Altering Society

World-famous Edinburgh street at centre of planning row | HeraldScotland
Circus Lane, back of Royal Circus, central Edinburgh

A Parable For a Nation

Readers should begin by dismissing the grand title as a thesis on neo-colonialism, for this is concerned with community cohesion. I am about to relate the tale of how, by accident, I changed a forgotten backwater lane in the centre of this nation’s capital to a thriving, beautiful place to live, and how it proved to be not only a microcosm of society, but a fable not unrelated to the fate of the current SNP administration. The naysayers and the sociopathic troublemakers are the spice in a story of people empowerment.

It began when I was homeless and gardenless. (There’s a magazine for that.) You can read about those uncertain days by clicking on the link at the end of the essay. I was living in a single room offered by a kind friend. A bedroom is not an address that impresses prospective employers. In my forties and married, I had to find a proper place to live, to function as a well-adjusted adult. With only a few pounds in my pocket my choice was limited to a skip or a cardboard box. A small-time estate agent suggested I look at Circus Lane; some properties for sale there, tiny rooms but cheap.

The miracle

I arrived confronted by a shabby crescent-shaped lane at the rear of the illustrious Royal Circus, a chalk and Bollinger comparison one with the other, Royal Circus soon to provide the first £1 million pound property in Edinburgh, a scruffy one-room office space in the mews for as little as £45,000.

The 9-feet wide cobbled lane had no footpath, two-way traffic using it as a shortcut at an averge of 25mph, a plethora of run-down buildings fixed with plastic windows and corrugated roofing. You could just about discern it was the remnants of a Georgian set of modest dwellings. The street was a forgotten rat run, council ignored since the Forties.

As I walked along its length, dejected, ‘For Sale’ signs nowhere to be seen, one window was open, inside a joiner was hard at work sawing a length of timber on his trestle, one knee on the wooden plank. I bent down to look inside.

“Excuse me, do you know if there are properties for sale in the street?”

He straightened his back, pushed his cap off his forehead and stared at me.

“Ye kin have this one, if ye want.”

“Sorry? This is yours, you’re renovating it”, I answered, puzzled.

He moved to the window.

“Ah’ll be straight with ye. I wis buildin’ this fir ma mistress, but she’s dumped me.”

You could have knocked me down with a workie’s KitKat.

Within minutes the owner offered a price within my poverty limits sufficient to afford a deposit. Fate sealed, I spent the next twenty-odd years there, encountering good people and malicious, envious and reticent, taking life and adventures as they came, while improving everything around me. I stayed there about five years too long, the core of this tale.

Stop those vehicles!

The dangerous proximity of speeding vehicles to homes along a narrow mews lane, with two blind corners, was alarming. What to do? One big truck parked right across my door and windows for an hour, blocking egress and light. I had an idea, one that would start a revolution of reformation. I removed a few cobbles (sett stones) and dug a small trench on both sides of my front door to plant large yew hedges. They gave me an extra 18-inches of a safety zone. The shrubs warned speeding drivers someone lived in the lane.

A neighbour asked what I was doing removing council property. I pointed out a property owns the soil three feet from the wall. We have to reach foundations, gas main or electricity. The council owns the cobbles, which I had replaced around the yews. There was a long pause while my explanation sunk in. “Can you do that for my place?” she asked, and that was the start of landscaping the entire lane from one end to another.

Homeowner and tenant, one after another, asked for my help to make their place safer to enter and leave. Over the years, in consultation with each resident, I planted something different at front doors and under windows for the sake of variety and individuality, from plain box hedging to magnolia trees, via rose bushes, taking care to ensure the shrub could withstand winter weather and freezing rain and slush chucked at it by passing cars. I chose evergreens whenever possible. Where there was a manhole cover, I added a large container of flowers on top.

I am relieved to say, ignored by the council was, in this instance, a good thing. The mews never saw road salt guaranteed to kill all living flora, the reason so few trees line the city centre streets.

Out with the old, in with the new

The next task I decided to tackle was a monstrous telegraph pole one-foot from a wall in the middle of the lane. People kept to the walls to avoid on-coming taffic only to find a whopping big, tar-injected BT pole smack in their path. From it hung thirty-nine phone lines running in all directions, and, as if the way of lazy convention, tacked across the front of buildings, disappearing bored through window casements to get access to rooms inside. I made the phone call.

“Hi. I’m calling from Circus Lane. Can you remove a telegraph pole?”

“Depends where it is,” came the expected reply from the BT official.

“Right in the path of pedestrians.”

“Impossible. I’m looking at our grid, and there’s no poles in that street.”

“You’re kidding. I’m looking at one.”

“Our records show no standard poles since 1932.”

“I’ll buy you a bottle of pure malt if you find none when you come here”, I answered.

When he arrived he was non-plussed. He eyed the monster of a telephone pole. “Hell!”

“This lane is full of poor folks”, I intoned, pleading. “How much to remove it?”

“We will do it for free”, he said, without a pause.

“In that case” I interjected swiftly, “Can you remove the one behind that wall too?”

“If the line can stretch to the nearest fixed point, yes”

“The cables and wires crawling all over the house facades, how many are live?”

From his van he took his box of electronic tricks, checked the cable running up the pole and said, “one.”

Thirty-eight redundant cables. I asked him to relay the one used telephone wire along and under gutters and remove all the others. To his credit, BT did that and removed all the redundant telegraph poles for free. With the Thatcher creed infusing everything, free is not a choice today. Everything has a price. Aye, we used to laugh at cans of Edinburgh air sold to gullible tourists, but look at us now, we can even buy and sell our place in a queue.

I digress. My first great achievement was a doddle – visual clutter removed from the lane in an instant. I felt triumphant. I had beaten the system. There was nothing beyond my capacity to make things better!

The changes

Over the next two decades, aided by enthusiastic residents, I began a campaign of alterations and restoration. The list I recount is not comprehensive. One of the best moves was to get rid of the Fifties orange illuminated lampposts and substitute them with Georgian lanterns affixed to the buildings. Half the money came from the folk in the lane, matched by half from the council. The poorest folk, usually retired, paid a few pounds, the well-heeled, £500. Soon as the lamps were installed, people came out their house smiling with pride. They had improved their surroundings, added quality, thrown off what was crap for what was better – the first glimmer of people power. Very soon after, residents began improving the interior of their homes, modernising kitchens, bathrooms and electrics.

Next, I had plastic windows removed, Georgian 12-paned windows installed. The thick yellow No Parking line was relaid as a thin yellow conservation line. (Yes, there is such a thing, if you ask the council nicely.) I divided property block units visually (three properties), with an architectural line, roof to street level, showing individual houses, so that owners could paint their exterior walls and doors a conservation colour to kill dead the monotonous grey facades. I put doors under strict Georgian conservation colours – exterior eggshell, not gloss! My wife is a painter; she knew which front door needed a sharp hue or a muted tone, advice from an expert on colour.

I replaced ugly areas of brick inserts with sandstone as original, painted ingoes, lintels and sills a contrasting colour from the wall in the old Scottish style. I got chimneys rebuilt, concrete additions removed, proper Scottish slate put back on roofs, asked owners to remove satellite dishes, and often landscaped their small back gardens to achieve places of peace in the southern sun. Finally, a had the council make the lane one-way, west to east, the direction least used by rat-run drivers. This added a huge measure of safety and tranquility to life in the mews of mews. Drivers began to slow down, inhibited about using a residential mews as a race track.

When the council widened the footpath around the chapel at the end of the mews, opposite the St Vincent Bar, I got permission to plant a mature tree there to soften the area, an indigenous variety, a multi-stemmed silver birch.

To its branches I added a hardy white Scottish climbing rose. One day, when both were in full leaf, the rose blooming, I heard a young girl say to her boyfriend admiring the roses in the branches, “Ah never kent them birch trees grew flowers”.

I was happy to leave her blissful in her ignorance.

301 Stockbridge Edinburgh Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock
My home at Number 11, where it all began, the New Dawn rose I planted in magnificent splendour

A smart place to live on a budget

In short time the lane was awarded full conservation status, a great thing for preserving its best elements, dissuading Barbarian incomers from sticking Magnet and Southern doors on their house to make it look ‘different’. All that and a ton more alterations achieved by rustling up resident support to see their environment a superior place than before. And it was all pushed ahead by a change in council attitude to community participation: let people propose ideas, not council impose them. Gradually, a visual harmony took shape followed by a shared pride.

Wherever there is human activity, there is money to be made. Developers moved in, in double quick time. Created an A Listed conservation mews lane curbed architectural vandals’ worst excesses. If residents did not like a planning proposal because it was out of character with the surroundings, they let the council know. Plans modified, gap sites were filled-in with sensitive contemporary renditions of mews properties. House prices rose. Everyone was happy.

Police women on horseback used the lane as if of old. The sun shone on Circus Lane.

The people are paramount

By then I had organised residents into an association, people power, which I did without much effort. There was unity of purpose. We met once a month to discuss moans, groans, neighbour disputes, and what we had in the bank. Solutions to stop vehicles using the lane and parking was the most regular topic, followed by dog walkers who thought the planting was there for their dogs to cock a leg. In one incident, a drunk lawyer used a plant container as a toilet, showing no shame when I bollocked him as he peed.

“A man has to relieve himself”, he said, swaying unsteadily, giving judicial pronouncement.

“Is that so? Tell me where you live so I can crap at your door!”

Membership of the Association was a modest £25 a year. Often, I paid the sum myself for the few on welfare benefits. Most paid eagerly, one or two were always ‘out’ when I called.

Lest folk think I exaggerate the tasks undertaken, I emphasise the lane renovations, the improvements, the renaissance of the mews, and the verdant landscaping admired today, were accomplished over many years, augmented when I had surplus money from film commissions, and time to put my back into the work, the guerrilla gardener and landscape artist.

Residents paid what they could towards items for improvements, but not the work involved. I did that voluntarily, for free. When I left, they continued the effort of planting, now veering to the twee for my taste, but pride of place they have aplenty.

Flies in ointments

Not all went swimmingly to plan. Some owners had to be encouraged to make things better, cajoled, schmoozed, short-term incomers understand they had no entitlement to destroy improvements or cut down shrubs.

By 2010 the lane had become internationally famous, an Internet site to itself, voted ‘The Most Beautiful Street in Edinburgh‘, the destination of film and stills shoots the world over, from Japan to Australia, from the USA to Italy. Fashion designers love it as a backdrop. Movie stars marvelled, Julia Roberts took her coffee break on the stone bench I had built outside my windows. Jack Vettriano kept his muse there in a property he bought – his muse nested in a mews. Mike Hart, founder of the Jazz Festival, lived there most of his life.

I received no reward for my work, no accolade, no remuneration. I did it because it was a great thing to do, a gift to the community, thanks were enough from residents. The only negative was the odd annoyance of a new council official keen to control lives. “Why is this tree planted here?” “Because I got council approval, that’s why!”

Circus Lane was one way to make my mark on my country even if there is no plaque on a wall to say I was the architect.

The history of Circus Lane

At this point I should mention something of the lane’s history. Most visitors think the lane the result of indiscriminate placing of stables. Buildings are usually seen a stables built for the wealthy of Royal Circus, now homes for the hoi polloi. There is only one stable, at the west end entrance, and what we see in the lane is the rear facade. The front, the best side, a clever miniature of Georgian composition, faces Royal Circus and the owner who built it.

Properties were built on once fertile cattle fields from the early 1800s, but in an haphazard fashion, one, here, another there, numbered consecutively as they were built. Postmen and delivery drivers are forever flummoxed, Number 6 is at one end, number 7 at the other, number 25 in the middle, number 24 is down a short alley.

Mistaken as stables is forgiven. A lot of the buildings were built by Hansom cab owners, the middle-class of their day. Horse and cart stayed below, hay bales on the first floor, the cabby and his family in two rooms next to the food store. One of my last ambitions was to add an archway at the lane’s entrance, one side marked Circus Lane, the other Stockbridge, the stonework adorned with silhouettes in black metal of Hansom cabs, wagon wheels, and horses, but that was a costly project, and I was on the point of moving out. Still, I believe the lane needs a monumental marker.

A census record from 1891 tells a story of cab proprietors, and cab drivers who were not owners, a widow, a teacher, a general merchant, a confectioner, and one hapless ‘unemployed’. To the mews lane’s modern history should be appended a plaque on Number 11, ‘Here lived the eminent Royal Academician Painter Dr Barbara Rae CBE RA RSA RE, and her Writer and Producer Husband,’ Gareth, who wrote volumes of stuff’.

Image preview

To return to the beginning: how does all this history of human activity relate to the self-inflicted travails of the Scottish National Party. Well, if the reader can be patient a little longer, I’ll tell you.

End game

Shortly before I moved home, an annoying thing happened. Two years earlier I had responded to resident complaints about parked cars blocking the narrow lane, a common occurence. I asked the council to consider double yellow lines only at certain narrow points. Many months later the council’s roads department popped up with a proposal to place double lanes the entire length of the street. I got wind of the news two days before it was to be passed. I decided here was the test for the residents. Rather than letting me, Association secretary, take the hit, rush off to the council and argue the original case, I should see how the residents handled it themselves, standing on their own two feet.

Only one resident picked up the baton, the selfish one who left her car in the street, her garage used for her son as a gymnasium. She got the no parking lines proposal stopped, but did not consult a soul about it. The community democracy I had taken pains to engineer was broken in one fell swoop. One council official gloated, “I see Circus Lane is not all unity, sweetness and light as it’s made out to be.” My cover was blown.

There are more tales to tell.

The lane really was and probably still is a microcosm of society. Some folk dodged their annual £25 membership fee yet expected to get all the benefits of representation. There were those who joined in shared work generously, those who couldn’t by dint of commitments yet offered full support. We had the usual naysayers to anything suggested, and the inevitable sociopath. I named him El Jerko. (His pal, who lived in another street was mentally unstable. “You have no idea what I can do to you, Gareth’, he whispered in my ear following his threat with a huge smile, when I blocked him from appropriating a vennel for his sole use.) Circus Lane is fit for a television soap series all of its own.

El Jerko prided himself on being a ‘property developer’. In reality he was another two-bit renter, his ‘units’ the property of the banks. A small guy, he walked with a swagger, hips pushed out, as if his flies were wide open, his manhood worthy of a selfie. He was a guy who needed the accoutrements of status. He spent years bad mouthing me for something I knew had been done by his neighbour. I kept silent. Had I blabbled, my days there would have ended. He kept up the sniping so well, his friend in a Toyota Hilux drove his pick-up at me at speed. When El Jerko confronted me in the lane screaming his ass off, I always alerted the police calmly. I never answered his taunts once in ten years. But I left him with a thick file in Fettes police station. One day the banks called in his loans and he was forced to sell his prime property. Revenge is sweet if you wait long enough.

“The history book on the shelf keeps repeating itself” ABBA

After I left the lane was filling up with English incomers “I knew this was the place I wanted to live” – some disrepectful of what had been created that they now ignored. (One had used her garage as a commercial workshop, no rates paid!) Meanwhile, I remained the man for film and stills photographers to contact, a fee negotiated, donated to the Residents Association fund for the upkeep of the mews. But I noticed the Residents Association was nowhere to be seen, the fees I collected in the wrong hands, and no record of their spending. I protested, gently, and was told to take a hike. The community now had a dictator intent on doing things without responsibility, backed by an unreliable ‘treasurer’. I cut off all connections.

Though readers might think it trite, there are parallels with the SNP: the casting out of the lane’s benefactor, the split in unity, the missing funds, the dissolution of the lane Association, the mixture of characters not all imbued with community spirit, and the disintegration of trust.

Did my experiment fail? Not all of it; I learned it is harder to alter human behaviour than to alter buildings. But altering buildings for the better can have an effect on human behaviour. However, nothing of what I relate here about my time there should stop you from giving Circus Lane a visit one day on your way to the cafe life of Stockbridge.

Today, built upon archaeological ground, I am almost finished creating a Roman garden on strict Venetian lines in my last home. As my biography says, ‘creator of spaces and places‘.

NOTE: The motivation to live in Circus Lane is here: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-1ln

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Posted in General, Scottish Politics | 23 Comments

Publish and be Damned

Scotland from the Sky | Historic Environment Scotland
Scotland – a wealth of natural resources – most of all, a recourceful people

This glowing article on Scotland’s ability to flourish if reinstated as an autonomous country was published as a London School of Economics Paper a few days ago – and suddenly vanished. Highly positive about Scotland’s economy, you need no familiarity with a John le Carré novel to know someone in authority made a phone call, par for the course from a brutal British establishment determined to keep Scotland ignorant and docile.

The two English academics having done their research, honest enough not to doctor results. Some of it is necessarily technical, as is the duty of those researching economics. I got hold of a copy and republish it here in full. The argument is one of many that has appeared from south of the Border and further afield making plain the wealth of Scotland is more than enough to sustain statehood. (Paragraph titles are my addition.)

The Authors

Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott is a Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, British Institute of International and Comparative Law.  Geoffrey Chapman is an Economic Adviser at the Department for International Trade, UK Government. 

The Thesis

By contrasting Scotland and England to the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic’s ‘Velvet Divorce’, Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott and Geoffrey Chapman suggest that an independent Scotland will continue growing real GDP per capita despite higher trade costs.In light of the ongoing challenges facing the UK, the idea of Scottish independence seems unpalatable to many, but the news implies strong support.

UDI an option, but not the best one

The Scottish government has recently published draft legislation for the holding of another referendum. Numerous polls suggest that a majority vote for independence would occur should this referendum go ahead. Although polls do not necessarily reflect what people will actually vote for at a particular moment in time, the political momentum for another referendum is growing. This pressure will be amplified should the SNP win a majority in the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections.While this remains unclear, the Scottish Parliament may have the constitutional authority to legislate for another referendum without the involvement of the UK government and Parliament. This question can only be definitively settled with a ruling from the UK Supreme Court, one that might not come.

Litigating this matter is not necessarily desirable. The courts afford deference to the Scottish Parliament, and there are reasons for being hesitant towards becoming entangled with, and potentially hindering, the legislative process of a democratically elected parliament.If the current UK government opposes such a course of action, the ways in which the law may prevent the Scottish Parliament alone from legislating for a (non-binding) referendum will need to be clearly articulated. This would be a challenging case to make, because arguing that holding another referendum affects the UK assumes the potential result, which cannot be known in advance.

The result of a referendum cannot retroactively determine the legality of holding it. And even if favouring independence, the force of such a result would be more political than legal. This is because the UK Parliament would need to become involved in order to give legal effect to that result, similar to how it was necessary in order to give legal effect to the EU referendum result. Scotland could also attempt unilateral secession from the UK, which would arguably flout constitutional law and make the applicable international law more relevant.

An obvious truth

At present, Scotland satisfies all the international legal criteria for statehood, with one exception: it lacks the formal authority to enter into foreign relations, even though it has the literal ability to do so. Consequently, if Scotland demonstrated independence from UK authority in the course of conducting international relations, Scotland would be more likely recognised as a state by other states and international organisations.

Furthermore, if voting at the UN General Assembly is anything to go by, we see no immediate reasons why other states would side with a UK position (assuming it opposed secession).While becoming independent would have immediate economic costs, the long-term view suggests there are benefits. By contrasting Scotland and England to the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic’s ‘Velvet Divorce’, our research suggests that an independent Scotland will continue growing real GDP per capita despite higher trade costs. Following the ‘Velvet Divorce’ in 1993, the Czech and Slovak Republics faced additional border costs in their bilateral trade, not least because the Czech Republic kept the Czech Koruna, whereas the Slovak Republic adopted the Euro.

By analysing the bilateral comprehensive trade costs from the ESCAP-World Bank Trade Cost Database, we note that for the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic’s trade costs have always been lower than Germany’s (which becomes the largest trading partner for both states post-independence). In 1995, trade costs between the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic were equivalent to 35%, whereas between the Czech Republic and Germany, trade costs were equivalent to 56%.

The Slovak Republic presents with similar patterns in that trade costs between the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic have always been lower than trade costs between the Slovak Republic and Germany.In the years post-independence, it is apparent that the Czech Republic substituted their exports and imports away from the Slovak Republic; the Slovak Republic did the same, substituting their exports and imports away from the Czech Republic, both in favour of Germany. Despite international trade rebalancing in favour of Germany, a trade partner with higher trade costs, real GDP per capita continued growing.

Cultivate trading partners

It is contextually important to note that for the economically smaller state, the Slovak Republic quite quickly (over six or so years) substituted away from what was its much larger, more significant, export partner to what was a much smaller partner. That is to say, the Slovak Republic’s exports to Germany were nearly three times less than to the Czech Republic in 1993, but as of 2019, the Slovak Republic’s exports to Germany were nearly two times greater than to the Czech Republic.

While the change was less significant regarding the Slovak Republic’s imports, the same shift occurred.Extrapolating the above to England and Scotland, we look at key indicators of macroeconomic policy for Scotland (see Table 1) compared to the Czech and Slovak Republics. Where Scottish estimates could not be found or calculated, we include UK data as a proxy, included in square brackets. According to official statistics, Scotland’s current GDP increased steadily between 1998 and 2019, climbing from £85,204 million to £177,106 million (equivalent to 107.9% growth for the period, or 5% annually).

The inevitable chart table (Sorry)

Trading data, assessed from data ‘available’

Regarding the available trade data between 2002 and 2018, Scotland’s export shares are relatively stable. In 2002, Scotland exported 23% to the EU, 18% to non-EU, and 58% to the rest of the UK. The rest of the UK’s share peaked in 2007 at 67%, when the EU received 16% and non-EU 17%. However, the rest of the UK’s share has tapered off since and as of 2018, was standing at 60% (with the EU receiving 19% and non-EU 21%). Since 2007, counterbalancing the downward trajectory of the rest of the UK’s share has been an increasing trend in Scotland’s non-EU trade, rising from 17% to 21% in 2018. Scotland’s top five international export destinations accounted for £15.1 billion of all exports in 2018, with the top five markets being the US, France, Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. The US remains Scotland’s top international export destination, accounting for an estimated £5.5 billion in 2018.

Moreover, Scotland’s exports to the EU grew by an average of 4% per year over the last five years, and since 2010, growth to the EU outpaced growth to the rest of the world and the rest of the UK by a significant margin. Scotland is not only becoming more economically integrated with the EU (see here), but seemingly also with non-EU partners. Scotland’s historic economic performance has been strong, which bodes well for a small, open and independent Scotland. With modest population growth alongside good GDP growth, supported by stable participation in international trade, it seems Scotland is in a far better initial condition than either the Czech or Slovak Republics, and can therefore expect similar (if not better) post-independence outcomes.

Get moving on foreign affairs

In light of long-run economic growth and stability, it might be worthwhile for Scotland to attempt entering into foreign relations with other states and international organisations if there was no cooperation from the UK to take forward another referendum result favouring independence. A key factor is that if the UK did not respect any future referendum result favouring independence, unilateral Scottish secession would become more legitimate, meaning international recognition of Scotland as an independent state would arguably be more likely. Although the UK currently respects the right of Scots to self-determination, this would no longer be the case if the UK did not take the appropriate steps to implement a referendum result favouring independence.

With regional stability in the interests of all parties, any referendum favouring Scottish independence should be enacted through a staged approach to secession in compliance with constitutional law to minimise the economic cost on the UK and Scotland. The rule of law should be at the heart of any Scottish secession to allow for the best possible economic outcomes for people in Scotland and the UK. Such a process also depends on the politics between the UK and Scottish governments being cooperative, open-minded, and transparent. Nevertheless, although political amicability between the UK and Scotland is preferable, it is not indispensable for Scotland to become independent and continue prospering thereafter, particularly if Scotland negotiates access to the EU single market.

In summary

Considering Scotland has all the necessary machinery in place to become an independent state, we see no obvious reasons why Scotland would not succeed economically if it were to do so, especially if achieved within the bounds of the law. Although our findings might be controversial to some, we hope to show that Scottish independence, while not inevitable, is far more nuanced a matter than many have claimed. There exist several options worth pursuing for the parties to this debate.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the Department for International Trade, or the UK Government.

FURTHER READING: ‘The Wealth of Scotland’ – https://wp.me/p4fd9j-niV

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 8 Comments

Neale Hanvey: A Statement

Neale Hanvey MP

Neale Hanvey lays out his reasons for joining the ALBA party, a politician much liked by his constitutents, harrassed by the SNP while attempting to serve that party’s interests.

My primary focus is and always will be achieving our shared ambition of independence for Scotland.

As you will know this coming election is vital for our nation. Brexit is a reality with all the social and economic harm that we predicted. Unfortunately, worse is to come as desperate trade deals are struck, harming our economy, threatening our NHS and risking all of the progress we have made with devolution.

Austerity is back on the Tories’ agenda as the economic costs of the pandemic are loaded on to the shoulders of those least able to afford it. Finally, the ability to mitigate such hardship and protect our communities is now threatened by Westminster’s attacks on Holyrood’s powers.

The need for independence has never been clearer or greater, and the opportunity to achieve it has never been more favourable. Yet, Scotland is burdened with a rightly loathed Prime Minister leading an incompetent government, riddled with cronyism and accusations of corruption.

The supposedly prestigious benefits of a Global Britain have been exposed as fake as the vow; EU membership has been lost, the strength of sterling has plummeted, and the green economy is stymied by ruthless and inflexible Westminster rules.

It is now clear to increasing numbers of folk that the true risk was always with the Union. Nuclear proliferation as the UK arsenal is increased, low-wage-low-security jobs, all are part of the delusional New Age of Empire.

That’s why not only winning the election, but winning it well is absolutely essential. Boris Johnson must not be able to reject Scotland’s democratic rights, Scottish democracy must prevail. Westminster can be afforded no veto on our ambition.

To pull this off I believe we must not only return David Torrance, Annabelle Ewing and an SNP Government but we must work to deliver a supermajority for independence. This will ensure that Scotland, not London decides.

At the moment our electoral system works against that. The regional list system sees the SNP stack up votes with few list SNP MSPs returned. Almost a million votes were cast for the SNP in 2016 but only four SNP list MSPs were returned, and in only two of the eight regional constituencies. This allowed 24 Tory and 21 Labour unionist politicians to take up the parliamentary seats.

In six regional list areas no SNP MSP was elected. In Mid-Scotland and Fife 120,128 votes were cast for the SNP list, yet this returned not a single MSP and other regional constituencies were even starker. In South of Scotland three SNP list MSPs were successfully elected but, as happened in Mid-Scotland and Fife in 2016, a victory in a constituency will likely see the loss of a list seat and no net gain.

With all of this considered I now believe that supporting an independence list party is an absolutely essential step for the Yes movement to take. Removing unionist list MSPs and replacing them with those committed to Scotland’s independence provides the best chance of delivering a supermajority. This would enable the Holyrood parliament to challenge London’s contemptuous and outrageous dictats.

Currently SNP HQ strategy opposes such a move. I think that’s a mistake and harms our cause. As someone who has demonstrated a dogged determination never to throw in the towel on independence this has understandably perplexed me.

So, it is for all of the reasons set out above, and after considerable thought, I am relinquishing my SNP membership to support, what I hope will be the final push to achieve our nation’s independence.

As of midnight, I joined the newly formed Alba Party with the intention of delivering an independence supermajority. This will be achieved by standing with other candidates on the list vote alone. While some members have contacted me to say they have already joined Alba, they are doing so for their own reasons. This is a personal decision for each of us and all I can do is hope you’ll understand my own reasoning.

My constituency office will continue to operate virtually, and I will work with fellow Alba Party MP Kenny MacAskill and the SNP Group in Westminster to oppose the harm being inflcited on Scotland by the UK Government. I will likewise continue to support David and Annabelle’s successful re-election as constituency MSPs.

Whether in the SNP, Alba Party or Yes movement, independence is our shared goal. I hope you’ll agree that it’s time to speak as one.

Slàinte mhath.

Neale

Neale Hanvey MP
Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath Parliamentary Constituency

NOTE: THis statement was first published on ‘Wings Over Scotland’, 28 March 2021.

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

Kenny MacAskill: A Statement

BBC Parliament - House of Commons, Maiden Speeches - Kenny MacAskill
Kenny MacAskill MP

Dear Friend

I am writing to advise you of a decision I have taken and provide you with my reasoning. I believe that this is the best way to achieve our goal of independence.

This coming election’s vital for our Nation. Brexit has happened with all the social and economic harm predicted. Worse is to come as trade deals are struck, harming our economy and threatening the NHS. Further austerity beckons as the economic costs of the pandemic are loaded on to those least able to afford it.

Finally, the ability to mitigate the hardship and protect our communities is threatened by Westminsters attack on Holyrood powers.The need for Independence has never been greater, yet the opportunity to achieve it is has never been more favourable.

A Prime Minister who is rightly loathed leading an incompetent Government, acting as a kleptocracy. The risks said to apply to independence have been exposed, as EU membership has been lost, the strength of sterling has plummeted and the supposed benefits of global British prestige shown to be false.

Instead the risk is now in remaining in the UK as a nuclear arsenal is increased, a low wage economy  pursued, all as part of the delusion of a New Age of Empire. That’s why not only winning the election but winning it well’s essential. Boris Johnson must not be able to reject Scotlands democratic rights, Scottish democracy must prevail over a Westminster veto.  

To ensure that it’s essential to not only return an SNP Government but to deliver a supermajority for Independence. Thus ensuring that Scotland not London decides. At the moment the electoral system works against that. The regional list system sees SNP votes stack up votes but very few list SNP MSPs returned. Almost a million votes were cast for the SNP in 2016 but only 4 SNP list MSPs were returned, and in just 2 out of 8 regional constituencies. Instead 24 Tory and 21 Labour unionists took the seats.

In 6 Regional list areas no SNP MSP was elected. In Lothian which includes Midlothian and Musselburgh, 118,546 votes cast for the SNP returned no MSP, other regional constituencies were even starker. Even in South of Scotland which includes the rest of East Lothian 3 MSPs were succesful but a victory in the constituency this time, will see likely the loss of a list seat.

It’s why I believe that support for an Independence List Party is essential that can deliver the super majority for independence which will allow Holyrood to overide Londons dictat, removing Unionist MSP and replacing them with those committed to Independence. Currently SNP rules don’t allow that and the HQ strategy opposes it. I think that’s a mistake and harms our cause. So, it is for that reason that after considerable thought, and after over 40 years, I am relinquishing my SNP membership, to support this final push for our nation’s independence.

I will be joining the newly formed Alba Party to deliver that supermajority for independence through the list vote and which I believe’s essential to achieving our nations independence. Some members are doing likewise but it’s a personal decision for us all and I hope you’ll understand my reasoning.

My office will continue operating for constituents and I will continue serving as MP.  Along with other colleagues in Alba I will work with the SNP Group in Westminster in opposing the harm that’s being done to our land by the UK Government. I will likewise continue to work for Paul McLennans election as the constituency MSP at the coming election in May.

Whether in the SNP, Alba Party or Yes Movement, independence is our shared goal. Let us go forward and deliver it.  

Yours sincerely  


Kenny MacAskill MP

NOTE: TV news interview: https://twitter.com/i/status/1375863114827247616

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 10 Comments

Salmond: Justice Seen To Be Done

Alex Salmond complainers claim government 'dropped' them - BBC News

STATEMENT FROM THE RIGHT HON. ALEX SALMOND MP

“This is my third and final public statement on the subject of the parliamentary and Hamilton investigations and the Dunlop Review.

The Inquiries are over and despite their manifest limitations, the findings are in and must be accepted, just like the verdicts of juries and the judgements of courts.

A year ago, outside the High Court, I said that there was evidence which I wished to see the light of day. Some of that key material, including the government legal advice, eventually emerged through the Parliamentary Committee. Much of it did not.

A month ago, I gave public evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry itself. I called for some in leadership positions to consider their position. It is in the public interest that such action be taken to prevent a damaging erosion of trust in the institutions of government. As the record shows I did not call for the resignation of the First Minister.

I have waited to see the response from those individuals to the publication of the Inquiry reports. Unfortunately, it appears that the clear intention is to carry on regardless.

Thus I intend to take two specific actions which emerge directly from the findings of these reports.

First, the Parliamentary Committee has made clear that the catastrophic failures in this matter are not just systemic, but can properly be laid at the door of individuals, and in particular, the Permanent Secretary. (para 599 Committee Report)

I was previously forced to take the Permanent Secretary to the Court of Session over the illegality of her actions and was successful. Despite being found responsible for that unlawful and unfair process and incurring a vast and avoidable cost to the taxpayer of over £600,000 in legal expenses, the Permanent Secretary did not offer her resignation on January 8th 2019.

Now, more than two years later, and despite the most damning condemnation from a Committee in the history of the modern Scottish Parliament, the Permanent Secretary still refuses to accept real responsibility.

Instead, the waste of public resources has continued to grow as has the impact on all the people concerned.

This cannot stand. I have therefore taken legal advice and will shortly be instructing my lawyers to bring proceedings in the Court of Session arising as a direct result of the conduct of the Permanent Secretary. I hope it is the only legal action that I am required to take.

I have complete faith in the outcome of that Court process, coming as it does with all the proper powers of recovery of documents and thus the ability to properly interrogate those individuals responsible, the absence of which so restricted the Parliamentary Committee.

Secondly, the report of Mr James Hamilton makes clear that the question of the leak of the story of the original complaints in August 2018 was not part of his remit but should instead be referred to the Police.

The Parliamentary Committee Report was fully condemnatory of that same leak noting the extreme level of damage to all concerned. I agree. (para 17 of Hamilton Report , paras 408-414 of Committee report)

I will accordingly now make that complaint to the Police and allow them to discover who within the Scottish Government was responsible for passing these details to the Daily Record newspaper. I have every confidence that Police Scotland will pursue that matter with rigour.

I intend to make no further public comment on these issues and will leave the police and the courts to do their job.

Instead I intend to move on, just as Scotland should now move on to debate the key election issues before us all, principally economic recovery from the pandemic and the future independence of our country.” ENDS

NOTE: The reason for Salmond’s extra-legal action lies in the report of James Hamilton – although Hamilton adds he has no jurisdiction to do more than he did, and also in the Holyrood Inquiry, as shown below.

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 11 Comments

Sturgeon Misled Parliament

Nicola Sturgeon: what is she accused of and what happens now? | Nicola  Sturgeon | The Guardian
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Extract from the Hamilton Report

An ‘incomplete narrative of events”. That is the key phrase in the extract above. James Hamilton’s report makes clear that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, did mislead Parliament. Whether deliberate, forgetfulness or an error, she misled Parliament. The SNP is a party without honour. But it can be put right if the masses want it.

Hamilton accepts the First Minister’s version of events; she did not mean to do it. Why? Because she says so. This is a bizarre ajudication. One misleads or one does not. If an inquisitor says she did not plan to do it, it is not his role to suggest she is free from rebuke or sanction. That is a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

If Parliament considers the full evidence – from both Inquiries – and decides her behaviour was not forgetfulness at all, or a diary muddle, they can apply the severest of sanctions.

If Parliament argues she did not mean to do it, they can record a rebuke, no matter what action the opposition want to see passed by MSPs to rid themselves of an irksome opponent.

As it is, we have the Fabiani Inquiry also stating the First Minister did break the ministerial code, and Hamilton softening that to yes, but is was not malicious. In addition, the Fabiani committee state that Nicola Sturgeon misled them in some of the evidence she gave to them under oath. The perfect storm. Two Inquiries reaching the same conclusion, yet apparently at loggerheads as to the honesty of the the key protagonist.

The bigger question is this, what will the damaging fiasco of past months do to SNP support at the next election in May? Trust has been broken in the eyes of many supporters.

We have a legacy of crass ineptitude and political folly: the catastrophy caused soley by the SNP hierarchy, the unedfying smear statements made by SNP MPs and MSPs about their own colleagues, peers ostrasised, strong, articulate independent voices exiled and humiliated, millions of taxpayer money squandered in unnecessary court cases, women dragooned into perjuring themselves, SNP and Crown Office skulduggery withholding vital evidence, civil servants as trustworthy as the Kray Twins, plans to jail an innocent man, falsehoods scattered like marbles. This litany makes a great plot for a film on the abuse of power.

The reality of ‘moving on’ is brutal. A landslide victory for the SNP means a referendum of any form blocked by Boris Johnson and his eighty majority at Westminster. If frustrated, the SNP promise to take the issue to the UK Supreme Court, a path the SNP said was too hazardous only weeks ago. That will be many months away, and as we know, a mere week is a long time in politics. Who saw a pandemic arriving to distrupt society and life?

If a low ballot for the SNP, the party of independence that shelved independence these last four years, has no mandate to butter a scone, let alone hold an advisory plebiscite. I and others suggested consistently the election be made a plebiscite, a solid solution, one backed by the people of Scotland in a mass verdict, a proposal duly dismissed or ignored by the SNP. Instead, the SNP plan to shift a referendum into the far distance where it will be vulnerable to attack by the British state.

The outlook is bleak. The SNP remains a party systematically corrupted in its processes and trust. It will be up to the mass movement for self-governance, not the SNP, to fix things, to kill the virus in double quick time.

Some people choose to make a rational choice – vote for the SNP to give it a landslide majority, or put another way, vote for the lesser of two evils. But they usually add, lets leave the wrong doing and piss-poor policy Bills until after independence. This acknowledges corruption exists to be cast out. Leaving dishonesty where it lies only gives it licence to multiply and grow.

Lesser evils is not the end of things. It is the beginning from where you endeavour to get a fractured party back on the straight and narrow having thrown off the malodorous stench of duplicity and self-preservation. You do not hold your nose to vote. You use your vote to prevent the worst, you deal with the fundamental root of your party’s malaise. You begin the clean out immediately. This is the moment to remind politicians forcefully they represent us, they are charged with accomplishing things in our name, they do not control us.

Taking everything into account, including close study these the last years, with the exception of giving strong performances at Hoilyrood’s First Minister’s Question Time, I have witnessed a First Minister well out of her depth in the matter of achieving this nation’s liberty. This author’s view is that independence held in the cupped hands of Nicola Sturgeon is nothing but water. I profoundly wish I am wrong. There are many who believe I am.

Nearing the end of my life, I take some solace knowing shallow personalities and fame pass; a mass movement intent on a nation’s liberty may pause for a while, be derailed for a time, but momentum is always inexorably forward, pushed onward by people who seek natural justice.

Revolutions are unstoppable.

Hamilton’s Full Report

For those who wish to read all 81 pages and his letter, or only skim it to read the main sections, here is Hamilton’s assessment – click on the long link below:

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/independent-report/2021/03/independent-report-by-james-hamilton-on-the-first-ministers-self-referral-under-the-scottish-ministerial-code/documents/the-independent-report-by-james-hamilton-on-the-first-ministers-self-referral-under-the-scottish-ministerial-code/the-independent-report-by-james-hamilton-on-the-first-ministers-self-referral-under-the-scottish-ministerial-code/govscot%3Adocument/Referral%2B-%2Breport%2B-%2B%2Bredacted%2Bversion.pdf?forceDownload=true

NOTE:

The bitter taste politicians. Below, an example of a member of the SNP resigning his membership, his reaction typical of many another, disilluisioned and disenfranchised.

Image

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Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 24 Comments

Collusion, Perjury and Criminal Conspiracy

Twenty-two minutes of your time to hear a Tory politician in Westminster defend Scotland’s moral laws against unlawful persons of the SNP and Scot Gov, who plotted to consign Alex Salmond’s reputation to the dustbin, criminally lower than that of Deacon Brodie. He explains the limits of what our Scottish Parliament can do to combat systematic corrupt practices, and asks for more powers for Holyrood. If you do not have time, take five minutes to read the transcript, below.

Here is David Davis’s statement in written form. (The Tory far-right 1922 Committee will be gunning for his guts for daring to propose our paliament is given more power.) In it he names names and gives judgement, asking that the Scottish Parliament be given proper powers to root out corruption swiftly so that it can return to representing the electorate and get its mind off its self-inflicted internal problems.

I have printed in bold relevant paragraphs pointing up collusion and corruption.

For the past few months, Scotland has been transfixed by the Holyrood inquiry seeking the truth of what went wrong with the investigations into the former First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The inquiry is investigating matters of the most serious kind. Serious for the proper handling of sexual harassment complaints in Scotland. Serious for the accountability of those in positions of power, including the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary and its Lord Advocate. And serious, if the former First Minister’s claims hold any water, for the future of the present First Minister’s administration of Scotland.

These matters are unquestionably something that should properly be dealt with in Holyrood. But Holyrood has great difficulties exposing what went on. The inquiry has come up against endless impediments in its efforts to fulfil its remit.

These difficulties can be traced back to the Scotland Act 1998 in which the British Government of the day, and this House, decided to devolve power to a Scottish Parliament, but failed to do it properly. These failures were broadly on three fronts.

First, this House [Westminster] failed to guarantee separation of powers to Scotland. We have known for centuries that the separation of powers is fundamental to a functioning democracy.  Yet in Scotland, the Lord Advocate both leads the prosecution service, and serves in the Scottish Cabinet. This leaves him conflicted and compromised, with his Department’s independence undermined.

Second, the Scottish Civil Service was left as a part of the wider UK Civil Service. It therefore does not have its own mechanisms of control and accountability in place but is only loosely controlled by Whitehall as we shall see in a moment. The result has been tolerance of failings which ordinarily would have led to resignations.

Third and most important, Scottish Parliamentarians were not given the same powers and privileges that MPs of this House enjoy. This means that evidence relevant to the Holyrood inquiry can be freely discussed here today using parliamentary privilege.

But if an MSP in Holyrood were to do the same, they would likely find themselves facing down prosecution. Indeed, the Crown Office has been making such threats to Mr Salmond’s lawyers, to various journalists and even the Holyrood inquiry itself. They made clear that they would deem disclosure of evidence to a committee of elected representatives to be a criminal offence. We have, in effect, given the Holyrood inquiry the right to summon evidence, but not to use it.

It is because of these failings I have brought this debate today. We need to reinforce the ability of the Scottish Parliament to hold its own government to account. I’m here to strengthen the Scottish Parliament, not to bury it. A few weeks ago, I was passed some papers from an anonymous whistle-blower. The information consisted of a download of text messages from the telephone of Sue Ruddick, the Chief Operating Officer of the SNP.

At this point the SNP Chief Whip intervened on a point of order.

Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker, I have I think brought whistleblower views to the attention of this House on about a dozen occasions in the last 20 or 30 years and in every single occasion I have protected the innocent people involved.

Now the download I am talking about – Sue Riddick’s telephone download is held by the Scottish Police, so the accuracy of the account can be checked if they need to. Now Alex Salmond has asserted that there has been a ‘malicious and concerted attempt to remove me from public life in Scotland’…by… ‘a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP’ who set out to ‘damage [his] reputation, even to the extent of having [him] imprisoned.’

These are incredibly grave charges.  The whistle-blower clearly agrees with those charges.  He or she starts their communication with the assertion that the evidence provided, and I quote ‘point to collusion, perjury, up to criminal conspiracy.’ Since I received the data it looks as though the committee has received at least some of it themselves, and some has also been put in the public domain by the Hon Member for East Lothian, a previous Justice Secretary in that Scottish government.

It was described anonymously by one of the committee members as ‘just private conversations that we had no business intruding on’. Well I will let the House judge the truth of that. No single sequence of texts is going to provide conclusive proof of what the whistle-blower described as a ‘criminal conspiracy’.  But it does show a very strong prima facie case which requires further serious investigation, by which I mean at very least a thorough review of all the emails and other electronic records for the relevant personnel at all the relevant times.

Now for example, these texts show that there was a concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints. The messages suggest that SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell coordinated Ruddick and Iain McCann, the SNP’s Compliance Officer, in the handling of specific complainants.

On the 28th September, a month after the police started their investigation of the criminal case, McCann expressed great disappointment to Ruddick that someone who had promised to deliver five complainants to him by the end of the week had come empty or ‘overreached’ as he put it. One of the complainants said to Ruddick she was ‘feeling pressurised by the whole thing rather than supported’.

In the day following the Scottish Government’s collapse in the judicial review in January 2019, Ruddick expressed to McCann the hope that one of the complainants would be ‘sickened enough to get back in the game’. Later that month, she confirmed to Murrell that the complainant was now ‘up for the fight’ and ‘keen to see him go to jail’.

Ruddick herself in one of her texts expressed nervousness about ‘what happens when my name comes out as fishing for others to come forward’. Note again this was after the criminal investigation into Salmond had commenced. This is improper, to say the least. Contact with, and influence of, potential witnesses is totally inappropriate once a criminal investigation is under way.

That was known inside the SNP itself. The text messages reveal that at an SNP National Executive Committee meeting early in January 2019 the Hon Member for Edinburgh South West raised concerns amongst staff at Westminster that SNP headquarters were engaged in the ‘suborning’ of witnesses, whilst on the 28th August 2018 a senior member of SNP staff in this building described in an email the SNP headquarters move against Salmond as a ‘witch hunt.’

Shortly after charges were brought against Salmond, Peter Murrell sent messages saying it was a good time to be ‘pressurising’ the detectives working on the case, and that ‘the more fronts [Salmond] is having to firefight on the better for all complainants’.

When the Inquiry put these messages to Mr Murrell, he said that they were ‘quite out of character’. That is no defence, even were it true. But having seen evidence of other messages, it seems to me they were all too much in character for Mr Murrell.

In a committee evidence session on 8th December last year Mr Murrell replied under questioning that there were no more messages of the type already in the public domain from January 2019. That statement delivered under oath is hard to reconcile with the dozens of messages stretching over a period of months from September 2018, which I have now seen.

There is more, but it would take the whole of this debate to read them out. I believe the committee needs to gain access to all of this information. I would just say to the anonymous committee member that described them as ‘just private conversations’ that they should understand that meddling in an ongoing police inquiry is at best improper, and at worst criminal. So, it requires proper investigation. And if the committee does not feel it can do the job, perhaps it should ask the police to do so instead.

Which brings us to the complaints process Mr Salmond was subjected to.  Now this process was new. Created in late 2017, it was different to existing Scottish Government complaints procedures in a number of ways, including being retrospective, lacking a mediation procedure, and extraordinarily, applying to previous ministers but not to previous Civil Servants.

The procedure was shared with the Head of Propriety and Ethics in Whitehall, who expressed discomfort with the proposals and specifically asked if this was only to apply to ministers not civil servants. As far as I can tell Madam Deputy Speaker she did not get a reply. It is hard to imagine a Department in Whitehall essentially ignoring concerns expressed by the Head of Propriety and Ethics, which is one of the reasons I want Whitehall to review the checks and balances built into the Scottish Civil Service.

However, the Scottish Government also ignored its own policy, the new policy and appointed an Investigating Officer who it emerged had had prior contact with the complainants. And not just any contact. A potential complainant was asked for their input on the draft procedure before they had formally made their complaint.

So, they did not consult women’s advocacy groups – which would have been proper. They did consult trade unions, but not in a proper or timely fashion. Instead, input was sought from the very first complainant whose case would be investigated. Mr Salmond sought judicial review of the process and in due course this complaints procedure and process was judged by Lord Pentland in the highest civil court in Scotland to be ‘unlawful’‘unfair’, and ‘tainted by apparent bias’. An astonishing judgment, backed up by the maximum possible punitive award of costs.

The judicial review of 2018 itself led to further extraordinary behaviour by the Scottish Government. In her evidence before the Holyrood inquiry, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said her Government’s external counsel were ‘confident’ at the outset of the civil case that they would be successful.? That is a significant mischaracterisation of the advice.

The government’s external Counsel had identified a central vulnerability in the Scottish Government’s case – the complaints procedure, under which Salmond was investigated, had a real risk of being found to be unfair.?  Counsel stated, ‘vulnerability arises from the Procedure itself, and not from its implementation in this particular case’.

We now know Counsel came to this conclusion without being given the full facts of the case. Facts that in due course took it from being an arguable case to being a completely unarguable one. External Counsel, Roddy Dunlop QC, gave that first assessment of their chances in late September. By the end of October, he is clearly worried the government had not disclosed important facts about their operation of the process and says at that point it made ‘little sense to continue to defend the indefensible’.

Within a few days he is advising that the ‘least worst option’ is to concede the case. By the 14th December the obvious failure of the government to meet its duty of candour leads to a Commission and Diligence Committee to be appointed to establish the real facts.

On the 19th December, after the first meeting of that Commission the government’s external Counsel tells the government that: ‘With regret, our dismay at this case deepens even further….Suffice to say that we have each experienced extreme professional embarrassment as a result of assurances which we have given, both to our opponents and the court, which assurances have been given on instructions, turning out to be false as a result of the revelation of further documents.’

The Scottish Government pressed on despite counsel’s continued concerns about their ‘untenable position.’ Most remarkably, Counsel told the Scottish Government they were ‘personally horrified’, and they could ‘no longer rest on pleadings that [they knew] to be untrue’. The defence had collapsed because of the government’s lack of candour.

Mr Salmond was very fortunate that the government’s counsel, Mr Roddy Dunlop, now Scotland’s leading QC, behaved with impeccable honour and honesty throughout. And let us be clear, this was not just a case of a government that failed to provide information because it could not manage its own filing systems.

This was a government that actively withheld important, relevant information. In one case a critically relevant email was actively removed from an information bundle that was going to the court and which had already been approved by government counsel. I don’t know who took that email out – I have it here.

I don’t know who took it out, I don’t know who gave the instruction. But in my view the removal of that document would be a summary dismissal offence, and possibly a criminal offence. At the very least it would be in contempt of court.

And yet over his three evidence sessions the Lord Advocate, the Chief Law Officer of Scotland, did not see fit to mention this crucial incident to a Parliamentary committee trying to get to the truth. It only came to light just 10 days ago when the government was forced to publish its legal advice.

It was only in January 2019, after months of increasingly damning advice, that the Scottish Government faced the inevitable and conceded the judicial review? Costs were awarded against the Scottish Government at a punitive level reserved for defences conducted ‘incompetently or unreasonably’.

The Scottish public will now pay the bill for their Government’s dogged pursuit of a doomed case. More than that, the Scottish Government behaved in a way that was misleading to the court, in a case that had serious implications for the criminal case that was to follow.

The charges in that case were very serious. Had Mr Salmond been guilty of them he would quite rightly have gone to prison, and his reputation would have been destroyed forever. Yet the government were willing to play fast and loose with the facts in a way that, if it had succeeded, would have jeopardised the whole process of justice. For me that is even bigger than the grotesque waste of a million pounds.

As it was, of course, he was exonerated on all charges by a predominantly female jury in a criminal court presided over by a female judge. The Scottish Government had committed abuses of process in the initial investigation. It had failed to live up to its duty of candour in court with an indefensible case so at this point you might expect some contrition.

Instead, the Scottish Government has now set its sights on impeding the committee tasked with investigating the whole affair. The members of the Holyrood inquiry are valiantly struggling to do their job. Or at least some of them are. But time and again they have been frustrated. The inquiry has had to cope with evasiveness from the Scottish Government and the constant threat of legal action by the Crown Office – the Scottish equivalent of our Crown Prosecution Service.

First, the Crown Office intervened by barring the publication of the evidence of Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff. This evidence is critical in determining whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the Ministerial Code. It is clearly in the public interest to see this evidence. However they aren’t allowed to publish it so I have a suggestion for the committee.

I have it on good authority that there exists from the 6th February 2018 an exchange of messages between civil servants Judith McKinnon and Barbara Alison, suggesting the First Minister’s Chief of Staff is interfering in the complaints process against Alex Salmond. The Investigating Officer complained ‘Liz interference v bad’ – I assume that means very bad.

If true, this suggests the Chief of Staff had knowledge of the Salmond case in February, not in April, as she has claimed on oath. The First Minister also tied herself to that April date in both Parliamentary and Legal statements. She was of course aware earlier than that: the question is just how aware and how much earlier.

Second, the Crown Office intervened to see that the evidence of the former First Minister was redacted, supposedly to protect the identity of the complainants – the point the Honourable gentleman made, quite properly, earlier. Again, this redacted evidence focused on whether or not the First Minister breached the Ministerial code.

The Spectator magazine had already published online his entire evidence with only a single paragraph redaction. But when The Spectator went to court to secure the publication of that evidence, the Crown Office made no objection whatsoever to the paragraphs it bullied the Holyrood inquiry to redact.

This leaves an absurd situation where the inquiry cannot speak about evidence that is freely available to anyone with an internet connection. The redactions are clearly therefore not designed to protect the complainants. They are designed to protect the First Minister from accountability to the inquiry.

Third, the Scottish Government withheld the damning legal advice given in the civil case. It was only with the threat of a no confidence vote in the Deputy First Minister that the committee could see part – and I emphasise part – of that advice.

However, what we do know is that across November and December 2018 there were a series of meetings where it was decided to persist with the judicial review. This was against clear advice from Counsel. Rather extraordinarily these meetings appear to have been largely un-minuted – I rather recommend that they ask for the junior counsel’s notes of course but unminuted.

It was only at the last possible minute that the Government conceded the case and only after Counsel had threatened to resign. The First Minister has told the Committee, and I quote, ‘I am not aware that they threatened to resign’. But she will have seen a report that clearly states Counsel ‘in light of their professional duties and their view of the case…will require to withdraw from acting on 3 January’.

Fourth, the Scottish Government has repeatedly denied the Committee relevant evidence for what it claims to be legal reasons. This position is nonsensical. There should of course be protections over sensitive material exposed in criminal trials, we agree that. But those protections should not prevent a Parliamentary committee from doing its job of holding Government to account.

Together these form a litany of acts that repeatedly frustrated the Committee and denied the public full transparency and accountability.  They fit squarely into a pattern of evasiveness and abuse of process the Scottish Government has woven from the start.

As I said in opening, the proper place for these matters to be determined is Holyrood. It would be eminently preferable for Scottish MSPs to be exposing any relevant evidence. But given the British Government’s failure in 1998 to give sufficient power to the Scottish Parliament, and given the Scottish Parliament derives its authority from this House, certain evidence must now enter the public domain here.

The Holyrood inquiry has exposed some critical failings at the heart of the Scottish Government. They failed with the complaints process, they failed to heed legal advice, and they failed to honour commitments made to ensure a transparent parliamentary review. Perhaps more worryingly, the inquiry has revealed the limits of what the Scottish Parliament can expose. There is a deficit of power and with it comes a deficit in accountability.

At very least I ask the Minister today to consider an amendment to the 1998 Act to deliver separation of powers to Scotland, something I believe Madam Deputy Speaker a previous justice minister, the Honourable Member for East Lothian, has written to our justice committee about already. So to deliver separation of powers to Scotland, to strengthen the civil service, to reinforce the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and correcting the fundamental power imbalance between the executive and the legislature in Scotland.

Let us give the Scottish Parliament the power to do the job.”

ENDS



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Posted in Scottish Politics | 14 Comments

Response To Inquiry

This is the 15th March 2021 letter from Alex Salmond’s legal counsel to the Holyrood Inquiry expressing bewilderment at the members of the Inquiry for deferring to the Crown Office by not asking for the documents they hold currently to assist Salmond’s evidence. They are asking for reasons for what is an effective block of critical documents.

Posted in Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

Where The Buck Stops

Sturgeon attacked over schools reopening in Scotland 'SNP are failing' | UK  | News | Express.co.uk
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Surgeon

I have never called for Nicola Sturgeon to resign. Only the loony – there’s a song in that – think criticism of her policies or lack of them, is tantamount to demanding her resignation. Resignation is a matter for the SNP and her conscience, if that time should arrive, whether from force majeure, or happenstance. Then again, nothing might come about sufficient to cause her to rethink her role. On my Twitter site I warn contributors not to condemn her on her Holyrood Inquiry appearance. Please allow her Holyrood inquisitors time to report their judgement, and the James Hamilton QC Inquiry come to its conclusion. Give her the same courtesy we asked for Alex Salmond, faced by a cobbled together bunch of outrageous lies. In my ethics, at this time only Sturgeon’s track record stands open to fair analysis.

A totalitarian culture

One of the nastiest aspects I have witnessed is the creeping totalitarian culture of the SNP. This may seem paradoxical in a contemporary Scotland, so let me explain. If we aver, rightly, that power lies with the people, then ultimate power lies with those who can suppress or manipulate the people’s opinion. Lambasting honest discussion is a good way to create the bewildered herd – and I see that every day in people asking on Twitter, ” Can someone explain, I don’t understand what is being proposed.”

For the uninformed, totalitarianism a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.

The danger of telling the faithful to demand silence from the rest of us, ‘Wheest for Indy’, ‘zip it’, ‘you are killing independence’ is handing support to the aggressive, the raddled alcoholic and the sociopath. The Internet is a nest of those folks who know no limit to expressing wrath. It reminds me of a massed colony of breeding weaver birds in a tree invaded by a viper snake.

What have I said in criticism of Nicola Surgeon? After two glowing essays on her early development, and one following her historic visit to the Irish Republic’s parliament that our own press failed to follow, plus keeping a list of SNP achievements under Salmond and then Sturgeon, I have said our First Minister is “out of her depth” handling big political issues, securing independence the greatest of them all. No amount of hectoring, or making the excuse ‘It wisnae me” will do.

The accusation of totalitariansm arises from a number of sources. The SNP has become as other governments, trying to protect itself from its own citizens. The removal of Alex Salmond’s history from SNP records before his trial. We see that in the calculated way the SNP and Crown Office held back crucial documents that proved Alex Salmond’s innocence, and worse, retained them until the last minute from the Scottish Government’s own legal counsel in the High Court case. (They were livid and embarrassed, and advised the Scottish Government it would lose the case.)

Intolerant idolisers who think a favorite leader should never be questioned, never challenged, no matter how far off course they veer, require to do some thinking. Even when an oppositiion politician hits a node of truth, they are drowned out as wrong. Often they are right. To dismiss all criticism as nasty turns the democratic system on its head.

Asking us to be slavish, adoring fans is unacceptable. It makes life very unpleasant for those who are of a questioning or a curious nature. Not as unpleasant as life in the USSR under Stalin where whole dissident groups were sent to work in the freezing Gulag for years, not cutting complainers into pieces with a machette, left on the roadside in some South American country, but certainly moving toward the lockdown of non-right-thinking people when the party of liberty decides some dissidents need mocked, or purged from the party.

We elect representatives, not kings or queens. I am not building a pharaoh’s pyramid, doing as told fearing the lash of a team supervisor, I am building a new society to free the slaves.

A religous doctrine

Mass silence is prodded by ‘ humane’ means, by taking out two-page spreads in the unionist press to call annoying supporters of your ideals ‘cybernats’, a term coined by your mortal enemy, a Tory landowner. That way you teach the unwieldy the proper values of authoritarianism. You have a few adherents explain matters to dissidents, over and over again, until the lie gains traction, the warning heeded, we are threatening the future, our future and the nation’s.

This tactic is no smarter than the Better Together mob scaremongering with preposterous tales of a poverty-stricken Scotland if it chooses freedom from coercion. Nevertheless, constant harrassment of non-SNP members is ‘othering’, telling us there are good indy supporters and bad indy supporters.

Can anyone image Martin Luther King saying, “my speech at the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow, make sure to keep away those damn marchers and flag wavers that follow us, brothers and sisters. I don’t want to be seen associating with them. They are an embarrassment”.

Well, that is what the SNP has done on a few occasions to our mass support. It is bizarre, and Nicola Sturgeon has not condemned it, not once, nor when aimed at an individual, such as Joanna Cherry MP, or a group. In other words, she approves of and encourages the attitude. This is the toxic atmosphere people talk of.

This is marginalising the people who make the SNP feel uncomfortable. SNP MPs and MSPs are notorious for blocking their own supporters using Twitter as a mode of communication. I am sure Boris Johnson must be talking note of SNP methods of pointing to groups who are denounced for “destroying harmony”, accusing their own supporters of anarchy. They use propaganada on us as if a quasi-religous doctrine; dissenters are causing unrest by not holding to the Gospel line, whatever that is on the day. Those are totalitarian values.

The SNP method I describe is holding onto power by slander and vituperation. You can see it every day in the Nicola is Joan of Arc propaganda crews on Twitter, and the Green Ink Brigade in the letters pages of the press, libelling Alex Salmond, an exonerated man not by one but by two courts, yet still subjected to snide remarks by the slugs of unionism and dupes of the SNP. They take their cue from Nicola Sturgeon, who has made clear he won his cases by a technicality, not a jury of his peers or a female High Court judge, and not complainants who lied through their teeth.

Power for power’s sake

To Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, people are not the best judges of their own interests. Some will put this down to self-importance, but it also hints at a colonial view. The SNP I knew in 2013 was nothing like that, I hasten to add. It was tolerant, progressive and full of idealism. It has transmogrified into a power first, people second, pursuer of anti-women’s rights. If you do not believe in the rightness of Sturgeon’s policies you are an anti-Scot. Sturgeon has weaponised sexual politics, and weaponised her own citizens, one side against the other. No statesman with any political gumption, let alone self-respect for survival, would get themselves into that corner.

My first blast of icy cold wind came when Sturgeon appeared against a bright yellow bus that did not say, ‘Vote Independence’ but flashed up ‘Stop Brexit’. I was shocked at the diversion that effectively interfered in a solely English vote, but began to realise she has not managed to shake off a colonial mindset. Yes, hard to accept someone who has devoted the best years of their life to their country’s liberty might be something of a colonial, but that is the nature of her Anglo views inculcated over decades. The Brits needed rescued before the Scots needed protected. It is expressed in the opinion, the British State is not in the least brutal, one has only to ask nicely and it will provide with a cheery smile.

When England creating its own downfall by casting off international society, you exploit the moment to supreme effect, not try to remove the one mandate (of many) that wipes out your justification for a referendum. If not a colonial mindset, then surely inept? How else can you explain handing Scotland’s authority over to a far-right-wing party in London by requesting a Section 30 referendum that she knows will be shredded before it reaches Boris Johnson’s desk?

Later we discover she wound down all the independence committees, squandered over half-a-million pounds of donations on chasing Brexit, failed to keep a consistent campaign to inform the electorate of what the Tories are doing to Scotland, had no master plan or back up strategy to outwit a Tory take over by stealth, now that London has us by the throat. When you look carefully at what she has made her priorities, nothing is in line with independence. It is low down on Sturgeon’s list.

SNP pile on

This interventionst state mentality sees the grandees of the SNP do their own version of a pile on, The Angus Robertsons, the John Nicolson’s, the Stewart MacDonalds, the Pete Wisharts, a man who resembles the bumbly assistant forty years selling socks and slippers in Jenners emporium. Asked to accept Sturgeon’s appearance before the Holyrood Inquiry demonstrates she is the greatest living Scot, these men fall in line to usurp the judgment of their own Holyrood Inquiry and the Hamilton Inquiry by indulging in a pre-judgement whitewash.

The SNP does not even have the confidence in its own inquiry even where it holds the majory verdict by SNP member numbers alone. Moreover, they speak the language of unionists who tell us the SNP is just the same farty old party as any other. Well, they have a point.

The totalitarianism that I talk of permeates to the SNP HQ where I am told the only way I will ever get consideration for the blight the party has put on my reputation and my family, is if I ‘reapply for membership’. The rules, the bureacracy is so inflexible, you must kneel before your defamours and ask for clemency. There is no room for compassion or dignity.

And so far, each and ever MSP and MP who knows of my case will not, I repeat not, dare to defy the pen pushers. I learn Fiona Robertson who ‘weaponised’ anti-Semitism to boost her career, thrown off the National Exective Committee, was invited back without a vote and endorsed by an hour-long appearance by none other than Nicola Sturgeon. This is authoritarian rule in all its unpalatable ugliness.

You can hear SNP HQ yelp after reading this: ‘this sad sack blogger (I always get demoted!) is not getting as much as a reply to his letters’. Well, no surprise; no reply to three emails to Stewart Stevenson so far, the new national secretary.

In Summary

Let’s put two resignations to rest: I am on record stating Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband, holds a dishonest position in the party which is untenable and unethical, and I believe he proved it in his evidence to the Holyrood Inqury. I share that view with the public I meet. And I see enough evidence to ask that Leslie Evans should resign, or if she refuses, flung out of a medievil catapult, Sturgeon’s amoral, unscrupulous, unreliable permanent secretary. The evidence of tampering with documents overwhelms opinion. Nicola Sturgeon raised Evans pay by £40,000 annually and renewed her contract. No evidence of scruple there.

Nicola Sturgeon has enough years in office to mature. Other than a hair style, expensive two piece suits, I see little difference from Year One compared to now.

What she has given us is a disastrously underqualified manager as independence leader. She has succeeded in politics through confidence gained, being well briefed, and an argumentative character bordering on arrogance. She is better at delivering empty speeches to admirers than listening to reason or executing a plan of action that will save Scotland from the onslaught underway by a right-wing ideology that aims to tie Scotland down permanently like Gulliver by Lilliputians. 

The SNP’s existence does not mean anything, their slogans or party political broadcasts empty, if it does not mean independence by any means possible, not one only – by every means possible!

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 53 Comments

To Sir With Love

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Young actors in a Scottish Youth Theatre production

I was going to say this to Grouse Beater privately, but circumstances being what they are, I feel I should do it publically.

If you know me, you know I think the world of my mammy. She was, after all, the first Scottish Nationalist I ever met, and I met her before I was born. She supported Scottish independence even before she met my father.

Mammy did a spell in the Scottish Youth Theatre, (SYT), founded and run as the first artistic director by Gareth. Most of her pals at the time were Labour or Liberals depending on their income bracket – but my father’s sister was SNP. She was instrumental in my mammy joining, Gareth was another.

Back then, Scottish independence was a minority movement, a curiosity at best and a menace at worst. So independence supporters then stuck together. And my Mammy often told me about how much support she received from my aunt, and from Gareth himself, while she was at SYT.

My aunt passed away tragically many years ago. Mr McGillivray, who was mam’s link to Inverclyde’s SNP collective, also passed away.

Gareth is one of a small group of folk who brought my mammy into the Scottish Independence Movement – and, by extension, me. So, if nothing else, I want everyone to know that, through a few degrees of separation, Grouse Beater is one of the reasons I’ve dedicated so much of my time, life, and dreaming for Scottish Independence.

For that, I will be grateful forever, and will never forget. We will get there. Not in time to see it for Auntie Susan, nor Mr McGillivray, nor indeed for Grouse Beater – but they laid the bricks we’ll be climbing to that wonderful nation we dream of.

Thank you, Gareth. I hope we do you proud.

Al Harton

FOOTNOTE:

During the period the author talks about I was not a member of the SNP or any political party. That came in 2013 and ended in 2017, a year before the SNP began to implode and lose site of its reason for existing. Back in the day, my motivation was a growing understanding that Scotland was a colonised country, it’s progress suppressed and diverted. I tried to make folks see what I saw and experienced.

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Posted in Great Scots, Scottish Independence Referendum, Uncategorized | 4 Comments