Foreign Lingo

Posted on August 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

We’ve had occasion to post articles about language snobbery on this site before, but it remains a constant problem. Whether it is people being told to alter their accent if they want to have a job, or people complaining about Gaelic road signs, you can hear such comments all too frequently.

In the past week or so, there has been another variant on this, with Unionist politicians complaining that the Gaelic language continues to receive support from the Scottish Government while the study of modern foreign languages is in decline in Scottish schools. The numbers of pupils sitting exams in modern foreign languages as dropped dramatically and, as you would expect, the Scottish Government is being blamed, with one of the reasons cited being that it puts too much emphasis on Gaelic.

Of course, this is a typical #SNPBad claim since a look south of the border reveals that the number of pupils sitting A levels in modern foreign languages has plummeted despite the UK Government having no truck with Gaelic. The problem is, therefore, nothing to do with support for Gaelic in Scotland.

So what is the problem? It would be easy to blame Brexit, but this would be a mistake since pupils sitting Higher exams in Scotland and A levels in England must have been studying their chosen modern language for four or five years at least. This suggests the decline began long before Brexit was an issue, although there is no doubt that the xenophobia behind it certainly won’t help improve the situation.

Whatever the cause, let’s hope that Scottish pupils soon have more reasons to want to learn a foreign language and that we can alter the typically British attitude that there is no need to learn any other languages since foreigners all speak English anyway. That’s the sort of thinking that helps bolster the Brexit narrative.

As for the current wave of criticism, it would be nice if educationalists were consulted on the issue rather than people simply pointing fingers and shouting, “Gaelic Bad!". If there is a problem, let’s address it by seeking out the genuine causes.


Tough Choice Made Easy

Posted on August 12th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Summer is traditionally a quiet time in politics, but the media need to keep churning out stories, and they’ve certainly been maintaining their usual standards recently.

One of the recent reports attempted to portray an image of Scotland’s First Minister as indecisive because she admitted that her decision on how to proceed with another IndyRef would depend on the outcome of the final Brexit talks in October. This, of course, has always been her position, although some have questioned whether the outcome of the Brexit talks really makes all that much difference. However, there is no doubt that the increasingly likely scenario of a No Deal Brexit will make the choice facing Scots even more stark.

There will still be significant hurdles to be overcome. First will be how the Scottish Government responds should Westminster stick to the “Now is not the time" mantra and refuse to grant a Section 30 order. There have been plenty of views put forward on how this could be circumvented, but we need to rely on Nicola Sturgeon to make the right call here because there is no doubt the Tories and the media will do their utmost to portray any referendum as illegal and unconstitutional if they are given the slightest opportunity.

If that obstacle is hurdled, we then face the massive problem of overcoming the media itself. That will be down to grass roots Yessers as much as the SNP and Greens, but there is no doubt that the potentially disastrous consequences of a NO Deal Brexit will make our arguments that much easier.

There is, however, another very sobering thought which we need to be prepared for. Nobody has ever claimed that becoming a normal country will not present difficulties. The whole point of independence is that we will be able to elect a Government to tackle those problems and, if it does not do as the voters wish, we can elect another one rather than have one imposed upon us.

But a No Deal Brexit poses a significant threat to a newly independent Scotland because of the logistical nightmares it is likely to bring about. We may retain our EU membership, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails, but the bulk of our imported food, medicines and anything else you care to mention, comes in through the Channel ports. This means that, even if we become independent and remain in the EU, we will still be significantly impacted by all the threatened shortages. It will also, of course, impact our exporters whose goods mainly leave the UK via England.

So, in addition to planning how to obtain a second IndyRef and, most importantly of all, how to win it, the Scottish Government really should be making contingency plans for how to circumvent the logistical impact of Brexit.

The good news is that the rest of the EU will be on our side and will no doubt go out of their way to help us, but the reality is that our ports and infrastructure simply are not geared up to coping with huge volumes of imports and exports going anywhere but via England. This needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. Ireland has already purchased larger ferries so that they can help reduce the Brexit effect, but Scotland has been unable to do anything.

As with any problem, there are opportunities here, and not the post-imperial daydream sort so beloved by the Brexiteers. Prestwick airport could see a rebirth as a major hub for both passenger and freight flights, while ports on both the east and west coasts could be developed to service new trade routes. But such things take time, and we cannot ignore the fact that a No Deal Brexit is going to hurt.

This is, though, another reason to vote Yes in a second IndyRef. Because it gives us the chance to work our way out of the damage and become a stronger, more resilient nation. The alternative will be decades of stagnation under an isolated, xenophobic Government ruled by a wealthy elite formed by the extreme Right Wing. There is only one escape route left for us. What we need to do is convince enough of our fellow Scots to see this.

On that point, I was heartened to hear the news of a former Tory Councillor openly declaring that she had changed her mind, left the Tory Party and declared support for independence. Anyone who has the courage to do that should be welcomed with open arms, because we need as many people as possible to convert from No to Yes. The more of them who have the courage to openly admit to changing their minds, the easier our task will become. Then we can all work towards creating a normal country.


Trading Power

Posted on August 1st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Just about the only scare story the Unionists have left is the one about the problems Scotland would face regarding trade with England if it became independent. The UK Government in Scotland, formerly known as the Scottish Office, has been pumping out this message via social media for a while, hoping to persuade Scots that breaking away from its biggest trade partner would be a bad move. The irony of that coming from a Government which is obsessed with forging ahead with Brexit no matter the cost seems entirely lost on David Mundell’s office.

The scare should be seen for what it is for a number of reasons.

First of all, even if England decides it must impose a hard border between itself and a newly independent Scotland, they probably don’t have the capacity to do this. Several Tory Brexiteers have already voiced the opinion that they will simply wave all imports through the Irish border and the Channel ports because they couldn’t cope with checking them all.

Of course, the EU would require checks on imports coming into Scotland, so some disruption would occur, but we should not forget that the UK insists it will do magnificent new trade deals around the world so, unless they are particularly spiteful and vindictive, they will want to continue to trade with Scotland. Tories? Spiteful and vindictive? OK, maybe there is an issue there, but we’ll address that in a few moments.

Another reason to ignore the trade threat is to remember that Scotland has always been an outward looking country. Scottish inventors and entrepreneurs have always been capable of finding new markets when opportunities arise. And Ireland provides the perfect example of a nation adjusting its trade when opportunities presented themselves. When Ireland became independent, nearly all of its trade was with the UK. Now, it is only around a third of Ireland’s trade. It may take a little time, but Scotland could surely replicate this.

Also, while it would need an expert in central Asian trade to confirm or deny this, many countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union must have had to realign their trading profiles on the break-up of that entity. None of them seem to have collapsed as a result of these changes.

And we should not forget the eastern European countries who had to undergo huge transformations in all aspects of society including trade when the Warsaw Pact crumbled. Nor should we forget that none of these countries, with the possible exception of parts of the Ukraine, seem keen to give up their independence and become part of Russia again. In contrast, they seized the opportunities provided by independence, with many of them choosing to join the EU to take advantage of the trading opportunities it provides. Do we really believe Scots are less capable of developing trade than the people of these countries?

But the main reason we should not be frightened by this particular scare is that England will want Scottish goods and services just as much as we will want theirs. Can you imagine them being happy at losing access to things like whisky, salmon and beef to name but three?

OK, you could argue that the Tories might convince the people of England that they can do without such things and should get used to American bourbon and chlorinated chicken instead. After all, when the English NHS falls into the hands of US drugs companies, people will be paying too much for medical services to be able to afford decent food and drink.

But, amidst all the statistics pumped out by the former Scottish Office is a very intriguing one. It mentions that Scotland exports nearly £6bn of utilities to England. That’s things like water and electricity to you and me. Indeed, it has been claimed that the amount of electricity being supplied to England by Scotland is equivalent to the power produced by two nuclear power stations. That is an incredible claim but, if true, shows just how reliant England is on Scottish-produced power.

The so-called National Grid, which really serves four nations, is designed to hamper Scottish production of power. We have already seen Scottish power stations closing down because paying the exorbitant charges imposed by the grid simply to connect to it made the stations unviable. In contrast, power stations in England are paid to connect to the Grid. That’s not exactly a fair and equitable single market, is it? But it’s the sort of thing we have come to expect.

Yet, despite this handicap, Scotland is developing renewable energy to such an extent that we are not only providing our own power, we are exporting enough electricity to England to cover the output of two nuclear stations they don’t have.

So, even if you believe the Tories are so spiteful and vindictive that they would trade with every other country in the world except their nearest neighbours, even they would surely have second thoughts about letting their citizens suffer power cuts because they no longer had access to Scottish electricity.

So don’t fall for this scare. Trade is a two-way process, and Scotland has a strong hand when it comes to negotiations. And, of course, there is the fundamental point that if we remain in the EU, then England will have no option but to trade with us if they ever do a deal with the EU.

The final thing to bear in mind is that every other claim by Unionists during the first IndyRef has turned out to be completely false. Why should we believe this one? Don’t get fooled again.


Fair, Balanced & Impartial

Posted on July 29th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The attack by the BBC on the Youtube channels of prominent Indy supporters has been well documented elsewhere, so there’s no need to go into the detail of how the UK state propaganda outlet has abused the Fair Use aspects of copyright in an attempt to silence criticism of its bias.

This abuse of power is bad enough, but another aspect of this sorry saga is equally concerning. That is the alacrity with which Youtube has shut down the channels on the say-so of the BBC without giving any chance to point out that these sites have not breached copyright. Indeed, you would think Youtube would know the rules on this since they publish them on their website.

So why did they cave in to the BBC? Has pressure been applied by other UK state offices? We will probably never know, but it’s a worrying thought.

What it does show, of course, is that the UK is petrified of the Indy movement and will do anything to prevent criticism of its own media output. No doubt pro-Indy groups and individuals will come up with some other way of making videos available for sharing, but using Youtube would appear to be a route best avoided.

This is little short of a declaration of war on the part of the UK state broadcaster. It is a war against freedom of speech and the rights of ordinary citizens to voice their opinion. Fair, balanced and impartial it ain’t.


Showing Resolve

Posted on July 26th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It really is amazing how many Brexiteers seem content to put up with the economic and social implications of their vote. The huge reduction in workers coming from abroad is impacting the NHS, food is rotting in the fields, yet they don’t seem to care; businesses, especially those in the financial sector which is the UK’s main business sector, are moving abroad, yet they don’t seem to care; the UK Government is now admitting that stockpiling of food and medicines is a necessary precaution, yet they don’t seem to care.

This really ought to be a lesson to us when the next IndyRef comes along. Remember how Scots were so scared of being £10 per week worse off if they voted Yes? It was laughable at the time, and seems even more so now when you consider the impact Brexit has already had on the UK.

In fairness, we must acknowledge that the Brexiteers are showing more resolve in the face of potential calamity than 55% of Scots did in 2014. Their devotion to their cause is almost fanatical, while Scots still fret over a theoretical budget deficit and worry whether our nation could actually survive. The fact that so many other countries have survived when their situation has been far less favourable than Scotland’s circumstances simply doesn’t seem to register with far too many Scottish voters. And what far too many people still don’t seem to appreciate is that Scotland as we know it may not survive if we stick with the UK. We are nearing a crucial point in history. How we react will have consequences which will last far beyond our own lifetimes. Let’s not mess it up this time.


Crunch time

Posted on July 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

With the UK steadily bungling its way towards a hard Brexit, calls for a second IndyRef are mounting among Yes activists, and there is growing impatience among many that time is running out. Yet Nicola Sturgeon remains silent on the matter while the SNP MPs in Westminster continue to battle against the odds to preserve some semblance of sanity in the march towards the cliff edge.

I have mentioned before that the SNP have little alternative other than to play a waiting game. If Brexit were to be called off, then the main reason for IndyRef2 would disappear. This does not mean that the case for Scottish independence goes away, but many people would breathe a sigh of relief and it might be difficult to persuade them that Scotland needs to escape the madness.

As every day passes, however, the chances of Brexit being called off diminish. It now seems almost certain that the Brexiteers will get their way and a hard Brexit will ensue. However, there is still a small chance that something dramatic will happen to call the whole thing off.

It must be admitted that this seems unlikely. If Theresa May were looking for an excuse to call a halt, the revelations about the illegality behind the Leave campaign provide her with the perfect excuse to call for a second referendum. So far, she shows no signs of wanting to do this. Indeed, we are now hearing that the UK Government intends to issue advice notices on what to expect in the event of a hard Brexit which is what those controlling May have been after all along. So don’t count on a second referendum being called just because the first one was won by cheating.

What else might halt the drive to a hard Brexit? Some people still talk of an early General Election sparked by Theresa May’s downfall. But May is still clinging on, trying to keep everyone happy in a binary situation which is bound to disappoint around half of the voting population of the UK. Her intent at the moment seems to be to appease the hard-line Brexiteers because to defy them would split the Tory Party. The so-called Tory rebels have caved in at every opportunity, and the majority of Tory MPs are happy to be lobby fodder supporting the Government against the wishes of the electorate who, if polls are to be believed, have changed their mind about Brexit.

Even if she does find herself ousted, it seems unlikely anything would change as regards Brexit. Her replacement is likely to be one of the arch-Brexiteers – a horrifying thought considering how they have blundered and blustered their way through the past 18 months of “negotiations".

And if England decides to back Jeremy Corbyn, that still won’t change things. He is very pro-Brexit and will no doubt continue down the road the Tories have established. His election might result in a delay, but it is unlikely to halt the process entirely.

No, all a snap General Election will do is create a hiatus during which the paucity of actual political solutions will be evident to anyone who cares to look, and very probably a hung Parliament which will nevertheless comprise a majority of pro-Brexit MPs or, at the very least, enough Abstainers to ensure Brexit is not halted.

So what else could stop this insane march to economic and social disaster?

Well, the Brexit negotiations are due to be finalised in October. Things like the Irish and Gibraltar border questions still need to be resolved. As many commentators have pointed out, they cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, so this may result in some crunch talks in October.

While the situation is so fluid that anything could happen, I suspect Nicola Sturgeon is waiting to see what happens in October.

There are a couple of possible scenarios here. The first is that a hard Brexit is confirmed as the talks collapse. If that happens, IndyRef2 is very much back on the agenda. This time around, the undoubted uncertainties surrounding the establishment of Scotland as a normal country can be contrasted with the absolute certainty of the consequences of Brexit. When the Unionists make their usual calls to cling to historical links, when they make daft claims about the so-called “UK Single Market", when they ask what currency we will use, we will be able to point back and ask how they will cope with the loss of all international air flights, with food supplies failing, with medicines running out, and with most international companies having moved their business elsewhere.

In the second scenario, we could see Brexit halted because the questions over the Irish and Gibraltar borders prove insurmountable. In that case, then another General Election is inevitable as the Tory Brexiteers engineer a vote of NO Confidence in Theresa May.

This is a different proposition to the early General Election some believed would happen. If there is a General Election because Brexit has been called off, the SNP should stand on a manifesto of declaring independence if they gain a majority of Scottish seats. Turning the General Election into a de facto referendum on independence means voters will not need to go to the polls twice.

Of course, UK politics are so volatile that something else might happen which nobody has foreseen, but we must be ready for an independence campaign later this year. And, while we do want to paint a positive picture of what an independent Scotland could look like, we know that fear of change motivates many voters. Becoming a normal country after more than three centuries of the Union will undoubtedly present challenges, but they are nothing compared to the challenges we will face if we stick with a post-Brexit UK.


Ambitious Choices

Posted on July 15th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Most people will be familiar with the famous saying that the one thing we learn from history is that people never learn from history. If you ever doubted the veracity of the remark, look around you and see what is happening in politics.

As a young teenager, I read a lot of books about the Second World War which had ended only a dozen years before I was born. My father served overseas and was severely wounded for his troubles, so it was fairly natural that I should take an interest in those events. At the time, there were plenty of books and films being produced which gave a variety of perspectives on the conflict. One novel I read (and I honestly don’t remember the book title or author) had a comment that not all the Nazis fought on the Axis side. I recall being fairly annoyed when reading that because we were the good guys, after all. We fought the Nazis and defeated them, so everyone on our side must have been anti-Nazi. In one sense, of course, they were, but as I grew older I began to appreciate that the comment was perhaps not all that far from the truth.

Yet my generation still understood the horror of allowing authoritarian political movements to seize control of a nation state. We used the terms Nazi and Fascist but, to be fair, extremists exhibit the same behaviour whether they claim to be on the extreme Left or the extreme Right of politics. Whatever name you care to use to label them, they present a genuine threat to the ideas of liberal democracy which formed the prevailing ethos in the post-war era. Xenophobia, the persecution of minority groups, increasing militarisation, and the accumulation of privilege among a selected few are just some aspects which people of the older generation can recognise as being fascist.

We used to wonder how people in 1930s Spain, Italy and Germany could allow such cruel groups to take control of their countries, yet now we are experiencing the same things ourselves and it is very frightening because of its seemingly inexorable tide as extreme views become state policy, each one going a step further than the last.

At the moment, the USA is the most prominent example of how extremism can take control, but every country has its share of people who espouse authoritarian views, and they are becoming more prominent in places like Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Italy and Spain, while Russia has been an authoritarian state for the past century, with only a brief flirtation with genuine democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. And, of course, we should not exclude the UK from that list since the persecution of minority groups and rampant xenophobia are all too evident in our own society.

But it is the USA which attracts most attention by virtue of its power, influence and the rapidity with which it is marching towards the Right. You can argue over whether Donald Trump ever really believed he would become President; you can debate whether he is a manipulator or is being manipulated by others; you can deride him as infantile, but however he achieved his current position, he has enabled those who espouse extreme views to voice their opinion and shape policy. Having set this example, people in other countries are, sadly, following his lead.

Many of us ask how ordinary people can continue to support such views, especially when the evidence of history shows us that authoritarian states do not enrich the lives of the ordinary people but instead see the accumulation of wealth by the ruling elite. It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas, isn’t it? This is a question which would probably challenge experts in psychology and sociology, so don’t expect a short, simple answer here. However, we must recognise that there will always be some people who are susceptible to persuasion that everything wrong with their lives is the fault of outsiders, and who believe the promises that any individual can achieve wealth if they work hard enough. Combine this with nationalistic fervour which elevates the nation state above all other states, and you create an environment in which hatred can breed.

But, as we can see from our experience in the UK, such extremism does not need to be as overt as the American example provides. Casual racism and a sense of British exceptionalism has been a part of UK society for centuries, taking a strong grip in the Victorian days of Empire and barely loosening its hold despite the more liberal attitudes of the immediate post-war era. Now we see that xenophobia and persecution of minority groups are state policy as the Windrush and Universal Credit issues show us only too well. Yet even with people committing suicide because of cuts to social security, even with people who have lived all their lives in the UK being deported, even with food banks proliferating, even with Brexit guaranteed to make the vast majority of people poorer and more vulnerable to exploitation, the Tories are still ahead in the opinion polls.

We should always be sceptical of polls which are often described as being used to influence public opinion rather than reflect them, but we must face the fact that the voters of England in particular keep voting for the Tories. Why on earth do they do this when many of them must surely be able to see what harm is being done by Tory policies?

Of course, there will always be those who have benefitted from the system and so will vote to maintain the status quo, but the Tories also derive a lot of support from people who would not, on the face of it, be their natural support base. Pandering to the xenophobia, which UK society has always encouraged even if only in subtle ways, may be one answer, but the other surely lies in the desire that every individual harbours; the desire to improve one’s lot in life. Through our media, we are bombarded with visions of how the wealthy live, and we are encouraged to believe that we, too, could achieve this exalted status with all the wealth and privilege it brings. This is part of the big trick because, although a handful of individuals may well achieve riches, the vast majority will never move beyond the circumstances they were born into. Yet the dream lives on, and allows people to vote for a system they are told will give them a chance to escape their current circumstances. This, in itself, is an example of the Me First society the Tories have promoted since Margaret Thatcher came to power, and it is, perhaps, the essential problem facing us today.

As long ago as the third century BCE, the Greek philosopher Epicurus put forward the view that comparing ourselves to others and wishing for more than we already possess was the surest way to unhappiness. Contentment, he said, came from being satisfied with what blessings you already have. Now, this can be viewed in a couple of ways. You may agree that being jealous of someone else’s good fortune is no way to be happy within yourself, or you may say that simply accepting one’s position shows a lack of ambition.

Indeed, we should all be ambitious, but it is the nature of that ambition which divides our society. Some – perhaps far too many – are ambitious only for themselves. They want fame and fortune for their own personal benefit because that is the way they perceive society operating. They see the world divided into winners and losers, and because they work hard they cannot understand why they are not among the winners. This creates a sense of resentment which needs an outlet; an outlet provided by politicians who direct the ire towards minority groups.

Others, in contrast, are ambitious for the whole of society. This is often dismissed as idealistic since there will always be levels of wealth and status within a liberal democracy. But, while this is true, those of us who grew up in the post-war era can recognise that we were all part of a great social experiment which allowed the working class to greatly enhance their position. Yes, there were still rich people around, but everyone had a chance, through excellent and free education and healthcare, to gain more control over their own destiny. We did not all become superstars or millionaires, but when we look back at the conditions our parents and grandparents grew up in, we were all several notches up the ladder from where they had been.

The difference in attitudes between those who are ambitious for themselves and those who are ambitious for everyone is that the former are quite happy to pull the ladder up after them or stand on the fingers of others who want to climb it, while the latter want everyone to be able to climb as high as they can.

Now, however, thanks to the rise of the Right wing, all of the advances made in the post-war years are under threat. Those who promote division, racism and persecution are in control, and their influence is emboldening that element of the population who believe the jingoistic slogans because they have been taught to believe them.

Where does this leave us, and how can we alter things?

These are difficult questions to answer. Protests on the streets and angry comments on social media can only go so far. Our main weapon is the ballot box and we must use it. Not only that, we must encourage everyone we know to use it and to use it wisely. There will always be some individuals who are beyond persuasion, but many people remain poorly informed and subjected to the mainstream media narrative which is designed to prevent them challenging the status quo. We need to decide which direction we want our society to go, whether that is as part of the UK, a member of the EU or as a normal nation in control of its own affairs. Above all, we need to learn from our history and try to avoid the mistakes of the past. More and more people are starting to realise that Scotland made a huge mistake in 2014. We know now that even the ballot box cannot save us in UK General Elections because the Westminster system is designed to maintain the status quo.

Which really only leaves us one choice if we are to avoid following England down the path towards fascism.

So when we get another chance, please make sure we don’t repeat the mistake we made last time.


What If?

Posted on July 8th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

According to the Disabled Living Foundation, there are around 13.3 million disabled people living in the UK. That’s almost one in five of the total population. Of these, only about 17% are born with a disability. By my rough calculation, this means that anyone reading this article who does not currently have a disability has around a 15% chance of developing one either as a result of an accident, an inherited condition or simple bad luck in their health.

If you are lucky enough not to have developed a disability already, then I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen to you because, as we know only too well, the disabled, along with the poor and the unemployed, have been a primary target for the Tories’ Austerity-driven policies.

But the harm is not confined to economics. The resurgence of hatred and division as political tools has also resulted in people with disabilities being targeted for attacks ranging from verbal abuse to actual physical harm. That’s what happens when picking on the vulnerable becomes State policy.

All of this is over and above the daily problems faced by people with disabilities. Simply coping with daily life can take huge amounts of effort for people who just want to be able to participate in society like everyone else.

But, bearing in mind the statistics mentioned above, perhaps those people who support Tory policies which are designed to harm disabled people ought to take a few moments to reflect on how they would feel if something bad suddenly happened to them. Would they still back the degrading PIP assessments and the callous disregard for actual health problems which Work Capability Assessments seem to delight in? How would they claim Universal Credit if they find themselves unable to use a computer to register online?

Of course, nobody ever thinks it will happen to them, but the reality is very different. And if you are one of the 80% who are fortunate enough to avoid disabling accidents or health issues, then you ought at least to consider your good fortune and not look down on those who have been less privileged.

Right Wing politicians are very good at directing hatred towards minority groups because they understand that they can only maintain their control by ensuring that the populace remains divided. People cannot alter their ethnic background, the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation, but their status as an able-bodied person can certainly change. So why do so many people discriminate against a group of people they might well suddenly find are their fellow sufferers? There is probably no simple answer to that question, but a part of it must be the daily diet of hate coming from the media and Right Wing politicians and councillors which encourages people to behave with animosity towards anyone they perceive as different.

Hatred of others is learned, and far too many people seem happy to take the opportunities our society is now giving them to express their hate. Some of these people are probably beyond redemption, but others may yet come to see that they are being influenced and encouraged. It is important that we do not answer hate with hate. We should call out discrimination when we see it, and we must encourage people to join us in speaking out. It is likely that we will never eradicate discrimination because there will always be self-serving politicians who understand that encouraging division will help their own cause, but that does not mean we should give up. What we need to aim for is a society where any form of discrimination, in word or deed, is viewed as socially unacceptable. If people harbour such hurtful views, then they need to understand that they should keep them to themselves. And if they are directing their hatred at people with disabilities, then they ought to be reminded that they may well find themselves in that same position one day.


Anyone But England?

Posted on July 6th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The BBC in Scotland have been trying to make news out of the fact that many Scots are not supporting England in the World Cup and that many go so far as to support whoever England are playing against. IN some perverted way, this is seen as evidence that those who support Scottish independence are anti-English.

The reality is that, as with any sporting rivalry, there will always be those who harbour a dislike of their nearest and greatest rivals. Look at any local derby football match for confirmation of this. Whether this dislike continues after a match will depend on the individual concerned, but whatever people’s sporting views are, it is wrong to assume that these can be used as evidence of their political views.

As for the issue of Scottish football fans not supporting England, a trawl through social media comments will show that the problem lies not so much with the sporting aspect but with the media.

Let’s face it, England have a good team with a lot of talented players. They may or may not win the World Cup, but they certainly have a chance. They also have a manager who is increasingly showing himself to be calm, sensible, and good at man management.

The problem, though, is with the media. But let us admit that the Scottish media would probably be just as excited and over the top if Scotland were ever to do well in a World Cup. Those old enough to remember 1978 will know what that was like. An official celebration parade before the team even left was embarrassing, and let’s not even talk about that song.

But Scottish media, such as it is, only reaches Scotland. Our problem at the moment is that every time we turn on the television or radio, we hear about England and how they are on track to win the World Cup. This would not happen in a normal country. We should not begrudge English football fans their moment of enjoyment, but neither should we, as a separate nation, be compelled to share in it whether we want to or not. Many of us wish the England team well, but a more detached reporting of their progress, and that of every other team in the competition, would be more appropriate in a normal country.

The problem is that the BBC broadcasts with the view of the majority of the UK in mind, which means it is, understandably, very focused on England. There was a similar presentation back in 2014 during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. During the day, Radio 5 was the channel to follow the action. The coverage was good, but concentrated very much on the performance of individual English athletes. Welsh, Irish and Scottish athletes were mentioned, of course, especially if they won medals, but the main focus was on the English athletes. In the evenings, it was possible to switch to Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland where the emphasis shifted. It must also be said that the Sportsound team, who generally commentate on football and rugby, brought a light-hearted and informal, if very pro-Scottish, view to their commentaries.

Which brings us back to the inescapable fact that Scotland’s media is not normal. We know broadcasting is not devolved because that would mean a loss of control of the news narrative from Westminster, but the other result of this is that our sports coverage is also Anglo-centric. In the days of the old Home Internationals, Scottish viewers would hear Scottish commentators when Scotland played England. Now, when England play other teams, we hear only the English perspective. It is easy to say this shouldn’t matter, but any sporting fan will tell you that listening to your greatest rivals go on about how good they are is a real turn off.

Now I’m off to watch the World Cup. And, as usual, I’ll be rooting for Brazil.


Painting Pictures With Words

Posted on July 1st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s spider

the #VIVID campaign (Visual Images for the Visually Impaired Described) has struggled to gain momentum, but I’ve had some success at individual levels and many of the people I follow on Twitter now add descriptions to their pictures as a matter of course. Some occasionally forget, while others steadfastly refuse to participate, but the response from most people who learn about it has been superb. I and other visually impaired Tweeters are really grateful for these demonstrations of inclusiveness.

If you haven’t heard about Image Descriptions, you are probably wondering what they are and why they are so important.

The first thing you need to know is that many visually impaired people use smartphones or tablets to participate in social media. They do this using aps known as Screen Readers which read aloud the text on the screen when the screen is touched by a finger. Navigation is achieved through a variety of taps and swipes on the screen. Using a screen reader, any blind person can read Tweets with no difficulty. The problem arises when they come across a picture which, of course, is completely meaningless, and is reported to them as “Image". This is particularly frustrating when the tweet has no text to provide context.

Fortunately, Twitter have a facility which allows sighted users to add descriptions to the pictures they post. These descriptions are added behind the scenes but are detected by Screen Readers and read aloud, enabling the visually impaired Tweeter to understand what is being discussed. As someone who has no vision at all, I cannot stress enough what a difference this makes to our sense of involvement.

So, how do you add these descriptions? There’s a link to the official Twitter instructions at the end of this article, but here are the main points to bear in mind.

The setting will be in your Twitter User Menu under Settings, then Accessibility. Image descriptions can be found near the end of the list. Enable it, then save the settings if necessary.

After that, each time you select a picture to add to a Tweet, there will be an extra button marked something like, “Add Image Description" depending on what sort of device and software you are using. Click this, type a description of the picture, select “Apply", then post your Tweet as normal.

It’s as easy as that. The hardest part is remembering to add the description, since the system means it is easy to forget if you are in a hurry. Please take those few extra seconds to help out people who can’t see. You can regard it as one of your good deeds for the day.

There are some important points to keep in mind, though.

This function is not available if you use a Windows phone.

It doesn’t work if you access Twitter via the Twitter website on a phone or tablet. You need to use the standard Twitter app.

It doesn’t work if you access Twitter via a Third Party app such as Tweetdeck.

Other than that, you should be OK on any PC, phone or tablet, although the other quirk people have discovered is that if you use the shortcut Reply button to respond to a Tweet and then try to add a picture, it won’t let you add a description. You need to actually open the Tweet and select Reply from within the Tweet screen. The Image Description option will then magically appear.

As I say, it’s easy to do although it is not an ideal system, but it really does help anyone who is visually impaired and there are probably a lot more of us than you realise; it’s just that most VI people simply shrug and pass over Tweets with pictures rather than make a fuss about it, which is why you maybe don’t know about Image descriptions.

Finally, a few words on what to say when adding a description. Some people worry about this but, quite honestly, anything is better than nothing. If it’s a picture of someone well known, simply adding their name helps. If it’s a more complex picture, the more you can type, the better, but don’t get too hung up on it. For example, adding a description of, “Man sitting at a desk" is perfectly adequate. You could provide more detail and say, “Young man with fair hair, sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen."

The best thing to do is imagine how you would like the picture described to you if you could not see it, but a short description is far, far better than nothing at all as long as it conveys some sense of what the picture shows.

Problems do arise when you post a screenshot of a Tweet. Because this is posted as a picture, the text in the Tweet you have photographed will not be read by a screen Reader. If you can, and if it is important to the point of your Tweet, it’s a great help if you can explain who the Tweet is from and what it says. At the very least, though, please say, “Screenshot of a tweet by …" so a visually impaired Tweeter knows something about it.

The same applies to images of long screeds of text.

Nobody is asking you to type all that out, but please explain what it is and what its significance is.

So there you go. Thanks for reading this far. Now please change those settings and start typing descriptions.

Here’s the link to the official Help pages on how to set it up for PC, Android and iOS devices:

https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/picture-descriptions


Heathrow Row

Posted on June 26th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The rumpus surrounding the vote in the House of Commons regarding whether or not to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow has thrown up all sorts of interesting issues.

In Scotland, much of the focus has been on the fact that SNP MPs did not bother voting despite the Scottish Government previously indicating that it was in favour of the third runway.

Colonel Davidson took to social media to castigate the SNP for changing their minds and so placing a potential 16,000 Scottish jobs at risk. This seems an astonishingly high figure and some people have pointed out that it comes from a highly optimistic forecast produced by some business analysts employed by Heathrow to promote the third runway project. In fact, the forecast claims that up to 16,000 Scottish jobs could be created by the year 2050. That’s quite a forecast if it can see that far into the future and, of course, the words “up to" are notoriously flexible when it comes to such crystal ball gazing, including, as they do, the number 1.

The SNP also came in for some criticism from individuals living in England who were outraged that they should have a vote at all. I mean, how dare politicians from another country vote on issues affecting their neighbour? This attitude also suggests that some people don’t realise just how many flights there are between Scotland and Heathrow.

This, of course, is why the Scottish Government initially favoured the expansion at Heathrow. It is a view many of us disagreed with since we would prefer to see increased use of Scottish airports. Many people have pointed out that the largest export by weight from Heathrow is Scottish salmon which, by virtue of being routed via Heathrow, does not count as Scottish exports. Why can this, and other, produce not be flown out of the underused Prestwick airport?

Another issue raised was the estimated cost of £14 billion. It seems the Tories’ Magic Money Tree is always able to bear fruit when infrastructure costs are required in and around London.

As it turned out, of course, the SNP’s involvement in the vote would have been meaningless. The proposal passed by 415 votes to 119. Whichever way the SNP had voted, it would have made no difference to the outcome.

However, we should not shy away from criticising the SNP for abstaining. It was a fudge so that they could not be accused by Scottish businesses of voting against a proposal which might have produced more jobs and business for Scotland. Yet the decision rather undermines Ian Blackford’s assertion that the SNP would disrupt the business of Parliament in protest at how Scotland has been treated by the UK Government. Unless the SNP knew in advance that the vote would be so one-sided, their votes against the proposal might have created problems for the UK Government. Equally, if they were confident that the proposal would carry with such a majority, voting against it would not have altered the outcome but might have sent a signal that they were against a vanity project which Brexit may yet render a waste of time.

But now the Heathrow runway can be added to the ever-growing list of things Scotland will need to contribute to but which will probably bring little benefit to Scotland. Heathrow does have an advantage over things like the London sewers, the London Crossrail link, and HS2 in that some flights to Scotland might be able to take advantage of the extra capacity, but anyone who believes that a possible benefit for Scotland featured in the UK Government’s thinking hasn’t been paying attention to what is going on in Westminster.


Voice From The Past

Posted on June 24th, 2018

The letter below, purportedly written in 1844, has been circulating on social media for a few days, and has been kindly transcribed for this site by @Lara_Scotland. It has proved difficult to verify the context or provenance of the text, although the linguistic style does suggest it is authentic. It is certainly very passionate and strongly worded. If genuine, it confirms that strong feelings about Scotland’s place in the UK have been around for a very long time.

"Of yore, Scotsmen required no stimulus to prompt them to instant and energetic exertion, when their rights were trampled on, and their national honour invaded. How much stronger is the necessity *now* for our resuming a portion of the spirit of our ancestors, when our fatherland, in consequence of being united to England, has been sunk into a *contemptible province*, stripped of her very name, deprived of the power to remove those crying evils which afflict her, both socially and politically and when she is left with no other memorials of her former dignity and independence but the moss-covered ruins of her palaces and citadels, whose gigantic fragments but all too emphatically tell what Scotland once was, and what she now is.

Never was the destruction of an ancient state more complete and humiliating than that of Scotland; - never did a people consent so tamely to surrender their liberties, and submit themselves to the overbearing dictation of another kingdom, as the Scotch have done. No amount of prosperity, whether commercial or agricultural, can excuse or palliate *mean* conduct like this; and however much we may boast ourselves of our enlightenment, and the pretended happiness we enjoy under English rule, were our unpolished, but brave, honest, and shrewd Scottish ancestors to rise from their graves, and to behold in us their descendants the wreck and prostration of that glorious principle of nationality which burned so intensely in their bosoms, and for which they so often enthusiastically fought and bled, they would utterly disown and despise us.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,

JOHN STEILL

14 November 1844"


What Now?

Posted on June 21st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed through the UK Parliament, complete with the Power Grab clause which will allow Westminster to neuter the Scottish Parliament in order to fully exploit Scotland’s resources so they can bolster the failing economy of post-Brexit UK. All the fuss about the unelected Lords making a difference, all the bluster of the Tory rebels and all the sanctimonious twaddle from Labour about a Brexit that works, came to nothing as the Tories rammed through their dream of isolationism and xenophobia.

Where does this leave Scotland? Quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much that can halt Brexit now. The Irish Border issue may yet scupper things, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. If the Tories can turn a blind eye to Parliamentary sovereignty, they can surely persuade enough Labour MPs to back them in order to override the concerns of the DUP.

Apart from that, only independence can prevent Scotland from being dragged down with the rest of the UK. Let’s hope Nicola Sturgeon has got a sound strategy worked out because there is little doubt Theresa May will refuse to agree to a referendum.

The future is looking messy, whatever happens, but a future as a normal country, difficult as it might be, surely can’t be as bleak as the future that awaits us if we pay heed to the media and stick with the UK.


What's In A Name?

Posted on June 20th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

As usual, the arguments being put forward by Unionists about the Power Grab are designed to cloud the real issue. They claim it cannot be a Power grab because the Scottish Government currently has no control over decision-making by the EU. If the powers don’t currently reside at Holyrood, how can Westminster be grabbing them?

It’s a semantic argument and misses the real point of the issue.

Quite simply, if Westminster retains control of these powers after Brexit, they will be able to override the Scottish Government on issues like fracking, food quality standards, GM crops, animal welfare and more. To say that it will only be for a period of seven years is a red herring. Look at the damage done to society by the Tories in the past eight years. If anyone thinks Scotland will be able to reverse seven years of Tory control over our environment, they must have been asleep since 2010.

So, whether you want to call it a Power Grab or anything else, it’s vitally important that it does not happen. And the way things are going, there’s only one possible way of escaping it.


The Constitution

Posted on June 16th, 2018

The constitution of the UK is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny, yet even legal experts can’t agree on the current status of the relationship between Scotland and England, nor how it could be terminated in the event that Scotland were to become a normal country.

One view holds that, when the Scottish Parliament voted to dissolve itself in 1707 and pass all responsibility for government to the slightly expanded Westminster, then this meant that Westminster held absolute authority which the Devolution settlement of the late 20th Century did nothing to alter since the constitution remained a reserved matter. If this argument is accepted, then Scotland can do nothing to alter the constitution without Westminster’s approval. Some even go a stage further and claim that it was not only the Scottish Parliament which was dissolved when the Treaty of Union was signed in 1707, but that the nation of Scotland also effectively ceased to exist as a distinct entity, although strangely, the same does not usually seem to apply to England by those putting this idea forward.

There is, however, another view, and this has been receiving a fair bit of attention recently with many people claiming that the Union was created by a treaty and that treaties can be dissolved by either party to the agreement. Recently, an explanation of this argument was posted in a Facebook discussion in the form of an address to Ian Blackford MP, leader of the SNP at Westminster. Rather than paraphrase, here is that post, attributed to a certain Gordon Blackhall and kindly copied for this blog by Andrew Davidson.

“The Act and Treaties of Union is a Union of 2 EQUAL PARTNERS.

It is also a condition of Union that one partner cannot subjugate the will of the other. (That would mean they are NOT equal, which is clearly the opposite of the Act’s Wording.

That’s before we factor in Scots law and Sovereignty of the People of Scotland, both of which are legally protected by the very Act and Treaties of Union itself.

Any breach of those 2 aspects is also a breach of the Union, ending it.

So why, you may ask, has Scotsgov not invoked these breaches of the Act?

Simply put, because, technically they have not happened yet.

The Continuity Bill has not yet been legally challenged as yet (a lawyers letter stating possible intent, is NOT an advancement of legal action, it is merely at this stage, posturing) so there has been no subjugation of Scots law as yet.

This will change with the passing of the Brexit Bill without Scottish Legislative Consent Motion (subjugation of the Sovereign Scots people’s expressed desire re: devolution, voted for by plebiscite) or by any ACTUAL court case challenging the Holyrood Continuity Bill (Subjugation of Scots Law by way of over writing it, contrary to the terms of the Act and Treaties of Union, which specifically protect Scots law “in perpetuity" (forever).

The Brexit Bill has yet to be passed as yet either, but the legal intent will be known by the time it is required to be send to the EU for ratification by EU 27.

That legally approved statement of intent is also a reasonable legal trigger for Scottish action to claim that WM has breached the terms of the Act and Treaties of Union by means of Subjugation of Scots Law, in respect of WM not having Legislative consent from Holyrood, and WM over writing Scots Law with WM law, in respect to the Holyrood Continuity Bill regarding the 111 powers under dispute, which the Continuity Bill lays legal claim to under Scots Law, based on the principle of Devolution, “what is not specifically reserved is Devolved".

Because Devolution is the Express will of Sovereign Scots by plebiscite, any over ruling of the Continuity bill is both subjugation of Scots people’s sovereignty AND subjugation of Scots Law which wrote the Continuity Bill, claiming legal rights over the 111 powers which clearly fall under the Devolved powers remit.

The above is all about TIMING, go too early, and a legal challenge will fail.

This is why WM have tried to provoke the Scotsgov into a mistake on timing so they can claim legal incompetence.

The Scotsgov are on the ball with this, hence the WM desperation."


Face, Meet Egg

Posted on June 14th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Yesterday, I posted an article explaining why I thought the SNP MPs needed to remain at Westminster and put up with the contempt and abuse in order to create a case for saying they had tried, but failed, to work within the Westminster system. As everyone knows by now, this opinion was out of date within thirty minutes of posting as the SNP staged a walkout. At time of writing today’s piece, I’m not sure whether they will have resumed their seats having made their point or whether it will be a permanent walkout. I suspect they’ll be back in the Commons for the reasons I outlined yesterday, but who knows?

One thing I did get right was the media reaction which has largely, although not exclusively, been to push the Tory narrative that the walkout was a stunt.

There is no doubt that Ian Blackford intended to disrupt Prime Minister’s Questions. The timing of his request for a vote makes that perfectly clear. However, claims that the entire thing was a pre-planned stunt presuppose he knew the Speaker would expel him from the House when he was abiding by House rules. That seems unlikely. Unless he was in collusion with the speaker, the expulsion cannot have been pre-planned since the rules back Mr Blackford’s position, even though he was making unusual use of his rights.

Whatever happened, the walkout has achieved its purpose, which was to highlight the democratic outrage currently taking place in Westminster. The media has been doing its best to downplay the looming constitutional crisis, keeping many Scots ignorant of what has been happening, but now they are forced to admit that something serious is going on. Whether their spin will backfire on the SNP remains to be seen, but their walkout has raised the bar. It has also resulted in nearly two thousand new Party members as people realise that we are facing a critical moment.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. After yesterday’s events, I’m not going to try to make any more predictions.

We live in interesting times.


Stay or Walk?

Posted on June 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Nobody should really be surprised by what happened in the House of Commons yesterday. The Tories have shown time and again that they have no intentions of listening to Scotland and of forging ahead with Brexit whatever the cost. Labour, meanwhile, adopted their usual stance of abstaining on the Devolution vote, with some of their MPs even voting alongside the Tories on some of the other amendments.

We were told that the reason for Brexit is that Parliament wanted to take back control, but it has instead shrugged when offered the chance and decided to allow Tory Ministers to do whatever they want without the need for Parliamentary approval. There was talk of some Tory rebels voting against the Government but, as usual, they chickened out at the last moment, allegedly because they believed some promises made by Theresa May on concessions she would allow in the next draft of the Bill. Based on her track record, it seems unlikely those promises will be kept, but they have achieved their purpose.

As for the so-called debates, when the farcical voting system was taken into account, MPs had a whole 15 minutes to debate the Devolution amendment. The Tories got up to their usual trick of talking out the time.

The entire thing was a fiasco, a mockery of democracy, and an insult to Scotland. The Tories’ response to a complaint lodged by Ian Blackford, SNP leader at Westminster, was to advise him, and presumably every other Scot who doesn’t like what they are up to, to commit suicide. Given the number of desperate people who have already been driven to take their own lives by Tory Austerity, that comment is, quite frankly, sickening.

There was a great deal of outcry on social media, with many people stating that the SNP MPs should now walk out of Westminster since there is no chance of them ever being listened to. That is an understandable reaction but, tempting as it seems, it is one the SNP will probably resist.

There are sound reasons for them to stay where they are and, frustrating as it must be for them, to continue to try to work within the bizarre framework imposed by Westminster. That’s because the path the Tories are careering down is bound to bring about another IndyRef.

Brexit is not going to be stopped now, so dissolving the Union is the only course left to Scotland unless we want to go down with the sinking ship that the UK is becoming.

But if the SNP walk out of Westminster now, this would give the media an opportunity to paint them as acting on grievance and going into a sulk before the full Parliamentary process has taken place. The fact that this process has already excluded Scotland won’t matter because the media will want to paint the SNP as the ones at fault.

However, once Brexit becomes an absolute inevitability and the Withdrawal Bill process has been completed, the Scottish Government will be able to demonstrate that the SNP have repeatedly tried to work within the Westminster rules and been denied at every stage. They will then be able to say, with complete justification, that they have no alternative but to call for another IndyRef. So, hard as it may be to put up with the constant barrage of insults thrown at them, a walkout is not the best thing to do . Yet.


Rivalry Isn't Racism

Posted on June 12th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The BBC’s Sarah Smith continued her anti-SNP efforts at the weekend, spending her time at the SNP conference asking politicians which team they would be supporting at the World Cup, and taking to Twitter to gleefully announce that most would not be supporting England. Her motivation for conflating football rivalry with racism is pretty clear, and it is a sad indictment of the state of our media when such things are deemed newsworthy.

One wonders whether this sort of nonsense happens in other countries. I don’t recall any Plaid Cymru politicians being asked which team they were supporting in the Scotland vs England cricket match, nor am I aware that Italian politicians are being asked by Swiss journalists whether they will be supporting Switzerland.

Now, it’s true that football has an issue with racism, but that doesn’t mean every football fan is a racist. And failing to support your greatest rivals is hardly unique to Scottish football fans. Does every Atletico Madrid fan wish Real Madrid well in European competitions? Will Dutch fans be supporting Germany in the World Cup? These are very silly questions indeed, and it is rather pathetic that anyone at the BBC should try to create a story out of it.

Sadly, Brexit has unleashed the latent xenophobia and racism which has always been an underlying problem within British culture. Every nation has its share of bigots and racists, but this trait is now deemed acceptable by large parts of the UK media and public. On the same day that Sarah Smith was touting her nonsense, supporters of the jailed Tommy Robinson were attacking Police and making Nazi salutes in London. For some reason, the BBC did not deem this as newsworthy as Scottish politicians not fervently backing England in football matches.

But the issue is that racism is now so openly flaunted that it is something which is well understood by a disappointingly large proportion of the UK public. If Sarah Smith tells them that supporters of Scottish independence are racists, it is something many people can very easily relate to. Even the majority of people who deplore racism see it so often in their newspapers and on television that they can instantly understand the message they are being sent. The Scots hate the English; that is all independence is about. They will naturally react with horror and disgust, and so are able to dismiss any of the rational arguments put forward by those they now believe are racists.

Of course, we know the truth is that most people in Scotland, whether they support independence or not, have English friends and relatives. If we happen to dislike any of those relatives, it’s not because they are English, but probably for the same sort of reasons we dislike some of our fellow Scots.

Unfortunately, this smear attempt will not end here. We can expect a lot more of it as the mainstream media becomes more and more desperate to damage the case for independence. They know the UK is coming apart at the seams, and they will stoop to any levels in their attempts to hold it together.


Negotiations UK Style

Posted on June 9th, 2018

by Stan Donderite

“We’re taking back control."

“What does that mean?"

“It means we’ll have control over all the things the EU currently legislates on."

“So that means we’ll have full control over things like farming, fishing, environment and the like?"

“No, we’ll be looking after those things for you. We’re taking back control."

“But those things are devolved. You can’t take back control of things you said we control."

“Yes, we’re taking back control. We need to set up UK-wide frameworks."

“Fine, but those frameworks need to be agreed between us because those areas are devolved."

“Don’t worry, we won’t do anything unless you agree."

“OK, so let’s set out the terms of how they will be handled."

“We’ve already drafted that. Look, here it is."

“But this says you are in control of everything and don’t need our consent!"

“Yes, we’re taking back control."

“But those are devolved areas of responsibility! We are not going to agree to that."

“Yes you are."

“But you said you wouldn’t do anything without our consent."

“We assume you will give your consent because that’s how the UK constitution works. “

“We are not agreeing to any of this!"

“Suit yourselves. We’re doing it anyway."

“You do realise this will create a constitutional crisis?"

“No it won’t. Our pals in the media will make sure everyone knows there is nothing to worry about. People in Scotland don’t want a second referendum, so they’ll accept whatever we tell them."

“No they won’t. You’ve told too many lies in the past few years."

“So what? They’ll believe whatever we tell them. Why do you think we won’t let you have control of the media? Mugs! Now why don’t you toddle back to the most powerful devolved parliament in the universe and stop making such a fuss. We are rather busy at the moment. We need to get on with the Brexit negotiations."

To be continued ….


Yes Perth

Posted on June 6th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting arranged by Yes Perth yesterday. The room was packed as we listened to an excellent talk by David Hooks (aka @PoliticsScot) on the subject of the Scottish media. This was followed by some great discussion as questions and suggestions were put forward by a very engaged and politically aware audience. I think most of us came away with a positive feeling and some excellent ideas for how to challenge the media narrative.

Reframing the arguments to force people to make the case for the Union instead of us having to defend the case for independence was very much the big idea to take away from the evening.

There was, I believe, also an acceptance that we will not be able to alter the way the media, and in particular the BBC, operates. We cannot prevent them getting their message out, but we can help fight that message.

One way we can do this is to contribute towards the various pro-Indy media sites which are always in need of financial support. I still pay my TV licence because, although I don’t watch much TV myself, other members of my household do. Also, there are still a handful of good programmes on the BBC. I do enjoy some of the comedy panel shows, and their nature documentaries remain world class. It is the News output I refuse to watch. Yet I can’t dictate that my licence fee is only used to fund certain programmes, so my own solution is to make sure I donate an equivalent amount of money to the various pro-Indy media sites over the course of the year. That way, I reckon I’m giving more to pro-Indy news than to BBC news.

Of course, everyone needs to find their own solutions. Some people are well suited to having one to one conversations and using gentle persuasion; others can help spread the word through public events or writing blogs; many will make the effort to attend marches and demonstrations. It is all part of the campaign which will be won by the grass roots because the only way we can tackle the mainstream media message is by making our own message highly visible and audible.

Keeping in touch and sharing ideas is also important, so I’m glad I was able to get to Perth yesterday. Thanks to William Duguid for arranging the meeting and to everyone who attended. It was nice to escape the online world for once and find a group of like-minded and very real people. Hope to see you all again soon.


Free?

Posted on June 6th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I had some interesting responses to a Tweet I posted last week about a conversation between two pensioners which was overheard on a bus. The point I was trying to make is that a lot of people don’t seem to appreciate or even realise how fortunate they are that the Scottish Government maintains a stance of providing so many free services. It was retweeted a fair bit and, as you’d expect, came in for some criticism.

The negative responses fell into three categories. The most common reply was to assert that I had invented the conversation to make a point. There’s not a lot I can say to argue with this since it boils down to my word against that of other people who have already made up their minds. All I can say is that the story was told to me by an eyewitness whom I trust implicitly. What I found odd, though, was that calling me a liar was sometimes the first argument put forward by people who actually had far more valid grounds to argue against my original comment.

That’s because many people quite rightly reminded me that the various free things I had mentioned had actually been introduced by previous Labour Governments. I can only hold my hands up and admit they are right. I’ll be sure to remember that in future.

But it’s the third category I think is worth responding to in far more detail than Twitter allows. It is factually correct but, in my view, rather pedantic. It is that none of the things mentioned, i.e. transport, healthcare and prescriptions, are free because they are paid for out of taxes. One person seemed quite indignant that her taxes were being used to fund such things, but perhaps I misinterpreted her angry reply.

Now, it is true that every service provided by any Government is funded out of taxation or Government borrowing. Whether it is healthcare, policing, pensions, or nuclear weapons, if the Government funds it, then taxation / borrowing is where the money comes from.

But that rather misses the point. When we say healthcare is provided free, we mean it is free at the point of use by anyone who needs it, irrespective of whether they have ever paid any taxes themselves.

Education is a good example, since we know Scottish students who attend university pay no additional fees for the tuition, while those in England do, normally by running up large student loans. The actual education provision in Scotland is funded by Government but, as far as individual students are concerned, they pay nothing and so it is “free".

I’m not sure why so many people seemed upset at me saying such things are free. Perhaps it is because, in the UK, we are taught via the media that taxes are a bad thing and that people who live off the state are scroungers. This is strange since everyone knows that it is our taxes that pay for the vital public services we all want and need. It would be nice if the culture of self-interest could be shifted so that people took pride in paying more tax in the knowledge that their contributions were funding things for the public good, although whether that situation could ever arise in the UK seems rather doubtful given the current dominance of Right Wing thinking in UK politics.

It is, though, this attitude of self-interest which convinces so many people who are less well off to keep voting Tory. The lure of maybe escaping poverty through hard work seems to attract voters in England even though all the evidence suggests that such an escape is highly unlikely. In fact, you are more likely to suffer an accident or health issue which leaves you disabled than you are to join the ranks of the wealthy. I often wonder how people’s attitude towards taxation and public services alters when something bad does happen to them. Believe me, it is when such problems hit you that you really begin to appreciate the free provision of services.

Then there is the whole issue of where a Government’s spending priorities should lie. We are already seeing the effects of spending cuts on the NHS in England, something we have, so far, been protected from. But it goes further than that. The extension of free prescriptions to everyone actually helps in the longer term since people on low incomes are not forced to choose between paying for essential medication or paying for food, rent or heating. If someone feels they cannot afford to pay for medication, they could well develop serious health conditions which could require hospitalisation. It’s very much a case of prevention being better than cure.

As for those, like Colonel Davidson, who argue that people who can afford to pay for things like prescriptions, their own argument about taxation should answer them, since those on higher incomes will already be paying more in tax. The whole point of a universal system is that everyone benefits when they need it.

So, well done to Labour for introducing such things as free healthcare, and well done to the SNP for extending and maintaining the free provision of health and education services as well as all the other things like policing that we take for granted. And let’s hope that, one day, we might live in a society where people take pride in paying their taxes so that everyone can benefit.


Reporting For Action

Posted on May 29th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Say what you like about the report by the Sustainable Growth Commission, it has shown two very important things.

The first is that the Yes movement is full of people who are prepared to criticise official recommendations and come up with ideas and suggestions of their own. The report has sparked discussion and that can only be a good thing.

The second is that the unionists are prepared to criticise but have no alternative ideas to put forward. Their comments have been largely confined to saying there should be no second IndyRef and that Nicola Sturgeon should get back to the day job. These are not exactly inspiring policy ideas.

The Unionists have, however, wheeled out their favourite economics pet food business owner to produce “evidence" that adopting the recommendations of the SGC would require 67 years before an independent Scotland could match the economic performance of the comparative countries mentioned in the report. Now, even if these figures are accurate – which seems unlikely given that economic experts in the OBR can’t forecast the UK’s actual economy three months ahead, let alone a potential economy of a state which doesn’t yet exist – they still don’t present a strong argument for not following the recommendations. It could be argued that 67 years is a relatively short time in which to undo the damage of 311 years of control by Westminster which has included, across the centuries such methods as depopulation, deportation, suppression of culture, exploitation of resources, de-industrialisation and Austerity. And just because the current generations will not see the benefit of progress is no excuse not to begin that process for the sake of our grandchildren.

Others are getting in on the act by claiming that the SGC report does not mention social justice. That’s true, but it was charged with producing a report on ways to grow the economy of an independent Scotland, not with producing a report on social justice.

But let’s put all that nonsense aside and look at areas where there has been some proper criticism of the report from within the Yes community.

The recommendation to use sterling has been the most highly criticised feature, and I was one of those who was disappointed by this particular aspect. However, having now read the report, it is not as hard and fast as some have suggested. There would always need to be a transition period for moving to a new Scottish currency, and the report sensibly suggests that steps be taken to establish the proper economic infrastructure for that to take place should it be decided it is in Scotland’s best interests to move to a new currency. I think the recommended transition of 5 to 10 years is a lot longer than many of us had hoped for, but the discussions which have already begun may yet shorten that period considerably.

However, even if these recommendations are followed, Scotland using sterling is not a complete disaster. It would place Scotland in a similar position to countries like Finland and Luxembourg who use the Euro, where decisions on interest rates are taken by a larger economic unit which may not be the decisions they would have taken if they had their own currency. I would prefer not to use sterling for the same reasons I would prefer not to use the Euro; because having our own currency gives us greater control over our own economy which I feel will be important in a newly independent country. While I understand the argument put forward by the SGC, I think they are being over-cautious. Other newly independent countries have introduced their own currencies very soon after becoming independent. I appreciate that Scotland’s use of sterling can be viewed as relatively unique because sterling is one of the major international currencies, but I would definitely prefer a much shorter transition period than the SGC has suggested.

Other than currency, there are a few things the SGC report glossed over or did not mention. The establishment of a social welfare programme was one, and the comment that the Scottish Government would need to work to ensure smooth trade with both the UK and the EU rather misses the point that those are, in the current circumstances, mutually exclusive. Again, though, this is an economic report, not a political one – at least ostensibly – and the decision as to whether to remain in the UK or remain in the EU will be decided on political grounds even if economic factors form a significant part of the debate.

I did like the idea of establishing an airport Hub, with Prestwick being an obvious location for this, but I was disappointed that there was barely a mention of ports. I mentioned some months ago on this blog site that developing our ports would be beneficial in terms of job creation and establishing international trade routes. This, I argued, would be especially important if England decides it will remain outside the Single Market and Customs Union while Scotland remains in the EU. To avoid routing goods via the hard borders England may or may not be capable of imposing, Scotland needs other ways of exporting directly to other European nations. Imagine my delight when I noticed that, quite independently, other people have mentioned this in the online discussions which the SGC report has already sparked.

I’d also like to take issue with the comments on Corporation Tax which suggest that Scotland would need to match the low rates of Ireland and the UK. This is something analysis of various rates of Corporation Tax across Europe has shown is not necessary. There is no problem with having progressive rates of Corporation Tax which might, on the face of it, seem enough to persuade larger businesses to locate their operations in your neighbouring country, especially if you provide alternative incentives like, for example, high rates of Capital Allowances to encourage larger businesses to constantly invest in updated equipment, plant and machinery. This not only reduces their tax bill, but also ensures their operations are at the forefront when it comes to having modern facilities.

These things, and many others will be debated for many weeks and months to come. That can only be a good thing as we try to decide what sort of country we wish to become. Economic arguments are not all that underpins the case for independence, but the SGC report is an impressive piece of research which allows us to discuss economic issues armed with some facts. It is telling that nobody on the unionist side of the argument has come up with anything approaching this level of analysis.

However, we have seen, to our cost, that referendums and elections are not won by facts. Our case must be based on more than economic forecasts because issues like the UK’s democratic deficit, social justice, healthcare, food standards, energy policy, tackling poverty and a whole host of other things are vitally important. But, this report, whether we agree with all of its recommendations or not, provides the evidence that, unlike our opponents in the Indy argument, we have some credible options to choose from on the economic front.

So, well done to the Sustainable Growth Commission. This document could mark the beginning of that positive case for independence we were looking for.


Access No Areas

Posted on May 27th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I had a wee rant yesterday about the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report not being accessible. Sadly, this is something visually impaired people are all too familiar with. Many websites are very difficult to navigate despite accessibility being a legal requirement. To be fair to the Growth Commission, their website was fairly basic and easy enough to find the various headings and links, but the way their report was presented meant that anyone using a PC Screen Reader is unable to read the report on their PC. I should mention that there are several different Screen Readers available. I use JAWS which is widely regarded as the top of the range, yet it simply told me the page I had opened was an empty document.

This sort of thing is very frustrating. I could not find a link on the web page to contact the Growth Commission to ask for a different format, so I tried the Scottish Government’s web page, only to discover that it, too, was extremely difficult to navigate, having a plethora of Headings and Links which just seemed to go round in circles. Once again, I was unable to locate any way to ask for help.

As I mentioned, this is not uncommon. I’ve had similar problems in the past with other Government websites. For example, I wanted to read the UK Government’s Brexit White Paper which was produced over a year ago. It, too, was completely inaccessible. There was, however, a link to an email address where alternative formats could be requested. I submitted a request but, nearly two years later, I am still waiting for a response.

The Scottish Government has done little better. The recent Consultation on Voting Reform is a case in point. An appeal was put out via RNIB for blind and partially sighted people to participate in the Consultation, so I sat at my PC and tried to download the document. All I was told was, “This file is not compatible with your screen reader". That’s JAWS, one of the very best, if not the best, Screen Readers available anywhere in the world. Yet the Consultation was inaccessible. Fortunately, there was a contact email and, once I’d explained the problem, the staff there were very helpful. They sent me a Word version which I was able to complete and submit via email. The issue, though, is that this should not have been necessary. It is not all that difficult to create a fully accessible website.

Some websites are very easy to use. Sadly, it is usually the larger corporations and official bodies who create inaccessible websites. I am not going to name names, but some of the online stores everyone uses are a nightmare to find your way around.

As for the Sustainable Growth Commission’s Report, the good news is that I have found a way to read it. Finding it via a Safari search on my iPhone was the hardest part, with the search bringing up dozens of media articles explaining all the things that are wrong with the Report’s conclusions, but none of them actually giving a link to the report itself. I did find one eventually, and, to my great relief, my iPhone’s Voiceover Screen Reader was able to read the text. I presume Android’s Talkback and Amazon’s VoiceView can do the same.

There are, though, a few problems with using Voiceover. Navigation is the first, with the normal swipes leaping through the report in odd ways. The biggest problem, though, is that if you stop the screen reader for any reason – like wanting to use your phone for anything else, it can sometimes revert to the beginning of the report when you go back to it. This means scrolling, page by page, and trying to guess how far through the report you are. Imagine reading a paper book, knowing you were on Page 123 but, instead of simply opening the book at that page, you had to go back to Page 1, close your eyes and turn each page individually until you took a guess at how many pages you had turned and then started reading.

Now, I know many people may think that blind people must learn to accept there will be problems for them whatever they do. Believe me, I know that only too well. How many of you could make yourself a cup of tea with your eyes firmly shut all the time? But web accessibility is something that should be easy to resolve. I know that all Governments will turn the actual production of websites and reports over to specialist programmers, but those programmers need to be told that everything they produce must be fully accessible. The Scottish Government, in particular, often makes claims that it is trying to build a better, more inclusive country. I fully accept that there are some very serious issues which they need to tackle, but web accessibility is such an easy thing for them to accomplish with only a little bit of thought. I know it is lack of appreciation of the issue rather than deliberate decision which results in web inaccessibility, so hopefully someone, somewhere within the Scottish Government will read this and maybe do something about it.

OK, that’s the end of this little rant. I’m still only a quarter of the way through the Report, so I’d better get back to it. Then I can return to posting about politics.


Raging About The Report

Posted on May 26th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I must admit that I have not yet read the Sustainable Growth Commission Report. I’ll explain why in a moment.

My initial reactions from the comments I have seen are that there seem to be quite a few good things in it, but that the question of a new currency has been fudged. I am very disappointed about this since I firmly believe Scotland needs its own currency if it is truly to break away from the Austerity economics of the UK. Sticking with sterling may appease those who fear change, but it will hamper our economic development.

Fortunately, this report does not yet form official policy since it is a discussion document, so hopefully we will see some shift in this. Nicola Sturgeon’s comments yesterday hinted that she might be receptive to an early adoption of a new currency. Let’s hope so.

However, the main thing that angers me now is that it seems I will not be able to read the report at all. This is because it has been published online in a format which is inaccessible to anyone using a Screen Reader. I managed to find the official website, located the link to download the report, and was presented with what my PC Screen Reader told me was a blank page. A sighted friend assures me that the report was on screen, but there was no way to read it or even copy the text into another document which might have made it accessible.

This is, unfortunately, all too common. Essentially, every blind person has been excluded from full participation in the discussions by being barred from reading the report. To say I am angry about this is an understatement.

Needless to say, there appears to be no way to contact the Growth Commission to request an accessible document, so I tried the Scottish Government’s website only to discover that it, too, is virtually inaccessible due to the way it is laid out. Finding anything on it is a complete nightmare.

I have therefore given up on this after nearly an hour of fruitless attempts to find an accessible version of the report or even any way to contact anyone in an official capacity who might be able to help.

This is, quite simply, not good enough.


Small Is Beautiful

Posted on May 24th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

With the Growth Commission Report about to be published, I’m sure we all know what to expect. Our televisions, radios, newspapers and social media feeds will be full of people desperate to tell us how wrong it is and, even if it were correct, why Scotland would still be better off as part of the UK.

I suspect the attacks will concentrate on a couple of areas. The obvious one is the currency. It is widely expected that the report will recommend a separate Scottish currency. This is eminently sensible and most Yessers understand the need for this approach. With full control of our monetary system and a Central Bank to control the money supply, we gain considerably more independence than we would if we clung to a currency union with the rest of the UK.

Naturally, though, any change will be pounced upon in order to frighten people who don’t like change. Issues over cross-border trade will be highlighted, although I doubt whether any of the people making these claims will admit that there has been cross-border trade and currency usage in Ireland for many years, and it has been managed perfectly well by the citizens of both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The other thing they won’t mention is the disastrous change promised by Brexit which they have been trying to normalise. A change of currency will be demonised , while the gradual change of Brexit will be glossed over.

But a currency change is not a disaster. Much of Europe changed overnight to using the Euro, and the UK itself changed to a decimalised currency from the old Pounds, Shillings and Pence in the 1970s. The change went so smoothly that everyone was used to it within a couple of days. This is because these changes were planned in great detail, and information was provided to everyone well in advance. Not that this will stop Project Fear trying to scare people, but we need to be ready with the counter-arguments.

The other aspect I suspect we will see highlighted is the claim that Scotland can have a successful small economy, with the emphasis on “small". We know that any list of the best-performing world economies is dominated by small countries, and we know that Scotland has more natural resources than the majority of those countries, yet it is part of the UK psyche to dismiss small countries. The UK, once master of a world-dominating Empire, still thinks in terms of global power. The fact that the UK economy is suffering under the pressure of Brexit and performing less well than almost every other European country does not matter as long as the UK is seen to be a major player. For that reason, I expect the MSM to keep putting the emphasis on “Small" when discussing Scotland’s possible future. What they will try to do is equate large economies with healthy economies, although the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Also, we should not forget that there are social issues at stake as well as economic ones. The question as to what sort of Scotland we want to live in is just as important as the issue of the economy.

So remember, small is beautiful. We have no desire to dominate the world, only to play our part. We want a thriving economy where poverty can be tackled, where money is not wasted on vanity projects and where tax evasion and money laundering are not condoned. In essence, all we want is to be a normal country, taking control of our own affairs. That is anathema to the UK mind-set, so expect some fireworks over the course of the next few days.


On The List

Posted on May 18th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Comments by Tory MSPs on social media often garner ribald replies. One retort often aimed at them is that most of them have never actually won an election and are only at Holyrood by virtue of being on the List and gaining a seat thanks to the workings of the D’Honte voting system. While this taunt is perfectly accurate, it is one people really should stop using, and here’s my argument why.

The D’Honte system, combining some First Past The Post elements with proportional voting electing List MSPs has its faults, but all Parties are bound by its rules and all Parties have List MSPs at Holyrood. While the Tories may have a higher proportion than other Parties, this is no reason to go pointing the finger at them for being elected using the same system which has elected Labour, Lib Dem, Green and SNP MSPs.

In any case, what alternative system would you propose we use to make sure that only people who have won elections are seen at Holyrood? This line of argument implies that you’d prefer FPTP which, as everyone should know by now, is a very biased, unfair and unrepresentative system. It also tends to lead to two-Party dominance such as we’ve seen in Westminster and in the USA. No, we really don’t want FPTP elections to the Scottish Parliament, do we?

But the other alternative is to go with fully Proportional Representation. This is quite normal in many other countries, but it means that every elected politician would be a List MSP. Where does your taunting go then?

And is there really a problem with List MSPs? Let’s face it, most voters don’t vote for an individual to represent them, they vote for the Party based on the leader. This is why the Tories managed to get away with the absurd campaign which told people to vote for Ruth Davidson’s Party in the General Election when she wasn’t even standing for election. The ploy worked, though, because the media hyped the Colonel up so much, allowing the Tories to gain seats because voters voted for the Party rather than the individuals who were standing in the various constituencies. Nobody bothered about those individual candidates, they voted for a person they mistakenly believed was the leader. As things have turned out, of course, the Colonel has shown that she has absolutely no influence over “her" MPs at all; they simply do as they are told by the Whips in Westminster.

But, getting back to Holyrood, some people argue that nobody should be allowed to be elected to the Scottish Parliament as a List MSP more than once or twice. This, they argue, would remove freeloaders who dare not stand in a head to head election and whose competence is questionable. Now, I’ve already pointed out the unfairness of head to head elections for parliamentary bodies, but should we limit the number of times a person can stand as a List MSP?

On the face of it, this seems a very reasonable suggestion but, after some reflection on this, I think any restriction could create more problems than it solves. It may well get rid of some annoying characters, but they could well be replaced by people of even less ability – hard as that may be to believe. But look, for example at how the Tories are finding it necessary to retain councillors who have made openly racist or homophobic comments because they can’t find anyone else to represent them. By limiting the number of times an individual can stand, you run the risk of standards being lowered even further. Let’s face it, the barrel is being scraped already. It may be hard to believe, but the List MSPs representing the Tories at Holyrood are the best they have available. If we bar them from standing for re-election, who knows what calibre of candidate we might see in the future?

The final point on this is that changing the voting system is no guarantee that a better quality of politician would emerge. Look at Westminster, for example, to see how braying schoolboy antics are the order of the day. And look, especially, at the 13 Tory MPs who were elected to Westminster under the FPTP system. They have displayed dazzling ineptitude in their short time there despite having won head to head elections.

So please let’s not use being a List MSP as any sort of derogatory comment. It’s a cheap and easy shot, but we should be criticising poor MSPs for their performances, not for being elected under the PR format of the List. Head to head elections are fine if you win, but a proportional voting system is much more representative of the wishes of all the voters. What we need is a better quality of politician, not a different way of electing them.


An Open & Shut Box

Posted on May 12th, 2018

by Stan Donderite

When is a box bad? When it’s Scottish.

Finland has provided Baby Boxes to new parents for over 70 years as part of a package of child healthcare. Finland has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Finnish Baby Boxes are good.

Some areas in the USA have decided to copy the Finnish model and are providing Baby Boxes to new parents. The US media agrees that American Baby Boxes are good.

Some Health Boards in England are providing Baby Boxes to new parents. The BBC assures the public that English Baby Boxes are good.

Canada has decided to begin providing Baby Boxes to new parents. Everyone agrees that Canadian Baby Boxes are good.

The Scottish Government recently began providing Baby boxes as part of an overall child healthcare package. But because these Baby Boxes are produced in Scotland, you should be in no doubt that they are very bad indeed. If you set fire to them, they will burn. Nothing else in your house is flammable; it is only the Baby Box which represents a fire hazard if you set a blowtorch to it. The Scottish media is in total agreement that Scottish Baby Boxes are bad.

I hope that clears it up for you.


A Word On Banners

Posted on May 10th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Depending on which source you listen to, anything from 35,000 to over 90,000 people marched through Glasgow last weekend to show their support for the cause of Scotland becoming a normal country. There were hundreds of photographs and videos posted on social media and it is noticeable that, apart from the unpleasantness caused by a handful of Unionist counter-protesters who took pleasure in giving Nazi salutes, the whole affair went off without any trouble.

yet it is worth mentioning that, out of all the many photographs, one gaining a significant amount of publicity shows a banner referring to Tory Scum. Even now it is being reposted around Twitter on the grounds that it annoys the Tories, so is worth sharing.

A word of caution is necessary here, especially because another march is planned in Dumfries, a Tory heartland. Now, whatever you think of the Tories, and it must be said that the policies they delight in inflicting upon the whole of the UK are not those one would associate with anyone who cares for their fellow human beings, we really need to take more care about what we say, especially on prominent banners. Because the whole point of the march is in danger of being hijacked as the Tories and their media pals focus their outrage on this banner. They have neatly associated the march with the SNP even though it was a completely independent event, and are making sure that their own supporters see that the vile Nats are rude and nasty.

So let’s keep the insults in check as far as we can, because they should not be the topic of conversation. By giving the Tories a chance to deflect from the real issues, we are playing into their hands, and they are past masters at exploiting such things.

The march was a great success, no matter how many people attended nor how the media have attempted to portray it. Let’s hope the next one is just as successful in showing the depth of feeling among Yes supporters. But it is important that it goes off smoothly, peacefully, and gives the Unionists no possible excuse to paint the Yes movement as anything other than friendly and welcoming. We are not going to persuade any wavering Tory voters to change their minds by calling them scum. The way to change people’s minds is to point out that, while they may have felt justified in voting No last time, circumstances have changed. We can quite easily point out all the things they were told which have turned out to be untrue. If we do that, the Unionists have no arguments they can deploy, so let’s not give them anything they can use against us.


Raising A Glass

Posted on May 2nd, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Yesterday saw the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) on alcohol. It has been a long time coming, but it is here at last. Needless to say, the media, led by the BBC, were quick to allow critics of the scheme their chance to repeat all the things they think are wrong with this legislation. There was also a fair amount of comment on Social media, with some online polls suggesting that a significant majority of people think it will make no difference to drinking habits.

As with most controversial policies, many people are happy to point out individual cases where the legislation is unlikely to have any impact. For example, I noticed several people saying that MUP will make no difference to alcoholics who will continue to get their fix no matter the price, and that this will be at the cost of cutting down on expenditure on things like food.

This is a perfectly reasonable point, but it rather misses the issue behind MUP. Alcoholics are already addicts and, just like people who are addicted to drugs, cigarettes or gambling, no amount of price increase will have much effect on their addiction.

The other main comment I noticed was the equally valid remark that MUP will have no effect on better off people who have a problem with alcohol. If they can afford to drink to excess, they will.

In response to these points, I would say that MUP is not intended to affect the drinking habits of these people. Addicts need help with their addiction, while the problem of the better off drinkers will be best addressed through education and altering what is socially acceptable. Those are long term issues and need to be seen as part of an overall attempt to alter Scotland’s well-known problem with alcohol.

It is, of course, impossible to ban alcohol altogether, as the Prohibition era in America proved. And, let’s face it, many of us like a drink now and again. Problems of excessive drinking among the better off can only be addressed by changes in social attitudes, while MUP is intended to address the issue of young people being able to obtain strong alcoholic drinks at low prices. Yes, there are some loopholes in the legislation, but we should not forget that it is a policy which is backed by medical experts.

According to the SNP, there are, on average, 22 deaths directly linked to alcohol every week, plus nearly 700 injuries. That is a damning indictment on the effects of alcohol, so we really need to try to do something.

One important point is that there will always be critics of new legislation which is intended to alter social habits. Remember, for example, the furore over the smoking ban, the reduction in drink/drive limits and the charge for plastic bags. All were decried when introduced, with the media going out of its way to tell the public what terrible ideas they were.

Now, drink/drive statistics are easily manipulated, so it is difficult to say for certain whether that particular change has had any effect. Anecdotally, I know several people who have stopped drinking when they are driving because of the change, but we will need to see long term trends before we can judge the success or failure of this change. However, the stories of potential problems do not seem to have come true.

The charge for plastic bags has definitely made a difference to the environment as anyone can see simply by walking down the street, and the ban on smoking in public places has made visiting pubs and restaurants a much more pleasant experience for non-smokers. Importantly, the health benefits of this change are only now being seen by medical experts, more than a decade after the law was brought in. MUP may well require a similar timescale before we can evaluate its success. But if it can prevent even a handful of teenagers becoming alcoholics, it will have accomplished something beneficial.

Needless to say, MUP has made people pay more attention to the price of alcoholic drinks. There have been some comments on social media claiming that some retailers are increasing the prices of drinks which are already priced above the MUP requirement. This is all anecdotal at the moment, but the way modern retailers operate could certainly lead to unscrupulous increasing of prices which can be blamed on the Scottish Government. However, we should not forget that the fall in the value of sterling thanks to Brexit may well have been the cause of increases in the price of imported wines, so let’s not be too hasty to judge.

The final point I’d like to make on this is that problems with alcohol, tobacco and drugs are symptoms of poverty, not causes. The best way to tackle all three of these is to alleviate the poverty which affects so many of our fellow citizens. However, without the full range of economic and fiscal powers being available, the Scottish Government must try alternative ways to reduce the harm that these addictions cause. MUP is one way of attempting to do that. It may work, or it may not, but we need to give it time.

Of course, if we had the full range of powers which are available to normal countries, we should be able to do more to tackle these problems of addiction. If only there had been some way of achieving that.


Giving It All Away

Posted on April 26th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, is happy to agree to Westminster’s Power Grab. After all, it’s only going to allow the UK Government seven years in which to dismantle devolution and pass laws on a range of devolved matters. Surely they can’t do too much damage in seven years, can they? After all, they haven’t done much damage to society in the past seven years.

One wonders what sort of thinking allows Carwyn Jones to adopt this stance. Has he, perhaps, been put under pressure by Jeremy Corbyn? Corbyn, after all, is very much a UK supremacist when it comes to matters of devolution, and he’s very keen on Brexit, so having the Welsh Government surrender to Westminster is very much in his interests.

But Carwyn Jones need not worry about the consequences of his decision. After all, he has announced he will be stepping down as First Minister of Wales in the autumn. Job done. It will be interesting to see what sort of reward he receives for his long service to UK politics. One thing he probably won’t be able to do for much longer is remain a member of the Welsh Parliament since the Power Grab will give Westminster the ability to scrap devolution entirely.

The BBC and other media in Scotland have pounced on the capitulation to Westminster’s demands to portray the Scottish Government as isolated and unreasonable for not agreeing to the same deal as Wales. This means that the wider population in Scotland remains ignorant of the danger facing us. Let’s hope the Scottish Government sticks to its guns on this because there is a very real threat that we will soon see the end of devolution as we know it. Westminster wants powers which could wreck the Scottish food and drink industry as well as causing much other damage. Fracking will be back on the agenda, along with reductions in animal safeguards and food standards. Everyone knows Scottish food produce is regarded as being among the best in the world, but agreeing to the Power Grab could end that.

It has been pointed out that the Withdrawal Bill is like a rapist’s charter; saying Yes is consent, saying nothing is consent, saying No is consent. And the Scottish media are blaming the potential rape victim for being unreasonable.

The way things are going, there are only two things that can save us from perpetual Tory rule and the wholesale savaging of Scotland’s agricultural and fishing industries. We can hope that the whole Brexit shambles collapses, which is still a possibility even though its likelihood is fading as time passes, or we can hope that enough scots wake up to what is going on to demand we scrap the Treaty of Union and become a normal country again.


From The Top

Posted on April 22nd, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

All of a sudden, there’s loads to comment on in politics. We’ve had statistics about food bank usage, stories of people being driven to suicide by Tory Austerity cuts and Benefits systems, outrageous comments on the Rape Clause by Esther McVey, the UK refusing to raid the premises of a telecoms company accused of money laundering because they are major donors to the Tories, along with the usual BBC spin and blacking out of stories they don’t want us to hear like, for example, the latest spike in oil prices. And there’s Syria as well, with conflicting stories emerging about whether there really was a chemical attack or not.

With all this, and more, to choose from, I found three stories which, while unrelated, do have one thing in common. So bear with me while we run through them.

The first is the appalling scandal over the deportation of the descendants of the so-called Windrush immigrants. The more we learn, the more we see that Theresa May has been the driving force behind this dreadful state of affairs. As Home Secretary, she oversaw the deliberate destruction of documents which would have proved where these unfortunate people came from, then she introduced laws requiring them to produce documents which she knew they did not possess. We shouldn’t forget that pretty much every Party in the House of Commons voted for the new Immigration Law in 2014, with the notable exceptions of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, but it was Theresa May who planned it all. The only reason she has offered her half-hearted apology is because she is suddenly realising that not everyone in the UK is a racist, and that most normal people are outraged by the fact that innocent people whose only fault is to have the wrong colour of skin are losing their jobs, losing Benefits and being deported to countries they may never have visited before in their lives. Even then, her apology and vague offer of compensation do not, so far, suggest that there will actually be any change in official policy. Any good distraction, such as an escalation of conflict in Syria or another spat with Russia will move the Windrush story off the front pages and May will be able to breathe again. Indeed, most newspapers are already shoving the story deeper into their news pages in an attempt to diminish the public’s outrage.

But, to get back to the point I wanted to highlight, in times past Theresa May’s deliberate lying to the House of Commons over who was responsible for the destruction of the documents would be a matter for resignation. In any normal democracy, her ineptitude would be a matter for her sacking. But times have changed, and politicians now believe, with some justification given events over the past couple of years, that they can lie with virtual impunity. Public outrage means nothing to them because they have the backing of multi-millionaire businesspeople and media barons. Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister may well be numbered, but her downfall will come about through internal Tory politicking rather than any public demand. Besides which, the prospect of having Jacob Rees Mogg replace her doesn’t suggest we would see any improvement in the calibre of our political elite, nor in the direction of official policies.

The second story is the news that Theresa May’s husband works for an investment company which is a major shareholder in BAE Systems and, thanks to the expenditure of BAE-built bombs and missiles in Syria, stands to make a fortune out of the illegal attacks the UK has carried out.

Now, it can be argued that what Theresa May’s husband does in his day job is nothing to do with political life, and that’s certainly the angle Tory supporters have been pushing. However, at the risk of becoming a history bore, the story of Caesar’s wife is worth recalling. You see, back in the days of the late Roman Republic before he seized ultimate power, Julius Caesar held the position of Pontifex Maximus, the chief religious office of the Roman State. His wife, Pompeia, hosted a religious festival in their official residence; a festival for women only, with no man being allowed to see what the ceremony entailed. However, one young nobleman dressed himself as a woman and sneaked into the building. He was discovered and scandal ensued. Although there was no suggestion that Pompeia had acted incorrectly in any way, Caesar divorced her on the stated grounds that, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion". Of course, he may have had some ulterior motive for divorcing her, but his action is often cited as an exemplar of how public officials should behave. This is not to suggest that Theresa May and her husband should divorce, but to suggest that people in public life really should be held to very high standards of moral behaviour. Whether the fact that her husband stood to gain financially from her decisions had any influence on Theresa May is not the point. The point is that neither of them should ever have placed themselves in positions where such accusations could be made. Again, if this had happened twenty or thirty years ago, resignations would have followed.

The third story does not concern public figures but comes from a more local perspective. Police in Central Scotland are asking for help to identify a woman who verbally abused a 17 year old partially sighted girl who was using her phone on a train. Because she cannot see, the girl was using her phone’s Screen Reader to read aloud her text messages to her. A fellow passenger took exception to this and began shouting abuse at her before getting off the train at the next stop.

Now, as a blind person myself, I use Screen Readers all the time. I know from when I first got a smartphone and discovered it could read everything to me that it was amazingly liberating. Yet I quickly discovered that it annoyed my family members no end. All they could hear was my phone chattering away at high speed as I scrolled through texts, emails, Twitter feeds and Facebook. It’s a bit like sitting beside someone who is listening to a radio station you have no interest in. I soon developed the habit of wearing earphones to listen to my phone whenever anyone else was around. I view this as a courtesy to those around me who do not want to be disturbed, and I’d strongly recommend to any blind person that they adopt this practice.

So I can understand why a fellow passenger might have felt irritated at the noise coming from this young woman’s phone, but that is no excuse to start abusing the poor girl. A polite request to perhaps turn the volume down or to wear earphones was all that was required. Sadly, the woman’s reaction shows that anger is a commonplace response nowadays.

Which brings me to the point of this article. I’ve said before that our society takes its lead from those at the top. If our politicians behave in a way which can only be described as racist, if they lie and are allowed to remain in office, if their relatives are seen to be in a position where they can be accused of benefitting financially from their privileged position, and if the media support or even encourage this sort of behaviour, then the public who share those attitudes will feel empowered to behave in ways which would be regarded as socially unacceptable in a civilised society. Our media has ramped up the rhetoric of hatred in recent years, and our politicians have played up to that call. They trample on democratic rules, they ignore or demonise anyone who disagrees with them, and they play the divide and rule card all the time, fostering hatred.

Is it any wonder that a person should feel it is acceptable to hurl verbal abuse at a partially sighted teenager for the crime of simply listening to an audio feed of what her phone was telling her? This is only the latest example of many similar, and worse, cases of abuse. People have even been physically assaulted because of their ethnic origin.

The way to resolve this is for anyone who works in public office to be held to high standards of behaviour and to be removed from office if they fail to maintain those standards. Sadly, there is no sign of that happening in the modern-day UK. The Tories, actively enabled by their Lib Dem and Labour allies, have systematically demonised the poor, the disabled and the unemployed as well as foreigners. It can be no coincidence that tolerance for other people has waned to such an extent that people feel able to abuse their fellow citizens for the crime of being different.

Our political leaders need to set a much better example, but that is not the way the UK is going. Instead, it seems determined to become an isolationist State which allows xenophobes to thrive.

If only there had been some way of Scotland escaping this madness.


Why I Am A European

Posted on April 19th, 2018

by Brotyboy

I spent a few days in Amsterdam last week. While I was there I got to thinking about my first trip to the city.

It was in 1969, I was almost 14. We travelled by car, 4 of us in an Austin Maxi with 2 tents on the roof-rack and a full boot. Dad drove all the way, as I don't think mum had learned to drive by then. The first leg was from Dundee to Harwich. We took the ferry from there to the Hook of Holland, drove to Amsterdam and got to the campsite.

The next day we drove south to a town called Vught, near to the better known city of 's-Hertogenbosch. We went straight to the Police Station where mum, who spoke excellent German went inside to explain why we were there and ask if they could help us.

We were looking for the family van Veghel, who had 3 daughters, Mia, Dina, Corri and a son, Berti. The Police couldn't have been more helpful; we followed a couple of officers in their police car round the houses, as van Veghel is a very common name in Vught so it was going to be a bit of a hit and miss trip. The first 2 or 3 houses we stopped at were misses, so we went on.

I think it was the 4th house we stopped at where an old woman came to the door and the Police explained why we were there. Dad had got out of the car and I remember him saying, 'I think I recognise you.'

Sure enough it was Moeder, the mother of the house. Her husband had died but Corri and her husband Jan van den Bos lived with her. Berti did too, his learning difficulties perhaps having made this necessary.

Dad hadn't seen them since 1944, when he had been billeted with them at one point during the 51st Highland Division's journey from Normandy to Germany.

We were invited in, and treated to lunch. It was all a bit strange; disorientating but exciting. We couldn't speak Dutch and Moeder couldn't speak English, but Corri and Jan had a bit of English and we could 'talk with hands and feet' as they put it.

The next day Corri and Jan came to the campsite in Amsterdam. They had told Dina, who lived in the area with her family to meet them there, but hadn't explained why. Dina came round the corner of our tent, looked at Dad and said, 'Bill!' so either she had a very good memory, or Dad hadn't changed much from his 19 year old self, or he'd made quite an impression when he'd been there before. Of course Dad wasn't just an ordinary soldier, oh no; he was a piper, or a 'doedelzakspeler' in Dutch. And, as he said in response to the innocently youthful question about his rank in the Army, too intelligent to be an officer.

I still have an image of that in my head, brightly lit by the sun. It was great day. Dina had married Jan de Vleger and had a daughter, Antonie. Jan was a joker so there was never a dull moment when he was around. I don't remember much of the specifics of the conversation, but I remember feeling comfortable with everyone and feeling emotionally linked.

At some point during our trip we met with Mia, her husband Ko and their daughter Inike. There seemed to be several occasions when we all met up, perhaps even on the way back from Germany after the second week of our holiday.

Jan and Corri visited us in Scotland. So did Jan, Dina and Antonie. We kept in touch and Dad went back in 1994 for the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation. Perhaps only then did he realise the enormity of the events he had participated in from June 1944, as he had been preoccupied at the time with surviving.

They are almost all gone now, that generation. Perhaps one day I'll take my children to Vught and meet up with the children and grandchildren of the van Veghels. I don't expect there to be any language difficulties, as between us we have French, German, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and Chinese. That's just my kids, I only have fluent Scots and swearie.

By the time I was 14 I'd holidayed in France, Holland and Germany and established family links in Europe. What chance did I ever have of not being a European?


Syria Explained

Posted on April 18th, 2018

by Stan Donderite

If you’re not confused about what is happening in Syria and why, then you are either not paying attention or are only paying attention to the propaganda being pushed out by one side.

It’s a fast-moving situation, but here’s a round up of things so far.

Syria is bad. It is backed by Russia, which is very bad indeed. Anything either of these countries do is bad. Please forget that Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad visited the UK in 2002 and was invited to meet the Queen. That was back when he wasn’t as bad as he is now.

The Syrian Government is very bad now. They have been at war with Jihadi rebels for around seven years. These Jihadis are bad. They threaten the West, so they are our enemies. But they oppose President Al-Assad of Syria, so they are on our side. Sometimes. But sometimes they are not.

Sometimes we bomb these Jihadis, sometimes we supply them with weapons. We bomb them because they are our enemies, but we supply them with weapons because they oppose Al-Assad. Al-Assad is bad.

The recent crisis happened because the Syrian Government was about to capture a Jihadi-held town, so naturally decided to launch a chemical weapon attack in order to annoy the USA who were threatening to stop bombing them. The Syrian Government likes being bombed, so they needed to do something to annoy the Americans.

It worked.

Theresa May did not want to miss out on another chance to bomb some Muslims, even if it did threaten to start World War 3. Theresa May hates Russia because they are bad. She hates them so much she did not bother asking Parliament to vote on whether the UK should join America in bombing Syria again. Prime Ministers are allowed to do this sort of thing if the UK is under direct threat. Obviously, Syria is a direct threat because they send so many bloody refugees over here. We hate foreigners, so we need to bomb them to stop them leaving their home to come here.

So the UK and USA carried out another large raid, aiming for chemical weapons plants which the OPCW says were not chemical weapons plants. These buildings were destroyed although this failed to result in the release of clouds of deadly chemical gases, thus proving that the sneaky Syrians had hidden their chemical weapons which the OPCW said they didn’t have.

During these pinpoint raids, the US and UK bombs accidentally blew up a block of residential flats. This will teach the Syrian Government and the Russians (who are very bad) not to threaten the UK by attacking their own citizens with chemical weapons and forcing them to flee to the UK as refugees. Refugees are bad because they come here and take away our jobs while claiming Benefits because they don’t have jobs. People who claim Benefits are bad.

Remember, chemical weapons are bad unless they are used to disperse crowds of protesters in America or are dropped on Vietnam. Bombs are good, unless they are aimed at us. Killing people with chemical weapons is bad, but blowing them up with bombs is good. People who don’t believe the UK and American Governments are bad and are lying to you. The UK and American Governments never lie to you. That would be bad, and they are the good guys.

The Russians, meanwhile, say there was no chemical attack and that this attack, which they say didn’t happen, was actually carried out by the Jihadis, helped by MI6. Or perhaps MI5. But it didn’t happen anyway, so that’s not important. Unless it did happen.

Don’t believe the Russians. They are bad. The chemical attack definitely took place because there was a video of children suffering from the effects of a gas attack. This video was shot by the White Helmets who are either a humanitarian rescue group or supporters of the Jihadis who make fake videos. Or perhaps both. Or neither.

Doctors in the hospital where the video was filmed say there was no gas attack but that the video was real. This is incontrovertible proof that the UK was right to bomb Syria to teach them not to use chemical weapons they don’t have.

I hope that’s sorted it all out for you. If you have any other questions, Tweet them to Donald Trump. He will explain everything in a series of seemingly rambling and unconnected Tweets.

This is so that his enemies can’t work out what he is going to do next. Trump’s enemies are Syria, Russia, North Korea, the FBI, the CIA, the US media apart from Fox news, lawyers, porn stars, snowflakes, Mexicans, the Scottish Government, and any number of shithole countries.


Humanitarian War?

Posted on April 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

After leaping to accuse Russia of the Salisbury nerve agent attack with apparently no real evidence, Theresa May is now itching to declare war on Syria with apparently very little actual evidence to support her. There are certainly some very distressing videos going around, but their provenance and authenticity has been questioned.

As with so many things of this nature, with both Russia and the UK / USA making claims and counter-claims, it is impossible for ordinary citizens of the UK to be absolutely certain of the truth.

What we can be absolutely certain of is that the UK is always ready to declare war on Middle Eastern countries who do not play ball with us in trade terms. Picking on Syria is, however, a dangerous game given their close alliance with Russia. It is no exaggeration to say that World War 3 could be triggered if either side does anything reckless.

As for the justification for this belligerence, a chemical attack is a horrible thing. Yet, as some respected commentators with international diplomatic experience have pointed out, this chemical attack bears a remarkable resemblance to the one carried out when Barak Obama was President. In both cases, with President Assad’s forces on the brink of winning an important victory, and with the USA making noises about pulling out of the conflict, Syrian forces apparently launched a chemical strike which was not necessary militarily and which only served to encourage the USA to become more involved in the conflict. Assad may well be that stupid, but it does seem an odd strategy.

As for the UK’s response, though, it is worth bearing in mind that any claim that involvement is necessary on humanitarian grounds is mere spin. If humanitarian reasons drove the UK’s military actions, then we would be declaring war on Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are carrying out murderous attacks on unarmed civilians. Of course, these two countries are our allies, so we turn a blind eye to what they are doing and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, actively assist them in their attacks on Yemen.

So, while there may well be justifications for declaring war on Syria, humanitarian concerns should not be considered high on that list where the UK is concerned. After all, the UK Government shows no concerns for the millions of its own citizens living in poverty, dying homeless because of Benefit sanctions, or depending on food banks to survive. Indeed, as has been pointed out by so many people, these things are part of an ideological choice on the part of the UK Government. The call for war provides further evidence that the need for Austerity is an invention, since the cost of a single air strike is sufficient to provide employment for several doctors, police officers or firefighters. The magic money tree always has enough branches to pay for military actions, yet rarely bears fruit when social issues are being discussed or even when ex-Service personnel need help once the armed forces have dispensed with their services.

It is not as if further military involvement is likely to solve the problem. If anything, all it will cause is another wave of Syrian refugees who will attempt to reach Europe. Of course, they might as well forget about coming to the UK in search of sanctuary because the UK Government, so concerned about humanitarian issues, won’t let them in.

What is happening in Syria is awful. A nation has been devastated, thousands of innocent lives have been lost, yet our only solution is to drop more bombs. Whatever the rights and wrongs, whatever you think of President Assad, escalating the war is not a solution. And if there genuinely is no other course of action, then justifying it on humanitarian grounds is hypocritical in the extreme. Regime change is what the West wants, but with Russia backing Assad, that seems unlikely to happen.

It is also worth mentioning that, of all the neighbouring countries, Syria is the only major oil producer in the vicinity. That, of course, must be pure coincidence.


Breaking The Mould

Posted on April 11th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Over the weekend, the UK media got quite worked up about the news that a new political party may be launched and that it has up to £50 million of funding. It will, according to the claims, be a new Centrist Party. This will presumably mean that it aims to tempt Blairite supporters from the Labour Party and the less extreme Tory MPs. It will presumably aim to replace the Lib Dems entirely since they have never really recovered from their Coalition with the Tories and their proven history of breaking promises and telling lies.

This new Party, we are assured, will break the mould of UK politics. That sounds very exciting, doesn’t it? Except that it’s just spin. This new Party, whatever name it adopts, does not want to break the mould, it wants to become part of the Westminster Establishment. It may give a veneer of choice to English voters, especially if it adopts an anti-Brexit agenda, but it will simply comprise the same neo-liberal people who are already part of the establishment. It is difficult to imagine that the £50 million came from grass roots activists, after all. More likely it came from wealthy individuals who want to protect their wealth from Brexit, and from corporate donors who see Brexit as a very real threat, or from the anti-Corbyn movement within Labour. Unable to oust Jeremy Corbyn and unwilling to formally admit that they are Tories in disguise, those behind this Party will simply attempt to become a new force within an existing structure. It is very unlikely that they will actually break much at all except perhaps Labour’s position as the Party of Opposition.

What this news does show is that there is a great deal of unrest even within Westminster about Brexit and the general tribalism of UK politics. There are clearly at least a couple of factions who want a slice of the action and feel frustrated at being locked out.

It is interesting to compare the tone of the reporting on this with the tone of comments about the Yes movement in Scotland. There has been a lot of debate, and sometimes squabbling, among Yessers on social media about when the next IndyRef should be called. This argument is, apparently, evidence of a split in the movement. This split was further emphasised by an article in the Sunday Herald which gave details of what it claims is the SNP’s latest view on which economic model an independent Scotland should adopt, with New Zealand apparently being the preferred option now. This, the paper claimed, would split the Yes movement.

So, an entirely new Party in Westminster is not a sign of a split in anything, but different opinions within the Yes movement are evidence of splits?

The fact is that the Yes movement is very broadly based. There are opinions on whether an independent Scotland should adopt a new currency or stick with sterling; on whether Scotland should remain a monarchy or become a republic, on whether we should remain in or re-join the EU or go with EFTA; on whether Scotland should be a member of NATO or not. There are, in fact, disagreements on just about everything. That’s because people with a wide variety of backgrounds, upbringings and experiences are all part of the Yes movement. It is not, as some have claimed, an unthinking cult. But, for all these disagreements, the one thing everyone is agreed upon is that Scotland should be a normal country making its own decisions for its own people. Independence is not an end in itself; it is the beginning of a new period in which all the various ideas and arguments will be debated and voted upon in order to decide the way ahead on a multitude of issues. We want to do this with a Parliament elected by a more proportionally representative system than Westminster’s farcical First Past The Post, and we want to be able to vote out any Government which does not run the country in the way we want. Rather than some new, millionaire-backed Centrist Party in Westminster, it is the Yes movement that seeks to truly break the mould of UK politics. In fact, we want to break away from it entirely. Yes, we will argue about specifics of what we need to do, but those disagreements are not splits within the movement because the entire movement knows that we need to become a normal country first.


Whodunnit?

Posted on April 8th, 2018

by Stan Donderite

Loads of people seem confused about what’s going on with the investigation into the Salisbury Novichok attack. In case you are one of those poor, deluded fools who don’t believe the UK Government’s official statements, here’s a summary of the investigation so far.

The nerve agent Novichok definitely comes from Russia except that nobody can actually prove that. But Russia must be to blame because they invented the stuff, just like the Chinese are to blame for all the mass shootings in America because they invented gunpowder.

This Novichok is the deadliest nerve agent known to man. It is absolutely lethal in every case except those where it isn’t.

The Novichok was given to the Skripal’s in their car, or in a pub, or in a restaurant, or in a park, or at the front door of their house. Nobody else in the pub, restaurant, park or at the front door was affected except one policeman.

The Skripal’s pet cat and guinea pigs (who may or may not have been hamsters) were taken away for testing but were also left inside the sealed house. The authorities could not say exactly where the pets were because of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. When the house was reopened, the pets were found to be dead. This means the cat and guinea pigs must have really belonged to a Mr Schrodinger.

Boris Johnson did not say that he had been told by Porton Down scientists that the Novichok definitely came from Russia. What he did say is that the scientists from Porton Down had definitely told him the Novichok came from Russia. The Foreign Office might accidentally have posted a Tweet saying the same thing, and accidentally not deleted it for several days, but you can’t prove that now because it’s been deleted. Unless you took a screen shot of it, in which case you are supporting Russia against the UK.

The UK Government’s evidence for Russia’s involvement must be overwhelming because a bucketload of other countries have expelled Russian diplomats after they heard it. We can’t tell you what that evidence is, but it’s definitely proof. Just like the proof we had of Iraq’s WMD’s.

I hope that clears it all up for you. Now stop thinking and go back to watching the Great British Bake Off while singing Rule Britannia and waving your Union Jack.


Broken System

Posted on April 4th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The news that scientists at Porton Down Chemical Research laboratories have been unable to confirm whether the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack originated in Russia comes as no real surprise to anyone who has been following the debate. Some people are taking great delight in saying, “We told you so!", while others are becoming annoyed that it seems people are ignoring the track record of Russia when it comes to eliminating troublesome individuals. The whole matter is so shrouded in secrecy, rumour and speculation that it is well beyond the scope of this humble blog site to pontificate on who was behind the attack. Russia may well be the prime suspect, and certainly has the ability and the will to carry out such attacks if it deems them necessary, but enough doubt has been cast by the attitude and actions of the UK Government to aid the conspiracy theories.

Whoever was behind the attack, an important issue for most people in the UK is the fact that, once again, our Government has lied to us. Theresa May was very quick indeed to point the finger at Russia, and Boris Johnson went on television to assure the public that the Porton Down scientists had confirmed the nerve agent came from Russia. Those claims look just as pathetic, if rather more serious in their potential to cause international tension, than his Brexit lie which he put on the side of a bus.

What is puzzling is quite why so many European states leaped to ally themselves with Theresa May’s anti-Russian claims. Of course, many European states fear Russia, so maybe they didn’t need much encouragement, but it does seem a little premature unless there is other evidence which has not yet been made public.

But, in the absence of any such evidence, we are surely entitled to believe that Theresa May and Boris Johnson lied.

Some are claiming this could be the end of the Tory Government because such egregious mendacity must surely bring about a vote of No Confidence. Yet this is to ignore the fact that this Government and its immediate predecessors have consistently lied about a whole range of issues.

Perhaps it stems back to the IndyRef in Scotland, when better Together churned out so many lies it’s hard to keep track of them all. That was followed by the Brexit Referendum which included more lies and misleading statements. Some of these may have been down to ignorance, but some must surely have been deliberate. Either way, the UK Government has learned that it need not tell the truth because the voters in England will continue to support them. For all the calamity of the Brexit negotiations, for all the economic harm forecast, for all the businesses packing up and leaving, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is still unable to overtake the Tories in the opinion polls. Of course, Labour is a very pro-Brexit Party, too, so maybe the voters in England reckon they’d rather have the Tories in charge of the train wreck than Labour. It’s not as if Jeremy Corbyn is averse to lying either, as evidenced by his many utterances when he visits Scotland to spout Unionist propaganda.

The big question is whether the voting public are aware that they are being lied to and, if they are, what they propose to do about it. One must feel sympathy for voters in England since their choice is very limited. Unless they all decide to vote Green in the upcoming local elections, Lib Dem is their only option if they want an anti-Brexit Party, and the Lib Dems are not exactly squeaky clean in the Telling the Truth Department.

Lying, it seems, is endemic within the Westminster system. Yes, circumstances may change, resulting in a politician’s promises not being kept, but, as evidenced by The Ferret’s recent article on Fact Checking, the majority of claims made by the Scottish Tories are false, and it’s easy to believe that the same applies to their Westminster counterparts.

Politicians lie to us because they know they can get away with it. Resignations are rarely called for, and the media usually tries to play down the importance of the lie or to distract with smears against Corbyn or the SNP. The system, in other words, is utterly, utterly broken. It’s about time Scotland woke up and realised it.


Better Out Than In?

Posted on March 30th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many of us are extremely concerned by what is happening in Catalonia and by the associated attempts by the Spanish Government to have Catalan politicians arrested elsewhere in Europe. We are equally concerned by the lack of action on the part of the EU.

Whether these issues should persuade us to turn our backs on the EU as an organisation is another matter. It must be said that, if Spain were not already a member, its current acts of political repression would probably bar it from joining the EU. Whether the EU has the power or the political will to expel a member country is debatable. Given the problems the UK is experiencing in the Brexit negotiations, Spain may well feel that the EU cannot easily turf it out as a member. Equally, the EU probably reckons it has enough on its plate coping with Brexit, so doesn’t want to be dragged into a Spexit situation. There may well be other sanctions the EU can impose, and let’s hope they start to get their act together and let the Spanish Government know that what they are doing is unacceptable.

Part of the problem for the EU is that, as an organisation, its official stance is to do nothing to upset the status quo within any member state. This is why they refuse to make any official announcement on whether an independent Scotland would be welcomed as a member in its own right. For political reasons, the EU does not wish to be seen to be supporting the break up of one of its own member states. The big issue they face is when the democratic will of a nation within a state is repressed by violence and intimidation. Quite how the EU will resolve this is a thorny question and one which, at present, they seem to be answering by doing nothing.

There are, though, some points to take from all this. The first, as has been mentioned before on this blog, is that the EU’s apparent paralysis in the face of rising fascism in Spain shows that the Brexit claims of it being an all-powerful super-state are very far from the reality of the situation.

Secondly, some people on social media have been claiming that the EU’s stance on Catalonia shows that an independent Scotland would not be welcomed as a member since the EU is against separation. This claim is, however, based on a serious case of false equivalence.

The EU is silent on Catalonia just as it is silent on Scottish independence. Once Scotland becomes a normal country again, though, that situation is very different. The EU would then be faced with a membership request from a new nation which already meets all of its membership criteria except that of having several year’s’ financial and economic data as an independent nation. Not that details of that nature prevented East Germany being quickly brought into full membership status when it reunified with West Germany. Given an opportunity to accept a new member whose citizens are already EU citizens and which has huge resources in terms of oil, renewable energy, fish and other foodstuffs, plus the potential to develop industries which decades of Westminster control has decimated, it would be a perverse decision to refuse Scotland membership. And that’s not even considering the political point which would allow the EU to stick up two metaphorical fingers to Westminster by accepting Scotland as a member while allowing England to go its own way as an isolated nation.

The other argument presented by Unionists who, it must be remembered, used fear of being thrown out of the EU as a weapon in Project Fear back in 2014, is now to ask the question of why you would want to give back all the post-Brexit powers to Brussels.

This is disingenuous in the extreme. The choice we face is to have the most important of these powers seized by Westminster and used to erode Scotland’s food and drinks industries, to impose things like fracking, and to do away with Human Rights. By joining the EU, Scotland would certainly cede some over-arching control to the EU, but it would have a voice to represent our nation and vote on all matters concerning EU legislation. As just one example, an independent Scotland could negotiate better terms for our fishing industry under the CFP than Westminster ever has. The powers ceded to the EU would be as nothing compared to the control Westminster intends to impose on us no matter how much our elected representatives might protest.

So, let’s admit that the EU has some major flaws, but let’s not kid ourselves that it is primarily an interfering political entity which controls our laws. As events in Spain, Hungary and Poland have shown, the EU generally lets member states get on with their own way of governing. I wish they would do something to reign in Spain’s brutality towards the Catalans, but nobody can claim they are oppressing a member state by interfering in internal affairs.

And no, I haven’t forgotten about what happened to Greece, but that was as much to do with neo-liberal economic thinking and the power of the European Banks. I didn’t like that situation either, but it’s not comparable to what is happening in Spain and Catalonia which is about an altogether different set of issues.

Getting back to the issue of Scotland, being a part of a much larger trading group will be an enormous advantage. Look at how quickly Donald Trump exempted the EU from trade tariffs on steel and aluminium when the EU promised counter-measures. Look at things like mobile phone roaming charges, at freedom of movement, and all the other things we take for granted but which are causing such headaches for Brexit. From the threat of flights being grounded, of cancer treatment being affected, of research virtually shutting down, of businesses being affected, of prices increasing and food going to waste in the fields because not enough migrant workers are available, we should by now be appreciating just what an integral part of our lives the EU has become.

Yes, the EU has many faults, but an independent Scotland would still be better off as part of the group than stuck outside with no influence whatsoever. Nothing in life is perfect, but remaining part of the EU presents more opportunities than threats, and it certainly presents more opportunities than we face if we stick to the xenophobic and isolated UK.

And if, after all that, you still want to leave the EU, prudence would suggest that obtaining independence must be the first priority. We can stick with the EU for a few years to see how Scotland’s economy and society compares to that of The RUK outside the EU. If we decide that we, too, would be better off leaving, then at least it would be our decision, not one imposed on us by our larger neighbour.


Catalan Controversy

Posted on March 26th, 2018

by Dan Iron

This weekend Spain has issued European Arrest Warrants (EAW) for Catalan politicians Carles Puigdemont and Clara Ponsatí. This obliges the authority receiving the warrant to detain and extradite the named person to the issuing authority, in this case Spain. However it is possible that the extradition can be denied.

The EAW for Carles Puigdemont has been issued to Germany and he is now in custody there. The EAW for Clara Ponsatí has been issued to the UK as she is currently working at St Andrews university. Top Scots lawyer Aamer Anwar has been instructed to defend Clara Ponsatí.

I sincerely hope that Clara Ponsatí is not extradited from Scotland as this will be a travesty of justice as the EAW has been issued for clearly political reasons.

However it is important to note that Scottish politicians have no power to influence the judiciary in its decision. This is ironic as the Spanish judiciary is obviously not independent of their government.

There are several observations to make here. Firstly the Act of Parliament under which the decision to extradite or not will be made is an Act of the UK Parliament. Secondly it is important to note that a previous EAW was issued to Belgium in respect of Carles Puigdemont. After a judicial hearing he was released under the double criminality rule as the charge of rebellion was not an offence under Belgian law.

It is a natural reaction in this case to rail against the EU and ask why it is not doing more to counteract the overt injustice of the Spanish state. However it is proof that the EU is not an overarching super-state and that EU members are indeed still sovereign. Scotland, if it were to become an independent nation in the EU, would be able to formulate its own extradition law and ensure that people like Professor Ponsatí would not be extradited by an independent Scotland.

Those of us in Scotland who believe in independence should not lose sight of the fact that, whatever we think of the EU as an institution, Westminster remains the far bigger threat to Scotland’s prosperity and welfare.

We should await the result of Professor Ponsatí’s hearing. If the decision goes against her we, the people of Scotland, will have to do some serious thinking.

We simply cannot allow her to be handed over to the Spanish state.


Trading Places

Posted on March 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

One of the few remaining arguments Project Fear has to counter the Indy movement is that of what they incorrectly term the question of trade within the UK single market. That’s as meaningless an expression as the German single market, but let’s put that aside and take a look at the choices which would face Scottish voters who decided to base their choice for or against independence solely on the question of trade.

To begin with, the argument for staying in the Union would result in trade continuing on an internal UK basis, with standards imposed by the UK. This would effectively mean that Scottish businesses could continue to buy and sell (they won’t technically be imports and exports within a unitary state) as they do at the moment within the UK. It would also give access to genuine import and export markets via the wonderful new trade deals the UK will do with the rest of the world. That’s provided you believe the claims of the Tory Government. But bear in mind that several countries have already told the UK they are not interested in doing deals unless they get favourable terms. Favourable for them, that is, not for the UK.

What this would cut off, though, is any chance of exporting to the EU if the UK’s standards of production were lower than those required by the EU. The way the Tories are talking, it’s a fairly safe bet that they will be.

So this scenario gives a reduced export market, dearer imports from the EU and possibly some opportunities for trade with other countries. Or possibly not. By the UK Government’s own admission, a post-Brexit Scotland within the UK would suffer an economic downturn on a massive scale. Still, at least you’d be able to put a Union flag brand on any goods you produce, so some people might think it is worth it.

The second scenario is that Scotland becomes independent and remains within the EU. This is the one Project fear will focus on because it will mean a hard border between Scotland and England. This prospect will no doubt terrify many voters, but we need to consider whether it has any upside.

For a start, trade will not stop altogether. The EU trades with plenty of countries around the world, and some EU nations even agree individual deals provided the third party nation conforms to EU standards. Cross border traffic will not cease although it may well become a significant hassle until proper smart border technology is put in place. There would very likely be tariffs imposed on goods going in both directions, and we should not forget that, if Scotland takes the sensible option of adopting its own currency, importers from England are likely to benefit as the value of the Scots pound increases, while those exporting to England may see a decline in demand. However, let’s not forget that demand for Scottish foodstuffs in particular is very strong in England. Provided their economy does not collapse too far, there is likely to be a continued demand for such things as whisky, beef and fish.

On the plus side, England would continue to trade with Scotland on the same terms as it agrees with the rest of the EU. Scotland would avoid the post-Brexit economic slump and would retain access to the rest of the EU markets plus any worldwide markets where the EU has been able to negotiate terms based on the third party nation having access to 28 EU nations.

So, border hassles would be an issue, but the upside makes this option considerably more favourable than the first one. Let’s not forget that the border would be constructed at England’s behest, not Scotland’s, and England would suffer just as much as Scotland would. As for the frequently implied threat that trade would virtually stop, this is nonsense because it suggests that England will trade with the rest of the EU but not with Scotland. The EU would simply not agree to that.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the UK’s capacity to actually impose a hard border has been brought into question as far as the Irish border question is concerned, and we have even had the UK’s Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, stating quite categorically on BBC Question Time that there are no circumstances under which the UK would impose a hard border to check lorries entering the UK via Dover. That seems a quite bizarre statement from someone supposedly representing a Government which wants to take back control of its borders, but he said it and we must suppose he meant it; always remembering that he is a Tory politician so his words cannot be fully trusted. But still, if there is to be no hard border in Ireland and no hard border on cross-Channel ports, why on earth should we believe that there would be a hard border between Scotland and England?

For the third option, let’s assume Scotland becomes independent and stays outside the EU. This is perhaps one that a not insignificant portion of the 2014 Yes vote would favour. It would allow us to do a trade deal with England, certainly, but it would mean also needing to do a deal with the EU. If we maintained higher production standards than those required in England, this would be perfectly possible, but whether a small nation like Scotland could get a good deal against 27 other countries is perhaps debatable. It might depend on how keen they are on whisky.

The important thing to remember in all of these is that trade will not stop. It is the terms of trade which will alter, and the ease with which goods can be imported and exported which will determine how our economy develops. Quite frankly, under the first option, that of remaining in a post-Brexit UK, our economy is not going to develop at all. The option of remaining in the EU as an independent country certainly presents some cross-border issues, but it does mean that we retain the ability to grow our economy and forge our own place in the world of international trade. The final option, of leaving the UK and the EU is very problematic in the short term. It would, I believe, be more sensible to stay in the EU until we see whether Brexit England is able to make a success of being outside the EU. If, in due course, we decide to quit the EU, then at least that would be our decision, not one which has been imposed on us by our neighbour.

It is also very important to remember that, while trade is an absolutely vital part of the equation, it is not the only one. Things like Human Rights and freedom of movement will also come into our decision. The thing is, the UK has no argument on matters like that since it wants to scrap or dilute them, so you won’t ever hear a Unionist mention them. All they’ve got is trade and, quite frankly, the way they are messing up their current negotiations, we should be very wary indeed of sticking with them.


Trading Places

Posted on March 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

One of the few remaining arguments Project Fear has to counter the Indy movement is that of what they incorrectly term the question of trade within the UK single market. That’s as meaningless an expression as the German single market, but let’s put that aside and take a look at the choices which would face Scottish voters who decided to base their choice for or against independence solely on the question of trade.

To begin with, the argument for staying in the Union would result in trade continuing on an internal UK basis, with standards imposed by the UK. This would effectively mean that Scottish businesses could continue to buy and sell (they won’t technically be imports and exports within a unitary state) as they do at the moment within the UK. It would also give access to genuine import and export markets via the wonderful new trade deals the UK will do with the rest of the world. That’s provided you believe the claims of the Tory Government. But bear in mind that several countries have already told the UK they are not interested in doing deals unless they get favourable terms. Favourable for them, that is, not for the UK.

What this would cut off, though, is any chance of exporting to the EU if the UK’s standards of production were lower than those required by the EU. The way the Tories are talking, it’s a fairly safe bet that they will be.

So this scenario gives a reduced export market, dearer imports from the EU and possibly some opportunities for trade with other countries. Or possibly not. By the UK Government’s own admission, a post-Brexit Scotland within the UK would suffer an economic downturn on a massive scale. Still, at least you’d be able to put a Union flag brand on any goods you produce, so some people might think it is worth it.

The second scenario is that Scotland becomes independent and remains within the EU. This is the one Project fear will focus on because it will mean a hard border between Scotland and England. This prospect will no doubt terrify many voters, but we need to consider whether it has any upside.

For a start, trade will not stop altogether. The EU trades with plenty of countries around the world, and some EU nations even agree individual deals provided the third party nation conforms to EU standards. Cross border traffic will not cease although it may well become a significant hassle until proper smart border technology is put in place. There would very likely be tariffs imposed on goods going in both directions, and we should not forget that, if Scotland takes the sensible option of adopting its own currency, importers from England are likely to benefit as the value of the Scots pound increases, while those exporting to England may see a decline in demand. However, let’s not forget that demand for Scottish foodstuffs in particular is very strong in England. Provided their economy does not collapse too far, there is likely to be a continued demand for such things as whisky, beef and fish.

On the plus side, England would continue to trade with Scotland on the same terms as it agrees with the rest of the EU. Scotland would avoid the post-Brexit economic slump and would retain access to the rest of the EU markets plus any worldwide markets where the EU has been able to negotiate terms based on the third party nation having access to 28 EU nations.

So, border hassles would be an issue, but the upside makes this option considerably more favourable than the first one. Let’s not forget that the border would be constructed at England’s behest, not Scotland’s, and England would suffer just as much as Scotland would. As for the frequently implied threat that trade would virtually stop, this is nonsense because it suggests that England will trade with the rest of the EU but not with Scotland. The EU would simply not agree to that.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the UK’s capacity to actually impose a hard border has been brought into question as far as the Irish border question is concerned, and we have even had the UK’s Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, stating quite categorically on BBC Question Time that there are no circumstances under which the UK would impose a hard border to check lorries entering the UK via Dover. That seems a quite bizarre statement from someone supposedly representing a Government which wants to take back control of its borders, but he said it and we must suppose he meant it; always remembering that he is a Tory politician so his words cannot be fully trusted. But still, if there is to be no hard border in Ireland and no hard border on cross-Channel ports, why on earth should we believe that there would be a hard border between Scotland and England?

For the third option, let’s assume Scotland becomes independent and stays outside the EU. This is perhaps one that a not insignificant portion of the 2014 Yes vote would favour. It would allow us to do a trade deal with England, certainly, but it would mean also needing to do a deal with the EU. If we maintained higher production standards than those required in England, this would be perfectly possible, but whether a small nation like Scotland could get a good deal against 27 other countries is perhaps debatable. It might depend on how keen they are on whisky.

The important thing to remember in all of these is that trade will not stop. It is the terms of trade which will alter, and the ease with which goods can be imported and exported which will determine how our economy develops. Quite frankly, under the first option, that of remaining in a post-Brexit UK, our economy is not going to develop at all. The option of remaining in the EU as an independent country certainly presents some cross-border issues, but it does mean that we retain the ability to grow our economy and forge our own place in the world of international trade. The final option, of leaving the UK and the EU is very problematic in the short term. It would, I believe, be more sensible to stay in the EU until we see whether Brexit England is able to make a success of being outside the EU. If, in due course, we decide to quit the EU, then at least that would be our decision, not one which has been imposed on us by our neighbour.

It is also very important to remember that, while trade is an absolutely vital part of the equation, it is not the only one. Things like Human Rights and freedom of movement will also come into our decision. The thing is, the UK has no argument on matters like that since it wants to scrap or dilute them, so you won’t ever hear a Unionist mention them. All they’ve got is trade and, quite frankly, the way they are messing up their current negotiations, we should be very wary indeed of sticking with them.


Toothless Tiger

Posted on March 15th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Like most people, I have absolutely no idea who was behind the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. However, what this saga reveals is that a great many people are perfectly willing to believe that the UK Government is not telling the truth.

It must be said that there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to back the conspiracy theory and, when allied to the Westminster penchant for lying to UK citizens, it is perhaps no wonder that a great many people are casting doubts on the official claims.

This situation is not helped by the fact that, so far, the UK Government has refused to produce any evidence to back up its assertion that Russia was behind the attempted murder. Russia’s reputation for carrying out such acts is, if anything, even worse than the UK’s – certainly in recent times – so we cannot discount the possibility that, however unlikely it might seem that Vladimir Putin might sanction a bungling attempt to do away with someone he had already dismissed from Russia as of little current importance, he may have authorised the assassination attempt.

I never thought I’d say this but, for once, I am in agreement with Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. We really ought to see the evidence before making accusations. Trump may well be in Putin’s pocket, but the UK Government’s unwillingness to produce any definitive proof certainly gives him the wriggle room to avoid becoming involved.

I should also say that I am rather disappointed that the SNP have given what seems unconditional backing to the official UK response without asking to see any evidence to back the claims. I think a more tempered approach would have been appropriate.

But whether the murder bid was carried out by Russia or whether it was a false flag operation to distract the British public from the constitutional crisis which is about to engulf us, Theresa May has certainly seized upon it as the ideal story to make that very distraction.

But what, in reality, is she going to do? She has expelled some diplomats and said no member of the Royal family will be going to the World Cup. I bet Vladimir Putin isn’t losing much sleep over either of those. We may see some economic sanctions but, without backing from other major states, these will be largely ineffective. And it’s worth noting that the UK has recently gone out of its way to alienate its European allies thanks to Brexit. With the USA clearly not prepared to back them, Westminster will quickly find out just how big a global player the UK is. The end result will probably be that even more UK citizens will see evidence of just how inept the UK Government is. What we will probably see is a lot of bluster, a lot of empty threats, and a promise to establish an enquiry to get to the bottom of several sudden and unexpected deaths of people living in the UK who had fallen foul of Vladimir Putin. Like all enquiries, it’s purpose will be to obfuscate and delay so that everyone eventually forgets about it. That’s the British way. See Grenfell enquiry.

The thing is that Putin has the UK exactly where he wants it. Cut off from Europe, abandoned by the USA, the UK is becoming an irrelevance. It will suit Russia for the UK to become a tax haven since it will allow them to launder even more of their money through the few remaining London banks. The Tories already receive some very healthy donations from Russian individuals; money which they have no intention of returning, so it is in their interests not to prod the Russian bear too much.

We can argue all we like about whether the Skripal murder attempt was a bungled false flag operation carried out by the British Secret Service, a bungled attempt by the Russian FSB who are so emboldened by the UK’s ineptitude that they didn’t care whether they were discovered, or whether it was some third party who wanted Mr Skripal dead for their own reasons. The main conclusions we can draw from this sorry saga is that trust in the UK Government is at an all time low, and that Russia really does not care what the UK does because it is now a toothless tiger on the world stage.


Taxing Distraction

Posted on March 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is a lot going on just now, and it’s difficult to keep up with the details of what are very complex situations. The major story in the UK media, if you discount the inane coverage of various members of the Royal family, is the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter. The Russians are being blamed by the British Government, while conspiracy theorists are claiming it is a false flag operation intended to distract the British public from the constitutional crisis which is about to engulf us. I don’t intend to comment on the Russian story at the moment since much of what is being said on both sides of the argument is based mostly on speculation.

Whether the UK Government would go to such extreme lengths to create a distraction is a debatable point, but distraction is certainly a technique they are fond of using, and there is another story which serves as an example of this.

The Tories in Scotland have been shouting about the fact that British Army troops based in Scotland will be paying more tax than soldiers based elsewhere. This claim has been picked up by the BBC and has even resulted in a Westminster promise to launch an official enquiry.

The claim is, of course, nonsense. Investigations by The Ferret have already shown that the majority of soldiers based in Scotland will actually be better off.

But that is not the point as far as the Tories are concerned. The point is to spread the propaganda, to have the BBC reinforce the message and to get people who do not use the internet for their news to believe another SNPBad story. If and when the official investigation concludes that the story is nonsense, you can be pretty sure that it will not be reported by the BBC, but having the investigation is not really the point. The damage has already been done because the message is out there.

If you’ve ever wondered why broadcasting is not devolved, this is why.


Being British

Posted on March 7th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Britain is a concept which seems to get a lot of people riled up these days. The word means different things to different people, with everyone insisting their interpretation is correct. In fact, it seems the term has had a number of meanings from almost its earliest known times.

The word itself comes from a long time ago, when a Greek explorer named Pytheas reached the northern coast of what is now France at some time in the 4th Century BCE. He looked across the channel and saw the white cliffs of an island, so he asked the locals which people lived there. They told him that he was looking at the lands of the Pritani (or Pretani, Pritanni, Pretanni).

Pytheas voyaged to the British Isles, then went onwards to Scandinavia, but the name he had heard from the locals and which he recorded, clearly stuck.

The Romans converted the name into Britannia, which was the name they gave to their province. Confusingly, while the Romans sometimes divided the island into Britannia to the south and Caledonia to the north, this generally happened after the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Even then, they also used the term Britannia to describe the whole of what we now term great Britain, i.e. the main landmass which includes present-day England, Wales and Scotland. This may have been because the Romans viewed the entire land as being theirs by right, or simply because it was a convenient name for a faraway place which offered little of value and required an excessive number of troops to keep under control.

Confusion over the use of the term continues to this day. What do people mean when they say “Britain"? It really depends on what they think it means. Recently, I’ve seen claims that Britain means Wales and England, while Great Britain includes Scotland. That seems to hark back to the official Roman division but, as mentioned above, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule even among the Romans. It’s also worth pointing out that, in the 10th Century, Irish annals use the word “Britain" when they are referring only to Wales, because that was where the Britons lived. The English were not viewed as Britons so, from the Irish perspective, could not be said to be living in Britain. Here we see evidence that names used to indicate territory controlled by a certain tribe or national group rather than being a strictly geographic term which applied to land no matter who lived on it, which is the sense most people use today.

For most of the Middle Ages, Britain was generally used as a geographical term to describe the islands, with England and Scotland regarded, correctly, as distinct nations.

Of course, it was the Union of the crowns in1603 which required a new term to describe the subjects of James VI & I, so Britain was resurrected, apparently much to the disgust of the English nobles who felt English first and British very much second. How things have changed.

So we return to the less than elegant situation where being British means different things to different people, and Britain can be either a geographic location or a political entity. It could be argued that saying, “I’m British" could be viewed as being similar to “I’m European", in that it simply describes where you are from or which culture you identify with. Or it could be that you are stating your self-identification with a political entity. The terms Britain, great Britain, United Kingdom (and, as so many Scots, Welsh and Irish people are fond of pointing out) England as virtual synonyms has simply added to the confusion. Some argue that this is a deliberate policy on the part of the ruling elite who wish everyone under British rule to conform to some idealised version of a Briton. Yet, when you ask what it is that makes people British, the explanations they come up with are very often general traits such as “Fair play" or “a sense of justice", which, in reality, cannot be ascribed to natives of Great Britain alone. Travel anywhere in the world and you will find people who practise what are often claimed to be British values, just as you can find many British citizens who display some very unpleasant behaviour patterns which do not conform to those same British Values.

So Britain and being British can mean a lot of things. Languages, words and phrases shift meaning over time, and some words have more than one meaning. Britain is certainly one of those multi-meaning words and has been for a very long time. However, the highly-charged political and constitutional situation in the UK may be having a considerable effect on its meaning because, whatever the pedants among us may wish, it is increasingly being used in a political sense. Britain is coming to mean the UK, specifically the system of Westminster Government, and being British increasingly means that you identify with that system. Linguistically speaking, this transition is fascinating to watch. Who knows what being British will mean to the next generation who inhabit the British Isles?


A Question of Timing

Posted on March 6th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is much debate amongst the Yes community about when IndyRef2 should be called, but the news that EU residents may be forbidden from voting if we wait until after March, 2019 has put an end stop date to the speculation. While most of these people voted No last time around because of the scare stories they were fed, it seems likely they will switch to Yes because of Brexit. To have them excluded even if they have continued to live here and work here would not only remove a significant portion of the potential Yes vote, it is shockingly undemocratic, even if it is in keeping with the way the UK treats non-UK nationals.

So, if we need to vote before March, 2019, when should the IndyRef be called?

The big problem here is the ongoing debacle of the so-called Brexit negotiations which largely consist of UK politicians making speeches about how they are going to get a deal which cherry-picks the bits they like from the current membership benefits, and then the EU saying, once again, that cherry-picking will not be allowed.

As long as this futile fiasco continues, the Scottish Government would be foolish to call for IndyRef2. Putting aside for the moment the two very important issues of whether the UK Government would graciously allow us permission to decide our own future, and whether we have any chance of winning in the face of the barrage of scare stories and media propaganda we will inevitably face, the fact remains that to call IndyRef2 before we know for certain what fate awaits us with Brexit would be a mistake. It may seem very unlikely, but someone in Westminster may yet see sense and the whole thing could be called off; or Theresa May might call Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff and concede all the things the Scottish Government has called for; or the Irish Border question might be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction; or the Gibraltar border question might go away. OK, unicorns might suddenly appear, and pigs might fly, but Brexit is so unpredictable , and May’s leadership position so shaky, that anything could happen.

It increasingly looks as if there will be a fairly narrow window during which IndyRef2 can be called. Sooner or later, the Scottish people are going to have to be told that Brexit is taking us nowhere and we need to make up our minds what sort of country we want to live in. If we wait until the UK has left the EU, the media will have had more time to persuade people that things aren’t really so bad. We have seen the normalisation of xenophobia and acceptance that the NHS will be privatised. We cannot afford for these things to become the norm in Scotland, so we need to have that vote before it is too late.

And who knows? Perhaps a short campaign will do the trick this time. If the SNP and greens have been planning their campaign properly, we may yet be able to demonstrate that for all its uncertainties, becoming a normal country again would be far better for all of us than sticking with the increasingly unstable and deranged UK. But if by some miracle Brexit does go away, the prime reason for calling IndyRef2 in the short term will go with it. It won’t remove the underlying case for Indy, but it will be enough to persuade some voters that it isn’t worth the hassle. For that reason, disappointing as it is to many of us, IndyRef2 needs to stay on hold for the moment. However, with the Brexit deadline looming, it won’t be long before the Scottish Government is left with no choice but to go for it.


Major Developments

Posted on March 1st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

As someone who remembers John Major as Prime Minister, I must admit I always thought he was quite a caring and sincere man. This impression was probably helped by the fact that he followed Margaret thatcher, so he had a pretty low bar to hurdle. He certainly wasn’t an inspiring leader, as subsequent Tory in-fighting revealed.

Having said that, his speech yesterday was one of the better ones on Brexit and contained a lot of good sense. However, we need to differentiate between admiring what he said and admiring him as an individual. I certainly agree with his comments on Brexit, but he is still a British Nationalist who was part of the Westminster bubble and whose views on Scottish independence mean he remains very much part of the establishment.

However, it must be said that his speech confirmed one thing most of us already knew; that the current crop of Tory politicians who are running the UK are of a very much lower calibre than those of Major’s generation. Whether you agree with his politics or not, Major showed the likes of Boris Johnson and Theresa May how a politician should conduct themselves.

Not that it will make any difference. The Tories we have in power are a clueless bunch who are so steeped in British nationalism that they are unable to comprehend why they are not getting their own way in the Brexit talks.

And now, after Theresa May agreed to find a solution on the Irish Border back in December, she has been faced with the consequences of that agreement because the aims of the Brexiteers are totally at odds with the avowed intention to keep an open Border. It simply cannot be done. With the UK Government waffling on and insisting it will be able to cherry pick parts of the current membership arrangements despite the EU consistently saying no such deal will be agreed to, the EU have now drawn up a detailed document outlining the consequences of the December agreement.

And what is the response to this very obvious step?

Theresa May says it is unacceptable despite the fact that she tacitly accepted it in December, and David Davis says the UK will withhold any payment to the EU unless it backs down. He may think this is playing hardball, but it’s not; it’s simply showing the EU he has a hard head out of which it is impossible to get any sense.

The issues over the Irish and Gibraltar Borders have always been incompatible with the dreams of the Brexiteers. Whether the Tories wake up and acknowledge this remains to be seen. Quite frankly, I doubt it. May’s next speech will probably simply be a re-hashed version of the “We will get a bespoke deal" fanciful nonsense we’ve heard before. But it cannot continue like that. Pretty soon, something is going to give. When it does, let’s hope the Scottish Government is ready to launch the lifeboats.


Hap & Ept?

Posted on February 26th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

this really shouldn’t need saying, but it seems the UK Government and their pro-Brexit media allies are incapable of understanding.

Right from the start of the Brexit negotiations, the EU has consistently said that there can be no cherry-picking of certain aspects of membership in the deal for the UK to leave the EU. Despite this, every time a Government Minister or the PM makes a statement on what sort of deal the UK is going to demand from the EU, it involves cherry-picking of some aspects of the current membership arrangements.

how many times do they need to be told. Even the most inept and hapless negotiators cannot have failed to grasp this basic concept. One is drawn to the inevitable conclusion that, with little more than a year to go, the UK Government is intent on forcing a hard Brexit and blaming the EU for its intransigence.

Blaming others for one’s failures is a fairly common human trait, but the UK Government is taking it to new levels. The Irish are to blame because of their indignation over the way the Good Friday Agreement is likely to be trampled, the Scots are to blame because they don’t want a UK power grab of responsibilities which are already devolved but which the UK Government wants to reserve to itself so that it can impose its own rules, and people who raise perfectly sensible objections to the idiotic pronouncements from both Tory and Labour MPs about Customs Unions and tariffs are blamed for not backing a Brexit that works for everyone.

A Brexit that works for everyone? That is pure fantasy. The only people it will work for are the already mega-wealthy tax avoiders who want to turn the UK into a tax haven. The Government’s own analyses demonstrate this, yet they are determined to blunder on with less hap and less eptness than anyone can ever recall from a UK Government.

If this situation weren’t so desperately serious, it would be funny. Even the scriptwriters for Yes, prime Minister would have struggled to come up with this level of bumbling incompetence.

It really must be just about time that Scotland began to man the lifeboats. Independence will bring its own uncertainties, but they surely cannot be any worse than the certainty of Brexit being a disaster for the majority of British citizens.


Political Football

Posted on February 18th, 2018

by Wee Hamish

So the Blazers at the SFA have got their fingers out at last and appointed a new manager for the Scotland football team. Alex McLeish wouldn’t have been my first choice, and the way the SFA have handled the whole affair has been a complete joke, but I’m not going to let that stop me supporting the team and hoping McLeish does well in the job.

Let’s face it, he was the best qualified of the available candidates who were mentioned in the media, and the appointment is understandable if you’re looking for a safe, unambitious appointment. The way Scotland have consistently failed to qualify for major championships means we either needed to be very bold or very safe, and the SFA have gone for safe. Fair enough although they could have gone about it in a much better way than the circus we’ve witnessed over the past few months.

As for McLeish, a lot of fans aren’t happy. What I don’t agree with are some of the reasons for condemning his appointment. OK, you could argue on footballing grounds that Steve Clarke would make a much better international manager, but he’s already in a job. He would have been my first choice but hopefully he will get a chance at some point in the future.

Another reason for people’s dislike of McLeish is that he walked out on Scotland once before, so why should we give him another chance? That’s a fair point but it’s a fans’ view. Fans are usually very loyal to their team, but footballers and managers need to earn a living, so loyalty doesn’t really enter into it. I mean, let’s face it – if someone offered you double, triple or quadruple your salary to move jobs, you’d be daft not to take it. Alex McLeish has, throughout his career, followed the money. He’s now at the stage where he’s not likely to get such offers again unless he makes a huge success of the Scotland job. If he does, and if someone waves a cheque book at him, he’ll be off like a shot. That’s got to be a concern but it hasn’t happened yet and the whole point is that it depends on him making Scotland a successful team.

The other reason people are giving for being unhappy with his appointment is that he urged people to vote No in the IndieRef. I disagree with him about that, but I disagree with about half the population of Scotland about that and, quite honestly, it really shouldn’t matter. What’s at issue here is his ability as a football manager, not his politics. And there’s no doubt he has considerable experience as both player and manager and has been pretty successful in most jobs he’s had as a manager. I really don’t see what difference his political views make, although I must admit I laughed at a comment I saw online about Scotland appointing a manager who thinks his country shouldn’t be a country.

In the end, though, I don’t care about McLeish’s politics. What I care about is the Scotland football team. Whatever he thinks about our political future, I’m hoping he can inspire the exciting crop of young talent he has at his disposal and gets us qualified for a major championship. I’ll back him all the way on that mission. I will worry about him walking out on us again but I need to believe he can improve the team’s fortunes. With some great young players starting to make an impact at high levels, there’s no reason why McLeish can’t help Scotland rise up and be a footballing nation again.


The Real Story

Posted on February 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Oxfam scandal is certainly attracting a great many headlines, and rightly so. It is perhaps naïve of many of us not to have considered that some people would have been attracted to working for such a charity because they knew it would present them with opportunities to go to parts of the world where they were sure to find vulnerable children who could be exploited.

Oxfam, and similar charities, have a duty of care to try to ensure that no such person is allowed to work for them, but let’s face it, many paedophiles are very successful at concealing their true nature from others. However, if anyone is discovered to be a paedophile, or even if there are suggestions that they might be, the charities should ensure that such people face full and proper investigation and face the full penalties the law provides. This is where Oxfam went seriously wrong.

As a result of their attempt to cover up the scandal, Oxfam are in the news, but some media outlets are going completely overboard with their coverage, causing many people to wonder whether there is more to this story than meets the eye.

the cynics amongst us are already pointing out that this story, which relates to events which allegedly took place several years ago, has broken at a very convenient time. It is not long ago, after all, that Oxfam openly criticised the Tory Government for its cruel treatment of the poor and disabled. Some are suggesting that much of the current furore is down to the Government getting its own back.

Not only that, the story coincides with calls by Jacob Rees Mogg to cut the overseas aid budget. Having Oxfam in the spotlight does his cause no harm at all.

Coincidence? Maybe, but there is also news breaking on social media that much of the publicity surrounding Mr Rees Mogg is being generated by Kremlin-controlled Twitter accounts and Bots which generate a sufficient number of comments to make the mainstream media pick up on them, thus creating a publicity story which is intended to manipulate the ever-gullible public.

coincidence? You decide.

And, of course, the other point many are making is that this same Government which is now making noises about cutting grants to charities has consistently lost files which allege paedophilia being carried out by members of Parliament.

Coincidence? Some are arguing that is more like deflection, not to mention hypocrisy.

But the main problem with this whole story is that it rarely seems to focus on the children who suffered at the hands of these unsavoury individuals. Their lives were blighted enough by the natural disasters which devastated their country, and instead of help, they found only cruel victimisation. In today’s UK, it seems such things are of secondary importance as far as the media are concerned. All the public outrage is being directed towards Oxfam who, it must be remembered, employ many hundreds of people, most of whom genuinely work hard to help those who are less fortunate. But I have yet to hear a single news commentary talk about the children.

Even when the children are mentioned, the media distort their behaviour. Many newspaper headlines don’t seem to understand that the children were not “exchanging sex for gifts"; they were being exploited by ruthless, manipulative individuals who were taking advantage of their vulnerability. That is the real tragedy, with the secondary tragedy being that the British media seem unable to grasp this point.


If It Quacks Like A Duck

Posted on February 10th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Godwin’s Law asserts that, the longer an online discussion continues, the more likely someone is to make reference to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis in relation to the views of their protagonists. However, awareness of this law does tend to make many people reluctant to resort to this tactic. This is because it is often viewed as a lazy rhetorical device and suggests that the person making the comparison has run out of arguments.

But somebody needs to draw some comparisons when viewing the current trends in British politics. Ever since WW2 ended, people in Britain have wondered how on earth a creature like Adolf Hitler could rise to power in Germany in the 1930s. To which the response must be, “Take a look around you."

Now, I’m not saying any of our current political leaders are Nazis, even though at least one MP allegedly has a security guard who likes to dress up in Nazi uniform. That, however, could be an image taken out of context, or it could be a Photoshop job, so let’s not get carried away.

But we cannot deny the similarities simply because accusing anyone of being a Nazi is a very unpleasant thing to do. Those who support Scottish independence should know that well enough since we have often been accused of being Nazis. This naturally makes us reluctant to make the same accusation.

But we should not forget that Fascism comes in many guises. Hitler’s version of it was the worst seen in Europe, but it was not the only version. Mussolini was the first to embrace Fascism and was actually regarded as the leading European Fascist at one stage.

The problem with Fascism is that, although we can generally recognise it, it is notoriously difficult to define. But there are general features we can associate with this belief system. Fascism tends to be extremely nationalistic, xenophobic and militaristic. It employs intimidation, promotes the use of “othering" to inflame hatred of minority groups, and is very keen on shutting down any dissent.

Of course, the same can be said for extreme versions of Communism, since extremists of all sorts tend to display similar tendencies, but there is no doubt that we are seeing many of these things in the UK today, and that they are allied to the views of Right Wing politicians.

It is scary, although few people seem concerned. The media are doing their best to normalise Right Wing political views and to promote those who espouse those views. Brexit is steaming ahead even though there is growing evidence that a majority of the public now oppose it. We are seeing violent scuffles at political speaking events, threats from Government to crack down on what it sees as abuse even though existing laws can easily serve to prosecute people who issue threats or act in an intimidating or violent manner.

In more mainstream politics, we have seen the UK Government pay lip service to Devolution but ignore it in practice when pushing through its Repeal Bill. We have seen statements of intent to involve the devolved Parliaments in discussion, and then witnessed the UK Government completely ignore the Scottish and Welsh Governments. When challenged, they either refuse to answer or issue bland apologies, excuses and warning threats. All of this is backed by a media who constantly tell us how things are going wrong in Scotland and that only the UK can put things right. We are bombarded with messages telling us that it is the uncertainty of another IndyRef which is causing all the problems, but that Brexit is a great opportunity. It’s as if Orwell’s Ministry of Truth were in charge.

So, to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone in UK politics of being a Nazi, but I am saying that far too many of them, backed by the media, are displaying Fascist attitudes. And each time they get away with saying or doing something outrageous, it only inspires them towards taking the next step.

Disabled people are dying, the homeless are dying, child poverty is on the increase, life expectancy is falling, the NHS in England is in danger of imploding, people who have spent their entire lives in the UK are being deported on the flimsiest of excuses, the UK is selling billions of pounds of armaments to stoke wars in the Middle East, and Union Flags proliferate in every walk of life.

What can we do to prevent this becoming even worse? In truth, not a great deal. We have seen in the past week or so that even massive demonstrations are not reported by the State broadcaster in order to keep the majority of the public ignorant of what is going on. Demonstrations are great as a way of expressing opinion, but they won’t stop the politicians. The only thing that will stop them is voting them out. The problem there is that it may already be too late, since Brexit will have become a reality before another UK General Election is held. And we know that English voters tend to vote Tory no matter what happens as a consequence. With the wealth and power of the media and the rich elite behind them, the Tories are able to influence public opinion by playing on people’s fears and blaming foreigners for all the ills people see around them.

Scotland may yet have a chance to escape this madness. But, if we do, we need to make absolutely sure that we take advantage by using our votes wisely, because we’ll only get one chance.


The Long & Winding Road

Posted on February 8th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

This week has seen the marking of the 100th anniversary of some women being given the vote. This was, of course, a momentous occasion but a word of caution is required when celebrating such things.

To begin with, it must be acknowledged that the Suffragette movement was absolutely vital in bringing about this change. Suffragettes underwent horrendous intimidation and were regarded as enemies of the State for a long time. They ran the risk of being verbally abused or even physically assaulted by members of the public who were whipped into fury by the media of the day. In addition, imprisonment and forced feeding were the fate of many.

This shows that the British State has always seen any attempt to dilute its power and authority as a threat. Extending the franchise away from wealthy males was perceived as dangerous. It did eventually happen, of course, but the Suffragettes showed us that the British State will never willingly concede any power unless it has little option. It also confirmed that the media will always be on the side of the status quo and will be able to influence many members of the public with its constant messages of othering.

Extension of the franchise is an ongoing, gradual process. For example, while it is right that some women being able to vote should be commemorated, we should not forget that many of the young men who fought and died in the trenches during World War 1 were considered too young to vote.

During the Twentieth Century, the franchise was eventually extended further until we reached the stage where men and women aged 18 or over have equal voting rights. This is as it should be, but we should not fool ourselves that this is the end of the process.

In Scotland, young people are now permitted to vote from the age of 16, while the UK Government stubbornly insists that people under the age of 18 are not mature enough to vote responsibly. This is the next stage in the process, because it is quite unconscionable that people who are considered old enough to leave school, find work and pay taxes, to marry and even to join the armed Forces and perhaps give their lives for the State, are not permitted to vote in elections. The excuse that they are not mature enough is quite pathetic. Anyone who has visited a school knows that many young people are perfectly capable of listening to arguments and making up their own minds. Indeed, they are often better informed than elderly people who have been exposed to State propaganda all their lives and still trust the mainstream media.

So, yes, let’s celebrate a momentous event from 100 years ago, but let us also remember that it was only one step, albeit a very large and important one, on the long road to democracy.


Germanophobia

Posted on February 7th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

News has leaked out that Margaret Thatcher was opposed to German Reunification. She wasn’t alone in this, but she apparently spoke to Mikhail Gorbachev about it and told him to ignore any public announcements from the West about wanting a unified Germany because official policy was the exact opposite.

You can read full details of this at:

https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/112006

Now, it’s no real surprise that any politician, especially one like Margaret Thatcher, would be prepared to say one thing in public and the exact opposite in private, but her reasons for this particular bit of hypocrisy reveal quite a lot about the British Nationalist mentality which is seeing such a revival at the moment.

Going all the way back to the days of Henry VIII, England’s foreign policy as regards Europe has always been to try to keep the continent divided so that no one nation wielded too much power. Through the centuries, this is what has driven England’s and then the UK’s involvement in many wars and in financing other countries to engage in warfare so as to prevent any nation becoming too strong. This mindset seems to have influenced Mrs Thatcher in her views on Germany since the sole reason for not wanting a united Germany is fear that it would increase the strength of that country.

This fear, as with so much in BritNat thinking, is based on glorified memories of the two World Wars fought last century, and a dread that Germany might harbour future dreams of military conquest.

What this thinking ignores is that Germany is one of the few countries to have learned the lessons of these profound and catastrophic events. A united Germany may well harbour ambitions of domination, but those ambitions are more economic than military. And we have seen that Germany has accepted more refugees from Africa and the Middle east than most other nations, while maintaining a political system which is intended to prevent any one faction gaining too much control. Contrast that with the UK’s paltry response to the refugee crisis and it’s grossly unfair First Past The Post, Two-Party system. The UK’s political system is so undemocratic that we may soon end up with a Prime Minister who is even more Right Wing than Theresa May. That ought to scare everyone, especially as only Tory Party members will have voted for whoever replaces May in a leadership contest. That’s not democracy.

The fact is that Germany has learned to look to the future, while the UK is mired in dreams of past glory and a refusal to update its antiquated systems. Even in such a simple thing as electronic voting in the House of Commons, the UK cannot bring itself to throw off its attachment to ancient tradition, resulting in hours of wasted time as MPs shuffle through the lobbies to register their votes. It is no wonder the UK is becoming a laughing stock.

Another manifestation of this obsession with the past is the UK’s attitude towards Germany. The famous “Don’t mention the war!" sketch from Fawlty Towers was intended to parody this obsession yet is often viewed as somehow reinforcing the UK’s right to view Germany as a perpetual threat to peace. Yet Germany is not selling billions of pounds worth of munitions to Saudi Arabia, nor does it maintain a ludicrously expensive nuclear arsenal, nor is it building aircraft carriers so that it can threaten and bully other countries (if it ever manages to afford to buy any aircraft to go on the carriers).

Recent headlines in the Telegraph about Britain’s “Glorious Victory" in WW2 only serve to confirm that many British Nationalists continue to live in the past. It is those dreams of glory which have resulted in the rise of xenophobia and the madness of Brexit. The EU, which we all recognise is far from perfect, has been cast in the role of villain, but the UK has been unable to employ its usual tactic of divide and conquer because, for all their differences, most EU member nations understand the benefits the EU provides and want to remain a part of it. With its influence nullified because every member nation is afforded votes within the EU, the UK has well and truly taken the huff and is proceeding with what a growing number of people realise is a potentially catastrophic course of action. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

All the revelations about Mrs Thatcher’s views on Germany show is that fear of A strong Europe drives too many political decisions within the UK. We are experiencing the most obvious manifestation of that fear right now. Sadly, given that this view has prevailed in Westminster for centuries, there is probably no cure. All Scotland can do is put the patient in isolation by breaking away and joining the European countries as a normal nation in its own right.


PIP Squeaks

Posted on February 4th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I have a friend who has been quite severely disabled since birth. His problem has left him with limbs which are slightly twisted and very unreliable. He has trouble walking and certainly can’t manage any speed greater than a determined plod. His hands have trouble holding things and I know he was always given extra time to complete exams at school because he took so long to write anything.

Despite these problems, he’s a very clever and witty man, and he’s never let his physical difficulties stop him getting around. He used to accompany our group of pals on such diverse things as pub crawls and gentle hill walks, and he never, ever complained although once or twice he did turn back if the going underfoot became too rough.

After school, he went to university, qualified as a lawyer and has held down a job for many years. Now that he’s approaching retirement, he’s finding things becoming even tougher since, with the aging process, his limbs are even less reliable than they used to be when he was younger. He manages without a wheelchair, but needs a walking stick and preferably someone to hang onto when walking. Nowadays he can’t walk very far at all. Like many disabled people, though, he is able to laugh at himself and has always kept his sense of humour.

Recently, though, he had to undergo a PIP assessment because he was due to be transferred out of the old Disability Living Allowance scheme. I was a bit worried for him because he is able to do a lot of things which I thought might disqualify him from earning PIP points. Fortunately, he has been granted PIP, but his comments about the process were quite revealing.

He told me, “It’s quite depressing to have to go into a room and justify just what a pathetic and inadequate human being you are."

Which sums up the PIP concept perfectly. Rather than a system which is designed to assist disabled people cope with the inevitable extra costs their disability incurs so that they can participate more readily in society, it seems designed to degrade people and make them feel worthless. Rather than allowing disabled people to cope with finding a job, it seems to rely on making them feel totally inadequate.

Most disabled people I know like to concentrate on the things they can do, but PIP forces them to focus on the things they cannot do. If you are lucky enough to receive some financial help from PIP, then the cost to your sense of self-worth is not insignificant because you can be made to feel that you are scrounging from your fellow citizens.

The way PIP has been implemented has made it a cruel and heartless system at the best of times. The number of people who have been refused assistance despite having significant physical or mental problems is appalling. Yet even those who succeed in their claims are left feeling somehow tainted by the experience.

As with so many aspects of life, the UK Government is showing us how not to do things. But is there a better way?

it must be said that the principal problems with PIP are the actual assessments themselves. Untrained examiners with targets to hit result in far too many genuinely disabled people being disqualified from PIP. People have lost their Motability cars, some have lost jobs and some have even taken their own lives. So, while the broad concept of PIP can perhaps be viewed as well-intentioned, the implementation of the scheme has caused immense societal harm. The Scottish Government does seem to be adopting a more humane approach in its construction of the Scottish Welfare system, although only time will tell whether this will work better than PIP when put into practice. And, of course, the DWP will retain control over most aspects of Social Security, so the Scottish Government’s efforts will, at best, be a mere sticking plaster on the injuries inflicted by PIP.

A possible solution could be Universal Basic Income. This is gaining in popularity as a societal change which could make a huge difference to many lower paid or unemployed workers. It would result in the removal of Personal Tax Allowances and most Social Security Benefits, but would provide each citizen with an income which should provide a reasonable, if basic, standard of living. From an administrative point of view, it would cut out a lot of red tape. From the perspective of people who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts, it would provide a safety net. For those who find themselves out of work, it would remove the stress of being forced to meet ludicrous targets for job applications simply in order to obtain some basic State assistance. There is a great deal to be said for UBI, and we’ll be watching developments and trials with interest.

However, we must not forget that having a disability inevitably results in additional costs for such things as specialised equipment and even simple things like transport. Many disabled people struggle with public transport and need to rely on taxis to get about. That’s not cheap, even though some Councils operate discounted schemes. So, even if UBI becomes a reality, some sort of additional Social Security Benefit will probably be needed by the disabled. Let’s hope that, in an independent Scotland, we can come up with something which is rather more humane than PIP.


Questionable Data

Posted on January 31st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

According to an article in the Financial Times, the Office for National Statistics has revealed enormous discrepancies between what the UK thinks it exports in services and what the importing countries believe they receive. We’re not talking small variances here, but many billions of pounds. There are lots of reasons provided for this, most notably that it is extremely difficult to monitor the level of service provision. However, with the UK’s Brexit strategy (such as it is) being predicated on the assumption that London’s financial services market is the UK’s principal bargaining tool, this news rather undermines what little bargaining power the UK Government has.

Hot on the heels of this news, we had the leak of the Brexit impact assessment which claimed that the UK will be considerably worse off no matter what sort of Brexit we end up with. This report has been dismissed by many leading Brexiteers on the basis that, essentially, you can’t believe any reports which claim to know what is going to happen in the future.

So, what we take from all this is that we shouldn’t believe any Government forecasts and we can’t even rely on UK Government statistics about past or current events.

Isn’t that interesting? Let’s make sure we remember that when the next GERS report comes out and when IndyRef2 comes along.


Remembering Brian

Posted on January 29th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

A couple of months ago, a gentleman named Brian sent an article in to the Rab Bruce’s Spider email, asking if I would publish it. I was happy to do so, and it was published under his pen name of “The Citadel". A short time afterwards, he sent in another article which was also published. Links to both of these are posted at the end of this article, although they are not really what this piece is about.

You see, I never met Brian, our exchanges being via email, and I know very little about him other than that he was blind, using Screen Reader to type his work, and that he was a keen supporter of Scottish independence.

I was thinking that I hadn’t heard any more from him and was toying with the idea of dropping him a line to ask whether he had any more articles, when I did receive a communication, but one which bore sad news. The email came from Brian’s daughter who advised me that Brian had passed away. Now, we’ve all lost loved ones, and we know how tough it is, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear or to find the right words to console someone who has suffered a bereavement. I did my inadequate best, but the truth is I was deeply saddened by the news even though I didn’t really know Brian at all.

I wanted to write something to commemorate Brian, but I couldn’t find the right words. But time tends to resolve such issues and the intervening couple of weeks have made me realise that my encounter with Brian represents a couple of aspects of our modern ways of interacting. So this article, while not specifically about Brian, is certainly inspired by him.

So here goes. Like many Yessers, I find Twitter a very useful tool for keeping up to date with current events, thoughts and arguments. One of the criticisms often levelled at those who use Twitter is that they live in an Echo Chamber, endlessly retweeting the same points over an over again, telling each other how wonderful they are and creating a very lop-sided view of the world.

Now, it must be admitted that this criticism is valid to some extent, but there are two points arising from it which we often don’t appreciate.

First, those who level the charge against the Echo Chamber tend to be professional journalists – and I use the word “professional" to denote how they earn a living rather than as an evaluation of the quality of their work . What few of them seem to realise is that, particularly in Scotland, the media is itself a vast Echo Chamber. We have seen that as recently as last week when the propaganda story about flags was in several newspapers and gleefully retweeted by Unionist politicians and their supporters. The only real difference between the two Echo Chambers is in the reach they have.

For those of us who use Twitter, it can often be a frustrating place, but we should not underestimate its power. We often hear anti-Indy news on the TV or radio, or read it in newspapers and wonder just how much truth there is behind it. Twitter allows us to access alternative viewpoints and perhaps find counter-arguments which we hadn’t thought of ourselves. Being able to retweet such arguments allows us to spread the word to like-minded people, thus providing them with ammunition for when they face friends and neighbours who need convincing of the merits of Indy and who rely on the mainstream Echo Chamber for their news.

The second point about online interaction is the sense of community it provides. I have had recent experience of this during my attempts to promote the #VIVID campaign to have Twitter images described in order to help visually impaired Tweeters. The response has been pretty good overall, and I really appreciate that many Yessers are now adding descriptions to their Tweets when they post a picture. We are a long way from persuading everyone, but it’s been a terrific response so far. Not only that, several people have offered to describe images which have been posted without a description, while others of a technical mind have been discussing whether there is a better way to provide descriptions rather than relying on people remembering to type them every time they upload an image. These people have done this out of a genuine desire to help, and this response has been truly overwhelming.

This shows the community spirit Twitter can engender. We are all individuals, and we may well have differing opinions on many issues, but on the matter of Scottish independence we share one aim. Twitter allows us to share our thoughts and hopes, and to encounter people we may never meet face to face but who are obviously of a like mind about the sort of Scotland we want to live in.

This is the great thing about the online world. Without it, many of us would be left sitting at home listening to the BBC and thinking the entire world had gone mad except us. Being able to go online and find that others share your views is a great feeling.

And if you feel the dark side of Twitter can be horrible, remember that you don’t need to engage with the Trolls. There are block and mute functions, or you can simply refuse to sink to their level by not responding to them.

Now, I have no idea whether Brian used Twitter. He found the Rab Bruce’s Spider site somehow, so perhaps he was. He certainly felt that he had something to say, and he knew that getting his words online would help him reach a wider audience. He was, you see, part of our online community and his passing has helped me realise just how important that community is. Even though we never actually met in person, I, for one, will miss him.

http://rbs.postach.io/post/how-legal-is-a-constitution

http://rbs.postach.io/post/referendums-what-rules


Empire Building

Posted on January 25th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, has apparently accepted responsibility for not presenting amendments to the Great Repeal Bill in time, meaning that amendments which would have protected the status of the Devolved Parliaments within the UK will not be included.

It’s big of him to admit his mistake. But the question is whether it was a mistake at all. Viceroy Fluffy is currently recruiting scores of new civil servants into the Scotland Office and acquiring additional premises to house them. Others have speculated that this is in anticipation of him acquiring vast swathes of new powers once the great Repeal Bill goes through. With his new army of loyal servants, he will be able to gradually strip powers away from Holyrood, with the potential outcome that the Scotland Office will, in time, effectively reinpose direct rule.

Has Mundell offered himself up as a scapegoat in the knowledge that his reward will be a personal empire which will see him govern Scotland? One must conclude that it is either that or he really is as incompetent as he appears. Either way, the result will be the same; the Scotland Office is going to be able to overrule Holyrood once the Great Repeal Bill becomes law.

There should, of course, be outrage in the Scottish media over this. Fluffy’s position should be challenged, and we should be hearing calls for his resignation for sheer incompetence. In fact, all we hear about are flags. This is classic distraction from the unionist media, who clearly acted in concert with the fake news story on flags. Thanks to this, Mundell knew he was safe in owning up to an alleged gaffe.

So, his position is secure and his future is bright. For Scotland, not so much. Once Mundell gets his hands on power, we can look forward to such delights as fracking and the privatisation of NHS Scotland.

If this doesn’t bother you, it really should.


Getting the Message Across

Posted on January 21st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Politics is becoming increasingly polarised, principally because recent important constitutional issues such as Scottish independence and Brexit have been presented to the public as binary choices, forcing people to take sides. In addition, the rise of Right Wing demagogues in both the UK and the USA has produced something of a backlash, especially in the online world of social media.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this is the Whataboutery employed by all sides in these arguments. This may be a natural human response to accusations of perceived wrongdoing, but they add little to the fundamental debates.

This polarisation has also resulted in every political action or statement being viewed through a lens of hostility. There have been several examples of this in recent days, culminating in the howls of outrage over the SNP’s latest Party Political Broadcast which allegedly features a character who bears a resemblance to Unionist journalist David Torrance, both physically and in his attitude of hostility to the SNP. This outcry, whether justified or not, has resulted in the PPB receiving a great deal of interest, perhaps more than would otherwise have been the case, so those shouting loudest about how it is an attack on Press freedom have actually done the SNP a service. They have also struggled to explain quite how David Torrance will be silenced by this lampooning, since he is free to publish his usual #SNPBad article whenever he likes. (And, to be honest, he likes writing it pretty regularly).

But all of this misses the main point about the PPB. Its script is a rip-off of the famous Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?" sketch, and the acting is a little hammy, but those things do not detract from the fact that it achieves its aims. The point of a Party Political Broadcast is to get a message over to an audience who are not closely engaged with politics and to do so in a memorable way so that they understand the central argument. In that sense, this PPB is bang on the mark.

This blog site is not affiliated to any political Party, but we recognise that the SNP represent the main political arm through which Scottish independence will be achieved. We also recognise that the bulk of their policies are intended to create the sort of Scotland many Yessers want to live in. This does not mean we have not been critical of the SNP in the past, and one of the main criticisms is that they are far too often on the defensive and seem unable to get their message out there. With this PPB, perhaps we are seeing the first signs that this is going to change. By listing all their achievements in a way which evokes memories of a world-famous comedy sketch, they are giving their audience a message which the likes of the BBC will never deliver.

So, whether the resemblance to David Torrance is deliberate or accidental is immaterial. Most viewers will have little idea of what he looks like in any case. No, what counts is that the message gets out there and that more Scots begin to realise just how fortunate they are to be living in the most progressive part of the UK. Independence does not guarantee a problem-free future, but the SNP have shown that Scotland is capable of making its own decisions and heading in a very different direction to that of the austerity-obsessed, xenophobic Westminster-governed UK. The sooner more people appreciate this, the better. From that perspective, this PPB is possibly one of the best things the SNP have done to get that message across.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can view it at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy8dEz-1upM


Off Your Marks!

Posted on January 14th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s spider

When I first heard the story about a Marks & Spencer Customer Relations Officer telling a Scots woman that Scotland was now regarded as a part of England because of the result of the IndyRef, I honestly thought it was a spoof. Sadly, it seems to be true, but can we blame Marks & Spencer for this?

the thing we need to keep in mind is that, while every organisation is ultimately responsible for the actions of its employees, we cannot expect senior management to oversee the content of every letter and email, or to monitor every telephone call. If an individual employee does or says something which is inappropriate, the best we can expect is that the company take action to redress any damage caused and to ensure that there is no repeat.

What seems to have happened here is that a British Nationalist employed by M&S has written a highly offensive email, perhaps because it was his or her last day at work and they wanted to let rip with their true feelings. M&S certainly state that the individual responsible no longer works for them.

They also say that the email does not reflect their official policy, but it is here that we need to take issue with them. What seems to have been overlooked in all the stooshie about the “You are part of England now" email is that the original complaint was about the branding of whisky in M&S stores. The lady was asking why their whisky was labelled as British or English, but not Scottish. That’s a very valid question and one to which M&S don’t seem to have given a satisfactory answer. Scots must be left to draw the conclusion that M&S’s official policy is to obliterate the Scottish brand and subsume us into their vision of a united Britain. They haven’t gone so far as to say they view Scotland as a part of England, but they certainly aren’t doing anything to promote Scotland the Brand, and we are entitled to ask why.

This is a growing trend. Scottish goods are being branded as British in many supermarkets and even restaurants often list such things as “British chicken" on their menus. Whether this is some sort of anti-foreigner campaign which has arisen as a result of Brexit, or whether it is a deliberate attempt to impose a British identity on Scotland is difficult to say. It could well be a bit of both, or it may simply be the result of decisions made in a London-based HQ which is aimed at the company’s largest market and takes no account of the sensibilities of the smaller nations of the UK.

But what can we do about it? The sad thing is that the only choice we have is to boycott any outlet which adopts this policy. This is often denounced as a childish and petty thing to do by those who espouse British Nationalism, and it certainly could result in job losses for far too many of our fellow Scots if the practice were to become widespread.

On the other hand, why would you keep going back to a place where your nation and your ideals are constantly mocked and derided as being of lesser value than those of the British State? I mean, you wouldn’t keep visiting a neighbour who constantly insulted you to your face, would you?

It is, of course, up to each individual to make their own choice, and the list of companies who actively oppose Scotland becoming a normal country is now quite extensive. One thing is for sure, though; I won’t be going back to Marks & Spencer unless I really have no alternative.


In The Dark

Posted on January 11th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Over the past couple of weeks, several blind Twitter users, backed up by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), have been trying to raise awareness of a Twitter function known as “Image Description". I’ve been trying to do my bit to help by Tweeting lots of people to alert them to this feature. The high-profile targets have included the BBC, STV, Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn plus several other MPs, MSPs and MEPs, along with some high profile bloggers within the Yes movement. The response has been nil so far, probably because these people and organisations receive so many notifications they generally ignore them.

I’ve also been pestering some grass roots Tweeters when they post an image without a description. Here, the response has been better although a few (you know who you are) simply ignore me and continue posting undescribed images. I’ll keep hassling them.

One thing that has become clear, though, is that many sighted people have no idea how blind people can use Twitter nor what difference a description makes. So I thought I’d set out the issues in a blog post because, even with 280 characters, Twitter isn’t the best forum for explaining this.

Let’s start with the How. Technology has advanced tremendously in the past fifteen years or so. This allows blind people to use PCs and smartphones thanks to programmes / apps known as Screen Readers. On a PC, there are a few options available, with differing capabilities depending on how much you can afford to pay. The best (and most expensive) is called JAWS (Job Access With Speech). However, while JAWS is fine for reading documents, emails and most websites, Twitter isn’t great with it since Twitter hasn’t been particularly well designed for accessibility and, even if it was, the constant refreshing of the feed knocks JAWS out of its stride far too often.

Fortunately, smartphones and Tablets usually come with a built in Screen Reader. The one I am familiar with is Apples’ VoiceOver which comes as standard on every Apple device. So, if you know someone who has sight loss and wants to be able to use the internet or other online apps, an iPad or iPhone are ideal because VoiceOver works exactly the same way on every Apple device. I should say that Android phones and Tablets also have Screen Readers, but they all work differently in terms of which finger movements to use. The beauty with apple is that the tactile commands are always the same.

What the Screen Reader does is read aloud when you touch the screen. So, if using Twitter, you touch the screen and VoiceOver reads the name of the person who has Tweeted and then reads what they’ve said. You can then find the Reply, Retweet and Like buttons by swiping a finger across the screen like Tabbing on a PC keyboard.

So far, so fantastic. The problem comes when people post pictures. Imagine, if you will, hearing your phone read the following Tweet:

“Rab Bruce’s Spider.

Isn’t this hilarious? Pic.Twitter.com"

It’s not very informative, is it? If you then go into the Tweet and touch the image, you get more information along the lines of, “Landscape image. Double tap to see full size image".

Again, it doesn’t tell you anything. This is why, up until now, blind users have simply ignored Tweets with pictures. This can be very frustrating, especially if the picture is attracting comments such as “LOL" or “That’s brilliant!". Everyone is enjoying the Tweet except those who cannot see.

But there is a solution. Some months ago (or possibly Longer), Twitter announced a new feature called Image Description. At the time, I Tweeted back to them that I thought it was a poor idea since it relied on Twitter users having the patience to type a description of the image. Sadly, I was proved correct in this cynical forecast. In all the time since the feature was announced, the only picture I’ve ever come across with a description was posted by RNIB.

So now the visually impaired people (VIPs) on Twitter have decided not to simply shrug and move on when they find a picture, but are getting bolshie and starting to ask people to post a description.

Over two million people in the UK suffer from some form of sight loss. Of these, there are around 20,000 people in Scotland who are registered blind or partially sighted, and around 360,000 across the UK. Not all of them are on twitter, of course, but a great many are because, when you are blind and can’t get out and about very much, social media can be a lifeline to the world.

I should also say that many people who are registered blind still have some vision. Only a relatively low percentage are totally blind, but sight loss takes many forms and viewing images is difficult for most VIPs.

OK, hopefully you now appreciate why image descriptions are important. But how do you use them?

First, you need to enable the function in Twitter. You do this by going into Settings, then Accessibility. Image Description is at the end of the list. (High priority as usual, a cynic might say).

Enable this, Save and then you are ready to go. The next time you upload a photograph or any other image, you will be given the option to include a description. Because the description is text, the screen Reader app will be able to read it aloud to the VIP. Sorted.

OK, I know it’s a hassle and inconvenient. It may take you up to a minute to type a description, and the target audience will be small. But the Yes community has always prided itself on being inclusive, and this is one way you can demonstrate a genuine example of that essential trait. It will make your pictures accessible so that VIPs won’t simply skip over your tweet because it is meaningless to them, but will allow them to participate in whatever message you are trying to share.

If you are worried that you don’t know how to write a description, don’t panic. It’s not hard. Even a brief outline is better than nothing. It can’t possibly replace the sheer joy of actually being able to see the picture, but it can help explain what is going on.

For example, you could type: Ruth Davidson sitting on a tank, holding a Union flag.

That explains it perfectly well.

Or you could expand it a bit and say: Ruth Davidson, wearing military dress, sitting on a Mark 2 Challenger tank holding a union flag above her head.

That’s even better, although it must be admitted that it’s the sort of image which might make VIPs momentarily glad they are blind.

Equally, “Donald Trump playing golf" is perfectly adequate, although “Donald Trump lining up a putt on a golf course, with a crowd of photographers behind him" gives even more information.

One important point to note is that you might be posting a screenshot of a Tweet or a document of some sort. Because Twitter regards these as pictures, they are effectively invisible to the VIPs. The Screen Reader will not read the text contained in the image, so to make it accessible, I’m afraid you need to type out the text in the description. This, admittedly, rather ruins the time-saving aspect of taking a screenshot, but there is no way round it at present.

So there you are. I can’t emphasise enough how important Image Descriptions are to the visually impaired community. If you can help spread the word, and can try to remember to add a description when posting an image, you’ll be doing a great favour to people who would otherwise be excluded and who generally don’t speak up for themselves. Living in perpetual darkness isn’t a lot of fun. Social media provides a valuable lifeline. You can make that lifeline even more accessible with just a little effort.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Creating an Epidemic

Posted on January 10th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Most people on the yes side of the Indy debate believe the BBC is biased against Indy in general and the SNP in particular. This view is, unsurprisingly, challenged by others who claim that bias is in the eye of the beholder and that, in fact, news reporting is pretty fair.

This is, however, not borne out by several facts, not least of which is the BBC’s reliance on Labour and Tory press releases to generate misleading headlines as witnessed recently in claims that the Queensferry crossing would be partially closed for months and the furore over single-crewed ambulances which proved to be a complete non-story.

In yet another example of either incompetence or deliberate lying (whichever you choose to believe), we submit the following video clip which shows a BBC report on the current alleged crisis in NHS Scotland.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/f11pqvQMjWk

Now, you will note that the claim is that over 100,000 people were not dealt with within the target 4 hours for accident and emergency. Let’s take a closer look at that claim.

It is true that the percentage of patients dealt with within four hours fell to a very disappointing 78% during the week in question. That was largely down to the very cold weather causing lots of slips and falls, plus the very large number of people suffering flu symptoms. But if 78% were seen within the 4 hours, that means that the 100,000 people must comprise the 22% figure.

So, if 22% equals 100,000, then the total number of people visiting A&E during that week must be over 454,500 (100,000 / 22 x 100 = 454545.5).

That means that, according to the BBC claim, around 8% of the entire population of Scotland went to A&E that week.

Seriously? Let that sink in. In one single week, 8% of the population went to A&E?

something seems wrong there, don’t you think?

let’s see if there are any other reports of the statistics.

Ah, the Daily Telegraph, a Right Wing newspaper not known for its support of Scottish Independence reported that only 5,686 people were not seen within the four hour period.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/09/scottish-ae-waiting-times-record-high-christmas-new-year/

So the BBC’s figure overstates the actual number by a factor of around 17.5. That’s quite an exaggeration. Where did they get the figure of 100,000 from? Who knows? But it sounds pretty dreadful, and that seems to be the main issue as far as BBC Scotland is concerned.

Does anyone else remember when Donalda MacKinnon was appointed as the new Head of BBC Scotland and said that they would work hard to regain people’s trust? Like so much else from the state propaganda outlet, that seems to have been empty rhetoric.

It’s no wonder that so many people have gained the impression that BBC news reporters either cannot check basic facts, or that they are deliberately lying to the public. Either way, the organisation is not fit for purpose. There may well be a flu epidemic on the go, but the number of misleading statements from BBC Scotland is also reaching epidemic proportions.


Countering the Narrative

Posted on January 5th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

When IndyRef2 does eventually come along, the Yes movement faces to major sets of opponents who will work hand in hand to keep Scotland part of the Union.

The first group is the unionist politicians. The mendacity of Colonel Davidson and her fellow Tories is pretty well documented, and we can expect a lot more of the same from this source, but the Colonel has a new rival in the contest to be the most disingenuous politician in Scotland.

Step forward Richard Leonard, latest leader of UK Labour’s Scottish Branch Office. In recent weeks, Mr Leonard has made a number of statements which have been highly misleading, leading to many people denouncing him as so stupid that he does not know which areas of responsibility are devolved and which are reserved to Westminster. However, more and more of us are coming round to the view that nobody can be that stupid and that, in fact, he is deliberately confusing the issue simply to create an image of Scotland which fits the #SNPBad narrative. By constantly denigrating the state of the economy, wage disparity, privatised railways, Scottish Water or anything else he can think of while refusing to acknowledge that these areas are controlled by Westminster, he seeks to persuade voters that the SNP is to blame and that the only way to solve the problems is to return to the bad old days of two-Party dominance at Westminster with the role of the Scottish Parliament being reduced to a mere adjunct of that administration.

Both Davidson and Leonard are only too well aware that they will not be challenged by the mainstream media. All they need do is issue a Press Release and it will be parroted by the TV News and the newspapers, especially if it is based on information from a Freedom of Information request which can be spun to show the SNP in a bad light.

Which brings us to the second major group who oppose independence. Yes, it’s the media.

The media attacks on Scotland have been relentless for months now and this will only ramp up as pressure to call IndyRef2 mounts. As with yesterday’s Scottish Ambulance non-story, the media are very happy to take any sort of statistic and turn it into an attack on the Scottish Government. Having ten thousand ambulances despatched with only a single crew member sounds really bad, doesn’t it? That’s the headline we were hit with yesterday. Yet anyone who took the time to read the actual information quickly realised that, in fact, the stats were pretty positive, with that figure of ten thousand representing only 0.3% of the total callouts over a four year period. Some people have also pointed out that this figure likely includes Rapid Response Units which are single-crewed by design. Look at it this way; would you rather have a Paramedic arrive quickly on his or her own than wait what could be a life-threatening few minutes for a twin-crewed ambulance?

But what can we do about the media? In truth, not much. During the first IndyRef campaign, I attended a public meeting at which Nicola sturgeon was asked this question. Her response was, “The media is what the media is."

This rather disappointed me at the time, but I’ve come to recognise the truth of it. In recent weeks, I have seen countless comments on Twitter refuting statements by Richard Leonard, highlighting the falsity of newspaper headlines and pointing out the bias of TV and Radio news reporting. These comments are very useful in helping other Yessers to frame their arguments when confronted with such bias, but the truth is that they do not prevent the politicians and media doing the same sort of thing the very next day.

Some have called for an independent Scottish television channel, but that is not going to happen as long as Westminster retains control over broadcasting. There have been, and continue to be, many admirable efforts to establish small news programmes online but several have failed due to lack of funding and the others face a constant battle to remain viable. The main problem remains that, no matter how good the content of these channels, the audience they reach is small in comparison to the numbers reached by the BBC and STV every day, not to mention the reinforcing views of the printed Press.

Let’s face it, even if Nicola Sturgeon called a Press Conference every week and spent time debunking all the spin and misinformation of the preceding week, the chances are that most of what she said would either not be reported at all or would be edited in such a way as to show her being challenged by Unionist journalists. You can imagine the headlines on Distorting Scotland after any such conference; “Sturgeon on the defensive over …" or “First Minister forced to defend …" or “SNP accused of …"

Which really leaves us with only one option. We need to challenge the media narrative with our friends and family. This can be difficult, and I know my own political comments on Facebook annoy some of my friends. In fact, I’ve had at least three people unfriend me either because I argued with them over comments they had made supporting Tory policies or even simply because I posted pro-Indy comments. That is rather sad, but it goes to show that some people will never be persuaded and it needs to be set against the counter argument that a similar number of people have admitted to me that my comments persuaded them to Yes.

We face an uphill battle here, but the best way to convince people is to take the arguments we find among the Yes community and use them to convince those who are open to persuasion. It won’t be easy, but if everyone who voted Yes last time round was able to convince only one person that remaining part of Brexit Britain will be a disaster for Scotland and that independence, with all the uncertainties and challenges that presents, is the best, the normal and the only way to go, we’ll win with a resounding majority. It won’t be easy, because people don’t like changing their minds and the media still holds a significant influence over many people’s opinions, but we need to use the tools we have, and personal interaction remains the most powerful of those tools. Let’s make sure we keep using it to counteract the mainstream narrative at every opportunity.


The Year Ahead

Posted on January 2nd, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So, the big question for 2018 must be when IndyRef2 is going to be called. There are lots of opinions on this, and each one has a fairly sound basis depending on how you view Brexit.

For what it’s worth, I think the SNP are going to wait until the last possible moment before calling the IndyRef. As things stand, some people still harbour fond hopes that Brexit will be called off. There is, though, no real justification for this since Theresa May is determined to make it go ahead. She has no real choice because the people who are keeping her in power – the Brexit champions in the Cabinet and her tax-dodging press owners – will force her to push on regardless.

Will things change if Theresa May resigns or is forced out? It would be nice to think so, but remember that it is the Tory Party, not the electorate, which will choose the next leader of the Party. Unless the entire Government collapses and yet another General Election is called, we face the prospect of seeing Boris Johnson in Number 10. That’s a scary thought in itself, and it may just be enough to convince enough Scots that we need to escape the madhouse that is the UK. But having Johnson as PM won’t stop Brexit.

However, there remains a possibility that the Irish Border question may yet scupper Brexit. It’s been put on the back burner for the time being, but it will reappear before things reach a head. When that happens, the Tories are going to have to face up to either having a hard border or effectively remaining inside the Single Market and Customs Union. Either way, they are going to annoy a significant section of their support.

As for Scotland, the simple fact is that we can only wait and see. If Nicola Sturgeon calls IndyRef2 before we know what the final Brexit position is, we face the prospect of losing yet again. We need the certainty to have something to point to as the alternative. If we can show the waverers the absolute horror of Brexit from which there is only one escape, we stand an excellent chance of persuading enough people to vote Yes this time. If we go ahead on the basis of what might happen, the usual media and political lies from the UK Establishment will create enough doubt to convince the waverers to stick with what they know even if that might turn out to be a disaster.

Having said all that, one option may well be for Nicola Sturgeon to announce that a new IndyRef will be held if the final Brexit outcome is leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. That would act as a sword of Damocles over the British Nationalists in Westminster because the consequence of their insistence on Brexit would be very clear.

That is always assuming that we are given permission to have another IndyRef. That issue, and how the Scottish Government reacts to it, is another huge question.

One thing is for certain, 2018 is going to be another tough year.


Back to the Future

Posted on December 31st, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So what can we expect to see in 2018? With the Tories in charge, there are a whole host of things which could be brought back to glorious Blighty now that the precedent of Blue Passports has been announced. So a few members of the RBS community have scoured social media to come up with the following list of exciting things the Tories could reintroduce or, in some cases, have already brought back.

Black passports (because the old ones weren’t blue);

Scurvy;

Rickets (already making a comeback);

Workhouses;

National Service;

Playing God Save the Queen at the end of cinema shows;

Ration Books;

TB (see “Rickets" above)

Fox Hunting;

Public Hangings;

Bear Baiting;

chimneys (to provide employment for child chimney sweeps);

Scarlet Fever (See Rickets);

Flogging.

For anyone who ever wondered what it must have been like to live in Victorian Britain, there’s a good chance you’re about to find out.


Out Of Touch

Posted on December 20th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Theresa May has made two statements in the past week which are so appallingly ill-informed and out of touch that they barely qualify her to be an audience member on BBC Question Time, let alone a Prime Minister.

She has told us that there will be no second Referendum on Brexit because that would be a betrayal of the British people.

Let’s consider how she might have arrived at that viewpoint by taking a look at some basic facts. First of all, the Brexit Referendum was not binding on Parliament, it was advisory. The result was fairly close for such a major constitutional issue, with a minority of eligible voters managing to come out on top thanks to many people not bothering to vote. It was hardly decisive. Nevertheless, May decided to go ahead and trigger Article 50. She also decided that she needed an increased majority in the House of Commons in order to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. As a result of the voter backlash in the General Election, she has ended up running a minority Government which is backed up by the extremists of the DUP.

This week, an Opinion Poll has suggested that a great many people have changed their minds in view of the shambolic negotiations and the realisation of all the problems Brexit has already brought and is about to create. Indeed, while Opinion Polls need to be treated with caution, the lead for Remain apparently now stands at 10%, which is significantly more than the 4% victory Leave won in the actual Referendum.

So who, exactly, would be betrayed if there was a second Referendum to confirm whether the UK electorate wanted to proceed with Brexit on the (yet to be agreed) final terms, to break with no deal, or to call off the whole stupid idea and stay in the EU?

OK, people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would feel betrayed, as would the Little Englanders who detest foreigners so much they would be happy to see their country ruined as long as it kept foreigners out.

Other than that, it’s hard to see who would feel betrayed by having another choice in light of everything we now know but which was kept quiet during the Referendum campaign. EU residents who live in the UK certainly would like Brexit to be called off, as would most UK nationals who live in the EU. Most major businesses would like it called off, especially the financial sector. It’s not that many of us have much sympathy for bankers these days, but the impact on the UK economy of these businesses moving abroad would be catastrophic for the already sluggish economy. People who value the right to travel across Europe would be happy not to have visa restrictions; anyone who enjoys workers’ rights which are protected by the EU will soon come to realise just how much they stand to lose if Brexit goes ahead. Anyone in Wales or Scotland who appreciates the value of their devolved Governments must surely have realised the entire devolution project is now in jeopardy.

The list could go on and on, but the assumption must be that the people who have told Theresa May they would feel betrayed are people who have some hold over her. Step forwards the tax-dodging, multi-millionaire Press owners and wealthy Tory MPs who will be all right no matter what happens. Indeed, these people will be better off since the protections British citizens currently enjoy thanks to the EU will no longer keep us safe from the planned demolition of rules and regulations. If you thought zero hour contracts, a low minimum wage, and one of the worst Pensions in the OECD were bad, just wait until the Tories really get to town on dismantling the Welfare State.

So, if there is to be no second referendum, and the only choice Parliament will be given is to decide whether to accept the negotiated deal or leave the EU with no deal, is there any hope at all?

Well, of course, Scotland still has the lifeboat of IndyRef2, but it is yet possible that the UK could be rescued from the impending disaster because of May’s other statement.

What she said was that the UK will not remain in the Single Market or the Customs Union but that the ambition is that access will continue as now.

This is quite a statement, and reveals just how clueless May is. Several expert commentators have already pointed out that this is impossible.

The only way to have access is to remain inside these arrangements. The EU are never going to allow any country to have unfettered access from outside. If they did, what would be the point of having a regulated Single Market and a Customs Union? The idea that the EU will allow the UK the same rights and privileges as it now enjoys while remaining outside is laughable. If Theresa May really does believe what she has said, she is even more out of touch with reality than the Brexit negotiations have shown so far.

This means that reality will eventually bite. When the 27 nations of the EU dig their heels in, the UK will have no alternative but to back down, just as it has done on every other demand it has loudly proclaimed the EU will agree to until they actually sit down and face each other across the table.

And when the Tories realise that they either need to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union or face a hard border in Ireland, things will come to a head.

A hard Irish border will bring about the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement, potentially resurrect The Troubles, and possibly lead to the reunification of Ireland and the beginnings of a break-up of the UK. Even Theresa May must surely recognise this.

So the best case scenario (apart from cancelling Brexit altogether) is that the UK does indeed capitulate and decides to remain in the SM and CU. If that happens, some elements of the economic gloom will be prevented. It will not, of course, affect such things as Workers’ Rights or Devolution, but at least it will keep some businesses happy – unless it is too late by that time and they’ve already moved out of the UK. It should also mean that Freedom of Movement is retained since this is a prerequisite of being in the Single Market.

It should also mean the end of Theresa May’s inept leadership, since the hard-line Tories will inevitably replace her due to her betrayal because it is Freedom of Movement which really upsets them.

And, for Scotland, surely the prospect of having Boris Johnson as Prime Minister will be enough to swing the balance in IndyRef2.


Power Grab

Posted on December 14th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Two votes in the House of Commons this week have attracted a great deal of comment among people who follow Scottish and UK politics.

The first was the defeat of an amendment to Theresa May’s Great Power Grab Bill which means that Westminster will have the power to alter the Acts governing the establishment and constitution of the Scottish and Welsh Devolved Administrations. Effectively, Westminster will be able to vote to abolish the Scottish Parliament.

This is pretty serious stuff and poses a huge problem for Nicola Sturgeon. If she goes back to the Tories and humbly begs permission to hold a second IndyRef and they say No, we could then see Holyrood abolished before we are allowed to vote on whether to escape Titanic UK.

Quite what alternatives that leaves is a really big question. One possibility is to call a National Assembly of all MSPs, MPs and Councillors who could vote for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Another option would be for the SNP to stand in the next UK General Election on a platform of declaring UDI if they win a majority of Scottish seats.

Either of these is fraught with problems. It’s not UDI itself which is the issue, since the majority of new nations are created that way. When the Soviet Union broke up, countries like Lithuania and Latvia didn’t sit around waiting for Russia to give them permission to become independent – they simply stated their new status and were recognised by the international community.

No, the problem is that this will mean the break will be carried out with a very hostile Westminster doing its best to derail things. It is good news that the Scottish Government is busy establishing things like a new National Investment Bank and such things as Rail and Power Companies, but an acrimonious split will create a lot of practical issues in the short term as Scotland tries to establish new national organisations for such things as passports, Driving Licences etc, not to mention disentangling our electricity grid.

Of course, all these issues will be sorted eventually, but UDI will present a lot of short term pain. It would still be worth it in the long run, but independence on agreed terms would be much better. Sadly, that is looking increasingly unlikely.

The other noteworthy thing about this particular vote is that Colonel Davidson’s 13 MPs voted to give Westminster the power to interfere in Scotland’s democracy. Perhaps that’s why the BBC have been very quiet about this particular bit of legislation. After all, they don’t want Scots to know just how badly they are being shafted.

In contrast, the other vote has attracted a great deal of media comment. That’s because the UK Government lost the vote by a small margin thanks to some Tory MPs rebelling.

But what were they rebelling about? What it boiled down to was that they wanted Parliament to have a vote on the final Brexit deal instead of allowing May and her cronies simply to agree to it without consultation.

It is important to note that this is not likely to prevent Brexit. MPs had the chance to vote on a measure which would have insisted on the UK remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union. They voted against it, with Labour adopting their usual position of abstaining. So, when it comes to the final vote, don’t expect the rebels to vote Brexit down. Their rebellion was not about Brexit but about power.

In the 17th Century, England fought a civil war to ensure that Parliament is sovereign. This is why they want to vote on Brexit and why they demand the power to abolish the Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly. It is all about power – nothing else.

So let’s not get too excited about May losing one vote. The Great Power Grab is still very much on, and the only thing likely to derail Brexit is the Irish border question. The recent agreement was a fudge, merely agreeing a commitment to find a solution. No solution will satisfy all parties.

In the meantime, all we can do is sit and watch the calamity unfold while hoping that Nicola Sturgeon really does have some plans up her sleeve. If she doesn’t, we face a very bleak future indeed.


A Long Engagement

Posted on December 13th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

One of the less desirable consequences of the political upheaval we are going through is that the levels of incompetence, blatant falsehoods and sleaze are turning people off. Scotland’s IndieRef may have galvanised interest in politics but, for far too many people, politics is only of interest when a vote is required. Even then, turnout levels can be disappointingly low.

So the question today is whether very many people in Scotland will even notice that the Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament, is under threat thanks to a vote in the House of Commons. The Great Power Grab continues, and we are now facing the very real prospect of seeing an end to Devolution. If UK Ministers can alter the provisions of the act, or even abolish it altogether, Scotland will be chained ever more firmly to Westminster.

So, the Vow which promised that the Scottish Parliament would be made permanent was most definitely a lie, along with all the other lies we were fed. If you voted No because you believed those lies, or indeed for any other reason, then you made a big mistake. Unfortunately, since the Scottish Government needs to beg permission from Westminster to hold another IndieRef, it may yet prove to be a mistake which cannot be reversed without extremely drastic solutions.

And if you voted Tory in the recent General Election then you made an even bigger mistake, because those 13 Tory MPs have stood up for Scotland by voting for Westminster to have the power to do whatever it likes with the Scottish Parliament.

Voting has consequences, and we all need to live with those consequences. This is why it is important that people remain engaged with politics no matter how frustrating it may be to watch the idiocy of Brexit and the hypocrisy of Unionism. If we don’t remain engaged, we risk losing our very future.


Points of View

Posted on December 7th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Yesterday provided some insights into the way UK politics has hardened views in some people and made others question what on earth is going on.

Taking the hardened attitudes first, David Davis’ comments on impact assessments took most of the headlines because either he lied when he said they existed, or he was lying yesterday when he said they didn’t.

The alarming thing is that Davis will apparently not be punished in any way for misleading both Parliament and the people. It doesn’t really matter whether the impact assessments exist or not. If they do exist, the only conclusion must be that the contents are so awful that the Tories dare not release them. But what is significant is that Davis, who obviously told at least one blatant lie, is to escape censure. The reason? Because the committee he was giving evidence to had ten Tories and one DUP member, and their eleven votes beat down the eight opposing members. So, never mind the fact that he’s a liar who treats Parliament and the public with apparent disdain, if he’s our liar, then we support him. As an example of putting Party above country, that’s about as blatant as you can get.

But, believe it or not, there was another dreadful statement from a Tory MP. Philip Hammond has blamed the UK’s falling productivity on the increased number of disabled workers.

Let that sink in. The Tories have gone out of their way to force disabled people into work, even at the cost of many of those people losing their lives, and now they are blaming those same people for a decline in productivity. Talk about Heads, I win, Tails, you lose.

The falling productivity is almost certainly the result of a combination of factors, including Brexit, decades of under-investment, and a taxation system which does not incentivise companies to invest in new production techniques. But the big picture is complicated, so let’s just blame the disabled.

Honestly, just when you think the Tories can’t sink any lower, they still manage to astonish you.

But this is part of their modus operandi. They blame everyone else for the problems they have created, and the tame media does nothing to highlight their mendacity. It is quite appalling to see BBC journalists on social media simply reporting what a Government Minister has said while offering no challenge to the statements at all. Yet the BBC has proudly announced that it will be sending representatives into school to teach pupils how to spot fake news! If that’s not an irony overload, what is?

On a brighter note, the latest Scottish Opinion Poll suggests that support for remaining in the EU has increased since the Brexit referendum. Hopefully, more and more people will begin to realise that the only way Scotland can remain in, or rejoin, the EU is to become a normal, independent nation.

Even some diehard Unionists are expressing anger at the actions of the UK Government, while some Scottish voters who elected Tory MPs and Councillors are now up in arms about the closures to local amenities and the pathetic performance of their MPs in Westminster. On this front, some Yessers have been gleefully making, “We told you so!" comments on Twitter and Facebook. Now, this is perhaps human nature, and we know that people like Blair McDougall and J K Rowling will never alter their views on Scottish independence, but we really ought to rein in the gloating as far as others are concerned. People who voted No in 2014 or who elected Tories in 2017 made a serious mistake. We know it, and so do some of them. But pointing fingers and laughing at them isn’t going to help them make that fateful decision to come over to the Yes side. We should also bear in mind that job losses and closure of public amenities affects everyone, not just those who voted for them out of loyalty to the Union.

So, please let’s adopt a more conciliatory approach. If someone is angry about how the Tories are behaving, then use that as a reason to discuss why they ought to reconsider their opposition to independence. After all, the only way we will ever win IndyRef2 is if people change their minds. For many, that’s a difficult step to take because nobody likes admitting they were wrong. We need to encourage more of them to change their view, and we won’t do that by laughing at them.


Deal or No Deal?

Posted on December 5th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Brexit shambles lurches on from one crisis to another. After months of warnings about the importance of the Irish border question, Westminster suddenly seemed to wake up to the issue and actually got down to some serious negotiating. The big flaw was that Theresa May was so strong and stable that she forgot to check with her bosses in the DUP as to whether what she was agreeing met with their demands. When she found out that it didn’t, the negotiations broke down once again.

That’s the story coming out of the media, at any rate, but it is being consistently reported by European and Irish sources, not just the UK propaganda outlets, so there’s a fair chance it is broadly accurate.

A couple of things emerge from yesterday’s chaotic negotiations. The first is quite obvious, that Theresa May is far more interested in keeping her own strife-riven Party in power than in obtaining a good deal for Northern Ireland. When the DUP barked, she jumped because to do otherwise would have brought down her Government. Perhaps you can’t blame her for that, but naked self-interest shouldn’t really be the way to govern any country, not even one as dysfunctional as the UK.

As for the DUP, few UK media outlets seem concerned by the fact that they do not represent the Northern Irish Assembly since there is no Government in Northern Ireland. In fact, the Province voted to remain in the EU, yet whatever Arlene Foster says appears to be the determining factor in the EU negotiations. So, when faced with a deal which would have maintained more or less the status quo in terms of cross-border trade, she instead opted for a hard border draped in Union flags. Quite frankly, the EU must be shaking their heads in disbelief at this sort of attitude.

the other big issue at question here is, of course, the status of the other UK nations. Naturally, the Scottish and Welsh Governments were quick to come out with statements when it looked as if Northern Ireland was going to get a special deal on the Customs Union and Single Market. You can’t blame them for this, but it highlights the absurdity of Brexit. What everyone, apart from the DUP, is bothered about is being on the wrong side of a hard border. The proposed deal would simply have moved that border from Ireland to the ports and airports of Great Britain. This would leave pro-EU regions like Scotland on the wrong side of the hard border, so naturally they began making a fuss. This was probably more to make a point than anything else, since Scotland’s suggestions on maintaining access to the Single Market were dismissed as impossible by Westminster yet miraculously resurrected to solve the Irish border problem. Quite understandably, the Scottish and Welsh Governments were asking why such special arrangements could not be extended to them. The answer is perfectly obvious; it is because they are Scottish and Welsh, so have no influence over the Tories and are considered as irrelevant. However much the Scottish and Welsh Governments jump up and down, they will be ignored. This is not because their demands are unreasonable, but because meeting them would simply move the hard border to the English frontiers, thus leading to further disintegration of the UK.

This entire farce has revealed the big problem for Theresa May. Her “Brexit means Brexit" rhetoric has been shown up for what it was; an empty slogan. When the realities of the situation eventually became apparent to even the most thick-headed Tory, they were prepared to cave in to the EU’s demands, then utterly caved in when the DUP issued contradictory demands.

Theresa May must know she cannot come out of this with anything like a satisfactory deal. A hard border in Ireland will create an economic catastrophe for the Province as well as hitting the Republic hard, yet giving in to the sensible approach will result in the withdrawal of DUP support for May’s tottering Government. And, whichever way she jumps on the Irish question, Scotland will be dissatisfied. Theresa May might stick to her “Now is not the time" mantra, and follow the Spanish route of refusing to recognise a second IndyRef, but all that will do is stoke further resentment and add weight to what one must hope will be a more powerful message from the SNP than they have delivered so far.

In summary, May is clinging desperately to power, lurching from one crisis to another, the UK is hell-bent on leaving the EU no matter what, and Scotland has access to a lifeboat to rescue its people from the inevitable shipwreck.

Deal or no deal? May loses either way.


The Blame Game

Posted on November 28th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Is it any wonder some of us are feeling the need to make rants on social media? The relentless drivel that passes for news reporting continues unabated, with the politicians spouting lies and the media faithfully repeating them without challenge.

Deflection is all very well, but the torrent of misleading and contradictory statements emanating from Westminster seems to be growing by the day.

Ireland is the latest aspect of Brexit to attract the ire of the Brexiteers. Anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention knew months ago that the Irish Border and the Good Friday Agreement were highly contentious issues, yet it only seems to have come to the attention of the Anglo-centric Brexiteers in the past week or so. Their response? To blame the Irish, naturally. Nothing is the fault of the UK, and it is those nasty foreigners who are culpable. The Irish, safe in the knowledge that they have the backing of the EU, are digging in their heels, while UK politicians shout all sorts of nonsense which ranges from telling Ireland to quit the EU because it’s such a great idea, to making threats if the Irish don’t capitulate to Britain’s demands.

But the Blame Game doesn’t stop there. It seems the Scottish Government is to blame for the fact that some regions in the Highlands have the slowest broadband speeds in the UK. The fact that broadband is a matter reserved to Westminster simply doesn’t seem to feature in any news reporting of the accusations which are repeated unchallenged.

What I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer to is how, if broadband is reserved, the Scottish Government nevertheless managed to fund further rollouts which actually makes Scotland’s progress in broadband distribution better than anywhere else in the UK. I’m not objecting, simply curious. If it is not a devolved matter, how come the SG was able to up the rollout?

Whatever the answer, the fact that Scotland’s broadband is improving so rapidly is down to the Scottish Government, not to Westminster. 95% of homes and businesses should have access to super-fast broadband by the end of 2017, with 2021 being the target for 100% coverage. Given the difficulties of terrain in some areas of Scotland, that’s not a bad track record. Yet to listen to the media, you’d think Scotland was a digital backwater. That’s because the Tories say it is, so it must be true, mustn’t it?

Not that Labour are any better. After Jeremy Corbyn’s series of gaffes on Scotland earlier this year, new Scottish Branch Office manager, Richard Leonard (#Dick), went on BBC Radio to demand that Scottish Water be taken back into public ownership. The reasons for the BBC not pointing out to him that Scottish Water has always been in public ownership will no doubt remain one of those mysteries we can but wonder at.

It is always possible that Richard Leonard really is as inept as his first week’s statements suggest. He seems to have very little grasp of which matters are devolved, having criticised the Scottish Government for their lack of actions on Pensions, having asked who controls Scotland’s economy and then appearing not to know that Scottish Water is not a private Company.

The other alternative is that he knows all these things perfectly well and is simply adopting Colonel Davidson’s tactic of telling blatant lies because he knows the media will report his comments without alerting the public to the mistruths.

The trouble is that this combination of mendacious politicians and complicit media has worked so well so far that there is no reason to believe enough members of the public will realise the truth.


Driven To Despair

Posted on November 23rd, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Where to start? So much has been happening, so much has been said, and it’s all making me very angry.

From Tories spouting lies to BBC journos repeating those lies without making any attempt to challenge the mendacity; from lack of reporting of the arctic Circle Convention taking place in Scotland to Poppy Scotland allowing Ruth Davidson to turn what should be a sombre symbol of sorrow and reflection into a happy photo-shoot opportunity; from Jeremy Corbyn over-ruling Richard Leonard on whether to suspend Kezia Dugdale to the same Jeremy Corbyn telling his MPs to support a hard Brexit instead of opposing the disaster; from David Davis insisting on being given private flights to and from Europe for his Brexit discussions to the EMA and EBA moving out of the UK; from the covering up of MPs’ involvement in sex scandals to election fraud involving overspending or the influence of Russian Bots; from petty outcries over Alex Salmond allegedly supporting Putin by having his new show on RT to the British media failing to report on anti-Food Bank protesters outside Downing Street; from assertions that the UK Government has undertaken Brexit Impact Studies but will not release them because the results are so appalling to the astonishing claims that the Government didn’t actually bother doing any Brexit Impact Studies after all; all of these things are enough to drive you to despair.

The UK is a mess. Its politics are corrupt to the core, its media no better. If Nicola Sturgeon can’t make the positive case for independence now, when will she ever be able to do it? Yet, as usual, all we hear is that the SNP are preparing detailed plans on how the economy of an independent Scotland would operate. If the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is that the majority of voters don’t care about the economy when it boils down to putting their cross in a box. They may say they do, but Brexit has shown us that far too many people are happy to accept a massive slump in the value of the pound, failing public services, rising inflation, rising interest rates and the worst Growth forecasts of any western European nation as long as they can vent their xenophobic anger at foreigners.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, most people seem more concerned with Strictly Come Dancing or the weather than the state of British politics and the economy.

How much longer can we put up with this? The positive case for Scotland certainly involves a brighter economic outlook, but that will come about through proper management of Scotland’s wealth of natural resources. The real positive case must surely be about the sort of society we want to live in; a society where the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed are properly cared for, where ex-service personnel do not need to rely on charities, where foreigners and refugees are welcomed and encouraged to participate in society and, most importantly, where any Government which does not live up to the aspirations of the people can be voted out and replaced. If you want any of these things, you aren’t going to find them inside the UK.


Brexit Explained?

Posted on November 20th, 2017

This letter from a Mr Les Mackay was published in the Dundee Courier recently. Mr Mackay has no connection with this blog site, but his points are so intriguing and well made, we thought it worth posting them here in full. Since he has already made his views public by writing to a newspaper, we hope he doesn’t mind us re-posting his letter.

WAS IT ABOUT TAX AVOIDANCE?

Sir: I had often wondered why the very rich and powerful in the UK seemed to be so strongly in favour of a Brexit which will almost certainly severely damage the British economy, and impoverish the majority of the population for a generation at least.

Then when the Paradise Papers were released, divulging the numbers of the great and good in the UK involved in tax avoidance, including the Queen , the enormous amounts of tax lost to the country, and the UK's central role in the worldwide network of tax avoidance/evasion, I remembered an article I had read about a plan for an EU directive that would end tax avoidance practices amongst its member states. This was first mooted in 2013, and the EU draft proposal for The Anti Tax Avoidance Directive was completed in January 2016.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his government fought against this measure from its inception and, within a month of the draft proposal being presented, he had announced the date for the EU referendum.

The campaign to leave would never have prevailed without the support of the Sun, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Daily Express and Telegraph, all of which are owned by tax avoiding media tycoons.

If it is indeed the case that the British establishment have sought to protect and maintain their power and wealth by deliberately damaging the country, it is sad day for democracy, and a further blow to the UK's already tarnished reputation in the world.


Question Time for BBC

Posted on November 19th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The BBC comes in for a lot of criticism from a great many people on the Yes side of the Indy argument. This is not because it is the only culprit, but because of its claims to be impartial and balanced. Anyone looking closely at the BBC’s output in Scotland will soon see that this impartiality is a myth.

In recent weeks, we have seen several examples of how this manifests itself, with BBC journalists joining in the condemnation of Alex Salmond for hosting his show on RT, the Russian State broadcaster. The reason for the criticism was that, by appearing on RT, Salmond was somehow supporting Vladimir Putin. Wings over Scotland did an excellent demolition of this argument which you can read here.

The worst thing about this rather silly argument was the total lack of self-awareness of the BBC in condemning RT for its bias while appearing to be oblivious to its own inherent biases.

Then we saw the typical anti-SNP angle coming out when the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Government’s plans for Minimum Pricing on alcohol can go ahead. This has been a long-running saga, and it is definitely a triumph for the Scottish Government. Whether this policy will succeed in improving the nation’s health remains to be seen, and the results will not be known for several years at least, but the Scottish Government are to be commended for at least trying to do something. misuse of alcohol, as with tobacco and drugs, is a symptom of poverty. Minimum Pricing will not cure that, but it is one tool in the armoury to combat binge drinking on low-priced, strong alcoholic drinks. Without all the economic levers of a normal nation at their disposal, the Scottish Government must use what powers it has to try to improve both the health and social wellbeing of its citizens. The fact that this move is supported by most health professionals shows that it is a well intentioned move.

Naturally, as with any Government legislation, there are those who disapprove. It must be said that few of these people have any positive suggestions to make as to how the problem of low cost alcoholic drinks should be tackled, and the main objection seems to be that this policy is doomed to failure. Now, it may well be that it will not work, but surely it is better to try. After all, there were similar outcries when the Scottish Government banned smoking in public places and when they introduced the 5p charge for carrier bags. Both policies, and particularly the carrier bag charge, were derided, but both have produced very positive results in health and the environment. Perhaps we should give Minimum Pricing a chance.

Naturally, the BBC has led the criticism of the policy, pushing the line that we will see binge convoys of vehicles travelling across the border to buy cheap booze and bring it back to Scotland. It is worth remembering that the BBC highlighted similar claims when the Scottish Government introduced the lower drink driving limits, but that story seems to have died a death. What the latest headlines ignore is that Minimum Pricing is targeted at the super-strength, low price drinks which are commonly purchased by teenagers. Whether any of them would wish to spend money on petrol to save a bit on their beverage of choice seems highly doubtful. No doubt a handful of people will think it worthwhile if they can fill a transit van full of slightly cheaper booze, but it seems extremely hypocritical of the BBC to suggest this will be a major problem when they ignore the fact that many people who live in the south of England do precisely the same thing on cross-Channel trips to France.

Amidst all the hysteria, it also seems to have been forgotten that most drinks purchased by the majority of people will not be affected since the drinks already cost more than the initially proposed minimum. Not that you would know this from listening to the BBC.

And then we have another example of bias, this time bias by omission in order to protect the UK Government from criticism. The BBC, remember, is the UK State broadcaster, with a mission to protect and promote the UK, hence its antipathy towards the SNP who are, after all, a threat to the integrity of the UK – if integrity is a word we can use to describe anything to do with the Westminster Government. This, according to its critics, is why the BBC has failed to report on a study which suggested that cuts to social services have resulted in 120,000 additional deaths since 2010 in England alone. The reason the BBC did not report this is because, according to them, the research was not up to scratch. You can read more about this in an article by The Canary.

This excuse is quite laughable. Not only was the research carried out by several Universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, but it was published in the British Medical Journal. However, the BBC is so desperate not to criticise the UK Government over such dreadful confirmation of its murderous social policies that it used criticism of the report from another scientific group as justification for not reporting the news.

Now, you might argue that this is an editorial decision for which there is some justification. It would be a weak argument, but it could perhaps be made. However, what that line of justification ignores is that the BBC in Scotland is only too ready to report any claims from so-called independent Think Tanks when the news is in any way critical of the Scottish Government or can be used to criticise the SNP. Many of these so-called independent sources turn out to be funded by groups who are active opponents of the SNP in particular or Scottish independence in general, yet that does not prevent the BBC showcasing their “findings". Perhaps the BBC has turned over a new leaf and will now introduce an extremely rigorous vetting procedure before reporting the findings of any scientific or economic study, but you probably shouldn’t count on it. This is, after all, a broadcaster which will go to any lengths to equate the SNP with anything bad. Even a short radio report on the military coup in Zimbabwe mentioned that Robert Mugabe had been in power for 37 years which was “even longer than the SNP have been in power".

What? Seriously? What on earth has Robert Mugabe got to do with the SNP except if one has a desire to equate them to a dictator? Is that sort of comment impartial and balanced?

But balance rarely enters into it where the BBC are concerned. The recent highlighting of cases of harassment and abuse in public circles has spread to Scotland, and the BBC has been quick to doorstep SNP MSP Mark McDonald in light of allegations made against him and his own admission that his behaviour had not been acceptable. If he has been guilty of inappropriate behaviour, then it is right that this is newsworthy in light of his public position. However, the BBC has notably declined to adopt the same door-stepping technique in relation to Labour’s Alex Rowley whose alleged unacceptable behaviour has involved a Police investigation. Similarly, the BBC have been at pains to play down the scandal of Tory Councillors who engaged in homophobic and racist abuse on social media. Again, the BBC might well argue that they need to take editorial decisions on which stories to cover, but surely it must be more than coincidence that SNP politicians are subjected to far more rigorous scrutiny than their Unionist counterparts?

Some might say that we should ignore this sort of thing. Simply not watching the BBC should be enough of an antidote. However, the real problem here is that their bias is so relentless and there are so many people who still trust the BBC that any campaign for independence faces a massive uphill struggle. IndyRef2 may not be happening soon, but we need to keep calling out the BBC on this sort of thing, and we need to keep telling people about their constant misrepresentation of Scotland. Question Time should happen every day, and it is we who must do the questioning.


Eck of a Stooshie

Posted on November 13th, 2017

by Wee Hamish

What a stooshie Wee Eck has caused by agreeing to allow RT to broadcast his new chat show! You’d think it was the end of the world.

Actually, it might be as far as the Yoons in the media are concerned, because they’ve lost control of the message. It’s maybe a coincidence, but Steve Keen, the Australian economist, wrote just last week that the reason he appears more on RT than on the BBC is because RT allow him to say what he wants to say, while the BBC are more interested in entertainment than facts, and don’t want him giving out the wrong message. Nae wonder Eck went with RT, because you can bet the BBC wouldn’t allow him on their precious channels.

The other thing that bothered me was Nicola Sturgeon’s response. She said going with RT wouldn’t have been her choice. Naturally, the Scottish media were all over this like a rash. But Eck is a free citizen now, bound by no rules of Parliament, and nobody can stop him making his own programmes and doing a deal with whichever broadcaster is prepared to show it. And, as far as Nicola Sturgeon is concerned, am I the only one who gets the feeling she is far too cautious about not rocking the boat? I mean, she’s promised to make the case for independence, but we’re still waiting to hear that from the SNP. A few Tweets from senior SNP MSPs isn’t going to get the word out to the wider public.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Eck’s show will be any good, or whether anyone watches it, but one thing is for sure: he’s already rattled the UK media, and he might just be able to do something the SNP seem incapable of doing just now; persuading people that being independent is Scotland’s best chance for the future.


Referendums! What Rules?

Posted on November 12th, 2017

by The Citadel

In the last three years we have seen three referendums. Why are the all so different? Are there no common rules? Does democracy have no value?

Many applaud the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. It had agreement between the UK government and the Scottish government and minimal ground rules were set down; even the question to be asked was scrutinised. There was a long lead time to allow issues to be discussed. But, and there is always a but, these are all organisational and process; there were no rules on substance. Lies were allowed to be offered as if they were the truth; vote buying promises were allowed to be made with no guarantees.

Then there came Brexit. No organisational process rules – no rules to speak of - a speedy campaign fought on slogans and no verification of facts – even when you could find one. It could be compared to being offered a free camping holiday which, if you agreed to take part, you are not allowed to back out even if unhappy or not satisfied. Then the itinerary arrives two years later informing you that the camping holiday (under canvas), is all booked for two weeks in June on South Georgia in the South Atlantic which time is their mid-winter. Would you not think that justice and fair play would allow you to decline? But, this is Brexit, nobody, or at most only a very few in the secret inner circle, knew what the outcome would be (and we still don’t). Surely, in the interests of justice and fair play, the negotiated result must be subject to an acceptance referendum?

Then, finally, there is the Catalonian Referendum which was brutally suppressed by violence. And now they are talking about allowing Catalonia a second referendum in which the whole of Spain will vote. Don’t they tell you never to play cards with a marked or a stacked deck? The rules, cards and tables must give all players an equal chance. But then this is just another example of the abuse of power; it is the same issue as Westminster, Holyrood and Hollywood are facing over the abuse of women.

If we are the democracies we claim to be this kind of behaviour by the authorities must be regulated and stopped. Each side of the debate needs to present facts that they can irrefutably assert. If it is only an opinion, they should say so. Vote buying toffee promises must not be made, particularly during campaigning when that side looks like losing. Since we seem to be good at laying down the ground rules on the mechanics of running referendums, why are we so inept at rules of debate and engagement? Ah! Yes. The object is not to settle an issue and neither is it to provide justice or fair play; it’s to get your own way – winner takes all – daddy knows best.


Avoiding The Issue

Posted on November 10th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Right Wing media are using a couple of tactics to limit the damage from the Paradise Papers.

The first method is the usual one of distraction. Not that there isn’t plenty of other scandalous political news around to divert attention, but the media still see it as their duty to focus on people like Bono, Lewis Hamilton and Gary Lineker (who, it must be said, is adamant that he has paid all his taxes and does not use tax avoidance schemes). By concentrating on high profile individuals from the sporting and entertainment business, the media are doing their best to divert any scrutiny of rich Tories like Lord Ashcroft or members of the Royal family, particularly the Queen who seems happy to invest in businesses which exploit the poverty her Government has inflicted on the people she considers to be her subjects.

This is all fairly standard from the media’s perspective.

The second tactic is to attempt to justify it, and this is the more insidious strategy. We hear, for example, that none of this is illegal which is true enough; we hear that it is common practice for many people and businesses to avoid paying tax, and this is also true. A third claim is that the outrage being expressed is motivated by jealousy, since anyone who earns a fortune would adopt the same tax avoidance strategies.

Now, all of these may indeed be true. A reluctance to pay tax is a human trait which is as old as the invention of taxation itself. However, that does not mean it is morally right to engage in tax avoidance on such a massive scale. The outrage is not so much that people are using legal methods to mitigate their tax obligations, but that such methods are legal in the first place. When the vast majority of people are facing tough times financially, some to extreme levels, then learning that the mega-rich are siphoning money out of the economy which could help pay for hospitals, schools, social security, emergency services and so on is what enrages people. This is not jealousy, it is righteous anger at the greed of those who are in a position to help society but instead prefer to act in a selfish manner when they already have so much money they can afford to put millions away in a tax haven.

The wealthy have always acted this way, but by seeking to excuse it on the grounds that everyone would do the same if they had the chance, the media are perpetuating the ethos of the “Me First!" culture which is so ingrained in our society. Now, of course, we would all like a bit more money in our pockets but there is another way of looking at taxation, especially for the better off in society. To begin with, is it not rather arrogant to believe that a pound in your pocket will do more good for society than a pound in the hands of a responsible Government? OK, you may stimulate the economy by spending that pound, but, once you reach a certain level of income, you are just as likely to save the money away for a rainy day rather than spend it. This doesn’t help anyone except yourself, whereas a responsible Government would use the money to fund public services which benefit everyone.

OK, that’s a bit moralistic, but hopefully it gets across the point that there is nothing inherently wrong with taxation as long as it is progressive and not punitive. Ideally, each individual should be left with sufficient income to fund a good standard of living and have the ability to save a portion of their income to cope with emergencies and their own retirement, but the main benefits to society come from the range of public services which are funded by the Government. We need teachers, schools and universities; we need doctors, nurses and hospitals; we need the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services to name but a few of the things a Government should provide.

What we also need is a change in attitude so that people take pride in paying their taxes. And, of course, we also need legislation to make tax avoidance of the sort revealed by the Paradise Papers illegal. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see either of those things in the UK because greed and self-interest are what drives the people who run the country.

There is, of course, a solution for Scotland.


How Legal is a Constitution?

Posted on November 8th, 2017

by The Citadel

When the Scottish Parliament was enacted, quite rightly, Human Rights were enshrined in the empowering act as it was argued that it was an EU requirement. This being so, the EU should also insist that human rights should be enshrined in the constitutions of all member states. They demanded constancy in fruit and veg etc., is it too much bother to insist that all member states must ament their constitutions to guarantee human rights equally throughout the EU?

My query is this: as I understand it, Spain and all EU states are a signatory to the UN Charter which defines Human Rights.

Were the Spanish Government, and all signatories, not honour bound to amend their constitution in line with their agreement with the UN Charter?

If their signing of the UN Charter had been sincere their constitutions would have been amended. The fact that it was not declares all such signatures to be a sham, an act of blatant political posturing: an act of supremacists’ rights not human rights.

In the, not so distant past, Rosa Parks defied the law and we applauded it as being just. Earlier than this, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi defied the law and we applauded them for the justice of their causes.

Currently, UK media proclaim that Catalonia has acted illegally. But is this true? They are being brutalised and denied their human rights. The media claim, with no accurate facts that those seeking independence are not a majority. So, if they are right about where the majority lies, why not furnish the proof. The proof of who is right about the numbers would have been easily settled if the referendum had been allowed to go ahead without any violent repression.

I am sure that no one wishes to see a repeat of the 1930s in Europe. So, if that is true, why do we blindly accept the legality of current events in Spain? If we were to lay aside our political and self-interests, European Governments and Media should be questioning the legality of the Spanish Constitution and not unquestioningly supporting their reaction.


Paradise Found

Posted on November 6th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the Paradise Papers confirm what we already knew; that the wealthy elite in our society are laughing at us. While they tell us that we are all in this together, they do their vest to ensure that they contribute as little as possible to the finances of the UK. It is an absolute scandal that the media spends so much time telling us about Benefit fraud, while ignoring tax avoidance which costs the treasury many times more. Then again, since most of those who run the media are part of the wealthy elite, perhaps that’s not a surprise.

The worst thing about this latest revelation is that nothing much will come of it. The BBC are already spinning the Queen’s involvement as little more than an embarrassment caused by those who manage her investments on her behalf. They fail to mention that anyone who has investments, even by way of a Private Pension, can instruct the investment managers on which type of investments they prefer or, if that option is somehow not available, can withdraw their funds and pass them to a more ethical investment manager. HRH, it appears, has done neither of these things. What makes this even less palatable to anyone with a sense of social justice is that she is to be given £370 million to refurbish Buckingham Palace, which means her own personal fortune won’t be impacted. Three cheers for the monarchy!

What sort of populace puts up with such flagrant greed? Apparently, the British people. Have we become so complacent that we no longer care what is done to us by those who hold power, or are we so inured to stories of greed, corruption, sleaze and blatant lies that we simply shrug and say, “That’s the way it’s always been. We can’t change things." ?

In Scotland, we can change this situation, but only if people wake up to what is being done to them by the people who hold the majority of the wealth and power. Far too many of these people appear to have become so caught up in the system which rewards greed that they have completely lost touch with the hardships faced by huge numbers of ordinary citizens. Or, more likely, the “Me First!" culture which exploded in Britain in the 1980s and which has rewarded the top 1% so well, has resulted in them simply not caring what the majority of people think about them.

And yet a majority of Scots are happy to be ruled by politicians who are part of the problem. For a supposedly politically informed electorate, we seem to have a very odd view of the sort of society we want to live in.


Sex & The City

Posted on October 31st, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

For anyone who has been paying attention, stories of a paedophile ring operating in Westminster have been doing the rounds for years. The lack of any progress in identifying the perpetrators has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories and claims of cover ups, and it must be said that the loss of vital files and the succession of people resigning from positions of chairing investigations certainly hasn’t given anyone the impression that the UK Government is keen to take any positive action to either verify or rule out the many claims.

Now, the picture has moved slightly, with talk of a list of 36 Tory MPs who have engaged in sexual harassment, and stories that a small number of similar cases has been highlighted in Holyrood.

First of all, it should not need saying that such actions are totally unacceptable and anyone engaging in such behaviour in any workplace needs to understand that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.

It is noticeable that much of the talk in political circles is about the damage this story is doing and may still do to the Tory Party and to Theresa May. Nobody seems to care very much about the victims of this alleged behaviour, which is perhaps indicative of how Westminster and the media operate.

It is also disturbing, although not entirely surprising, that there are claims that the Prime Minister knew about these allegations and kept them quiet. If this is true, it reinforces the perception that Westminster only takes action when they are found out.

The media reactions are also quite revealing. Some news organisations are doing their best to play down or even ignore the issue, concentrating on other stories instead, while in Scotland we have, unsurprisingly, seen headlines claiming it is only the SNP who have been faced with allegations about sexual misconduct. This is, sadly, the state of the British media today.

It would be foolish to think that any political Party can be exempt from criticism in matters like this. Acts of sexual harassment are usually carried out by individuals, and those individuals can be a member of any Party. What allows them to get away with this behaviour is the culture in which they operate. If their harassment is tolerated, and if victims are not believed or are simply told to accept it as part of their job, then those who wish to act inappropriately will believe they can continue to get away with it.

One thing is clear; any society which has pretensions to be open, honest and equal needs to know that those who are in positions of authority will not abuse that authority. We need clear, unequivocal action from both Holyrood and Westminster. Whether we will get that remains to be seen but, quite honestly, let’s not hold our collective breath. Westminster, in particular, has a long tradition of publicly condemning one or two scapegoats and sweeping most things under the carpet. Even the scapegoats often make a return to public life as if nothing had happened. This needs to change. If ever there was a time for strong and stable leadership, this is it.


UK v EU?

Posted on October 29th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many countries came into existence following what were technically illegal declarations of independence. The Republic of Ireland and the USA are of particular historical relevance as far as Britain is concerned, but there are plenty of others. It is very disappointing that, so far, the likes of RoI and USA have refused to recognise the new state of Catalonia. What was good enough for them is not, apparently, good for the Catalans.

That irony aside, however, it is easier to see why most EU countries have so far refused to recognise the Catalan declaration. As this site has pointed out before, the EU is not Europe’s policeman and has little real power which can be exercised quickly when a member state acts the way Spain has done. The irony here is that much of the Brexit argument relied on painting the EU as an all-controlling authoritarian super-state when, in truth, we see that it is something of a toothless tiger when it comes to applying pressure on a member state.

Of course, the EU could introduce economic sanctions against Spain, and perhaps that might still happen. What is very disappointing about the EU’s response so far has been its tacit support for Spain’s position and its refusal to condemn the violent and repressive tactics of the Spanish Government. Whatever you might think of Catalonia’s actions, the fact remains that the Catalans are European citizens and deserve some protections. The EU has shown itself to be particularly spineless by not condemning the Spanish Government’s brutality.

Sadly, it seems unlikely the EU will take any real action unless there is a major move by several EU member states. The problem is that Spain is an important part of the EU project and taking any action which is seen as a punishment may well spark a further disintegration of the EU. The EU can live without the UK, but another major nation breaking away in a fit of pique might well spur others to do the same.

While it remains to be seen what will happen – and it seems the EU will do very little – we should not let this sad episode distract us from the important question of Scotland’s place as regards the EU. We have plenty of evidence now that the EU will not intervene in what it sees as internal issues unless those issues affect the neo-liberal financial institutions of the EU as they did in the case of Greece. Scotland will get no help from the EU until we become a normal country. After that, there is the question of whether the EU is still an attractive option for Scotland.

Many Yessers have expressed dismay over the EU’s response to the Catalan situation and declared that they have reconsidered their views on whether Scotland should remain a member of the EU as a result. This is understandable, but it misses the point that Scotland’s economic future will surely be better secured by being a member of the EU, with all the benefits of free movement of people, goods and services that entails, together with the safeguards of EU rules on Human and Worker’s Rights, than it would if we remained part of an isolated and xenophobic UK which sees Scotland as a mere region to be exploited rather than as an integral and valued part of a larger social and economic area.

The EU has many faults, as does every organisation which is comprised of members with different priorities, but the shambles of Brexit must surely show us that the UK has very little to offer us.

As for the argument that the obvious difficulties of disentangling UK regulations and public bodies from the EU shows that Scotland disentangling itself from the UK would be horrendously difficult, let’s squash that now.

Scotland already complies with all EU laws. Disentangling from the UK would not involve any great legal changes since we could simply continue with the current EU-compliant laws and regulations. The EU already has overarching bodies covering a wide range of areas, so Scotland would not need to recreate such bodies from scratch as the UK is going to have to do. Our NHS, our Education, our Emergency Services are already separate, there are distinct Scottish Battalions in the Army, and we have, of course, our own Parliament already. The promised establishment of a Scottish National Investment Bank sets the groundwork for having a Central Bank and our own currency, so that would be another important hurdle which could be overcome relatively easily.

Where we would need new public bodies is in areas like replacing DVLA, the Passport Office, and most especially HMRC. However, these are far from impossible tasks and a period of handover could be negotiated quite sensibly unless the UK Government decides to be obstinate. However, Scotland has a strong hand in any negotiations since England relies on Scottish power generation and will also want access to such things as Scottish water and farm produce, as well as wishing to divest itself of responsibility for paying Scotland’s Social Security and Pensions bills.

None of that is to say that everything will run entirely smoothly because life simply isn’t like that, but these things are eminently achievable, especially because the UK Government keeps telling us how keen it is to do trade deals with as many countries as possible. It is inconceivable that even the most pig-headed Brexiteer would demand trade deals with every country except Scotland. And if Scotland were part of the EU, then we wouldn’t even need to negotiate the trade terms for our dealings with RUK.

IN summary, then, the current situations with Brexit and with Catalonia should not fundamentally alter our stance. Scotland should remain pro-EU with the aim of influencing the organisation from the inside as a fully fledged member instead of a mere ignored region of the UK. Above all, Scotland must remain committed to becoming a normal country and should not be scared off by the latest incarnations of Project Fear. The past century has seen scores of countries become independent. Some have fared well, others less so, but their fate has always been in their own hands. And none of them have been frightened off by the thought that they are too wee, too poor and too stupid to take control of their own destiny. It is a testament to the power of the UK media that so many Scots believe that they are incapable of governing themselves successfully. Even the desperate ineptitude of the current Westminster Government does not seem to have shaken this belief. Let’s hope a few more see the light over the coming weeks and months as they begin to realise that not a single thing Better Together claimed has proved to be true. It may be better for the UK to keep Scotland, but it certainly isn’t better for Scotland, so we cannot let the media persuade us that Scotland’s future would be better served within the UK rather than within the EU as a full member in our own right.

Normal countries face difficult decisions on a regular basis. They don’t always make the right decisions, but we should not let fear of making mistakes hold us back. The goal remains the same, so let’s keep moving towards it.


A Powerful Obsession

Posted on October 24th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Projection of power seems to be something of an obsession with some Unionists, particularly MPs and journalists. In recent weeks, we have heard how the two new aircraft carriers will allow the UK to project its power anywhere in the world, while there have been claims that a new Royal Yacht would act as a symbol of Britain’s power wherever it docked.

Now, to be fair, these statements are probably true. Whether those symbols would be appreciated by the people seeing them is another matter. It is widely acknowledged in military circles that aircraft carriers are offensive, not defensive, weapons of war, so the chances are that the intention is to project the UK’s power onto nations we wish to bomb or intimidate. Gunboat diplomacy seems to be very dear to the hearts of the UK Establishment.

This obsession with appearing powerful is clearly a hangover from the days of Empire which far too many people seem unable, and indeed unwilling, to shake off.

The thing is that individuals who go around trying to prove how tough they are often tend to be bullies, or attempting to overcome their own feelings of inadequacy, or both. It’s hard to dismiss the thought that this analogy can be extended to the UK. Worse, the realities of the Brexit negotiations have revealed the paucity of Britain’s actual influence, which may explain why so many British Nationalists are seeking solace in expensive and unnecessary prestige objects. The Emperor may have no clothes, but at least he can sail around in a big ship and try to intimidate people into doing what he wants.


Big News?

Posted on October 19th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s been a busy week for political news. We’ve had the scandal of an MSP who suffers from asthma paying £4.68 for a short taxi ride to ensure she arrived at a talk on time, we’ve had the continuing shambles of Brexit, with the Tories seemingly intent on coming away with no deal at all from the discussions, we’ve had the Spanish Government moving into full Fascist mode in their treatment of Catalan independence supporters, and we’ve had the startling news that Colonel Davidson is to appear on a celebrity version of Bake Off.

This latter news has raised much scorn amongst Yessers but, to be fair to the Colonel, she is doing it for charity, so fair play to her for that. The fact that she will gain extra publicity and her appearance is being relentlessly promoted by the BBC is par for the course. The best advice is simply not to watch the programme. Unreliable sources claim she will be serving up a large portion of mince followed by Empire 2.0 biscuits.

But the biggest news of the week surely must be that the BBC has not reported on the biggest news of the week. We fully expect them to ignore the First Minister’s international visits and speeches, but to ignore the latest admission from the Office for National Statistics is quite breath-taking even for the BBC. The ONS, it seems, has been miscalculating the UK’s wealth and has now admitted that some £490bn has had to be removed from the calculations. That’s nearly half a trillion pounds!

With inflation hitting a new high, and the Bank of England under increasing pressure to raise interest rates, this news is pretty cataclysmic for the UK economy. With businesses leaving and Brexit clearly going to have an enormously detrimental effect on all of our lives, this adjustment to the perceived wealth of the UK really should be major news. The fact that it isn’t shows, if any doubt remained, that the BBC is nothing more than a tool of the British State which provides propaganda rather than actual news. To make matters worse, they know a great many people still trust them, so they are not going to change. They will carry on misleading us right to the bitter end. Let’s hope that end isn’t too far away.


Road To Recovery

Posted on October 14th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The UK now has the lowest growth and highest inflation of any major economy;

in real terms, wages are lower than when the Tories came to power in 2010;

the Bank of England is under pressure to increase interest rates;

the value of Sterling has crashed;

Brexit threatens the livelihood of Britain’s farmers;

Brexit will result in lower funding for Universities and research;

Businesses are already shifting their Head Offices and some operations out of the UK;

Inequality continues to increase;

The UN has slammed the UK Government for its treatment of Disabled people;

child poverty is at a record high;

having a job is no guarantee of escaping poverty, since many people who have a job still rely on Social Security;

Fuel poverty is increasing. For example, West Lothian Council recently announced that 29% of households in that region were in fuel poverty;

the NHS in England is failing because of funding cuts.

And some people still think voting Tory is the best way to ensure that the economy is well run.


On Balance

Posted on October 10th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many of us are appalled by events in Catalonia and the actions of the Spanish Government in denying democracy. The EU’s weak response has also caused some people to reconsider their views on whether joining (or staying in) the EU is a good idea.

As this site has said before, the EU is far from perfect, but we really must recognise that it is not Europe’s Policeman. It is not an authoritarian entity which exercises absolute political control. If it were, the Brexiteers would have had a much stronger case when arguing that the EU controls what sovereign Governments can do. Some people might wish it did have those powers, but it simply does not.

The EU does, of course, have control over many economic aspects of its member States, particularly if, like Spain, they use the Euro. But for the EU to inflict any sort of financial penalty on Spain for what the EU views, rightly or wrongly, as an internal Spanish matter, would be a step further than they have gone before. Also, any such decision cannot be made quickly, since all member States would need to agree a plan of action, even if that plan was to delegate decision-making to an appointed representative or group of representatives. Whether any action at all will be taken remains doubtful for the moment.

It must be said that the moral case for intervention is strong, because Spain would probably not have been admitted to the EU if it were a new applicant behaving in the way it is currently doing. The moral case is also strong because the EU should recognise democracy and not Fascism.

But the political case is much more nuanced. By acting as a Policeman, the EU would be setting what many member countries would view as a dangerous precedent because it would most definitely be interfering in the sovereign rights of a member State. When some of those member States, notably Poland and Hungary, are already behaving in increasingly authoritarian ways, they are never going to support the EU taking any action against Spain.

It would be nice to think that the EU might at least condemn the actions of the Spanish Government, but for whatever reason, it has declined to do so. That is extremely disappointing, but it does not fundamentally undermine the case for an independent Scotland remaining in the EU. The benefits of access to the Single Market, of being a part of the organisation and therefore hopefully being able to exert some influence, the benefits of free movement, of research funding, of Human and Workers’ Rights, are all very important issues, as we are seeing with all the outcry over Brexit and the harm it will do to the UK. These are not small matters to be dismissed because Spain’s Government has revealed itself to be dictatorial. To turn our backs on the EU because one member State is behaving appallingly would be short-sighted.

None of this is to condone the EU’s insipid response, but we ought not to condemn the entire organisation for a poor decision in one area.

Let us not forget that the UN has been largely silent on Spain as well. Indeed, the UN itself rarely intervenes directly in such issues unless the interests of some of its major nations is at stake. So far, the Catalan issue remains confined to Iberia.

I wish the Catalans well. I hope they achieve independence, and I hope the Spanish Government will see sense although they seem to have little incentive to alter course at the moment. I do wish the EU would come out with a strong condemnation and even threaten some form of financial penalty for not following democratic principles, but I suspect I will be disappointed in that hope.

But, for all that has happened, I still believe that, on balance, an independent Scotland would be better off inside the EU than on the outside looking in.


In Control

Posted on October 4th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The recent events in Catalonia and the EU’s insipid response to them has resulted in many people who were ostensibly pro-EU to express doubts as to whether an independent Scotland should become a member after all.

Of course, many of us were rather ambivalent about the EU in the run-up to the EU Referendum, but the past year or so must surely have shown us that the benefits far outweigh the many disadvantages.

As for Spain, the actions of the Government are deplorable, and it would be nice to think that the EU will take some strong action. The trouble is that there are other Right Wing Governments within EU countries who will naturally support Spain’s violent suppression of perceived opposition, so forcing through any severe action may well be difficult. Equally, taking no action will surely give those other Governments a signal that they can do pretty much what they want without fear of EU action.

Which brings us to the thorny problem of EU control. One of the reasons the Brexit vote succeeded was because so many people in England wanted to “Take back control". Yet we see now that, in practice, the EU is very reluctant to interfere in the internal politics of a member country. Or, at least, in the internal politics of a major member country. Whether the response would be the same had a smaller member country behaved the way Spain has done is a moot point.

Then there is the question of Greece, where the EU did intervene in a big way. The ironic thing here is that the people complaining about the lack of involvement in Spain were equally vocal in their condemnation of the intervention in Greece. But, of course, the situations were very different, because Greece’s case was an economic one which threatened the neo-liberal economics of the EU, while Spain’s issue is a political one rather than a mostly economic one.

Yes, politics was involved in Greece, and economics is a factor in Spain, but the driving principles in the two countries were different in emphasis. For the sake of the (mostly German) Banks, the EU could not allow Greece to get its way on financial matters. For the sake of being seen to be the overbearing, authoritarian mega-State the Brexiteers claimed it is, the EU does not want to exert too much pressure on Spain. Hopefully, some individual political leaders will begin to apply pressure of their own, and the EU will follow suit. Whether it will be enough to make Spain alter its attitude seems doubtful.

As for the potential for Scotland to become a member, the Catalonian situation does not really alter anything. Membership brings huge benefits in terms of trade, of research, of rights, and a host of other things. Yes, there are issues with the agricultural and fishing sectors to name but two, but the best way to obtain a better deal for Scotland is to be in the EU rather than outside it. Even countries like Norway and Switzerland have to abide by EU trading rules and standards if they wish to trade with EU countries, and a Scotland outside would be faced with the same issues. What we would need to appreciate is that the EU would let us get on with our own political affairs as long as we stuck to the economic rules.

It should also alert us to the fact that the EU will not intervene in the process of setting up IndyRef2. If Westminster sticks to its “Now is not the time" position, Scotland will get no help from the EU. Even if we call IndyRef2 and seek confirmation from the EU that an independent Scotland would be fast-tracked into membership in its own right, no such confirmation will be given. There may well be hints and unofficial statements from individuals, but that’s as far as support will go.

As for Spain and Catalonia, we’ll need to wait and see what happens. Whatever it is, the outcome will not please everyone. At most, I expect some verbal condemnations and perhaps some financial penalties. Even that is not certain, since it will do nothing to change Spain’s attitude. Only expulsion from the EU would have any real impact and that isn’t going to happen since it could lead to the break-up of the EU as well as being enormously complicated as we have seen with the farce of the Brexit negotiations. So, rightly or wrongly, Spain will probably be permitted to get away with its repressive behaviour with minimal punishment. If nothing else, that should show us that the EU does not control its member countries to the extent that the Brexiteers have so often claimed.


Already Gone

Posted on October 2nd, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

What has happened in Catalonia is a disgrace which is unworthy of any democratic nation. Events have been well documented elsewhere and opinions abound as to what might happen next.

The only thing I’d like to add to the many discussions is that, whatever happens, Spain has already lost Catalonia. Legally and politically, Spain may retain control, but to need to resort to force to do so will only ensure that, in spirit, Catalonia has already seceded.


What's the Cost?

Posted on October 1st, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So that was the Labour conference, then, with Jeremy Corbyn speaking for ages yet managing not to say very much at all, while his followers did a grand job on social media of showing just how out of touch they are with Scotland in particular and Brexit in general. Some of them genuinely seem to believe Corbyn is anti-Brexit, which perhaps explains his apparent popularity.

But let’s move on because contemplating Labour’s weird brand of politics isn’t good for your mental health. It is the subsequent media discussions which caught my ear this time. Corbyn’s pledge to renationalise Utilities such as Water, Electricity, Gas and Rail have resulted in the usual media commentary of, “How will all this be paid for?". We even had an audience member on BBC Question Time repeating Margaret Thatcher’s tired old mantra that the problem with Socialism is that, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.

Now, these are tried and trusted arguments and, to be fair, most of us accepted them unquestioningly for a long time because they were difficult to argue against, just as the claims of, “There is no money left" or “You can’t spend what you haven’t got" were generally accepted as true because we can relate to those concepts.

But things have changed in recent years. Access to social media and alternative points of view have helped make many people realise that these arguments are, in fact, deeply flawed and take no account of how a modern economy works. Looking back in history, you can understand how the economies of the Roman Empire or medieval Europe suffered when coin was short or so debased that it was virtually worthless. But that is not how modern economies work, especially if a country has control over its own currency. If you have your own currency, you have a magic money tree. You can never run out of money, so there is never a question of how things will be paid for. The question is, how can you pay for them without pushing the economy into a period of high inflation? To do this, you need to control the money supply and use taxation. As Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK has so often pointed out, it is not, “Tax and Spend", it is “Spend then tax". Taxation means that a Government can exercise an element of control over the amount of money in circulation – and that’s electronic money, not only notes and coins. By creating public money to invest in public improvements such as infrastructure or even nationalising Utilities with a view to halting the seepage of money out of the UK to foreign owners or Hedge Funds which salt the proceeds in offshore Bank accounts, a Government can stimulate an economy to create employment, and thus increase the tax base to offset the original spending.

But the important thing to note is that you can’t run out of money, so you need not worry how things will be paid for. Sadly, our media has not yet cottoned on to this way of thinking and continue to repeat the old arguments to the accompaniment of much sage nodding.

The other hypocrisy in all this is that, while Corbyn is derided for having uncosted plans, an even more rigorous expectation is placed on the Scottish Government. Remember how the Better Together campaign wanted to know every last detail of the finances of an independent Scotland, right down to the cost of a stamp? It will be the same again next time, that’s for certain. In the meantime, nobody questions how the DUP deal will be funded, nobody bats an eyelid over how the unnecessary General Election was paid for, nobody worries about how the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament will be funded, nobody wonders where we will find the now doubled cost of repairing Big Ben, and even those who complain about how the cost of renewing Trident could be better spent elsewhere ever questions where the money will come from to pay the eye-watering cost of this supremely useless status symbol.

The problem is that the “How will it be paid for?" argument resonates with the public and serves the interests of those who control the Right Wing media. It is unlikely that any presenter on a political discussion programme will ever acknowledge the flaw in the claims. Which means it will be up to us to spread the word. Tell people about alternative economics as propounded by Richard Murphy, Steve Keen and others. A Government needs to be prudent when deciding which projects to fund, and it certainly can’t produce an unlimited supply of money without consequences, but paying for things which will benefit the economy is never a bad idea, and people need to understand that there really is a magic money tree if the money is spent in the right way and in a controlled manner.

Which is why, when Scotland does eventually become a normal country, we will need our own currency. This idea will frighten many people, which is why the SNP dared not take that bold step last time round. Next time, it needs to be portrayed as an essential part of the whole independence project. And if we can explain to people why control over our own currency gives us control over our economy, then we need to be prepared to counter the “How will it be paid for?" question.


Atomic P*sh

Posted on September 30th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It looks as if MSP Jackie Baillie hasn’t been the only politician who could be accused of talking p*sh this week.

Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, came to Scotland to tell us that Trident is the only way to keep us safe from North Korea and Russia.

Russia is, of course, becoming increasingly aggressive in its foreign policy, but the UK’s nuclear weapons make up such a tiny portion of the world’s nuclear arsenal that Fallon’s claim seems to be talking it up more than a little. Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, so until we find a foolproof way to scrap them all and ensure that nobody ever builds any ever again, mutual deterrence between the world’s superpowers is, unfortunately, the best way to ensure that no one country uses its nukes to enforce its will on other nations. But the UK is not a world superpower, and our weapons, even though they are capable of immense destruction, form only a very small percentage of the world’s nuclear weapons. It is probably fair to say, then, that Russia is more concerned by the vast nuclear arsenal of the USA than by the UK’s Trident missiles.

But it’s on North Korea that Fallon has excelled himself. First of all, President Trump and his allies have been making it very clear that possession of nuclear weapons would make North Korea a target. This is rather at odds with Fallon’s assertion that nuclear weapons keep the UK safe. Either they keep you safe or they make you a target. Which is it? Perhaps that depends on who your perceived enemies are. Ponder that thought.

The main inaccuracy in Fallon’s statement is, though, that North Korea is a threat to the UK. At the moment, North Korea doesn’t have a missile which can reach mainland USA, let alone travel half way round the world to strike at the UK. What keeps us safe from North Korea is geography. Of course, this may change in the future, but whether a North Korea which is capable of launching such an attack would bother itself with the UK when the USA is much closer and is viewed as a more immediate threat remains doubtful.

Still, inconvenient little facts have never stopped British politicians talking up the UK’s need for military power.


Just Gonnae No

Posted on September 21st, 2017

by Gordon

A short time ago, I wrote an article on language snobbery which you can read here.

Examples of this sort of attitude continue, and there seems little doubt that, like so many things in the UK, the recent rise of nationalist views in all four of the constituent parts of the UK have encouraged people to highlight such snobbery. One example I heard of recently was a shopkeeper asking a woman why she was talking “foreign muck" to her child when the woman was speaking to her child in Welsh … in Wales. It seems we have a long way to go before people begin to appreciate that being bilingual is something to admire and be proud of.

However, in this short essay, I want to discuss a more specific aspect of language snobbery as it relates to the scots language.

Recently, there were some outraged splutterings over the news that some Scottish schoolchildren were being taught how to translate English written works into scots. This was decried as disgraceful because, in the minds of those who complained, Scots is merely bad English.

Sadly, it seems that this attitude is again linked to political bias rather than any understanding of language, because there are two rather important issues the grumblers appear to be unaware of.

The first is that the language spoken by most Scots these days is what could be termed Scottish English, i.e. it is modern English with some additional vocabulary which comes from Scots, and is spoken with a different and very distinctive accent. It is not what linguists would call Scots. Scottish English can be viewed as a dialect, while Scots is, in the eyes of many linguists, a separate language even though it shares a great deal of its vocabulary and grammar rules with modern English. Indeed, it is often known as “Lallands" in order to distinguish it from Scottish English.

Secondly, it is important to understand that Scots, like modern English, descended from Middle English and its predecessor, Old English. In fact, Scots retains many pronunciations which would be recognised by speakers of Old English. For example, “There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose" and “It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht the nicht" are pronounced in much the same way as they would have been by the Anglo-Saxon speakers of Old English. Scottish English retains many features of Old and Middle English which Modern English has dropped or altered over the centuries. That does not mean one language is any better or worse than the other, simply that they have diverged in different directions from their original source language in much the same way as the Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian have diverged from Latin.

As for Scottish English, it has been heavily influenced by the transmission of radio and television programmes which have spread the influence of British English, just as British English itself has been influenced by American television and movies. There are a great many words in modern British English which were introduced relatively recently after first appearing in US English. “Commuter" is one such word, as is “movies".

Scottish English is a variant of British English, but whether it can be termed “bad English" is a matter of opinion. It is certainly not formal English but, like many regional versions of English, it has a wealth of phrases which its speakers can use which are unavailable to speakers of formal British English. The fact that many of those phrases are jocularly insulting perhaps says something about the Scots.

But we must not forget that there are many variants of English even if we ignore the wide variety of accents and dialects which can be found in the British Isles. For example, a speaker of formal British English who travels to Singapore would find a variant known as Singlish. This is English with strong Malay and Chinese influences, and it is very distinct from British English. A speaker of British English who claimed that Singaporeans were speaking bad English could equally be accused of speaking bad Singlish.

As I’ve said before, language is a tool for communication. Even formal British English often borrows words and expressions from other languages to convey a meaning which English cannot properly express. This is one of its great strengths, but it does mean that, as a global language, English will alter and develop many variants. We should never forget that, while we may find the way a Canadian or Australian says something to be odd or amusing, they think the same about some of the things we say.

But, to return to the original complaint about pupils being taught Scots, we must recognise that Scots is not the same as modern Scottish English. While Scots does retain much of its inherited vocabulary and grammar which makes it a sister language to British English, it is different enough that pupils studying the poems of Rabbie Burns are usually provided with translation notes so that they can understand the unfamiliar words which have dropped out of modern Scottish English.

It is probably fair to say that Scots, as opposed to Scottish English, is indeed a separate language, albeit one which retains a great deal of similarity to British English. For comparisons, look to the Scandinavian languages which are recognised as distinct but which all developed from Old Norse, and retain many similarities as a result.

So, first of all, the grumblers must recognise that speaking Scots is not the same as speaking Scottish English. By confusing the two, they seek to diminish the status of scots by implying that it is merely a local dialect of formal British English. One wonders whether these people have ever criticised the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne on the grounds that they are written in bad English? I suspect not.

Once we accept the difference between Scots and Scottish English, we must accept that there is absolutely nothing wrong with pupils being taught Scots. The language has a rich heritage and its influence on modern Scottish English can be heard all the time. I wonder whether there would be an outcry if the pupils were being taught to translate modern British English texts into Anglo-Saxon Old English? I suspect not, but, like Old English, Scots has a long and rich tradition which deserves some study.

Of course, it is important that pupils learn formal British English since this provides the tool through which they can communicate with people all around the world, but there is nothing wrong with them also learning their traditional language. It may not be as immediately useful as learning a modern foreign language but, aside from teaching them something of the heritage, history and culture of their country, it does help them develop language skills as they delve into the grammar and vocabulary of a new tongue. Sadly, I have a suspicion that those who have expressed their anger over the lessons are really more concerned with the historical and cultural aspects rather than the linguistic ones. If so, that is a great pity.

To sum up, those who have been vocal in their criticism have only shown their ignorance of the history of the language they themselves speak. To them, I say, “Gonnae no dae that."


Dark Matter

Posted on September 16th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Events in Catalonia are moving so quickly that this article may well be out of date by the time you read it. However, for the purposes of comparison with Scotland, the details are less important than the overall picture which is emerging. Sadly, the Spanish Government appears to be adopting tactics which are worthy of any extreme authoritarian State. The fact that the Catalans, or some of them at least, are still prepared to go ahead with their planned referendum on independence in spite of the legal, financial and physical intimidation they are suffering shows a degree of resolution which the majority of scots have not so far displayed.

The reasons for this will be many and varied, but there can be little doubt that the fact Catalonia has its own media must play a significant part in shaping public opinion there. In contrast, Scots have no control over their own media which constantly tells them they are better off being subject to Westminster rule no matter the consequences.

In political terms, the Catalonian experience presents a thorny problem for the Scottish Government. Naturally, there are calls for Nicola Sturgeon to express support for the rule of local self-determination which is seen to operate in a democratic way. However, doing so could create difficulties in the future. Despite the long-running and persistent claims by the Unionist media, the Spanish Government has never threatened to veto Scotland’s admission to the EU. Its stance has always been that it will not intervene in the constitutional affairs of another State and that any Referendum which is carried out in accordance with a state’s constitution will be respected. Whether that attitude would alter should Scotland ventured opinions on Spain’s constitutional affairs is something which , politically, the Scottish Government must consider carefully. To be too vocal in criticising Spain’s actions could turn Spain’s view on Scottish independence from one of neutrality to one of political hostility. That may sound cynical, especially because there is no doubt a lot of support for Catalonia on a personal level, but we live in a political world, so such decisions cannot be taken lightly.

As for that Spanish constitution which lies at the heart of the current Catalonian situation, it does serve to show how public opinion can shift in the space of a few decades. Spain has had a raft of constitutions since the 19th Century, and several in the 20th Century. The current constitution was adopted as recently as 1978 following a Referendum in which, it must be noted, Catalans voted 95% in favour on a turnout of 67%. That there is now a considerable demand for independence shows just how public opinion can shift. The Spanish example also shows that no constitution can be cast in stone, since the current one is only the latest in a long line, albeit we must acknowledge that the political situation in Spain over the past two Centuries has been very volatile, involving invasion, occupation and civil war, with shifts between dictatorship, absolute monarchical rule, and democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Bearing that in mind, it is little wonder that the constitutional position has shifted so often.

What is worrying is the Spanish Government’s apparent determination to prevent any move to break away from the unitary State. They may have the legal right, or even the obligation, to uphold the constitution, but they must realise that, while repressive tactics may succeed in the short term, they will only serve to harden attitudes, as well as creating a poor impression internationally. Of course, they may not care about this, since the loss of prestige and access to its wealthiest region may be the driving issues behind its attitude. The law is often a convenient smokescreen for such views, and we should not forget that laws can be altered to cope with new situations. Indeed, if that were not so, there would be no need for Parliaments to legislate at all. Currently, though, the Spanish Government seems determined to entrench its position no matter what Catalan public opinion might say.

Does any of that sound familiar? The question of prestige is close to the heart of the UK’s arguments against Scottish independence, as is the loss of Scotland’s wealth, a wealth which the media has done its best to disguise with, it must be admitted, considerable success.

So, does the current Catalan situation provide any clues as to what might happen in Scotland? It is too early to say because events are still unfolding, but there are two potential outcomes at opposite ends of the spectrum of possibilities which may turn out to provide some clues.

The happiest outcome would be that Spain sees sense, realises it will never control the move for Catalan independence without severe authoritarian clampdown, that Catalonia votes Yes and is welcomed into organisations such as the UN and EU with minimal difficulty. The new nation’s relationships with Spain would no doubt be strained for some time, but the Catalans clearly believe that it would be worth some problems in order to achieve self-government.

If all of that happened – and it’s a big if at the moment – then perhaps more Scots would realise that Scotland could follow the same path, especially when the full horror of Brexit eventually becomes apparent.

On the other hand, there is a much darker scenario. What example would it provide if Spain did clamp down, impose a virtual Police State in Catalonia, and stamped out all opposition by imprisoning the leaders of the Yes movement and abolishing the Catalan Parliament?

You can see where this is going, can’t you? The Tories are already instigating a power grab which is reminiscent of the moves taken by the likes of Vladimir Putin. (In order to avoid invoking Godwin’s Law, I won’t mention similar characters from the 1930s, but you can no doubt appreciate that history is full of people who came to power more or less legitimately and then took measures to ensure they could not be ousted).

One advantage the Tories have over Putin is that he had to contend with a considerable portion of the Russian media which opposed him. Gary Kasparov, the former World Chess champion turned Human Rights activist and political commentator, has written that Putin was forced to concoct charges against the media moguls who opposed him. Once these individuals were either imprisoned or driven into exile, Putin installed some of his cronies in their place, thus ensuring that the Russian media is always on his side.

In the UK, the media is already on the side of the Tories. This is why Brexit is being normalised and why we are seeing a concerted effort to portray Devolution as a failed experiment. These could well be the latest steps on the road to the abolition of Holyrood. If the Tories see Spain getting away with repressive measures, then they will feel emboldened even more than they already are. And, gloomy and pessimistic as this may sound, we should not forget that the UK has serious form when it comes to taking repressive action against people it viewed as rebellious secessionists from its Empire.

Hopefully, this dark outlook will prove wrong. Things have moved on in the post-War era, and it may yet be that Brexit and the Tories will be thwarted by democratic means. However, one thing we must take from this is that the time for IndyRef2 is once the full calamitous consequences of Brexit are known, but before we are actually dragged out of the EU. To wait any longer would be folly.

As for the lessons of Catalonia, only one thing is clear at the moment; we should never underestimate the lengths to which an authoritarian Government will go in order to protect its own position of power.


The First Steps

Posted on September 12th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Are we seeing the first signs of the campaign for IndyRef2? That’s from the Yes side, since the Unionists have never stopped campaigning, but perhaps the Scottish Government are beginning to put things in place in anticipation of another IndyRef when the full calamity of Brexit becomes apparent.

The Programme for Government announced last week was full of exciting, progressive ideas. Of course, the Scottish media concentrated on the tax hikes which weren’t included but only mentioned as a possibility. This, of course, is the infamous Tax Trap which the Tories set, and they are doing their best to spring it even though no tax rises have been announced. Having spent the past few years calling on the Scottish Government to use the powers it has – even though powers over Income Tax only came into force this year – they are now squealing about the possibility of tax increases to fund the very things they are claiming the Scottish Government needs to do. Hypocrisy is becoming an overused word when it comes to the Unionist Parties, but it is very apt when talking about the Tories and the Tax Trap.

But let’s get back to the Programme For Government. From environmental issues to scrapping the Public Sector Pay Cap, the Scottish Government clearly intends to use its limited powers to improve things in Scotland in some quite radical ways. Of course, some of the announcements are aspirational and are very long term, which means they could be completely derailed if the SNP are ever voted out of power, but at least they are showing some ambition.

The most important announcement, though, was the creation of a Scottish National Investment Bank. Not only is this an excellent idea for creating funding for national investment, it is a clear signal that this new Bank could become the foundation of a new Central Bank for an independent Scotland which has its own currency. This is one of the vital building blocks of any nation, and we should not underestimate the importance of this new Bank. The sooner it is up and running the better.

Less well publicised is the fact that the Scottish Government are sending “ambassadors" to several overseas posts. They are not official ambassadors, of course, with their stated objective being to help foster relations in order to boost trade and inward investment, but the very fact that the Scottish Government is doing this at all suggests that, at last, they are beginning to realise that, as a step on the road towards becoming a normal country, Scotland needs to act as if it is already independent.

There is no doubt that the First Minister’s call for IndyRef2 in the wake of the Brexit vote backfired slightly, but that’s because of the anti-SNP media stance and the fact that most people haven’t yet realised the true impact of Brexit. The danger in waiting is that the media will normalise Brexit and persuade people that it would be better to stick with an insular, xenophobic, Right Wing, Austerity-driven and economically impoverished UK than to take the step into the unknown waters of independence.

Except, of course, that these are not uncharted waters. There are around 200 independent nations in the world. Many of them have problems, but Scotland is ideally placed to become a stable nation with a wealth of natural resources and an outward-looking philosophy. We already comply with all EU requirements, we have more natural resources than just about any other country of our size, and we have a long tradition of producing inventors and innovators thanks to our excellent universities, five of which are in the top 200 in the world. For a nation of 5.4 million people, that is quite phenomenal.

So, let’s hope that we are indeed taking those first steps and that, when the time is right, the SNP will come out with all guns blazing. With support from the greens and the wider Yes movement, we might just be able to persuade enough people that British exceptionalism does us more harm than good. We’ll only get one shot at it, so the foundations need to be in place. Fortunately, the Scottish Government appears to be laying those foundations.


Enabling Cruelty

Posted on September 6th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I have several friends and acquaintances who are quite open about their support for the Tory Party. They aren’t members of the Party, but they do vote Tory at most elections because they firmly believe in such things as the benefits of a free market economy and that trickle-down economics works. They also tend to believe that addiction to alcohol, tobacco and drugs are causes of poverty rather than symptoms.

Naturally, I argue with them on issues like this, but it doesn’t make much difference. They have voted Tory for years and continue to do so because they believe that the Tory Party best reflects their personal views.

Now, that is a perfectly valid stance; we should all vote for whichever Party best represents our personal values and which offers policies which we broadly support.

This, of course, is where the Tory support reveals the insidious nature of Party politics. My Tory pals are ordinary people who enjoy a good pint, like a bit of a laugh and are genuinely friendly and generous in nature. They would not, for example, shout abuse at someone because they are disabled or have a different colour of skin, nor would they discriminate against a person who is gay.

So why on earth do they continue to vote for a Party which ranks xenophobia as its driving policy? Why do they condone the racist and homophobic comments from elected representatives of their preferred Party? Why do they simply shrug and say all politicians are the same when you challenge them on why Colonel Davidson refuses to condemn such racist comments?

The simple truth is that the Tory Party these individuals grew up with is not the same Tory Party as we have now. You may have thought Margaret Thatcher was bad but, for all her many faults, she did not go nearly as far as the current Tories have done since 2010. She opened the door for greed and selfishness to become the driving forces in the UK economy and society, but the current Tories, driven by UKIP, have gone so far to the Right that they should have left most people behind. That they have, instead, dragged a sizeable portion of the public along with them is a testament to the power of the media in normalising such behaviour. We witness this every day as the media attempts to normalise Brexit, to normalise hatred of foreigners and to normalise the growing gulf in inequality in the UK.

I really wish my Tory pals would take a good look at the policies they are supporting, compare them with their own values and realise that, when a political Party moves away from your core beliefs, it is time for you to abandon that Party.

Sadly, their response is generally that “The alternative would be worse". Again, media support for the status quo means that they genuinely fear change while not realising that change is happening all around them. It can be difficult to admit you were in the wrong and to change your mind, but it is especially hard when the media are telling you that you are right. Let’s hope a few of them begin to realise just what sort of country they have voted for.


Brass Neck Needed

Posted on August 30th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There are plenty of opinion pieces on Kezia Dugdale’s resignation, so I’ll keep this fairly short.

First of all, it seems more than likely that she was persuaded to resign by Jeremy Corbyn. Even he must have realised that what passed for briefings on Scottish politics from Scottish Labour were so full of lies and distortions that relying on them made him look more than foolish and ignorant. It is very possible that Kezia Dugdale has paid the price for that. Corbyn is certainly very ignorant when it comes to Scotland, which is not a very desirable trait in an aspiring Prime Minister, but even he must have realised he was being badly misled. Like all Westminster Unionists, he is desperate to keep Scotland in the UK, but being made to look so out of touch was denting his image despite the media’s best efforts to play down his succession of gaffes.

As for Kezia, her own resignation statement confirms that, like many politicians, she was more concerned with Party than with Country, because she claimed that she had spent every waking moment working for the betterment of Labour. Somehow, I’m not sure that’s why people ought to go into politics, but perhaps that’s nit-picking.

The next thing to dominate the Scottish headlines will be the choice of her successor. The problem for Corbyn is that there are very few Scottish Labour MSPs who actually support him. However, what Kezia Dugdale’s continual changes of stance on just about every matter of policy - except Scottish independence - has shown is that there are probably plenty of people in Scottish Labour who would be prepared to say just about anything in order to claim the top job. There is no shortage of brass necks in Scottish Labour. We await the outcome of the leadership contest with interest.

Finally, the big question is whether jumping on the Corbyn bandwagon will help Scottish Labour at all. Perhaps the short-term dream of a socialist Labour Government which will somehow be elected even though there is no General Election in the offing might tempt some of the less committed Yessers to back Corbyn. With IndyRef2 nowhere in sight, this is perhaps an understandable view. If we are going to be chained to the UK, why not back somebody who has an outside chance of defeating the Tories?

In the longer term, however, surely even the most ardent Labour supporter can see that Corbyn’s pro-Brexit, anti-Indy stance is totally at odds with what any sensible Yesser wants. Besides which, he has shown that he has little interest in targeting Tory seats at all, concentrating instead on attacking the SNP at every opportunity. Since the SNP have publicly stated that they would back him in the House of Commons against the Tories, this reveals his true motivations; he would prefer to keep the Tories in power than see Scotland become a normal country.

Even if you set all these fairly major considerations aside, the quality of contenders to replace Kezia Dugdale must make it doubtful that any of them will be able to make much difference to Labour’s current third place ranking in Scottish politics.


Believe It Or Not

Posted on August 25th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s been an interesting few days in Scottish politics, with the media asking us to believe in a few things which, quite frankly, stretch credulity.

to begin with, they have been doing their best to protect Colonel Davidson from the ramifications of her agreeing to allow two suspended Councillors to be reinstated in spite of their publicly expressed racist and sectarian views. Of course, it can be argued that everyone is entitled to a second chance, and perhaps these two individuals might undergo a complete transformation in their outlook. However unlikely that may seem, hopefully it will result in them curbing their natural instincts when it comes to making abusive comments online. Quite how that will work in the environment of a Council meeting remains to be seen.

What is most annoying about the saga, though, is the media reaction. While the case has been mentioned, the witch-hunt we could expect had it been the SNP who had behaved this way has been noticeable by its absence. One could argue that this is a good thing if it heralds the beginning of a less vitriolic media, but it is probably fair to say that the gloves will come off again should any SNP representative step out of line. I hope I’m wrong on that, but I doubt it.

As for Labour, the Scottish media continues to allow them to operate without any suggestion of real challenge, so it might be worth making some points which the media seem reluctant to comment upon.

This is relevant because Jeremy Corbyn has begun his tour of Scotland, pushing his campaign to overturn the Tory majority in Westminster by … um, targeting SNP seats which might be vulnerable in the next General Election which isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

It’s a very strange decision from a strategic point of view, since even if Labour did win those seats in a General Election, it would do nothing to diminish the Tory majority. Still, Corbyn is entitled to spend the summer recess campaigning in any way he likes, so what has he been proclaiming in his efforts to persuade us all to vote for him and topple the Tories?

Oddly, he seems to be perfectly happy with the Tories, aiming all his comments at the SNP. His latest wheeze to undermine the campaign for Scottish independence is to announce that a federal UK is on the table if he becomes Prime Minister.

Wow! But wait, haven’t we heard that before? Wasn’t there a Vow of some sort?

Of course, Corbyn could claim that he wasn’t in charge last time and he really, really means it. Except that Labour have been talking about Federalism for years and have never done anything about it. There are, as you would expect from a slogan, no details at all on how this federal structure would operate. Would it mean England being split into regions? What powers would the devolved administrations have? We don’t know, and we’re not likely to find out. Still, he may be sincere, but perhaps the only way to tell whether he means it is to look at the other things he’s said recently and judge how reliable he is from those remarks.

Or what he has not said. He has been very quiet on Brexit. All his appeals to Scottish voters ignore the fact that Scotland prefers to remain in the EU, while Corbyn is dead set on a hard Brexit. How does he square those views? By ignoring the question and being allowed to do so by the media.

Having dealt with that thorny issue by pretending it does not exist, he has said that the SNP should use the powers available to them to reduce the impact of Tory Austerity. That’s something, isn’t it? Note, though, that he appears to have no problems with Tory Austerity itself. Indeed, he is perfectly happy to maintain most of the cuts the Tories are pushing through, and Labour’s voting record on Austerity measures and things like the Public Sector Pay Cap speak for themselves.

So he’s in favour of Austerity, but wants the SNP to do something about it. What he appears not to have noticed is that the SNP have already done a great deal. To mention just a few things, they already mitigate the Bedroom Tax and the removal of Housing Benefit from Under-21s; they have established the Scottish Welfare Fund to provide emergency funding for distressed families; Community Care Grants provide support to assist independent living; they have mitigated Westminster cuts to Council Tax Support and Child Allowances; they set up the Scottish Independent Living fund to assist Disabled people; they are currently setting up a Scottish Social Security Agency and have announced that Private Companies will not be allowed to undertake Fit For Work assessments; they have announced that they will introduce a new Funeral Expenses Allowance within the next two years. And those are on top of the fundamentally anti-Austerity social measures like free prescriptions, free University tuition, and maintaining bursaries for Student Nurses.

So, if the SNP are doing all that, why is Corbyn claiming that they need to use their powers to mitigate the Tory cuts he himself would impose on Scotland?

What he’s getting at, of course, is the powers over Income Tax. What he is essentially saying is that Scots should pay more tax for the privilege of being part of the UK. OK, that’s maybe a bit unfair. If Scotland were a normal country and able to set all of its own tax rates, we may well end up needing to pay a bit more for all the benefits of the social policies we want. That is not a bad thing in itself, since many countries, notably the Scandinavian ones, have higher tax – higher social benefits strategies, and they’re doing OK. The problem with doing that while Scotland remains part of the UK is that our taxes currently go towards funding a whole host of things Scotland neither wants nor needs. Think Trident, HS2, London Crossrail, etc. So why should we pay more income tax to mitigate policies we didn’t vote for, especially when the burden of the additional taxation will fall on individuals rather than corporate entities who are expertly avoiding tax under UK tax rules?

What Corbyn essentially seems to be saying is that, if he became Prime Minister, he would continue to impose Austerity on Scotland and that Scottish Labour, if in power in Scotland, would raise income tax in order to offset the impact of his own policies. When you put it like that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? It’s certainly not very appealing from a voter perspective.

However, let’s see what Corbyn has to say on another issue, because he’s claimed Labour will build more social housing to address the current shortfall. Again, we must suppose that he will adopt a different approach to former Labour Governments who managed to build 6 new council houses in their last term in office. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt because, after all, he’s a new leader and the SNP aren’t addressing the problem at all, are they?

Actually, they are. While there are petty squabbles over whether refurbishing derelict properties counts as new build, the SNP Government has created over 30,000 new homes and is aiming to increase that to 50,000 by the end of the current term in office. It may not yet be sufficient to meet the demand, but it’s a damn sight more than 6 and, given the funding constraints imposed by Westminster, it’s quite impressive.

So, can we trust Corbyn’s claim that he will bring about the much-vaunted Federal UK? Based on his failure to mention Brexit, his lies about the SNP mitigation of Austerity, his desire to maintain Austerity cuts and his failure to acknowledge that the SNP are actually building new social housing, his track record on truthfulness isn’t exactly unblemished. The fact that he is targeting SNP seats instead of Tory ones isn’t really in his favour either because it shows that, at heart, he is happy to maintain the Westminster status quo and keep Scotland within the Union.

Personally, I’m struggling to see where the appeal lies in all of that.


Shifting Meanings

Posted on August 23rd, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The recent article on language snobbery which was published on this blog site contained reference to the fact that words can change meaning over time. Are we seeing an example of that in today’s Scottish media?

In his book, “Through the Looking Glass", Lewis Carrol had his character Humpty Dumpty tell Alice that, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Since Nicola Sturgeon admitted that the word “Nationalism" is problematic, the Scottish media and Unionist politicians have had a field day proclaiming how evil nationalism is. Putting aside the hypocrisy of some of those politicians, are we witnessing a change in the meaning of this word?

The association, of course, is with the Nazis who proclaimed themselves National Socialists, with the emphasis very much on Nationalist. In much the same way that the Nazis altered the meaning of the swastika, which used to be a good luck symbol and still is in parts of Asia, they have tarnished the meaning of “Nationalist" and “Nationalism".

Of course, what those who wish to denigrate Scottish Nationalism conveniently forget is that most nations have a majority of citizens who are nationalists in so far as they believe that their country should govern itself. Individuals such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were nationalists, yet are also dismissed by those who seek to portray all nationalists as violent and evil.

So what does the word actually mean? Is a Nationalist someone who simply believes that the citizens within a nation should be allowed to determine that nation’s political makeup, or is a Nationalist someone who believes that their nation is superior to all others and should be able to impose its will, by force if necessary, on those who disagree?

Dictionaries are not a great deal of help. For example, Merriam-Webster defines a Nationalist as “someone who believes in nationalism", which doesn’t make things much clearer. Its second definition is:

“a political Party or grouping which advocates national independence or strong national government".

Take your pick as to which you think applies to the SNP. It also depends on what you mean by the term “Strong national government". Again, images of Right Wing authoritarianism leap to mind, and don’t forget that Theresa May made great play of being strong and Stable during the General Election campaign.

So the word can mean whatever you want it to mean. The problem in Scotland is that the media are pushing their version of its meaning. For example, the BBC described the Charlottesville neo-Nazis as “White Nationalists". Now, this may be technically correct since American Nationalism is one of their core beliefs, but it is a rather narrow definition. News reporters choose their words carefully, and many in the pro-independence camp believe that this description was deliberately used in order to further tarnish the term “Nationalist" and so imply that anyone supporting Scottish independence is, essentially, a Nazi.

This may be an extreme reaction to the reporting, but there can be little doubt that the media and Unionist politicians are working hard to alter the meaning of this word. Words have power precisely because they are the tools through which we express ideas and persuade people to our point of view. The media has a great deal of influence, and politicians have demonstrated time and time again that repeating a claim often enough will make some people believe it, whether or not the claim is true.

It is certainly no coincidence that Unionist MPs in the House of Commons constantly refer to the SNP as the “Scottish Nationalist Party" rather than the “Scottish National Party". They know full well what they are saying because they wish to associate the Party with the more negative connotations of the word.

But if the perceived meanings of “Nationalist" and “Nationalism" are changing, this leads to the intriguing possibility that the word “National" might also be tarnished. This would certainly create problems for several charities, including such estimable organisations as the RNLI & RNIB, not to mention the National Lottery and the National Health service.

But, getting back to Nationalist, there can be little doubt that the media are succeeding in creating the impression that anyone who describes themselves as a Nationalist is someone who believes in violence and hatred. The facts behind the Yes movement do not support this, but facts have very little to do with human perception when it comes to politics. Donald Trump has shown that people will believe whatever he says, even if he flatly contradicts what he said only moments earlier. Indeed, the Washington Post has run an article claiming that the number of false claims Trump has made now exceeds 1,000, yet his supporters are unwavering in their devotion to him.

So, if the media are attempting to alter the meaning of Nationalist, what can we do about it?

One option would be to choose an alternative name which Yessers could use as their primary description of themselves. “Yessers" is one example, with “Independista" and “Normalist" other, less frequently used, alternatives. But the problem here is that the SNP remain the main political force for independence and, unless the name of the Party is changed, “Nationalist" will remain very visible. Also, we should not forget that changing the Party name would be seen as an admission that the unionists were right all along and that all Nationalists are wicked and divisive.

The other option is to attempt to reclaim the word. This can be done, but it is not easy. “Gay" certainly has a different meaning to what it meant in the 1940s, and “CyberNat" is often claimed as a badge of pride by online Yessers. The problem is that, whatever Yessers do on social media will not counteract the mainstream media onslaught.

All we can probably do is keep demonstrating, through words and actions, that the Unionist definition is wrong when it comes to describing Scottish Nationalism. We won’t persuade the British Nationalists who don’t even recognise their own brand of nationalism as being nationalism at all, but we might be able to persuade those who remain open-minded. So let’s point out the Unionist hypocrisy but please don’t respond to abusive comments in kind. That only helps the Unionist agenda.

The main thing we must remember, though, is that, while words remain important, this whole debate is intended to distract us from the underlying issue. Whatever we call ourselves, or whatever the media call us, this does not alter the fundamental principle that a nation should govern itself. Because they have no real answer to this, Unionists are focusing on the negative inferences of the word “Nationalist" in order to denigrate the entire movement. By associating it with violent nationalism, they seek to paint the Yes movement as inherently violent. The best way we can reclaim the word is to demonstrate, time and time again, that it is our definition which is most accurate. British Nationalism may be xenophobic at heart, but Scottish Nationalism needs to keep proving that it is possible to be proud of one’s country and its achievements without hating anyone else.


Mind Your Language

Posted on August 20th, 2017

by Gordon

Language is the most powerful tool available to human society. When our children are growing up, we look forward to all their stages of development, but the two major milestones are when a child learns to walk and then learns to talk. Once a child knows how to communicate, he or she is ready to begin the lifelong process of socialising with other human beings.

Yet language can also be a barrier. In the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, divine retribution was posited as the reason why there were so many languages which hindered understanding. More recently, linguistic scholars have determined that the vast majority of European – and therefore World – languages derive from a single language which was spoken by people who probably originated somewhere in what is now western Russia. The experts call this language Proto Indo-European because its descendant languages include Sanskrit, Latin, classical Greek, and pretty much every major European language. There are a few exceptions, notably Hungarian and Finnish, but most of the rest derive ultimately from Proto Indo-European. The reason they are so different now is the passing of thousands of years and the separation as the original PIE speakers split into smaller tribal groupings and migrated into India and Europe. This common ancestry should serve as a reminder that we are all related if we go back far enough. We don’t need DNA research to tell us that, because our languages confirm it. As an aside, if you would like to know more about this ancestry, there is an excellent Podcast called “The History of English" by Kevin Stroud which traces the ancestry of English all the way back to Proto Indo-European.

Language can also be the subject of national pride. In France, there is official protection for French from the influence of words stemming from other languages. This may seem absurd to modern English speakers, but similar suggestions have been made in centuries past to protect the purity of English. Jonathan Swift, the creator of Gulliver’s Travels, put forward the view that a dictionary of acceptable English words should be created and that any word not included in that list should not be used. He was very much against the use of slang words, with “mob" being one of his pet hates.

Thankfully, Swift’s arguments did not prevail. Indeed, he should have known better. Taking his assertions to a logical conclusion, it would have been fair to ask him why he and his contemporaries did not speak the Old English of Alfred the great. If English was to be kept pure, then we should all still be speaking that highly inflected and very restricted language. But, as Swift apparently failed to notice, Old English was impacted by several sources, particularly Old Norse and Norman French. Words from classical Latin were also adopted thanks to the use of Latin by the Church, and classical Greek also contributed a number of words to the English vocabulary. Indeed, the most wonderful thing about English is its ability to create new words and to readily adopt foreign words if a native expression is not available.

Many people decry what they regard as sloppy use of language, but the simple fact is that languages evolve by themselves because people use language every day and adopt what is generally the simplest way of expressing themselves. This means that pronunciations vary and the Meanings of words and phrases shift whether we like it or not. Sometimes that is a shame, but there is little we can do about it in the face of general consensus. My pet hate is the misuse of “imply" and “infer" which mean slightly different things but which are commonly used as synonyms. There are other examples, but common usage is what determines what a word means, so we are fighting a losing battle in trying to maintain the original meanings. Lots of words now mean something completely different to their original sense, but we accept that because we have grown up with the current meaning and regard the original sense as odd.

Even if we agree on the meaning of words, how we pronounce them is often the subject of language snobbery. Many people try to speak in what was once termed “the accentless accent" known as Received Pronunciation. Think of BBC presenters of the 1950s to get an idea of RP. It is still the preferred mode of speech for people in the upper echelons of society or those who have pretensions to poshness. (Yes, I made that word up. But you know what I meant, so that’s OK).

But we should not persuade ourselves that language snobbery is confined to those who speak in a refined accent. Anyone who is unable to speak “properly" can find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in pretty much any social situation. It’s probably a safe bet that every one of us has, at one time or another, turned our noses up at the way someone else speaks. It seems to be either a part of our social conditioning or a natural response to somebody who is clearly different in a very recognisable way. And, of course, we should not forget that reverse snobbery is also a phenomenon. Somebody speaking with an RP accent who encounters a group of people who talk in a pronounced regional accent is likely to find themselves mocked for their perceived difference.

This is an aspect of language we all need to be more aware of. And, yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition. That’s a normal English usage which is only frowned upon by those who decided that Latin grammar rules should be adopted in English because, in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Latin was viewed as a superior language to the common tongue of the English-speaking people. That’s another example of language snobbery. We need to accept that English is a diverse language, with many regional dialects and other variants around the world, and we should stop mocking anyone who does not speak the same way that we do.

Unfortunately, the tendency to mock those who speak differently is very much ingrained in British society. This is so prevalent that LBC Radio recently took a call from a listener who wanted all foreign languages banned within the UK because he found them offensive. Now, that’s an extreme viewpoint, but it is merely the most egregious example of language snobbery related to foreign languages. It seems to be accepted by far too many English speakers that foreign languages are in some way inferior. This may be a throwback to the days of Empire but, whatever its origin, it is still far too common. When meeting someone who speaks a different language, my reaction is to try to communicate with them and hopefully learn a few words or expressions in their language. When visiting foreign countries, the first thing I always try is to pick up a few phrases of the local language. It is, after all, only common courtesy. Yet far too many English speakers seem to expect everyone to speak English and look down on anyone who cannot do so, while apparently not appreciating that they themselves are monolingual. This is a real problem, and it persists within the UK, where languages like Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Cornish are viewed with derision by many people who are proud of their Britishness. It is a classic example of fear and suspicion of others. It is as if someone who does not share our language must be against us in some way. These native British languages are often derided, and that is rather pathetic when you think about it. I have heard someone mocking Gaelic television programmes because, amidst the stream of incomprehensible words they have suddenly heard something modern like “Smartphone" or “Helicopter". This, for some reason, is deemed a reason to mock the language because it does not have words to describe these modern inventions. Yet those same people will happily use words like “Schadenfreude" or “Déjà vu" without appreciating the irony.

So we are left with the fact that language can be a barrier. This is patently obvious, yet there are ways to get round it. That doesn’t mean only that we should make more effort to learn foreign languages, it is more that we need to alter our response to hearing a foreign language. Instead of instantly regarding it as a sign of “otherness", we should see it as an opportunity to enhance our learning and understanding. And, if you are a monolingual English speaker, you really must shake off the view that people who speak Welsh, Gaelic or Cornish are somehow inferior because they speak a language which is not the same as yours. Remember that all of these people are pretty fluent in English as well, which means they can already speak twice as many languages as you.

Language snobbery, whether focused on regional accent or foreign language, is an integral part of our society, and it is something we need to try to eradicate. There are perfectly valid reasons for written language to be more formal and precise, but the spoken language is our most valuable asset, and we should enjoy its diversity. It is a good thing that a variety of English accents can now be heard on mainstream television programmes because this helps to normalise regional accents. The next step is for us to appreciate that hearing foreign languages is an opportunity, not a threat.


Selective Statistics

Posted on August 17th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

If anyone retains any lingering doubts about the BBC’s agenda to undermine the Scottish Government, the release of the latest Quarterly Unemployment statistics yesterday showed their bias once again.

The figures showed that Employment in Scotland is at a record high, with the number of Unemployed falling by 12,000 compared to the previous quarter. That, however, was not what the BBC reported. By comparing the statistics to those released last month rather than last quarter, they discovered a slight increase in Unemployment by around 3,000, and this was the figure they highlighted. It was only when the Scottish Government pointed out that they were not comparing like with like that they corrected their story and issued an apology. You can read their revised article at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-40947422

This morning, however, Radio Scotland focused on the 3,000 rise as its headline statistic, despite the correction issued by BBC London yesterday.

Now, statistics can prove anything, and it is fair to point out that there has been a slight rise in Unemployment on one reading of the figures, but it is not at all the main feature of the statistics. By using this as their primary headline, BBC Scotland are attempting to show the Scottish Government’s economic efforts are failing. Of course, the Scottish Government is quick to hail good news on the economy as being down to their policies, while bad news can be blamed on Westminster since the Scottish Government does not have all the economic powers of a normal Government, but that is a separate argument. The issue here is that BBC Scotland continues to concentrate on bad news whenever possible.

Generally, these statistics are good news. Scottish Unemployment is lower than anywhere else in the UK, more people than ever are in work, and the quarterly comparison shows a fall in Unemployment. That should be the story, even if a caveat on a small month to month increase is worth mentioning.

You can make what you like of the actual statistics, but the only thing you can take from the BBC reporting is that Donalda MacKinnon has completely failed in her stated intention of rebuilding trust in the BBC.


What We Need

Posted on August 17th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

A few months ago, I was discussing politics with some Unionist pals who roundly slated me for expressing the opinion that Donald Trump and Theresa May are, essentially, Fascists. This was based on my definition of a Fascist as someone who believes in an extreme Right Wing authoritarian form of Government with strong nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies.

But whether you agree with that definition, or the assessment of both Trump and May meeting the criteria, is not really the point. the issue is that the political leadership in both the USA and UK has displayed increasingly Right Wing tendencies, and people take their lead from the politicians. There can be no doubt that Trump has enabled the Alt Right in America. His unwillingness to condemn the overt displays of Fascism have provided further encouragement, and it is difficult to see how this trend can be halted as long as he remains President.

George Orwell wrote that, when it arrived in England (yes, he said England, not Britain), Fascism would be of a more sedate and subtle kind. Fascism does not need jackboots, black shirts and swastikas to proclaim itself. Things are not yet as bad here, but we should not forget that Theresa May was responsible for sending vans around the streets with signs telling foreigners to go home. Her Government are actively deporting hundreds of non-UK nationals, and Brexit, which she is pursuing vigorously if incompetently, is encouraging thousands more to leave. The promotion of UKIP by the BBC has ensured that the Tory Party has continued its move to the Right ever more rapidly, with the result that hate crimes in England have increased to an alarming degree. It may not be outright Fascism yet, but it is definitely heading that way.

How can this be stopped? Fascists love confrontation on the streets. It allows them to play the victim card when violence erupts, just as we have seen in Charlottesville this week. Yet ignoring them will not make them go away either. The best way to defeat them is at the ballot box but we have missed our chance for at least another five years – unless May’s Government collapses which looks unlikely now that she has bribed the DUP – another extreme Right Wing group – into backing her.

The one thing that will help is if every political leader stopped trying to score petty political points and spoke out unequivocally against this sort of behaviour. Whether we like it or not, our political leaders set the tone, and all of them must act or we will be doomed to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past.


Sticking Plaster

Posted on August 13th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It was very interesting to hear the comments of Steven Purcell on Derek Bateman’s latest Podcast. Mr Purcell reported that, in his experience, there are many people who voted Yes in the IndieRef because they wanted a drastic change from the way Westminster government operated, but that these same people voted for Labour in the General Election because they saw Jeremy Corbyn as a viable alternative to Tory rule. This is an interesting concept because it implies that, should another IndieRef ever come along, these voters would be more likely to vote No if they thought there was a realistic chance that Jeremy Corbyn might soon become UK Prime Minister.

To be fair, the overriding principle such voters would be adhering to is the “pooling and sharing" of resources across the UK in a truly Socialist ideology, but this sort of reasoning has a serious logical flaw.

Let’s put aside Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Trident and Brexit, as well as his more worrying view that every country in the world should be independent except Scotland and Wales.

Let us indulge in some “What if?" speculation to see where votes for Corbyn could have led us had more Scots decided to vote for Labour in the General Election and that this had led to him becoming Prime Minister, even if that had required the support of the SNP and other Parties.

What would the UK have looked like if that had come about?

Probably not very much different to the way things are turning out now. Corbyn would proceed with Brexit, thus removing Scotland from the EU against the wishes of the majority of Scottish voters. Austerity would remain largely the dominant economic strategy since, despite having the estimable Richard Murphy as one of his advisors, Jeremy Corbyn seems incapable of understanding how national economies operate, leading to his manifesto pledged to retain the vast bulk of the existing Tory Austerity measures. To be fair to him, most MPs share his inability to perceive the flaws in Austerity, but that isn’t really much of an excuse.

So we’d have Brexit, we’d have Austerity, and we’d soon have Trident being renewed. We’d have Scotland stuck to the UK because Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t believe in national self-determination for Scotland. Perhaps those who decided to vote for him believed these are prices worth paying to have the railways re-nationalised, to regain free University tuition in England and Wales, and to maybe have existing student debts written off. Or maybe not.

Quite frankly, it is difficult to see the appeal of these measures from a Scottish perspective, but voters cast their votes for a variety of reasons, so maybe some people would indeed have thought it was worth sticking with Corbyn because he might just improve the lot of the poorest citizens in our society instead of victimising them the way the Tories do.

OK, fair enough so far, but let’s take the assumptions a stage further. Let’s assume that Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister and had undergone an epiphany as regards Austerity economics. Let’s assume that he dismantled the Austerity programme, reversed the privatisation of the NHS in England, changed his mind on Brexit and generally improved things for the majority of UK citizens.

Hooray! Surely that would be worth it? Why on earth would Scotland want to break free from a more egalitarian UK which adopted a truly internationalist viewpoint, stopped making war on Middle Eastern countries who can’t fight back, entered into a spirit of cooperation with its EU counterparts and generally became a much more pleasant and welcoming place to live?

There is one very obvious answer to that which those who espouse Corbyn’s case in Scotland do not appear to appreciate. It is that there would be another General Election in a few years’ time, and more after that at five-yearly intervals. Jeremy Corbyn will retire sooner or later. Would his successor continue to pursue the socialist policies Corbyn’s supporters applaud? Even if he or she did, what guarantee is there that a socialist Labour Party would be re-elected? The voters in England have a distressing tendency to vote Conservative more often than not. If Theresa May and the Brexiteers who currently run the UK had been swept away by a new generation of Tory leaders, might not the voters of England decide to give them a chance?

What would happen then? Scotland, having lost its chance of escaping, would again be condemned to Tory rule.

Jeremy Corbyn might be seen by some as the solution to the Westminster problem. In reality, he is part of the Westminster problem, but even if he wasn’t, he could only ever be a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The truth is that the only way Scotland will ever be able to make its own decisions is to become a normal country. Any vote which goes to a Unionist Party, for whatever reason, only undermines the case for independence.


Don't Believe A Word

Posted on August 11th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Anyone who thinks the talks between the UK and Scottish Governments to discuss repatriation of powers post-Brexit will lead to anything meaningful should think again. This is a typical Westminster tactic. They declare a willingness to talk, they even turn up and make some meaningless pronouncements, but they will only ever do the very bare minimum required to allow them to justify their stance.

Westminster will not change. Do you remember the MPs’ Expenses scandal? They made a big hullabaloo about changing the system to prevent such abuses, yet the new system means that the Expenses bill is now larger than it was before the earlier scams were revealed.

Do you remember the Smith Commission? After promises of “Nearest thing to Federalism", we were given a few scraps with built-in snares.

Do you remember the Scotland Act? Every single amendment proposed by the SNP was ignored. We were given what Westminster decided we would be given.

It will be the same with Brexit. The Repeal Bill will mean that powers will mostly reside with Westminster, and any gracious grants of devolved powers will come with strings attached.

We’ve already seen Michael Gove assure Danish fishermen that they will be allowed to fish in British waters after Brexit – a direct contradiction of the loud promises made to Scottish fishermen who rather foolishly believed that Westminster would look after their interests.

There will be more of this sort of thing in the coming months. There are already reports that the Repeal Bill will incorporate measures to ensure that nobody can sue the Government for breaking the law. That’s how much they care about the people they are supposed to be governing. Power is all that matters to Westminster, so don’t expect anything from the promises being made. They won’t be kept.


The Colonel Is Coming

Posted on August 9th, 2017

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Today’s Times has an article informing its readers that Tory grass roots activists are becoming increasingly fed up with the old order running their Party and are looking for a new, fresh face to assume control. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Ruth Davidson are mentioned as those whose popularity is such that they might well be welcomed as a new Tory leader.

Stop laughing at the back. You should know by now that nothing is too outrageous for Tories to think it is a good idea.

So, if it does come to a choice between the two, who would we prefer? Well, quite apart from the fact that Rees-Mogg has been referred to as the Honourable Member for the 18th Century who would be popular with the Hanging & Flogging brigade, wouldn’t it be great to see Colonel Davidson in charge? Can you imagine how the DUP would react to that? Can you imagine the shocked realisation of her English Tory fans when it dawns on them that she is devoid of any actual policies and doesn’t respond well to any sort of pressure, let alone the scrutiny a Prime Minister can be put under by even the Right Wing media?

Of course, having the Colonel in charge would be pretty awful for the UK, but would Rees-Mogg be any better? Would either of them be able to turn the mess that is the UK into an even greater fiasco than it already is? The Westminster Establishment has become so full of virtual clones that there is absolutely nobody capable of steering the UK back to even a semblance of normality. Don’t for one minute believe that Jeremy Corbyn is the answer. He is pro-Brexit, anti-Indy and every bit as much a member of the Establishment as any other Westminster leader. You might think that Vince Cable could offer an alternative but, apart from the fact that he might be in favour of a second Brexit Referendum, he has little to commend himself. He was part of the Austerity-obsessed Coalition Government of 2010, and he has jumped on a couple of bandwagons, including calling for Corbyn to condemn the murderous Venezuelan Government while he and his Tory pals remain silent about the UK’s love of equally murderous regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The sad fact is that all of these politicians are from the same mould, and whatever happens with Brexit, the UK will continue to lurch ever further into Right Wing extremism.

Whatever your views on Scottish independence might have been in 2014, surely you must be starting to question the wisdom of chaining ourselves to such a dysfunctional State?

The only question raised by the rumblings among Tory activists is whether the UK will disintegrate sooner under May or under a new leader like Rees-Mogg or Colonel Davidson.


The RBS who actually cares about Scotland.  If at first you don't secede, try, try again.

Rab Bruce's Spider is a collaborative blog site where individuals who support Scottish Independence can express their views. If you would like to contribute, please email your suggested article to ga.author@sky.com.