thus they could print £1 billion for a one-off cost of £1,500 with no-one to make repayments to and no interest charges. What effect do you think that might have on your taxes? On the economy? On the National Debt?

They toil under the same system in the United States. For Bank of England read Federal Reserve - another privately-owned, profit-making corporation. Two American Presidents suggested that the Government should start printing their own debt-free money - Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

I'll return to this subject at a later date. For those that are interested, it'll give you some time to do that background research.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Reasons To Be Fearful

Living in one of these new housing estates that are isolated from local services, I drove to the bank this morning to pay some bills. Returning to my car, I find that an intermittent, yet recurring, engine fault means I will be immobile for about ninety minutes if previous experience is any guide. Sitting in the car, with notebook and pen, I get a close up look at a part of the local area that I rarely pay much attention to. It is a fairly non-descript part of Glasgow. Neither particularly impoverished nor affluent.

Parked in a sidestreet about two hundred yards from the main drag, I can see a number of things. Forward of me, I can watch the vehicular and pedestrian traffic stream along the shopping area and across the junction an imposing church with what seems an unusually tall spire. In this street, handsome sandstone tenement residences with little of the soot-blackened facade that used to be so common - these buildings look pristine; as if they have very recently been sand-blasted. There is a tastefully refurbished community centre. And a modern doctor's surgery directs a steady stream of souls to the chemist on the corner. There is a small, relatively-picturesque, wooded park immediately to my right and behind me - where bollards mark the end of this dead-end street - there is another open space (concrete this time) which is a hive of activity where a well-known developer constructs new housing.

When I re-walk the length of the street (both sides) later, to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, virtually every parked car is more up-to-date than my own and all have correctly-displayed and current tax discs. This is not broken Britain.

But look at the people. There is no obvious confidence. No apparent pride. Few walk tall with their heads in the air and their eyes forward.

I watch them closely from behind the lightly-tinted glass. Though I hesitate to use the words, these are the only ones I can find...

I see people who look destitute and downtrodden. They look poor. It is clear that a substantial number have fought, are still fighting, losing battles with drugs and/or alcohol. The majority look unhealthy - some emaciated, some morbidly obese; those that fit into some acceptable middle ground are notable only because of their scarcity. Some are - again it is the only word that conveys what I see - mis-shapen; as if they have been carelessly thrown together by a mischievous God. Most are smoking and with the window down I can hear many breathe with a laboured wheeze as they shuffle past.

They are poorly dressed. Tribal football uniforms are what many of them will consider their contribution to style. One particularly crude zebra-print, 'puffa' jacket, with the white segments now no more than a memory, is especially eye-catching. Crude amateur tattoos abound. There are broken veins on many faces which already suffer the indignity of a particularly sickly pallor. Shouted greetings to acquaintances across the street are unashamedly punctuated with obscenities. There is casual littering and carefully considered hawking up of phlegm, both of which fight for pavement space with the dog shit left behind by their aggressive-looking terriers.

Many have babes in prams and pushchairs while some carry and some harry pre-school toddlers along the street. Their offspring are not spared in the casual torrent of swear words that colour their conversations. Scant consolation is taken from the realisation that the children tend to be better dressed than the parents. Still, I wonder, what chance for these future adults?

When the rare vital or attractive individual chances by, I stare - perhaps for too long. The males, no doubt, take me for a copper or some other snooping authority and glare back. The females, avert their eyes and hurry past.

It is a singularly depressing experience.

I watch one moderately plump mother carry her toddler down the street towards me, stop twice in a hundred yards, place her child on the ground and re-adjust the brown cords which are threatening to part company with her fleshy hips. As they get closer, I can hear that the child is crying. No agonised tears. Just the tired, fitful sobbing that kids sometimes do. From her soothing words, her ruffling of her son's hair and her kissing of his forehead, her love is obvious. But the child cries on and, sitting there, I want to weep with him. And nearly do.

I want to weep because I fear for where this is all heading.

In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have permitted to develop a permanent underclass. Rather than take meaningful steps to address this, Westminster governments - of all stripes - would prefer to pursue unachievable, perpetual growth. Untold billions are available to bail out the bankers who sold them this vision of ever-increasing prosperity then tried to make it so via exotic and illusory financial instruments. Untold billions are available to upgrade our nuclear arsenals with ever more sophisticated weapons whose sole purpose is to kill millions of human beings at a stroke. Billions more are available for foreign wars - some of which are clearly illegal while others are merely ill-defined and ill-conceived. We spend vast sums intervening in other conflicts in support of those elements we've just fought against in our previous wars. It really is the politics of the madhouse.

Rather than make a concerted attempt to elevate the poorest, we continue to reward the richest. Rather than give those at the bottom of the ladder a stake in our society, we allow those at the top to stretch further into the distance.

We make university education an even greater financial risk. We sell off our National Health Service to the highest bidder. We give access to our political leadership to those who can pay the most. We pay private companies to declare the sick and ill fit for work.

Fascism is when the interests of corporations and Government merge. Can there be any doubt that this is where we are inexorably heading? Was Orwell correct in predicting sectioned-off inner-city reservations fit only for the 'proles'? We are already seeing American style gated communities. How long till someone suggests our own Israeli-style Walls to cordon off those we see as less-deserving; just as we have seen it suggested in the past few days that they not be allowed to vote?

Since 1979 there has been a sickness at the heart of our democracy. Despite changes at the top - of personalities and political parties - that sickness has only intensified. Britain, it seems, has chosen its path. Scotland has the opportunity to choose another way. And it must. And it must be chosen by as many of us as possible.

Scotland for most of the past century has voted for more progressive politics than our neighbours. Social democratic principles are more ingrained here than in the southern half of our island. It is time for all of us to come together and provide that example of progressive social democracy that I know we can be.

Labour supporters must throw off the baggage of New Labour - that distortion of a once proud Party of principles and social justice. We know that many of you reject the war-mongering, neo-Conservative values that the London party has adopted. It is time for you to be brave enough to reject it publicly.

Liberal Democrats must distance themselves from those in your Party who have decided to bolster a Conservative assault on our societal well-being, our freedoms and our most cherished institutions. You too must return to the principles that you hold so dear.

Together we must first win the chance to govern our nation in a way of our choosing. Then we must renew it. Make it once again the nation that could justly claim to be one of the driving forces of universal Enlightenment and the invention of the modern world.

Let us not waste this opportunity. Let us not have to comfort ever-increasing numbers of weeping children. Let us not have to admit that all we did was wept when we had the chance to roar.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A History Lesson: Why Section 30 Powers Might Not Be Required

Henry Ford was clearly an exceptional individual but hopefully few would agree with his "history is bunk" assessment. One might be more tempted by Graeme Shankland, "A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent" or Cicero's '"To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child".

As in many things, though, if we want to get the best take on any given subject we normally have to turn to a woman.

"The past reminds us of timeless human truths and allows for the perpetuation of cultural traditions that can be nourishing; it contains examples of mistakes to avoid, preserves the memory of alternative ways of doing things, and is the basis of self-understanding" - Bettina Drew.

As well as self-understanding, history can also help us to understand others and their motivations. This is especially true in how they 'use' history. We all know that history is written by the winners and that is why so many have misappropriated the 'lessons' of  Darien in their trumpeting of the glories and benefits of the Union of 1707.

Indeed, Unionists have displayed a particularly schizophrenic attitude to history during the current constitutional debate. In one breath they deride Nationalists that their support for Independence is tied up in a romanticised Scottish history of Braveheart, Bannockburn and Burns' 'parcel of rogues'. In the next they will talk about the 'rescue' of Darien and the 300 years of shared history since and how it would be diabolical to consider throwing that away.

This always suggests to me that, in Unionist minds, 'good history' started in 1707 and everything before was 'bad history'.

It is perhaps appropriate at a time when the UK Government moves ever closer to imposing the 'Big Brother' State that we also remember Orwell's history lesson, "He who controls the present, controls the past."

This is particularly relevant to the current debate when we are constantly reminded that the UK Parliament is sovereign. Despite devolution, we are told, Westminster remains the ultimate authority. Any powers granted to Holyrood are merely largesse granted by the real power in the land. This is why David Cameron, Michael Moore and their adherents believe they have some control of the Constitutional process. Holyrood has no authority, they remind us, to hold a binding referendum (let us ignore for now that all referenda in the UK are advisory and not binding) and in order to do so will require a transfer of power from London - the fabled Section 30 powers. In order for us to provide this, Westminster continues, here are our conditions for your referendum.

This ignores a simple Constitutional truth. In Scotland, the people are sovereign - the Westminster Parliament is not!

Many commentators will attempt to deny this. It is a myth, an anachronism, a fallacy. And in any case, sovereignty was assumed by Westminster at the point of Union. All nonsense, but "He who controls the present..."

Unfortunately, for Unionists, ordinary Scots are increasingly taking control of our present and reclaiming our past.

Just as England has its own 'constitutional' documents - The Charter of Liberties; Magna Carta; The Bill of Rights 1689; - so does Scotland - the Declaration of the Clergy 1309; Declaration of Arbroath 1320; Claim of Rights 1689.

The three Scottish documents above (along with others) formed the basis of Scottish constitutional law at the point when the Union was entered into. They affirm that the Scottish people are sovereign. The Treaty of Union does not change that position and the Scots Parliament - even as they entered the Union - were not empowered to relinquish that sovereignty. Every child knows that Scotland and England continue to this day to have separate legal systems. Therefore, any Statute enacted by the Westminster Parliament impinging on Scottish constitutional matters can only have force for as long as the sovereign Scottish people give it their consent.

This position was essentially confirmed in MacCormick v Lord Advocate. Although MacCormick and Hamilton lost their case with regard to the appellation to be applied to the  monarch, Lord President Cooper did state obiter (an aside to the main ruling) "The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctly English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law."

He went further and acknowledged that the Union was a joining of equals and not the subsumption of one Parliament by another, "I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament."

In effect, the Westminster Parliament has, for three hundred years, assumed the consent of the sovereign Scottish people to be governed. We can withdraw that consent at any time. Indeed, some would argue that every election is an expression of the sovereign will of the Scottish people. In that case, in 2011, we effectively withdrew that consent with the election of a Nationalist majority government. If the SNP emerge from the upcoming local elections having improved their standing as Scotland's dominant political force, the Scottish people have re-affirmed that they see their sovereignty being centred on a party who reject the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.

The constitutional supremacy of the Scottish people was acknowledged in 1997 by no less a personality than the arch-Unionist himself. In trying to warn of what he saw as the folly of enacting Devolution, Michael Forsyth's view was that the Scottish Parliament could pass an Act of Independence "and it would be so." The reason that Forsyth has been such an opponent of a Scottish Parliament is precisely because he understands the Constitutional position.

So, where does this all leave us? Constitutionally, it means that Holyrood does not need the granting of Section 30 powers. For political reasons, it would be beneficial to the SNP leadership and, perhaps, even advisable. However, if the conditions demanded by Westminster start to dilute or subvert the Scottish democratic process, it should be refused.

As well as our extant Scottish Constitutional Law, legal precedent and a number of international treaties to which the UK is a signatory, would support the result of a referendum independently managed by Edinburgh assuming international norms of probity and fairness were applied. No doubt, there would be legal challenges but they would be overcome. Undeniably it would make post-Independence negotiations even more fractious than they might otherwise be. But Westminster should be wary of pushing Scotland and the Scottish people into a corner. History has provided enough lessons of what happens then...

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Road To "Nonsense"

Yesterday, a stooshie erupted on the calm, reasoned medium that is Twitter as elements within the Scottish Nationalist twitterati exchanged views on the use of such terms as 'Quisling', 'traitor' and 'anti-Scottish'. It seems there was a feeling amongst a self-selected group of reasonable and responsible Nationalists that some effort should be made to silence more excitable contributors in what is often referred to as the 'Cybernat' community.

On the face of it this doesn't seem to be a contentious issue - no SNP supporter would want the movement's standing in the wider community undermined by offensive posting directed at journalists and supporters/activists/elected representatives of other political parties. However, political debate is often heated and, since it concerns issues that go to the very heart of how we perceive ourselves and others, it is always likely to inflame passions. Nowhere is that heat more evident than in Scotland where there exists real animosity between the SNP and the Labour Party.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. Many mainstream commentators have pointed out the resentment of the Labour movement towards Nationalists for challenging them in what they saw as their patch. The Scottish electorate have, for at least fifty years, espoused politically left of centre, social democratic principles and the Labour Party saw themselves as the natural expression of that sentiment. Scotland, to a large extent, was their fiefdom. The idea of a realistic challenge to them was unthinkable. Whether they exhibited such a tendency is debatable but electoral realities meant they could take Scotland for granted.

This changed as they faced increasing competition from the Scottish National Party from the late 1960s on. Although SNP electoral success fluctuated throughout the next 40 years they did establish themselves on the same political landscape as Labour with the added appeal of speaking to a resurgent Scottishness. Labour were being pushed and they didn't like it. And they started biting.

Despite allegations from Labour about 'Tartan Tories', it was in fact they who moved to the right on the political spectrum as they sought to re-establish themselves as the party of government in Westminster and in response to the challenges posed by Thatcherist ideologies. This lurch never sat comfortably with their Scottish base and allowed the SNP to make further gains in traditional Labour seats.

We all know how this Nationalist momentum developed and with the electoral successes of 2007 and 2011 the Labour attacks have similarly increased in both ferocity and spitefulness. It should surprise no-one that eventually Nationalists would respond in kind. We now have two parties who should be occupying fairly similar terrain at each other's throats - perhaps precisely because of that basic similarity in outlook. The SNP acts as an unflattering mirror for Labour - a constant reminder of the Party they should be.

Which brings us to the current strife. The SNP is, by common consent, the most formidable electioneering machine in Scottish politics. Not only that but it is now the biggest party in Scotland, well financed and operates with remarkable discipline throughout the country.

Perhaps then, with the horses having been spooked by recent events involving Bill Walker and Lyall Duff, some may feel they should attempt to clamp down on social media platforms such as Twitter. Unfortunately such efforts tend to take on a life of their own and boundaries are ever more restrictively drawn. The Labour Party found this when removing 82 year old Walter Wolfgang from their Brighton Conference in 2005 for shouting the grave insult "nonsense" as Jack Straw talked about the Iraq War. I would not wish to see the SNP get into similar difficulties.

Similarly, I do not wish to see the SNP brought into disrepute by gratuitously offensive haranguing of opponents. Let's be clear, opponents of Scottish Nationalist policy are not Quislings, traitors or anti-Scottish. That does not mean, however, that some of our opponents do not exhibit behaviours or voice opinions that are clearly anti-Scottish - a term I have used myself from time to time. I have never accused anyone of being a Quisling or a traitor but I am somewhat bemused by the horrified response of some when they are used.

Let us examine what they mean. They are effectively used interchangeably and most people will be familiar with the concept of a traitor. Quisling, named for Vidkun Quisling who collaborated with Nazi forces occupying Norway, in its modern usage is normally used to describe politicians who favour the interests of other nations or cultures over their own. Are we seriously denying that these exist? Is the word to be 'banned' merely because of its Nazi connotation?

Presumably the same prohibition will be placed on Gauleiter which I recall being used by someone recently. Again to howls of protest and faux outrage.

Censorship is a slippery path. Let us step carefully.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

BBC Video Furore - Neil Fails

Far be it from me to become a paragon of balance in relation to biased media coverage of the Independence debate but I can't get agitated about the BBC College of Journalism videos that others are so exercised about. Featuring senior BBC figures - Brian Taylor, Nick Robinson, Stephanie Flanders and Andrew Neil - talking to aspiring journalists about the issues, there aren't many areas that I would care to make much of a fuss about. That's not to say that I don't think the BBC, particularly in our Scottish coverage, haven't been guilty of unbalanced reportage - I've written about that very thing previously - but in this instance I remain relatively relaxed about the whole thing.

Brian Taylor, I feel, gives a reasonably cogent analysis of SNP thinking and tactics on the referendum. The only point where I disagree with Brian (and I could be wrong) is on whether Alex Salmond and the SNP actually want a second question on the ballot paper. I know it has become accepted wisdom that the nationalists would like the 'fallback position' as Brian describes it. My intuition is that Salmond wants a one-question' referendum, just as his public statements suggest, and that the second question is being used as a distraction for other parties to concern themselves with.

We know that there are Liberal Democrats, in particular, and some Labour members who see some form of DevoMax/Plus/Lite as their preferred option but who are currently curtailed by party discipline from explicitly expressing that. Goodness, even Cameron has hinted at undefined further powers for Scotland but only after we reject Independence. As we get closer to October 2014, I see that discipline breaking down and all sorts of options being bandied about by the 'united' Unionist campaign. These divisions will be exacerbated by the looming UK General Election and the back-biting will start. I really find it hard to envisage the anti-Independence parties presenting a convincing united front in the lead up to the Referendum. By common consent the sharpest operator in UK politics, Salmond will then start to pick them off.

Nick Robinson made some slightly laboured (no pun intended) remarks about voters in Billericay being worried about post-independence Scottish border controls. While I am certain that Scots voting in the referendum will take due cognisance of the concerns of voters in Essex, I am also certain they'll forgive us if it's not at the top of our priorities.

He also suggests the UK Government could appropriate the term 'Yes' for their own campaign as a measure to deny its 'positive' use to the Nationalists. My only response to that would be that the only politicians who have been given any specific mandate from voters about the Scottish constitutional position are the SNP. No other party has specifically campaigned on the issue and won power either in 2010 or 2011. With that in mind, it seems that the SNP have clearly won the right to frame that debate in whatever terms they wish. If they wish to make it a 'Yes' campaign and a 'Yes' referendum question, I believe the rest will just have to put up with it. This means that the most interesting contribution from Robinson was his statement that Unionist analysts have deduced the wording of the question can make as much as 8% difference to the result. No wonder Westminster want to wrest control of the process. This should be vigorously defended. It is Scotland's referendum and it must be made in Scotland. Let us never forget that the London Government has previous form for subverting Scottish will in a referendum.

Stephanie Flanders dealt with economics and seemed to me to present figures and statistics that didn't actually aid understanding. Never having seen the information presented in the form Flanders employed, I couldn't shake the feeling that some subterfuge was going on. I, though, make no claims to be an economics expert and others may have viewed those differently. In general her presentation (in terms of its wording) was fairly neutral, though I question whether she actually apportioned North Sea assets into the Scottish figures as she claimed.

Which brings us to Andrew Neil. Probably what I would expect from the BBC Political Department's token Tory - a spiteful attack on Scottish independence with equal measures of disinformation and scare stories.

It's never been difficult not to take Neil seriously but his cringe-worthy recent 'adverts' for his BBC political shows have just made it easier. He clearly has a tenuous grasp of Scottish history and has therefore adopted the Anglo-centric view of Darien, ie. Scotland was bankrupt, England bailed us out; which is always a major fail. Or, perhaps he knows more Scottish history than I give him credit for and has decided to use this version that ignores the destructive interventions of the English navy in order to pander to his paymasters in London. In any event, anyone using Darien as an argument against Scottish independence reveals the weakness of their argument. The rest of Neil's presentation re-iterates that weakness.

The UK will still exist, he tells us, as the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That's a total of one kingdom in the Union. Curious logic. But again maybe Neil's education is not as extensive as he believes it to be.

He also reveals a lack of understanding of how the Bank of England operates. I can't really blame him too much for this because so few others understand that either. What he (and others) fail to realise is that the Bank of England operates as a private, profit-making enterprise lending money to Government to be repaid on a principal plus interest basis. Despite legislative sleight of hand in 1946 and 1977 it remains just that - private and profit-making. So private, in fact, that it is exempt from providing the same shareholding details that other organisations are required to reveal as well as being protected by its Royal Charter and the Official Secrets Act - a story for another day.

What this means, however, is that rather than there be some doubt about whether the BofE would be prepared to act as a 'borrower of last resort' to an independent Scotland - as Neil asserts - its shareholders would be delighted by such an arrangement as it meant more profits for them. The other point Neil ignores, conveniently, is that despite it's name the BofE is as much Scottish as English. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom, not of England. This is equally true of sterling and any suggestion an independent Scotland would be disallowed from using a freely-tradeable reserve currency, if it chose to do so, should only elicit snorts of derision.

Neil then reveals his and the British establishment's petty and vindictive response to the possibility of Scottish independence by claiming that the 'gloves really come off' in post-referendum negotiations. It makes one suspect that his nickname 'Brillo' refers less to his hairstyle than his abrasive qualities. It is the nature of Brillo pads though that when employed for any length of time they become clogged up with shit. Neil has now worked at the BBC for over 20 years.

Nuff said?

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Positive Case For Union

It is perhaps time to hunt down the mythical beast. Like Big Foot or The Yeti, we hear a lot about the 'positive case for the Union' but none of us have yet seen it. Despite a veritable conveyor belt of anti-Independence politicians assuring us they are about to reveal these arcane secrets, it seems that none of them have yet been given permission by the Grand Wizard to reveal the self-evident truths of the Westminster Lodge.

So, I'm going to do my damnedest to do their job for them. In the interests of informed debate (rather than scaremongering) it might be helpful to both sides. Using the various pronouncements of the 'Positive Case' Parties and other commentators and experts, here's what I can come up with. I'm also determined not to be facetious. So even where I can see huge arguments against any particular point, I'll let it stand for others to decide if this 'manifesto' cuts it.

1. The UK has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. We are major world players. Scotland wouldn't be.

2. The UK has one of the world's biggest defence spends. We are major world players. Scotland wouldn't be.

3. The UK has 29 votes in the Council of the European Union. Scotland would only have 7 if allowed to remain a member.

4. The UK was able to borrow the money to refinance failing banks. Would Scotland?

5. Scottish shipyards were able to competitively tender and win some orders from the Royal Navy.

6. Scotland virtually breaks even in terms of contributions made to and payments made from the UK Exchequer.

7. Remaining in the UK will protect some jobs at HMNB Clyde.

8. The UK is a nuclear power. Scotland wouldn't be.

9. We have 300 years of shared history.

10. Our soldiers fought and died together against Frenchmen, Spaniards, Germans, Hungarians, Jacobites, Italians, Swedes, Indians, Russians, Native Americans, Americans, Dutchmen, Poles, the Irish, the Swiss, Sierra Leonians, Sri Lankans, Turks, Danes, Norwegians, South Africans, Egyptians, the Burmese, Canadians, Uruguayans, Argentinians, Maoris, Bulgarians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Chinese, Persians, Abyssinians, Afghans, Zulus, Sudanese, Tibetans, Nigerians, Austrians, Somalis, Arabs, Jews, Japanese, Romanians, Finns, Thais, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Malayans, Koreans, Kenyans, Cypriots, Iraqis, Yugoslavs, Liberians and Libyans. Independent Scots probably won't.

11. We're stronger together, weaker apart.

12. We share the risks and rewards.

Scotland, it's over to you.

NB: I'm happy to add further positives to the Unionist case should anyone wish to give me them.

Not Racist, But...

I am relatively wet behind the ears in Twitter terms, so have little context against which to measure last evening's outpouring of rage amongst my fellow Scottish Nationalists. The reason? The cover of the latest issue of the UK edition of The Economist.


































I understand the anger. I was angry too. Where my feelings seem to diverge from some others was in the use of the word 'racist'.

In my view, to disparage a political ambition in such a way may be considered offensive and ill-advised but I do not believe it to be a racially-motivated insult. Even opponents know that the Scottish National Party is as racially-inclusive as any party in this country and certainly more inclusive than some. Goodness, despite claims that we are anti-English, we have a significant number of English members who feel, as residents of Scotland, that the SNP offer the most pertinent solutions to the future of our country.

So, call it what you will. Sensationalist. Provocative. Condescending. Offensive. I can agree with all of those.

Let's also throw in (and I include the accompanying article in this) ill-judged, deceptive and misleading. As a recruiting call, I also believe it will backfire on the cause the Economist seems to support and will drive even more people into the Yes camp.

As interesting as the reactions of my fellow Nationalists were the non-reactions of supporters of the Union. Perhaps they are so accepting of this constant diet of doom, gloom and negativity that they don't even see it anymore. They all claim to want the best for Scotland but seem happy for the media to caustically erode any sense of self-worth the people of Scotland may exhibit.

What they never seem to realise is that the Scottish National Party is not a 'fringe' movement. It embodies a significant proportion of the Scottish electorate and was so popular after one term in minority government that it 'broke' the Holyrood system. When you attack the SNP, in this method at least, you do attack Scotland. Don't let detractors point out that they polled only 45.4% of the popular vote in the elections as if that denotes a failure. In our multi-party system that, effectively, makes them the party of Scotland. As the Unionists continue to twist their words and actions into an ever-tightening spiral of similarity, let them watch those percentages become an absolute majority as well as a parliamentary one.

We have become used to only one of the four main parties in Scotland campaign with positivity. Let us be happy that it is our party, Scotland's party, the Scottish National Party who does so.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Our Scotland, Their Scotland

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant; gorgeous; talented; fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from all our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)                                                                                                                           

I know that we are all busy people with many things to achieve today but I want you to read those words again. And then I want you to breathe deeply and read them again. Slowly. If you are a person of faith, the references to God will no doubt assist you in your understanding. If, like me, you are not, I don't think those two sentences impede understanding or make the message less pertinent.

Now, those of you who have read any of my previous blogs are thinking, 'Right, where's the meat? Who is he attacking today? The press? The BBC? Labour?' The fact is, though, that the Marianne Williamson quote above is today's 'meat'. You might even want to read it again before we think about what it means for us all in our own lives; at this time; in Scotland.

We are all born without fear and without limit on our capabilities. Those two things (amongst others) are programmed into us. Knowingly, at one level. But unknowingly by many others - parents, family, friends, teachers. By 'society'.

This feeling of inadequacy though is amongst the most limiting and destructive emotions we can feel. And we all do to varying degrees. Who among us hasn't felt inadequacy at one time or another - as a parent or child; husband or wife; brother or sister; friend; student; employee or employer?

Who among us has never felt inadequate as a member of our wider society? When fear has stopped us intervening in a situation over concerns about our own safety? When we have kept silent about our true feelings to fit in or keep the peace? When we have gone with the crowd rather than shown the courage to stand out from it?

Let me be clear. I have felt and done all of those things, so I am not casting stones.

We are all on our own journeys and, I believe, one of our biggest challenges is to throw off these limitations that have been 'taught' to us. One of the major steps on that journey is to leave any feeling of inadequacy behind.

Some of us are doing just that. The battle raging in this country about independence is all about limitation and inadequacy.

Those who would counsel that we don't take that step are still controlled by the fear of their 'darkness'. They see limitations and they would impose those limitations on the rest of us. Those of us who are determined to end the limitation still have our own battle to fight however. We are still in fear of our 'light', still afraid of how powerful we can be although we are, perhaps, beginning to grasp the possibilities. We're not there yet because we haven't carried everyone with us. We haven't released the others from their fear, from their feelings of inadequacy. And we must. It is our duty.

We must help them see what we see. A nation where we can respect ourselves and others. A nation in which we can respect our institutions because we created them. How uplifting will it feel to know that something is uniquely ours, created by our collective wills? A society that is crafted in the way we desire - strong, cohesive, inclusive, supportive, constructive and dynamic? How different will that feel for all of us?

I know it is difficult to do but we must continue to be as positive as possible. Even as we counter the arguments of others, we must strive to express ourselves in positive ways. We are surrounded by a negativity borne of inadequacy and fear but as we start to conquer our own we will liberate others from theirs. Remember, our 'opponents' are meant to 'shine' too; they are also 'brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous'.

It is 'our' Scotland. It is our task to make it 'their' Scotland too.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Stepping Stones

I notice that Allison Hunter, SNP Group Leader on Glasgow City Council, has taken some stick this week for intimating that everything the SNP do (including in local government) is a stepping stone towards Independence. Opponents jumped on these words, perhaps understandably, pointing out that a candidate for a seat on Scotland's largest local authority should be more concerned about local issues. I have some sympathy with their views.

Indeed, I have to say - even as an SNP member - that Cllr. Hunter has never struck me as a particularly good group leader and seems peculiarly bad at getting across SNP ambitions for the city. Now having only moved to Glasgow recently I am speaking from a position of limited knowledge. Perhaps Cllr. Hunter has qualities of which I am still unaware but I can only go on what I have seen and heard.

Recently, in a tacit admission from the media that the SNP just might have a substantial interest in governing Glasgow after the May elections, Allison Hunter was asked by The Scotsman what policies she might implement. Her answer, "I haven't thought about that yet" didn't inspire much confidence.

Her recent performance at a public meeting when pressed on plans for bus services was equally shaky and after stammering incoherently, actually had to ask the representatives of other parties to confirm her understanding of the issue. It was hardly a left-field question - the issue had been in the media for the preceding 72 hours - and we might have expected her to have a greater grasp of the issues.

I do, though, have some sympathy for the 'stepping stones' to Independence comments. I assume that what she was trying to say was that SNP performance in administering local councils responsibly and innovatively, taken in concert with SNP performance at Holyrood,  is going to reassure the people of Scotland that the party can be trusted with regard to the even bigger decisions of independence. In that sense, everything the SNP do is very much a stepping stone.

Alex Salmond's minority government earned enough respect from the electorate for them to return the Nationalists to Holyrood with the supposedly impossible majority. All but the most partisan opponents have shown at least some grudging respect for their achievements in office. At the very least, they might admit that the skies didn't fall in as we were always warned they would.

Likewise SNP administrations at local authorities have won praise, for example in Stirling where the SNP have less councillors than Labour but manage to run an effective minority administration. Indeed the Accounts Commission recently highlighted the 'substantial progress' made and remarked on the 'strong leadership' and 'clear vision' being shown.

And, in the last few days, Clackmannanshire Councillor Eddie Carrick - despite his background as a Labour stalwart - commented that the SNP's leadership in his local authority had been 'a revelation'.

So, let's see what Allison Hunter and her colleagues do for Glasgow if they are fortunate enough to be given the trust of the city's voters. She may not be the greatest speaker in Scottish politics but Alex Salmond is and the Labour Party don't rate him either...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Scottish Daily Express Joins The Party...

...that Party being the bastard child of the three Unionist parties with their cohorts in the print and broadcast media. Let's call them the Anti-Scottish Party because, despite their fake outrage at Joan McAlpine's comments earlier this year, they reveal far too much with every loaded headline and spurious allegation and show themselves to be exactly that.

Let me be clear. It is not anti-Scottish to be unsupportive of the SNP. It is not anti-Scottish to support a 'No' vote in the forthcoming referendum. And it is not anti-Scottish to actively campaign in accordance with those beliefs.

At a stretch, it might not even be anti-Scottish to systematically pick away at a democratically-elected, majority government chosen by a significant number of Scots under a system that was designed (let's not be coy about this) to keep the Labour Party in power - even if, as a minimum, that was as the senior partner in a coalition.

It is, though, anti-Scottish to try and degrade the Scottish electorate by undermining their Government through manipulation, misdirection and misrepresentation.

Hot on the heels of the BBC's admission of manipulation in their mis-reporting of Nicola Sturgeon's statements on bank bailouts during her interview with Brian Taylor, we have had Anas Sarwar's untruths on the competing consultation exercises which were widely reported by the media initially but for which he was never held to account when disproved; the outrageous campaign across all media to somehow pin UK Corporation Tax loopholes on the Edinburgh Government; and The Scotsman's frankly laughable online poll about the proposed date for the Referendum which so inspired the Scots Diaspora in the US that they voted in their thousands within a few minutes of each other according to Deputy Editor Kenny Farquharson.

These are just a few examples of the daily 'sexing-up' of headlines that our newspapers, in particular, are guilty of.

The latest example is the 'Scottish' Daily Express' incomprehension that Alex Salmond might think it appropriate for Scotland to retain a pro-rata share of UK assets should we vote for independence in 2014.

The Express reports - no, sorry, 'reports' isn't quite accurate - asserts that it would 'an extraordinary bid' to 'snatch' United Kingdom assets.

Well, forgive me if I've understood things correctly but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (last time I checked) included Scotland and its assets were bought and paid for with taxes collected from all of us - Scots weren't exempt.

The press make much play of asking how Scotland will finance it's share of UK liabilities (that's debts to normal people) so we do get a share of those. Just not the assets that created the debts. Logic is obviously in short supply at the Express, even if irony isn't.

To give the article some balance they enlisted Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson who helpfully added that Salmond was 'living in cloud cuckoo land' and the prospect of receiving a share of UK assets was 'fantasy'. Presumably then, Ms Ferguson also believes it is 'fantasy' that Scotland assume a share of UK debt? Perhaps she can make that clear next time she appears as a 'rent-a-gob' for the Express.

More seriously, she might want to consider (using another recent analogy) if it would be fair for a wife who filed for divorce to pay half the debts incurred in the marriage but not to receive any proceeds from the sale of the house, either of the two cars, no furniture, savings, electrical goods or even the children.

That position might be considered 'anti-wife'.

Are the Daily Express and Patricia Ferguson being 'anti-Scottish'? You betcha!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Declaration of Scotland 2012

To the peoples of the world; to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, head of The Secretariat of the United Nations; to the one hundred and ninety-three sovereign states who populate the United Nations General Assembly; and to the International Court of Justice.

To Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I of Scots.

To the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable David Cameron; to the Houses of Parliament, Lords and Commons and all representatives, elected or otherwise, therein; and to employees of Her Majesty’s Civil Service.

To the Scottish Parliament (Pàrlamaid na h-Alba; The Scots Pairliament) and to all representatives elected therein.

To all others who, by deed or inclination, claim an interest in this land of Scots.

Hear us, the community of the realm of Scotland: the ordinary, free, sovereign people of this land as we proclaim, for all to hear, our continuing sovereign supremacy over this realm of ours. 

Hear, too, our message of peace, love and kinship with all peoples of this world regardless of nationality, race, creed or colour and all such other spurious seeds of division placed within the hearts and minds of humanity. We are your brothers and sisters who wish to re-assume our rightful place amongst you, as equals, in the great family of nations.

Our nation, forged in antiquity and tempered by the blood of many noble races stood proudly independent through war, invasions, disruption and calamity for many centuries. This people now desire to take back what was bargained away by others, a self-serving elite thinking only of material gain and against the loud protestations of the ordinary, sovereign people of this realm. The time to reclaim our sovereign rights is now.

We have no wish to linger on ancient injustices but only to move forward; living in peace, harmony and friendship with our neighbours far and wide; in a manner that is natural to all sovereign nations; in independent control of our own destinies.

In that spirit, we commend all, regardless of position or calling, to abstain from malicious, deceitful and treacherous methods of subverting our democratic will at, this, the time of our national re-awakening.

In the words of our exalted forebears, altered in form yet not in spirit…

Do not, by your petty ambitions, conspire to make us or our realm subject to the will of others, or we shall exert ourselves and drive you out as our enemy and a subverter of our rights, and put others in your stead. 

For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under the rule of others. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Leave us, in this little Scotland, to create our new society based on the principles of democracy with justice and fairness for all; at peace with ourselves and with others; offering the hand of friendship to all and our service and aid to those who would need it most.

We, the undersigned, the people of Scotland, wish it so.

If you would like to sign this declaration, you can do so at http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/the-declaration-of-scotland-2012/4338

Saturday, 7 April 2012

SNP In Charge of UK Tax Policy

As the ludicrous Scotsman Independence Referendum online poll continues to further drag the reputation of the newspaper through the mud, attention is turning to whether this is, in fact, a cynical attempt to drive traffic to their website and create some advertising revenue.

The Scotsman used to regularly have a circulation over 100,000 in the 1980s - these days it is well under 40,000 and falling. This has prompted suspicions that their clearly rigged online poll was merely a device to deliberately create controversy and drive up those visitor numbers.

When the, let's just call them 'unusual' voting patterns were picked up by eagle-eyed observers, the only explanation coming from The Scotsman was an unofficial one, Deputy Editor Kenny Farquharson deriding conspiracy theorists in a number of tweets and claiming the paper's large readership in the US-based Scots diaspora were the ones responsible for thousands of votes pouring in to the poll in the early hours of the morning. These 'votes' turning a fairly consistent 60/40 lead for the Scottish Government position into a 70/30 lead for the UK Government position. This, incidentally, reflecting the results of the UK Government's Consultation exercise on the Referendum which, embarrassingly for the Scotsman, was prominently featured right next to their online poll.

It is more than a little hypocritical of a newspaper which demands answers from politicians at any whiff of controversy to resort to sullen silence when something of this nature occurs.

Naturally, newspapers have political leanings. It is the nature of journalism and we expect nothing less. Stories will be slanted and editorials will be supportive of the newspaper's position. Readers though, and the wider public, must expect a higher standard of behaviour than what can only be described as chicanery.

Another of Farquharson's tweets made the strange claim that because the Scotsman rarely uses it's online poll in the printed newspaper then the poll results are largely irrelevant anyway. This is, at best, ignorance or more likely, wilful dissembling - especially when the votes in this poll far outnumber the circulation of the paper. The Deputy Editor is an intelligent man. He knows that the obvious lack of balance shown towards the SNP Scottish Government in the Scottish media (especially in the run-up to the Independence Referendum) is creating a constant drip-drip of 'bad news' stories to support their Unionist agenda. This 'poll' is but the latest attempt to distort the facts and influence the people of Scotland.

The Scotsman, though, rather than show any remorse continues its attacks unabated. The last two days have seen a particularly strange campaign by its journalists over £10 million of funding given by the Scottish Government to attract online-retailer Amazon to open a site in Scotland that currently supports almost one thousand jobs and, it is hoped, will lead to thousands more. Rather than be happy that Scotland attracted this employment, The Scotsman wants the Scottish Government to answer for the fact that Amazon are using loopholes in the UK tax system to avoid paying Corporation Tax to the UK Exchequer.

Their inference seems to be that Alex Salmond somehow engineered this situation for them. I'm not sure how many friends and how much influence they believe that the First Minister has in the Unionist parties in London who would have to consent to such a deal but it seems unlikely to say the least. The thought that the previous Labour administration or the current ConDem one would do anything to benefit the SNP Scottish Government is almost laughable.

The question they should be asking, but won't: Why have successive Westminster governments allowed a system to develop that allows companies like Amazon to legally avoid UK taxes like this?

Instead what they are, in effect, asking is: How does Alex Salmond and the SNP manage to control UK tax policy?

You couldn't make it up. But they do.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Bed-wetting Unionists?

Be prepared for Unionists to ask for the Scottish Independence Referendum in Autumn 2014 to be open for voting through the night.

Why? Because it seems the psephologists have discovered a hitherto unknown phenomenon: Unionists prefer voting between midnight and 3.30am.

No, it's not an April Fool. The discovery has come about because of an online poll held by The Scotsman newspaper on whether the Independence Referendum should be brought forward in line with the 'findings' of the UK Government Consultation.

For most of its life, the poll was fairly evenly split with even a slight majority for the 'No' vote, ie. in support of the Scottish Government's timetable. That 'slight majority' being in the region of 20% with 60% supporting the Scottish Government view.

Then just before one o'clock in the morning a strange thing happened. The Unionists woke up. And, with the vote sitting at 6230 for Yes and 4757 for No, they started voting. And the Yes vote went through the roof.

00.50 hours    6230
00.56 hours    6455
00.57 hours    6598
01.00 hours    6749
01.01 hours    Reset to 0
01.03 hours    6904
01.04 hours    6948
01.05 hours    7000
01.06 hours    7108
And on, and on, it went.

By the time the poll closed, it seems around 3.30am, the vote supporting the UK Government/Unionist position had almost doubled in two and a half hours from 6230 to 11608. The votes supporting the Scottish Government timetable had moved from 4757 to 4780.

There could, of course, be some innocent explanation.

(a) Scotsman readers like voting in polls at night.
(b) Some kind of computer malfunction (Note to Scotsman, if there wasn't one, make one up. Quickly.)
(c) There was a pre-printed voting card on the Scottish Labour website and it submitted all the votes at the same time.

Or, (d) None of the above.

Of course, it worked out dandy for the Scotsman. When you're running a poll at the same time as your front page story proclaims 75% want single question on Independence Referendum and 70% want it brought forward, it's always nice when your poll backs those figures up.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Consultation Wars

Perhaps it is just a case of political elites talking to each other but the competing Consultations on the proposed Scottish Independence Referendum are certainly causing a bit of a stir, if only in that small world.

Causing the biggest stir so far, Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour's Deputy Leader who seemed particularly keen for stringent checks to be carried out and was particularly worried about identical and anonymous responses stating that this would leave the process open to abuse. Indeed, he went further and actually alleged that the Scottish Government deliberately set up their consultation to allow this abuse to occur. He made no such allegations against the UK Government's process.

The UK Government Consultation has now closed with 2,975 submissions with 118 duplicates counted only once, leaving 2,857 valid submissions. The Scottish Government version has had approximately 12,000 submissions up till now and will run for another four weeks.

Michael Moore claimed the Coalition Government's view had been 'strongly endorsed' with 75% agreeing there should be a single question and 70% agreeing the timing should be brought forward from Autumn 2014 and is now urging the Scottish Government to accept these views. It is unclear by what logic Mr Moore believes the Scottish Government should pay attention to his survey, rather than their own much larger consultation exercise.

But let's look at the UK figures a little more closely.

There were 2,857 total valid responses. We know, however, that 740 of these were identical responses generated from the Scottish Labour website. Identical responses from a system that one blogger has already shown could be manipulated and submitted anonymously. So, bearing in mind Anas Sarwar's concerns, it would be only fair to remove all such submissions from the final results. Allowing such submissions to stand would only leave the UK Government's consultation open to allegations (however unfounded) of abuse.

On the single question issue, Moore says 75% agreed - that's 2,142  of the 2,857 respondents. Minus the 740 'suspect' Labour submissions, that's 1,402 of 2,117 responses. That makes 66% support.

On timing, Moore's claim of 70% equates to 1,999 of the 2,857 responses. Again using the Sarwar rules, these figures reduce to 1,259 of 2,117 responses. Or 59%.

Both still majorities, admittedly but not the ringing endorsement Moore claims perhaps.

Incidentally, it would also mean that there was a majority - even in the UK figures - for extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Bogs, Barnett and Baloney

Anyone who has ever lived in London could tell you that the water down there isn't good. In fact, as my old gran used to say, it's rank rotten. Tastes bad and leaves a nasty, scummy film in your cup or glass. No doubt, though, it's an urban myth that by the time you drink the capital's tap water, it's already been recycled seven times. I certainly hope so having lived there for 14 years.

So, I can understand that there is some need to overhaul what is one of the world's oldest sewerage and water systems. I don't doubt that the £4.1 billion recently agreed by the Coalition Government in Westminster is a true and accurate reflection of the costs involved. What I don't understand is why taxpayers are paying for it. That's taxpayers throughout the UK - including Scotland & Northern Ireland where water supply is still in public hands.

Perhaps I've missed something but wasn't the entire water industry in England and Wales privatised by the Tories more than twenty years ago?

In London, the new 'owners' of the former public utility were Thames Water.

Since then Thames Water have benefited from the Tory Government's 'write-off' of the industry's £4.95 billion debt at the time of privatisation; changed hands twice; faced criticism for endangering public health by cutting off those who couldn't pay; and substantially increased tariffs and profits yet failed to meet leakage targets (the current rate is about 670 megalitres per day).

So, when do new private owners of utilities become responsible for more than fleecing customers and counting profits? Why are they not paying for the infrastructure upgrades they've controlled for all this time?

Did the Tories sell off the water industry in contracts that still left the taxpayer holding the can for the infrastructure? If so, why? Aren't the Tories the 'business' party?

Is their 'Stronger Together, Weaker Apart' defence of the Union worth a damn if they continually squander our money by effectively giving it to the directors of private companies - whether that be water companies, train operators or banks?

Incidentally, as a capital investment programme for London this £4.1 billion 'payout' would also normally trigger Barnett Formula payments for similar projects in Wales, Northern Ireland and here in Scotland where our allocation would have been around £400 million. That, though, won't happen because of some Coalition legislative sleight of hand which introduced new laws last Wednesday and classified this as an emergency! Just so happened the law came into effect 24 hours before they hand this money over...

Another example of Cameron's 'Respect' agenda for Scotland.

Monday, 2 April 2012

BBC Bias In Scotland. Case Closed!

I remember reading about comedian Steve Martin being depressed and cancelling a number of planned interviews after being ambushed by Paul Kaye's alter ego, Dennis Pennis at some red carpet event. You might think that the single question Pennis asked, "Steve, how come you're not funny anymore?" should have been brushed off by Martin. However, the Hollywood star was supposedly badly shaken by the incident believing that if the BBC could ask such a question, how many others were thinking the same thing.

That's because the BBC and its supporters have long promoted the Corporation as a bastion of fair play, unbiased reporting and rigorous journalistic standards. We are often told how it is respected throughout the world for these very qualities. The organisation's reputation as one of the world's top broadcasters rests on this claim.

So why, then, are the BBC destroying that hard-won reputation right here at home - in the backyard of their founder, Lord Reith?

BBC Scotland have long been accused of showing bias against the Scottish National Party. This alleged editorial slant had become increasingly apparent, we are told, since 2007 when the SNP formed the Scottish Government: first in a minority administration and then with an absolute majority in 2011 - something not meant to be possible under the Holyrood voting system.

Many dismissed these concerns as paranoia on the part of the Nationalists and gave little credence to the claims of unfair treatment. This was, after all, the British Broadcasting Corporation.

However, since May 2011 when the SNP clearly replaced Labour as Scotland's dominant political force ensuring that an Independence Referendum would take place in the latter half of the Parliament, the BBC have  intensified their efforts until even the most level-headed of us are beginning to see the cracks.

Every stick, however spindly, that can be used to beat the SNP Government is enthusiastically grabbed by the Beeb while the transgressions of the anti-Independence parties (particularly, it seems, the Labour Party) are deemed un-newsworthy. For a recent example, we need look no further than the infamous Bain Principle - Willie Bain, MP for Glasgow North East, tweeting confirmation that it is 'a long standing convention of the PLP that we do not support SNP motions'. Translation: Labour will not support any SNP suggestion/motion/policy on any subject, regardless of merit, whether it helps the electorate or not purely because it comes from the SNP. Something we all kinda knew but ham-fistedly (and publicly) confirmed by the Bain. The BBC, however, were unexcited by this development.

Obviously, much of this is open to interpretation. It is nuanced. The BBC and its employees are not stupid. They choose their words carefully. Though sometimes not carefully enough and they were recently forced to change a headline regarding a Nicola Sturgeon interview that even they admitted was 'misleading'. Even then BBC Scotland employed subterfuge, falsely inserting a time stamp that suggested the revised headline had been altered much earlier than it actually had.

Some may not be too surprised by this. The BBC is, after all, an organ of the State regardless of how they might dispute that. They are dependent on Government for their funding. Dependent, that is, on Westminster governments - of all political hues. And we all know about biting the hand that feeds...

One political party the Beeb never have to be beholden to, though, is the SNP who will never form a Westminster government. Safe in that knowledge, the State broadcaster can curry favour with those parties with whom they might have to be on good terms, ie. the Unionist or anti-Independence parties.

This, as stated above, could be dismissed as conjecture. Unless you had prima facie evidence.

Earlier this year, the British Broadcasting Corporation stopped members of the public (the people who pay their licence fee), in Scotland from posting comments on the online blogs of their two BBC Scotland political experts - Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser. This was done, presumably, because the comments posted were predominantly supportive of the SNP, Independence and the Scottish Government. Hardly surprising, given the result of the last Scottish election. The BBC, however, did not like the electorate voicing their opinions via the state's public broadcaster.

Daniel Maxwell, BBC Scotland's news online editor was given the task of defending the indefensible.

"We believe that by determining which particular issues might best be explored by the inclusion of public comment online, we will allow a more flexible and adaptable approach to be taken to how we cover the main issues in Scotland."

Translation: We believe that the Scottish people should only be allowed to comment on anodyne, safe subjects selected by us. This allows us to push our news agenda, ie. The State's, without the public becoming better informed through reading a variety of opinions. Especially if those opinions support a Constitutional settlement not to our liking or that of our sponsors.

Not convinced? Then let's compare with the rest of the BBC's political blogs throughout the UK.

BBC Wales: Political Editor - Betsan Powys: Comments allowed.
BBC Wales: Parliamentary Correspondent - David Cornock: Comments allowed.
BBC Northern Ireland: Political Editor - Mark Devenport: Comments allowed.

In England:
BBC North East & Cumbria: Political Editor - Richard Moss: Comments allowed.
BBC Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Political Editor - Tim Iredale: Comments allowed.
BBC Midlands: Political Editor - Patrick Burns: Comments allowed.
BBC East Midlands: Political Editor - John Hess: Comments allowed.
BBC West of England: Political Editor - Paul Barltrop: Comments allowed.
BBC East of England: Political Editor - Deborah McGurran: Comments allowed.
BBC South East: Political Editor - Louise Stewart: Comments allowed.
BBC South of England: Political Editor - Peter Henley: Comments allowed.

In the last case, Peter Henley, people in the South of England are allowed to comment on his blog entry of March 12th, "Should the Royal Navy order ships from Scottish yards?"

Is it that Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser don't make contributions that are worthy of public interest and comment? Or have BBC Scotland yet to come across an issue which 'might best be explored by the inclusion of public comment online'?

Or is there something murkier at work? In democracies we call it censorship. At BBC Scotland it's a 'a more flexible and adaptable approach'.

The prosecution rests.