Rethinking Exams

Posted on August 9th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

We all know how stressful a time it can be when sitting important exams, and also when waiting for the results. I am not going to get too deep into the details of the current unedifying row except to make a couple of points.

The first is that the Unionist Parties are, as usual, whipping up a storm of protest without actually offering any viable alternative solution to the one the SQA has put in place. They are also turning a blind eye to the very similar situations in England and Wales, where no appeals are being permitted at all to the decisions on downgrading. Political opposition is fine, but surely it is incumbent on anyone with genuine aspirations to be a serious politician to come up with a better idea than simply to demand the Education Minister’s resignation. As far as I can tell, not a single Unionist politician has come up with any serious alternative system except, presumably, to allow the teachers’ assessments to stand unchallenged. In this case, the pass rate would be so high that the Unionists would then be able to scream from the rooftops that the system was clearly not fit for purpose.

This leads onto my second point. If the pass rate was unusually high because of the change of procedure for measuring students’ abilities, then having politicians casting aspersions as to the validity of the qualifications earned is only going to harm the students. Employers and Universities would undoubtedly view any such qualifications as suspect because of the furore created by people with a political agenda.

But the main point is that it is perhaps the whole system of examinations that is questionable. Some students are unable to perform at their best under the pressure of an examination situation. Others may skimp on their course work because they know they can perform well in an exam. It is a one-day opportunity for students to show their ability, and all sorts of things can have an impact on how they perform. Yes, I know that the SQA has procedures in place which allow students some dispensations for their performance being affected by outside circumstances, but we cannot ignore the fact that teachers know their pupils best. If the teachers have marked students highly, then perhaps it is because the majority of those students perform better over the course of a year than they do in a three hour examination.

So perhaps we should be looking at whether exams are really the best way to assess ability. The PISA results are often used to bash the Scottish Government, who seem inclined to accept that Scottish Education should move more towards a learning by rote system in order to attain better PISA scores for the nation. Perhaps what the current situation shows is that this is very much the wrong way to go. If the teachers’ assessments are correct, then the current generation of students has far more ability than exam results would indicate.

Of course, moving away from an examination system would present problems of its own, not least the need to have a consistent approach all across the nation. It would also require new checking and validation procedures to prevent schools awarding marks which are artificially high in order to boost their own position in rankings. However, none of these problems are insurmountable, so maybe we should be having a radical re-think about how we measure students’ abilities. Because, in the short term, there is no guarantee that Covid will not still be around next year. And if we can devise a proper, measurable and valid way of awarding qualifications based on course work, why not keep that system going forwards? Yes, the unionists will howl about it being too easy when higher results are achieved, but they are going to howl whatever we do, and unless they can come up with a better idea, why not give it a try?

Tax the Rat Farms

Posted on August 4th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There’s a scene in a book by the late, great Terry Pratchett where his fictional city of Ankh Morpork is being overrun by a plague of rats. In an effort to solve this, the City Council offers to pay a bounty for each rat that is killed. People can claim their reward by bringing a rat’s tail to the Council as proof. Despite this, the plague becomes even worse. In desperation, people turn to a man famous for his wisdom and political insight, and he provides an answer.

"Tax the rat farms."

As usual with Pratchett, he uses his fictional world to highlight human nature. In this case, it is to demonstrate that, whatever human system is put in place, some people will seek to find a way to take advantage for their own personal benefit.

Look around and you’ll see examples of this everywhere. Whether it be scammers phoning you pretending to be from Amazon, or emails threatening to cut off your internet service unless you click a link, there are scams everywhere.

And then, of course, we have politicians. Here I give you the House of Lords, and offshore bank accounts as examples. You can add to that the contracts handed out to pals of Cabinet Ministers and unelected Personal Advisers without any proper tendering or competition because speed is required to tackle the Covid19 pandemic. That’s a convenient smoke screen which allows rules to be ignored in order to benefit those in power.

In normal times, of course, such actions would be exposed by the media and pressure would be applied by the public, forcing the guilty party to resign. These days, the political system has been infiltrated by self-serving extremists to such an extent that they are able to brazen out any such issues. The Tories have well and truly taken advantage of the system, and even though more and more people are starting to realise just how dreadful the consequences will be for the majority of people in the UK, it is now too late to do anything about it.

And when it comes to people taking advantage of a system, no matter how good the intentions behind that system may be, I cannot ignore the Gender Recognition Act. It’s a topic I have largely avoided because, as a heterosexual white male of mature years, I do not feel qualified to make much of a contribution to the debate. There are only two things I feel I ought to say. The first is that most people I’ve discussed this with in private have no issues at all with Trans people being treated with equality and fairness. What they do have a problem with is legislation which some individuals will be able to take advantage of for their own personal gratification. Raising the status of one group should not adversely impact the status of another.

The second thing is more of a question. Given our media’s propensity for leaping on any topic which might paint the SNP in a bad light, why is the GRA not receiving condemnation from Unionist politicians and the press? I shall leave that for others to puzzle over.

As for the wider point, it is clear that democracy is in grave jeopardy. Autocratic rulers are cropping up everywhere, pushing the limits of what they can get away with. And it is in those supposed bastions of democracy, the UK and the USA, where things are worst.

As for Scotland, we face a stark choice. Becoming a normal, self-governing country won’t be easy, but plenty of other countries have managed it. Yes, there will be some individuals who will seek to use independence for their own advantage, but that is no reason we should deny ourselves the opportunity of taking our place on the world stage. If we had a normal media covering a normal country’s normal politics, any such abuses could be highlighted, and the people could hold those in authority to account. That’s what should happen in a normal country, but the UK is very far from normal, and the sooner we can escape its clutches, the better.

Push Back

Posted on July 27th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s no real surprise that Unionist politicians are pushing the line that Scotland is only coping with the Covid19 pandemic because of financial support from our generous benefactors in England. It’s simply another version of the Too Wee, Too Poor narrative we’ve heard for as long as most of us can remember.

It’s hardly less surprising that the BBC are also pushing this narrative as evidenced by Naga Munchetty telling Ian Blackford that an independent Scotland would have had no money to combat the pandemic at all.

It seems our media are incapable of understanding that other medium-sized independent nations have managed to tackle the threat of the virus because they have their own central banks and control their own economy. If that were not true, every small or medium-sized country in the world would have been begging Westminster for handouts.

It also seems that nobody in the media is able to understand that some people in Scotland do actually pay taxes, and that many taxes paid by businesses registered in England make their profits through selling goods and services in Scotland as well as in England.

The real question here is why Scotland needs to go cap in hand to Westminster to ask for some of our own money back. Normal, self-governing countries don’t need to do that.

All around the globe, countries have reacted to the pandemic in different ways. Some have been very successful in minimising deaths, others less so. The UK’s pathetic handling has resulted in thousands of deaths, and Scots have also suffered because the Scottish Government was compelled to go along with the delays in imposing Lock Down. That’s because, not being a normal, self-governing country, we did not control the economic levers which would have allowed us to go our own way. If we had been able to control our borders and introduce financial support measures like other countries, the chances are we’d have seen far fewer deaths.

It is, quite frankly, disgraceful that UK politicians are crowing about the amount of support they have given to Scotland when every country in the world has been supporting its citizens. What the UK Government has done is the bare minimum we should expect any Government to do.

So please let us here Scottish politicians pushing back a lot harder when this sort of ludicrous, ill-informed and offensive accusation is levelled against us. Because, farcical as the claims may be, far too many people still believe what they hear on the TV News. Unless pro-Indy politicians push back a lot harder, that’s not going to change.

Voting Alternatives

Posted on July 21st, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s interesting that the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) is receiving very little publicity from the mainstream media while Dave Thompson’s Alliance for Independence is receiving much greater coverage. This could be because the media hacks are in a bubble where only the actions of former MSPs are considered, but given the way the media usually operates, it could suggest that they view the Alliance as something that will harm the SNP, while they know the purpose of the ISP is to boost support for independence.

I have said before that the biggest problems for ISP will be getting their message out to the wider public. They need a lot of money to pay for advertising, and they need some very high profile candidates who will force the media to pay attention. So far, neither has been evident. Of course, they could gain media coverage by being openly critical of the SNP, but too much of that will only create a greater split in the Yes movement, and may well deter some people from voting for them.

One thing the commentary so far is showing is that the Unionists will not consider votes for the ISP as evidence of support for independence. Despite the fact that supporters of the three main Unionist Parties have fairly evidently played the electoral system in the past, any such voting shenanigans by Yessers will apparently render such votes meaningless. This is despite ISP having produced their own policies which differ from those of the SNP in some key areas. But the Unionists will continue to push the line that only an SNP majority in Holyrood will provide any proof that the people of Scotland want their nation to become a normal, self-governing country. Sadly, the SNP appear to be going along with this line of argument in spite of the well known fact that gaining a majority is almost impossible. The polls may indicate that such a feat is on the cards next year, but it must be said that it will require a considerable slice of good fortune if the trick they accomplished in 2011 is to be repeated.

A big question must be whether the Unionists could stick to the argument that having a super-majority of pro-Indy MSPs is somehow invalid because a new Party arrived on the scene to scoop up Yes voters. The Tories, of course, can argue black is white and the media will probably go along with them, and whatever your thoughts on whether voting for the ISP (or any other pro-Indy List Party) might be, we cannot ignore the fact that the media continue to hold big sway over the wider public. If they say the result of the election is flawed because voters played the system, then many will believe it. Whatever the rights or wrongs, overcoming that hurdle will not be easy unless there are some heavyweight candidates who can argue the case in such a way that the media cannot ignore them.

Putting that issue aside, there is still a long way to go before the elections, but many Yes supporters will be in a quandary. They know how the D’Honte voting system works, and they know that many votes for the SNP on the list are wasted. From that point of view, having another choice on the List could considerably help. On the other hand, some people have produced calculations suggesting that the ISP could remove SNP and Green MSPs rather than their Unionist targets. This is definitely something the ISP will need to take careful account of when deciding where to put up candidates.

What some in the SNP do not appear to realise is that many of the people who have voted for them in recent elections are far more interested in gaining independence than in keeping the SNP in power. For those people, a vote for the ISP must be a great temptation because the SNP seem content to win elections then find some excuse or other to do nothing to bring independence any closer. Now, Covid19 is certainly what any Government should be concentrating on tackling, but the reality is that the Tories have not stopped Brexit nor the Power grab. By putting independence on the back burner for what could be several more years, the SNP are playing into the Tories’ hands. Concentrating on Covid19 might be the moral thing to do, but the Tories don’t do morality, and while the long, cautious approach to gaining support for Indy may be starting to bear fruit, the Tories may not allow us enough time for it to bring about the solution we need. This is the fundamental reason why many Yessers are in favour of the idea of an alternative pro-Indy Party, be it ISP or whoever.

Yet if the ISP stand in regions where they could remove other pro-Indy MSPs, they will harm their own cause. And if they don’t get enough public attention, they won’t gather enough votes at all while reducing the SNP vote even further.

So it’s a tricky decision, and it’s one I remain undecided on. For the moment, though, I am intrigued by the way the media has responded to the ISP. The fact they are being blanked suggests they might be onto something.

Last Chance

Posted on July 10th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Criticism of the SNP leadership is growing, with both George Kerevan and Jason Michael having recently written powerful articles outlining some of the issues. No Government should be free of criticism, of course, and it must be said that the UK media may actually help the SNP in this regard as its criticism is so blatantly biased that any remotely valid negative opinions are lost in the noise of SNPBad

Many in the Yes movement are critical of the reaction of the Scottish Government to the recent opinion polls, with the gradualists among the Party faithful insisting that 54% is not yet enough to risk IndyRef2, this being despite our opponents assuring us that the 55% No vote in 2014 was decisive.

On the other hand, it must be said that the gradualists can point to the recent uplift in support for Yes as vindication of their approach. It must also be said that Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the Covid19 pandemic has raised her personal profile significantly, while the ludicrously inept performance of the Westminster Tories has certainly helped banish the notion that politicians of real ability are only to be found in Westminster.

Nicola Sturgeon is undoubtedly the most accomplished politician in the UK, but the important word there is "politician". She has led the SNP to an almost unassailable position in Scottish politics, and opinion polls – for what they are worth – suggest she is in line for even greater success in next year’s Holyrood elections. The big question must be what she will do if that expected majority does appear. Will she go for IndyRef2, or will she find another reason to put it off? The problem for Yessers is that, if she does delay once again, what alternative do they have? Much of the current support for the SNP is based on the knowledge that they are the only Party capable of delivering independence for Scotland. Cynics have suggested that the reason IndyRef2 will not happen under the current SNP leadership is that they are perfectly happy with the status quo, and that they know that independence will see much of the electoral support disappear as voters shift to other parties once Scotland has a normal Parliament which is not dominated by constitutional matters. This argument suggests that, while independence may be good for Scotland, it may not be so good for the SNP.

Of course, others disagree. Many are buoyed by the recent opinion polls and remain convinced that the SNP will push for IndyRef2 next year, especially as the effects of Brexit will have begun to bite by then, thus further demonstrating the sheer incompetence of the UK Government. This is certainly a valid point of view, and only time will tell. However, there are a couple of other factors which we should also keep in mind.

First is the current case being brought by private citizens to obtain a ruling from the Courts on whether Scotland needs a Section 30 Order to hold a valid and binding referendum. Courts being what they are, it is difficult to know how this will turn out, but a positive result for the case will put more pressure on the Scottish Government. Will they continue to insist on asking for – and being refused – a Section 30 Order in spite of such a ruling? Or are they leaving it to private citizens to obtain a ruling which they feel they cannot pursue themselves for political and constitutional reasons? Again, a crystal ball would be required to predict the outcome of this.

Then there is the Alex Salmond situation to be considered. Will he hold his tongue in light of the recent opinion polls? He wants independence as much as any of us, and he surely must know that any revelations about his recent Court case have the capacity to seriously damage the SNP. Or will he, as some have suggested, step up to lead a second pro-Indy Party? Again, polls suggest this could be a game changer for Scottish Politics. Polls indicate such a Party, putting up candidates only on the List, would produce an overwhelming majority of pro-Indy Parties in Holyrood. The SNP’s response has been to view this as a threat, which is quite revealing. They are, their supporters claim, on track to deliver a majority in Holyrood once again, even though the mathematics of the electoral system are against that. Don’t forget that the D’Honte voting system already significantly dilutes the SNP vote when they more or less sweep the board on Constituency seats. Nevertheless, polls suggest they are on track to break the system once again. Why should we jeopardise that by splitting the Yes vote? This argument raises the possibility that the SNP may well be putting Party before country, because having a second Party would surely send a strong message of how the people of Scotland view their future.

Or would it? There are a couple of problems here. First is that the UK media always equate support for Indy with support for the SNP. Look at how the Greens are ignored despite their pro-Indy stance. So the media would no doubt attempt to downplay the arrival of a second pro-Indy Party and would almost inevitably give them little air time in any election campaign. To get the message out, the new Party will need to raise a lot of money in a short time, and have some very high profile candidates so they can ensure their message is relayed to the wider public. Can anyone achieve that? If they can, then another pro-Indy Party in Holyrood may be able to apply pressure on the SNP to push for IndyRef2.

And finally, we do need to push for it, because the other thing lurking behind Brexit is the Power grab. Be in no doubt that the Tories want to strip away Holyrood’s powers. They might not abolish the Scottish Parliament, but they certainly intend to gradually neuter it, rendering it essentially ineffective. The 2021 Holyrood elections will probably be our last chance. Whatever transpires between now and then, somebody needs to take that chance.

Discussion Time

Posted on July 1st, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It is increasingly clear that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings believe they can get away with anything. It doesn’t matter which set of statistics you look at, the UK has one of the worst, if not the worst, death rates from Covid19 in the world. Add to that the refusal to request a Brexit Transition Period extension, the Dominic Cummings flagrant breach of Lock Down rules, the probable corruption in the Robert Jenrick property affair, the removal of civil servants in order to replace them with political appointees, and the rush to get England out of Lock Down far too soon, and you see just how little they care for public opinion.

What can be done to stop this? Quite frankly, not very much. Few media outlets are critical of the Tories, and even if they were it would make no difference as Donald Trump has so patently demonstrated in the USA. Negative headlines are simply dismissed, and he just carries on. It’s fairly evident that Boris Johnson and his cronies have learned that lesson well.

As for the Labour opposition, Sir Keir Starmer seems content with making solemn pronouncements, then going along with whatever the Tories suggest. The clue to his behaviour may well be in his title.

Some people have expressed a wish for some Tory back benchers to rebel against the obvious malfeasance of the Government, but the chances of that are slim at best. When you consider they are happy to support a Government which has been negligent and/or downright malicious in things like the Windrush scandal, the grenfell affair, the suppression of the Russia Report, the whitewashing of the Jennifer Arcuri affair, the PPE scandal, the deliberate transfer of Covid sufferers to Care Homes, the non-existent ferry contract, the farce of the Covid Tracking system, and buying the wrong satellites for a new GPS system, the chances of them going against the Whips for anything else is minimal.

Some commentators have pointed out that the actions of this Government are comparable to those of 1930s Germany. Whether that is true or not, we should all be extremely concerned by the direction they are moving. It is fairly clear that they are aiming to impose a fascist-like rule on the UK, all the while proclaiming freedom and sovereignty.

There are suggestions in some polls that public opinion is now against Brexit but, as mentioned before, it is too late now. The majority which the British public gave the Tories in December ensures they can get away with pretty much anything they like. As a result, we can expect things to get a whole lot worse in the coming years.

Scotland, of course, has a potential way out, but surely the Scottish Government has realised by now that they are not dealing with reasonable people. There is no way the Tories will ever agree to a section 30 Order, and by holding out for this, Nicola Sturgeon will be condemning Scots to live under extreme Right Wing rule forever. Don’t forget the Constituency Boundary changes which are intended to ensure perpetual Tory rule.

The Covid pandemic may have made more Scots realise that we could not possibly do much worse than we will fare if we remain part of the UK, but unless we see a clear route to holding a meaningful referendum, it is difficult to envisage how we can escape the madness.

Pete Wishart, an SNP MP who advocates a gradualist approach, has at least acknowledged that some other course of action will be required if the SNP gain a majority of seats at the Holyrood Parliament next year and if the Tories still refuse to grant a section 30 Order. This is a welcome development, and he does make some good points. However, I feel there are a few weak areas in his argument.

He rightly says that the Unionists equate support for the SNP with support for independence, and that any reduction in SNP seats will be viewed as a loss of support for indy. To be fair, this is a point I have made myself in the past. However, what Mr Wishart does not seem to acknowledge is that the D’Honte voting system is specifically designed to prevent any one Party gaining a majority. The SNP did manage it once, but that was a bit of a fluke, and there can be no guarantees it would happen again. Having a second pro-Indy Party as a choice on the List vote could well boost the number of MSPs who support Scotland becoming a normal country. It is perhaps telling that the SNP regard this as a threat, but while the argument that it would dilute the Yes vote must be acknowledged, it must also be pointed out that the D’Honte system dilutes the Yes vote considerably more. It is also worth pointing out that the Unionist Parties always tally their own votes when making claims about support for the Union. If that’s good enough for them, surely it must be good enough for Yes to tally the votes of every pro-Indy Party.

But let’s put that aside for one moment, and assume that the SNP do achieve the majority Pete Wishart seeks. His solution is then to approach the EU for backing to hold another IndyRef. This sounds appealing on the face of it, but the big question must be whether the EU would dare interfere in the internal politics of a non-member State. My own guess would be that they will offer general comments on democracy and self-determination, perhaps going as far as saying they would welcome any nation which wishes to be a member, but that’s probably as far as it will go. It is tempting to suggest that the UN might be a better ally, but I can foresee the Tories raising a stink about foreigners meddling in British democracy, and point blank refusing to let anyone interfere.

Still, at least some sort of discussion has developed, which is better than the Westminster approach of holding competitions to see who can do the most press-ups. Perhaps some in the SNP are now growing worried at the pressure being applied by the creation of the Independence for Scotland Party. Some commentators, notably Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, have insisted the SNP has no plan for holding IndyRef2 beyond repeatedly asking for a Section 30 Order. Recent events have suggested that claim may well be true, and perhaps it will take the advent of a second Party to bring matters to a head and begin a mature conversation about developing an alternative strategy.

And be in no doubt that we need some sort of alternative. Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly shown that she is far more capable than any other politician in the UK, and there is no doubt that her performance over the Covid19 disaster has won many new admirers, especially when she is judged against the clowns running Westminster. But next year will be a crunch point. We cannot go on like this because Brexit is only going to exacerbate the problems we already face, and there is no way the Tories are going to rein back their drive for absolute control of the whole UK.

So let’s hear more from the ISP, and let’s hear more from the SNP about a Plan B, because we need to act soon if we are to preserve democracy in Scotland.

The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Sword

Posted on June 16th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Language is important, and the media knows this, as do politicians. That is why comments on the Black Lives Matter protests included such words as "Thuggery" and "violence", while the actual violent scenes from London at the weekend were described as "scuffles", and the people who protested in Glasgow were described as "activists" or "loyalists".

You may also have noticed that the few statements from Right Wing politicians are bland enough that they ensure no one group is specifically targeted by their words. There are, as Donald Trump said, very bad people on both sides. This is, of course, true, but any rational person looking at what is happening in the UK just now must surely recognise that, while a minority of BLM protesters may have resorted to drastic action by hurling an offensive statue into the water, the sole purpose of the self-confessed racists was to harm other people. It was not a minority who attacked the Police. Indeed, they attacked the Police because the people they really wanted to attack had the good sense not to turn up. Driven and motivated by hatred and anger, they simply directed their hatred at the nearest available target. The evidence has been widely shared on social media, yet the mainstream media still insists these were scuffles. And, as usual, the loudest howls of outrage were about one of the thugs urinating against a statue of PC Keith Palmer. Given that the thugs’ stated aim was to protect the statues, I doubt very much whether the man in question even considered where he was urinating, but he provided an excellent distraction for politicians and the media to focus on instead of condemning the violence.

We’ve also seen some comments which can only be described as showing how out of touch the commenters are. Lord Ashcroft, for example, went on Twitter to state that "We were once a tolerant country". Since he is English, one assumes the country he is talking about is England, although it is not inconceivable that, like so many, he equates England with the UK and thinks the UK is a country rather than a sovereign state comprising three countries and a province. Setting that aside, though, either he is attempting to reinforce the official view of England/the UK, or he has himself fallen for the one-sided view of British history. Sadly, racism has always been a part of British culture. There have always been bigots who can only express themselves through anger and hatred. The difference now is that Right Wing politicians have led these people to believe that their views are acceptable. Instead of keeping a low profile, they have been enabled to such an extent that they have no qualms about taking part in violent protests. Even if some of them are arrested and convicted, they will wear such convictions with pride because they believe they are patriots. That’s another word you’ll see used quite a bit because, as patriots, they distinguish themselves from vile nationalists who are, if the media is to be believed, the people who cause all the trouble. That claim is quite hard for them to justify now, so I expect most headline news programmes will either downplay or completely ignore the Right Wing thuggery.

The pen, so the saying goes, is mightier than the sword. When it comes to shaping public opinion, the pen has now been replaced by the keyboard, but the principle remains true. Words are important, and it has long been official policy in the UK to keep the population ignorant of facts which do not fit their narrative. In place of knowledge, they are fed slogans and a skewed history of past glories. Can we really be surprised when some of them resort to violence when they have been raised on a diet of hate?

Sadly, we can expect to hear and read a lot more carefully chosen words. It is a feature of most Governments who have a compliant media. Watch out for it, and call it out when you come across it.

D in the Park

Posted on June 14th, 2020

By Dan Iron

Disclaimer: The writer of this article is not a medical doctor and has no medical experience. Nothing in this article should be taken as personal medical advice. It is a call to the Scottish government for action. Professional medical advice should always be sought, especially for people on medication and even more so for people on blood-thinning medication.

I watched a lecture about Covid-19 given by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, at Gresham College in April. It was a very good and comprehensive lecture, about one hour and twenty minutes long, but with one significant omission. There was a lot of detail about general public health issues - washing hands, social distancing, vaccines, possible drugs etc., but there was nothing about what measures individuals could take to improve their own health and thereby improve their chances of avoiding serious disease or death with Covid-19.

At the present moment we don't actually know for certain what personal health measures people can take. There will be so much data arising from the Covid-19 pandemic that it will keep scientists busy for years, if not decades. It seems that people who have better outcomes generally are younger, are not overweight and whose blood pressure and blood sugar are within normal limits.

In addition, there have been several studies announced recently which suggest that levels of vitamin D in blood serum are related to avoidance of serious disease or death from Covid-19. With levels above 75 nmol/l (nanomoles per litre) outcomes are greatly improved. It must be stressed that these studies have largely been produced as pre-prints and have not yet been peer reviewed. It must also be stressed that these studies show a relation between vitamin D levels and outcomes, not cause and effect.

So let's take this information and put it together with what we already know about vitamin D. We know that vitamin D insufficiency is linked to worse outcomes with respiratory diseases, colorectal cancer and bone health. We also know that there are many Scots who have low levels of vitamin D. Edinburgh GP Dr Helga Rhein (, now retired, has been reporting on this for years. However, nothing ever seems to get done about it. Every so often, a newspaper will have a feature on the importance of vitamin D. And then nothing happens. This is something the Scottish Government should be dealing with. The government recommends supplementing with 400 IU per day (International Units, 400 IU = 10 μg (microgrammes), 1,000 IU = 25 μg). To put this in context, I am watching two regular video updates on Covid-19 by front-line professionals. One is taking 2,000 IU per day and the other is taking 2,500 IU per day. Personally I'm taking 3,000 IU per day. But it's the serum level of D (in the form of 25(OH)D) that is the important measure. You have to take a blood test to find this level.

So what is the optimal level of serum vitamin D? To investigate this we can look at two peoples in East Africa still living an ancestral lifestyle - the Maasai and Hadzabe. Their mean levels of vitamin D have been measured to be 119 nmol/l and 109 nmol/l respectively. Does it need to be this high? Probably not. Most of the benefits kick in at a level of 75 nmol/l. My personal strategy is to reach 100 nmol/l by the end of the summer and take a supplement during the winter months. This will ensure that my vitamin D level will be above 75 nmol/l throughout the year. Vitamin D levels always drop in the winter as you cannot get D from sunshine in Scotland between October and March. Vitamin D is stored in fat cells and we all have a tendency to put on weight in the winter months, thereby reducing the amount of vitamin D circulating in the blood. By keeping a high level during the year, we can possibly avoid a second spike of Covid-19 this coming winter. There might also be a benefit in avoiding influenza this coming winter as there is normally an outbreak during the winter months.

We can get vitamin D from food, supplements and sunshine. It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food. We can get some from oily fish, eggs, liver and so on. The best ways of getting vitamin D are taking supplements and from the action of ultraviolet (UV) B rays on exposed skin. There are possible risks here. Vitamin D makes it easier to assimilate calcium from food. This can lead to problems such as kidney stones. Personally, along with vitamin D I take some vitamin K2 which helps calcium get into the bones, where it belongs. (K vitamins have an effect on blood coagulation so please read the disclaimer at the top of the page.) You also have to make sure your diet contains enough magnesium to balance the calcium (which is a good excuse to eat some dark chocolate). There is also a risk of skin cancer from too much UV light. You have to be sure not to burn your skin. I use the Dminder app (available on iPhone and Android) to let me know what the safe exposure time is.

It is important not to look at the vitamin D issue in isolation. It is important we look at our overall fitness too.

There is also one very important factor which has arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics, in England and Wales BAME people are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. We do not yet have sufficient data from Scotland, but results from the USA show a similar pattern to England and Wales. There are bound to be socio-economic factors at play here but we cannot ignore the fact that people with darker skin take longer in the sun to get vitamin D compared to people with lighter skin. Research in the USA has shown that BAME people have lower serum levels of vitamin D.

The Scottish government should have a plan for this summer for people to get fitter and top up our levels of vitamin D so that we are in better shape to withstand the possible second spike of Covid-19 in the winter. I'd suggest we aim for a serum level of 100 nmol/l by the end of September and take a supplement of 1,000 IU per day in the winter. We need to get everybody tested. This might turn out to be just as important as the Covid-19 antigen or antibody tests. So let's have a fitness programme in our public parks (with social-distancing) led by BAME Scots who can stay in the sun for longer to increase their vitamin D level. Let's call these sessions "D in the Park". We can make sure that "a' the bairns o' Adam" can find D. We can make sure that Black Lives Matter in a tangible, constructive way.

On A Pedestal

Posted on June 11th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston has had a profound effect all across the UK and even further afield. After years of prevarication by the Authorities, the local people took matters into their own hands, and their action has now triggered discussions and even some actions in other places where statues are being removed.

Of course, some people object. Tories always prefer symbols of power over the lives of ordinary people, while others see such destruction as erasing history.

But do we really learn history from statues? I would argue that we do not. Statues are erected to commemorate people or events, and because they are expensive to put up, they are generally funded by the wealthy. As a consequence, they tend to represent people those wealthy and powerful individuals respect. They look up to people who did what they perceive as great things, and then the rest of the population is required to literally look up to those symbols of power.

As for history, we learn this from books and other written records. I generally discount television interpretations of history since most programmes are intended to portray the vision of the past which the UK Establishment wishes us to see. There are exceptions, of course, but TV does not really provide a proper platform for an in-depth discussion of historical events, so many programmes are superficial in what they tell us.

As for the statues themselves, they are interesting as historical artefacts, but they do not teach us anything except that people with wealth and power respect other people with wealth and power, and they wish the rest of the population to be reminded of their perceived greatness.

So toppling a statue does not erase history. Instead, it provides an opportunity to create a new interpretation of our past.

Personally, I’d prefer to see such statues removed to museums where they can be exhibited as part of a wider display providing the full context of their meaning. But sometimes dramatic action is required to trigger a response from wider society, so I shed no tears over the toppling of the Colston statue.

However, we should not take the current trend as signs of a major victory. The Establishment may accede to demands for controversial statues to be removed, but we already know they are putting forward arguments about who decides what is controversial. Winston Churchill, for example, is a divisive figure, but it is unlikely his statues will be taken down.

More importantly, statues may be a symbol of how the UK Establishment perceives the world, but taking them down will not alter that perception in their own minds. Removing some obviously inappropriate statues is certainly a victory and a step on the long road towards equality, but it’s a small victory in the overall scheme of things, and we should not ignore the fact that institutional racism is still very much a part of British culture.

But let’s end on a positive note. The removal of some statues has at least opened the discussion on the UK’s past. There’s a long way to go yet, but it is good that people are openly talking about it. Perhaps there will come a day when more people will recognise that the UK’s past glories were often founded on the misery of others.

Keep Right On

Posted on May 25th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

In previous posts on this site, I have had occasion to refer readers to the list compiled by Umberto Eco of the traits of a fascist government. You can check this list at:

Of the 14 points listed, I reckon the current UK Government meets 11. Others may come to a different answer, but comparing the UK against the list makes for alarming reading.

Of course, the UK has always been a very Right Wing state. After all, you don’t build a world-spanning empire by being nice and cuddly. Many of the things done in the name of Empire were quite horrific, yet many UK citizens – sorry, subjects – still don’t know about them.

Given those traditions, it’s not really a surprise that the likes of Nigel Farage, aided by the media, were able to drag UK politics ever further towards extremism. Whether you call the current Government fascist probably depends on how you interpret the meaning of that word, but I must admit that, while they certainly tick a lot of boxes on Eco’s list, the truth is that they are actually not very good at being fascists.

The Dominic Cummings scandal has exposed just how bumbling and incompetent this Government is. Yes, they remain cruel, heartless and corrupt, but they simply don’t seem to have grasped how Right Wing extremist Governments behave. Being British, they are perhaps hampered by the need to retain a veneer of democracy, for there have been plenty of extreme measures put through quietly, but bungling incompetence remains the overarching theme. This has become so obvious thanks to Boris Johnson’s refusal (at time of writing) to sack Dominic cummings for his flagrant breaches of the Lock Down rules, that even the Daily Mail is questioning their competence. When that happens, surely the writing is on the wall?

But, while I agree wholeheartedly that Cummings should be dismissed, it’s maybe worth thinking a bit about the consequences, so I thought I’d engage in a bit of crystal ball gazing.

For starters, even if Cummings does go, either through being dismissed or resigning, that won’t be the end of him. He’ll soon be back, either even more deeply behind the scenes, or being brought back in a few months as an alleged reformed character. (See also Priti Patel & Liam Fox).

Secondly, if Boris Johnson does sack him, that may offer the Bungler in Chief a slight reprieve, but he and his clownish Ministers are so hapless that some other scandal will soon come to light. Sooner or later, Johnson will probably be forced out.

And what happens then? It’s very doubtful there would be a General Election. Even if there was, the voters of England would no doubt rally behind the next Tory extremist who stepped up to the plate. More likely, though, is that we will have another Tory Party leadership contest. Will it be Michael Gove, or will it be Michael Gove? One thing we can be fairly sure of under his leadership is that we will see the UK veering even more to the Right.

And let’s not forget that the Brexit clock continues to tick.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see Boris Johnson step down or be pushed out, but he is merely the latest symptom in the UK disease. Even if, for the sake of argument, there was to be a General Election and Labour won, things would not change all that much. On the face of it, there may be cosmetic changes, and it must be said that Keir Starmer would almost certainly perform better and more decisively than Boris Johnson, but let’s face it – that’s a pretty low bar we’re setting. Starmer is part of the system. While he would be an improvement in many respects, the fundamental problems with the UK would not be swept away with him as Prime Minister. The fact is that the UK is, and has been for a long time, a failing state, wrapped up in dreams of past glories which were anything but glorious when you scratch beneath the surface. It is obsessed with its own sense of exceptionalism, and it is one of the most unequal states in the world.

The Cummings debacle has opened the eyes of many people to some of the systemic problems. Perhaps it will also open the eyes of more Scots to the solution which was first made available in 2014 which, sadly, we did not take because too many were persuaded by the lies they were told. There have been many more lies since then. Surely people can see that? As soon as the current crisis has passed, the SNP really need to grasp the thistle and let us have some positive steps towards becoming a normal country.

Universal Basic Ideology

Posted on May 19th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It is encouraging to see that the SNP and Scottish Greens are both now seriously advocating the possibility of introducing a Universal Basic Income in a post-independence Scotland. Whether the SNP are doing this because they genuinely realise it would make handling such things as the current crisis easier, or whether they are talking about it as a ploy to gain support for independence doesn’t really matter. The fact that they are talking about it is a major step towards a fairer society.

One thing you can be sure of is that UBI will not be introduced in the UK. This is because it is fundamentally at odds with Tory ideology. They need millions of low paid workers to be reliant on employment. This allows employers to exploit people, using the fear of unemployment as a tool to ensure compliance. UBI would place more power in the hands of workers as it would remove that fear of unemployment. Anyone who was not happy at their work could leave in the knowledge that they would still receive some income, albeit not enough to maintain a lavish lifestyle. However, a modest income would allow many people to bridge a short period of unemployment far more easily than the current system of applying for Universal Credit, which is itself a tool used by the UK Government to encourage a reliance on taking any job, no matter how low-paid or unsuitable it might be.

UBI has been shown to work in places where it has been introduced. Mental wellbeing and health outcomes are improved, and the impact on the economy is positive. But that won’t stop the Tories objecting to it. Above all, UBI shifts the balance of power away from employers towards employees. In Tory eyes, that is simply not acceptable.

What the current pandemic has shown, however, is that UBI would have mitigated many of the problems people are experiencing, so becoming a normal country and establishing a Universal Basic Income must surely soon become a priority.

Confused? You Will Be!

Posted on May 11th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s amazing how easily confused some people are. Tories have been at pains to point out that having different lock down measures in Scotland will confuse simple souls like Prince Charles who won’t know whether he’s allowed to visit his second home or not. It certainly seems to confuse many journalists who are at pains to tell us just how confusing it is. None of them seem to realise that other nations seem perfectly capable of following different rules. Portugal adopted a different approach to Spain; Sweden adopted a different approach to Norway. Whether these different approaches have resulted in different outcomes is not really relevant to the point. The main thing is that the citizens of these countries understand that they are required to follow the laws and regulations which apply in their country of residence.

Of course, we are often told that Scots are uniquely incapable of doing what other countries find perfectly normal. Or perhaps it is the people of England the Tories are concerned about, for a great many of our southern neighbours don’t seem to understand what social distancing means. The last thing we want to do is confuse them further by issuing confusing statements on the Lock Down rules. That, it seems, is Boris Johnson’s role. His meandering and rather vague statement on Sunday strongly hints that, whatever he says about controlling the virus, England is going to force people back to work sooner rather than later. It is noticeable that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all said they will not be following these relaxed rules. This is, apparently, confusing, although changing the slogan from "Stay Home" to "Stay Alert" is, it seems, not confusing at all.

The other remarkable thing is that the same Tories who last week demanded that Scotland remain in step with England in order to ensure that all four parts of the UK followed the same path to coming out of Lock Down, are now saying that they always recognised different regional approaches were appropriate. So far, I’ve not seen any journalist calling them out on this U-turn, but perhaps the media don’t find that sort of thing confusing at all.

The mixed messages coming out of the Westminster Government are, quite frankly, appalling. While comparing statistics between different countries is fraught with difficulties given the various ways such statistics are compiled, there is little doubt that the UK has seen one of the worst death tolls in the world. Whichever way you spin that, it’s an absolute disgrace. There should be no confusion over that.

Caring Conservatism?

Posted on May 1st, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There are lots of things you can criticise both the Scottish and UK Governments for in their handling of the Corona Virus crisis. Whether through lack of information, poor scientific advice or simply misjudgement, many mistakes have been made. It’s easy to criticise, but hindsight certainly helps us see the errors that have been made.

One thing, however, was not an error. The UK Government made a deliberate decision to downgrade Covid-19 so that it was not classed as a High Consequence Infectious disease. By removing it from this classification, they were able to advise health staff that the highest standard of Personal Protective Equipment was not required. It is now claimed that the reason they did this was because they knew they did not have sufficient supplies of PPE to protect NHS and Social Care staff. It was, therefore, a deliberate decision made to cover up a Government blunder, and was made in the knowledge that it would result in deaths because Covid-19 most certainly should be classified as an HCID. If nothing else does, this single decision should tell everyone all they need to know about the UK Government’s total disregard for the safety of its citizens. (Sorry, that should be subjects, since people eligible for a UK passport don’t qualify for the exalted status of citizens; they are mere subjects of a more elevated personage).

The Tories retain a lot of support in England, along with a hard core of voters in Scotland who prize their precious Union above all else. That seemingly includes hearing about thousands of unnecessary deaths due to failures in Government policy.

But perhaps we can hope that some people who have voted Tory out of habit without realising just how extremist their elected representatives have become, might be thinking twice about their decision. If there are any such people, then it is incumbent on the rest of us to encourage them to change their minds. Giving them abuse and trying to make them feel guilty for the deaths that have resulted from the Tories’ reign is not likely to help them support a change of Government. Those of us who use social media to seek out alternative sources of information and opinion can sometimes forget just how pervasive the mainstream media influence can be. People who rely on mainstream TV and print media often hear no dissenting voices, so their opinions are shaped the way the Tories require.

If you did vote Tory, then please don’t feel guilty. Instead, you should feel angry. You were lied to. It may have taken a bit longer for you to realise that than it took others to see through the lies, but if you have seen them now, then please let that anger grow. And next time you get a chance at the ballot box, make sure you don’t vote Tory again. They are still lying to you, and they still don’t care about you in the slightest.

Confusing Business

Posted on April 23rd, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Yesterday, news leaked out that a great many back-bench Tory MPs were agitating for an end to the lock down because it was harming business.

Now, it should come as no surprise that Tories prefer to put making money ahead of saving lives, but there’s another odd thing about this pro-business opinion. You see, it seems highly likely that these same MPs are the ones who want to bash on with Brexit despite the current Covid19 crisis. They must surely realise that Brexit is going to do even more damage to the UK economy. After all, their own Government’s analysis, such as it was, confirms this. If it comes hard on the heels of the Covid19-driven recession, it is going to be even more devastating.

In summary, it seems the Tories wan business saved from Covid19, but don’t care about the impact on business of Brexit.

Am I the only one confused by this?

The Price Of Staying

Posted on April 15th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

In my social media comments, I’ve been quite critical of the Scottish Government’s response to the Corona Virus. It seems likely they had the same warnings as the UK Government, yet they were content to go along with the UK strategy of doing nothing much until it was too late. Yes, the Scottish Government began making announcements on mass gatherings, but it was still much later than it should have been.

Hindsight is easy, of course, and who knows whether any of us would have done any differently in the same circumstances, but the Scottish Government does seem to be following a very similar policy to the UK approach, albeit with some small adjustments.

There is no doubt NHS Scotland was better prepared and equipped than its English counterpart, and we should be grateful for that. It’s also very true that the briefings given by Nicola Sturgeon are gaining much more favourable responses than those carried out by the Tories at Westminster. However, bearing in mind the shower of incompetents who currently govern the UK, being more capable than them isn’t really much of an accolade.

As for my social media remarks, I put out a Tweet the other day saying I hoped the Scottish Government would have the guts to adopt a different approach if the Tories decided to end the lock down sooner rather than later. This was very much an emotional comment, since I have key workers in my immediate family who are seeing the effects of the virus at first hand. Quite frankly, it’s scaring me. However, as usual with Scottish Twitter, I received some very thoughtful responses amidst those mostly agreeing with me, and this made me think a little more deeply.

The big problem with the Scottish Government adopting a different approach, perhaps authorising Police Scotland to close the Border with England except to essential traffic, and maintaining a lock down while England relaxes theirs, is the financial impact. The truth is that Westminster controls our purse strings. The financial aid packages, insufficient as they are, come from Westminster’s magic money tree. In a hypothetical situation where Scotland continued the lock down but England did not, you can bet every penny you own that Westminster would immediately stop the aid packages, thus forcing people back to work in Scotland whatever the Scottish Government wanted to do.

I’m not even going to get into the claims about PPE being reserved for England rather than being pooled and shared with the rest of the UK. That sort of thing is normal for the UK, but what that, and the financial aid situation demonstrate is that Scotland really needs to become a normal, Self-governing country. If we had control of our own finances, the Scottish Government could continue to fund financial aid packages. If we had control of our own borders, we could prevent virus-refugees coming up to their second homes and placing additional strain on our NHS. If we had control of our own supply base, we wouldn’t need to sit helplessly by and watch as England takes it all for themselves. If we had full control of our own decisions, we could be doing far more testing for the virus. All the experts seem to agree that this is the most efficient measure for containing the spread.

Instead of all that, we are tied to copying whatever Westminster decides to do. I’m glad Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland will make its own decisions. It’s about time we heard that. But now that she’s said what I initially wanted to hear her say, I’m worrying about how Scotland can afford to go its own way.

Usually, it is Unionists who tell us we wouldn’t be able to afford things if we were a normal country, but the reality is that it is being shackled to Westminster that hampers our finances.

When this is all over, I hope the SNP will at last make the case for independence. We’ve been waiting a long time to hear it, and the current shambles, plus the impact of being controlled by Westminster, surely presents us with a golden opportunity to highlight the very real dangers of being governed by another country. I’m not saying the Scottish Government would have done things differently, but the fundamental point is that, if they had behaved in the way the Tories in Westminster have done, we would be able to vote them out of office. If the media and polls are to be believed, England will probably vote Tory no matter how many people die as a result of their disastrous policies. It is a great shame for the decent people of England that so many of their countryfolk continue to vote Tory, but there is not a great deal we can do about that except perhaps to provide an example of how things should be done by establishing a new, progressive nation where people are more important than money, and where those in power are held to account for breaching their own rules. Imagining this possibility is one of the few things keeping my spirits up at the moment. Let’s hope the day comes soon.

A Better Society?

Posted on April 6th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The lock down has created a couple of interesting social reactions, one within the disabled community, and another in wider society.

As a blind man, I do my best to keep up with the sentiments expressed within the disabled community, and it’s been interesting to note that many disabled people have been pointing out that all the things they were told were simply not possible have suddenly become available now that able-bodied people are faced with restrictions on their mobility. Home working is now a major thing, as is remote learning. People are stuck in the house and cannot visit pubs and restaurants, and many disabled people are saying, "Welcome to our world. Maybe when this is over, you’ll be a bit more sympathetic to our requests for reasonable adjustments."

In wider society, many people are pointing out that it is right wing ideology which has left the various National Health Services struggling to cope with the pandemic. In England, in particular, brutal cuts over several years are causing major problems now. We’ve also seen a recognition that so-called low-skilled workers such as delivery drivers and supermarket staff are actually the people who keep the countries of the UK going, and that many of these people are the same foreign immigrants who have been so reviled by the Right Wing extremists. Naturally, the hope is that this will be recognised once the lock down has been lifted, thus creating a more equal society.

I know this is going to sound very pessimistic, but I’m afraid all these hopes are probably doomed to remain unrealised.

The disabled community will at least have precedents to point to when asking for reasonable adjustments in future, and some people will no doubt have more empathy now that they have experienced the problems for themselves, but I very much fear that far too many organisations will revert to their old ways as soon as they can.

In wider society, history has some lessons for those who think society will change. A century ago, those who had served in the armed forces during World War 1 were promised a land fit for heroes when they returned to civilian life. Instead, they came home to mass unemployment and very little, if any, support from the UK Government. This was, of course, in the tradition of such Government responses. Soldiers who were wounded during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars were left to beg on the streets once they were of no further use to the state. A similar thing may well have happened after World War 2 had the General Election not kept the Tories out of power and paved the way for the Welfare State.

Predictions are dangerous things, but I’m prepared to say that, if the Tories remain in power, nothing will change after the pandemic. We already know Brexit is still going ahead despite calls for the transition period to be extended. Sweeping new powers have been introduced, and you can bet your last penny on the Tories watching developments in Hungary with keen interest. Of course, this being the UK, they won’t overtly proclaim a dictatorship, but we’ve already seen creeping increases in authoritarian laws, and I’m afraid I expect that to continue. They have no incentive to call another General Election any time soon, so I fully expect them to resume their policies of cutting public expenditure, no doubt blaming the vast cost of countering the pandemic as an excuse to reintroduce Austerity on an even grander scale than before. Foreign nationals will continue to be deported, Local Authorities will have their budgets slashed even further, and you can wave goodbye to the NHS in England, probably with the justification that the problems it experienced in coping with the pandemic are due to systemic failures rather than underfunding, and privatisation is the only way to go.

I hope I’m wrong making these pessimistic forecasts, but history, and the way the Tories operate don’t fill me with any feelings of hope for a better society emerging from the pandemic. What we need to remember is that those who currently hold the power, wealth and influence in the UK have a vested interest in keeping things the way they like. They may trot out slogans about all being in this together, but the reality is very different, and I’m afraid I don’t see that changing.

Of course, an independent Scotland could choose a different path, but how likely is that to actually come about? We’re going to hear "Now is not the time" over and over again because you can always find excuses not to do things, especially in politics. And, unless Nicola Sturgeon breaks away from her enthrallment to following Westminster processes, IndyRef2 is looking pretty unlikely.

Everyday Reality

Posted on March 30th, 2020

By Dave Mac

Can we fixate on a different gruesome statistic (for a moment of silence), instead of the usual daily diet of COVID death counts in the press? The tally of little babies under 5 bombed and starved to death in Yemen, which met with near total indifference from the global community over the last 5 years, now stands at 85000. That's not to suggest that unspeakable horror can be measured in numbers.

Now I don't know much about this nasty little civil war, I'm just wondering how much empathy we could expect from any of the surviving mothers for our current crisis? What empathy too from the other millions of human beings who, through our routine indifference, are condemned to a life without hope in other war zones, and in overcrowded, impoverished, undernourished, unpoliced and insanitary conditions all across the world? How lucky are we. This is the awful everyday reality for uncounted numbers of souls on earth, while our leaders control and monopolize the power and resources that could make a difference, but lack any clear mandate from us to act.

Putting thoughts of 'empathy' aside (there would be more than we deserve), is it possible for the world's left-behinds to actually comprehend the particular global media shit storm that's blighting us on a daily basis right now? For them, near daily exposure to death up-close and personal, is a routine part of normal life. So what is this thing that we are compulsively obsessing over, and why are we so insensitive to their plight? I don't know for sure why I feel such a strong need to post this. Maybe my close-call accident makes it easier for me to relate to this question, maybe it’s just that the double standard is so shockingly stark. I can't speak for the bereaved of course, but let me try anyway to imagine their perspective on this...

"As a sub-species, first-world-humanity, is exhibiting all the classic symptoms of a (possibly short term) psychosis during this crisis, but its underlying mental condition has always been one of a deep set and persistent mass insanity. They instinctively choose the delusion of "self" and "other'' and use it to blinker themselves against the sight of distant suffering. By this trick of auto deception, they can get on with their cosy lives, freed from the burden of all-consuming guilt. They pretend that the accident of birth that placed them amongst the "haves", with all their social stability and unbridled opportunity, somehow entitles them to pull up the drawbridge and to exclude the "have nots", blaming our misfortunes on assumed flaws like indolence and corruption, or anything that works for them. True we are plagued with disadvantages, but what they know about indolence, they certainly wrote themselves. They prefer to perpetuate the historical injustices that still shower them with wealth and privileges, rather than working to redress the unjust inequality of opportunities that we constantly suffer from. They pretend that today's mass migrations are somehow a different phenomenon from the urbanization that has attended their own industrialization since the day it started, just because today's journeys cross some arbitrary lines that they recently drew on a map. The funny thing is that they simply don't see that a better place for everyone, offers the ultimate best possible future for them too. They think in zero-sum games, and whatever little obstacle life places in front of them they exaggerate out of all proportion, and project the blame for it on us. The racial inferiority argument is currently out of fashion, but it has never gone entirely away. In polite circles it is usually relegated to "the lie that dares not speak its name", and we remain the universal bogeyman, filling a role needed for their cohesion as a distinct elite group. We are still the 'them' that defines their 'us'. But in reality we all share something more primal than our differences. We too seek, and fully deserve, a chance at happiness for ourselves and families".

My earnest hope is that a positive take-away from today's collective corona threat, might be to raise the blindfold a little and cause more people to adopt a more realistic assessment of how the dice of life are actually loaded. This might help to encourage a more credible and coordinated effort to respond to ALL of the collective threats and suffering that the world faces in future, not just the one we are facing today.

And what if we don’t? Well, there is no such thing as 'distant suffering' in a global village, and this little crisis is just the opener. No way is it the last of it. When this one is behind us, let’s make sure our national leaders don't forget that we are all in this together, with just one planet, and realize that it will still need to be saved for everybody who lives on it.

The usual suspects are already lining up their pre-emptive counter threats - seeding and talking up fears for 'the economy', as if to insist that we are all in thrall to the market, rather than the market being there to serve our needs. This time round we can't afford to let them get away with that. Hitting the weakest and the poorest and the most vulnerable, both domestically and abroad, just to restore Wall Street to business-as-usual, would be like some horror 'B' movie rerun of the last decade. We mustn't sleepwalk into letting that become a political option. From this side of the event, I think we can all see clearly - from the pressing health imperative we now face - that the economy is just a side show (all except for Donald of course, but his unerring instinct to pick the wrong answer just confirms it). Let's not forget this insight when we are looking back at these events.

The real life-and-death issue here is getting our politicians across the world to attend to the correct agenda. We need them to put the planet to rights, instead of perpetuating the current insanity, and standing in the way of ever more desperate social, population and climate needs.

Spot The Difference

Posted on March 29th, 2020

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

You’d never know it from the media, but there are some significant differences between the ways the Scottish and UK Governments are tackling the Corona virus. I’ve been chatting to a lot of people over the past few days, and the feedback from people working in various sectors is that the Scottish Government is doing a good job in very difficult circumstances. Yes, there are some problems, but industry, retail and service sectors are doing their best to cope with the impact of the virus and the containment measures now in place. I am not at liberty to reveal some of the things I’ve been told, but it does seem that manufacturing is working hard to supply what the NHS needs, the NHS itself has prepared as well as it can by stopping non-essential procedures and reallocating staff, as well as setting aside wards for the specific treatment of Covid19 patients. Food supplies are not scarce, but the social distancing measures are causing problems with long queues at some shops. However, many neighbourhoods are working together to reduce the number of people actually visiting the shops. It’s tough for everyone, but Scotland does seem, so far, to be coping reasonably well.

So why aren’t we hearing about this? It’s easy to blame media bias, and it is certainly noticeable that many media outlets are focusing on negative stories whenever they can. For those who are trying to rouse the spirit of the Blitz, that’s hardly the right approach. Perhaps the Scottish Government should do more to announce the measures it is taking, but I suppose the media would ignore or misrepresent such announcements anyway. Yes, I’m feeling cynical about the media, but how else can you react when you start thinking Piers Morgan is doing a better job of holding the UK Government to account than most journalists? It’s quite a bizarre feeling to find myself agreeing with some of the things he’s said.

As for the UK Government, I fully endorse the comments about the sheer hypocrisy of their attitude. To stand on a doorstep clapping to show support for the NHS is all very well, and I know many NHS staff were grateful for this display, but it would probably mean a lot more to them if people stopped electing Tory Governments whose intent is to scrap the NHS and replace it with a US-style healthcare system which will benefit nobody except the healthcare companies and their shareholders.

The stories coming out of NHS England are quite horrific, and the debacle over ventilators is a scandal which should have seen the Government thrown out of office. The shortage was highlighted in an exercise three years ago, yet nothing was done, and offers from the EU to participate in a Europe-wide acquisition scheme were rebuffed, with the UK Government then coming up with some pathetic excuses to explain why they have not joined the scheme. The most plausible, yet at the same time the most reprehensible, is that we are no longer in the EU, so don’t want to undermine Brexit by joining the EU’s programme. That fits with what we know of Brexiteer thinking, but it does ignore the fact that these same people are happy to have their new blue passports produced in the EU. Then again, logic and rational thinking were never part of the Brexit philosophy.

Contracts for the supply of new ventilators go to Brexit-supporting Dyson, while companies who actually have expertise in this field claim they have been ignored.

The bungling and incompetence, not to mention the outright lies from the Prime Minister, have now led to a situation where people are genuinely questioning whether Boris Johnson does have the virus or not. The man is a habitual liar, so can we believe him when he says he is displaying mild symptoms? It is, quite frankly, a ludicrous position that such questions can be seriously entertained, but Boris Johnson lies so often, it is no wonder people simply do not trust a word he says.

One positive thing I have noticed in my conversations with friends is that one or two who voted NO in the 2014 IndyRef are now acknowledging just how well the Scottish Government is doing compared to the UK Government. When this is all over, and assuming there ever is another indyRef, perhaps this might just help bring them to Yes. It’s a small consolation, of course, for people are dying as a result of this virus. Who knows which of us will be next? Even if we all follow the advice, many of us are going to suffer, even if it is only mildly. For too many, it will be far more serious. It is at times like this that a Government displays its strengths and weaknesses. Once again, people in Scotland should be grateful our devolved Government, for all its faults, is performing better than their counterparts in Westminster. It is dreadfully sad that it may take a calamity like the Corona Virus to convince people that Scotland could do much better as a normal country, but if that is the outcome of this horrible period then perhaps our future generations will reap the benefits both in their everyday lives and when similar calamities strike. As I said, it’s a small crumb of comfort, but it is a hope we can cling to in these dark times.

Get The Finger Oot!

Posted on March 17th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Whether you think Corona Virus is just like the flu or a lot more serious, it must be said that the responses so far from the UK and Scottish Governments has been less than reassuring. In particular, a advice to stay away from pubs, clubs, restaurants and other public meeting places has effectively condemned many thousands of small businesses to potential bankruptcy. It is also incomprehensible that schools remain open while other public meetings are being advised against. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. Either you ban public meetings in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, or you don’t. The current situation is neither one thing nor the other.

Of course, whatever course of action is taken, it will seriously affect many people in an adverse way, but we must not forget that this virus has the capacity to kill our elderly or health-compromised friends and relatives. When put that way, taking precautions must be top of the list.

As for closing schools, that’s a sensible move provided some action is taken to help parents who cannot afford childcare but equally cannot afford to take time off work because the way the UK economy is structured, low wages and no bargaining power makes workers vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, many healthcare workers whose attendance at work is vital in the current crisis will need childcare provision to allow them to do their jobs. Some sort of emergency provision would need to be made to cover these circumstances, but surely that is not beyond the ability of the Scottish Government to organise? They have control over healthcare and education, and it would be nice to see them taking a more proactive role than simply parroting Boris Johnson’s vague and unhelpful suggestions. In particular, more proactive testing for the virus is essential. People need to be tested and isolated if necessary, yet neither the UK nor the Scottish Government seems keen on testing anyone except those who present themselves at hospital already displaying symptoms. This isn’t good enough.

Other Governments around the world are taking more decisive action, including such ideas as cancelling energy bills, guaranteeing loans or making cash payments to every vulnerable or self-employed person in the country. In the UK, where the Party of Business is in power, businesses have been thrown to the proverbial wolves with no support whatsoever. Self-employed people and those on low incomes are forced to continue working yet see their customer base being told not to use their services.

It is, of course, impossible to stop all human interaction without society collapsing. Elderly and disabled people still need social care, supermarkets and shops still need deliveries, and people still need to eat. We need to keep the basic structures of society operating as normally as possible, and where shut-downs are necessary, Government support is essential. So far, the responses of the UK and Scottish Governments has fallen well short of what the public should expect. Let’s hope that, by the time you read this, things have changed.

That Is All

Posted on March 10th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Let’s get one thing straight. Alex Salmond may or may not be guilty of the crimes he is charged with. Either way, he deserves a fair trial. But if he is found guilty, it will not affect the case for Scotland becoming a normal, self-governing country. The words or actions of any individual cannot undermine the case for a nation governing itself. Independence is normal.

That is all.

Economically Inactive?

Posted on February 28th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Home Secretary Priti Patel (don’t laugh at the back there!) has claimed that the millions of people she describes as being economically inactive can take up the jobs of the millions of foreigners who are not going to be available due to being deported / encouraged to leave / not allowed into the UK. Quite apart from the basic fact that there aren’t enough of the people she puts into this category, I have another problem with the term "Economically inactive". What does it mean? Who is actually included, and are they really economically inactive?

What Priti Patel seems to mean is that these are people who don’t work to earn a living, such as students, carers and pensioners. Now, in the privileged world of Patel and her fellow Tory Cabinet Ministers, perhaps students can afford to live off the allowance Mater and Pater provide, but a great many students outside of that privileged bubble have part time jobs to help pay their way through study or, at the very least, provide them with some weekend boozing money. So, if being economically inactive applies to people who don’t earn any income, then it certainly doesn’t apply to an awful lot of students.

As for carers, these people deserve praise rather than any implied criticism. If you are caring full time for an elderly or disabled relative, you know only too well that this is a 24/7 job. It’s also unpaid. Carers don’t do this for anything other than love and dedication, and there is no way they would have free time to take over a job picking fruit or working in a hospital or school.

Ah, but what about pensioners? Those idle loafers, having spent their lives working to earn the worst pension in the OECD, are now living a life of luxury, contributing nothing to society. Why can’t they go out to the fields and pick fruit and vegetables? Why can’t they take jobs in care homes where they can take care of … other pensioners? Make them earn their paltry pension seems to be the message, and that’s pretty much in keeping with current Tory philosophy.

But are these students, carers and pensioners really economically inactive? It depends on what the term means, but my reaction on hearing it was that very few people are economically inactive. Even if you are a pensioner, you need food. You probably also pay bills. I know my bank statements show I spend rather a lot of money on such trivial things as food, heating and Council Tax. And each time I spend money, am I not contributing to the UK’s GDP? Whatever you may think of GDP as a proper way to measure an economy, every £ spent adds to it and fuels the demand for goods or services. A pensioner may not spend as much as other people because they are on low income, but that’s the fault of the appallingly low level of the State Pension as anything else. Students can surely be excused even if they don’t have a job and live on fresh air for three or four years, since they will – or would in a normal economy – find well paid jobs and thereby benefit society both through their chosen career and by paying higher taxes. Unless, as happens to far too many in Tory UK, they end up in a dead-end job earning the minimum wage because the economy has been turned into a low tax, low wage dystopia.

As for making carers take up low-paid employment, who will then look after the person they were caring for? That creates another job which would need to be filled.

Priti Patel’s idea, as you would expect, is farcical. It’s an attempt to paper over the societal cracks Brexit is creating. It will no doubt appeal to Tory hardliners who won’t need to rely on a State Pension and who view students, the poor, the disabled and the unemployed as being of little value. Unless the UK Government is going to set up convoys of buses to transport thousands of the so-called "economically inactive" from inner cities out to the countryside to work in the fields, geography alone will condemn this farcical idea to the dustbin of history.

And if anyone ever accuses me of being economically inactive, I’ll invite them to pay all my bills for a few months to see just how inactive I am.

Travel Disruption

Posted on February 24th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I had a very interesting conversation with a young German woman the other day. She’s lived and worked in Scotland for years but travels back to visit family quite frequently. The last time she went to Germany was on the Monday when Storm Ciara was causing a lot of travel disruption. She managed to cross the Queensferry crossing and get to Edinburgh airport, all the time fearing her flight would be cancelled. However, the flight left on schedule and she reached Frankfurt to discover that every train had been cancelled due to weather disruption.

How did the Germans handle this disaster? Well, because so many people were stranded, they opened the trains which were stuck in stations and turned them into temporary hostels, allowing passengers to sleep on board. My friend was fortunate enough not to need this facility as she was able to catch one of the first trains which braved the disruption, and she reached her destination with no problems. But what a great idea the Germans put in place. Perhaps there’s a lesson for Scotrail there. Except, of course, most Scotrail trains continued to run during the storm. There were a fair number of cancellations, but we did not face a complete shut down of the rail network.

What we did face was a barrage of media reports of how dreadfully Scotland had coped because the Queensferry Crossing was closed for a couple of days. In contrast, the Germans seem to have accepted that extreme weather causes travel problems and, instead of attacking the Government, simply reported the problems as a public information service. It’s almost enough to make you think the media in Scotland has some sort of agenda. Can you imagine the screaming headlines if the entire rail network had shut down?

Another Step Down the Road

Posted on February 14th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’m no fan of Sajid Javid, but we must give him some credit for refusing to give in to the pressure being applied by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings which would have seen his entire staff sacked and replaced by people loyal to Cummings. It’s nice that Sajid Javid showed some principles, even if he only did so when confronted by a Government action which directly affected him personally. Still, at least he had the guts to resign rather than be turned into a lap dog.

Which leads us on to the succession of new Ministers in Johnson’s Cabinet. Were they chosen for their ability? Comments and videos posted on social media of some of their past performances suggest not, and we are left with the probability that they were chosen for their willingness to simply do as they are told.

It’s nice that the UK has escaped being governed by unelected, faceless EU bureaucrats and is now to be governed by a genuinely unelected bureaucrat in the shape of Dominic Cummings. This Cabinet reshuffle has taken the UK another step closer to becoming an authoritarian state.

And still, around half the population of Scotland think they are better off being governed by Westminster. I remain fearful that, by the time they wake up to what is happening, it will be too late to change things.

Building Bridges

Posted on February 10th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So Boris Johnson wants to build a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland? Coming from a man who couldn’t even build a bridge across the Thames, that’s quite an ambition. However, before we deride the idea, I must say that, in principle, I have no objections to such a bridge as I think it would benefit the economies of both Scotland and Ireland, particularly if it links an independent Scotland with a unified Ireland, with both nations in the EU. Of course, that is the last thing Boris Johnson wants, but it would be nice if the UK paid for the construction of a bridge which was then taken over by Scotland and Ireland.

It’s also very nice to see an avowed Unionist proposing a new bridge since we know from the Queensferry Crossing saga that bridges are anathema to Unionists. Unless, that is, their hatred is only reserved for bridges built under the auspices of the SNP. No, that can’t be right, for it would show them up as being pathetically tribal in their outlook, so I expect to hear howls of outrage from all the Holyrood Unionist Parties and from the media in Scotland.

The main objection I would have to seeing such a project undertaken is that, if it is done under the control of the UK Government, it will turn into another white elephant like HS2, Crossrail and any number of projects which run hugely over budget and take far longer than originally planned. They could, of course, allow the Scottish Government to take over supervision which might give the project a chance of being done properly, but I doubt they’ll even consider that option.

On the whole, though, I’m in favour of a bridge – as long as they make sure it isn’t constantly being accidentally rammed by nuclear submarines.


Posted on January 31st, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

As some had predicted and many had feared, Nicola Sturgeon’s long-awaited statement was extremely underwhelming. It leaves us no further forward and has done little more than tell the Tories that the SNP have no real plans for what to do next except keep asking politely for permission to hold IndyRef2.

Many of the posts on this site have mentioned the hope that Nicola Sturgeon really did have some cunning plan, but it seems the doubters were right all along. I fear Ms Sturgeon has made a serious mistake in following this softly, softly, long-term approach to gaining independence. Not because being canny is necessarily a bad thing, but because it takes no account of the fact that she is dealing with Westminster Tories who, having seen what Donald Trump has got away with, will use every dirty trick in the book to keep Scotland captive within their precious Union. If anyone should know that the Tories cannot be trusted, it is Nicola Sturgeon, yet she seems determined to play by the rules while her opponents abandoned any adherence to rules long ago.

So, like many other Yessers, I’m very disappointed. However, that doesn’t mean I’m chucking my toys out of the pram and refusing to have anything to do with the SNP any more. I’d certainly be very interested if another explicitly pro-Indy Party were to be formed as hinted at by Wings Over Scotland some time ago, but the reality is that, even though the SNP have repeatedly let us down when it comes to IndyRef2, they are currently the only political Party who can achieve the goal. If we fail to support them, you can bet that the Unionist media will crow about a loss of support, and the Tories will bang on even more about there being no support for independence. We cannot afford to let that happen. If it does, our chances are gone for good.

And let’s not forget that, for all their faults, the SNP are protecting Scots from many of the evils of Westminster policies. How long they will be able to do that remains to be seen, but they are running Scotland pretty well all things considered.

Sadly, I must now admit what I’ve been saying privately for some time. I honestly don’t think Scotland will become a normal, self-governing country in my lifetime. We had our chance in 2014 and we blew it. The Tories cannot afford to let us go, and the SNP’s timid approach is only going to allow Westminster to do more and more harm, both to us and the whole of the UK.

But, while that may sound defeatist, it doesn’t mean I’m giving up. You don’t stop fighting for a just cause just because you think you are losing. Scotland should be an independent country. Self-governance is normal, and we must continue to push the case even if the ultimate target now seems a long way off.

Don't Be Bullied

Posted on January 29th, 2020

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I was chatting to my son about politics the other day. He’s pro-Indy but, like many people, doesn’t take a close interest in daily politics. He does, though, like to have answers for those who oppose Scotland becoming a normal country, and he told me he had a friend whose boss had told all employees that he would shut down the business if Scotland ever became a normal country, thus putting them all out of work. The lad in question has therefore already decided he will vote No in any referendum. My son wanted to know how you can argue against this point of view.

My initial reaction was that the lad intends to vote selfishly, putting his personal situation ahead of what is best for the country, but that’s a fairly common attitude, and we can’t really blame people for acting in what they see as their own best interests.

The stated intentions of his boss are even less laudable, but they are typical of those who have done well out of a system and therefore don’t want anything to change, although how closing down his own business isn’t a massive change is, I’m afraid, beyond me. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. But it’s the sort of bullying response we have come to expect from those who support the Union. You have to ask whether he would really go ahead with such a threat considering it would affect his own livelihood, but there’s no accounting for the hatred some people have for the very notion of Scotland becoming a normal country.

Of course, the views of both employer and employee are personal opinions and highly subjective, but I’ve now had some time to think about the wider factors which may help answer the question of how we can respond to people who feel intimidated into voting against independence.

Of course, it’s not pleasant when you lose your job, so fearing for your job safety is understandable. What a lot of people don’t yet appreciate is that Brexit will put nearly everyone’s job more at risk as the economy falls into recession. The first effects are already being seen as factories lay off workers, and it will only get worse. After December 2020, once the transition period has ended, problems are really going to bite hard. So voting against Scotland’s independence may result in some uncertainty, but voting against it will definitely result in economic recession for the UK.

And let’s say you are unfortunate enough to lose your job. What then? Can you expect the State to look after you? Quite frankly, no. The introduction of Universal Credit shows that it is aimed at making life extremely difficult for vulnerable people. It would be nice to think that the Government of an independent Scotland would implement a more caring and responsive welfare system which would provide protection for anyone who is unfortunate enough to lose their job, but we certainly can’t rely on the UK Government to do anything of the sort. We’ve recently seen Tory Ministers praising food banks as examples of caring society, but they have no intentions of changing their economic policies to reduce poverty levels and so do away with the need for food banks. This is all part of the ideology which keeps many people in fear of losing their jobs, thus giving more and more power to employers. And with the Torie’s stated intentions of reducing workers’ rights even further once we are out of the EU, that situation isn’t going to improve.

The other issue is that, in a normal country, you would like to think that people would be able to find alternative employment relatively easily. Yet that is not the case in the UK, particularly in Scotland where successive Westminster Governments have done their best to close down most heavy industries, and to make life difficult for businesses operating in many sectors. There is a reason many ambitious Scots move to London in search of employment; it’s because successive Westminster Governments have succeeded in making London the centre of most economic activity to the detriment of the other regions and nations of the UK.

The overall UK economy, though, is struggling, as witnessed by continual reports of retail outlets closing down. For the 7th largest economy in the world, this is not a good look, and it suggests that something is seriously wrong with the management of the economy.

So who is to blame for that? Well, the picture is often muddied due to the Scottish Government’s habit of claiming credit for any good news on Scotland’s economy while blaming Westminster for any failings. This is, sadly, standard political practice, and you cannot really blame the Scottish Government. It would be worse if they sat quietly and made no noise about economic success stories. However, the reality is that they actually have little ability to affect the economy. They can tinker at the edges, but all the fundamental controls remain with Westminster.

If you look at things like decisions on interest rates and quantitative easing, these are made by the Bank of England in order to comply with UK Government policy. The UK Government also retains control over around 80% of Welfare Benefits, along with most taxes. Rates of Capital Gains Tax, Value Added Tax, Inheritance Tax, Duties on alcohol and tobacco, and Vehicle Licencing all remain under UK Government control.

In addition to all this, the Barnett formula ensures that Scotland does not retain control over all the taxes it does raise. The whole point of independence is that the Scottish Government could set rates of tax on all areas and retain full control over the money raised. In addition, a programme of national infrastructure investment would allow our economy to expand, creating more jobs. Let’s face it, if England goes ahead with its intention to create trade barriers with the EU, Scotland is going to need some way of sending exports around the world. Our airports, particularly Prestwick, will need to handle more traffic, and our ports on both east and west coasts will need some serious upgrading. Power transmission connectors between Scotland and Ireland, Norway and even Denmark will help take advantage of Scotland’s huge potential in renewable energy. We could even create new towns in the Highlands on areas which are currently given over to grouse moors. At the very least, our forestry industry could expand into some of those areas. Those are only a few ideas, and there will be plenty of people who can come up with other suggestions. What these have in common is creating work which in turn puts money in the hands of the public which creates demand for other services. This is how Trickle Down should work, except that it trickles down from Government investment instead of from the wealthy who have had forty years to prove that their version of Trickle Down Economics works. They have instead shown that all they want to do is keep a larger slice of the pie for themselves.

So there are plenty of reasons to vote Yes even if your boss is threatening you with unemployment. I know it’s a brave step to make, but unless your boss comes into the polling booth with you, they’re never going to know how you voted anyway. If you take a wee step back and look at the wider picture, you are either voting for continuing deterioration in the economy or the chance of making things better for everyone.

Carry On Regardless

Posted on January 16th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’ve seen a few people commenting that Boris Johnson cannot continue to deny the right of the Scottish people, and this certainly seems to be the Scottish Government’s official line, but I fear such hopes may well be misplaced. If Boris Johnson continues to deride Scotland, to walk out of the House of Commons when SNP MPs rise to speak, and to ignore the Scottish Government, what can anyone do to prevent it? I’m afraid I can think of nothing. If every SNP MP were to walk out of the HoC, that would be a gesture, but it would accomplish nothing. The best thing it would do is save those individuals a lot of daily hassle, but we should not forget that they are there to represent their constituents, many of whom will be supporters of the Union, and all their constituents still require some sort of voice.

But, getting back to Johnson’s continuing refusal, he may become more unpopular, and support for Scotland becoming a normal country may increase in light of the ongoing snubs and insults, but is there anything to stop him? The Tories are already planning to implement constituency boundary changes which will ensure that, under their beloved First Past The Post voting system, they will remain in power for the foreseeable future. Even if Johnson is replaced, the next Tory PM will be just as extreme, and can continue to refuse a Section 30 Order.

I very much get the feeling that Nicola Sturgeon has decided on a strategy of trying every legal and constitutional move in the full knowledge that she will be thwarted at every turn. This will allow her to play the victim when it comes to appealing to the international community, but will it accomplish anything other than to obtain sympathy?

Calls for civil disobedience may well rise, but we should face the fact that most Scots are law-abiding individuals who may not wish to break the law. Of course, the Poll Tax revolt was a notable exception to this, so perhaps someone will come up with some sort of peaceful civil action that people can take. So far, I’ve seen no real proposals. Whether the Scottish Government would support any such disobedience must, though, remain doubtful since they seem determined to play by the rules. In addition, the comments by Lisa Nandy of the Labour Party show that English politicians have been paying attention to events in Catalonia and are quite prepared to advocate violent suppression of any signs of disloyalty to the Union. While she will no doubt try to explain that her remarks were taken out of context, this is a typical ploy as used by Donald Trump and many UK politicians. They say something outrageous in order to bring the discussion into the mainstream so that it can be normalised. You can be sure that such tactics have been discussed within the UK Government, although whether they would actually go that far is yet to be tested. I’d venture to suggest that the majority of scots would not be prepared to test it.

As for the Yes community resorting to acts of violence, I’d like to think only a few extremists would ever consider that course of action. Whatever targets are aimed at, innocent people would undoubtedly be harmed, and that sort of response does nobody any good.

So, sadly, I must conclude that, on the basis of what we know at present, Boris Johnson can carry on denying Scotland its democracy for as long as he likes, and there’s not a lot we can do about it except continue to support the SNP in order to demonstrate that support for becoming a normal country has not gone away. We need to do this whatever happens because you can be absolutely sure that any sign of a fall in support will be pounced upon by Unionist politicians and the media to declare that nobody wants IndyRef2.

Glass, Bottle; Bottle, Glass

Posted on January 14th, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’m a pessimist by nature. For me, it’s not a case of my glass being half full or half empty, it’s more like the glass has been knocked to the floor, has smashed and emptied its contents all over me, leaving me drookit. So, while I’ve always tried to keep my blog posts balanced and fair, and to try to see both sides of any argument, I have privately been expressing the opinion that I don’t think Scotland will become a normal country in my lifetime.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but while I can understand why Nicola Sturgeon wants to follow a properly constitutional path to gaining independence, I fear she has made a huge mistake by playing to Westminster’s rules. After all, the UK has never been one of the world’s good guys, and it must be blatantly obvious to everyone that Westminster never plays fair.

Many people have expressed the view that the SNP must have some grand strategy they are keeping up their sleeves, but I am increasingly of the opinion that those who have been claiming there is no master plan have got it right. Today’s events have done nothing to alter my opinion on that. Nicola Sturgeon said that Boris Johnson’s refusal to grant a section 30 Order had been anticipated, yet she has no riposte ready. Why do we need to wait until later in the month to hear what her next step will be?

I have enormous respect for Nicola Sturgeon as a politician. She makes the Westminster mob look like the buffoons they are when it comes to debates and media interviews, but she really needs to galvanise things now, and the signs of that happening are sadly lacking.

We cannot afford to wait too long because people adapt to whatever circumstances are around them. Just look at the effect that the 120,000 unnecessary deaths caused by Tory policies have had on most people you meet. They may shake their heads and tut, but for the vast majority, these things do not touch them closely enough to have any real impact. People are now accustomed to low paid jobs and zero hour contracts. They are accustomed to food banks. The Tories have normalised all these things and are well on the way to normalising hatred of foreigners. Once Brexit begins to bite, people may complain about shortages of medicine and food, higher prices and long queues when travelling abroad, but they will adapt to it and, moreover, will probably fall for the blame being placed on foreigners.

So if we wait too long for IndyRef2, our chances of winning are not as great as you might hope. The same propaganda efforts will be expounded by the BBC and the newspapers, more promises will be made, as will threats, and people will look around and think, "Maybe this is not so bad".

I fear we missed our chance in 2014, but that doesn’t mean I will be giving up the cause. Being independent is normal, and Scotland needs to become a normal country. It’s just that, at the moment, I can’t see how we are going to get there.

So, while my glass may be less than half full, I really want Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Government to show some bottle.

Welcome, Monica Lennon

Posted on January 8th, 2020

By Brotyboy

In an article in The Daily Record here Monica Lennon has suggested that Scottish Labour should become a 'separate political party in our own right'. Fair enough, but why? Lesley Riddoch in the excellent podcast here has exposed the position as being rooted in unionism rather than socialism.

So what could the newly Independent Labour Party in Scotland do to establish a position rooted in its traditional values while looking ahead as Ian Murray has proposed?

The Scottish Independent Labour Party could set out its stall to eradicate poverty. After all, we've had trickle down, the Laffer curve and all sorts of neoliberal economic theories and sayings which live on only in the fantasy land which exists between Patrick Minford's ears, so why not go straight for the main driver of ill-health, inequality, crime, drug taking and unhappiness?

A societal change could be brought about by the introduction of a Universal Basic Income/Citizens' Income of £200 a week for every man, woman and child. The benefits are many and appeal to people from across the political spectrum. It encourages entrepreneurship and drives up wages. How would this be raised from taxation?

Land Value Tax. The least unproductive tax. The tax which has no effect on supply. The tax which can't be moved offshore.

It is explained in more detail here by the excellent Graeme McCormick.

Furthermore, the Scottish Independent Labour Party could go the whole hog and campaign for a Green New Deal. They could take the work carried out by Common Weal in their Common Home Plan here which shows how to decarbonise Scotland over the next 25 years. It would create 100,000 jobs, pay for itself and reduce heating bills for almost everyone.

I would support any party proposing such moves in a devolved Scotland. If that is a Scottish Independent Labour Party so be it. After all, Independence is not an end in itself, but a means to an end and the end should be to change people's lives for the better.

In any case it would lead to an Independent Scotland so the net result is the same.

The Crossroads

Posted on January 3rd, 2020

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It is easy for Unionists to stick together. All they need to do is say No to a Section 30 Order and the cause of transforming Scotland into a normal country is stymied. Meanwhile, the Yes side continues to argue over the best way to achieve normality. Some demand no more delay, while others seem to be arguing that the long game must continue, with mention of reaching our goal by the end of the decade – by which we must presume 2030 is the target.

Such cautious talk is very worrying, because if Scotland isn’t going to vote for independence soon, it probably never will.

That’s not to say some of the Softly Softly talk has no value. It is certainly the case that shouting at people who voted No in 2014 will achieve nothing. We certainly need to use persuasion rather than angry accusations, but to extrapolate that tactic into saying we should take years rather than months is playing into the hands of Westminster. Delay and obfuscation is how the UK Government has always behaved when faced with a difficult problem. They promise things, then fail to deliver, and we’ve seen plenty of that over the past five years. If we continue to delay, people will adjust to the diminished circumstances brought about by Brexit and will again believe that there is no point in risking further change. People get used to pretty much anything, especially when their media is constantly telling them that things can never be better. Just look at how it was loudly proclaimed in 2014 that Scots would not vote for independence if it left them £10 per week worse off. So we voted No, and all of us are considerably more than £10 per week worse off than we were, but nobody does anything except grumble about the cost of living. Sterling has crashed by a far greater extent than that which was threatened if we had voted Yes, yet people just shrug and complain about how few Euros they get for their Pound. Situations which cannot be affected by individuals are accepted by those individuals because they know there is nothing they can do to alter them. So if we wait until we see just how bad Brexit is going to be, people will soon get used to the higher prices, the shortages of food and medicine and the increasing strain on public services as those evil foreigners are deported by Westminster. If we wait too long, the Tory grip on power will be too strong to break.

Whether it is within a few weeks, or within a few months, the SNP really need to start doing something to move the case forwards.

But what can we do if they don’t? This is the big concern. There is no viable alternative. Not voting in elections simply allows the Unionist alliance to gain more seats, and there really is nobody else to vote for. The Greens perhaps, although they generally don’t have sufficient candidates to warrant putting much support behind them.

The trouble is that the SNP know this all too well, and they have little incentive to alter the situation. I do hope that the voices who are suggesting the SNP want the current situation to continue for the sake of their own salaries and pensions are wrong. I hope the SNP will stop talking and start acting. Yes, we may well lose again because the full might of Westminster and the media will be brought into play to threaten and bribe the waverers, but doing nothing is not exactly going to improve things either. This year is a crossroads. Let’s hope the SNP chooses the right path.

An Open Letter to the People of England

Posted on December 30th, 2019

By Stan Donderite

Dear friends and neighbours in England. I am writing this letter to ask you to ignore some of the scurrilous rumours being propagated by vile separatists in North Britain. Some of these crazed nationalists would have you believe that Scotland is a wealthy nation with a host of natural resources, including most of Britain’s fresh water, most of Britain’s oil, plus such things as whisky, gin, beef, salmon, an abundance of food crops, a huge percentage of Europe’s renewable energy sources in wind and wave power, medical research at top universities, a thriving digital games industry, and many other such resources.

I beg you not to pay any attention to these unfounded and, quite frankly, untruthful claims. Scotland is, as your media and politicians have told you for decades, subsidised by England and is a drain on your hard-earned taxation. Nobody in Scotland pays tax, yet they benefit from your generosity with such things as free prescriptions and education. This is grossly unfair, and you should petition your MP to ask them to do everything in their power to allow the Scots to become independent as soon as possible. They will, as everyone south of the Border knows, soon regret their foolish decision. After all, their education and healthcare systems are already failing. Please do not pay any attention to such trivial things as official statistics which show Scotland’s NHS as being the best performing in the UK, nor to official OECD statistics which show Scotland has the best educated workforce in Europe. These figures have clearly been manufactured by the vile SNP simply in order to persuade their own populace that things could be better if they broke away from control by Westminster. Instead, you should continue to believe such eminent publications as the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Telegraph, whose benign owners only have your best interests at heart. Scotland is an economic basket case despite more than three centuries of nurturing, loving care and control from Westminster. The ungrateful Scots have no conception of just how much worse things would be for them if your Government had not retained control of all the major levers of their economy.

So please pay no attention to any claims that Scotland could be a successful independent nation. The idea is ludicrous. Every other medium-sized independent nation in the world would love to be controlled by Westminster, as evidenced by the way the EU are being obstructive over the UK leaving. It is not just that they fear a rising UK becoming a dominant pawn of the USA, they cannot abide the thought of not having the Brits around to tell them what they are doing wrong, how awful their food is, and how laughable their languages are. Most of them even speak English with a funny accent, just like the Jocks. And please do refer to the north British as jocks. It is viewed as an offensive term with racist connotations, so fits very well with your Tory Government’s current attitudes towards pretty much everyone who is not English. I encourage you to use this term whenever you are speaking about or to anyone who claims to be Scottish. Please do not think about those scots who wish to remain in your glorious UK. They will not be offended no matter what you say or do to them, as long as you wave a Union flag at them. You are therefore free to emulate the fine examples set in the House of Commons by insulting Scotland and the Scots at every opportunity. After all, these are the scrounging layabouts who are sitting around claiming Benefits from your taxes.

So please do your best to ensure that Scotland becomes an independent nation as soon as possible. Let them stay in the EU with its unelected lawmakers. They will soon discover their error. After all, the vile SNP do not even have any representation in the wholly democratic House of Lords, so how can they have any idea of how real democracy works?

It is your civic duty to unburden yourselves of North Britain. Until you do, the vile separatists will continue to oppose your fabulous Brexit, and may even attempt to point out when Boris Johnson has lied to you. This would be unforgiveable, but it is just the sort of thing they would do in defiance of the BBC’s far more balanced reporting of the Tory Government’s words and actions. Please always believe the BBC and ignore the comments of the CyberNats on social media, no matter how many facts they may cite.

You also need to ignore the comments from politicians about a One Nation UK. Scotland is a very different country, with very different social attitudes. For example, they disdain Morris Dancing, and they hardly ever play cricket. They really hate the English, just as your media tells you. Please do not listen to anyone who points out the large number of English-born SNP members living in Scotland. These are entirely fictional beings, created by online social media bots. If you want evidence of this, just watch the BBC reporting of the so-called All Under One Banner marches for independence. You will not see a single English flag on display during these marches. In fact, you won’t see the marches at all on the BBC, which just goes to prove my point.

Finally, you should point out to your MP (who is probably a Tory), that England will be able to rid itself of the very occasional Labour Government your voters elect from time to time. This horrendous fate can be completely removed by getting rid of the Scottish MPs. Without them, the Tories will have eternal majorities, which is what your voting record over the past century or so seems to demonstrate as your preference.

It’s a win-win. You will be able to bask in the glory of a Tory-run nation free from interference by the EU, and you’ll be able to laugh at the Jocks who will be condemned to becoming yet another failing European state like Ireland, Estonia, Finland and the rest. Again, though, pay no attention to actual economic data about these countries. Such statistics are meaningless when set against the chance of having blue passports and chlorinated chicken imported from the USA. You will be rid of Scotland and free to pay for your NHS while you live a life of luxury sitting around applying for jobs because your workplace shut down.

That is all. Have a very Brexity New Year.



Hitting The Ground Running

Posted on December 17th, 2019

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Boris Johnson’s Tory Government have only been in power a few days, and already we’ve had insights into how they are going to operate. Over the past few days, we’ve heard:

  • People will need to get used to an Insurance-based healthcare system.
  • Police will be given powers to seize and destroy the property of Roma families who do not park on approved sites.
  • An investigation is to be launched into the roles of pro-Corbyn websites – allegedly on the grounds that they may have helped spread anti-Semitism.
  • Disabled people are not worth the minimum wage.
  • The Government are considering boycotting Radio 4 because of what they claim was anti-Johnson bias.
  • Commitments to maintain standards on Workers’ Rights and trading standards will be scrapped.

Where do you start with those sort of things? The one thing they all have in common is a strong authoritarian streak, which is what you should expect from a Government, and increasingly a society, which ticks so many boxes on Umberto Eco’s list of traits of a fascist regime. They are designed to demonise and marginalise vulnerable people, and to place even more people into situations of vulnerability. Coercion of media sites, whether mainstream or independent is also clearly high on the list of priorities. Sadly, I expect all of the above, and more, to become reality before too long.

Of course, some of the points listed were foreseen as probabilities before the General Election, and a lot of people who voted Tory are eventually going to discover they were lied to, but one other potential move was also predicted. That is the intention to repeal the Scotland Act and / or neuter or abolish the Scottish Parliament. It hasn’t reared its head yet, but you can be sure it is being considered. They didn’t acquire offices in Edinburgh and hire all those staff just to sit about doing nothing. Once the Withdrawal Bill is passed and the UK leaves the EU at the end of January, the power grab will begin.

Whatever plan Nicola Sturgeon has, she’s going to need to act quickly before she finds the rug pulled out from under her feet.

Friday 13th Right Enough

Posted on December 13th, 2019

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So after all the lies, the Tories have swept back into power thanks to an English electorate which seems oblivious to the harm the past nine years have done. Or perhaps they are very well aware but have been fooled into blaming the wrong people. Either way, the decision of English voters has once again condemned Scotland to Tory rule. And this is the very heart of the problem, except that it is now worse because today’s Tory Party bears more resemblance to the Brexit Party than to the Conservatives most of us grew up with. They are extremist hard-liners, and they are going to make life worse for everyone except the very rich.

If nothing else, the results from yesterday’s General election must surely tell everyone that Scotland and England are on very different paths. I really hope Nicola Sturgeon has a better plan than politely asking for a section 30 Order, because there is no way that will be approved. The Tories know Scottish votes don’t matter, so they have no incentive to agree to IndyRef2, especially as they will desperately need Scotland’s wealth once the harm of Brexit begins to really bite.

My main reaction, though, is one of desperate sadness. Even if Scotland does become a normal, self-governing country again, I am still going to feel sorry for the people of England. They may have brought this on themselves, but that doesn’t make the outcome any more palatable. But it does show that Scotland cannot save England from itself, and we need to look after ourselves now.

Only One Choice

Posted on December 9th, 2019

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland has created quite a stooshie with some recent posts, and it must be said that his timing could have been better. To be fair, though, a lot of people are very concerned that the SNP is in serious danger of being hijacked by a group of activists for whom independence is, at best, a secondary objective, and who see influencing the Party of power as a way to achieve their own aims. It should also be said that others, including this site and Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, have claimed that the SNP has no plan to achieve independence. Some have drawn the conclusion that this is because those at the top of the Party are quite happy having well paid jobs in positions where they can blame Westminster for any of their own failings.

The thing is, whether you subscribe to these views or not really should make no difference when it comes to voting on Thursday. In reality, the only possible chance we have of ever becoming a normal country is to vote SNP. There is no alternative. All we can do is give them yet another mandate and hope that, this time, they actually act on it and achieve something tangible. All other considerations must be put aside. Independence is not an end in itself; it is the goal which will allow us to achieve whatever ends we then wish to strive for. We can argue about healthcare, policing, gender reform, the environment and everything else, and we can vote for Parties which best represent our beliefs. But we can’t do any of that unless we become a normal country. Like it or not, the SNP is the only vehicle by which that can be achieved.

A Simple Choice

Posted on December 4th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Scottish voters face a very simple choice next week. Either you vote for a Unionist Party which wants to keep Scotland under Westminster rule no matter the consequences, or you vote SNP in the hope that they do actually have a plan which might allow us to escape. I’m not actually all that confident that they do have such a plan, nor that it will work. I fear we will be dragged out of the EU and people will quickly become accustomed to their altered and very much reduced circumstances. Around 50% of the Scottish electorate still aren’t convinced that becoming a normal country is the best option, and we can be sure the UK media will bombard us with propaganda telling us that taking the step towards normality is too risky. Post-Brexit UK will be painted as the best we can hope for.

But, however pessimistic I may feel about the ultimate outcome, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up the fight. We are on a knife-edge here, and whatever happens over the coming months, next Thursday is immensely important. We need to return as many SNP MPs as possible because any failure to increase their representation at Westminster will be seized upon by the Unionists to proclaim there is no support for Scottish normality. That could totally scupper our chances.

So, whatever the weather on the day, whatever problems you may have in your personal life, make sure you get out and vote. You can be sure that Tory supporters will vote because they always do. They know they need to turn out to retain their control, so we cannot miss this opportunity to send an essential message to Westminster and the media. As voters, it’s all we really can do. After that, it will be up to Nicola Sturgeon to get the next steps right. But, whether you disagree with her tactics or not, you cannot afford to waste this opportunity.

Get out and vote!

The Currency Question

Posted on November 20th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The question of whether Scotland should adopt its own currency once it becomes a normal country is likely to be one of the major topics of conversation if and when the IndyRef2 campaign begins. This is because, whatever proposal you put forward, there are arguments against it. My personal view is that we should adopt our own currency as soon as practicable, and I’m talking months, not years. Not only is this because it is what normal countries do, it’s because sterling is going to plummet even further once Scotland gains normality, and we really don’t want to be tied to a discredited currency.

However, there is one important factor in the argument which really must be highlighted to anyone who grumbles about either the risks of change/the risks of not changing (Delete as appropriate).

Take a look at some of our northern European neighbours.

Finland is in the EU and uses the Euro.

Sweden is in the EU but uses its own currency

Denmark is in the EU but uses its own currency pegged to the Euro

Norway is not in the EU and uses its own currency

So there’s just about every permutation covered by the Scandinavian countries, and each of them is doing better economically than Scotland, particularly if you are one of those people who still believe the GERS figures provide an accurate picture of Scotland’s finances. This suggests that, in fact, it is not so much the currency which matters as how the economy is run. And, after more than three centuries of running Scotland’s economy, the best Westminster can say is that we are an economic basket case.

What is important is having control over your own economic levers. That is why I believe our own currency should be one of those levers. It can be argued, of course, that many countries in the EU do not have their own currency, so I would not be totally averse to adopting the Euro if that was deemed appropriate. The big difference is that the EU is a more stable entity than the UK, so using the Euro would not be a bad outcome, but I believe having our own currency would be a better one, while acknowledging that it would still present the problems of how a new nation can build up reserves of international currencies. However, plenty other countries have managed it, so we should not regard it as being impossible for Scotland no matter how often we are told we are uniquely incapable of doing things other nations do without worrying.

We should not forget that, whether we choose to remain with sterling, create a new currency or adopt the Euro, some people will benefit, while others will lose out. You can be sure that the media in Scotland will seek out those who will lose from whichever choice the Scottish Government proposes, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is the power to build our economy which is most important. We need to create jobs so that fewer Scots leave and seek employment elsewhere; we need to create jobs to attract economic migrants; we need to create jobs to lift people out of poverty, which means the jobs must be well paid, not the low wage, minimal hour jobs Westminster advocates.

Part of our problem is that we look at the situation around us and think it is normal. Ask yourself why so many Scots leave. Why are there no jobs in Scotland? Is it because of our geography? Do the wide spaces of empty land make things logistically difficult? Anyone who has visited Switzerland and seen the geography of the mountainous areas there will know that is a poor excuse. Jobs can be created if the political will is there. Inward investment can be encouraged, companies can be forced to pay tax, and new industries can be created. This may sound idealistic, but Scots have invented many of the things we take for granted nowadays. This should not only be a matter of national pride, it should be a source of inspiration. Other countries manage perfectly well without being governed by their larger neighbour. Scotland has the potential to do better than most no matter which currency we use.

Lend Me Your Eyes

Posted on November 15th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Everyone has demands on their time and resources, and there are so many worthy causes, it can be difficult to decide which ones to support. Sadly, donating to food banks or sending money to charities is often as far as we can go. Even though many people would like to do more to help others who are less fortunate, it is not always possible.

However, there are a couple of ways you can make a difference to the lives of some disabled people without going anywhere. It’s all thanks to technology, and if you have a smartphone, you could make a small but important difference to the life of a visually impaired person.

The first thing I’d like to mention is an app called Be My Eyes. Available on Apple iOS and Android, this app is simple to use and free to download. All you need to do is sign up as a volunteer, then keep the app turned on whenever you are not engaged in important work.

The idea behind Be My Eyes is that a person with a visual impairment can use their version of the app to call the first available volunteer. As soon as they are connected, the volunteer can see through the caller’s phone camera and can then help them with whichever task is causing the caller problems.

As a blind person, I use Be My Eyes for all sorts of things, from locating something I’ve dropped, to reading labels, checking I’ve set my washing machine to the correct program, and getting directions about my surroundings when I’m out and about. Be My Eyes is such a fantastic tool, it’s probably the only app I would rate 10 out of 10, and it’s certainly the first app every VIP (Visually Impaired Person) should have on their phone or tablet.

So, if you would like to do a little bit of charity work but don’t have time to get too involved, please sign up with Be My Eyes. You can help people from the comfort of your own home. Most calls take only a few minutes, but I can promise you they are a tremendous help to VIPs, and helping someone will make you feel good about yourself, so please give it a try. Don’t be put off by the fact that there are far more volunteers than blind users. This apparent discrepancy means a caller can be connected no matter the time of day or night because Be My Eyes has a worldwide reach. Somewhere, a volunteer will be available to answer a call for help.

The second thing I’d like to mention is less life-changing, but important all the same. The advances in modern technology mean that even someone like me who is totally blind can engage in social media. This is thanks to the built-in screen readers which come with most smartphones. These allow VIPs to use a phone by touch, with audio feedback being provided, and interaction carried out via a series of swipes and taps on the screen. It can take a long time to become proficient in using a screen reader, but it is worth the effort to learn for anyone with a visual impairment.

However, these readers have limitations. Many disabled people, including VIPs, are active on Twitter, and we can read tweets and replies with little difficulty. What we cannot do, though, is see pictures which many people post, often with a cryptic comment, or sometimes no comment at all.

Technology continues to advance, and there are a couple of scanning apps which VIPs can use to try to interpret what is shown in a picture. They can usually handle text very well, although photos of newspaper columns is a problem since the scanner reads across the entire page instead of down each column. They also have face recognition and can often tell who is in a picture. What they cannot do, though, is say what that person is doing, beyond simple things like standing or sitting. These scans are far from perfect and I once had mine describe a photo of the audience at a Tory Party Conference as "A bunch of brightly coloured flowers".

The other issues with these apps are that the free Microsoft SeeingAI only works on Apple devices, so Android users are excluded. The Android equivalent, Envision, is quite expensive and can cost over £100, which puts it beyond the reach of many VIPs.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem which allows Twitter users to make Twitter a more inclusive platform for people who use screen readers. You see, you can add a description to any picture you add to a tweet. This description will seem to disappear as soon as you add it, so nobody will see it, but it is still there and screen readers will detect the extra text (usually known as Alt Text), allowing the VIP to hear what the picture shows.

This is a simple solution which is greatly appreciated by anyone who uses a screen reader, and all it takes is a few extra seconds to type out a description. It may seem a trivial thing, but it really does make a huge difference to the Twitter experience for visually impaired users. It is quite dispiriting to scroll your time line and constantly hear, "Image, image, image," with no idea what the pictures show.

To set image descriptions up, you go to your Twitter Settings, open Accessibility, and tick Enable Image Descriptions. Depending on what device you are using, the wording may vary, but you can obtain detailed instructions by searching Twitter Help for "Image Descriptions", and this gives specific advice for iOS, Android and PC. It really isn’t hard to tick the box.

Twitter are also rolling out a slightly revised version of their app so some users may find there is no setting since it has automatically been enabled. Twitter say they are working to have this setting automatic for all users, although there is no timescale for this.

But what do you do once it is enabled? It’s easy, although once again the precise method may vary depending on which device and Twitter version you use. Essentially, though, whenever you add a picture to a tweet, there should be an extra box or menu item which says something like, "Add image description" or "Add Alt Text". Click this and a new text box appears. Simply type in the description, then click "Apply". The text will vanish but, as previously mentioned, it is still there behind the scenes and screen readers will read it aloud.

It’s as easy as that. Some people, though, claim they don’t know how to describe pictures, or perhaps are unsure what to type. Quite frankly, anything is better than nothing. The best thing is to imagine you are describing the photo to someone over the phone. What does it show, and what are the important features?

As an example, you could describe, "A man sitting at a computer". That explains the essentials, although you could perhaps expand it to give other details which might provide more context. For example, is he old or young? Is he working in an office or at home? Is anything in the background important? Personally, I find the more information, the better, but I’ve seen one photo with a single word description of "Snow". That wasn’t hugely informative, but it did tell me the essential point of the picture.

As I said, this is not a major issue in the life of a VIP, but it is something which really helps in terms of inclusion. We do want to take part, and you can help us by taking a few extra seconds to type a description. I’ve had some people tell me they are too busy to spare the time, but I never heard any of them complain about the extra time it was taking to type a tweet when the character limit was increased from 140 to 280, and you’ve already spent a couple of seconds locating and adding the photo, so why not give a little bit of help by adding a description.

The other comment I’ve heard is that there aren’t that many blind people on Twitter, and I must admit I often feel like I’m the only one who ever complains about the lack of image descriptions. I can assure you I know of at least half a dozen of my followers who have a visual impairment, so any Retweets will be seen by them. And even if I was the only VIP on Twitter, I do feel I still have the right to be included in discussions.

So there you have it. There are a couple of ways you can make yourself feel good about helping people without much effort. I do hope you will consider helping to make the world a better place for the blind. Thank you.

A Lifetime's Lies

Posted on November 11th, 2019

by Gordon

Margaret Thatcher came to power when I was a young man, not long started on a career in a rather staid financial institution. I’d grown up during times of political turmoil, strikes, three day weeks, power cuts, petrol shortages and see-sawing Governments as Labour and the Tories swapped places several times.

I can’t say I was delighted at Thatcher’s election but, at the time, I was persuaded by many of my elder work colleagues that it was the best thing for the country we still called Britain.

One of the things that had plagued the society I grew up in was the number of strikes called by powerful Trade Unions. Everyone was fed up of it, and Thatcher played on this. I can recall watching the BBC News and seeing those vicious miners attacking the Police in unprovoked assaults. The BBC was trusted, you see, and I, like so many, believed what we were being told because there was no other source of information, and we had been brought up to believe in the BBC’s impartiality. I know it sounds stupid now, but that is how it was for most of us.

The other main focus of the Tory agenda was in finance. I can remember the amazement and, to be honest, sheer relief, when Thatcher abolished Exchange Control. Anyone who ever worked in what used to be called the Foreign Section of a bank or other financial organisation will recall with horror the form-filling and seemingly endless restrictions on what we could do with our own money when it came to dealing with other countries. Even going on holiday required forms and passport stamps to approve how much sterling you could take abroad. At a single stroke, Exchange Control was abolished, and a bright new, unregulated future beckoned.

I confess this move persuaded me that maybe the Tories were onto something, so when I heard them propound the theory of Trickle Down Economics, it seemed to make perfect sense. Job creation and wealth creation would flow down to everyone if wealthy people were encouraged to kick start the economy. The Tories declared their intention to adopt this model, and the media dutifully banged the drum.

The only defence I can offer for falling for this is that I was still in my early twenties and working in an organisation which , almost by definition, had a very conservative culture. However, it did not take long before I could see that the Tories’ deeds did not match their words as Scotland’s manufacturing industries were decimated. Working in the financial sector, I was cushioned from that sort of thing, but it was still possible to see the damage the Tories were doing to others.

Now, after forty years of Trickle Down economics, it is plain that the theory simply does not work in practice. The rich have become richer, and the UK is one of the most unequal in the entire world when it comes to income. The wealth has not trickled down, it has stuck at the top. Billionaires are not wealth creators; they are wealth hoarders. That’s how they became billionaires in the first place. Just like Austerity, Trickle Down was a lie.

But the lies have grown. Even Thatcher’s Tories were not as extreme as today’s crop. It’s said that people are more likely to vote Conservative as they grow older, but the opposite is true for me. That’s not so much down to my political views changing as to the shift towards the extreme Right undertaken by the Tories. My views used to be considered slightly right of centre, but now I’m out on the Left without having moved very much at all. The big problem is that the Tories have dragged many people with them in their lurch to the right. With the help of UKIP, the Brexit Party and the media, the Tories have unleashed the xenophobia which has always been a part of British culture, but many people who might have considered voting Tory in the past are still clinging to them out of habit. These people need to wake up and look around. The Tories have never been the Party of the common people, but now they are so far to the Right that they bear almost no resemblance even to Thatcher’s bunch of zealots. They lie as a matter of course, and they pander to the very worst emotions in a populace which has been raised on a diet of jingoism. I sincerely hope that more people will realise what lies behind the crumbling façade and will cast their votes to help Scotland become a normal country so that we can escape a political ideology which is still promoting the idea that Trickle Down is a viable way to operate. All it has done is make life harder for most workers. Zero Hour contracts, minimal wages, eroding of Workers’ Rights, all play into the hand of unscrupulous employers. Tax dodging by the wealthy is largely ignored by the media, while the poor, the unemployed and the disabled are vilified as scroungers. Now we see EU citizens being deported while people with plummy accents tell us they are cleverer than us, so they should be in charge.

Is that really the sort of society you want to live in? There’s no such place as Utopia, and an independent Scotland certainly won’t become a paradise, but surely we can aim to be a better nation than the one the UK aspires to be.

The Conservative experiment has been an utter failure, yet now they are forging even further to the Right instead of acknowledging that moving back nearer the Centre would make more sense. If a Party were to stand in this General Election using a Conservative manifesto from the 1950s or 1960s, they would be derided as part of what used to be called the Loony Left. That’s how far the Tories have taken us, and all the signs are that the voters in England will reward them for it by electing them to power once again.

I have no idea how Nicola Sturgeon intends to free Scotland from the shackles of Westminster, but I know our only chance is to vote SNP in the hope that she and her colleagues have some sort of plan. When I was at school, a bright future did seem to be somewhere ahead, but my life experiences have shown me that much of what we were told was a lie intended to keep us content so we would not upset the social order. It wasn’t all bad, of course. Conditions did improve for many, the NHS has helped us live longer, and technology has altered our lives considerably. But the immediate future now looks bleak, and I hope today’s voters will not fall for the lies that many in my generation did.

Another General Election?

Posted on October 25th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The SNP seem to be having some debate as to whether a UK General Election is a good thing or not. Nicola Sturgeon says she wants one, but Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the House of Commons, seems less keen on the idea of having an election in December.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what good it would do anyway. Yes, the SNP seem to be on track to win most Scottish seats, but they’ve done that before and nothing came of it. I’m not sure why they would expect it to be any different this time. Indeed, the polls suggest that a most likely outcome is a Tory victory, perhaps in coalition with the Brexit Party. If that happens, Brexit will go ahead no matter what the SNP say. Of course, that could be part of their strategy, to have Scotland dragged out of the EU against the wishes of the Scottish electorate, but if their only plan is to politely ask for a section 30 Order, then it seems doomed to fail. There is no way Boris Johnson or any of the other extremists in the Tory Party will allow Scotland to have another referendum if the Tories hold a majority in Westminster. There is some speculation that there may be a way of circumventing this via the Courts, but that is likely to be a long, drawn-out process, and a lot of damage will have been done by the time we are able to become a normal country.

If, on the other hand, the SNP are hoping that Labour will win enough seats to allow them to form a Government with SNP support, that seems to be an even more risky strategy. If Labour need the SNP in order to form a Government, why on earth would they allow another IndyRef in the knowledge that Yes is far more likely to win than it was last time? If Scotland became a normal country and the SNP MPs were withdrawn from Westminster, Labour would lose any slim majority provided by the SNP support. I can’t see them going for that.

Above all, Boris Johnson wants another General Election. That should warn everyone that it may not be the best strategy. If Johnson wants something, then you should think very carefully before letting him have his way.

The Wrong Question

Posted on October 17th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The SNP have voted to increase the Old Age Pension to match the OECD average of £355 per week if and when Scotland becomes a normal country. On current figures, this would produce an increase of £225 on the current UK weekly Pension.

Naturally, the first response from the anti-independence lobby is to ask how Scotland could possibly afford that level of Pension since we are, obviously, far too wee and too poor. As always, though, this is the wrong question.

Just think about the figures for a moment. An increase of £225 per week still only brings you up to the level of the OECD average. That’s a sad indictment of the way the UK treats its pensioners, and what we really should be asking is why the fifth richest state in the world still claims it cannot afford to pay its pensioners a weekly sum which is so miserly that it sits at the bottom of the OECD table.

The truth is that, for a nation which controls its own money supply, spending is not so much a matter of affordability as a question of priorities. The UK can always find a magic money tree to bribe the DUP or squander on cross-Channel ferries which don’t exist. It will gladly shell out billions to fund renewing Trident or HS2, but it won’t spend on pensions or the NHS despite any vague promises Boris Johnson might have made recently.

If Scotland becomes a normal country and introduces its own currency, then reinstates taxation levels on the North Sea Oil companies to match what they pay to Norway, then funding pensions is unlikely to be a major concern. Plenty of other countries who don’t have the natural resources available to Scotland currently pay significantly higher pensions, and nobody accuses them of being too wee and too poor to do so.

Furthermore, if Scotland remains in or re-joins the EU, and if we then develop our ports and airports to facilitate trade, our economy will soon begin to grow at a faster pace than it has ever done when controlled by Westminster. Admittedly, there may well be issues with the English border if England does not agree a trade deal with the EU, but trade will not stop. Look at how Ireland has transformed its export profile so that it is far less reliant on the UK than it was when it first became independent. As part of the EU, Scotland will have far more trading opportunities than it will if it remains part of post-Brexit UK.

There are plenty of other opportunities too. Instead of giving our surplus electricity to England, we could sell it to them. We could use funds raised from North Sea Oil revenues to develop our renewable energy sector which has the potential to be the most productive in the EU. We could develop our ship-building industry once again and, above all, we could use the talent and inventiveness which has been a hallmark of Scotland for centuries to invent and develop other new technologies.

So let’s not ask how we can afford to do things that other countries manage perfectly well. Instead, we should be asking how we can afford not to do them.

Are You Worried Yet?

Posted on October 16th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many people in the Yes community believe the SNP have left it too late to call IndyRef2. Others are worried that there is no plan other than to repeatedly ask politely for permission to hold another referendum, while others support the notion of holding off until the polls show a majority support because we cannot afford to lose a second time.

Whatever your view, the one thing I find astonishing is that only 50% of Scots are in favour of Scotland becoming a normal country. Surely more than that can see the direction the UK is heading in? If they truly believe that is the best Scotland can hope for, what will change their minds?

The UK Government is doing what Donald Trump has done in the USA. Step by step, testing the waters, they are gradually taking the UK towards a truly fascist future.

The latest plan is to disenfranchise millions of voters by insisting that they produce photo ID at polling stations. This is aimed at the poorest people in society who are the ones least likely to have photo ID, and are the least likely to vote Tory. This move is clearly intended to ensure that the Tories remain in power.

Even worse, if rumours are to be believed, the Home Office is apparently seeking sites where they can set up internment camps.

Internment camps? Just who are they planning to intern? If that thought doesn’t worry you, it really ought to. And even if it is only a rumour and turns out not to be true, it is equally worrying that it is a believable rumour. That shows just how extreme the UK Government is.

Surely we can do better than this?

When Did It All Go Wrong?

Posted on October 7th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

When did it all go wrong? The MP Expenses scandal may have first revealed to the public just how corrupt and venal our politicians are, but even then few of us probably realised just how self-serving they are.

Of course, human nature being what it is, all of us will generally do what is best for ourselves in any given situation, but UK MPs seem to be taking this to a whole new level.

Boris Johnson’s lawyers have told the Court of session that the Prime Minister will obey the law, yet Johnson himself continues to insist that the UK will be leaving the EU on 31st October. It doesn’t take a genius to see that these two statements are mutually incompatible unless he has some devious trick up his sleeve whereby he can send a request to the EU to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline and then somehow ensure that request is denied. Not that anyone could blame the EU for refusing an extension and kicking the UK out. They must be fed up with our petulant posturing by now. But they are probably professional enough to recognise that the situation in the UK might change if the Tories are forced into a General Election and then lose.

That, of course, is a whole new ball game. Judging by recent polls and by-election results, England will continue to vote Tory no matter what, although it must be said voters in England really don’t have much choice. All the Parties are pro-Brexit except the Greens who don’t put up candidates in every constituency, and the Lib Dems who really can’t be trusted on anything.

Indeed, Labour and the Lib Dems seem to be going out of their way to ensure Brexit goes ahead. Labour insist that any coalition Government, even a temporary one, must be led by Jeremy Corbyn because he is the official leader of the Opposition. You can see their point, but Corbyn is a divisive figure, and the Lib Dems absolutely refuse to work with him. Each Party has declared they would rather see a No Deal Brexit than work in alliance on the other’s terms. How is that for putting petty Party politics above what is good for the state? It beggars belief that, faced with a Prime Minister who is less competent than Theresa May, Corbyn and Swinson cannot put aside their differences and work together for the short time that is required to prevent a disaster.

Sadly, although the bookmakers are slashing the odds on the UK leaving the EU at the end of October, I still think this is the most likely scenario. I do hope I’m wrong. There are some possible escape routes, including the Court of session ruling in favour of the nobile officium case or perhaps the Queen taking a stand and sacking Johnson. While that latter scenario would be interesting to watch as the media would no doubt be trapped not knowing who to back, I don’t think it would alter things very much. The Tories have plenty of extremists who would willingly step into the role of PM.

It’s horrible living in interesting times, isn’t it?

No Personality

Posted on October 1st, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The lack of anything definitive happening regarding IndyRef2 is creating some tensions within the Yes movement. We’ve seen some people advocating waiting until polls reach a certain level, or delaying for several years in the hope that Westminster won’t abolish the Scottish Parliament before we have a chance to become a normal country.

We’ve also seen some comments that Nicola Sturgeon is angling for a job at the UN because she knows she’s going to be ousted from her current position. This has again raised speculation that she actually has no interest in calling IndyRef2 because she’s happy with holding power in Scotland and having Westminster to blame for anything that goes wrong.

Now, whether this speculation is right or wrong is not really the issue here. Nicola Sturgeon has shown herself to be a very capable politician, although it must be said she has been aided in this by the rank incompetence of the majority of her opponents. But if she fails to lead Scotland to independence, or if her position is undermined by any revelations about the extent of her involvement in the events leading to the upcoming Alex Salmond trial, that does not undermine the cause of independence. In practical terms, a change of leadership may well hamper the progress towards normality, but we do need to get away from focusing on personalities. Many people in 2014 voted No because they disliked Alex Salmond. Some people might vote Yes in IndyRef2 because they like Nicola Sturgeon. Both of those attitudes are short-sighted. Scotland should become independent because that is what normal countries do. The people who might be elected to govern the country may be strong personalities, but all that should mean is that they should be able to inspire the voters and gain their confidence through strong messages and competent government. It should not in any way affect people’s decision as to whether Scotland should be a normal country.

At the moment, I back the SNP because, realistically, there is no other political party which will be able to deliver independence. That doesn’t mean I will blindly follow them once we become a normal country, nor that I will refrain from criticising them at any time if I think they have got things wrong.

So forget all the talk about personalities. If you elevate someone to the status of an idol, you are likely to be disappointed in them at some stage. It really doesn’t matter who leads Scotland to independence as long as someone does.

After that, we will, after a hiatus of three centuries, be able to elect and dispose of politicians based on their performance in Government.

Personalities may be important when it comes to domestic politics, but should have no bearing on the fundamental question of whether a country should be able to govern itself.

Chinese Curse

Posted on September 24th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s hard to strike that happy medium. Sometimes we say there is nothing happening in politics, then everything comes along at once. We’ve had the Queen being displeased at being caught out attempting to influence a democratic constitutional vote, we’ve heard revelations about Donald Trump abusing power in his attempts to influence the actions of the Ukrainian Government, we’ve had Boris Johnson caught blatantly lying on camera about there being no cameras, we’ve seen the EU once again knock back Johnson’s ludicrous proposals for replacing the Irish backstop, and now we’ve had the sensational Supreme Court ruling that Boris Johnson acted illegally in proroguing Parliament.

Oh yes, and Labour still can’t make up their minds whether they are for or against Brexit, although that’s not really news.

Other stories such as the BBC’s defence of Laura Kuenssberg, Greta Thunberg’s powerful speech to the UN on climate change, and Thomas Cook going out of business, all help add to the feeling that we are suffering under that old Chinese curse of living in Interesting Times.

Making any sort of comment on what will happen next is probably a waste of time since events are moving so quickly. I am, though, delighted that my conviction that the Supreme Court would side with the UK Government have been shown to be completely wrong. For the moment, I’ll just sit back and watch what happens next.

Courting Independence

Posted on September 13th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The news that another petition has been lodged with the Court of Session which may result in a Scottish Court formally writing to the EU to request an extension of the Brexit deadline if Boris Johnson fails to do so is quite astonishing. Whether it succeeds or not remains doubtful because it relies on an almost unprecedented intervention by the Scottish Courts.

Of course, some sort of fallback should have been incorporated in the original Bill proposed by Hilary Benn. The fact that his new law relies upon the Prime Minister obeying the law was a fundamental weakness. There was no provision made for his refusal to do so, nor any penalty defined if he failed to comply.

But, given the reaction from Unionists and English Nationalists on social media when the Court of session ruled that proroguing Parliament was illegal, can you imagine how they will respond if a Scottish Court takes upon itself the duty of ensuring that the law is obeyed by doing what the Prime Minister refuses to do? The clamours for Scottish independence will be deafening, and most will come from south of the Border.

Unprecedented Situation

Posted on September 12th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The ruling from Scotland’s Court of session has highlighted some fascinating aspects of today’s UK.

First of all, the initial reaction from Downing Street, relayed from an unnamed source, was to claim that the decision was politically motivated and implied that Scottish judges could not be trusted to be impartial. Official statements later countered this, but of course the whole point of the unattributed comment was to cast doubt on the judgement. No matter how many times official claims of trust in the Court’s impartiality are made, the initial claim will have taken hold amongst those who want to ignore the ruling.

On that point, I’m sure we all know someone who will side with the howls of outrage from England about the Scottish Court exceeding its authority by daring to make a judgement which will impact on the wishes of the majority of people in England. The irony of that situation seems to be lost on those folk.

The main issue, though, is that the UK Supreme Court faces a no-win situation. If they overrule the Court of session’s decision, they are effectively saying that three senior Scottish judges don’t understand Scots Law properly. That’s only going to add to the growing sense of resentment in Scotland.

On the other hand, if they support the ruling, they are going to unleash what could be the greatest constitutional crisis since the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. That may sound like hyperbole, but forcing Westminster to obey a decision made in a Scottish Court is, as far as I am aware, unprecedented. We can expect an enormous backlash from the Tories and the Brexit Party who now represent what is effectively an English Nationalist Party.

The big question is how far that backlash will go. It would be nice to think that public opinion in England will be so vehement that Westminster decides to allow Scotland an opportunity to become a normal country. Personally, I don’t think they will do that willingly, but being forced to obey Scots Law may just be the final straw for them. Let’s hope so.

How Not To Do It

Posted on September 6th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

With things happening so fast in UK politics, who knows what is going to happen next? There is, though, one thing we can be sure of, and that is that the UK is well on the road to becoming a fascist state. George Orwell was right when he said fascism would not come marching down British High Streets but would be a more insidious enemy. Step by step, the centre of UK politics has drifted further and further to the right. You may think referring to this as fascist is too strong, but if you read Umberto Eco’s list of fourteen features of fascism, you will hopefully be horrified at how many of them are evident in the UK today. You can check out this list at:

Once fascists gain full control, it is very difficult to wrest power away from them, so it is vital that we use our votes when we get the chance. To be honest, I’m not hopeful that a UK General Election will solve anything, as polling suggests the Tories still have more support than the other Parties when viewed on a UK-wide basis. Scotland may be able to present a different outlook, but examples from places like the USA, Turkey and Hungary show that extreme right wing views are very popular with an awful lot of people. (Yes, you can read that last bit two ways).

We can but hope that IndyRef2 happens soon and that, this time, a majority of scots will recognise we are better off running our own affairs than being controlled by Westminster. Some people erroneously refer to WM as the Mother of All Parliaments. It’s certainly the mother of all somethings, but it’s not a good example of how to run a country. Other nations must be looking on and thinking, "That’s how not to do it."

Crisis of Leadership

Posted on August 29th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It really is hard to remain positive about politics in the UK at the moment. We are witnessing a fascist takeover of both the UK and the USA, and there seems to be nothing we can do to stop it. Some people may be unhappy at me describing the current regimes as fascist, but if you know only a little bit about the history of the 20th Century, you will see that is exactly how they are behaving.

It now seems inevitable that we are heading for a hard Brexit crash out. The only thing that could stop it is a genuine coalition of opposition parties, but that seems unlikely unless someone puts the interests of the UK ahead of their own party politics. The SNP have been trying that but, in accordance with how UK politics works, they have been snubbed at every turn.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader who is essentially a Tory who wants to appear reasonable, has been attempting to arrange such a coalition but, being a closet Tory, doesn’t want a Labour leader.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is having to put up a pretence of wanting to stop Brexit even though he’s in favour of it, and is using Swinson’s red line on leadership as an excuse not to become involved. In one way you can understand this. As leader of the opposition, agreeing to subordinate himself to the position of follower could appear like weakness. Others might argue it could appear like genuine statesmanship. But he won’t agree anyway, because any coalition will need the involvement of the SNP if it is to gather sufficient numbers of MPs, and Labour will not countenance that.

Which leaves the SNP in a bind. They have been following the Wait and See strategy for a long time and, while it seemed sensible last year, it is difficult to understand why they still persist in it. By all means allow their Westminster MPs to continue to play the Westminster game in their efforts to appear sensible compared to the madness surrounding them, but surely it is time that the Scottish Government realised there is no future for Scotland in the dystopian nightmare of post-Brexit UK. I know some people will argue that it will require the shock of food and medicine shortages before some Scots wake up to the fact that we have an alternative, but waiting until that shock hits us will, I fear, mean we are too late. If Johnson and his cronies can prorogue the Westminster Parliament, does anyone seriously think they will not hesitate to dissolve Holyrood? If that happens, all chance of IndyRef2 will be gone.

We face a crisis in our history, and we need some strong leadership. So far, all we’ve seen are some strongly worded Tweets.

Another Option?

Posted on August 14th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’m in two minds about the idea of a new independence party being put forward by Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland. On the one hand, I can understand the desire to win more List seats in the Scottish Parliament in order to obtain a pro-Indy majority, but I do fear that this idea will result in a split in the Yes vote which could seriously backfire.

There is no doubt that many Yessers are dissatisfied with the very cautious approach being adopted by the SNP, especially its desire to abide by Westminster’s rules in its attempts to achieve independence. So far, that has got us precisely nowhere, while some of the policies the SNP are pushing, particularly on things like the growth Commission and the Trans Gender Act, are causing great concern among many voters. Of course, the fundamental issue of self-determination should not be influenced by individual policies, but the reality is that many voters see the SNP as promoting policies they do not agree with after they have given the Party their vote because there is no other genuine option for someone who supports independence.

We should not forget that Unionist voters have three major choices when marking their ballot paper as they can be assured that, whichever Party eventually wins a List seat, that will count as an anti-Indy vote. The SNP’s victory in so many Constituency seats means that they won very few List seats at the last Holyrood election, so altering the field to give Yessers a better chance of achieving a pro-Indy majority will be welcomed by many.

On the other hand, there is already a pro-Indy majority when the Green MSPs are taken into account. The Greens have, unfortunately, also managed to upset a lot of yessers with some of their actions, particularly in supporting the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which, despite promises from Labour, has never been replaced by an alternative Bill, and the so-called Car Park Tax which was a green measure forced on the SNP in budget negotiations and which has provided the Tories with ammunition to attack the Scottish Government. To be fair, one cannot blame the greens for pushing their own agenda, but it is entirely possible that they will lose some of the support they gained in the last election. If that happens, where do Yessers put their List vote if it is going to be wasted due to the SNP winning so many Constituency seats?

And here we come to some important considerations. Analysis of the votes in recent elections suggests that if every person who voted SNP in the Constituency vote had also voted SNP in the List, the SNP would have won several more List seats and obtained a majority in the Parliament. There is also the consideration that there is no guarantee the SNP can win the same number of Constituency seats next time. If they fail to do that, and if the Yes vote is split between SNP and a new Wings Party, then we face the very real prospect of a Unionist Party picking up a List seat by default.

As I say, I’m torn on this issue. My feeling for a long time has been that Yessers should put all their support behind the SNP until Scotland becomes a normal country. After that, we should vote like citizens in a normal country, choosing whichever Party best matches our views. Yet there is a risk in that strategy because of the SNP’s apparent lack of ambition in pushing for independence, and many are starting to wonder just how long we must wait before we see IndyRef2.

The big question is whether another pro-Indy Party with, let’s face it, no real policies other than seeking independence, will help or hinder the cause. Quite frankly, I haven’t been able to make up my mind yet.

Let’s hope it does not become an issue in the long run. If IndyRef2 does come about, then there will hopefully be no need for an alternative Party to contest the next Holyrood election.

Unlikely Strategy

Posted on August 12th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Nicola Sturgeon recently made some excellent points about her strategy of pursuing a Section 30 Order for IndyRef2. She pointed out that the 2014 referendum was carried out under what she termed a "Gold Standard" in terms of observing the constitutional and electoral rules, and she felt that we should not settle for any less for IndyRef2. Then, when challenged on how she would respond if the Section 30 Order is denied, she very neatly turned the question around and said that people should instead be demanding to know why those who say they will block IndyRef2 are adopting that highly undemocratic stance.

As usual, she made the points calmly and clearly, and it must be said she was very astute in shifting the focus towards the dictatorial attitudes of the Westminster voices who seem intent on denying Scots a democratic choice.

The intention seems to be to follow the accepted steps towards IndyRef2 in order to be able to assert to the people of Scotland and the international community that the Scottish Government has done everything by the book and been thwarted at every turn. Quite what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, once all proper channels have been exhausted, Ms Sturgeon may feel she will be able to proclaim that unorthodox steps must be taken because every other avenue has been blocked. Perhaps she has received assurances from the international community that they will recognise Scotland as an independent nation if she carries out an advisory referendum once every other option has been refused by Westminster. That seems unlikely, but you never know. She may even have some other clever plan in mind but, for obvious reasons, does not want to let her opponents know what it is.

There are, however, a couple of problems with this approach. At the risk of providing the BBC with another opportunity to announce a split in the Yes movement, I must say that, while I can understand her desire to follow accepted protocols for the sake of demonstrating a willingness to behave in a responsible way, it is a very high risk strategy.

First, and most obviously, it relies on the media challenging those who intend to refuse a Section 30 Order. Given the anti-Indy bias in the media, that seems unlikely.

Secondly, we should know by now that playing by Westminster’s rules is unlikely to get us anywhere. Witness the scorn and derision aimed at SNP MPs in the house of Commons, and how the Unionist Parties will block any motion put forward by the SNP no matter how sensible or how in line with their own policies it might be. Witness, too, the long list of broken promises from 2014, the overturning of the Sewell Convention and the legal action to nullify the Scottish Government’s EU Continuation Bill.

Those things were all done before the Boris Johnson administration took control. With the UK Government now in the hands of extremists, can we be comfortable that they will follow the same principles of good faith that Nicola Sturgeon seems determined to play by? Again, that seems unlikely.

Politely asking for a section 30 Order will almost certainly result in the request being turned down. If the only strategy is to keep asking in order to be able to point to the UK Government being unreasonable, then we face the very real risk of the Scottish Government finding itself outmanoeuvred and powerless. The UK Government is not building a massive new office complex in Edinburgh and hiring thousands of staff for nothing. They have already made it perfectly plain that they intend to strip powers away from Holyrood. How long before they take the next step and dissolve the Scottish Parliament? Some people may view this as unthinkable, but how many unthinkable things have come to pass already? The methods being employed by Johnson’s Government are akin to those of right wing extremists everywhere. They will want absolute power, and the devolved Parliaments are an obvious target for them.

Realistically, supporting the SNP is the only way we are going to see Scotland become a normal country through a democratic process, but some people in the Yes movement are questioning whether the SNP has a plan at all. I hope they do, and I really hope it’s a better one than relying on Westminster to play fair.

That Didn't Take Long

Posted on August 7th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

This morning’s early revelation was that Labour’s John McDonnell has announced that his Party would not oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence.

My initial reaction was to wonder whether he had consulted Jeremy Corbyn on that, but he claimed this was also Corbyn’s view.

Needless to say, he has since backtracked considerably, later saying that they would argue against any request for a section 30 order on the grounds that a second IndyRef is not required. So Yes means No. Possibly. Or maybe not. With Labour, who knows?

Of course, Labour’s Scottish branch office are absolutely against IndyRef2. It is, for them, the one position they seem able to maintain without changing their minds or abstaining, no matter the cost to them in terms of lost votes.

Of course, the whole idea of a Labour / SNP pact to oust the Tories is barely credible. Jeremy Corbyn cannot get his Party ahead in the polls despite facing the most incompetent and out of touch Government any of us can remember. The Party’s pro-Brexit stance also means they have no chance of winning a General Election unless they are able to hoodwink the voters of England and Wales. Most Brexiteers will vote for Parties who are more outspoken in their support for Brexit.

But let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and assume there is a General Election and Labour win enough seats to form a Government with the support of the SNP. Why on earth would they agree to IndyRef2 if they need that support? If the IndyRef produces the result the recent poll suggests, the SNP MPs would wave goodbye to Westminster, leaving Labour with insufficient seats to hold a majority. Outnumbered by Tories, Lib Dems and the Brexit Party, they’d be out of office before too long.

So what is in it for them? Perhaps they hope to lure some Scottish voters back by dangling this non-promise. If so, it’s a short-sighted ambition. It is in England where Labour need to win seats, and they show few signs of being capable of posing any sort of challenge to the increasingly right wing voters there. If they came out as unequivocally anti-Brexit they might have a chance of winning a majority of seats but, as ever, even if they did say they were anti-Brexit, could anyone believe them? Look at how short a time it took John McDonnell to change his stance on IndyRef2.

Flogging A Dead Horse

Posted on August 2nd, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The result of the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election was a good one for the Liberal Democrats, but we should not forget that it is the undemocratic First Past The Post system which prevails in UK politics which saw them claim victory. I’m not complaining that they won, because anything which demonstrates an anti-Brexit view is to be welcomed. However, with Labour’s vote share plummeting, it is worth noting that the Tories and Farage’s Brexit Party actually gained more votes between them than the winning Lib Dem share. That’s how FPTP works, of course, but that split in the vote certainly helped the Lib Dems on this occasion. But the thing we cannot ignore is that a majority of voters in this constituency still support Brexit even after the last three years of turmoil and the impending chaos which is about to engulf them.

Many people in the SNP still seem to be clinging to the belief that it is their role to save England and Wales from Brexit. Surely they are going to wake up soon? Yes, it is a real shame for those south of the Border who are against Brexit, but the reality is that England continually votes Tory, and yesterday’s by-election suggests that many in Wales still want to leave the EU. We cannot save England and Wales. Poll after poll, result after result show that Scotland’s view is the opposite of what the majority of voters in England and Wales want.

As my father used to say, there is no point in flogging a dead horse. The Brexiteers are in charge, and they will go ahead whatever Scotland says or does. Time is up, and we really need to look out for ourselves now.

Why Are We Waiting?

Posted on July 25th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There have been rumblings of discontent among SNP supporters for some time now, with many putting forward the view that Nicola Sturgeon’s only plan for independence involves politely asking for a Section 30 Order and, when that is refused, waiting a little while and then politely asking again, presumably ad infinitum. Others insist the "Wait and see" approach is the correct one, because too many Scots still won’t be convinced to vote for their nation becoming a normal country unless Brexit actually happens. Calling IndyRef2 and then discovering that Brexit has been cancelled would, this argument goes, seriously backfire.

Until now, I have been supportive of waiting to see whether Brexit happens, but whatever your position on that issue, the fact is that things have changed. The elevation of Boris Johnson to the post of Prime Minister, combined with the list of pro-Brexit allies he has appointed to his Cabinet, means we cannot wait much longer. Johnson has already made it perfectly clear that he wants to crash out of the EU on 31st October. Waiting to see if he actually sticks to his word is potentially disastrous for the cause of Scottish independence. If we wait until it has actually happened, we may find Holyrood no longer exists as a devolved Parliament. Where would that leave us? Brexit is no longer a hypothetical threat which may be removed if common sense prevails. The extremists have taken over, and if you check Umberto Eco’s list of points which indicate a fascist government holds power, you will see that the UK ticks an awful lot of the boxes.

So now the only thing that might delay Brexit is a General election. Whether that will happen remains in the balance, but even if it does, England is once again likely to vote for extreme right wing parties. Those who believe a Labour Government is possible and that this will solve things are, sadly, overlooking the fact that Labour is also a pro-Brexit Party. They may negotiate another extension, but they will not halt it. Scotland’s fate will be decided by the anti-EU faction in Westminster, and Brexit is now a near certainty.

So what, we must ask, is Nicola Sturgeon waiting for? Time is running out.

Moral Imperative

Posted on July 19th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Scotland has a problem with drug addiction. Nobody can deny that. The recent headlines have, however, shown that this tragic issue is being used for political point-scoring and propaganda. Whatever you think of the statistics, though, the real question is what can be done to improve things?

Drug addiction, like alcohol and tobacco addictions, are commonly, although not exclusively, a symptom of poverty rather than a cause. Indeed, some of the detailed statistics on the victims of last year’s dreadful figures show that the majority came from backgrounds where their lives were bleak with little prospect of ever improving. In this sense, the best way to tackle such social issues is on a long term basis which will provide jobs and secure housing for as many people as possible. In the shorter term, however, since the UK controls most of the economic levers which would allow us to adopt such strategies, is there anything the Scottish Government can do?

We all know that drugs policy is reserved to Westminster, although you’d be forgiven for not realising that if you listened to the UK media. However, we are surely at the stage where there is a moral imperative to take drastic action. The objection is that setting up safe injection rooms would be illegal under UK law, so the Scottish Government is reluctant to go down that route as it would place workers in these facilities at risk of being arrested. That is perfectly understandable, but the Scottish Government does take action on other reserved issues such as the rollout of broadband, and Westminster has done nothing to prevent that. Can we not adopt a similar approach to drugs policy?

I am not talking about passing laws to legalise drugs. That may well be a policy a normal Scotland would wish to adopt but, while we remain trapped within the UK, that would definitely be a controversial step to take. But surely we could introduce some measures which evidence from other countries has demonstrated will help reduce drug dependency. Lives are at stake here, and wringing our hands is not going to improve things.

We already know that the Scottish Government has been able to reduce deaths from knife crime and alcohol abuse, so surely they should be given a chance to do the same for drug deaths?

And if such steps were taken under the auspices of this being a health crisis rather than a drugs one, what would Westminster do? Would they really arrest people whose only crime is attempting to save lives in defiance of cruel laws? More likely, if the measures were to make an appreciable difference, Scottish Tories would claim it is a success for the UK Government, while any failure would provide them with #SNPBad headlines. Neither of those petty responses should really affect the Scottish Government’s decision to try to save lives.

Of course, it is easy to write this sort of thing when you are not going to be asked to break the UK laws by operating a facility to help those addicted to drugs, but I am sure the majority of Scots would support anyone who does volunteer to work in what the UK deems an illegal operation.

Surely there are humanitarian grounds for defying the law on such matters? At the very least, the Scottish Government should make some public steps towards implementing policies which have been proven to work. If Westminster does respond with a heavy hand, even the BBC would have a tough job to portray that as being the fault of the SNP.

That Media Influence

Posted on July 16th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

A few days ago, I met up with some old friends. They have a variety of career backgrounds and political views, ranging from ardent Yessers, through non-committal uncertains, to keen Brexiteers and died-in-the –wool Unionists. On this occasion, however, we were meeting up to celebrate personal landmarks for a couple of the gang, so I had been well warned to stay off the topic of politics. I managed to stick to that, although I had to bite my tongue a couple of times when the conversation strayed towards current affairs.

However, while the time was not right for a passionate debate, a few comments made by some of the others struck me as very revealing.

One of the group has been living in Bulgaria for a while. He mentioned that he had visited a local bar to watch some sporting event on television, and that the bulk of the audience were British Ex-pats. Note, they were not immigrants, but ex-pats.

There was some brief discussion of financial issues, with it being noted that the Bulgarian Lev is pegged to the Euro in preparation for Bulgaria converting to using the Euro. Another of the group stated that this was because every country which signed up to join the EU since the early 1990s must agree to join the Euro. No mention was made of places like Sweden, Poland or the Czech Republic which still have little, if any, intention of joining the Euro, and know perfectly well that they cannot be forced to do so.

A third comment was made when we were trying to work out a date, and reference was made to "The SNP Referendum" as having taken place at around the same time as the event we were trying to recollect. It was not The Scottish Independence Referendum, but the SNP Referendum.

I should say that all of these comments were made by people who are educated and articulate, as well as being generally well-informed, yet these throwaway comments reveal just how much their attitudes and opinions have been influenced by the media they consume.

I am sure that, if challenged, they would have acknowledged the bias inherent in their comments, so I’m not going to make too big a thing of the discussion. However, what these remarks do confirm is that, if and when Indyref2 does come along, our greatest enemy will be the media which shapes people’s opinions this way. We will have a lot of persuading to do.

As a postscript, it was also interesting that the most ardent Unionist in the group expressed dismay at the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister. It still won’t be enough to change her mind on Scottish independence because she loathes the SNP and everything they do or stand for, but perhaps there may be a slight chink in her devotion which might just make her understand why more and more Scots are moving to Yes.

Westminster Sovereignty

Posted on July 10th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The chance for SNP MPs to vote on the issues of Abortion and Same Sex Marriage in Northern Ireland was a no-win situation for them. Whatever they did, the Unionist Parties and the media would be able to run #SNPBad stories. On the one hand, surely it is hypocritical for the SNP to meddle in the domestic affairs of a separate country? After all, isn’t that the basic principle behind their own fundamental political goal? But, on the other hand, there is no functioning governmental body in Northern Ireland and the matters being voted on were aimed at bringing the Province’s archaic laws on important social issues into the 21st Century.

Can you imagine how progressive citizens in Northern Ireland would feel if the SNP had failed to back the proposals? They would have been stuck with laws which are incompatible with progressive thinking and could rightly accuse the SNP of failing to help them when they had the chance.

But, as you’d expect, their involvement has given Unionists a chance to crow about the SNP recognising the sovereignty of Westminster. Now, while the view that the SNP should not be voting on laws which affect other parts of the UK is understandable, the circumstances here are perhaps justifiable. After all, these are important social issues, so on balance, I think the SNP were right to allow their MPs a free vote on the matter. They would have been pilloried by the media whatever they decided, so they were as well to try to bring Northern Ireland’s laws out of the Victorian era.

But, whether you agree with their decision or not, what this saga once again highlights is the ludicrous constitutional arrangement in the UK. Perhaps some people might now start to ask more questions about why one country can impose laws on another. Perhaps what the SNP did was hypocritical, but doesn’t that demonstrate that every vote in Westminster which imposes laws on nations other than England is essentially undemocratic?

Short Term View

Posted on June 25th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I suppose it’s a bit petty to quibble over reasons people give for switching allegiance to Yes, but the latest poll on Scottish independence shows once again how fickle voters can be. It seems that more than half of Scottish voters would support independence if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister. On that point, it seems almost inevitable that he will because, like Trump, his supporters don’t care what sort of person he is, so allegations about racism, lying and abusive behaviour are unlikely to have any detrimental impact on his campaign.

What I find a little disappointing is that people’s view of whether Scotland should become a normal country seem to depend on which particular British Nationalist is UK Prime Minister. The case for self-determination should stand or fall on its own merits. It really should not matter who the UK Prime Minister is, Scotland should be like nearly every other country in the world and be able to decide its own future for better or worse.

Having said that, we should not spurn anyone who decides to vote Yes (assuming we ever get the chance), and perhaps seeing Brexit wreck our economy and having a self-serving Right Wing extremist like Boris Johnson in power at Westminster is what it will take to make some people realise what many of us have been saying for some years now.

Of course, this tendency for voters to make decisions based on a single event or on their attitude towards a single person is widespread, and it does show why political slogans and lies on the side of a bus have such an impact on how people vote. There is very little examination of facts, nor much scrutiny in the media, and a great many people vote based on emotive reasoning. This is what the likes of Johnson understand, but now it is perhaps going to come back to bite them. How delightfully ironic it will be if he discovers that his supporters have heard the Scottish subsidy junkie story so many times that they actually believe it. Will the Tory membership put pressure on him to ditch Scotland in the same way they want him to leave the EU no matter the consequences? That’s the sort of short-term, blinkered thinking I’d be in favour of.

Forked tongues

Posted on June 21st, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Politicians used to employ spin or partial truth when they wanted to make or counter arguments. It was an accepted part of politics and all but the most die-hard of voters understood this. Telling actual lies used to be a resignation or sacking offence, but things have changed, particularly in the UK and USA, where blatant lies are told with very little scrutiny from journalists. Even where such scrutiny is applied, the politicians dismiss it and carry on telling more lies. Donald Trump has pushed this so far it strains credulity that anyone could believe anything he says, but UK politicians are not very far behind him, and some are catching up fast.

However, we’ve seen a variant on this in the past few days because it seems some Scottish Tory politicians retain some lingering memory of the days when they would be required to tell the truth. David Mundell and Ruth Davidson have both been challenged on comments they have previously made about Boris Johnson, and their responses have revealed just how capable they are of switching their opinions in order to further, or at least not damage, their own careers.

The interesting thing is that, for all the mockery their statements have attracted, they have actually told the truth, albeit in a very semantic way and within a very narrow definition of the truth.

For example, Ruth Davidson says she did not call Boris Johnson a liar. Video clips of her passionate rant during the EU debate have shown she is technically correct.

She said "They lied about …" as she went on to detail several examples. Of course, she was debating Boris Johnson, so it was pretty clear that he was one of the "They" she meant. But, strictly speaking, she did not name him, nor did she use the word "liar". She said "They Lied", and she said it several times, but she can now claim she did not call Johnson a liar.

It’s rather sad that this splitting of hairs over words is what now passes for truth, but it’s even sadder that the mainstream media is unwilling to highlight the hypocrisy of the latest statements. This, however, is the Scotland we live in, where truth counts for nothing, and the media glosses over the duplicity as if it is unimportant.

Wasting Time

Posted on June 16th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s sometimes hard to remain positive when you look at the state of UK politics. Much has already been said and written about the likelihood of Boris Johnson being our next Prime Minister, and there’s not really much to add to the copious examples of his unsuitability for the role, nor of the ludicrous situation where the people who elect him to that position are so unrepresentative of the UK population.

Add to this awful prospect the fact that the Brexit Party is so popular in England and it’s easy to despair.

The outcome of all this is very likely to be that the UK will crash out of the EU at the end of October. There is no prospect at all of a better deal being negotiated by that time, so the only real options are a further extension which the EU may not wish to grant, revoking Article 50 which Johnson would find difficult to justify to his adoring masses, or leaving with no deal. The UK was warned not to waste the time granted by the last extension but, as many predicted, is doing precisely that.

As for all the talk of suspending Parliament to ensure the crash out, the way they are frittering away the weeks means that is not necessary. Parliament has repeatedly missed opportunities to prevent a no deal exit and it is difficult to see how that situation will alter given the pro-Brexit stance of the two major Parties.

So the big question is how long Scotland can put up with this? Perhaps many Scots will need the shock of Brexit to appreciate just what is being taken away from them. The problem is that it may well be too late by then. The UK Government is vastly expanding its presence in Scotland, with thousands of new staff and plush new offices in Edinburgh, including a Cabinet meeting room for the UK Government. The warning signs are all there. The Tories detest devolution and are gearing up to neuter the Scottish Government, perhaps even to abolish it. With Boris Johnson at the helm, who knows how quickly they will move to impose direct rule from Westminster?

So can we really afford to wait until late 2020 for IndyRef2? The SNP, as usual, are being cautious, and that is understandable, but they run the risk of being so cautious their chance may disappear.

Friends I Hadn't Met

Posted on June 2nd, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I had thought my chances of attending the All Under One Banner march at Galashiels were not good as I was unable to find a family member who was free to act as my sighted guide for the day. Fortunately, a few folk responded very kindly to a Twitter appeal, and thanks to my Twitter pal, Confidence Over Fear @OorDayHasCame, I was able to get there and participate in the march. It also provided us with a chance to have a great blether on the way there and back.

As for the march, the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, with plenty of chanting, music and a lot of other noise varying from foghorns and whistles to motorbike engines being revved by the Yes Bikers.

The other great thing was the response from the locals. Saltires were held up, and many stood to applaud the march. Considering this was in the Borders, the response really was terrific.

The only negative side was the traditional presence of a small group of British Nationalists who, as usual, shouted insults, especially targeting English Scots for yes. A moment’s consideration might have led them to reflect on who holds the racist views, but self-reflection probably isn’t their strong point.

I did hear another local shout about "The blind leading the blind" as my guide and I walked past. It didn’t particularly bother me as it’s not exactly original, but again the fact that someone thinks it is perfectly acceptable to shout in an insulting tone when witnessing an act of kindness is rather revealing. It was in stark contrast to the reaction of several individuals to whom I must apologise for whacking with my long cane when the procession bunched up at several points on the route. All of them laughed it off, and this helped me feel very much a part of the occasion. It was, as Confidence Over fear said, a march not of strangers but of friends we hadn’t met yet.

The post-march music and speeches were very good, although I confess I didn’t stay right to the end as I’m still recuperating from a strained Achilles, and I was getting pretty sore, but what I did hear was full of positivity and togetherness.

It was great to meet up with some people I had only previously known from Twitter, but one other meeting was, for me, very significant. A photographer spotted my guide and I, decked out in Saltire hats and Saltire sunglasses, and asked if he could take some pictures for Irish newspapers. We had a great chat about the mutual feelings of support and respect between Ireland and Scotland, and about the changing demographics which will, we all fervently hoped, lead to a united Ireland and an independent Scotland. Those things will not solve every problem for either country, but they will at least enable both to begin the long walk on the road to normality. And that, for me, is what the march was all about. There were thousands of people who may disagree with each other on some aspects of policy, but who all agree that the only way to reach a position where we can debate such differences sensibly and implement the majority view, is for Scotland to become a normal country.

There are several other All Under One Banner marches scheduled this year. I won’t be able to get to all of them, but I certainly hope to get to one or two, and I’m looking forward to meeting yet more friends.


Posted on May 30th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s spider

The fallout from the EU elections has been entirely predictable. Having taken the art of abstention to a new level by abstaining on having a clear policy on Brexit, Labour are still prevaricating and making noises about a second referendum while refusing to acknowledge that only a clear call to remain in the EU is likely to recover any votes for them. The Tories, as expected, have taken the results as evidence that they need to match Nigel Farage on xenophobia, and the prospective new leaders are lining up to tell us how hard a Brexit they will opt for.

In Scotland, voters again showed that the majority wish to remain in the EU even though the turnout was again less than half of the roll. That in itself is a sad indictment of the level of engagement in the EU and it is something an independent Scotland really needs to address.

Still, the stark difference in outlook between Scotland and England was again highlighted, and the big takeaway in Scotland is that voters had little truck with Colonel Davidson’s rallying cry to send Nicola Sturgeon a message about a second indyref. Naturally, the Tories will ignore this result and continue with their "No Surrender!" slogans, but they are looking increasingly out of touch with voter sentiment.

But what about IndyRef2? Ms Sturgeon now says 2020 is the likely date, and it is understandable that she should put that sort of timescale on it as the Brexit deadline is now the end of October, and it will take several months to set up another IndyRef. The big danger, of course, is that Scotland will have been out of the EU for those several months, and the Tories will have had ample opportunity to neuter or even dissolve the Holyrood Parliament.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I really hope Nicola Sturgeon and her team have worked out plans to cope with the various scenarios facing them because none of us can afford for them to get it wrong this time.

Inaccessible Voting

Posted on May 27th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Last year, the Scottish Government opened a consultation on the subject of accessible voting. There has, as far as I know, been no concrete development since then, but voting in the EU elections on Thursday reminded me of just how inaccessible voting is for disabled people in general and the visually impaired in particular.

I always have a sighted guide to take me to the polling station. This time, my daughter accompanied me. Over the past couple of years, the staff on duty have come to expect my arrival and usually have the tactile voting device ready. This time, perhaps because it was different people on duty, I had to ask specifically for it, even though it is pretty obvious to any sighted person that I am blind. They did not ask whether I wanted a Braille or large print ballot paper, and only went searching for the tactile device when I asked for it. They did manage to locate it and my daughter escorted me to a booth.

For those who don’t know what a tactile device is, it’s a sheet of plastic which fits over the ballot paper. There are square flaps on the right hand side, each of them numbered with raised digits. The idea is that you lift the appropriate flap and mark your cross in the box, using the tactile open square as a guide to where the paper should be marked.

This system has a number of very significant flaws. First, how do you know which square you need to mark? Reading the paper can be very difficult indeed even using a scanning app. I tried reading this one and all I heard was a very long list of names. I very quickly became confused as to which box I needed to mark. This meant my daughter had to read the ballot paper to me. Of course, since she knew how I was going to vote, it was simply a case of her telling me which number I needed, but if she had not been there, a member of the polling station staff would have had to read the entire paper to me. In the past, some staff have offered to do this, but I received no such offer this time.

As for actually voting, using the tactile device is not easy. I have used this system before and, as far as I know, have managed it OK. This time, however, it turned out the squares on the device were larger than the boxes on the ballot paper. My daughter watched me mark the paper and said I’d missed the box. She then queried it with the staff who advised it might count as a spoiled paper, so I had to wait for another ballot paper. This time, my daughter marked it for me.

This is a travesty of the concept of a secret ballot. I have no problem with my daughter knowing my preference, but if I had been on my own, a member of the polling station staff would know precisely how I had voted. On this occasion, they do know as they have my first, failed attempt at voting as evidence of my choice. Not that my vote for the SNP is a great secret, but that’s not the point.

From browsing Twitter, I know that I was not the only visually impaired person to have a problem voting. Many more joined my complaint about the problems of using the tactile device. In London, where a great many candidates were listed on the ballot, the ballot paper and matching tactile device were very large indeed, creating a significant practical problem of how to place the ballot on a suitable flat surface so that the tactile device could be used at all.

It has already been proven in court that this system contravenes the rights of visually impaired people to a secret vote. The options of large print and Braille ballot papers help if people have some sight or can read Braille, but not many visually impaired people read Braille, and large print is no help if you have no sight at all.

So what is the answer? Electronic voting machines can be made accessible with speech output relayed through headphones, but many people believe these machines can be tampered with. However, with many apps requiring Face ID or Fingerprint ID on a phone, I fail to see why an online voting system using accessible technology cannot be introduced. This would benefit many disabled people, not only those who are visually impaired. Far too many polling stations are physically inaccessible to wheelchair users which is, quite frankly, inexcusable in this day and age. Allowing people to vote online would also, I am convinced, significantly increase voter participation. Electoral turnout is far too low in the UK, and I’m sure many more people would vote if they could do so via their phone or tablet.

It’s about time the system was radically revised, and I do hope that the Scottish Government’s consultation will result in voting in an independent Scotland being far more accessible than the current UK system.

Say What You See

Posted on May 19th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Thursday 16th May was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Ironically, it was one of the worst days on my Twitter timeline for finding pictures with added image descriptions, which made it a very wearing experience. But it prompted me to think about the advances in technology since I last wrote a post about how to add image descriptions. And, since very few people add descriptions, it’s worth reminding everyone of how this system operates, as well as providing an update on what technology can and cannot achieve.

First of all, there are a lot of blind and partially sighted people who use smartphones to access social media. Their screen reader apps can read Tweets, but are stuck when it comes to pictures. To help them, Twitter came up with a rather poorly thought out system to allow users to add descriptions to explain what their photos show.

So, a quick recap of how to set this up. It does vary slightly depending on what sort of device you use to access Twitter, but specific instructions can be found in Twitter Help. As a rule, go to your Twitter Settings, then Accessibility, then scroll down to a tick box to enable Image Descriptions. Note: the precise wording may vary depending on your device.

Once enabled, each time you add a picture, there should be an extra box marked something like, "Add Image Description". Click this, then you should see an extra text box which you can use to explain the picture. Type the description, click "Apply", then tweet as normal. You won’t see this extra text (known as Alt Text) once you’ve posted the tweet, but Screen Readers will detect it and read it aloud to visually impaired people (VIPs).

I know some people claim they are far too busy to spend an extra few seconds typing a description but, quite honestly, that’s not a great excuse. I’m fairly sure those same people didn’t grumble about the extra time it took them to type a longer message when Twitter expanded its character limit from 140 to 280.

Twitter’s system is not great in that it relies on people remembering to use it. Many VIPs have been asking them to make it a default setting with the Alt Text screen appearing automatically as soon as a picture is added but, thus far, Twitter have ignored these requests. In the past year, however, other technology improvements mean that many (but not all ) visually impaired people have an extra tool in their VI kit. Microsoft’s SeeingAI app can now scan pictures within Twitter and explain what they show. SeeingAI is, however, only available on Apple devices, but there is an Android app called (I think) Envision which I have heard does a similar thing. VI Tweeters can also send a tweet to @Describot and receive a reply explaining the contents of a picture.

Whichever system the BIP uses, it’s not as great as it sounds. SeeingAI is generally very good at reading the text contained within a picture, although it struggles with copies of newspapers which are laid out in columns. It also has a facial recognition feature which often explains who is in the picture if the person is well known. What it does not tell you is what that person is doing other than vague comments like "Sitting at a desk" or "Smiling at the camera". It’s better than nothing, but the scans also have spectacular failures. I recently scanned a picture which was, I am told, of the audience at the Scottish Tory Party Conference. My scan said it was "Probably a bunch of brightly coloured flowers", and I’ve had another one where a shot of a marching crowd at an All Under One Banner event was described as "Probably some people with skis on top of a building". With feedback like that, it’s no wonder image descriptions remain vital for understanding.

Some people worry about how to describe their photo, but it’s not that difficult. Anything is better than nothing, but if the picture contains text, then a short note explaining the context should suffice. For example, if you post a picture of a Tweet by Andy Murray, then the description could simply say, "Tweet by Andy Murray". You don’t need to re-write the text of the tweet because the scan should detect it, but at least a VIP knows what the picture shows and can scan it if they wish to know more.

For more visual images, more detail is very helpful, and it’s really a case of, "Say what you see". So, you could explain a picture as, "A woman reading a magazine", which provides the basic context, or you could expand it a bit and say, "A young woman sitting at a table in a coffee shop. She’s reading a copy of the iScot magazine. She has long, dark hair and is wearing spectacles. it’s really up to you how much you type, but try to think how you would describe the picture if you were speaking to someone over the phone and telling them about it.

Finally, please add image descriptions. There are a lot of people I follow who still refuse to do so. I’m often tempted to unfollow and, in a couple of cases I have actually muted people who persist in posting undescribed pictures. It’s not something I like doing, but reading Twitter with a screen reader is a slow process at the best of times, and having my timeline full of stuff I can’t understand is extremely frustrating. Also, just because I seem to be the only visually impaired person banging on about this doesn’t mean there aren’t other VIPs who won’t see your Tweet. I know I have at least half a dozen VI followers. They may not all complain about the lack of image descriptions, but I know they all appreciate one when they find it.

Thanks if you’ve managed to read this far. If you have questions, just send me a Tweet or DM.

Voting Choices

Posted on May 14th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

You have to feel sorry for pro-EU voters in England. Scots have the SNP and the Welsh have Plaid Cymru, but who on earth do English voters vote for in the upcoming EU elections?

The Lib Dems are trying to cash in on their pro-EU status, but most voters know that the Lib Dems are, in practice, Tory enablers who are quite happy to tell lies. Would you really want to vote for them?

That leaves the greens, but whether they can gather enough support on their limited resources is very doubtful. Hopefully enough English voters will put their cross against them anyway, but England has never shown much support for Green ideas, so I’m not holding out much hope.

And then, of course, there is the question of whether it matters anyway. Latest polling suggest the pro-Brexit parties have a healthy majority of support. Nigel Farage has shown that a great many people in England are attracted to his brand of xenophobic nationalism and will no doubt vote for him whichever party he represents. Labour continue to try to pretend they are not pro-Brexit in the hope of fooling some of their traditional supporters, while the Tories, although they are tanking in the polls, would no doubt see a victory for Farage as justification for forging ahead with Brexit no matter how disastrous it might prove for everyone except the very wealthy.

Judging from Farage’s television appearances over the past few days, he is adopting the same loud-mouthed, populist, fact free approach of Donald Trump and other, earlier fascists, and a large section of the English voting public is lapping it up.

How long before the majority of Scots recognise that becoming a normal country is the only sensible option?

That's Not How It Works

Posted on May 8th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Enough has been said and written about the SNP’s war on CyberNats and how the Unionist media has exploited the views expressed by some senior SNP politicians, but it’s the backlash from that sorry episode which reveals some interesting perspectives.

Anyone who has ever argued with a Unionist about independence knows that they all have this absolute conviction that anyone who is Yes is automatically a member of the SNP. Oddly, some Yessers also seem to be displaying this conviction. Yes, some people have announced they will be cancelling their membership of the SNP, but any gloating by Unionists over what they will no doubt portray as another civil war misses one major point. That is the very simple notion that you don’t need to be a member of the SNP to support Scotland becoming a normal country.

It’s also odd that a support which has been likened to a cult for blindly agreeing with any comment from the SNP leadership is now being mocked for … not blindly agreeing with comments from the SNP leadership.

It is a political reality that the SNP is the only vehicle through which our status as a normal nation can be achieved, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with all their policies, nor with every comment made by SNP officials. Indeed, is there anyone who agrees with every single policy their Party stands for? OK, perhaps Scottish Tory voters have it easy there since their branch office only has one policy, but it’s not something which applies in normal circumstances.

But let’s hope the SNP get a grip soon. Some of the signals they are sending out are dismaying many of their most ardent supporters, and there is a growing feeling that some within the Party would prefer to maintain the status quo for the sake of their careers rather than risk everything on going for independence. I’m not sure this can be the whole truth since failing to push for independence would surely see the demise of the Party. Nevertheless, they really need to up their game when it comes to denouncing media misrepresentation, and they ought to display a bit more official support for things like the All Under One Banner marches because this would go a long way to appeasing the grumblers. It wouldn’t even need to be much more than an official comment that it is nice to see such a demand for independence from the grass roots.

It is that failure to be more outspoken and the suggestions that some in the Party want to become part of the Westminster system which is annoying many in the grass roots support. But even those individuals who have resigned from the Party are not going to suddenly decide to vote NO in another indyref. That’s not how grass roots Yes operates.

Helping The Cause

Posted on May 6th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There’s a lot of discontent among the Yes community online at the attitude of the SNP. Not only is there no official endorsement or even mention of the All Under One Banner marches, some senior representatives have spoken out against online abuse by CyberNats, resulting in gleeful headlines in the mainstream media about how disgusting and odious we are.

While making abusive comments should not be condoned, the headlines are now portraying every Yes person who ever posts anti-Union messages on Facebook or Twitter as being tarred with the same brush as the small minority of people who go out of their way to post abusive comments. It is also noticeable that the leading politicians within other parties make no effort at all to curb the abuse posted by supporters of the Union which can be every bit as disgusting and hurtful as any Yes campaigner has ever written. Any brief search on Twitter will easily confirm that, yet the media never seem to notice it.

But Whatboutery doesn’t help anyone, so let’s look at the real issue here. We see daily comments from Unionist politicians which are highly misleading at best and sometimes downright lies. Yet the SNP’s own media unit never challenges these misrepresentations. We must ask why not? Few journalists are ever going to challenge a Unionist politician no matter how much drivel they spout, yet the task of rebutting their misrepresentations is left to individual Yes supporters and, of course, websites like Wings Over Scotland and Wee Ginger Dug. There is no rebuttal from the SNP at all. Indeed, they seem determined to distance themselves from those who are doing the job their own media unit should be doing.

When you add in the fact that SNP politicians were happy to talk about the anti-Brexit protest marches but will, with only a few exceptions, say nothing about the AUOB marches which are made in direct support of the SNP’s core policy, it is no wonder some Yessers are unhappy at the SNP’s stance.

To compound this apparent disinterest in grass roots support, we have senior members giving the mainstream media exactly the sort of story they want about CyberNats. This is playing into the hands of the unionist media and, however strongly they feel about unacceptable levels of abuse, it is a serious miscalculation to allow the media to portray all Indy supporters in this way, especially when Saturday’s march demonstrated, yet again, that the support is being given with genuine good humour. The media were at pains to portray the march as causing trouble which was referred to as a "Clash" with a counter-protest. This clash, from the reports of those who were actually at the march, consisted of a couple of dozen Union supporters shouting abuse of the sort the SNP apparently decry, with the Yes marchers smiling and waving back to them. It’s not exactly the scenario conjured by the word, "Clash".

Now, we all know that the SNP are the political vehicle through which Scotland’s status as a normal country will be achieved, but that doesn’t mean we follow them blindly like a cult. We can criticise them when we disagree with them, and on this occasion there is a lot of disagreement over their stance towards the grass roots support.

Whether or not you believe protest marches achieve anything at all, you can bet that the Unionists and the media would make a big song and dance if there were no such marches at all. They are already pushing very hard on the line that there is no public support for a second IndyRef, and if there were no marches, this would only add to their argument. If the marches continue to garner the level of support we have seen so far, at least we can point out that they are lying when they say there is no support.

So, while it must be said that anyone dishing out abusive comments online isn’t likely to persuade anyone to move from No to Yes, it must also be said that it really doesn’t help the cause of independence if the SNP are going to slag off a large section of their most active and vociferous support.

Settling Down

Posted on May 2nd, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

SNP MP Pete Wishart has announced that he is putting himself forward to replace John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons. This is a move which has disappointed a number of Yes supporters, including some who are SNP members, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

The SNP MPs who were elected in the General Election of 2015 stated that they were going to Westminster to settle up, not to settle down. Yet Pete Wishart, who has been an MP longer than most of his SNP colleagues, appears to be happy to become part of the Westminster system – a system which habitually works against Scotland’s interests. He may feel that his move could help break the mould, but history shows us that Westminster will not change.

The one thing SNP MPs have achieved above all in the past four years is to reveal the contempt in which they , and Scotland, are held by the vast majority of Westminster MPs, but their actual impact, other than putting up a good show, has been minimal. This is not their fault, because Westminster is a place where change is unwelcome. As far back as 1922, when Labour sent a host of radical MPs from Scotland to Westminster, they soon discovered that changing things was next to impossible. In the near century which has passed since then, Labour has settled down and become part of the problem.

Pete Wishart’s bid to become Speaker may be well-intentioned, but in the very unlikely event that he is selected, his ability to change things will be virtually non-existent. All he will do is become an integral part of the system. When around half the population of Scotland (and very possibly more depending on who you listen to) want Scotland to abandon Westminster and become a normal country, for one of the SNP’s own MPs to declare an intention to become more closely linked to the very establishment his supporters want nothing to do with seems an odd decision.

Not that I expect he will be selected in any case. The SNP is so detested by the Labour and Tory MPs that it is very unlikely he will ever gain enough support. Even so, his declaration of intent sends an unwelcome signal that he is happy to settle down rather than to settle up. That’s not the radical sort of message most Yes Supporters want to hear.

Wait and See

Posted on April 25th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on IndyRef2 didn’t exactly inspire a rush of ardent support. It was measured and pragmatic, and at least sets out some sort of framework, but has anything really changed?

The big concern is that playing by Westminster rules and humbly asking permission to hold another referendum is going to bring only one response. Whatever legislation the SNP are planning, it will produce nothing tangible if Theresa May or whoever replaces her as Brexiteer-in-chief, simply refuses to grant a Section 30 Order. The big question is whether Nicola Sturgeon has a plan as to what to do when that happens. Naturally, she is keeping that secret at the moment because it’s never a good idea to tell your opponents what your next move is going to be before they’ve committed themselves, but that doesn’t really bring us any closer to knowing what is going to happen.

So we need to wait and see. It’s not exactly a rousing cry, is it? But Nicola Sturgeon has clearly decided this patient approach is the one which will work, and the reality is that, for all that many in the Yes movement might disagree, it is the SNP who are in the driving seat when it comes to the major constitutional issue.

The one big positive we can take is that playing for time allows the Tories plenty of scope to convince undecided voters to switch to supporting Yes. Whether it’s May, Johnson or Gove, they are all dancing to Nigel Farage’s tune, and we know this is a path Scotland has rejected.

Keep The Heid

Posted on April 14th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There’s been an announcement that Nicola Sturgeon will soon make an announcement about the announcement of IndyRef2. This ongoing refusal to bite the bullet and go for it has annoyed large sections of the Yes community, but it is easy to understand the reluctance when the polls refuse to shift. And if it is only the thought of Brexit which is putting some voters off, it is also easy to understand why the SNP leadership are reluctant to call for IndyRef2 until the outcome of Brexit is known.

Whether this strategy is the right one is debatable, and there are strong views being expressed both for and against. It seems, though, that we will need to be patient a little longer.

And that is an important point for Yessers who are members of the SNP to bear in mind. The cause of Scottish independence is much bigger than the SNP, but we must recognise that the SNP is the political vehicle through which independence will be gained. They’ve also been around for a long time. If you are frustrated now, imagine how previous generations have felt when, as a minority party, the SNP were a voice in the wilderness. You may disagree with the current policy, but saying you are finished supporting them is only going to make things more difficult. Where else will you lend your support? Yes, the Greens are pro-indy, but are they large enough to drive the indy movement?

And even if Nicola Sturgeon has got this very wrong, and even if there is no IndyRef2 or it produces another No result, that should not end the desire for Scotland to become a normal country. Whatever the polls say, whatever the media tells us, the mood in the country is changing, and the desire to escape the madness of the UK is growing.

Let’s keep the heid.

Perfidious Albion

Posted on April 10th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the Brexit chaos continues, with some journalists triumphantly proclaiming that a No Deal crash out has been prevented thanks to Westminster passing a law saying so. The only flaw in this suggestion is that the EU have not actually agreed to extend the Brexit deadline, so Westminster may as well have passed a law saying that it has banned rainfall. Of course, the situation may have changed by the time you read this, or even by the time I’ve written it.

As for what might actually happen despite the delusions of many in the UK media, a short extension to the Brexit deadline seems unlikely since the EU have always been pretty consistent in their stance, and there is no reason for them to extend the hassle for a couple of months when nothing is likely to change. So we may see an offer of a longer extension which will put Theresa May in a real tough spot as she tries to satisfy the various factions within the Tory Party.

Meanwhile, the media continue to promote Mark Francois on the grounds that he says a lot of ridiculous things so makes for good TV. That, and the fact that he’s not yet been tainted by association with the Leave EU campaign like Boris Johnson. How long before Francois is being touted as a potential Prime Minister? Don’t laugh. It may sound as ridiculous as the man himself, but nothing is impossible in Ruritania. Sorry, I meant the UK. I keep making that mistake.

Francois has stated that, if the UK remains in the EU, it will behave like Perfidious Albion on speed. this has led some people to observe that he might not know what perfidious means, but I think he knows precisely what it means. The only real question is whether the EU would actually notice any difference.

Waiting For A Miracle

Posted on April 2nd, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the UK Parliament is no nearer a resolution on Brexit. Is anyone surprised? Having voted against NO Deal, they then rejected a solution which would have seen Article 50 revoked in the event that no other decision could be reached – and they rejected it. That was the Bain principle at work there, although in fairness, Theresa May would probably have ignored the indicative vote even if it had been passed unanimously.

Which leaves us, as I’ve long feared and expected, facing a hard Brexit in ten days.

It must be said that Nicola Sturgeon has tried hard to save the UK from itself, but the patient has almost expired and only a miracle will resuscitate it now. IndyRef2 is the only viable solution for Scotland. The big question is whether she has left it too late.

Critical Accent

Posted on April 1st, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Accents are in the news, it seems. An advertisement highlighting that Scotland is an open and inclusive country has come in for some criticism which includes people having a dig at the narrator’s accent.

Sadly, it seems this type of discrimination will not go away. Not only do some people deride languages they cannot understand, they also mock people who speak with a different accent. Does it never occur to them that the people they are mocking might think that they, in turn, speak with an odd accent?

The way you speak is a product of your upbringing and social environment. Language is a communication tool and, as long as you are able to communicate clearly and politely, then nobody should make fun of you simply because of the way you pronounce words. In a country like Scotland where accents can alter within the space of a few miles, Accentism should be as socially unacceptable as any other form of discrimination.

The other criticism of the advertisement is almost as bizarre. It seems that at least one person was upset because she felt that Scotland should not be advertising how welcoming it is when we have our share of idiots, bigots and people with unsavoury social attitudes. Now, it is true that Scotland is no exception when it comes to having a section of society who behave in a manner which most of us would view with distaste if not abhorrence. Witness, for example, the events after the Old Firm match yesterday. But, and it is an important but, nobody ever attracted business by putting out advertisements telling the world how crap they are. And if we are going to suspend any positive statements until all social ills have been solved, we are likely to have a long wait. Addressing unacceptable social behaviour is one of the remits of any Government, usually through law enforcement, but nobody can seriously expect any Government to parade its society’s problem areas when attempting to attract new immigrants or businesses. I’m afraid that’s just silly. And, on a weekend when we’ve seen fascists parading in London, to call a pro-Scottish advertisement "Peak Nationalism" is more than a little bit over the top.

But the really sad thing is that the current political climate in the UK has created such divisions within our society that even things like an advertisement can cause such controversy*. If only we lived in a normal country.

*I really don’t care whether you pronounce that CONtroversy with the emphasis on the first syllable, or conTROversy with the emphasis on the second syllable.

Judgement Call

Posted on March 25th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

In some ways, it’s comforting to know that you can always rely on the Scottish media to plumb the depths of mediocrity. At a time when the UK is undergoing one of the greatest constitutional upheavals in its history, the Herald has headlined a story about Jonathon Shafi, a pro-Indy campaigner, saying that he will not vote SNP again because Nicola Sturgeon had her photograph taken cosying up to ex-Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell.

What the Herald’s investigative journalism apparently failed to unearth was that Mr Shafi was involved with the people who established the political party Rise which was formed to campaign against the SNP. So it seems unlikely he would have voted for the SNP in any case, but he has managed to provide another SNPBad headline for the Unionist media, and they never miss a chance to ignore the bigger picture and focus on petty matters.

But is it petty to point out Nicola Sturgeon’s apparent willingness to campaign alongside a man who was one of the architects of the Iraq War? It must be admitted that Mr Shafi is not the only person to have stated this is a step too far for them.

Now, Yes supporters need to acknowledge that many of them have often pointed out that Better Together provided many examples of Labour politicians cosying up to Tories, the BNP and UKIP, so shouldn’t we condemn Nicola Sturgeon’s error of judgement? Is it not, after all, possible to campaign for something yet maintain a distance from others who might agree with you on that subject but with whom you do not wish to associate because of other policy matters on which you disagree? In an ideal world, it would be nice to maintain that moral high ground, but we should perhaps keep in mind that Nicola Sturgeon was taking a rare opportunity to speak to people who normally only hear her through the prism of the UK broadcast media. If she’d publicly snubbed Alistair Campbell that, too, would have provided media headlines. She obviously made a judgment call, deciding that being seen to campaign alongside him was the lesser of two evils. Whatever you think of that decision,

one thing that should be mentioned is that she was right to appear and speak at the rally. She gets few enough opportunities to deliver any sort of message to the wider UK public, so this was a good chance to let citizens from other areas of the UK hear her speak. Indeed, while the UK media has, unsurprisingly, paid her little attention, European media certainly noticed her presence and her speech. It’s also been noticed that Jeremy Corbyn was absent.

So, while having photos taken with Alistair Campbell may have been a mistake, and certainly provided the media with an excuse to run more SNPBad headlines, she was absolutely right to attend the march.

But wouldn’t it be nice if she would attend some pro-Indy marches in Scotland? Campaigning to stop Brexit is all very well, but she’s told us often enough that she will be making the positive case for Indy, yet we’re still waiting to hear it. Perhaps, just once, she could attend a pro-Indy march.

But, those grumbles aside, the main thing that struck me about people insisting that they would never vote SNP again because she was seen with Alistair Campbell is that their desire to see Scotland become a normal country cannot be all that strong. Yes, the greens are pro-Indy, but the reality is that, whatever you might think of their stance on individual policies or their strategy on Brexit, the SNP are the only political Party who can deliver Indy. So who are you going to vote for if not them? Voting Green in Holyrood elections is all well and good, but if a UK General Election is called, the First Past The Post voting system means there really is only one choice for Yes supporters.

Let’s face it, we need independence soon. Once we’ve got that, people can vote for any Party they like in the Scottish Parliament. But that’s for the future. for the present, we need to support the SNP even if we don’t like some of the things Nicola Sturgeon does or does not do.

The Default Position

Posted on March 19th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

With the countdown to Brexit now being measured in days, things are as unclear as ever despite the dramatic events yesterday. John Bercow’s decision to block a third vote on Theresa May’s deal unless she brings back something that is materially different has thrown everything into even more confusion.

It raises a number of questions, not least of which is why Scotland’s fate is being determined, not by a bunch of dinosaur deniers from Northern Ireland, but why a precedent from 1604, before the act of Union? Whether you agree that the Speaker has made the correct decision or not, it seems absurd that the unwritten constitution of one nation can be applied to all the countries of the united Kingdom. If nothing else, this does at least confirm what many have been saying – that Westminster is England’s Parliament; it is not the Parliament of a truly united kingdom.

As to what effect it will have, that still remains in doubt. The default position is still that the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on 29th March. Or, at least, that is the position at time of writing this. Who knows what will have happened by the time you read it?

May’s choices now seem to be (1) to ask for an extension to Article 50, (2) to revoke Article 50, or (3) to go ahead with crashing out on 29th March.

The EU have already said that they are not inclined to grant an extension unless there is a specific reason for it. A General Election might count, as would a decision to hold a second Referendum, but neither of those things seems high on the Tories’ agenda at the moment.

As for revoking Article 50, Theresa May has shown such stubbornness over the past couple of years, it’s hard to see her doing this at such a late stage, especially as the new tax avoidance laws will come into effect very soon, thus creating huge problems for lots of Tories and Tory Party donors if the UK remains part of the EU.

Which puts us back with the default option of a disastrous crash out. John Bercow may have saved us the unedifying spectacle of MPs changing their minds as a result of being offered bribes of one sort or another, but his decision hasn’t altered the countdown to catastrophe. Theresa May is the only one who can do that, and she shows no signs of doing so.

So Nicola Sturgeon will need to implement whatever plan she has pretty soon. I really do hope it’s a good one.

When Is A Cult Not A Cult?

Posted on March 9th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

During the IndyRef campaign of 2014, a common claim by those who supported Better Together was that Yes supporters were letting their hearts rule their heads. Support for Scottish independence was, they asserted, a matter of belief, not reason, and we were likened to a cult.

How things have changed. As with so many of the claims made in 2014, this one has turned out to be the exact opposite of the current state of affairs. Despite Brexit, despite the scrapping of the Sewell Convention, despite the Power Grab, the Hostile Environment and the regular abuse directed at SNP MPs in the House of Commons, there are still many Scots who prefer to stick with the UK rather than take control of their own future.

You can point out all the ways Scotland has been ignored and exploited, you can point out the disaster awaiting us when Brexit bites, you can point out the fall in the value of sterling, cite the number of businesses closing down or relocating, and yet there are still those who will refuse to believe that Scotland becoming a normal country would be preferable. Many of these people can see what is coming, yet their attachment to the UK is so great that they cannot bring themselves to abandon it no matter what might happen.

In some ways you cannot blame them. The British state long ago mastered the art of propaganda through the media and education system, and a sense of Britishness has been embedded in many people’s minds. Breaking that bond is, for some, simply not possible no matter whether they can see the problems sticking with the UK will bring. Reason no longer applies; it is blind faith and belief in the UK that will determine how they will vote in a second IndyRef.

Is there a word for a belief system like that?

Lesser Of Two Evils

Posted on February 26th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I have always supported Nicola Sturgeon’s apparent prevarication over calling IndyRef2 on the basis that to call for this before the outcome of Brexit is known would be to undermine the campaign. Asking voters to decide on such an important constitutional matter when the consequences of one side of the equation are not known would mean that many wavering voters might yet be convinced to stick with the devil they know. Much as ardent Yes supporters might shake their heads in bewilderment that so many of our fellow Scots could believe staying as part of the UK is as good as it gets, we need to recognise that many of them are subjected to the mainstream media version of events and can therefore be susceptible to arguments which could persuade them to vote against becoming citizens of a normal country.

The problem now, of course, is that Westminster has dithered and blundered for so long that it is almost certainly too late for IndyRef2 to save us from Brexit. Both the Tories and Corbyn’s Labour seem determined to leave the EU no matter what, and once we are out of the EU, our position becomes potentially very difficult to remedy. In my gloomier thoughts, I see Holyrood being dissolved as soon as Brexit has taken effect, and all chances of independence being crushed. It is not an appealing prospect at all, and I sincerely hope Nicola Sturgeon has planned for all eventualities.

Yet her decision to delay calling for IndyRef2 still has some merit because, against all expectation, there are now rumours that Labour will support a second referendum on EU membership. Quite what the terms of that referendum will be remains to be seen and, quite honestly, I am not convinced it will actually happen anyway. If it does, though, the campaign will be very interesting.

For example, how will people like Ruth Davidson and David Mundell line up? They were in favour of remaining part of the EU until ordered to change their minds once Theresa May had decided to go all out for Brexit. Can they flip flop once again? Well, they are Tories, so maintaining a consistent position isn’t exactly their strong point, but even the dimmest voter would surely realise how flawed their position would be if they took the Remain side once again. More likely is that they would support Theresa May’s fudge of a deal in order to preserve their positions within the Tory hierarchy, but again that leaves them open to questions about why they no longer support remaining in the EU. Not that many journalists are likely to ask them tough questions, of course, but it would provide ammunition for those of us who want to remain in the EU.

As for Scottish Labour, would they support voting to remain if it meant siding with the SNP? Would we see an exception to the Bain doctrine? That would set a nice precedent.

As for the SNP, they would need to tread a careful line. There is no doubt that a hard Brexit greatly enhances the cause of Scottish independence, but it would cause significant harm to our country and our people in the short term. Refusing to take part in a second EU referendum would also leave them open to accusations of putting Indy above all else. And, quite frankly, Brexit is the immediate danger, so I think they would need to support the EU referendum with a very strong caveat that a similar result to last time would result in IndyRef2.

Then there is the question of whether Scots would turn out to vote in a re-run of the EU referendum. If remaining in the EU is an option on the ballot paper – and that’s by no means certain – then I think we have no choice. We would need to send a very strong signal to Westminster that Scotland wants to remain in the EU. If we boycott the vote and the result goes against us, the Tories will gleefully proclaim that Scotland doesn’t care about the EU and wants to stick with the UK no matter what. We must avoid that scenario at all costs, which is why I believe it is important that the SNP make it clear that a strong Remain vote in Scotland would provide yet another mandate for IndyRef2 if England still votes to drag us out of the EU against our will.

But, hypothetically, what happens if there is a second EU referendum and England votes to remain? The immediate threat of Brexit will hopefully be removed, which will be a great relief to many people. It does not, however, mean that IndyRef2 needs to be shelved. There is more than enough evidence from the past couple of years to demonstrate that Westminster does not have Scotland’s best interests at heart. Whether it be the derisory treatment of the Sewell Convention, the string of broken promises, the Windrush scandal, the Hostile Environment, the deportation of foreign nationals, the economic slump, or the scorn dished out to SNP MPs in the House of Commons, surely the Yes campaign would be able to demonstrate why Scotland needs to become a normal country. Let’s just hope we get the chance to wage that campaign. If there is no second EU referendum and Brexit goes ahead, it may actually delay the chances of independence if the Tories get their act together quickly enough to seize full control of Scotland.

There doesn’t seem to be a good scenario here at all, but scrapping Brexit and then relaunching a Yes campaign seems the lesser of two evils. Unless Nicola Sturgeon has a cunning plan.

Rogue State

Posted on February 21st, 2019

by Stan Donderite

There are awards for everything nowadays, so how about an award for Rogue State of the Year?

To qualify, your state of choice must meet the following criteria:

Have a corrupt political system.

Have a culture in which adulation of the Head of State is mandatory

Have a State broadcaster which produces propaganda rather than news

Have a tradition of venerating militaristic ventures

Preferably have nuclear weapons to threaten neighbours

Be isolationist in outlook, despising anyone from another state

Nominations now open.

Tick tock

Posted on February 12th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many in the Yes community are growing increasingly frustrated that IndyRef2 has still not been called. Indeed, some in the SNP seem to believe that we should wait several years before making another attempt, and this has not gone down well.

Nicola Sturgeon’s policy of waiting to see what happens with Brexit is eminently sensible because people who don’t know what they are voting for (or against) will be difficult to persuade. However, it is increasingly clear that Theresa May’s tactic is to constantly delay so that the UK crashes out of the EU at the end of March. Unfortunately, while this is the most likely scenario, there remains some possibility of an Article 50 extension, a fudged deal or even (although this is remote) a chance Brexit will be cancelled. This makes it very difficult for Nicola Sturgeon to call IndyRef2 because nobody yet knows for certain what Brexit it going to bring.

The danger in waiting for clarity is that it may be too late by the time a decision is made. If Scotland is officially dragged out of the EU, if the UK Government uses emergency powers to impose martial law, dissolve the Scottish Parliament and take full control of Scotland, independence will remain a distant, unattainable dream.

Some might ask whether the UK Government would really go that far, but that is the wrong question. What we should be asking is what would prevent them from going that far? They certainly seem to have few cares about the social implications of many of their policies. Cuts to disability welfare, Universal credit, the Hostile Environment, Austerity, the creation of a low-pay economy and many others have failed to generate any swing in public opinion. The English electorate will continue to vote Tory, so they have no reason to believe they cannot do pretty much as they want. In spite of the internal rifts within the Tory Party itself, there is no real opposition to their rule, and they have demonstrated through their willingness to take the Scottish Government to court that they do not respect devolution at all. When you add in the well documented issue of the need for the UK to retain Scotland’s natural resources, it is hard to see why they would not want to seize full control.

Yet the polls on independence refuse to budge, providing a reason for the more cautious SNP politicians to play down IndyRef2, while the wider Yes community is clamouring that it will soon be too late.

It is almost certainly too late to hope that our EU membership can be retained, but perhaps it will require the actual shock of Brexit to wake people up. Far too many are simply fed up of the constant Brexit news, but that is how the UK Government operates. They delay, produce meaningless slogans and jargon, and do so in the knowledge that the majority of the population, fed by a compliant media, will simply shrug and get on with their lives. Perhaps when food and medicines run out, when the NHS collapses, when travelling abroad becomes a nightmare, then people will suddenly realise what all the fuss has been about. If that is what the Scottish Government is waiting for, it is a dangerous strategy.

But before we get too depressed about what might happen in a few weeks, we should not forget that this is the most inept, incompetent and bungling UK Government in living memory. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon and her team have looked at all the possible scenarios and devised plans to counter them. I sincerely hope so, because time has almost run out. Something must happen soon, and the Scottish Government needs to be ready for it.

Bluff and Bluster

Posted on February 4th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There seem to be only two arguments left for the Unionists. First is the one about Scottish independence obviously being too difficult because look at the mess we’ve made of Brexit; the second is the level of trade between Scotland and RUK.

What these two arguments have in common is that they are both designed to mislead by making false comparisons.

First of all, dissolving the Union will certainly pose challenges, but they are far from insurmountable. Plenty of nations have become independent, and over 50 have, in fact, become independent from the UK. It may have taken them a little time to establish all the institutions they required, but they have all managed it. Some, of course, remain poverty-stricken because of their own internal political feuds, but many are doing perfectly well. Given Scotland’s rich resources and the fact that we already have many of our own institutions, we should certainly be able to cope better than most when it comes to setting up a new nation.

Brexit is a false comparison because it is a highly complex trade and finance union into which the UK has become enmeshed. Separating out trade quotas from hundreds of trade deals is extremely complex, and issues over access to the single market and currency union are very complicated because of the Irish and Gibraltar border situations. The requirements of these border deals were always incompatible with ending Freedom of Movement, and anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention knew this right from the start. Brexit is a shambles because of the clash between ideology and reality. Scottish independence will certainly require some negotiations, but they will not be nearly as complex as Brexit as many of the issues, such as identifying Scottish tax payers, a central Bank, a Stock Exchange, legal and education systems, NHS and other emergency services are already either in place or in hand.

As for the trade war claims and the level of exports, Craig Dalzell has already done an excellent job of pointing out that there is far more to the headline figures than meets the eye. In fact, were it not for the imbalance in the Scottish economy, with financial services being such a huge part, the situation would be very different. In most areas, if the figures are accurate, Scotland exports more to the rest of the world than it does to the UK. And a large part of the exports we do make to the UK are things like electricity, gas, whisky and food. Whatever bluster they put up, it’s hard to see the people of England refusing to import any of those things, especially as they barely generate sufficient power for their own needs as it is. Of course, we cannot discount the fact that Westminster may make a stupid decision which would harm the people of England. After all, they’ve already done that a few times, but there are another couple of reasons why this threat of reliance on exports to England is mere bluff.

For one thing, as many people have pointed out, the UK has never refused to trade with any of its former colonies except in a few instances like South Africa during the apartheid era, so why should they refuse to trade with Scotland?

Then there is the final point that, assuming an independent Scotland remains within or re-joins the EU, then England will have no option but to trade with us unless they decide they do not want to trade with any EU member state at all. The backing the EU have provided to Ireland over the past couple of years should be evidence enough that the EU will not countenance one of its member states being discriminated against when it comes to trade deals. There may well be a hard border in place, although Westminster’s ability to devise a workable system seems pretty poor. But, as things stand with Brexit, we are going to have a hard border with the EU in a couple of months and, if most sectors within our economy actually export more to the EU and the wider world than they do with England, that’s going to be more damaging than a hard border between Scotland and England.

So it’s all just bluff and bluster as you would expect, with the sense of British exceptionalism driving most of the rhetoric. The comments being made are, as many have pointed out, similar to those made by abusive partners, threatening all sorts of things if the other party leaves, but taking advantage of them if they remain. That’s the UK in a nutshell.

So don’t fall for it, and be ready when people who rely on the mainstream media for their news repeat the mantras as if they are true. They are not.

If you want to read Craig Dalzell’s article, the link is:

Farcical But Not Funny

Posted on January 30th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

UK politics is a farce, but it’s not funny. What else can you say about the ludicrous events which took place in the House of Commons? They’ve wasted a day to come up with the imbecilic decisions that Parliament should not have the power to extend Article 50 but that they do have the power to tell Theresa May to go back to the EU to renegotiate their Withdrawal Agreement. Their truly moronic idea is to remove the Irish backstop and replace it with "Other Arrangements".

What are these other arrangements, you might well ask. But you won’t get an answer because nobody knows.

It is quite pathetic that grown adults should behave in this way. The EU has consistently said the deal will not be renegotiated and that the Irish backstop cannot be removed. All that Westminster has achieved is to show the world that they are utterly divorced from reality and completely untrustworthy when it comes to negotiating deals. That won’t have been missed by any of the countries the UK wants to do trade deals with.

Naturally, most voices in the mainstream media have been trumpeting a great triumph for Theresa May despite the fact that she may as well go back to the EU and demand a herd of unicorns for all the good it will do.

And so more time is wasted and we lurch towards a No Deal crash out of the EU, with all the horrendous implications that brings.

Nicola Sturgeon has done the sensible thing up to now, waiting to see what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is before calling IndyRef2. There is, after all, no point in asking the Scottish people to go into another referendum when they don’t know what the choices are. We know that far too many Scots are afraid of their nation becoming a normal country, and leaving one half of the equation vague will only allow those people to cling to their dream of what they think the UK is.

But time is running out. Even if we vote Yes now, we will effectively be out of the EU come the end of March. Our position then will require careful negotiation with the EU, although a sort of temporary associate membership may well be on the cards.

Still, we cannot wait much longer or it will be too late. The very existence of the Holyrood Parliament is at risk if we allow ourselves to be dragged out of the EU and left to the tender mercies of the Tories.

The next few weeks will be crucial. I fully expect May to refuse a section 30 order because she knows she can’t afford to lose Scotland, so I sincerely hope Nicola Sturgeon has thought this through and come up with a plan. Whether it is an advisory referendum or a simple dissolution of the Treaty of Union, we are rapidly approaching the cliff edge and need to do something soon.

And while we wait for the decision, we should all start stocking up on food and medicines if we can, because Brexit is going to hit hard when it happens.

Crash On Regardless

Posted on January 21st, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It seems almost inevitable that we are heading for the hardest of hard Brexits with no deal agreed between the UK and the EU. There is always a slim hope that something dramatic will happen and the UK’s triggering of Article 50 will be revoked, but I am not confident about this at all. Theresa May seems intent on crashing out of the EU no matter the consequences. All her talk of renegotiating or tweaking her deal is just so much camouflage. The EU have made it clear that there will be no further negotiations, and her constant delays and obfuscations seem designed only to run down the ticking clock until there is nothing left but to crash out of the EU.

The big worry is why she appears to be oblivious to those consequences. The situation in Ireland will become extremely serious, with Scotland not far behind in the constitutional arena.

It cannot be that May and her colleagues are oblivious to what might happen in Ireland and Scotland. The break-up of their precious Union seems almost inevitable if they continue down the path of constantly delaying debates and refusing to discuss the issues in a sensible manner. Time is rapidly running out, and the choices are now very stark.

So the question is why are they doing this? Are they prepared to risk an outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland? Are they prepared to see a united Ireland and an independent Scotland? Are they prepared to see Wales agitate for independence as well?

It is easy to take the view that the Tories are so incompetent that they have no plans beyond how to remain in power for another day, but can we ignore the other possibility? Perhaps the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are top of their list of actions to be taken post-Brexit. Perhaps the troops who are on standby to ensure there is no outbreak of civil disobedience when food and medicines run out have also been making contingency plans to keep Northern Ireland and Scotland in the UK by dint of military occupation.

OK, that’s a very pessimistic view, but history shows that Westminster is only too ready to deploy troops to get its own way, and the fact that Theresa May is charging towards a hard Brexit with apparently no concern about the break-up of the UK does make me worry.

I sincerely hope the current fiasco is due to the Tories’ utter incompetence, but let’s hope Nicola Sturgeon has planned for every eventuality because we need to escape this madness.

Is It Any Wonder?

Posted on January 15th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

What a time to be alive!

Will Theresa May get her deal approved?

Wil Brexit be cancelled?

Will Jeremy Corbyn listen to the wishes of his Party’s members?

Will Labour abstain on the vote?

Will the Tory Government fall?

Or are we faced with crashing out of the EU in a few weeks?

It is the greatest political event of most people’s lifetimes, yet the Scottish media are concentrating all their efforts on smearing Nicola Sturgeon.

Is it any wonder newspaper sales are declining?

Confused? You will be!

Posted on January 7th, 2019

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

What I’ve gleaned from the political news over the past few days:

Theresa May is going to delay the vote on her Brexit deal because she thinks she will lose.

Theresa May is going to keep bringing her deal back until she wins a vote. This is democratic.

Theresa May is adamant that having a second referendum is anti-democratic.

Theresa May is going back to the EU to get more concessions on her deal.

The EU says there will be no more concessions on her deal.

Labour want to negotiate a better deal.

The EU have said there is no better deal.

Labour will abstain because they don’t want to upset their members who are against Brexit.

Labour will vote for the deal claiming it is better than having no deal.

Labour will vote against the deal because it’s not good enough.

Labour think the EU and UK can negotiate trade deals with other countries on a joint basis. Everyone else says that’s nonsense.

There will be another referendum.

There won’t be another referendum.

Article 50 will be extended because there isn’t enough time to pass all the legislation required.

Article 50 will not be extended.

Cancelling Brexit remains an option.

Cancelling Brexit is not an option.

With so much contradiction and confusion, this is a time for strong and stable leadership. Instead, we’ve got Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

If only there was some way Scotland could escape this madness.

Building Precious Unions

Posted on December 31st, 2018

by Stan Donderite

Is your nation suffering from feelings of loneliness and isolation? Do you feel your neighbours dislike you? Do you want to create a precious union to bolster your feelings of superiority? Here’s how to do it.

Step 1. Build an army.

Step 2. Invade your nearest neighbours and bring them under your direct control.*

Step 3. Make sure you extract all the wealth from your new partner so you can demonstrate how poor and inadequate they are. This will help persuade them that they cannot survive without your benevolent control.

it’s as simple as that.

If you want to be really adventurous and create precious unions with countries all around the world, all you need to do is build a navy to transport your army, then repeat steps 2 and 3 above.

This method has been tried and tested by successive Westminster Governments over several centuries and is recognised all around the world as a proven way to create precious unions.**

*As an alternative, you can try offering bribes to politicians in the country of your choice so they vote themselves out of power and hand control to you, but always be sure to have your bribes backed up by the threat of military invasion.

**At some point, you may need to dissolve the precious union if it becomes more trouble than it is worth. If the natives do become restless, use strong military action to suppress revolt until you have managed to extract everything worthwhile before ceding control back.

Uniquely British

Posted on December 24th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s Christmas, so let’s be charitable. The saga of the Gatwick drones continues to bemuse onlookers as, after shutting down the airport, deploying the Army, arresting two people whose identities were discovered by the media, then releasing them without charge, the Police now say it is possible there were no drones at all.

But, to be fair, if the Police and Gatwick authorities were told that drones had been seen over the airport and had done nothing at all, they would have been heavily criticised had any accident occurred. They were in a bit of a no win situation. Whether they handled that situation well is another matter entirely, but the whole saga is in keeping with the ongoing mess that is the UK today. NO country is immune to issues of mechanical or human failure. The weather can cause major problems for any nation on Earth, some being more badly affected than others, but only the UK seems able to create a crisis out of … well, just about anything. The way things are going, 2019 probably won’t get any better.

Except for viewers in Scotland who, hopefully, will have their own programme.

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and an Independent New Year!

Just Banter

Posted on December 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is so much happening in Westminster thanks to the chaos of Brexit and the sheer incompetence and ineptitude of both main Parties, that writing any comment on events is almost a waste of time since it will be out of date before anyone gets a chance to read it.

So, putting aside for the moment the happy news that the UK Government is planning to put troops on the streets to quell any civil disorder, I thought it would be worth taking a quick look at something that does remain constant.

This week, SNP leader Ian Blackford was greeted with a cry of "Go back to Skye!" when he stood to make a speech. This, of course, was only banter, so we shouldn’t get too upset about it. Unless you compare it to how a cry of "Go back to Pakistan!" would have been viewed if directed at someone from a Pakistani heritage. When you view it like that, there can be little doubt that the comment contains undertones of racism at the very least.

But we shouldn’t get upset because it’s only banter. It’s the sort of banter which has been directed at the Scots, Irish and Welsh for years, so why get upset about it now?

Quite frankly, we should get upset about it. This sort of comment is the kind of casual racism which many people in England don’t even realise they are guilty of. Raised on a diet of British exceptionalism, they are taught to disdain anyone who either is not British or, if living within the British Isles, does not self-identify as British. This is the sort of culture which encourages such "banter" as that directed at Ian Blackford. And, as many people will have noticed, it is far from the worst comment made recently. We’ve had an SNP MP being told, "You’re a piece of shit." We’ve had the Irish being threatened with food shortages if they dare oppose the UK’s Brexit plans – such as they are, and we’ve heard that the Irish need to know their place. A couple of years ago, we even had a Tory MP explaining that an answer to the West Lothian question would be to follow Oliver Cromwell’s example, and have the Scots sold into slavery.

But it’s all just banter, isn’t it?

No, it’s not. Whether it comes from dreams of the Empire, from an inherent class snobbery, from being raised on British exceptionalism or from an inability to shake off a colonial attitude towards the other nations of the UK, it is simply not acceptable, so we shouldn’t accept it. In the 21st Century, we should be moving towards a society where discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Such provisions are written into law even in the UK, and it’s about time Westminster caught up.

The only positive thing that can be said about this is that it provides the SNP with ammunition for IndyRef2. When that campaign starts, I hope they have a campaign advert compilation of all these comments and more. If that could be broadcast to the nation, anyone who believes that Scotland is a respected, equal partner in the Union would find that belief tested.

Another Mad Week

Posted on December 10th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

We are entering another mad week in UK politics. Rumours are that Theresa May might go back to Brussels for a better deal than the one she negotiated, but that sounds like just another Westminster delaying tactic. The EU isn’t going to budge, so there is no point going back again.

As to whether the deal passes in Westminster, the situation is so fraught that anything could happen. We might even see Brexit cancelled if enough MPs see sense.

Some pro-Indy folk are hoping Brexit goes ahead because it seriously improves the chances of Scotland becoming independent. I can understand why people may feel this way, but wishing harm on our neighbours simply to suit ourselves is not a good position to adopt.

Ideally, I’d like to see Brexit cancelled, then Scotland voting in IndyRef2 to become a normal country. That would nullify all the daft arguments about England refusing to trade with an independent Scotland because both countries would remain in the EU.

Of course, the danger in this approach is that some will argue that, with Brexit no longer a threat, there is no need for independence. This misses the point that a country governing itself is the fundamental issue in the Indy debate. Whether the UK is in the EU or not, Scotland being independent is the best course for our nation.

And, as someone on Twitter pointed out, just because someone threatens to throw you off a cliff then changes their mind is no good reason to stick around them. If they’ve threatened to do one mad thing, they are perfectly capable of doing plenty other harmful things. Indeed, England’s penchant for voting Tory has already done considerable harm to Scotland. Escaping that situation is the only sensible thing to do. It will take a while to set up a new nation, but others have managed it, and if our nearest neighbour remains a part of the EU, the transition will be that much easier.

The problem is, the UK is far from sensible, so who knows where we will be by the end of this week? They might try to delay and obfuscate because that is the British way, but a decision needs to be made soon. Let’s hope it’s the right one.

Media Mayhem

Posted on November 30th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is little doubt that the main opponent of Scottish independence is the UK media, in particular the BBC. While some people still trust this state broadcaster, events this week have shown yet again that there is a definite anti-indy agenda within the BBC. Whether this is deliberate or unconscious is beside the point.

This week saw Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, giving a speech about the damage Brexit will cause to Scotland. Yet anyone wanting to see the speech in its entirety needed to watch RT, the Russian news channel. Critics of RT will point out that RT is a Kremlin propaganda outlet and has a vested interest in promoting any event which criticises the UK Government. Given Nicola Sturgeon’s undisguised desire for Scotland to become a normal nation again, it is only natural that RT would want to give her publicity.

Yet, by the very same standards, why would the BBC and other UK broadcasters refuse to show her speech? If RT is demonstrating political bias by showing her speech, then we must assume that the BBC is showing a similar but opposite bias in refusing to screen the event. In other words, the BBC is not impartial; it is anti-independence. In fact, as has been documented on other pro-Indy sites, the BBC’s reporting of the First Minister’s speech was deliberately mocking.

Then we’ve had the so-called Vicargate scandal in which a woman who has appeared as an actor in several BBC programmes was a guest as an audience member putting forward a very strong pro-Brexit viewpoint. This has caused a fair bit of outrage on social media, and it would certainly be a scandal if the woman had been paid by the BBC to make her appearance and express particular views. However, it appears that this lady does indeed hold those views, so the problem is that the BBC misrepresented her by implying to viewers that she was a church minister. It turns out she is a self-appointed minister in her own "Church". Of course, she is entitled to hold any political views she wishes, but for the BBC not to disclose her true identity and background has left them open to criticism. It is similar to other audience members being specially selected in order to promote a certain view. The BBC may claim this represents some balance to the discussions, but it seems more than a little odd that their selected audience members always seem to put forward pro-Union, pro-Tory and pro-Brexit views. There may have been nothing untoward about the Newsnight audience selection, but the clumsy way the BBC have gone about it simply reinforces the view among many members of the public that the BBC has an agenda.

Then, as if having the state broadcaster against us isn’t enough, we had further evidence of the UK’s attitude towards Scottish independence when Theresa May made her flying visit to a Tory-supporting factory in Scotland where she was safely sealed away from meeting any members of the general public. Because The National, the only pro-indy newspaper, was not allowed to attend the press conference or ask any questions.

When you look at these events – and they are only a few of the most recent examples – it is hard to conclude anything except that the UK’s much-vaunted values of democracy and free speech are little more than a sham.

As this blog has said before, it is difficult to know what to do about this. The SNP have a media team, yet any criticism or rebuttal they issue is ignored by the media because it clashes with the pro-union agenda. This makes it very hard to get the word out to the wider public because pro-indy messages are simply ignored by the media.

Of course, the BBC and STV deny that there is any bias in spite of the constant evidence. We’ve seen Newsnight debates on Brexit with no representatives from outside England, we’ve seen reporters misrepresent the Brexit deal in an effort to conceal the betrayal of the Scottish fishing community who, despite being repeatedly let down by Tory broken promises, still proclaim their preference for Westminster rule, and have that opinion promoted by the BBC.

In England, many people are waking up to the bias in the reporting of news, with Radio 4 being heavily criticised for its pro-Brexit stance. In Scotland, we saw the bias in 2014 and it has not gone away. To think that there will be any change if and when IndyRef2 is called would be naïve in the extreme. If anything, we can expect even more bias, either by misrepresentation or omission. Social media may help counteract this to some extent by helping spread a different version of events, but we must be aware that not everyone in Scotland uses social media, and even if they do they may well be targeted with promoted stories tailored to influence them. The only way we can oppose the mainstream propaganda is by continuing to talk to people face to face and persuade them that the UK does not have their best interests at heart.

The First Resort

Posted on November 27th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

One of the points Brexiteers often make about the EU is that there are plans to create a European Army. This is, in Brexit philosophy, a bad thing since it would give foreigners the power to order British troops into wars the British Government may not want to be involved in.

Of course, the precise structure of any European Army is a matter of speculation, but it is difficult to see how such an all-encompassing organisation would be approved by the member states. It may well be that the idea is to further reinforce the EU view that wars within Europe should be a thing of the past and that if all European armies were combined into one, there would be no prospect of a further war. I don’t think this is a realistic view for a couple of reasons. Firstly, history shows us that civil wars within a single state are not exactly unknown, and various factions within the army of a state can take different sides within a conflict. Secondly, the very fact that an important part of the EU is that individual member states retain most of their sovereignty suggests that army units within the control of an EU-wide armed forces structure would still be answerable to their home Government.

In practical terms, any EU-wide defence force is likely to impose some sort of uniformity on things like procurement of equipment, with an over-arching command structure which would oversee the deployment of EU forces in any conflict. Whether it would lead to, say, Italian officers commanding a British regiment is something every member state would need to agree on before an EU army is created and, quite frankly, I’m not sure many of them would agree to such a thing. More likely, we would see something akin to the WW2 western Allies, where a command structure overlaid the individual armies, although an EU force may well want to impose more uniformity in terms of equipment used.

But the main thing that amuses me about the Brexiteer dislike of an EU army is that their arguments suggest they should really not support the involvement of Scottish regiments in the British Army. Scottish troops have been at the beck and call of Westminster for the past three centuries, often sent into conflicts which the Scottish public wanted no part of, and frequently suffering a higher casualty rate than other regiments. Of course, most Brexiteers see no anomaly in this since they view Scotland (and let’s not forget Wales and Northern Ireland) as mere regions of the UK. If what they fear is that an EU army would resemble the structure of the British Army, they surely cannot simultaneously insist that the British Army structure is perfectly normal and acceptable.

It’s a small point in the greater scheme of things but, quite frankly, I think Scottish regiments, plus a new Scottish Air Force and Navy, would be better off as part of an integrated EU defence force, if for no other reason that the EU is unlikely to attack other nations at the behest of the USA. As long as we remain part of the UK, our service men and women will be sent into war zones because attacking other nations is what the UK does. In its 311 year history, the UK has been at war (or at least in armed conflicts) almost continuously. That must be more than coincidence, and it makes me wonder whether what the Brexiteers really fear is the EU preventing them from making war. Some of the rhetoric we’ve heard from pro-Brexit politicians certainly indicates a liking for violence. Personally, I’d prefer to live in a country where going to war is seen as a last resort, not a first one.

Not The Same

Posted on November 19th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

It seems Project Fear has found a new angle thanks to Brexit. They’ve been pushing the "We can’t stop trading with our biggest partner" line for a while now, but one thing you can rely on is that Unionists will always find an angle, even when staring a calamity like Brexit in the face.

So what is this new line of attack? Well, it plays on people’s fear of change. What they are doing is pointing to the absolute chaos of Brexit, highlighting all the problems that it is going to cause and then saying, "So you see how difficult it would be for Scotland to break away from our precious Union?"

It’s an interesting scare tactic, since it relies on people accepting that they should stick with Brexit UK and all the shortages of food, medicine and jobs that will bring, rather than risk the possible downsides of Scottish independence.

Now, nobody is saying becoming a normal country will be plain sailing. Many parts of Scotland’s society are deeply intertwined with the rest of the UK, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that disentangling those aspects will be as difficult as Brexit.

This is because Scotland already has several of the attributes of a normal, independent country. We have our own legal and education systems, our own emergency services and our own Parliament to name a few.

Where work would be required is in establishing organisations to cover things like collection of taxes and social security, but we are already part way there. And there would be such things as setting up a Scottish equivalent of DVLA and other similar organisations. But the important thing to note is that, while these may take some time, there is no absolute cut-off point whereby the UK would stop providing these services as there is with exiting the Single Market and Customs Union. An independent Scotland could easily pay the UK to continue to run these operations until such time as Scottish equivalent organisations are set up.

Of course, we all know the UK will try to be uncooperative since its default position is to be spiteful and vindictive, but we should not forget that, in any negotiations about secession from the UK, Scotland has a lot of strong cards to play. England will continue to rely on Scottish power generation and on Scottish water, not to mention the important fact that the UK’s nuclear submarine base is in Scotland. If they want to maintain their status as a nuclear power, they are going to want to keep that going until they have built an alternative base. So there is incentive on both sides to negotiate in good faith.

And the really important bit is that Scotland could remain in the EU, thus entirely removing the need to set up agencies to monitor such things as approval of new medicines. Our laws already comply with EU regulations, and we wouldn’t need to negotiate any trade deals at all since the EU takes care of that. Our airports could continue to have planes flying, our truck drivers would find that their licences will allow them to continue to operate within the EU, and a whole host of Brexit issues vanish, especially those which will negatively impact the Scottish economy.

There will, of course, still be a great deal of work to be done. Our ports need to be upgraded because we need more direct transport links to Europe; we would need to establish our own armed forces and a network of embassies and consulates. Then there is the question of a Central Bank and which currency to use.

but all of these things, and others, are quite normal for a newly independent nation, and every other country that has become independent has had to face them. Are we really saying that Scots, who have given the world so many inventors and philosophical thinkers, are incapable of achieving what other nations have already shown can be done?

So let’s not be afraid of this new scare tactic. As usual, the Unionists are trying to compare two things which, while ostensibly similar, are actually quite different in many respects.

A Lesson From History

Posted on November 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Outlaw King, a film about Robert the Bruce, was released on Netflix and in selected cinemas on Friday. Naturally, it’s gathered a lot of attention among the Yes community. While those who know about the actual history have, as usual, complained about the historical flaws, it must be said that these are relatively minor with the exception of having Edward II present at the final battle. While this grated a bit, we must remember that this is a film made to entertain, not a historical documentary, and the narrative of such films requires a final showdown. So, while I knew this part of the story was inaccurate, I can live with it.

The film was pretty good overall, and certainly more authentic to the period than Braveheart, although whether it will capture the public imagination in the way that Braveheart did remains to be seen.

The story was well told, showing how the character of Bruce developed. Yes, it was told from a very pro-Bruce perspective, but every film needs a hero, so that is to be expected.

But the real surprise about this film is that it shows just how little most Scots know of Scottish history. How many of us had heard of the Battle of Loudon Hill? We know the legend of the spider, but for most Scots that legend and the Battle of Bannockburn are pretty much all they know of Bruce. This highlights how, while we all learn about the Battle of Hastings and the Tudors, Scottish history is largely overlooked in the school curriculum. There is now some stuff on Wallace and Bruce, and Mary, Queen of Scots, usually gets a mention but, for far too many young Scots, that’s about it.

Let’s hope this situation changes. For the moment, I am going to follow the learning path I have always followed. Having seen the film, I am now going to read a couple of books on the genuine history of Robert the Bruce. I hope others will do the same because, instead of complaining that films are not historically accurate, we should applaud the film-makers for raising awareness and inspiring us to learn more.

A Personal Choice

Posted on November 9th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

This time of year has brought the usual arguments over the increasingly controversial poppy appeal. Many people are refusing to wear one, while others attempt to shame or even intimidate people into wearing one even if, in some cases, the people being targeted are not UK nationals.

Like most things, it should be a matter of personal choice. Wear a poppy if you want to; don’t wear one if you don’t want to. In either case, we should not attack anyone who disagrees with our own choice.

As for my own choice, I haven’t worn a poppy for several years now. There are a few reasons for this, but it is worth saying at the outset that my father served during WW2. He lost many friends and was severely wounded for his troubles. For that reason, Remembrance Day was always marked in our household because it was about remembering the fallen.

What disturbs me now about the use of the poppy is its increasing politicisation. Failing to wear a poppy is viewed by many as a criticism of the UK military, a slight on those who serve and essentially unpatriotic. Naturally, this hardens views among those who dislike the UK’s militaristic posturing. However, it is important to note that even the people who do not wear a poppy harbour no grudges against the men and women who serve in the armed forces. We are able to draw a clear distinction between those who serve and the political system which controls them. Indeed, many of those who join up do so out of dire economic necessity, only to find themselves transported half way around the world to fight in wars that have little to do with defending the UK’s borders, and then being tossed on a scrap heap once their term of service ends.

This, sadly, is very little different to what happened to the men who returned from the horror of WW1. Instead of a land fit for heroes, they came back to squalor and unemployment. One of the reasons the poppy appeal began was that the UK Government failed to support the survivors or the families of those who lost their lives. Since then, the UK has continued to promote charity as the best way to look after ex-service personnel, and the plight of many of those men and women is little short of scandalous. It is estimated that around 13,000 former soldiers are currently homeless, with many of them suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead of being given the support and care they need, they have been abandoned by the Government which sent them into danger.

When you add to this the disturbing situation that many of the events organised by, or with the blessing of, the Royal British Legion are sponsored by major arms manufacturers, the entire proposition behind the poppy appeal looks even more sordid. The organisation pledged to care for ex-service personnel willingly accepts sponsorship from companies who have a vested interest in creating wars where more young men and women are exposed to situations which may result in them being maimed or killed, thus perpetuating the need for a charity to ostensibly provide support for them. It is a vicious and unsavoury circle and, as so often, it is the ordinary men and women who joined up who suffer the most, while the rest of us are asked to salve our consciences by putting some money in a tin and wearing a plastic poppy.

I do not like this cynical exploitation of ordinary people, I do not like the jingoism which now surrounds the poppy as an emblem. Most of the war veterans I knew, including my father, wore the poppy as a mark of remembrance of their comrades. They were against war, yet the UK has been at war almost continuously throughout its 311 years of existence and shows little sign of losing its enthusiasm for military conflict.

As someone who has read extensively of the horrors of WW1, and whose father was wounded in WW2, I do not feel the need to wear a poppy to remember their sacrifice. There is not a single day of my life that passes when I do not remember them. I do not remember the glory or the victories, but the slaughter, the senseless loss of lives, the dreadful conditions they suffered and the virtual contempt with which many of them were treated by the Government when the wars ended.

And to answer the accusations that failing to donate to the poppy appeal means that it is those who need help who will suffer, I can answer that by saying that I have donated to a homeless charity so that perhaps some of the abandoned ex-service personnel can be helped. I think that is a better use of my money than the poppy appeal.

So, wear a poppy if you like. Or not, as you choose. But the important thing is that you should have a free choice.

A Canny Move?

Posted on November 8th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Quite a few Yessers are annoyed that the Scottish Parliament has voted to support a so-called People’s vote on Brexit. This is understandable since we all know that it will be England that decides the outcome of any referendum no matter how Scotland votes. Calls for the SNP to declare IndyRef2 have not gone away, and the People’s Vote campaign is regarded by many as a distraction, with the added problem that a lot of people who are calling for a second referendum on Brexit simultaneously declare that there should be no second referendum on Scottish independence. Still, that’s the sort of hypocrisy we’ve got used to, and we should be able to rise above it by now.

As for the Scottish Parliament’s vote, it is probably not worth getting upset over since the chances of there being a second EURef are very remote indeed. The UK Government is determined to forge ahead with Brexit in order to avoid the EU’s anti-tax avoidance regulations and to give themselves more sweeping powers to control the UK and remove as many workers’ rights as they can.

So why would the Scottish Government support this latest vote? I believe the main reason is that they wish the world to see that they have taken every possible step to save the UK from the calamity of Brexit. If they can demonstrate to everyone that they have repeatedly tried and repeatedly been ignored or overruled, then it will be evident to everyone except the most extreme British Nationalists that calling IndyRef2 is the last resort. If they went straight to IndyRef2 they could well face accusations of jumping the gun and not exploring every other possibility. OK, the media will accuse them anyway, but the court of world opinion will not be so blinkered. Organisations such as the UN and, most especially, the EU, will have proof positive that the Scottish Government has exhausted all avenues in its attempts to be reasonable, and they will see precisely where the blame lies.

And if, against expectation, a second vote on Brexit is allowed and results in the UK seeing sense and voting to stay, all that does is delay IndyRef2 slightly. Our EU citizens’ rights will be protected, our economy sheltered a little from the ongoing disasters it faces, but the Scottish Government will still retain a mandate to call IndyRef2. The immediate threat will have been averted, but the example of how Westminster views Scotland will be all too evident.

But, as I say, a People’s Vote probably isn’t going to happen anyway, so this vote in the Scottish Parliament is simply the Scottish Government playing canny politics. It might not be too everyone’s liking, but it does actually strengthen their case when the inevitable happens. It also had the added benefit of once again showing up Labour’s ineptitude because almost all of their MSPs abstained on the vote, highlighting their increasing irrelevance to modern Scotland.

So let’s not get too upset. IndyRef2 cannot be called until we know what is going to happen with Brexit. NO matter how inevitable a crash out of the EU seems, there is always the faint chance that Westminster will see sense. And although leaving IndyRef2 until the last possible moment is a dangerous strategy from the point of view that Brexit will cause even more severe harm to our economy, it may be that it will take the shock of post-Brexit UK to convince more Scots that becoming a normal country is the sensible option.

A Modern Scot?

Posted on October 30th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So it turns out that Robert the Bruce might have been born in England. To which I can only respond, "so what?" If this was supposed to diminish his status in the eyes of supporters of Scottish independence, those who wish to spread this message have sadly misjudged what drives us.

Of course, the news is interesting historically. If anything, it shows that Bruce was a man of his times, descendant of a family from Flanders who rose within the Norman aristocracy in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England, an event which led to the ever-acquisitive Normans extending their rule over most of the British Isles in their typically brutal fashion.

Bruce was a part of the elite who were just as concerned with power, privilege and status as today’s elite. He fought for King Edward of England and he fought against him, his loyalties generally determined by what was best for Bruce and his family, although a certain well known story suggests that he decided to continue the fight when it would have been easier to surrender. Of course, we don’t know the precise details behind what drove that decision, but it was an important one for both Bruce and Scotland.

It would perhaps be reading too much into his actions to suggest that he was a man of the people in the manner of William Wallace, but whatever drove him to fight for the crown of Scotland left an indelible mark on the nation and ensured that it was not absorbed into England in the way that Wales was.

So, wherever he was born, whatever his motivations, whether he was a decent human being or a power-hungry megalomaniac; none of these things really matter except in the sense that we gain some understanding of historical events. What matters is that Robert the Bruce preserved Scotland as an independent nation at a time when its existence was very much in doubt.

Nor should we forget the Declaration of Arbroath which was written several years after Bruce’s greatest victory at Bannockburn. In this momentous document, the lords and senior clergy of Scotland declared that the people (by which they probably meant themselves) had the right to remove a king who did not act in the best interests of the nation. It wasn’t what we would recognise as democracy, but it showed that the relationship between ruler and ruled in Scotland was very different to the manner in which Norman kings ruled England. We must assume that Bruce knew and understood this, even if the likelihood of the people exercising that power in the face of a monarch who commanded an army was remote in practice.

But the main thing is that, whatever the historical facts, when it boils down to it, we should regard Bruce in the same way as we should regard all our present-day Scots. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what matters is that you want to help us go where the nation wants to go.

The Bigger Yins

Posted on October 24th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The reaction to the news that Billy Connolly has admitted that he now sees independence for Scotland as the best route out of Brexit mayhem has been mixed to say the least. Some people have pointed to his former comments about those who support a normal Scotland, while others have suggested that promotion of his new book might lie behind his apparent conversion and that he may not be entirely sincere.

It is true that the Big Yin was scathing towards Yes supporters, and we know that Scots can bear a grudge for a considerable time. After all, none of us likes to be the subject of criticism, especially when it is expressed in harsh terms. But, while a hostile reaction to his comment is understandable, there are a few reasons why I think we need to welcome Billy Connolly’s statement.

First of all is the obvious one that, if and when IndyRef2 takes place, we need as many people to vote Yes as possible, so someone converting to our side should be welcomed, even if that person doesn’t actually live here for much of the year.

It is, of course, Connolly’s celebrity status which makes his comments newsworthy, so his residence is not as important as the possible effect his words might have. If someone who was so implacably opposed to Scotland becoming a normal country can change his mind, then perhaps we should make him all the more welcome because it takes a lot for people to alter their opinions and such a high profile switch of sides just might make others consider their opposition to independence in a fresh light.

The other point which is worth making also relates to Connolly’s celebrity status. He was far from alone among Scotland’s celebrities in speaking out against independence. If we respond to his claim that he has altered his opinion with cynicism and scorn, what message does that send to other high profile Scots who might be seriously considering making a similar statement? Might they not take the view that it is not worth switching to Yes because of the abuse from vile CyberNats? It would be nice to think that strong-minded individuals in the public eye would be accustomed to criticism and might still declare a change of mind because they appreciate the wider issues, but should we take the chance of alienating even one person by ridiculing or sneering at Connolly’s statement? If every vote counts, then we really should make an effort to show that we are better than that. Anger and scorn are the hallmarks of our opponents, and, however much we might remember previous comments by a new convert to Yes, we really ought to try to show that we are bigger than the pettiness of most Unionists.

So, whatever his motivation and however sincere he might be, I welcome the Big Yin to Yes, and hope that his example will encourage others to speak out in support of an independent Scotland.

F***ing Mental

Posted on October 13th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

During our recent trip to Munich, our group met with a bunch of young lads from Denmark. Between the beer drinking and singing, we had an interesting chat with them on a variety of subjects as we compared various aspects of our lives.

As you would expect, they all spoke good English, with one lad in particular being so fluent he even knew a lot of swear words and was keen to learn even more.

It came as a surprise for my son when this chap told him that he pays 45% tax. At first, my son thought this was terrible, until he learned that the social security available meant that, if the Danish lad had to give up work due to accident or ill health, he would continue to be paid an amount equivalent to his salary until his retirement age. I don’t know whether this is universal in Denmark or merely applies to this chap’s employer or industry, but it is a striking difference to the situation in the UK.

The Scandinavian model of high wage, high tax and high social benefits has long been admired by many people in the UK. This is just one example of the difference between how the UK operates and how other nations approach things. For anyone in the UK who faces having to give up work early due to, say, an accident or a degenerative disability, the option of receiving full pay until retirement age simply isn’t there. Instead, they face a life of scraping by on meagre social security payments or, in far too many cases, relying on food banks because the state offers them nothing.

I know it would not be possible for a newly independent Scotland to suddenly adopt the Scandinavian economic model, but it surely must be something to aim towards. Denmark, after all, has a population comparable to Scotland yet has few of the natural resources available to us. If they can do it, surely we can at least try.

The chat then moved, very briefly, onto politics. Brexit was mentioned.

Our Danish friend merely shook his head and said, "It’s f***ing mental."

There wasn’t much to add to that.

For me, the most revealing part of the chat was when some of our group admitted to not knowing exactly where Copenhagen is when our new friend told us that was where he was from. His response was to laughingly say that we ought to know where it was since the British had attacked the city in 1807 and destroyed large portions of it.

Now, I knew about this because I had read a fictionalised account of the tragic war in a novel by Bernard Cornwell. Had it not been for that, however, I would have been just as ignorant as the rest of my group, none of whom knew anything about this event. For me, this was a classic example of the British education system glossing over unsavoury events in an effort to maintain the mirage of a benevolent Empire. The Danes know all about this attack and its dreadful consequences, yet I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in the UK who has learned about it from within the education system. It is simply ignored because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

Travel broadens the mind. Everyone in our group thoroughly enjoyed our short visit to Munich, and meeting people from other countries is always informative. Our brief encounter with these lovely lads from Denmark will, I hope, live in the memories of the younger members of our group and make them aware that there are different ways of doing things than the British way.

Little To Gain

Posted on October 11th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out any sort of deal with the SNP which would see him become Prime Minister in a minority Government. This is precisely what Ed Milliband did, so perhaps it is no surprise. Part of the problem for Labour leaders is that the media in England have persuaded a large section of the population that the SNP hate the English, so any deal with them could be seen as a toxic betrayal of the English people, many of whom dread the thought that any other nation can exercise any sort of control over them. (Stop laughing at the back there!).

It briefly crossed my mind that another factor might be that Corbyn is so entrenched in the Westminster system that anything which disrupts the two-Party hegemony is automatically dismissed, but I think that is probably not the case. After all, we’ve seen coalitions in Westminster recently, and the DUP backing of the Tories shows that political expediency can lead to such deals. So the problem is not with support deals, but with the SNP.

Is Corbyn’s dismissal of the SNP simply another example of the Bain principle at work? Perhaps it is, but there could also be some logic behind it. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that another General election is called and that Labour would need the support of the SNP in order to form a Government under a confidence and supply arrangement. What would the SNP’s price for such a deal be? Agreeing to support a Labour Government for a full five year term would not be in the SNP’s best interests because another Holyrood election would take place before that term ends, and there is always the possibility that, if the UK Government has been stabilised by the SNP, many Scots voters would decide to support a Unionist Party in Holyrood, thus removing the current pro-Indy majority.

Another factor is that, thanks to EVEL, the support the SNP could provide would be limited, perhaps resulting in the Labour Government being unable to push through some of its policies in the face of united opposition from the other Parties.

And the big issue is that, if the SNP decide that holding another IndyRef is the price of their support, that puts Labour in a difficult position. As the ruling Party of Government, they would want to oppose Scottish independence, yet that would set them in direct opposition to the Party keeping them in power. And if the vote goes the way we hope it does, it would result in the collapse of the Labour Government as soon as the SNP left Westminster on Scotland regaining its status as a normal country.

So Corbyn probably has little to gain from agreeing to any sort of deal with the SNP. Yet, while his announcement has probably pleased a large section of his support, it has also added to the ammunition available to the SNP who now have yet another example of apparent scorn and dismissal from a Westminster Party. In pro-Indy eyes, Labour have again shown where their allegiance lies, and every example is another stepping stone for the Yes movement.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Corbyn. Almost, but not quite.

Ein Prosit!

Posted on October 8th, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Last week I had a short holiday break in Munich, visiting the Oktoberfest. It was a manic couple of days, although I can assure all readers that I was very well behaved and did not disgrace myself in any way at all.

This was my first trip abroad for a good few years, and it gave me a fresh chance to compare things with home. A couple of things stood out. I’m sure every visitor to Europe is aware of these, but it is always worth keeping them in mind.

First was the integrated transport system, with the same tickets being valid on trains, trams and buses. I only used the train twice and was very impressed. The seats may not be quite as comfortable as the ones we are used to, but they are perfectly fine. The trains were on time and ran smoothly, but the main thing was the audible station announcements during the journeys. These were made in German and in English. As a blind traveller, I found them extremely helpful, especially as they also advised which side of the train to alight from.

You could argue that Munich is a tourist hotspot and so having bilingual announcements is nothing special, but Scotland is a tourist hotspot yet it is only really in the last dozen years or so that audio announcements have become commonplace on our trains, and they still aren’t available on most buses. Even when they are made, they are only given in English, which isn’t very helpful to visitors from abroad.

Nor do our announcements usually explain which side of the train to alight from. It may seem obvious to sighted passengers but, as a blind passenger, I still need to be familiar with the stations to know which side the platform is on. Believe me, if you can’t see, scrabbling around for a button to open the doors and then discovering you are on the wrong side of the train can be a little stressful.

Of course, privatisation of public transport has created enormous difficulties in the UK. Comparison with Germany suggests that the UK has got it very wrong from a customer service point of view and, quite frankly, what other point of view should really count when it comes to public transport?

The second thing I need to mention is that traditional comment that nearly everyone we met spoke English to some extent. From the elderly hotel receptionist, to the men and women serving the drinks, to the lady in a souvenir stall who sold us T-shirts, it was quite embarrassing that I barely used my very limited German at all because most of them were very comfortable speaking English and more than a few of them were fluent.

Much has been said recently about the decline in foreign language learning in Scottish schools. This is one area where I really feel the Scottish Government needs to do something. Our lazy attitude towards learning foreign languages is a very British trait, and it’s not one we should be proud of. I hope the Scottish Government will do something to address this.

We did have a very interesting chat with a group of Danish lads who were so fluent in English they even knew plenty of swear words. I’ll write more about our conversation with them in a follow up post. For the moment, the only other thing to mention is that I wore a pair of saltire shades at the festival and was greeted by more than one friendly shout of "Scotland!". We were made to feel very welcome everywhere we went, and the trip must have been a success because every one of us wants to go back. Let’s hope Brexit doesn’t make that more difficult.

Kezia's Choices

Posted on October 1st, 2018

by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’m not going to comment on the defamation case between Kezia Dugdale and Wings Over Scotland. That’s a matter for the courts, so I see no point in expressing an opinion on what might happen. However, I was very interested in some comments I saw online which were made in response to Kezia Dugdale’s remarks about the trustworthiness of the Labour Party.

As you would expect, many people responded with replies suggesting that Labour had been recognised as untrustworthy by a great many people some time ago, but there were also some very conciliatory replies urging Ms Dugdale to quit Labour and join the SNP, with many people telling her she would be very welcome.

Now, this is exactly the sort of reaction we should have towards anyone who voted No in 2014 and is expressing doubts or regrets of any sort. As yet, of course, Kezia Dugdale has not expressed any doubts as to her former opinions on self-determination for Scotland, and I don’t expect she will do so any time soon even if she does feel betrayed by Labour.

Here’s why. For one thing, Ms Dugdale was elected as a List MSP for the Labour Party. She cannot simply declare that she wishes to leave Labour and represent the SNP as, much as we might disagree with the sentiments of Labour voters, their views must be respected. So, rather than crossing the floor or, given the layout of the Scottish Parliament, moving round the seats, Kezia Dugdale would need to stand down so that the Labour Party could appoint a replacement from their List.

This would mean she would no longer be an MSP unless the SNP were to appoint her to replace one of their existing MSPs, a situation which is difficult to imagine.

So is she likely to decide to stand down? Given that she has already bemoaned the fact that the potential costs and outcome of the current legal case against her could bankrupt her, thus barring her from being an MSP, it seems that her current status within Parliament is extremely important to her.

This suggests that the only courses open to her are either to declare her support for independence in defiance of her party’s official stance, thus further alienating her from her fellow MSPs and possibly risking deselection, or keeping her thoughts to herself and carrying on as a loyal Labour MSP.

I’m not prepared to bet on which of those she will choose because it seems pretty obvious.

A Better Way

Posted on September 29th, 2018

by Shona

I know some people might think this idea is silly but I keep thinking it might be the best route for Scotland to become an independent nation again and I wanted to share it.

I know there isn’t really much chance that Brexit can be stopped but you never know. If the Westminster parties ever do give in to the calls for a second EU referendum, the chances are that Remain would win this time around. Scottish voters may be fed up of voting where their votes don’t count, but we need to make sure that Scotland votes decisively for Remain if we are given the chance.

Then, with the threat of Brexit removed, there will probably be another General Election because Theresa May’s credibility will be worth even less than it is now. I think the SNP should stand on a manifesto pledge to negotiate for independence if they win a majority of the Westminster seats. So, thirty or more SNP MPs means the people of Scotland want independence. I know some people think we need a referendum but if Westminster say no to that, we would be stuck, so why not use Westminster’s own voting system to our own advantage?

I know negotiations will be difficult, but doing it this way will mean that the ridiculous threat of a hard border cannot be used to scare people into voting against independence. If Brexit is stopped, England cannot refuse to trade with a fellow member of the EU. And don’t think Scotland will be kicked out. We may need a little time to set up our own central bank and currency but the EU will surely not deprive us of our citizenship and trading rights while we go about establishing the things we need. With the hard border threat gone, Unionists have no arguments left.

I suppose some people will argue that cancelling Brexit means there is no reason to leave the UK but that isn’t so at all. The past two years have surely proved that Scotland has no voice in the UK and that Westminster despises us. The attempted power grab and the exclusion from negotiations confirm that Scotland is viewed by Westminster as nothing more than a source of resources. They want our oil, our whisky, our taxes, our food, but they don’t want us to have a say in how those things are used.

Cancelling Brexit is the best thing for everyone in Britain. I don’t want the people of England to suffer because of the greed of some rich Brexiteers, but I don’t want the government of England to control Scotland either. With the proof of Brexit as an example, we can show the people of Scotland that there is a better way.

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