School for Scandal

St Mathews Academy Saltcoats, one of the four schools built that line the pockets of investors

When I asked a close friend, one of our most distinguished international architects, why his firm had not made a bid to design and supervise the build of new Scottish schools planned under the Labour administration, his answer was viper quick. “Wouldn’t touch the projects; the investors were skimming 40% off the top of the projects before a single school saw a foundation stone laid.”

The former SNP MSP Campbell Martin gives his view of the scam.

Incidentally, there is a way to stop the leaching of millions of public money to the rich profiteering investors at usury rates. Pass a parliamentary law making it mandatory for 60% of local people to be on the governing boards of such PPP enterprises, and as soon as installed pass a resolution with the board of governors of the schools to halve the interest rates (or more) immediately.


by Campbell Martin

In June, 2005, North Ayrshire Council announced that First Class Consortium (FCS) was the preferred bidder for its Public Private Partnership (PPP) deal to build four new schools. The Council subsequently issued a press release, advising that FCS had been awarded the contract. The press release gave the value of the contract as £80m. However, this figure actually only represented the capital cost, the amount it would take to build the schools. In another press release, the German construction company Hochtief announced it had been awarded the North Ayrshire contract, and gave the total value as £380m.

Hochtief was the main component-part of First Class Consortium, and the figure it gave represented the £80m construction cost plus £300m for a 30-year contract to maintain the school buildings. Before this stage in the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project was reached, the Council had embarked on a procurement process that has since been recognised as Scotland’s biggest PFI/PPP scandal.

PFI stood for the Private Finance Initiative, a system of procuring and paying for public contracts, initially introduced by the Conservative UK Government led by John Major. The system was rebranded as Public Private Partnerships by the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It was under New Labour that PPP was massively expanded. Councils and health boards seeking to build new schools and hospitals were not only encouraged to use PPP, they were effectively told it was ‘the only game in town’, the only way they would receive central government funding to help pay for construction projects.

The shocking truth of what actually happened during the procurement process for the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project is told in two documentaries – ‘The Only Game In Town’ and ‘The Only Game In Town 2 – The Cover-Up’. Both films are available on YouTube: links to them can be found at the foot of this page.

Two key outcomes of the process, however, are that the procurement saw First Class Consortium awarded the multi-million-pound contract without ever facing any competition. Also, the figure of £380m, quoted by Hochtief in its press release on FCS being awarded the contract, is an understatement of the total cost to the public purse. The detail of the contract shows payments to the private-sector companies within the consortium increase year-on-year. At the moment, taxpayers are forking-out over £1m every month to service the North Ayrshire PPP debt. In total, by the time the contract ends in 2037, the public will have paid considerably over £400m for schools valued at just £80m when new.

Much of the content in the two documentaries mentioned above relates to the ‘second bid’, which North Ayrshire Council claimed provided genuine competition for its multi-million-pound Schools PPP contract. Watch the films and decide for yourself about that claim. This article, for the first time, focuses on the successful bid, the one from First Class Consortium. More specifically, it focuses on the consortium’s largest component-part, the German construction firm Hochtief, and on the man who provided financial backing for the company.

Hochtief has been a very successful company in the field of construction since the early part of the 20th Century. At the time of its successful bid for the North Ayrshire PPP contract, one of its major shareholders was a German businessman called August von Finck, who inherited much of his wealth from his father, also called August, who died in 1980. The family wealth originated with August senior’s father, Wilhelm von Finck, who, in the 1880s, co-founded the bank Merk Finck and Co, and the Allianz Insurance company.

August von Finck senior was one of Germany’s most successful businessmen during the 1930s, and poured money into backing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. In 1931, August von Finck and other like-minded businessmen met with Hitler in Berlin’s Hotel Kaiserhof. They promised the Nazi leader 25m-Reichsmark to help his campaign to become Chancellor of Germany. This figure, today, would be the equivalent of around £85m. In February 1933, a month after President von Hindenburg had appointed Hitler as Chancellor, von Finck and the other businessmen provided the Nazi leader with another sum, equivalent today to around £2.5m.

August von Finck was rewarded by Hitler for his financial support, benefiting greatly from what the Nazi’s called ‘Aryanisation’, which was where Jewish property and wealth was seized and handed-over to prominent members of the Nazi Party. One significant ‘gift’ from Hitler to von Finck occurred following the Nazi annexation of Austria, with the businessman handed control of the Jewish bank, Rothschild.

August von Finck’s construction company also benefited from its close links with the Nazis. In a recent statement, Hochtief said, “In the 30s and 40s of the last century, Hochtief, as a large German construction company, was involved in construction projects of the Nazi period. Hochtief is aware of its historical and moral responsibility.”

The statement reads as if Hochtief accidentally found itself doing a few building jobs during the “Nazi period” that it now, with hindsight, regrets. This is far from the truth. Hochtief was Hitler’s favourite builder, constructing, among other things, the massive Nazi arena in Nuremberg, at which Hitler addressed thousands of his followers during mass rallies. Hochtief also built Hitler’s personal alpine retreat, the Berghof, and was so favoured and trusted by Hitler that the company was employed to design and build the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin, the underground building to which the Nazi leader retreated as allied forces entered the German capital towards the end of the war.

As the Nazi’s expanded the Third Reich by invading countries across Europe, Hochtief continued to benefit from its close links with Hitler. The construction company was awarded contracts to build infrastructure for the Nazis in occupied countries. Many of the contracts saw Hochtief use slave labour, which consisted of local men rounded-up, transported to Nazi ‘camps’ and forced to work for meagre rations of food. Today, this is how Hochtief describes its close involvement with the Nazis and its use of slave labour: “On some building sites, Hochtief employed forced labourers and thus incurred a burden of guilt for the wrongs committed during the Third Reich.”

At the end of the war, August von Finck temporarily stood down from some of the senior business positions he held, including management of the family bank, which was handed to a trustee. He did, however, retain his great personal wealth, which had massively increased during his time working closely with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as they committed atrocities across Europe. By 1948, just three-years after the war ended, von Finck had resumed full control of his businesses.

In 1980, August von Finck died: his enormous wealth passed to his son, August junior, who also inherited his father’s stakes in a number of major German companies, including Allianz insurance, the Loewenbraeu AG brewing company and Hochtief construction.

It is now clear that von Finck also inherited his father’s fascist political outlook. The rise of the far-right political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), is largely credited to the financial support of August von Finck. Much of the money from von Finck was directed through a ‘middleman’ organisation called the Association For The Rule Of Law and Civil Liberties, which funded a poster campaign and free newspapers urging a vote for AfD. It is estimated the posters and newspapers would have cost in the region of €10m. The German newspaper, Der Spiegel, has reported on the close-ties between the Association For The Rule Of Law and Civil Liberties and Ernst Knut Stahl, director of August von Finck’s financial and property holdings.

Alternative for Germany has been characterised as a German nationalist party, which opposes immigration, is anti-Islam, anti-European Union and denies that climate change is caused by humans. In 2021, German media reported that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) had placed AfD under surveillance as a suspected extremist organisation.

When Hochtief was bidding for the multi-million-pound North Ayrshire Schools PPP contract – without any opposing bids – August von Finck personally owned a 25% stake in the company. Two years after Hochtief won the contract, von Finck sold his stake to the Spanish construction firm Actividades de Construccion y Servicios. The deal netted him €1.3bn.

August von Finck died in November 2021.



Posted in Scottish Politics | 2 Comments

The Price of Food

An abundance of food while the many starve

At a time when food ‘shortages’ are blamed on the proxy war in Ukraine yet had existed prior to the war, environmentalist George Monbiot explains the bizarre situation where the production of food has outstripped hunger and yet those who are starving have risen in number. There is more to shortages than crude propaganda from unreliable politicians. (Words in blue link to background information.)


by George Monbiot

For the past few years, scientists have been frantically sounding an alarm that governments refuse to hear: the global food system is beginning to look like the global financial system in the run-up to 2008.

While financial collapse would have been devastating to human welfare, food system collapse doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet the evidence that something is going badly wrong has been escalating rapidly. The current surge in food prices looks like the latest sign of systemic instability.

Many people assume that the food crisis was caused by a combination of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. While these are important factors, they aggravate an underlying problem. For years, it looked as if hunger was heading for extinction. The number of undernourished people fell from 811 million in 2005 to 607 million in 2014. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. Hunger has been rising ever since: to 650 million in 2019, and back to 811 million in 2020. This year is likely to be much worse.

Now brace yourself for the really bad news: this has happened at a time of great abundance. Global food production has been rising steadily for more than half a century, comfortably beating population growth. Last year, the global wheat harvest was bigger than ever. Astoundingly, the number of undernourished people began to rise just as world food prices began to fall. In 2014, when fewer people were hungry than at any time since, the global food price index stood at 115 points. In 2015, it fell to 93, and remained below 100 until 2021.

Only in the past two years has it surged. The rise in food prices is now a major driver of inflation, which reached 9% in the UK last month. Food is becoming unaffordable even to many people in rich nations. The impact in poorer countries is much worse.

So what has been going on? Well, global food, like global finance, is a complex system, that develops spontaneously from billions of interactions. Complex systems have counterintuitive properties. They are resilient under certain conditions, as their self-organising properties stabilise them. But as stress escalates, these same properties start transmitting shocks through the network. Beyond a certain point, a small disturbance can tip the entire system over its critical threshold, whereupon it collapses, suddenly and unstoppably.

We now know enough about systems to predict whether they might be resilient or fragile. Scientists represent complex systems as a mesh of nodes and links. The nodes are like the knots in an old-fashioned net; the links are the strings that connect them. In the food system, the nodes include the corporations trading grain, seed and farm chemicals, the major exporters and importers and the ports through which food passes. The links are their commercial and institutional relationships.

If the nodes behave in a variety of ways, and their links to each other are weak, the system is likely to be resilient. If certain nodes become dominant, start to behave in similar ways and are strongly connected, the system is likely to be fragile. In the approach to the 2008 crisis, the big banks developed similar strategies and similar ways of managing risk, as they pursued the same sources of profit. They became strongly linked to each other in ways that regulators scarcely understood. When Lehman Brothers failed, it threatened to pull everyone down.

So here’s what sends cold fear through those who study the global food system. In recent years, just as in finance during the 2000s, key nodes in the food system have swollen, their links have become stronger, business strategies have converged and synchronised, and the features that might impede systemic collapse (“redundancy”, “modularity”, “circuit breakers” and “backup systems”) have been stripped away, exposing the system to “globally contagious” shocks.

On one estimate, just four corporations control 90% of the global grain trade. The same corporations have been buying into seed, chemicals, processing, packing, distribution and retail. In the course of 18 years, the number of trade connections between the exporters and importers of wheat and rice doubled. Nations are now polarising into super-importers and super-exporters. Much of this trade passes through vulnerable chokepoints, such as the Turkish Straits (now obstructed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), the Suez and Panama canals and the Straits of Hormuz, Bab-el-Mandeb and Malacca.

One of the fastest cultural shifts in human history is the convergence towards a “Global Standard Diet”. While our food has become locally more diverse, globally it has become less diverse. Just four crops – wheat, rice, maize and soy – account for almost 60% of the calories grown by farmers. Their production is now highly concentrated in a handful of nations, including Russia and Ukraine. The Global Standard Diet is grown by the Global Standard Farm, supplied by the same corporations with the same packages of seed, chemicals and machinery, and vulnerable to the same environmental shocks.

The food industry is becoming tightly coupled to the financial sector, increasing what scientists call the “network density” of the system, making it more susceptible to cascading failure. Around the world, trade barriers have come down and roads and ports upgraded, streamlining the global network. You might imagine that this smooth system would enhance food security. But it has allowed companies to shed the costs of warehousing and inventories, switching from stocks to flows. Mostly, this just-in-time strategy works. But if deliveries are interrupted or there’s a rapid surge in demand, shelves can suddenly empty.

A paper in Nature Sustainability reports that in the food system, “shock frequency has increased through time on land and sea at a global scale”. In researching my book Regenesis, I came to realise that it’s this escalating series of contagious shocks, exacerbated by financial speculation, that has been driving global hunger.

Now the global food system must survive not only its internal frailties, but also environmental and political disruptions that might interact with each other. To give a current example, in mid-April, the Indian government suggested that it could make up the shortfall in global food exports caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just a month later, it banned exports of wheat, after crops shrivelled in a devastating heatwave.

We urgently need to diversify global food production, both geographically and in terms of crops and farming techniques. We need to break the grip of massive corporations and financial speculators. We need to create backup systems, producing food by entirely different means. We need to introduce spare capacity into a system threatened by its own efficiencies.

If so many can go hungry at a time of unprecedented bounty, the consequences of the major crop failure that environmental breakdown could cause defy imagination. The system has to change.

NOTE: George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist.


Posted in Climate Change | 2 Comments

The Northman – a review

Alexander Skarsgård proving that even in freezing Iceland a real man needs no poncy T-shirt

Based on a traditional Norse saga of murder and revenge, allegedly a tale stolen by Shakespeare for his Hamlet stage play, plot kept nice and domestically in the family, Robert Eggers production is ambitious, as equally rousing as repetitive. If you know the story of Hamlet you will know the story of Amleth: he witnesses his father’s murder and his mother taken by his father’s brother, and swears to have revenge on his uncle and all his kith and kin, an unhealthy thing for a young boy to make his life’s ambition. Unlike the uncertain Hamlet, full of doubts, Amleth does not dither or swither. He gets down and dirty soon as a muscular man, skilled with a mighty sword.

There are also moments when you want to laugh out loud at the plain silly bits, which is not a good thing considering there are no jokes, no humour, only bloody gore, chopped heads, eviscerated entrails, and woman as chattel. Even horses get it in the neck. And when Amleth pretends to be a slave I had the feeling I was watching ‘Spartacus the Viking’. I only managed the two hours and seventeen minutes because I was sitting in a comfy, adjustable cinema seat. Films straining to be epics but without the intellectual depth of storyline to sustain their length are a pain.

For the most part, set in harshly beautiful, austere Icelandic landscapes, my mind kept asking where the villagers got all the wood that they had used to build their substantial houses, their furniture, to build the pens for their horses and livestock, and whole tree trunks from which to fashion their elegant boats. There was not a wood or tree in sight for hundreds of miles in all directions. Yet every so often Amleth – Alexander Skarsgård plays the central beefcake role, our anti-hero – arrives in scenes carrying a huge bundle of kindling on his back.

I guess, being a story of myth and magic, if we suspend disbelief for the many dream sequences, and how life was unbelievably short and brutal to the point Denmark must have been a soulless empty place, we should do the same for conjuring wood and food and fantastically woven clothes from thin air.

The story of Viking prince Amleth (Hamlet), follows the plot of the Elizabethan stage play pretty faithfully, but in quality of dialogue never achieves the poetry of Shakespeare’s version though the writers, the one-name Sjón and Eggers himself, try hard to give the speech the sound of a great tragedy. Characters talk in short bursts, and do a lot of roaring at each other, rather as if mimicking Andy Murray frustrated at missing a drop-ball shot. Tenderness one person to another is restricted to Amleth and his love interest, the impossibly blonde blond, Anya, played by Anya Taylor-Joy.

For some mysterious reason the lead women are always dirt free, while the peasant women are always mucky as a pup in a mud puddle. There is all-out acting: right down to bare buff, stereotypical male macho acting. There is middling acting: Amleth’s villainous brother Fjölnir The Brotherless (Claes Bang – I double checked his name is real), and there is first rate acting: Amleth’s mother Queen Gudrún. This latter role is a Lady Macbeth interpretation from Nicole Kidman easily the best thing on screen when she appears. There is also a cameo from Björk as a mystical seeress bedecked in silver ornamentation and headgear so heavy a wonder she can stand up, and the wonderful William Dafoe as Hiemer the Fool, shamelessly underused in a brief one-scene cameo, there to give us the Norse equivalent of ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ moment. Ethan Hawke appears as Amleth’s father but doesn’t reappear as the ghost of Amleth’s father on any battlement or mountain top, a sad miss, actually.

The music from Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough is ominous drumbeats from start to finish of the type I heard in stage productions in the Seventies, and now the standard cliché for every movie trailer under the sun no matter the subject matter. The fine cinematography is from the eye and technical prowess of Jarin Blaschke, but again like so much on the screen leaves us cold and empty.

There are lots of dark malevolent shots of figures standing framed in doorways, another old style image beloved of John Ford and lesser western directors. As a director, Eggers revels in gloomy interiors and hyper-gloomy exteriors. Whether shot out of doors with a bonfire in the scene or a roaring fire in a longhouse, everything is in half-light and without warmth.

In fact, too much of the bloodthirsty action and scenescapes leave us searching for a warm fur jacket and a pair of mittens. There are no characters with which to identify. All the men are suitably bearded, war-like or in the female case, hard working skivvies washing laundry in a stream, cooking dinner demurely, or running screaming from tumescent warriors.

Try as hard as I could, I could not empathise with anybody. They were all victims of their own twisted emotions and horrible ambitions. What it taught me was Norse gods are as violent as the Christian god.

This is not a film to take a new girlfriend, partner or mother. But Arnold Schwarzenegger will love it.

  • STAR RATING: Three stars
  • Cast: Alexander Skarsgård. Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor Joy
  • Director: Peter Eggers
  • Writer: Peter Eggers, Sjón
  • Cinematographer:  Jarin Blaschke
  • Composer: Robin Carolan, Sebastian Gainsborough
  • Duration: 2 hours 17 minutes
  • Adult rating: 15
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

If there is any one policy critics of SNP ineptness can point to as emblematic of how the party has ripped apart a once cohesive movement by their inability to perceive fault lines in their competency, it is the Gender Reform Bill, (GRA) a slavish adherence to the discredited Stonewall’s warped idea of what womanhood should be. To my observation, the party has suffered from Nicola Sturgeon’s utter conviction her way is the only way, and to bully her colleagues into slavish adherence conformity. Boris Johnson takes the same line with his party MPs; say ‘Yes’ or forget the knighthood; rip up agreements, or I shall appoint another who will, gang up on him as a group and you will be thrown out of the party.

In every society there are the mediocre on the make who will grab the opportunity to take on an unpalatable commission if a higher authority asks for their loyalty. Decency and ethics have nothing to do with their decision. Boris has made an entire career of promoting deadheads and bigots who suit his purpose. And the Eton Mess is a known misogynist who cannot remember how many children he has fathered. He is also very clever at creating diversions to keep attention of his stupidity and transgressions.

Journalist Kevin McKenna has similar trouble telling Sturgeon from Johnson.


By Kevin McKenna

This week’s most predictable development: Nicola Sturgeon is to host a summit of women’s groups in Scotland to discuss abortion rights. Last week the First Minister couldn’t bring herself to define what a ‘woman’ is. Perhaps she could sub-contract Stonewall to provide her with an updated guide before she meets the women’s groups. She surely wouldn’t want to be excluding anyone while she’s in the process of coming to a decision on what defines a woman. And if she’s still harbouring doubts, I suppose she could always convene a focus group to help her identify their chief characteristics.

You don’t want to be cynical about what’s motivated the First Minister’s enthusiasm for convening this abortion summit. She’s previously described herself as “a feminist to her fingertips” and so we probably ought to assume sincerity in her eagerness to “convene and personally chair” the abortion summit. Perhaps having a chance to meet and greet women in the raw will help her come to a decision about what they really are.

Now that she’s decided to become personally involved in an issue about women’s rights perhaps she might show similar enthusiasm in tackling another matter that affects their health and security. For more than two years now dozens of complaints made by female members about alleged intimidation, bullying and threats of sexual violence from within her party have been ignored by the SNP leadership.

Joanna Cherry

Joanna Cherry has been the chief target for the SNP’s internal hate mob simply for advocating a reasonable debate about how the self-ID proposals in their proposed GRA reforms might affect women’s sex-based rights. Whenever Ms Cherry and others within the party who share her concerns have sought to raise the issue of their personal welfare they have been bullied into silence at the National Executive Committee and by the toxic boys club that operates under the SNP flag at Westminster. The First Minister who has shown a commendable burst of pace in convening the abortion summit has been somewhat more glacial about addressing women’s safeguarding concerns within her own party. It renders all her lofty idealism on related issues little more than performative grandstanding.

Fifteen months have elapsed since a former SNP member was convicted of threatening Ms Cherry with sexual violence, yet the “feminist to her fingertips” at Bute House never once inquired after her welfare. Instead, Ms Cherry has been demoted from her front bench position at Westminster and says she has been subjected to routine bullying at her place of work, in an orchestrated attempt to force her out of politics. Whether or not this is connected to concerns by Sturgeon loyalists that she’s a plausible candidate for the future leadership of the party can’t be verified beyond doubt.

The Scottish Government, like its counterpart south of the border, proceeds by the ancient law of any port in a storm. Lacking any identifiable centre of gravity beyond a half-hearted commitment to independence it scans Scotland’s political firmament looking for contrived excursions and alarums to deflect attention from this month’s mess.

Embroiled in a multi-million-pound ferry fiasco? Not to worry, Downing Street’s party-gate scandal will conveniently occupy the spotlight. Accused of privatising Scotland’s renewable energy bounty for a pittance? Never you mind that. Those Russians have invaded Ukraine and we must only be concerned with that right now. It would be callous not to.

It helps, of course that the spike in law-breaking in London’s SW1A postal area is almost entirely due to the activities inside 10 Downing Street (100 fines for Covid delinquency and counting). And that when the Tories’ Covid bacchanals were in full swing they were also operating a mafia enterprise in dodgy PPE equipment. It all helps divert attention from your own negligence in turning Scotland’s care homes into mortuaries.

And anyway, wicked though those Tories might be it didn’t stop you voting with them in providing Scotland’s poorest communities with a basic legal right to food as you did this week. Who knew the SNP and the perfidious Tories shared so much common ground? There they both were again linking arms to vote down compensation for miners and their families whose livelihoods were destroyed by being falsely arrested by during the strike in 1984-85. Tory psychopathy might have helped maintain the SNP’s Westminster Group in keening sanctimony for a decade but from time to time they make jolly decent bed-fellows.

Bad apples

Every generation of politicians on either side of the Border has its rogue element. In a polity that can host up to three national elections every few years it’s impossible to ensure that only those with personal CVs cleansed of all impurity are ever considered as candidates. Even so, it’s difficult to recall another period in UK politics when law-breaking, deception and cynical manipulation of the electorate was accepted as the mainstream and not the exception. This seems to proceed on the basis that as political malfeasance becomes so commonplace so will the electorate become desensitised to it.

The consequences of this though, are obvious. If we become so impervious to the effects of our politicians’ abject conduct in office and their daily micro-aggressions towards each other and to the laws of common decency then this will inevitably have a knock-on effect in our neighbourhoods.

The perfect storm of a hard Brexit; the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic will menace our most vulnerable communities for a generation. What might once have been deemed to be a transgression to ease a family’s burden could become a moral imperative. Once, it was only a collective sense of personal ethics and personal pride that stopped good people from breaking the law to mitigate their losses and reversals. But when these people see the lawmakers operating recklessly and with contempt for any legal censure – then they’re entitled to think that the breakdown in society has already begun to occur. And that it didn’t start with them.

If privilege and entitlement can break the law with such insouciance then what’s stopping those who have neither?

NOTE: Kevin McKenna is a columnist for various Scottish newspapers including the Guardian. This article was first published in the Herald.


Posted in Scottish Politics | 6 Comments

SNP and MI5

Ken McCallum, head of MI5, and all-round nice guy

Campbell Martin is the author of ‘Was It Something I Said‘, an expose of the internal shenanigans of the SNP that saw some of its most qualified talent thrown out of the party, including himself. In his latest article Martin takes a hard look at the British State’s prime spy unit and finds some uncomfortable facts.

MI5 holds records of its activities in Scotland. Those should be handed over to Scotland on the advent of independence, and I mean records from Sir Francis Walsingham (1573) onwards, Queen Elizabeth’s person court spy who set up an efficient spy network on her behalf. They will be fascinating reading. Thereafter, England’s department of spying should be proscribed as an organisation excluded from access to Scotland. An independent Scotland won’t ever shake off a neighbour state’s surveillance but if it can identify folk, deport them and ban their re-entry.

Why our government tolerates a unit of the 77th Brigade, for example, operating from inside our border is a question they should answer. The SNP has been a political party ‘of interest’ ever since its inception when the early pioneers of self-governance, such as Hugh MacDiarmid, was spied upon relentlessly. How the current SNP expects to operate unhindered with naming and shaming is worthy of an article in itself. And there remains the ex-MI5 officer ‘operating’ in our Crown Office. He was there thought the farrago of the Salmond case, the Crown blocking or delaying vital evidence that exonerated Salmond. How comforting. I am happy to offer him right of reply over his alleged participation in that outrage.

One of the interesting aspects of colonised nations is how often individuals, compelled by injustice and artifice, feel compelled to explain the truth to the public as they encounter it, particularly when the functions of their nation is actively supressed or diverted by an alien power, legitimate organisations undermined by infiltration and disinformation. The subjugator himself is therefore undermined.

The other irony is the current head of MI5 is a state school educated Scot, Ken McCallum. He is a Glaswegian who joined the Security Service shortly after graduation. McCallum, who is in his forties, spent the first ten years of his MI5 career focusing on Northern Ireland terrorism and security and was involved behind the scenes during the peace process. (I am almost certainly on his books somewhere for my coinciding role working in BBC Northern Ireland. I do hope so, or I will be disappointed.) In 2012, McCallum took charge of all counter-terrorism investigations and risk management in the run-up to and during the London Olympics.

He was then seconded to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now BEIS) to develop his and MI5’s knowledge of digital issues and cybersecurity. After returning to MI5 he maintained contacts with the public sector and business and served for three years as a non-executive director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. From 2015 McCallum became the service’s strategy director, helping to develop closer working with MI6 and GCHQ.

He became deputy director-general of MI5 in 2017, “overseeing all operational and investigative work” during the period in which there were three terrorist attacks in London and the Manchester arena bombing. When Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury in 2018, McCallum took charge of the MI5 investigation which, with Scotland Yard and others, identified Russian agents as the perpetrators. This is not necessarily a commendation considering the serious uncertainties surrounding the case, and how MI6 aided by the terrible twins SNP MPs Alyn Smith and Stewart MacDonald were busy chivvying us to believe Putin was the Devil and commies lie are under every bed in Scotland – a tactic instructed by USA for the preparation of a coup in Ukraine, in 2014. (Gay men are prime recruitment targets for the UK’s ‘intelligence’ services.)

And now for the humanising, nice guy bit: colleagues describe McCallum as “personable and friendly” and good to work with. (He leaves intimidating, untrustworthy and decidedly unfriendly to his staff in the field.) Apparently he is highly regarded in Whitehall and was seen as the natural successor to Sir Andrew Parker. He was appointed by the gremlin known as Priti Patel – and that should indicate the real Ken McCallum better than any puffery from the British State.


by Campbell Martin

I have previously written about how British security services must have agents working within the Scottish National Party (SNP).

I believe rational people understand that, as the SNP has the stated aim of independence for Scotland at the core of its being, British security services wouldn’t be doing their job if they did not have people working within the party. Despite this being a statement of the obvious, my previous article produced a venomous backlash from some SNP activists, mainly young members, and also from British unionists. In relation to both groups, it seemed the truth really did hurt.

For SNP members who either don’t want to face the reality that their party has been infiltrated by agents of the British State, or who don’t like the public being made aware of what is actually happening, let’s provide the MI5 (Military Intelligence-5) definition of activities it considers to be worthy of investigation. The security service states it only investigates groups and political parties it believes are carrying out subversive activities.

Subverting the will of the people

From a British unionist perspective, ending the existing British Union by re-establishing Scotland as a sovereign, independent nation would certainly fall within subversive activities. To be absolutely clear, the dictionary definition of the word ‘subversion’ is: ‘referring to a process by which the values and principles of a system in place are contradicted or reversed in an attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, hierarchy, and social norms’.

MI5 sets-out what it considers to be subversion worthy of investigation as: ‘activities which threaten the safety or well-being of the state and which are intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means’. Note that political and industrial means are listed alongside violent means. So, political parties and trade unions are considered to be as worthy of investigation by MI5 as a terrorist organisation. Also, the ‘parliamentary democracy’ the security service seeks to protect is the English parliament in London and the English establishment headed by the monarchy.

During his term as UK Home Secretary (1985-1989), Tory MP Douglas Hurd put on record the English government’s belief that: “The sole criterion in relation to a subversive threat is whether there is a deliberate intention to undermine parliamentary democracy and whether that presents a real threat to the security of the nation.” Hurd’s version of a subversive threat was enshrined in the Security Service Act (1989). Again, the ‘parliamentary democracy’ referred to in the definition is the English parliament in London, and the nation is England.

The 1960s saw independence movements come to the fore in the West Indies and Africa. Security service files, leaked years after the events, show MI5 working hand-in-hand with a secretive department of the UK Foreign Office, the Information Research Department (IRD), to undermine and attempt to destroy those Black Power-inspired independence movements in what were British colonies. Contained in the leaked documents is a letter from an IRD operative addressed to ‘Box 500’, which has since been established as MI5 headquarters in London. The letter seeks MI5 support in “collating, assessing and where necessary countering publicity and by other means the growth of Black Power in the area”. The area mentioned was Bermuda, which finally became an independent, sovereign state in 1995.

Scotland, a nation of interest

It would seem, therefore, that MI5 and the UK/English Government had at least 50-years experience in “countering publicity and by other means the growth” of independence movements before it got to work ahead of Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014.

We’ve already set-out, above, the overall, general purpose of MI5, but it is very difficult to establish how the security service operates. There is no legal statute defining the service’s role and there is a minimal framework of rules under which MI5 must operate. Statements from former service personnel show MI5 has burgled properties and monitored phone calls, text messages and social media activity of those it has under investigation. If any police force wishes to carry out such covert activities, they would require legal permission in the form of a warrant: no such requirement is placed on the UK’s clandestine security service. They could be monitoring you reading this right now.

Cathy Massiter was an MI5 agent between 1970 and 1984. After leaving the job, Ms Massiter wrote that during her time with the service, she noticed a fundamental change in emphasis regarding the role of MI5, noting that it shifted from being a counter-espionage organisation, aimed at ‘hostile’ foreign powers and their actions in the UK, to a domestic surveillance organisation, investigating and infiltrating political parties and campaign groups deemed to be a threat to the UK/English establishment.

Cathy Massiter recorded that the primary reason for her disillusionment with the work she was being asked to do as an MI5 Intelligence Officer was the steady politicisation of the service. I’ll come back to that in a moment. First, though, with regard to the SNP being infiltrated by MI5 and other organisations working for the British State, it’s worth setting-out the two roles performed by those ‘spies’. Not everyone who works for MI5 is an agent. There are also low-level informants whose role is to pass to the security service anything they pick-up through their role as an SNP member/activist. These people are not trained agents, they are simply informants.


The thing agents and informants have in common is that their motivation for betraying the independence movement can be wide and varied. Some will never have been supporters of independence, some will have become disillusioned with the idea, and some will simply like the feeling of being a CHIS. Prior to the huge success of the TV series ‘Line of Duty’, few of us would have been aware of what a CHIS was, but we now all know the acronym stands for Covert Human Intelligence Source. A CHIS will receive payment, with the amount depending on the value of the information they provide to the secret service.

Unlike a simple informant, agents will have been recruited by MI5 to perform a particular role in infiltrating the SNP. They will also have been provided with ongoing support to help them carry out their roles. Agents are not MI5 employees, but they will receive payment for their work. It is these agents who will, mostly, have been in-place for some time, and who may have risen within the ranks of the party. It is conceivable that agents of the British State now hold senior positions within the SNP-leadership and are able to influence party policy, such as adopting a soft approach to delivering independence, and promoting extreme niche-policies, which reduce delivery of independence to a secondary issue.

A rogue among rogues

MI5 is not alone in infiltrating the SNP. There are a number of books related to ‘spy cops’, which detail the work of Special Branch. Some serving police officers were allowed to enter into such deep-cover infiltration operations that they went on to have children with women they met in the group the were spying on. The women didn’t know the cop’s true position or even their real name.

Within Police Scotland, though, there is no such department as Special Branch. However, if pressed, the force acknowledges it does have officers carrying out duties that would normally be associated with the work of a Special Branch. The work done by those officers is usually covert and will include investigations into political, environmental and animal-rights groups. Intelligence secured through the investigations of Police Scotland’s ‘Not Special Branch’ is normally passed to MI5.

It is, therefore, possible that ‘Not Special Branch’ may have its own Covert Human Intelligence Sources providing ongoing information on the activities of political parties it deems to be of interest to the security service of the British State.

I recently spoke with a serving, senior police officer. The detective spoke on condition of anonymity. One of the things they said immediately made me think of the comment by former MI5 Intelligence Officer, Cathy Massiter, mentioned above. Like Ms Massiter, the Police Scotland officer said that, since the creation of the all-Scotland force, “The job has become much more politicised.” The officer indicated their belief that very senior officers, those in management positions, were acting on instructions from the Scottish and UK governments. The officer also believed the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service was no longer independent of government, but, like Police Scotland, was now acting on the instruction of politicians.

If this is true, Scotland’s police and prosecution service are being controlled by politicians who are, themselves, being controlled by faceless and secretive elements of the British State. While, to some, that will sound far-fetched and possibly a good plot-line for a spy novel, to others it would seem to explain how certain, recent prosecutions and political events have come about.

NOTE: Campbell Martin is a print and broadcast journalist, and a former SNP member of the Scottish parliament. ‘Was It Something I said,’ by Campbell Martin, is available from Amazon Books.


Posted in Scottish Politics | 17 Comments

Grouse Beater Live! (Kinda)

A very nice American called Mark McNaught, living in France, who did not know any better, invited me to an interview. We talked a lot about films – or ‘fillums’ as we say in Scotland. And a bit about the SNP, ALBA and ISP , Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish character.

If you don’t like what I have to say, you can blame Mark. Enjoy, as waiters tend to say these days, but I won’t pop by every few minutes like a waiter to ask if you really like what you see and hear.


Posted in Scottish Politics | 8 Comments

SNP’s Groundhog Day

Kenny MacAskill, ALBA MP


By Kenny MacAskill

Groundhog Day! The local elections have been and gone but what’s changed. South of the border the Tories took a pasting, but Johnson clings on, tottering but more from internal Tory discontent than an external political threat. Events from Covid to Ukraine have protected him from a reckoning so far but they wont always be there and a day of judgement’s coming.

Assuming Starmer survives “beergate”, he still neither looks like a Prime Minister in waiting nor Labour a replacement government. The Liberal Democrats did well in some areas, but they’ve flattered to deceive before and rest on Tory voters discontent with Johnson, more than a conversion to their cause.

Looming Westminster by-elections which will certainly be lost by the Tories may well dovetail with the long-awaited Sue Gray report. Barring a worsening of the situation in the Ukraine and the apocalypse looming for us all, then he’ll be ousted by his own.

But what then? A clean Tory skin pledges probity in office and a willingness to do more to address the cost-of-living crisis. Whoever that is continues in office until they cut and run in 2024 and the basis of what we’ve just seen from the council elections the Tories will be back in office.

Not through a formidable election machine but instead backed by the power of oligarchs manipulating a news agenda and blaming all the ills on global factors whilst warning of the need for stability at home. We’ve been through it all before down through the decades. They’re not the most successful party in British history for nothing.

What of Scotland? A very astute article in a magazine referred to “limbo” and that’s for sure. SNP dominance remains, Tory discontent continues with Douglas Ross looking as doomed as the PM he’s vacillated over. Minor gains for Labour putting it marginally ahead of the Tories hides the failure to win in Glasgow and other critical battlegrounds. If ever a city was ripe for electoral plucking it was the currently far from “Dear Green Place”. Limited progress by the Lib Dems and a failure by my own Alba Party to break through, leaves Scotland much as it was.

What’s the response of the SNP to their continued dominance? Instead of seeking to act on the mandates they have, it’s to clutch onto the coat tails of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. Now the latter’s victory’s seismic and continues the march towards reunification. However, there’s no early border poll, this is simply the end of the political” protestant ascendency”. Focus will be on the Protocol and forming an administration.

There’s no excuse now for Nicola Sturgeon not delivering on her referendum in 2023. Senior MPs have said that Tory consent isn’t required. But simply lodging a Bill and allowing the legislative sausage machine to mince it’s not enough. There needs to be action across the board. Like other independence activists I stand ready. But I’ll not hold my breath. Instead, I fear the constitutional impasse will remain, all as storm clouds loom over Scottish ferries, the offshore wind bounty fails to blow in jobs onshore and council services diminish with potholes worsening.

No wonder so many despaired and didn’t even vote.

n not delivering on her referendum in 2023. Senior MPs have said that Tory consent isn’t required. But simply lodging a Bill and allowing the legislative sausage machine to mince it’s not enough. There needs to be action across the board. Like other independence activists I stand ready.

But I’ll not hold my breath. Instead, I fear the constitutional impasse will remain, all as storm clouds loom over Scottish ferries, the offshore wind bounty fails to blow in jobs onshore and council services diminish with potholes worsening.

No wonder so many despaired and didn’t even vote.

NOTE: Born in Edinburgh, is a Scottish politician who has been Member of Parliament (MP) for East Lothian since 2019. He previously served as Cabinet Secretary for Justice from 2007 to 2014 and was a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) from 1999 to 2016. A former member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), he defected to the Alba Party in 2021.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum | 1 Comment

SNP: A Reviled Party

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and leader of the SNP in Glasgow’s council, Susan Aitken

It takes some arrogance and a large dose of vanity to admit one got something terribly wrong but then refuse to get it right or apologise, as in my case, where the SNP know they endorsed a falsehood, had two senior party politicians confirm it, but SNP’s headquarters staff feel disobliged to get the record fixed. This is not special pleading.

I only mention this (before I die which is soon), because it is the hallmark of the new SNP, the ethos developed by the failure of leadership invested in Nicola Sturgeon. She has created a party that exists to protect her and nothing else. This would be fine and dandy if she had actually secured this nation’s liberty, or was on the point of signing a new pact with England. In that situation, the slogan ‘Wheest for Indy’ would make sense. But she has never been close to that ideal. She has, as so many opine, betrayed the cause to which she claims to be dedicated.

She has announced she is to fly to the United States of Amnesia to meet President Biden for a chat. What will our world travelled ambassador for peace say? “The invasion of Ukraine is a war crime, Mr President.” “Correct, Ms Sturgeon, and you will keep Trident in the Clyde for the next decade, won’t you?” “I will, sir. I expect to be First Minister longer than a decade.

I can guarantee, just as she blocked me from communicating with her, so will her colleagues, if I placed a plea to be heard on every SNP MSP’s Twitter site. A good proportion would follow her example and decide I was a citizen to avoid. (The SNP hierarchy ignored a generous outpouring from their membership telling them they knew my character was honorable.) This is Scotland’s first minister I write about, not a pompous member of the Tory party, or a Labour apparatchik living handsomely off a Regional list vote they have never won.

Sturgeon was elected to take us to full autonomy soon as she had an election victory and a mandate. She has had both several times over. There is no need to wait until we attain sixty percent in favour, or seventy per cent, as some SNP MPs like to suggest, a sly, self-serving way of reaching pensionable age before losing their jobs. The mandate lies with the party holding a sizeable majority. Conversely, if the Tories were to attain almost a full house of party members in government and lots of councillors, they would be justified in saying Scotland loves the Union for they have voted overwhelmingly for a unionist party. You will not hear a Tory, or Labour, for that matter, announce they must reach over sixty per cent before they lift a finger.

No one gave her powers to excommunicate swathes of the public. No one gave her powers to ban assembly around our Parliament building. No one gave her powers to pontificate on Russia, America, or the EU. Those are important matters we discuss and agree upon when an independent nation again otherwise we look like uneducated upstarts wagging a finger at passing events. Dissent is not antagonism. It is another view of how something can be done, how it can be achieved. Refusing to listen is antagonistic, someone who believes they are a blameless saint. “I will decide when there will be a referendum,” she has said, emphasis on the first person singular. On timing alone, a referendum for 2023 is an almost impossible deadline, assuming the SNP don’t hold it a year this winter!

Scotland has lost its innocence, its belief that it was different from other nations, especially from England. We thought we were a just society unaffected by sleaze and corruption, proud of the Enlightenment with which Scotland led the world in the doctrines of tolerance and egalitarianism.

Look where we are now, voting for the SNP is not worth the price of entry into a public urinal if a woman for even there one has to put up with some man staring at you while you pee because Nicola Sturgeon and her concrete deadhead of a shotgun rider, Shirley-Anne Somerville, want something to place on their portfolio rather than a photograph of an unmarked grave. Both those figures are well out-of-their-depth politically and intellectually. They have imperilled the nation’s sovereignty and rights and endangered the opportunity for political freedom.

If a dictator, I’d fire SNP MSPs for their slavish, craven loyalty to failure and banish Sturgeon to Rockall for the rest of her days. By sloth and attacks on its own people the SNP has encouraged Westminster to try harder to win its well thought out campaign of internal colonialism. They encourage their opponents to smear SNP supporters by endorsing the opposition’s libel. In fact, once defamed, if an individual dare complain they are labelled ‘bitter’, so basterdised is SNP’s idea of social justice. Our first minister would rather have unionist MSPs in our parliament than independence MSPs. And her party colleagues are comfortable with that vindictive outlook.

The SNP has blighted the cause of self-governance. I am not alone in feeling profoundly let down by those in whom I placed trust. Those are my personal views. They are based on grim experience and empirical evidence. The columnist Kevin McKenna has his own opinion and like me, knows what people are saying in the street.

It is customary for a host platform to state it does not necessarily agree with the opinion of its guest writer, but I publish McKenna’s views because I agree with every word.


by Kevin McKenna

NICOLA Sturgeon’s response after the SNP held on to Glasgow City Council last Thursday was both spiteful and disingenuous. “Labour threw the kitchen sink at Glasgow and yet they still can’t defeat the SNP,” the First Minister said.

Glasgow’s ruling SNP group know all about kitchen sinks, of course: on their watch these stalwart household appliances were a common feature of the city’s overflowing rubbish dumps during last year’s strike by refuse workers. The SNP’s reaction to that strike, as espoused by the council leader, Susan Aitken was to accuse trade unions of fascist behaviour. And besides, she said, Glasgow wasn’t “a uniquely dirty city”.

Ms Aitken’s leadership of Glasgow these last few years has turned large parts of the city into a wasteland. Nowhere is this more evident than on Sauchiehall Street where the lights have been going out one-by-one on iconic retail sites for several years now. The only growth Glasgow has witnessed in this period has been as a location for several Hollywood action movies. Perhaps Ms Aitken is now aiming for those apocalyptic, end-of-the-world films where groups of bewildered survivors wander through the crumbling remains of their city after a plague has wiped out most of humanity.

The First Minister’s defiant howl last Friday masked the true reality of what had happened in Glasgow. The ruling administration had come to within a whisker of being ousted by a party whose national leadership epitomises mediocrity and intellectual sterility. The SNP’s abject stewardship of Glasgow should have ended in defeat last week. That they hung on by one seat was due more to the fact that Scottish Labour have become so transfixed by the Union Jack that many of their former followers still feel they can’t vote for them.

And so, another national election has delivered another overwhelming victory for the SNP. By my reckoning that’s 11 elections in four different jurisdictions on the trot for the Scottish Nationalists. In Scotland they are virtually untouchable, being opposed by two parties whose elected members and leaders are now merely stealing wages to maintain the pretence that Holyrood presides over a functioning democracy. Until Scottish Labour finds a leader who can make a mature contribution to the country’s constitutional debate this impasse will continue.

After 22 years of doing little more than provide Patrick Harvie with a world-class pension, the Scottish Greens might have delivered something useful by now in chivvying the SNP out of its bizarrely lethargic approach to seeking independence. Instead they’ve been bound by a vow of silence in exchange for a couple of junior ministerial positions. And to think we all thought that the system of patronage which once produced rotten boroughs had disappeared with the 1832 Reform Act.

Perhaps the Scottish Labour Party did expend a substantial amount of money and energy at regaining Glasgow, but it’s doubtful their budget comes anywhere near the annual £1m the SNP spends on advisers and spin-doctors. Alongside providing edgy backdrops for fantasy action movies, this appears to be one of the few other areas of Scottish growth in the devolved era.

These party fluffers and agitators were all over social media in the weeks running up to the council elections. Many of them once purported to scrutinise the actions of this government; now they are good for little more than opening doors and fetching sandwiches for people who’ve laughingly been accorded full ministerial status and whom they once regarded as barely literate.

In these wretched circumstances where political opposition has been all but extinguished, responsibility falls upon the print and broadcast media and upon SNP dissidents to hold the Scottish Government to account. The SNP have already been in power for 15 years and few would bet against them reaching a quarter of a century. Few would be willing to bet either on their oft-stated pledge of holding a second referendum on independence before the end of next year.

There are many reasons to doubt the SNP’s ability or desire to pursue a referendum. Not the least of these is the absence of any fully-realised policy or even thinking around the currency issue, without which anything substantial about Scotland’s future relationship with the European Union is entirely redundant. The current Northern Ireland border dispute which has acted as a wrecking-ball to the governance of the Six Counties demonstrates the need for a detailed policy on an independent Scotland’s future border arrangements with England. Yet, there’s been nothing about this either.

Joanna Cherry is the only SNP politician who has demonstrated any acuity on such issues. But, after a campaign of bullying, intimidation and misogyny – orchestrated by senior figures in her own party – she was demoted. The ordeal suffered by Ms Cherry has befallen many others within the SNP who have dared to criticise the merciless authoritarianism of Nicola Sturgeon. Many SNP activists have rushed to proclaim their feminist principles over the Roe versus Wade abortion debate in America. Yet they all chose to remain silent when their colleagues were being threatened with sexual violence on social media and bullied at Holyrood and Westminster for trying to defend women’s sex-based rights in the GRA debate.

At a less toxic level the orchestrated abuse directed at supporters of Scottish independence for daring to criticise the party’s con artistry in seeking a referendum has also intensified. And if you attempt to ask questions about the unexplained disappearance of £600k in party donations, or their incompetence around the CalMac ferry contracts you are reviled as a Red Tory or a Unionist plant.

The cabal of party loyalists who maintain the SNP gravy train also have questions to answer about their no-great-mischief-if-they-die policy towards Scotland’s elderly and infirm in the early days of Covid. Yet that too draws a pathetic response from the desperadoes on the party’s scarecrow wing who are seeking favour from “the boss” and the prospect of a considerable pay-day at a level beyond their talents in the real world.

The professional SNP is a vicious and pitiless organisation which proceeds on a ruthless system of patronage. They have disfigured what was once an optimistic and celebratory venture and damaged the overall cause of independence. It’s possible to revile this party and yet remain faithful to self-determination.

NOTE: Kevin McKenna is a columnist published in various newspapers, such as the Guardian, the Scotsman the National and the Herald where this article was first published.


Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Breaking Up the UK

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill and president Mary Lou McDonald 

Following Sinn Féin’s election wins in the north of Ireland – where the party is now the largest in the province – the euphoria and column inches in the British press about how this will lead to the break-up of the already riven dis-United Kingdom, this site turns to the better informed to get a nuanced, insightful view from the Irish. For that, there is no one better to turn to than writer and journalist, Fintan O’Toole and the Irish Times.

O’Toole feels the development gives a ‘sense of a united Ireland’ but he also knows how dirty the DUP play and how the British State is always ready to support the DUP to keep the UK together. In my few years working in the North for the BBC I did not know a ‘normal’ Northern Ireland, neither before nor since. Wherever the English go they leave behind them multi-deaths, poverty, false borders and a ravaged divided land. Nor did I manage to have the people I met there understand how much the Brits hate them, happy Ireland was not physically joined to the UK. As for breathless comments that Sinn Féin will help the SNP to gain Scotland’s freedom, that takes courage and statesmanship that the current SNP hierarchy do not have.

In time, warring chiefs, firebrands and hot-heads grow old and tired, they die or retire, and the young become leaders and one hopes wiser than their forefathers. As O’Toole says, now there is real hope. Sinn Féin’s victory won’t bring a united Ireland right away – but it’s getting closer. Were he alive, my grandfather Patrick Joseph Reilly would be delighted to hear the news.


By Fintan O’Toole

In 2021, a hundred years after the creation of Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson tweeted: “Let me underline that, now & in the future, Northern Ireland’s place in the UK will be protected and strengthened.” Since the word “not” has to be inserted automatically into every positive statement Johnson makes, unionists ought to have taken this as fair warning: Year 101 of Northern Ireland’s existence would be its equivalent of George Orwell’s Room 101, where you are confronted by your own worst nightmares.

After last week’s assembly elections, the unionist nightmare takes the amiable form of Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s vice-president and now putative first minister of the Northern Ireland executive. The source of dread is not so much O’Neill herself as the historic moment she embodies: Catholic nationalism outstripping Protestant unionism. Her party is dedicated above all to ending the union. It beat Johnson’s allies in the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) in first preference votes by eight percentage points.

In a normal polity, the rise and fall of parties does not have existential implications. But Northern Ireland has never been normal. It was created to ensure one overwhelming imperative: to allow as many Protestants as possible to stay in the UK and exclude themselves from the emerging Irish state. Its border was drawn to create an area in which Protestants would have a permanent majority – which meant, of course, that its Catholic population would form a permanent minority.

It’s been obvious for a long time that this bet on permanence, like every other such gamble in history, would ultimately be a losing one. The unionist political monolith crumbled in 1972, when Edward Heath, as prime minister, pulled the plug on its parliament in Stormont. From then on, it has been accepted that if Northern Ireland could be governed at all, it would only be through the sharing of power between nationalist and unionist parties. That arrangement was institutionalised by the Belfast agreement of 1998.

In that sense, unionists have long since grown used to the reality that they would never again exercise power unilaterally. Yet they could still console themselves with the thought that, even if they had to accept equality with nationalists, they were first among equals. In some respects, this was a mere trick of language. The agreement designated the leader of the biggest party as “first minister” and of the biggest party from the other side as “deputy first minister”. This was bad drafting – the two offices have precisely equal status. But language and symbolism matter deeply in Northern Ireland and that unqualified “first” was a thick comfort blanket for unionism.

It’s been ripped away now. Two big things happened in the election. One is that – because symbolism matters just as much on the nationalist side of the divide – the prospect of O’Neill becoming first minister drew some more Catholic voters away from the Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) and towards Sinn Féin. But the other is that Brexit continued its work of dividing and undermining unionism. This second factor was actually more consequential than the first. Sinn Féin’s share of the vote rose only modestly. But the significance of that increase was magnified by the DUP’s decline.

In the assembly elections of May 2016, just a month before the Brexit referendum, the DUP took 29% of the vote. On Thursday, it got 21%. Its vote has dropped precipitously even though it had what ought to have been a trump card – the tribal fear that, unless Protestants voted for the DUP, Sinn Féin would win the election and proceed to push for a border poll on a United Ireland. (Ironically, while the DUP was playing up the alleged imminence of a border poll, Sinn Féin was careful to play it down and concentrated its campaign on bread-and-butter issues.) There is a very long history in Northern Ireland of holding your nose and voting for politicians from “our side”, not because you especially like them, but to keep the other crowd out.

Why did this impulse not kick in this time? Because the Brexit revolution is devouring its own children. Apart from Ukip, the DUP was the only substantial party in the UK to be wholly and enthusiastically in favour of the hardest possible Brexit. It funnelled money into the leave campaign in England. Handed the balance of power at Westminster, it used it to help bring down Theresa May and install Johnson in Downing Street. And, remarkably for a party with a very high proportion of teetotallers, it got so drunk on the fumes of Brexit that it believed Johnson when he swore that there would be a border down the Irish Sea “over my dead body”.

All of this made the DUP look foolish – admittedly not the most difficult achievement of the Brexit project. And it disturbed two very different groups of voters. One is hardline unionists who blame the DUP for having created, however inadvertently, the Northern Ireland protocol that keeps the region within the EU’s single market, even while Britain diverges ever further from it. Those people voted in significant numbers for the small Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). The other alienated constituency is moderate Protestants who never wanted to be dragged out of the EU. They moved to the cross-community and pro-EU Alliance party.

These developments raise two very big questions – the future of the protocol and a united Ireland. The first is clarified by the election. Put simply, if Johnson claims to be representing the people of Northern Ireland in using the protocol as an excuse to revive conflict with the EU, he is lying. The parties that oppose the protocol – the DUP, Ulster Unionists and TUV – got 40% of the vote between them. Those that support the protocol – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and two small parties – got 55%. If the Tories follow through on Dominic Raab’s threat yesterday to take “whatever measures are necessary” to unilaterally alter the protocol, thus triggering a trade war with the EU, it will not be to honour the wishes of Northern Ireland’s voters. It will be a futile effort to save Johnson’s skin.

As for a united Ireland, only a fool would think it’s coming soon – and only a bigger fool would think that it has not, in some form, come closer. It’s not coming soon because most Irish people have not really begun to grapple with what it might mean in practice. But the identity of Northern Ireland has been drastically altered by both the slow demographic change that has culminated in these election results and by the DUP’s embrace of Brexit extremism.

The long and the short movements of history are coming together to create the sense of an ending. There is an urgent need to talk, in the most generous, open and imaginative way, about what Northern Ireland’s afterlife might look like and how everyone can find a place within it.

NOTE: Fintan O’Toole is a columnist with the Irish Times.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Journo’s Daydream

Iain Macwhirter and key protagonists in the struggle for Scotland’s liberty (Blurred focus deliberate)

Together with Kevin McKenna, Iain Macwhirter is one of the few Scottish-based journalists, or columnists to be accurate, whom I can read without using a spittoon. That includes the few times they publish opinion without evidential justification. Macwhirter, after all, is a journalist who has seen the inside of BBC Scotland, and moved from a devolutionist to independence as the only answer to genuine freedoms and equality. Moreover, he writes in a clear, intelligent manner.

On this occasion Macwhirter has abandoned weighing historic precedent with current events in favour of flights of fancy. If he forgives me, and as proof I have no malice (and no heroes), I take issue with some of his conclusions that his column ignores.

His article is republished in full, my replies in bold. Readers are invited to add their comments.


by Iain Macwhirter

I don’t know which gods Nicola Sturgeon prays to, but they came out for her on Friday. The SNP increased its share of votes and seats in the local elections, but that seemed almost routine – it’s what they do. Not so. Under Sturgeon the SNP has limped along with vote share under the critical 50%. I think there were two occasions it rose above that figure and then fell back which she duly ignored. (Am too busy to double check.) The voters who want self-governance and those who want more powers short of independence are happier to see the SNP in power than a unionist party. The electorate’s maxim is, rather an inept indigenous government that alienates some of its electorate than an efficient unionist one imposed on us. This is true for most nations.

Yet this was their eleventh election victory in their fifteenth year in power in Holyrood. And it’s been a damaging one with rows over ferry contracts, school performance, gender reform, poverty stats. These petty issues just bounce off the Sturgeon force field. “Petty issues” is an extraordinary thing to say, a gross understatement, one to attract ridicule if Macwhirter was debating these issues in a television broadcast. A cursory list off the top of my head includes: The extended assassination attempt to taint the character of Alex Salmond, as if a movie villain where he gets killed three times, pushed off the top of a building, falls through the atrium glass canopy and is impaled on the railings below. There’s more: the appropriation of £600,000 of donations given to the SNP for a second referendum and the lies offered for its disappearance; countless individuals smeared by the party and dumped as if toilet paper; the destruction of national cohesion in a shared ideal – self-governance; the deprecation and blocking of independence supporters who use the Internet; the lack of an annual conference in an attempt to give a false impression of unanimity within the party, and the reorganising of the SNP’s NEC to welcome back unwanted individuals legitimately unelected by the rank and file. In short, no one with a reputation and integrity worth protecting would associate themselves with the degenerate mess that was once an honorable party.

But the Scottish results were only part of Nicola Sturgeon’s triumph last week. The stars are aligning across the UK for the nationalists in quite extraordinary ways. It is almost uncanny. The SNP always distanced itself from Sinn Fein, since it used to be the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. It didn’t want to be tainted by association with the men of violence. Not true. Alex Salmond met with them in his early days as first minister, and why not? They have lots of experience in dealing with the brutality of British imperialism. A few years later, Sturgeon gave a prepared speech to the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, but never followed up on the welcome she was given. 

Ms O’Neill is unable to assume her role as Stormont is currently suspended, and the reunification of Ireland is still some way off. But anything that weakens the ties that bind the components of the Union is good news for the SNP. Sinn Fein. Northern Ireland is hanging by a thread, dangling on the end of the botched Northern Ireland protocol. The EU has achieved its objective of keeping Ireland as a regulatory colony, and the UK has been diminished as a result. 

But an even bigger plus for Nicola Sturgeon was the result in England. The Tories were humiliated, losing 350 council seats, but they were not humiliated enough to force Boris Johnson’s demise. The longer he remains the better, as far as the SNP is concerned. This is the passive policy so beloved of the SNP: do nothing to create support for self-governance, just leave it to England to scunner the Scots – as if we are not at that point after 300 and more years – oh, and keep our fingers crossed.

Deft spinning by Tory party managers on election night made it look as if, while Labour had won in London, capturing Tory bastions like Wandsworth and Westminster, elsewhere the Tories were standing firm in the red wall. This did not really withstand the light of day on Friday. It was a disastrous night any way you looked at it. But it didn’t really matter. Boris Johnson looks safe for now. So, not really disastrous after all. They still enjoy an 80 majority.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Raynor are under pressure to resign over “beergate”, the late-night Durham drinking session they attended last year during Tier 2 lockdown. It is a remarkable turn of events. Sir Keir called on Boris Johnson to resign on the very day the Metropolitan police announced an investigation into parties in Number 10. Now Durham Police say new information has prompted them to investigate Sir Keir, but he shows no sign of doing likewise. The Labour party policy is strictly no support for a Scottish referendum or independence, but maximum frustration to stop both. And no redefining their branch in Scotland as a separate entity able to take its own decisions. Labour, like the Tories, is a colonial party.

Tory MPs who wanted Boris out over party-gate have missed their moment. There is now little prospect of a change in Number 10 before 2024. This is the perfect scenario for Nicola Sturgeon.  Perfect, as in, she prefers unionists to gain seats and not other Indy candidates. She has not seen the back of any colonial list MSPs. She sees the same faces in the opposition side of Holyrood. Should any leave or are not elected another unionist takes their place. Now, if she stole in during the night and removed chairs and desks that really would be a subversive Plan B.

Boris Johnson is loathed in Scotland and is the best recruiting sergeant for independence since Margaret Thatcher. Nothing new here. All Tory prime ministers are loathed, Boris is just far more dangerous in his plans to scupper Scotland’s aspirations than the last two.

Fate seems to be propelling Scotland towards independence. The Scottish National Party dominates at every level of government in Scotland. The Union is disintegrating, north and south, east and west. Labour is becoming the party of the metropolitan London elite, its leader suddenly in the party-gate dock. The Scottish Tories are effectively leaderless. The UK Tories have a toxic leader until 2024.  The Scottish local election results could hardly have played better for Ms Sturgeon. So she could afford to be magnanimous, congratulating the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar for replacing the Tories in nominal second place, at the foot of the results table. Talk about faint praise. There is not an ounce of magnanimity in Nicola Sturgeon’s character. For that quality one requires maturity, confidence in one’s principles and statesmanship. If she was generous she would have not been cruel to Joanna Cherry, and she would have welcomed back Alex Salmond on the court’s judgement of an innocent man grievously wronged.

Mr Sarwar has anyway said that he will not join any coalitions, even though Labour is involved in cross-party alliances in numerous councils including Edinburgh. Ross a dead loss. Ross is not useless to Boris, Boris likes Yes men around him.

The Tories now have two leadership crises: in Westminster and Holyrood. Douglas Ross is clearly not working. His flip-flop on party-gate, calling on Boris Johnson to resign and then not resign over it, left him looking as if he didn’t know his own mind. But the Tories would probably have crashed either way. The SNP PR machine, projected across social media, continues to portray the Conservatives as the personification of evil: Eton toffs who put profits before people and think climate change is a hoax. There is no obvious alternative to Ross unless they can beg or bribe Baroness Ruth Davidson to return to electoral politics. The danger lies in London not in Scotland, in bills to control the Electoral Commission that will in turn legislate on the content of referenda, in bills to outlaw referenda, in plans for a federal state, probably more of a misdirect than a reality to keep English, Scots and Welsh populations arguing among themselves.

The SNP kept Glasgow, against the odds, even though they’ve devolved some of the council seats to their clone party, the Scottish Greens. So dire is the state of political opposition in Scotland that the SNP have had to create their own pet opposition in the shape of Patrick Harvie’s crew. Though Mhairi Hunter, Nicola Sturgeon’s close ally, who lost her council seat to Green votes, may not be so sanguine having them in the tent. I mean, on this showing, why does the SNP need them? Mhairi Hunter was a typical ‘I see no evil’ SNP supporter, a party hack, unthinking, intolerant of dissent, naive in the extreme and badly informed, without curiosity to gain knowledge. She saw knowledge as a dangerous thing. There is irony in her displacement by a man dressed as a woman, a social advance (her phrase) she supported.

Alex Salmond’s breakaway nationalist party, Alba, all but expired on Friday with none of its 111 candidates winning a seat, and all its existing councillors losing theirs, including Alba’s general secretary, Chris McEleny. Salmond may have led the first SNP government and delivered the 2014 referendum, but he’s been written out of history. First, ‘written out of history’ is cryptic. Does Macwhirter mean the SNP hierarchy removed Salmond from their history book? That would be true. And it was a calumny, a brutality for which they will never be forgiven. Does he mean Salmond is yesterday’s man? That assertion would be foolish in the extreme. Macwhirter’s odd rubbishing of Salmond is an uncharacteristic aberration, Macwhirter, dismissing social justice, repeating the SNP line on an extermination they manufactured. It is an unpleasant remark. It also overlooks that ALBA is over 7,000 members and growing, many are ex-SNP disenfranchised and disaffected. If anything proves the SNP is a colonial-minded party the blocking of ALBA is it. But no seasoned Scotia watcher would discount a master tactician like Salmond as ‘history’.

The only piece of the jigsaw left is the referendum itself. Boris Johnson is still not going to agree to it, and Nicola Sturgeon said last week she will only entertain a “legal” referendum, one that is authorised by the Westminster Parliament. Many SNP members want her to stage an unofficial “advisory” referendum, but she is not going to do that. Some are on their knees begging her to do something, anything positive, anything.

After this victory, Nicola Sturgeon can face down any internal opposition. She will turn the 2024 General Election into a referendum on independence. It could be the last nail in the Union coffin. The only way I can extrapolate this statement without shouting ‘bollocks’ is to presume Macwhirter was in a rush to get to the shops before closing time and signed off his piece with a shallow coda. Sturgeon has run scared from several mandates that coincided with enough public opinion to win a plebiscite – the last election, for example. She gives no indication her do or-die-referendum only, her tawdry ‘Gold Standard,’ is no longer operative and an alternative will be in place.

In fact, the SNP has done very little to prepare for independence, let alone educate the electorate of the need to move swiftly and deliberately to a nation state with a seat at the United Nations. I do not think Sturgeon has an original idea in her head. Her view, indeed her abilities are provincial, no more ambitious than that of kitting out shelves in the local CO-OP branch. I hope Macwhirter was not rushing to that very place.


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