Scots Versus Irish

Only two Galway TDs voted to change housing policy - Galway Daily

Listening to Mary Lou Macdonald in a television interview, leader of the Irish social democratic party, Sinn Fein, I was struck by how unselfconsciously she used the phrase English nationalist, rather than British nationalist. She was not, after all, referring to Welsh or Scot. If the term is used in Scotland it meets with inane cries of ‘racism’. In the Republic of Ireland, English nationalism is an all too real legacy familiar to Irish from centuries of brutal Westminster rule.


In Scotland we prefer to blank out similar suppression of our rights littering 300 years of London rule. Far too many Scots suppose life in modern Scotland enjoys unfettered freedoms and full democracy. What is there to worry about? We can buy what we want, just not get the government and policies we want. But who cares about politics? We see no Stasi agents arresting dissenters and disappearing into the night.

And so, the more adventurous among us look for historical parallels in an attempt to understand our situation. We can do no better than study Ireland’s bloody struggle.

For the curious a good starting point is to follow Churchill’s wake. If anybody stood for the imposition of rule by the British Empire, he did. He was its champion. Anything less, a concession here or there, he considered appeasement or even defeat. There are plenty of modern-day English nationalists who express the same hostility to any suggestion of Scottish hegemony no matter how mild.

Liberal with far-right Tory inclinations

In 1922 Churchill was still a Liberal working in the War Office under the party’s then leader Lloyd George. Together, they had had to come to terms with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, that it was there to stay. Revolution made British politicians jittery. They sensed the old world order was in for a kicking.

It is important to know the restless, impulsive nature of Churchill. He contemplated overthrowing the Russian revolution before sanity got the better of ambition. Colleagues thought him more of a Tory than Tory ministers. For his part, Lloyd George considered Churchill ‘an obsessive’. He was no less so when it came to giving Ireland its liberty. Though the Easter Rising in 1916 barely altered the Liberal party’s attitude to a united Ireland, Churchill seemed perturbed by the growing rebellion and thought it should be put down if the need ever arose.

Even when moderate nationalists were swept away by the party for full independence, Sinn Fein, in the 1918 British General Election, securing 73 seats, the British parliament was not much moved. They would not see a Sinn Fein MP in the halls of power for they refused to take their seats. One supposes Boris Johnson and his cohorts will respond likewise, with a yawn and a racist remark, if poll predictions come to pass and the SNP wipe out all but three MSPs at the 2021 Scottish Election, deciding to withdraw MPs from Westminster. Tories need do nothing. They hold all the cards.

Master of all he surveyed

By 1921 Churchill was master of the Colonial Office, ensuring that Britain’s domain of colonised countries remained ruled by whites. America was not yet a greater military power, Britain still able to tell ever nation under the sun what was good for them and who should rule them.

Whenever the question of Ireland was brought up, Churchill’s view was the same as when at the War Office, he advocated suppressing rebellion with fiscal and trade coercion or armed force.  However, he recognised his policy of reprisals, destined to fail, was not winning hearts or minds. IRA guerrilla attacks continued unabated.

The only solution was to allow an election to take place in Southern Ireland – Ulster being protected from any fallout – and see what happened. There was lots of talk about a truce, but as far as can be gleaned from historical reports, this tactic relied on lots of anti-republican candidates standing for election.

Had Churchill been able to commandeer ‘Sinn Fein is not Ireland’ to paraphrase an inane Scottish Tory slogan, he would have used it. Back then, ‘Ireland is British’ was good enough.

What he did say was, “If necessary, we can break up the Irish parliament and resort to coercion.” (David Brynmor Jones Diary – Vol 3.) Alas for Churchill and Empire loyalists, the election resulted in a walk-over for Sinn Fein. The British state has a similar problem with Scotland, how to deal with the rise of the SNP without having the democratic authority needed from the Scottish electorate.

Politeness doesn’t always get the desired result

Finally, the government of Lloyd George was in a panic. They had no strategy to stop the march of Irish nationalism. The only voice heard was Churchill and his ‘shoot ’em up’ solution to everything.

Meanwhile, politicians in the Ulster Parliament watched with increasing alarm events unfolding and resorted to what they do today, put pressure on Westminster behind the scenes to gain favour.

With Churchill banging his fist on the cabinet table, the alternative was to adopt martial law in all the Irish counties and govern unelected, or do a deal with Sinn Fein.

The former idea was a logistical and costly nightmare, the latter initially unthinkable. In keeping with English colonial rule, the British government did what it had always done, refused to talk to elected ‘upstarts’, (see Gordon Brown and SNP example), and instead imposed martial law, backed by the infamous Black and Tans that Churchill declared “were getting to the root of the matter quicker than the military”. (ibid.)

An interesting fact: Churchill was not given a place on Lloyd George’s Irish Committee – a committee the mechanism by which you delegate matters of state to consider specific events and make recommendations. Churchill was distrusted by his own party and by the Tory party he was soon to rejoin, with whom he had a lot in common.

His absence was explained as presenting a caring, benign face to the disconsolate Irish. The tactic worked. In Churchill’s intimidating absence, the committee looked at the implications of stomping all over a nation they had let starve during devastating potato famines, and pulled back, making conciliatory offers of a truce.

Churchill never liked the word, a quirk that came to his rescue when facing Nazism. He thought a truce gave kudos to IRA tactics. Outnumbered by colleagues, he accepted his heavy-handed approach to contain Irish dissent had not succeeded – for the moment.

IRA force Britain to the negotiation table

And so it came to pass the IRA strategy of organised dissent and dissonance worked. The British government acknowledged acceding to a truce left Republicans in charge of the Irish Parliament, they controlled most of southern Ireland.

Likewise, if current polls prove prescient in Scotland in 2021, the SNP look to be in full control of all constituencies bar one in Shetland, one in Aberdeen, one in the Borders. There is no doubt the SNP hope this forces Boris Johnson to negotiate and endorse a  second referendum on independence. But they reckon without Boris modelling his persona and his policies on Churchill.

Lloyd George packed his bags and organised successive meetings with the Republican leader Èamon de Valera, to agree upon the basics for full-scale negotiations.

Unsurprisingly, the Irish wanted a republic, no half-measures. The British wanted negotiations to stretch endlessly and tire out Irish demands, In the event, Republicans eventually accepting dominion status – no better than a colony or a protectorate. More on that shortly.

An ulterior motive in protracted negotiations was to cause the Republican movement to split into soft and hard factions, and with luck and infiltration, start an internal war.  The British way of control has never varied, generation after generation, divide and rule, and if uncontrolled disorder arises, step in as the saviour of law and order.

In Scotland there is a view held by Nicola Sturgeon’s supporters, that the do nothing sudden or shocking, a rose petal diplomacy – a modern version of hippy flower power – is by far the best route to independence. They hope to seduce English power into submission. Nothing could be further from the Irish experience. Hence, an opposing faction in Scottish politics, the realists, if you like, feel the SNP liable to accept a compromise if they ever get to the negotiating table.

Powers we did not give

At this point, I am obliged to digress for a moment to preempt alarmists among us by stating the obvious. I am not advocating violent insurrection. Scots do not die for their country, they die for other people’s countries.

What I suggest is, the British Tory party, by warlike history and its exceptionalism, now emulating the opportunistic, amoral Donald Trump, knows violent discord wins the day for the party in power. Excessive authority can be stamped on a disorderly society with impunity. Authoritarian regimes know enough people will welcome tough action that helps them get to work on time.

The strong arm approach has a down-side. Strict control is expensive to maintain over a long period. It drains the Treasury coffers. It upsets the social order. Eventually, you are forced to negotiate. Alex Salmond choose debate. He was the one person who could and did rev up the anti and turn a talking shop of unionists in Holyrood into a hotbed of visionary zeal. There seems nothing but calm in the SNP benches since his departure.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, an articulate prime minister but badly educated in egalitarianism at one of Scotland’s premiere private schools, Fettes College, was smart enough to see what was coming. Reluctant to offer Scots anything more than Labour’s discredited neo-liberal policies, he agreed to the reinstatement of Scotland’s Parliament, later expressing regret over what he saw as devolution “encouraging nationalists to ask for more” – unintentionally admitting Scotland has less than constitutes full democracy!

In Ireland’s case, the intention was to offer a settlement, spurred by Churchill breathing fire and brimstone, allowing limited Republican rule but keep Ireland as a state within the Empire.

It is hard not to see Scottish devolution as a significant parallel, a parliament offered in diminutive form, an ‘executive’, with hobbled powers, a gift on loan. Freedoms limited artificially invariably call for group action to allow people to exercise free will.

In Ireland’s case, after cabinet discussion, the British offered unconditional talks to the Republicans, Churchill having preferred to restart war, over-ruled by his colleagues.

The negotiations

Lloyd George, as unionist as any Scotsman on the make, and in common with today’s English politicians, chose a one-sided, largely unionist negotiating team to do their best to brow beat the Irish down to a free tram pass and a latch key to live in their own country. Scotland should expect the same treatment when its time comes.

Churchill chaired the defence side of discussions with the same arrogance of Theresa May and Boris Johnson waving aside Scotland’s request to be part of EU withdrawal talks. He contemptuously dismissed justified Irish calls that they be responsible for their own defence, had their own army, dispensed with a navy, and wished to be neutral in conflicts involving the British government. Again, Scotland’s team will have all that and more to contend with, assuming they arrive at the negotiating chamber fully prepared!

The dealer always wins

Churchill wanted full control of strategic ports in Ireland, a condition that had de Valera’s team scoff in disbelief. From this one can see clearly how Westminster will demand retention of Faslane Dockyard in a future Scottish settlement. This is why I suggest the counter offer, they rent it for £3 billion a year for a maximum of 10 years, leaving on the ninth, and clearing up any toxic mess left behind at their expense.

For the initial talks, Churchill was sidelined a second time, watching in annoyance as Lloyd George saw to the detail of the settlement. By any standard it was a case of the invader demanding restitution for things he had actually stolen.

A brief example of conditions the British wanted reads like a duke’s list of what he wants in taxes and tithes from the commoners tilling his land: members of Ireland’s parliament, the Dáil, must take an oath offering loyalty to the British King; respect for the Crown to be accepted in the new state, including hereditary land ownership – Scottish landowners will like that one; recognising the Ulster Parliament together with a Northern Ireland boundary, partition – a ‘boundary’, that old problem again! – must be accepted, Ulster kept as a separate province; no fiscal autonomy, the reverse of which currency will you use? thrown at Scotland; countries with which Ireland could and could not make a treaty – British enemies must be, ipso facto, Irish enemies; trade with England before all others, and so on, and so forth.

Behind those conditions was Lloyd George and Churchill’s avowed determination to keep Ulster Unionists happy, as the Tory party does now with billion pound bungs from the public purse for DUP support. Scotland can expect a similar hidden agenda when facing England’s conditions, a bridge to Ireland probably still a delusional proposal.

Sign Here – Brits Rules rule

Lloyd George managed to have de Valera sign an outline agreement which virtually reduced Ireland to dominion status, one of the key issues that opened wide the schism between de Valera and Michael Collins. For de Valera’s part, capitulation to too many British demands troubled him deeply. His subsequent volte face, was to have tragic consequences.

To his credit, for it effectively created the Republic, Churchill stood by the Agreement and expected to implement those sections under his brief, but he is recorded belittling the accord as ‘wicked’ in later months. He thought the war against Sinn Fein should have been continued until they were truly broken.

As Colonial Secretary, Churchill  took on the role of handing powers over to Ireland but made the process a tangled web. There is scholarly disagreement he did so deliberately to gain advantage, another angle, so much money was involved he wanted to keep out of Ireland’s hands. By January 1922 a provisional government was established with Michael Collins and the writer and newspaper editor Arthur Griffiths drafting a constitution.

Coincidentally, the SNP has a draft Constitution for Scotland, but it lies dormant while the SNP chase faulty policies on social issues better tackled in a constitution after Independence Day. There is a loss of dynamism the Irish would never have allowed. They knew how to capitalise on principles to encourage adherents to the cause.

Collins, Minister of Finance, and Griffiths leading the delegation, handled negotiations, de Valera staying in Ireland to allow the plenipotentiaries to refer back to him without being  pressured into any agreements. “To me, the task is a loathsome one,” Collins wrote. “I go in the spirit of a soldier who acts against his best judgment at the orders of his superior.” In a letter he wrote that he had “signed my death warrant”.

He was right to be on his guard. De Valera suddenly rejected the Agreement because it involved the partition of Ireland and did not create an independent republic. In Griffiths and Collins in particular, de Valera had found scapegoats. The SNP are just as guilty of creating scapegoats when it comes to protecting their perceived reputation.

To the crushing disappointment of Collins the revolutionary, de Valera reverted to war to achieve a genuine, self-reliant, obsequious to no nation, republic. Because of the Oath to the King, he and his followers could never, ever, vote for the Treaty. Collins thought it a paltry excuse, something not worthy of breaking a treaty.

De Valera was heavily castigated for his alleged deviousness and vanity. What remains is a master politician, a man who knew his constituency and understood his place in history. He understood he was a symbol of Ireland’s struggle for independence. Nothing less than a true republic would do. But it was Collins who had fought and beaten the British to the negotiation table by his brilliance for intelligence work and intimidation. We do not have a Collins or a de Valera in the Scottish parliament … or do we?

Churchill put his trust in Collins and Griffiths to deliver the dominion state negotiated, which they did with great reluctance. Like Scotland’s devolution, to them it was only the beginning of things. Churchill was shocked at de Valera’s renunciation, an Englishman who did not understand the passions that motivate revolutionaries.

Jolly bad mannered chaps

The IRA repudiated the Provisional Government and promptly resumed its forays into Ulster. Churchill retaliated by submitting a bill to the Westminster parliament asking for support for an invasion force if the IRA declared a republic. He employed all the  leverage he had. He refused to supply arms to the Provisional Government unless they used them against the IRA. England’s age old tactic of divide and rule took on a bloody aspect, not resolved until the Good Friday Agreement.

In April 1922 Churchill approved the Special Powers Act that suspended habeas corpus, removed civil rights, including detention without trial, legalised street searches and house raids without warrant, and instituted imprisonment for refusal to comply.

By the next election, people fearing conflict, the Provisional Government achieved a win for the pro-Treaty side, and Churchill used that to drive a wedge between Irishman and Irishman.

Compared to the contempt with which Boris Johnson treats Ulster’s expectations by tearing up the Brexit Withdrawal and endangering the Good Friday Agreement, Churchill gave his full support to Ulster Unionists. He did not betray them.

Churchill had no fear of Catholics fighting Protestants, they were too few, but he  guessed correctly Protestants would be hostile to Catholics. Today, the Protestant community finds itself in the minority compared to the growing increase of Catholics, both numerally and politically, something Churchill never foresaw. A Catholic majority is more inclined to vote for a united Ireland.

Once more, England’s departure from a territory it governed resulted in partition and prolonged violence. So, despite Churchill’s many attempts to derail the Irish Agreement (“a sane chauffeur who suddenly drives you over a cliff”), it came to pass without his Machiavellian intervention.

Could we see a similar outcome with Scotland’s independence negotiated by a bellicose Boris Johnson? Tories usually arrive with gifts of money and false promises. Johnson chooses the Churchillian path, divide and rule. In Scotland’s case, he proposes a policy in which the Tories appropriate part of the Barnett Formula (in reality Scotland’s taxes), and they themselves dispense the largesse to Tory supporting constituencies in Scotland, an English version of American pork barrel politics.

The Dissolution of the Union

At this point my research for this essay ends, chiefly because the well informed know the rest of Ireland’s tortured history, a war that lasted until the end of the 20th century.

What we see now is a proud, confident, independent nation state, recovered quickly from the financial crash of 2008, still belittled by a jingoistic England, ironically prospering at the expense of England’s grand folly – the dumping of European co-operation, culture and values. Over time, Ireland removed the remnants of dominion status and, with a new Constitution in 1937, became fully independent.

There is one more important comparison to discuss. Scotland’s independence is inevitable. It will be aided and abetted by forces outside the UK, stronger than the UK with the leverage to make Westminster listen, those third parties repulsed by Tory contempt for the rule of law and human rights.

However, the question I ask myself is this, is the current SNP crop of MPs and MSPs clever enough, tough enough, to negotiate our freedoms without compromise, without concessions, and without a politician who can scare the living daylights out of the destroyers of democracy? I remain to be convinced. The cunning of the British government is these matters is legendary.

Missing the small print is the difference between a new Scotland and Scotland cheated.



Film Dramatisation: This early Irish dramatisation of the Treaty negotiations has the look of a school’s broadcast but is no less accurate or truthful for all that. You’ll enjoy recognising a few fine Irish actors in their fresh-faced youth. If you have an hour-and-half, spend it viewing this informative piece.

Further reading: Churchill’s tenure as Dundee MP – link:

An apology: I am half-Irish, born in Scotland; my grandfather is a Reilly from County Mayo, but some Irish will surely find fault with my interpretation of events. 

Another apology: Unlike previous essays, paragraphs cannot be blocked like a book (justified) under the annoying Gutenberg Format imposed on users by WordPress.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 15 Comments

Tenet – a review


The central star, John David Washington, not quite the charisma of his dad, Denzel

How grand to see cinemas reopening after months of lock-down, and better still to see small production companies and the major studios show there work on the big screen again, not constrained to a television transmission. There is no doubt the pandemic and Netflix have altered things radically in the movie world, but that’s another story to be analysed at a later date when we see how cinema releases pan out.

In the meantime, we have Christopher Nolan’s latest mind bender Tenet to enjoy or not as the case may be. I say enjoy, but it is a cold fish dished up on an over-heated, expensive plate.  This is a serious sci-fi oddball of a movie, a head scratcher.

When his Memento burst onto the screen I hailed a new talent. The back-to-front plot was audacious and clever, the protagonist suffering from anterograde amnesia, the star actor Guy Pearce perfectly cast, and yet there was something alienating about a study of a man losing his memory while trying to track down his wife’s murderer who was hunting him. I think I felt he ought to be among therapists not on his own. Then came a string of well-made blockbusters, Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Interstellar (2014), and finally in 2017, the flaccid Dunkirk, a war epic homage to British pluckiness and stiff upper lips. What they all have in common is alienation – today, firmly inscribed in stone as Nolan’s obsessive subject matter.

In Tenet, Nolan returns to dimension-bending visual trickery, the kind that made Inception too clever by half. He describes Memento and Inception as his masterworks, and they are by any standard of a high order in cinematic skill. How much they will be remembered is debatable. I rate Memento way above Inception for it did not require the massive suspension of disbelief Inception demanded.

There’s a hellova lot riding on Tenet – it must recoup a huge production budget and it has to rejuvenate cinema chains on the brink of insolvency, and all the staff that depend on them. That’s a megaton of pressure for one sci-fi action film with a relatively little-known lead actor, John David Washington, eldest of Denzel Washington and actor Pauletta Washington’s four children, last seen in BlacKkKlansman, here energetic but a little dull. That last remark warns readers I am not going to give this film a lot of stars.


The man in charge, Christopher Nolan, takes a lunch break on the move

Tenet is Nolan back on familiar ground. The word is a palindrome, spelled the same backward as forward. Nolan chose it for a story about technology that can make men capable of going back in time. It has all the visual  pyrotechnics of Inception and all the, what the hell’s going on? reaction too.

In truth, I could not make head nor tale of the plot and was forced to turn to the studio press release for help: “In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist”, is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator, a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition ability from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come.”

Okay, so Tenet tells the story of “The Protagonist” (John David Washington), who finds himself embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy, but it involves spy stuff, time travel and World War III, and … big sigh … yet is nowhere near as interesting as that might suggest. I’d rather do algebraic equations than try to explain things but here it is:

Along the way, Protagonist (what a terrible name), meets up with Neil (Robert Pattinson), who appears to be a mysterious ally, and nefarious Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Brannagh), whose tortured accent is often incomprehensible – Russians are the cliché baddies. Branagh is not good at accents as his over-blown version of Hercule Poirot amply demonstrated.

Among the notable cast brought in to justify a mega-budget and attract bums on seats from all nations is a shamelessly underused Elizabeth Debicki as Sator’s wife, Kat, whose entire character repeats endlessly “I have a son!”.

This is supposed to represent her inner turmoil in lieu of an actual personality or internal life. Walk-on and walk-off cameos by the likes of Michael Caine and Martin Donovan are easily forgotten.


Tenet could so easily be renamed ‘Men in Suits’

Did I like anything? Yes. The action is spectacular as always, and the whole reversal of physics, time-flowing-backwards, a fist fights seen from different angles, the magic of it all is a neat trick, but only for the first couple of times, thereafter getting increasingly predictable and boring.

The problem is that everything around these moments – the characters, the story, the leaden exposition dumps – are just so lacking in anything remotely human that you can latch onto. The Protagonist barely registers as a character, despite Washington’s best efforts – he’s too po-faced – and it’s hard to follow his adventures when the jeopardy and rewards are so  low. Moreover, even the best action sequences are smothered in a ton of vacuous dialogue about the end of the world and “temporal pincer movements”. Eh?

For example, the protagonist discusses the classic paradox of time travel with his colleague, Neil (Robert Pattinson). He asks: If you went back in time and killed your grandfather before you were born, would you instantly disappear? “There is no answer”, Neil replies unhelpfully, dodging the paradox. The actual answer is, yes, of course I would bloody disappear! My grandfather would never have begat my mother, and my mother would not have begat me, if you can excuse the Biblical expression. Trite dialogue abounds, summed up in Neil’s comment later, “Whatever happened, happened.” Man, that is so not profound.

There are references to today’s political machinations; Trump gets a look-in over his indifference to 170,000 Americans dying from coronavirus, and counting, that “it is what it is”, a line Michelle Obama re-purposed for her convention speech recently. Perhaps Nolan was  giving us a hint that the fashion governments are showing in how callous they can be for death and the destruction of small nations is at the core of his unsympathetic story – call it, a lack of empathy for humankind.


South Korean Kia cars are going up in the world

As in the dreams in Inception, the Nolan film Tenet closely resembles, each reverie within a nightmare is just another shoot ’em up movie with guns and car chases, and for this reviewer risking Corvid-19 in a cinema, truly boring. Is there a studio gangster film we have seen in thirty years that does not have a car chase ending in an explosion and conflagration? Showing us death as a cheap thrill goes all the way back to American atrocities in Vietnam.

In the opening sequence of Tenet, a whole auditorium of classical-music concert goers are put at risk of being blown up by an explosive device, a fact the Protagonist seems to laughs off. “Only the people in the cheap seats” might get killed. Dear me, what has he against lovers of Beethoven, Mozart and Bartok?

Nolan throws himself at a whole realm of human experience that he usually avoids, because he knows his literary weaknesses, apart from the murderous imaginary wife Marion Cotillard played in Inception. Otherwise, wives in Nolan films are almost always saintly or dead except when in flashbacks. He is a really bad writer of female roles.

Nathan Crowley, a regular Nolan collaborator and DP Hoyte van Hoytema adhere to a stark palette of neutral tones of the type we are used to seeing in a dystopian nightmare, mostly the color of concrete and rusty steel. We are given moments of respite in images of blue water and sky but just as cold as all the other sequences.

Altogether, Tenet is a chilly, cerebral exercise. You admire what you see not what you hear. You are aware Nolan is repeating himself. It lacks humanity, the very stuff of memorable stories. Will it help save our cinemas? Well, a family film it ain’t. And it outstays its welcome at the two hour mark with more to go.

  • Star Rating: Three Stars
  • Director-Writer: Christopher Nolan
  • Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia
  • Cinematographer: Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Composer: Ludwig Goransson
  • Visual effects supervisor: Andrew Jackson
  • Special effects supervisor: Scott Fisher
  • Adult Rating: PG 13
  • Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • 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 Film review | 9 Comments

Scotland and UDI


“A referendum that has a clear legal basis, agreed to between governments, that is regulated by law and consistent with democratic and rule of law values, is the surest – perhaps the only – way to deliver a result that is fair, decisive, and accepted as legitimate at home and abroad.” Chris McCorkindale, Senior Lecturer in Public Law, University of Strathclyde. Aileen McHarg, Professor of Public Law and Human Rights, University of Durham.

That statement could have been written by any unionist zealot, so blind is it in assuming movements for independence must work to legal principles set by the colonial authority under which they labour. Indeed, I am as sure as I can be, the paragraph is the facile ‘gold standard’ that Nicola Sturgeon sticks to in ludicrous certainty that no nation has achieved autonomy unless it followed rules set by its oppressors.

In fact, it might be the reason various SNP politicians have suggested Scotland sits tight until a sustained 60% of its population is for self-governance, (not the electorate, readers will note), a harebrained goal impossible to attain in a thoroughly colonised country. The only legal document worth respecting is the one laying out the Act of Liberation that sees the back of the aggressor nation and returns land and all rights to the people.

I am tempted to dismiss outright Messrs McCorkingdale and McHarg’s paper as the work of two people in a jumped up college calling itself a university. They come to their conclusion from the comfortable position of thinking Scotland is on equal terms with England; not much wrong with how we are governed.

For one thing, Scotland does not enjoy the wonderful “democratic rule of law values” that the two academics mention. The entire reason for Scotland’s rebellion is because no matter how we exercise democracy as formulated by Westminster, Scotland ends up the loser, economically, culturally, and politically. That has not changed in over 300 years.

McCorkingdale and McHarg do not see an enemy. They betray a colonial mentality in the defeatist phrase, ‘perhaps the only way’. Perhaps? Where did they get that idea?

The Rhodesian example

Alex Salmond is probably the most experienced parliamentarian in Britain, one of the few who served in both parliaments. When he says, as he did, “There are many ways to achieve independence”, he knows what he is talking about. A unilateral declaration of independence – UDI, is not one of them. Declaring self-determination might well be. I will explain the difference shortly.

At one extreme there is the current SNP policy of inertia, letting Westminster’s brazen  corruption – millions paid to crony companies, a white supremacist outlook, a shift to a neo-fascist administration. The hope is, enough people will be convinced autonomy is a good thing; at the other extreme, a few people advocate we should announce UDI. This is assumed to be of the type declared by Ian Smith, prime minister of Rhodesia from 1964 to 1979, a man who managed to isolate Rhodesia internationally for 15 years, and in the face of harsh economic sanctions. Significantly, the UK then prime minister, Harold Wilson, refused to send in British troops, resisting all calls to retake the country by force.

Similarities Rhodesia with Scotland are ludicrous. Smith led an almost all-white, apartheid, rebel, minority government, unrecognised almost as soon as it was formed. The SNP has governed Scotland elected by popular appeal and, despite a few badly thought through policies, achieved a great deal of respect, even from its opponents. Nevertheless, the Rhodesian experiment is what British nationalists have in the back of their mind whenever they accuse the SNP of being ‘ugly separatists’.

The British Tory Party, free of Europe and ‘Johnny Foreigner’, are the ugly separatists in the UK’s case. Salmon offered independence-lite, keep the pound for a time, the EU, trade, no borders, NATO, and the Royal Family. Keep what we earn and have our own foreign policy was about as radical as it got – no room for republicanism there.

A Rhodesian-style UDI is the route no one wants to take in case it inflames the Tories to cut off Scotland from civilisation, sends in troops, and has the rest of the world so outraged nations refuse our whisky and deport Scots back to Caledonia. Alarmists are everywhere, but there is a kind of UDI that is legal.

The Royal Prerogative

For the purpose of this ramble in the thorny brambles of constitutional matters, I want to discuss the Royal Prerogative, a device to end the Union.

There was no end of threats by Tories to use this mechanism to invoke Article 50 as a method of ridding England of Johnny Foreigner – the European Union. (In the event, less than half of England voted Leave.) Westminster did not use it, and it is my contention they did not for fear it set the precedent for Scotland to use it to dissolve the Union.

I shall try to make my point as uncomplicated as possible, mainly so I can understand it! But it requires a degree of study on Articles and Acts.

Once you delve into the 1706 Articles of Union and the following year’s Acts of Union, you will perceive a similarity between those mechanisms and the Treaty of Accession to the EC and the European Communities Act. Okay, deep breath…..

Dissolving Unions: International Treaties and Acts of Parliament

All treaties are co-signed pacts open to renegotiation or withdrawal at any time. If they work well for both sides, fine, they will endure, if they do not, time to sit around a parley table and solve errors and grievances.

That treaties tend to exist for many years is because the parties involved do not wish to be seen reneging on an agreement. In Scotland’s case no Labour or Tory party would do that, keen to keep the Union alive. Small differences, conditions frayed at the edges or altered by unforeseen circumstances, can be solved by discussion. Scotland is that odd thing in the western world, a colonised country told the lie it is too poor to function without its neighbour, we cannot exist without help, hence the Union is God.

In Scotland’s case, the sovereign people never agreed to a union. A few earls, lawyers and clergy signed away our birthright. It stands as one of the great betrayals in our history. We are, by all reasonable analysis, ruled by a belligerent, and often brutal neighbour, now as racist and corrupt as a yogurt pot invaded by slugs. Our Westminster parliamentarians outnumber us 12 to 1. We are unable to alter things for the better for Scotland, only for England. In effect, we endure taxation without representation.

Of Articles and Acts

I doubt few Englishmen and fewer Scots have bothered to study the Articles of the Treaty of Union or the Acts of Union, and the non-experts who have done a quick study usually think they are one and the same. The texts read similarly but in legal terms they are quite different.

The Articles of Union signed on 2 July 1706 is an international treaty agreed between the two sovereign and tetchy kingdoms of England and Scotland. They were negotiated by ‘experts’ working under the Royal Prerogative, but the Union was not created from this document.

The same can be asserted of the accession treaty on 22 January 1972 between UK, Ireland and Denmark when Edward Heath made the UK a member of the Common Market. The UK only became a member of the EC after the European Communities Act 1972 had been passed in October of that year. It came into effect on 1 January 1973.

And here I have to add the obvious, a treaty means a degree of sovereignty is ceded by both parties on the basis both parties benefit. The derision we received at the hands of bully boy colonials when we suggested using the pound sterling for a short time shows their ignorance of how countries are voluntarily interdependent.

This small but highly significant element, that both Scotland and England will benefit equally has been the basis of all disputes between us since 1707, from Scotland being over-taxed, suppression of the clan system, banning the wearing of tartan and speaking in the Scots tongue, to the modern day equivalents of a poll tax imposed, Scotland exploited as a guinea pig, the destruction of our steel and ship building industries, and of course, dragged out of the EU against the will of the people.

There is a myriad of abuses perpetrated by England in the interests of England that have broken the Acts and Treaty. Those who argue free trade has been honored and a great thing, forget where the taxes go from the sale of whisky, to name one theft.

By the same token, like joining the Common Market, Scotland and England were not legally binding trading partners until the passing of both the Scots and English Acts of Union which ratified the Articles of Union of 1706. This distinction between Treaty and Act is made very clear in the preamble to the 1707 (Scots) statute. (Readers who have a mind to can study the wording in NOTES at the end of the essay.)

Ergo, ipso facto and blimey

With the Prerogative precedent established to join the Common Market, almost used a second time to revoke and repeal the European Communities Act 1972 using Article 50, it is invalid to argue the opposite, that it cannot be used for Scotland to leave the UK and negotiate a new, better accord fit for the rest of this century.

What is fit for England, is fit for Scotland. Indeed, with climate change upon us, it become imperative that Scotland can make its own laws to handle the crisis.

There is no impediment to use of the Royal Prerogative to leave the UK. Our Treaty and the one we had with the EU are international agreements. The same process can be used by the Scots government to revoke the Scots Act of Union of 1707. Granted, if we did that, someone will challenge it in court. The British state is liable to challenge anything we do in that regard, as we did, and won, when Boris Johnson tried to prorogue Westminster.

We must take account of the pre-1707 Scots monarch enjoying the Prerogative and the Articles of Union made under the Prerogative. The post-devolution Scots monarch (it might not be Elizabeth II, the first of Scotland) – is bound by the advice they receive from the Scottish Government. If the Scottish Parliament, after a referendum vote for independence, passed an Act instructing the First Minister to revoke the Articles of Union, or if the First Minister were simply to use her right to advise the Crown, the Sovereign would be obliged to comply.

In summation

Nothing of what I have written here is revolutionary. It is legal and civilised. This idea has been discussed at length in past years but rarely explained. Perhaps we need a statesman or woman to drum it home: revoking the Articles automatically revokes the Act of Union. Scotland could leave the Union without pleading to Tory Westminster.

So, no one need call UDI. By the method I’ve explained, we dissolve the Union to begin talks for a better relationship. Yes, our colonial masters will belittle whatever path we take; England has isolated itself and needs our wealth more than ever, but that is no reason to be nervous about moving Scotland’s constitutional rights into the modern age.

Using the Prerogative allows Scotland to leave the UK without the permission of the British Government and the UK Parliament. They would be made to understand, finally, that in Scotland the people are sovereign.




For readers wishing to do a little more study, here is the distinction between Treaty and Act caught in the preamble to the 1707 (Scots) statute:

Whereas Articles of Union were agreed on the Twenty Second day of July in the Fifth year of Your Majesties reign by the Commissioners nominated on behalf of the Kingdom of England under Your Majesties Great Seal of England bearing date at Westminster the Tenth day of April then last past in pursuance of an Act of Parliament made in England in the Third year of Your Majesties reign and the Commissioners nominated on the behalf of the Kingdom of Scotland under Your Majesties Great Seal of Scotland bearing date the Twenty Seventh day of February in the Fourth year of Your Majesties Reign in pursuance of the Fourth Act of the Third Session of the present Parliament of Scotland to treat of and concerning an Union of the said Kingdoms

And Whereas an Act hath passed in the Parliament of Scotland at Edinburgh the Sixteenth day of January in the Fifth year of Your Majesties reign wherein ’tis mentioned that the Estates of Parliament considering the said Articles of Union of the two Kingdoms had agreed to and approved of the said Articles of Union with some Additions and Explanations And that Your Majesty with Advice and Consent of the Estates of Parliament for establishing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government within the Kingdom of Scotland had passed in the same Session of Parliament an Act intituled Act for securing of the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government which by the Tenor thereof was appointed to be inserted in any Act ratifying the Treaty and expressly declared to be a fundamental and essential Condition of the said Treaty or Union in all times coming the Tenor of which Articles as ratified and approved of with Additions and Explanations by the said Act of Parliament of Scotland follows


Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 35 Comments

BBC Black Arts


“Kirsty Wark is hosting a BBC documentary on the Alex Salmond case, and Dani Garavelli is presenting a ‘civil war in the SNP’ programme on BBC Radio 4. How fucking desperate are the BBC?”  Fiona Kabuki 

The tweet above from the independence supporter, Fiona Kabuki, pretty well sums up the reaction to the news that the BBC’s black propaganda arm is still at war with Scotland’s political hopes. It is broadcasting a television documentary and an opinion programme on radio prior to, and during, the Scottish Parliamentary Enquiry to be conducted by a committee of Holyrood MSPs. How’s that for rubbing noses in dog pee?

I adhere to ‘enquiry’ because an ‘inquiry’ usually has judicial fangs that can inflict sanctions, fines and the like on conspirators and congenital liars. This committee can’t even get the administration to cough up ‘missing’ documents they’ve been asking for, for months. Not a single journalist has written castigating the disrespect, not one. And the women called to testify are asking they come as a group and not be questioned separately. That’s how scared are the dislocators of Scotland’s body politic of Holyrood. They think it a joke.

Membership of the parliamentary Committee consists of: Linda Fabiani (convener), Margaret Mitchell (dep convenor), Alasdair Allan, Angela Constance, Alison Johnstone, Maureen Watt,  Jackie Baillie and Alex Cole Hamilton.

The committee is charged with looking into events and motivations that forced two failed court cases on Salmond and the Scottish nation. Laying aside the surprising gender imbalance, and that the four SNP MSPs were all ministers appointed by Alex Salmond, removed by Nicola Sturgeon, at least two of the committee have spent most of their shallow political existence picking their nose and flicking the contents at Scotland’s parliament, namely Baillie (Labour) and Cole-Hamilton (Liberal-Democrat), the latter neither liberal nor a democrat, more a Tory in a cheap second-hand car.

Tory, Labour, Lib-Dem, they live off their fat parliamentary salary and expenses paid by us to denigrate this nation’s humanity. They pretend they are fighting for the poor, the ‘disadvantaged’ – a word that removes the smell of excreta – a class they walk by and around when it is sitting there outside their local mini-market, cap in hand. Will they see their role as giving witnesses, called to give evidence, as much slack as possible? Of course they will. That is their function. They smirk knowing they have the weight of the British state behind them, ready with the ermine robe and a line of political cocaine.

The SNP administration does not have a majority, courtesy of the ‘gamed’ in advance D’Hon’t voting system, hence it cannot appoint a committee of SNP MSPs. The BBC will take note of the proceedings and then generalise in their Scottish provincial news items, where fast aging journalists and newsreaders pickled in aspic pretend to be impartial.

BBC Scotland’s ‘Nine’ will have two callow youths give extended opinion banter as if they bring a life’s experience and wisdom to the issue, but in reality have cost next to nothing to book lured by the false glamour of being ‘on the telly’. Adult viewers will switch channels looking for a soap or a game show. If only the sandcastles the BBC fashions were made of cement. I’d love to see them kick them over.


George Orwell, aka Eric Blair, at his BBC microphone

George Orwell spent a miserable time working for the BBC propaganda unit during the Second World War, 1941-43, until he got a bad taste in his mouth and threw in the tea towel, taking his typewriter with him. Having worked as a policeman in Burma, he was given the responsibility to broadcast work to ‘overseas’ nations. His health shot to pieces after fighting in Catalonia – he took a bullet to the throat – and, tuberculosis eating his lungs, aged 38, he became a talks assistant in the Overseas Empire Department, based in  55 Portland Place, London. “Empire”, there’s a title that gladdens an Englishman’s heart.

We got his intensely bleak political novel Nineteen Eighty-four out of his BBC experiences, his Ministry of Truth, (written on Jura) where truth is rewritten to suit a government’s agenda of the day.

When invited to give a BBC broadcast, his reply was careful: “I will do the talk if I can be reasonably frank. I am not going to say anything I regard as untruthful.” He had scruples, did Orwell. That saw him a penniless novelist most of his days.

What did he get from the BBC? (I ask myself the same thing as I near the end of my career.) For one thing, he believed himself to have been wasting his very finite time. For my part, moving from television production to radio in Scotland, I found the turnover of material daunting, forgotten in a day. Ninety percent was banal chat. Still is.

I tried to start a hard-hitting and lively socio-arts programme, chaired by myself, but though it got good ratings for three one-hour shows, the BBC thought it too intelligent for ‘Scottish housewives’. I should have dumbed it down. BBC Scotland’s daytime radio is dominated by the Entertainment Department which is why you’ll not hear anything serious about Scottish culture, beyond the ephemeral ‘what’s on’ and what book to buy. You are treated as a ‘punter’, go there, buy this.

“The controversy over freedom of speech and of the press is at the bottom a controversy over the desirability, or otherwise, of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.” George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature, published in ‘Polemic’, Jan 1946.

Orwell detested BBC bureaucracy, as I did, the ferocious discipline of broadcasting to audiences who take risks to listen and who hear what we choose to tell them. Some learned to like us. (I married one of my fans.) Again, like Orwell, I learned how to edit and cut. He too learnt the innards of propaganda – all of this is in Nineteen Eighty-four. He thanked the BBC for not interfering with what he wanted to say. I didn’t get that respect, I got a daily list of deadlines and hours to fill. Then again Orwell wasn’t broadcasting to a Scotland awakening from 300 years of political suppression.

What Orwell spotted from his BBC days was the decay of the English upper class to govern well, and how the BBC covered for the government of the day and did its bidding. We witness the apogee of Etonian rot in fumble bumbler Boris and before him, vainglorious David Cameron and his third-rate bully boy pal, George Gideon Oliver Osborne. Osborne was the chancellor who, like Boris, told Scotland to jog on before running off, tail between his legs, to catch his chauffeured car back to London. There was no fridge he could hide inside to avoid the press in the Conservative Club on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, a kind of transport cafe for the capital’s well heeled.

This week the BBC is doing its best to toss Alex Salmond reputation in the air and whip away the blanket under his fall. Broadcasting anything pseudo-analytical at the moment of the Parliamentary Enquiry is outrageous.

You can bet your bottom dollar Kirsty Wark its presenter had a programme in edit based on a ‘guilty’ verdict and moved swiftly to rehash it rather than waste money and lose fees. Wark, friend of Union Jack McConnell, was the journalist shell shocked and showed it when Salmond and the SNP were elected to govern. I have no idea why a journalist thinks being close palsy-walsy with politicians keeps them impartial.


At the time of writing this I have not seen the contents of the BBC documentary, but even if full of condemnation of the women who conspired to bring him low, it is still a case of reminding the public why Salmond found himself in court. The programme is bound to be packed with base opinion, conjecture and judgement. The black art is a sly craft. You can get an eager stooge to say things that, if you said them, get you accused of bias. To paraphrase Mark Antony, we come not to praise Salmond but to bury him.

Two programmes to stir up bad memories and provide flatulent newspaper columnists with an excuse to dig over the bones and extend the negativity. This from the BBC that commissioned the dramatisation of a crap novella by the Tory Douglas Hurd depicting the nascent SNP as thugs and terrorists, broadcast prior to the 1979 referendum on devolution. The BBC apologised for it, but the damage was done. With uncanny timing, the Herald has already popped up with a bogus poll claiming Salmond is more unpopular than tripe and onions boiled in milk. Shock and horror. Don’t let granny read it.

Realising the vulture and hyenas are out to squabble over a carcass, and time was critically  running out, I penned a letter to Lord Hall, the outgoing director general of the BBC, and a former Tory politician. Aye, there’s that BBC impartiality again, a former Tory politician, now a member of the unelected House of Lords.

Marked ‘Very Urgent’, and on his desk special delivery, I kept the letter short, to the point, diplomatic – you get nowhere telling someone they are an arse and then asking them to do the right thing – and I addressed him by his diminutive. After all, he has to use the toilet, same as the rest of us.

Dear Tony Hall

I hope this letter arrives in time to delay broadcasting – in days – the documentary on the Alex Salmond trial, a work presented by the journalist, Kirty Wark.

I believe the timing highly prejudicial to fair justice.

I am not alone in being alarmed at the broadcast of a programme that not only has no contribution from Alex Salmond – he declined – yet is scheduled to be transmitted during the Scottish Parliamentary Enquiry into the shenanigans that cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds for two trials, each resulting in Salmond’s exoneration.

I add to this plea journalist Dani Garavelli’s programme of a similar nature on BBC Radio arguing a “schism exists in Scottish politics”. She has championed the women’s side. No matter one’s politics, or opinion of the court cases, to broadcast in advance of the Enquiry’s findings opens the corporation to charges of political bias at a delicate time in Scotland’s history, and the BBC’s perceived role recounting Scottish politics.

I urge you to reconsider the broadcast date. Delay it to give the documentary’s producers the scope to include material and conclusions from the Parliamentary Enquiry, and transmit both television and radio programmes when appropriate.

The BBC knows how critical it is to be mindful in these troubled times, the corporation under incessant attack from vested interests. The BBC claims it exercises strict impartiality in political matters. Well, here is a supreme issue to prove it.

Yours sincerely

Gareth Wardell                                                                                                              Former BBC Executive Producer   

21 August

Dear Gareth

Thank you for your letter dated 12 August. I regret to say that due to postal delays it has only just reached me.

I am sorry to hear of your concerns about the two programmes relating to Alex Salmond, on BBC2 and Radio 4, which you raised before their broadcasts. I hope you have now had a chance to see The Trial of Alex Salmond and hear Scotland’s Uncivil War for yourself.

As you will know, all our output must adhere to the BBC Editorial Guidelines. If you feel any parts of the programmes were in breach of these then I would ask you to raise this formally through our complaints process which is the appropriate way for us to consider this and respond accordingly. 

Kind regards

Tony Hall                                                                                                                          Director-General

My letter was sent special mail, next morning delivery and signature, marked ‘Extremely Urgent’. Hall didn’t read it until the day of his letter of reply.

This is as predicted, a standard BBC reply. There is no reference to the furious public backlash to a documentary which failed the honesty and integrity test – and the viewer’s trust – in so many ways, leaving it wide open to justified condemnation it was in actuality a Retrial of Alex Salmond, censure which it duly received.

What the BBC is saying without saying it, it will broadcast what it wants, when it wants, although if pro-Scottish material it might be delayed indefinitely if they receive a private call from the Cabinet Office and there’s a referendum in sight.

Incidentally, and as an aside, the director-general acknowledges I was a former executive producer, a fact that a certain gossip columnist calling herself a film critic tried to deny and stirred up attacks on my integrity. (Let’s leave her deservedly nameless.)

So, we see the proverbial courteous brush-off, the lack of real accountability by a public corporation, content in its comfort the horse has bolted from the stable. One gets sucked into the Kafkaesque nightmare at your peril sparring with BBC Complaints, letter after letter, reply after reply, until you are told the correspondence is at and end, closed down.

I hope Alex Salmond finds cause to sue the BBC.

Meanwhile, if readers want to learn more of the BBC’s pronounced skill at the black arts, I recommend, among other essays on the Corporation, the following:

The programme was transmitted at 9pm on BBC2. As predicted, Wark via her husband’s production company produced it prior to and during the trial. It had all the appearance of a rehash originally planned on the basis of a guilty verdict. No witness for the defence was interviewed. It was padded out with trite commentary from her, gossip, dubious one line comments from  other journalists, multiple shots of her flicking her iPhone, and no mention of the jury finding all the accusers liars. Wark placed her self in the centre of the documentary as the ubiquitous investigator. An outpouring of abhorrence and outrage from members of the public followed the transmission.



Posted in BBC, Scottish Politics | 17 Comments

Scotland’s Health Service

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Wake up, wake up, Gareth ….. how have you been sleeping? Strange you should ask, nurse

I could begin and end with the statement that the Scottish Health Service is second to none and not bother to fill in the middle because that’s the flat-out truth. There are other nations, such as Thailand, where the health service is of a high standard too, but though massively overtaxed by England, Scotland has a free health service to all intent and purpose. England is well on its way to a pay now or poor house service. Yes, children in England play ‘Doctors’ same as children in Scotland, only the rules are different. One says ‘you operate and I’ll sue’.

A unique asset 

Scotland is this strange thing, a nation with its own health service yet allied to its bigger neighbour which is undergoing brutal and underhanded privatisation. Scotland is doing all it can to remain true to the principle of universal care for all irrespective of personal wealth, ethnicity or religion. The wealthy have recourse to private clinics but get the same doctor and surgeon who is employed by the main hospital, the equivalent of buying an Audi which is a VW in a dinner suit, as admitted by a past CEO of that over-priced car maker. Scotland keeps our health service separate from the private sort.

No one wants to face the sharp end of the surgeon’s scalpel, my fate of late, a man of revoltingly good health and physique ever since I abandoned adolescent dandruff, pimples and zits, enjoyed strong lungs, a non-smoker, the heart beat of a twenty-one year old, teeth that can still demolish a hard apple, who never needed to wear a shirt three sizes too large to hide his corpulence. I can take two stairs at a time, tuck away four scoops of ice cream in one sitting, yet suddenly struck down by the smallest of evils, an incurable cancer cell with the look and the dimensions of a pearl of tapioca. Awe, crap!

Why me? Why bloody me? Well, why not? Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Take solace knowing it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

Eventually, we all go back to the sea

A great smile and vaulting ambition does nothing to hide the fact that we are all dying, one way or another, just that some are given an approximate date. I have a theory that the most ruthless drug lords and dictators spot that irony when they reach middle age and assume a fatalistic attitude to their fellow men, and then decide they have nothing to lose by signing a pact with the Devil.

There is no getting around it, the sum total of life for the human biped amounts to being born tiny, getting big, procreating, and then getting small again, swiftly. In between we screw up relationships, ourselves and the planet. Thankfully, the Scottish health service is here to keep us positive and cheery if not exactly doing chorus girl high kicks.

Scotland’s NHS – it should be renamed the SHS – gets kicked from pillar to bed pan by the scrofulous servants of Tory and Labour neo-liberal England, each dreaming of an OBE and an earldom announced in the Scottish Times.

A health service traduced

I go to see my doctor once in a blue moon. Don’t ask why, not to change my car tyre. I accept I am getting old but not as old as my doctor thinks. Inside my head is a thirty-five year old drama and philosophy student of easy sensuality. Which old guy are they staring at? Incarcerated in hospital, should I expect to see a sign hanging on the bed end, ‘Not to be resuscitated”?

What Celticphobes and carpetbaggers forget in their quest to pacify the natives, is how many of us are reaching late middle age or our dotage. We use the health service regularly, from doctor’s surgery to operating theatre via the local chemist. Unionists should drop the daily crap of  claiming it is falling apart.

We know it works, we know it is a good thing. And although the quality of the service can depend on where you live, it comes free and with an ambulance and a wheelchair if needed, and a pair of crutches thrown in for good measure. You have to pay when dead, the coffin, the carriage, the service, the burial or cremation. When ill, you can enjoy bad health for free.

Capital treatment

Living in Edinburgh, I used the Royal, the Western, and finally, St John’s Hospital in Livingston. There is a rivalry between them, a bit like football teams; who offers the most efficient care, the best meals, the most comfy recuperation facilities, the easiest way to bypass the ward nurses to an exit for a fly drag on a fag.

When told you have cancer, facing your mortality, every sense becomes acute. You see things sharper, can pick out sounds like a dolphin, and achieve a heightened awareness of the scent of flowers and the strength of birds on the wing. There’s no need to take up Buddhism to achieve deep contemplation, everything stops around you; life stands still. You can hear your heart beating.

Back in St John’s hospital, on the stretcher Americans call a gurney, counting the overhead strip lights pass by like a cheap hospital television soap, you try to look cheery on your way to the operating theatre. I decided to wave to people as if the Queen. That got a few muffled laughs from folk cloaked in face masks, humanity hidden.

Gallows humour is a useful tool to aid stress when the patient is wheeled in his bed out of the ward, off down the corridor to the operating theatre. To the American with the gammy leg, “Don’t let them amputate! Those surgeons are lazy. They want home early for a game of golf with their cronies at the Royal Burgess. They’ll take the quick solution!”

Hospitals are indeed places of comedic inspiration, but the joke is on mankind, we keep finding reasons to use them. On arrival at the outer surgery facility, staff in the anaesthetist’s room wear masks too, faces hidden, but I could see they were smiling. I warned them that I was quality and charged them with selling my body parts for the highest price. Another laugh. Doctors and surgeons enjoy gallows humour. I wish I’d worn my T-shirt on which I had printed: “The Complete Works of Gareth Wardell”.

From that moment until waking up in the ward, all is a blank. I was out at the time.

The real heroes

Nurses work like Trojans: twelve hour shifts, patients in, patients out, adhering to strict procedures, checking and rechecking and checking again your blood pressure, blood sugar count, temperature, dressings, changing your beds clothes, dishing out pain killers, bringing food, bedpans, jabs to stop blood clots and uppercuts to stop clots who think verbally goosing a nurse is smart.

To this add the cleaning staff straight out of a Brueghel painting, on their hands and knees disinfecting every part of the bed carcass, the side tables, floor and toilet, never a complaint as they suffer their own aches and pains while getting up again from the floor, a task so much harder than getting down. Whatever they get paid, it isn’t enough.

My ward saw men of various ages and backgrounds come and go, forget their social standing and play roles of equal measure, bed ridden, walking wounded. The patient with nose cancer and more tattoos than cigarettes smoked; the American with an infected leg wound happy to engage in political discussion; the semi-retired ophthalmologist, the first to identify I was Grouse Beater, the compulsive essayist and Twitter fanatic, he with a hole in his thigh and a drip; the bus driver whose bus no passenger would board knowing how jittery a person he was; and the drug addicted youth just out of prison for a serious assault. And then there was the poor pensioner, thin as a celery stick that needed craned in and craned back inside his Sheltered home. For all his screaming in the night he responded to my humour with the laugh of a child.

One bed held a succession of men who had sliced their finger, by band saw, drill, door slam, and a dustbin man who didn’t move his hand quick enough to stop the wind crash the wheelie lid on three fingers, he himself feeling ready for the rubbish bin. We were as one, equality restored, at the benevolent mercy of nurses and consultants.

Relax, you’ll live

What is the collective noun for a group of consultants and their attendant retinue of trainees and registrars dressed in all-green scrubs? A scrub of consultants? There is a kindness in the way the chief consultant explains your medical condition, the outcome and the consequences, his demeanour caressing, nothing like the stertorous authority of James Robertson Justice playing Sir Lancelott Spratt in a Carry On Nurse caper.

The group are a mixture from a dozen nations, from China to Ireland via Nigeria and France, the surgeon Scots, Irish or English. Nigel Farage won’t sleep nights. The head Royal College of Surgeons consultant and his troupe arrive punctually at 9 am, gather around your bed, drapes pulled shut, his students listen intently in strict hierarchy, as quiet as fish while he explains what has been done to you and the consequences of it.

I made sure I had at least two questions to ask, but not once felt patronised by the answers. The one question they never answer is how long you have left on this earth, no morbid exchanges of doom. Crack a joke in the midst of this medical throng and you can see the young registrars who get the punchline bite their lip to avoid getting sucked into frivolity while the chief consultant is holding forth.

The plastic surgeon who carved his initials on my breast popped in to check his handy work as I recovered in bed feeling sorry for myself, knelt to inspect the wound and the staples holding the skin floes together, stood up and with a broad grin under his Covid mask, said, “Textbook”, and disappeared for his holidays. Thank you, sir, whoever you are, for the extra time.

An inept doctor can be lethal. Mine, one of the best in Edinburgh, like me, an Italo-Scot, spotted my skin cancer on my upper arm at the primary stage. It lies under the skin, not the melanoma type on top, a rare type contracted by people who live in very hot countries, or as I did, work seven years in Los Angeles wearing sleeveless tops, and for it, forever getting hit by gay guys. The doctor is the start of the medical chain, the nurses at the far end, but all are magnificent in the sacrifices they make for their duty.

To hell with the politicians

Scotland’s health service is home to folk of far greater integrity and compassion for Scotland’s citizens than any grovelling unionist politician. We must protect it from the carrion crows of the right and the left who wear ermine.

Let no House Jock or second class Scot proud to be a colonial unionist tell you the Scottish health service is on its knees. It is a triumph of care over shoestring budgets. I owe whatever time I have left to those who serve in St John’s hospital; and the right to express my gratitude in this eulogy. The Scottish health service is here so we don’t have to crawl under a hedge to die like a wild animal.

With all the time I had to lie in bed looking out the window at the voluminous cumulus clouds that remind us we live in a wet country, I came to the conclusion only hypochondriacs enjoy bad health and they have none. For my part I think death sucks. I am definitely against death, and will not vote for it at the next election.

Death comes in many forms, one of them is telling a joke to the wrong people at at the wrong time, but I’ll risk more black humour: What’s grey, sits at the end of a hospital bed and takes the piss? A kidney dialysis machine.

Thank you, thank you; I’m here all week…..or whenever the ward sister lets me out.



Posted in General, Scottish Politics | 28 Comments

Chippy Harry McNish

An occasional series on eminent Scots ignored or forgotten

How a Scot was cruelly denied the Polar Medal | The National

‘Chippy’ Harry McNish

As true as I can tell it, this is the story of a Scotsman and an Englishman. The Scot was called Harry McNish. The Englishman was called Ernest Shackleton. As the years went by English, annoyed by constant demands for equality from Scots for a genuine partnership between their respective countries, picked on McNish’s nickname to call protesting Scots ‘chippy’, awarding McNish inverse fame.

McNish had a cat called Mrs Chippy who is part of this story. Mrs Chippy took no insult at the name, a generous toleration considering she was a he, Mr Chippy. He went everywhere with McNish, on the harbour while McNish fixed a trawler’s hull or mended a cabin, the cat knowing the hand that fed him, and without qualms near water for he had his sea legs too. That Mrs Chippy was gie adept at walking a yardarm, catching rats, or sleeping curled up atop a binnacle. The cat amazed the crew of the Endurance by being able to walk along the ship’s inch-wide guard rails, in even the roughest seas.

He, Harry, not the cat, was born in Port Glasgow in September 1874, and died 56 years later, ill, knackered by his arduous adventures and without his teeth, forgotten in his native land. He proper name was Henry McNish. Life would have seen McNish a decent, competent local carpenter, but fate had a different role in mind.

McNish played a vital role in saving Earnest Shackleton’s hapless expedition to the South Pole only to see his ingenuity and perseverance denied both praise and a medal. Actually, Shackleton was Irish-born, but of an English family from Yorkshire. His family moved to London when he was ten. In the archives of England’s best universities that keep tally on their national heroes, McNish is described as ‘British’ not Scottish. New Zealand named a whole island after him just to remind Scotland how we are dominated by our neighbour to the point we leave it to the British cabinet and the BBC to decide who is fit for greatness and who is not.

They say all great men have a skeleton in their cupboard, sometimes with flesh on it, such as a mistress, sometimes a dark deed, sometimes a theft from which they benefited. Shackleton had a closet full of hubris. He is our second character in this story, a man who let bitterness cloud his judgement. As for McNish, finding a cupboard was very hard. The home he grew up in was so small the one cupboard held coal for the fire. McNish was the third of eleven children born to John and Mary Jane (née Wade) McNish. Finding a bed for each was often the drawer of a pine dresser.

It could be argued infancy in a wooden drawer imprinted McNish to the extent he choose carpentry as his trade. Not much is known of his youth other than he was a person who knew his own opinion and was quick to stand his ground in an argument. Living in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, he was drawn to boats and ships, and like all Scots living in a land taken from him,  he acquired the outward urge.

The penalty of the explorer

Our story takes place in the time of the British Empire, a time where successful men had man servants and ladies personal dressers, and the poor had food to find or lived off the land as labourers. A time too, when plucky Brits ventured forth to explore far off places no one had been to before, with plucky fortitude, and plucky courage, there to achieve greatness in the Empire’s gaze and of course, claim land for Queen Victoria.

McNish was 40 years of age, widowed twice, ten years in the Merchant Navy, a skilled shipwright in constant demand for repairs on small and large boats, when he applied to join Shackleton’s expedition aboard the Endurance set too sail to the Antarctic.

By then, McNish had acquired that Scottish trait of being judgemental on people and things, an age-old Presbyterian trait, and yet, because of his ability for hard graft, another Scots trait, and his carpentry skills, he was well liked and respected by the crew.

Accomplished and certain in his own actions, he was lauded for his ability to repair and fix parts of the Endurance that got worn or broken. McNish proved invaluable during the time that Endurance was caught in the ice. He built instrument cases for the scientists aboard, constructed a chest of drawers for Shackleton’s cabin, put together a windbreak for the helmsman, redesigned the crew’s sleeping quarters, and, after the ship was damaged by ice pressure, constructed a cofferdam in the stern to try and stop the leak from flooding the entire ship.

Curmudgeonly as he was, McNish was in every sense a team player. Though crew members soon found Mr Chippy too quick to point out the shortcomings of others, they liked his cat a lot, the gentle side of McNish, and made a cat-sized hammock for the feline creature to sleep in. Anyhow, I digress.

Like any tradesman employed today, McNish began his inspection of the damaged part by saying, “Who mended this last time? What a total mess. Amateurs”. At heart, McNish was a perfectionist. There was nothing more annoying than people who abused good workmanship, and in his mind, certain to abuse it a second time. One aspect of the ship he complained about was its ability to withstand sea ice if trapped for any length of time. In that he was to be proved profoundly correct.

In return, Shackleton expressed reservations about McNish in letters written from South Georgia in 1914 describing him as “the only man I am not dead certain of”.

He is “a very good workman and shipwright, but does nothing I can get hold of”, meaning, if you asked McNish to do something one way, he did it another, but got the job done to such a high specification no one could fault it.


The Endurance, crushed by ice, destined to sink


McNish was the oldest on the expedition, an accomplished sailor, a life-long socialist and a devout member of the United Free Church of Scotland who abhorred the use of bad language. When he grumbled about the behaviour of a crew member it was never accompanied by profanity. However, you wouldn’t want to challenge McNish without feeling the weight of his personality bear down upon you to remind you of how much of a fool you were not to be suffered.

As school history books tell, Shackleton failed in his attempt to chart the South Pole, and instead watch the Endurance crushing to pulp and twisted metal in sea ice. Unlike the Scots, the English are proud of their heroic failures, making Shackleton, a man who cared genuinely for the safety of his crew, an instant hero fit for a statue.

The flash-point came in December 1915 when, ordered to abandon ship, McNish questioned Shackleton’s instruction to drag Endurance’s lifeboats across the pack ice after the destruction of the ship.

He argued that dragging the boats across such rough ice would damage them beyond repair and, besides, that after leaving the ship, he wasn’t legally obligated to follow any orders. The captain of the Endurance, Frank Worsley, couldn’t manage to control McNish and sent for Shackleton.

Shackleton deployed both logic and force to counter the insurrection – reminding McNish with a brandished pistol that he had agreed to serve under him both on ship and ashore. Shackleton went further, denying McNish the right to salvage the timbers from Endurance to build a sloop to take the men home.

In the end, dragging the boats proved impossible and Shackleton and McNish right. Beaten by his obduracy, Shackleton ordered the men to turn back. In his diary, he wrote: “Everyone working well except the carpenter. I shall never forget him in this time of strain and stress” – effectively a logging for insubordination.

Mrs Chippy (2)

Mrs Chippy, and admiring Endurance sailor, Perce Blackborow,

The better man

McNish’s skill and ingenuity in events which followed is still remembered. After 16 freezing months trapped on the ice, the men set sail in the three small boats for Elephant Island. Eight days after their arrival, one of the vessels, the 20ft whale boat James Caird – the boat named after the Dundee jute magnate who donated £10,000 to Shackleton’s exploration fund, was commandeered to strike out for South Georgia – a journey of 670 miles – with six men on board, including McNish. It was only possible because, during their time trapped on the ice, McNish worked tirelessly to ensure the seaworthiness of the escape craft.

In keeping with the ingenuity of a gifted mind, McNish devised his own mixture of flour, oil paint and seal blood to caulk the seams of the boats. He raised the gunwales to make them safer in the high seas and and fitted small decks fore and aft to the Caird. The crew with him remember his inventiveness and skill with gratitude.

Before Shackleton, and two others, set off for the final 36 hour traverse of South Georgia’s mountain ranges, McNish fashioned crampons out of the boat’s two inch brass screws. “We certainly could not have lived through the voyage without it”, Shackleton wrote later of his carpenter’s efforts.

Without going into detail, the sailors were picked up by the Norwegian steamer Samson and then sent back to England directly from South Georgia, joining the cargo ship Orwell, which arrived in Liverpool on 3 August 1916. But that isn’t the end of the story.


The grave of Harry ‘Chippy’ McNish, and his cat.

The final blow

When Shackleton returned in 1917 from his failed mission to conquer the Antarctic, it fell within his gift to recommend his men for the Polar Medal. Of the 27 who served beneath him during the attempt to cross the continent via the South Pole, all but four had their names put forward to King George V.

The decision to leave out three trawlermen – Vincent, Holness and Stephenson – was a regrettable omission, to say the least, but the omission of Harry “Chippy” McNish, has rankled with polar enthusiasts ever since and blemished the reputation of Shackleton. Oddly, McNish expected the sleight and was never heard to complain.

The final journey

Like Shackleton, McNish never recovered his health fully. The journey and the events that led to failure broke his strong constitution if not his spirit. He returned to the Merchant Navy but suffered severe pain brought on by the months stranded at the Pole.

After the expedition, McNish worked for the New Zealand Shipping Company, making five voyages to New Zealand. He moved there permanently in 1925 and was employed at the Wellington docks until rheumatism and a serious accident forced him to retire.

Destitute, he eventually was allowed to stay at the Ohiro Benevolent Home, until he died in a Wellington hospital in 1930. He was treated as a hero and given a funeral with full naval honours paid for by the New Zealand government. McNish Island, which lies at the east side of Cheapman Bay on the south side of South Georgia, was named in his honour.

McNish was buried at the Karori Cemetery. For many years he had an unmarked grave, but in 1959 the New Zealand Antarctic Society erected a headstone. Then, in 2004, a life-size bronze statue of Mrs Chippy was added to the grave.

And what happened to Mrs Chippy, the cat? Well you might ask. Shackleton shot Mrs Chippy for food, a callous act for which McNish never forgave him. Whatever else Shackleton has in his cupboard, it shares the space with a cat.



Others in the series include:

A.S. Neil, dominie; George Forrest, plant hunter; Jane Haining, martyr; Mary Somerville, astronomer; Patrick Matthew, discoverer of the species; Don Roberto, co-founder SNP; Adrienne Corrie, actress; David Douglas, aborist; Frederic Lindsay, novelist; Allan Pinkerton, detective; Dr John Rae, explorer; Ian Stewart, racing driver.

Posted in Great Scots | 28 Comments

Car Culture: Sustainability or Scrap

A weekly look at what sucks in the our car world, and some good bits


BMW’s i3 – the sustainable electric car

Car makers are lobbying the UK government again with the insistence of a starving calf nudging a dry cow for milk. They are restarting production ignoring a huge backlog to sell. They are desperate to find ways of cutting their costs by any means but not to make their cars last longer or cheaper.

Following the basic rule of capitalism, car makers cut their costs by sacking workers. Then they stick their manufacturing costs onto the buyer as far as they can manage, while they pocket the profit. Cutting the cost of the car by using new environmentally friendly materials is beyond their comprehension.

A soon as England’s march to Brexit began the car makers pleaded to be exempt from import duties, no tariffs in any direction, massive grants (welfare payments to you and me), and lately asking for a scrappage scheme. There is talk of offering drivers discounts of up to £6000 to switch from petrol and diesel to electric or hybrid cars – and research shows that nearly a third of buyers are delaying plans to buy a new car until such a scheme is announced.

Pick up a car magazine and it will have an article detailing such a scrappage scheme. Pick up another car magazine and it will have an article dismissing a scrappage scheme. Those in favour say Aye. Those against say No. The No’s have it. The No’s have it. Unlock! Will the UK Treasury throw money at buyers after funding billions on beating a pandemic shut-down? Highly doubtful. We have a far-right capitalist government in power in London. If it has money to offer it will go straight to the car manufacturers.

With the notable exception of the shift to digital dash instrumentation and electric cars, very little has altered in materials that goes into making the car we buy today. The clever Smart Car appeared in the mid-Nineties. With it’s tough safety cage enveloping the occupants and plastic body panels that can be exchanged for new in the event of a crash or a desire for a new colour, panels that won’t rust, it showed the way forward. We have to jump to 2011 for BMW’s mould-breaking i3 to see a shaky advance on the Smart Car.

BMW i3 is the first BMW in which the entire outer skin is, like the Smart Car, made of plastic. Only the roof is made of recycled carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). The parts are by half lighter than steel and at the same time a corrosion-free surface protection, which can be produced energy-saving. The material is also insensitive to minor damage. (My Smart once took a 30 mph hit from the rear and  showed no damage.) 25 percent of the materials used for the thermoplastic outer parts of the BMW i3 are either recycled or made from renewable resources.

When painting the outer skin panels shine and resistance to environmental influences. The paint passes through dry separation without the waste of water and with only a quarter of the usual energy expenditure. In addition, 70 percent less water is needed because the body no longer requires protection against corrosion during the laborious painting process. Eliminating the conventional cathodic painting saves 10 kg weight.

Car makers could have produced a car decades ago that would last as long as the vintage cars of old, twenty, even thirty years with a few upgrades, had they designed them to last, but instead they designed them to fall out of warranty after two years. Then rust set in.

On the other hand, the BMW i3 aims for durability and sustainability. The few areas where leather is used is 100% tanned with natural extracts of olive leaves. Sounds like a face rejuvenating lotion, I know, though it has genuine advantages: olive leaves are otherwise just a by-product of olive farming. BMW puts them to good use. The tanning process itself is environmentally compatible and, last but not least, it preserves the intrinsic shine of the leather and its natural ability to regulate temperatures.

Where wood is used in interior trim, ash and beech are ditched in place of eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is naturally resistant to moisture. That means it needs around 90 % less surface finishing than more traditional types of wood. Processed without chemicals, the soft texture and natural open pores of the wood remain intact. Eucalypti are one of the fastest-growing species of tree in existence, which makes it ideal for series production. If you specify wood in the BMW i3 it’s sourced from 100% FSC-certified forestry, (Forest Stewardship Council) helping to safeguard sustainable forest management.

The seats in the BMW i3 are 40% pure wool, a renewable material that offers a high level of comfort. The wool blend is breathable, helping to regulate the temperature between the seat cover and the occupant. As a result, the seats remain pleasantly cool, even on hot days. Using kenaf – a fibre material close to jute – for larger interior surfaces allows BMW to dump petroleum-based plastics and reduce the overall weight of the BMW i3. Kenaf fibres are up to 30 % lighter than conventional materials. This extremely lightweight material is extracted from the mallow plant, which converts an above-average volume of CO2 to oxygen as it grows. These are all steps in the right direction.

Sustainability or scrappage? Both are expensive. Both ask us to buy new, both has us pay through the nose, but so far the BMW i3 is the only 4-seat vehicle that gives us a truly contemporary, environmentally conscious car to drive.

Speaking recently, Volkswagen sales boss Jürgen Stackmann said that the “automotive industry can be a powerful driver to help boost the economy”. So can buying food. He then let us know electric vehicles are not the priority for the industry. Selling what they are tooled up to make is the priority. He added that any incentive scheme should not be focused purely on electric vehicles because of their relatively low sales. How’s that for clever thinking? I had a look at VW’s much trumpeted new iD car, £36,000 before government subsidy, and whilst it’s reasonably refined as electric cars go, it is hard to see what is innovative about the way it is built. Anyhow, you won’t see one until September and probably left-hand drive.

A poll conducted for What Car? magazine’s shows 29% of us are patiently delaying plans to buy a new car post-lock-down in the hope of a taxpayer-backed scrappage scheme, and 25% are prepared to downsize. I’d like to see a scrappage scheme get rid of the high-emission vehicles first, but other than the BMW i3, I am still looking for that elusive revolution in car design and materials.

Don’t believe me? Look at any bays full of nice shiny new metal. You’ll pick out perhaps three you recognise immediately, the rest are ugly styling exercises, nothing more. 


That two metre gap

Grant Shapps, the UK transport secretary, one of the many disgraced politicians rehabilitated by the Tory party to fit in comfortably to Boris’ cabinet, says public transport means empty seats so walking and cycling should be the “natural first choice”. The power elite will stick to their mega-expansive supercars, chauffeured limousines aircraft and boats. In fact, Lord Sugar – did he never think to change his surname to Tate or Lyle? – has just taken possession of his new small business plane. There you go, plebs.

Cars are us

Cycling? I’ve thought about it to help strengthen limbs, but in Edinburgh it’s a sucker’s transport. Hills, exhaust fumes, cold and rain, wet derrieres from rear wheels without a mudguard, near misses from errant drivers, and no matter how courteous you are as a cyclist, motorists still think you are a fascist bastard. Green campaigners are right that we should drive less, particularly in cities, where congestion and pollution are serious problems and cars take up a lot of space. With public transport certain to retain the two metre rule, Uber taxis are not a good choice, (lack of a dividing screen between you and driver), buses problematic and train journeys a worry, more people are likely to use their cars to get to and from work. With 68% of people driving to work even before the pandemic, cars are not going away. Got it?

Hateful June

By some stupid reason I’ve organise June as the month my two cars need taxed, MOT’d, a full service, plus any repairs. That’s a big hit in one go. Don’t know how I managed that, but earning less and less with a pandemic lock-down keeping income to a trickle, maybe an electric bike is a good choice after all. One shot by me today as I drove home. It took a good few minutes to understand how the guy kept ahead of me, and without pedalling. Mind you, not anymore exercise in that arrangement against drive a car.

Happy motoring!





Posted in Transportation | 8 Comments

The SNP’s Moral Stance


“Stop Brexit”: the wrong slogan at the wrong time for the wrong reasons

An act of resistance is a moral act. When you take a moral stance, you are acting out of conscience. Your imperative, your motivation is to attain justice for a group or an individual, not for the political or the material or for self. You follow your conscience not because you seek personal advancement, but because the act is right. It is a courageous stance. Arraigned against the forces of the power elite and the corrupt, integrity can often make you the loser, denounced by the mob. Fear of reprisal makes cowards of us all. Strength of moral resolve makes us powerful.

The big easy

I don’t much admire the shoot-out coda in detective and political thrillers. Surrounded by villains with guns, the hero has no choice but to shoot his way to freedom. On the other hand, when the villain tells the hero he can have a quiet life by taking the bribe and walking away and the hero declines, he knows his pursuit of justice means his career and possibly life is in jeopardy. His decision is a moral decision, a decision far more courageous and admirable than loading bullets into a handgun.

A morally strong political party welcomes dissent because it has no fear of the democratic system. The party seeks out new ideas, new ways of seeing. When the SNP chase Brexit and every half-baked policy it can think up on a dreich day, causing consternation among its membership, it is non-threatening moral act to ask the Party to concentrate on pursuing their core goal, reinstatement of nationhood, first and foremost for the common good. And yet, and yet this can get you into trouble.

The moral act

Our conscience guides almost everything we do. It sustains our integrity and empowers others. When we refuse to surrender to totalitarian capitalism we make moral choices. When a company pollutes the land, it is a moral choice to report it to the authorities. When a trade union exploits its workers for political gain, and uses its power to undermine a nation’s right to self-determination, it is a moral act of resistance to criticise the union’s leadership. When the SNP fails to protect its supporters against malicious denunciation and actually endorses the injustice, resistance to their crass judge and jury affirms the sanctity of human rights. 

In iterating that principle of resistance, and the moral faith at its core, I am forced to ask why the SNP has all but dumped the cause of Scotland’s liberty. And it has done it to the extent it silences its very own adherents at the drop of an evil accusation by its political opponents, the same who are the oppressors of democracy.

An urgent truth

We face an urgent truth. Those who hold power in the United Kingdom have no respect for the democratic system. They demonstrate that time and time again. What they do exhibit in word and actions is neo-fascism, the right for one class of people to govern and to do it by immoral, illegal and oppressive rule.

By failing to release the pent up energy in the electorate to regain Scotland’s place in the world, by not harnessing the resounding support the SNP gained at the ballot box, by ignoring multiple mandates, and worse, not exploiting the May-Boris-Cummings axis, the current SNP is losing the opportunity to make significant structural changes for the better in our society. This is unforgivable.

Inertia is not a strategy. Watching people torn from their homes and repatriated and doing nothing is not the moral example of a nation supposedly acting in everybody’s best interests. Overseeing a nation’s constitutional rights attacked with impunity, passivity is a crime. 

A gift squandered

A hand full of aces left to Scottish aspirations for self-governance in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum has been ineptly played. This, despite the commanding electoral success, the electoral landslides enjoyed by Nicola Sturgeon, gifted by voters from all sections of society, and not all of them Scots by birth.

The criticism levied at Holyrood can also be levied at SNP MPs at Westminster. What do the SNP think they can achieve waffling to their heart’s content in the Chamber of Horrors now that the British state is in the hands of the ultra-right?

What strategy was Angus Robertson pursuing, and now Ian Blackford, each without a plan, standing in impotent defiance of a sniggering front bench of Tory millionaires and useless Labour faux apparatchiks? The highlight of their week seems prime minister’s question time! Has no one told SNP MPs that the television cameras cut away to the broadcasting studio as soon as the Speaker shouts their name?

Sovereignty cannot be sold

Scotland’s sovereignty is still intact. It is almost impossible for any country to part with its sovereignty. It can loan a modicum of self-reliance in, say, a trading agreement. Most countries do that. You give us a share of your goods and we will give you a share of our minerals; invest in my nation and I will buy some of your country’s debt bonds.

In any event, the people of Scotland are sovereign, ergo, their government cannot relinquish sovereignty in an agreement with another nation. Unlike England, where sovereignty is invested in the parliament, the Scottish government is not sovereign. It does not have the power to sign away something it does not own.

Sovereignty remains with the people. That indelible, irrevocable constitutional right was enhanced by the Salmond-Cameron signing of the 2014 referendum on independence. In fact, the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012 was no more a retreat from Scottish sovereignty than Robert the Bruce sealing the Treaty of Northampton in 1328.

This resurgence of idealism and hope that arrived after losing Scotland’s first full plebiscite on our destiny was based on the transformation in Scottish thought and attitude provoked by that very referendum process. And yet Scotland’s second Enlightenment is in danger of betrayal by an apprehensive SNP.

The movement for democratic rights is in a stasis partly of our own making. We lost the referendum well warned the British state would take revenge on our resistance to a corrupt London rule. The British state is brutal, without moral imperative.

The Labour party, in league with the Tories, lied to Scotland. Witness dissembler Blair McDougall on BBC Question Time telling us Boris Johnson would never be elected as prime minister. He is representative of all the others in the Better Together band of liars, slow-witted, self-serving, desperate to stop Scotland getting more democracy. We watched them scream in triumph, but we did not lose our sovereignty. That is inviolable, and that is what they want to overturn. Their answer is to resurrect devolution maximum for the umpteenth time, a tired, vague trope. And now they see opportunism in the pandemic. They hope to use it as a weapon of repression.

The great SNP sloth

We are where we are because the SNP has not pushed the momentous advantage gifted by the electorate in successive mandates. Nicola Sturgeon is a victim of her own self doubt, hiding behind an inane slogan, ‘The Gold Standard’. When the journalist Iain Macwhirter announced that Nicola Sturgeon had “kicked independence into touch” he got booed, and no doubt a few hundred angry tweets from SNP faithful. But he was right.

It is not affront to the SNP’s standing, or any individual in it, for that matter, to criticise SNP policy, or offer alternative solutions.

No act of resistance to London rule is a waste of time. No speech, no march, no  newspaper article, no blog site, no sit down protest, no placard, no press release, no tweet, no flags on bridges, no outrage expressed at neo-liberal tyranny. But coming from the SNP resistance has to be, must be, coordinated and consistent. Chasing squirrels takes a lot of energy with people running off in all directions simultaneously.

Our opponents are scared

What worries the opponents of greater democracy is, people are past the stage of thinking they need persuading independence should happen. They now know it can happen. Any number of English pundits have said independence is only a matter of time. That day might speed up by the way England has swung to authoritarian rule but what damage will have been done to Scotland in the meantime?

The power elite have spent the last three decades and more organising the obliteration of liberalism. They have abused the tolerance of liberalism to destroy liberalism. The repulsive pockmarked Steve Bannons of this world curb equality and justice by appealing to the worst qualities in human nature. They aim to indoctrinate the disenfranchised, the disaffected and the uneducated with a bitterness of the democratic system. Once that is accomplished power will be in the total control of the right-wing.

The notion Scotland might attain its liberty is both a challenge and a warning to them. They took out the European Union from the UK political system, now they have to take out Scotland too, the one nation in the UK determined to remain European and to exercise free will. 

The SNP strategy

What is the SNP doing to counter this onslaught? Barracking Tory tyranny? Showing the aloof secretary of state to be a thumping ignorant dunce? None of those things. They smear autonomy’s strongest voices. They squander our money on show trials. With muddled domestic policies they cut off rational discourse that upsets them. They spurn anger and block dissent, hoping things that happen outside Scotland will save them the trouble of doing anything inside Scotland to secure self-determination. Their adoption of gradualism is defeatist and fatal.

To step outside your comfort zone to gain an ideal wished by the masses is to live in the fullest sense of the word. You exhibit a determination to exist as a free and independent human being. To abandon self in a campaign to defend an ideal or an individual is a noble, honourable pursuit. You cannot measure resistance as if it has monetary value. To resist those that enslave us, that cause us hardship and pain, is a just cause.

Taking all that into account, I have to say in sadness, that the SNP has lost its way. Why did they elevate the status of the European Brexit argument out of any reasonable context and make it of far greater importance to the pursuit of Scotland’s freedoms? Brexit is an all-England issue. We had no choice but to state how it will damage Scotland’s economy and remove our human rights, but dedicate an entire two years and more of an SNP campaign to reverse it? England in chaos and we offered to down tools to help? Somewhere in there lies over 300 years of a colonial mentality. 

This paradox was exemplified by the polar opposite bus to Boris’s red NHS coach. Our bright yellow campaign coach had ‘Stop Brexit’ on the side of it when common sense told us it ought to have read “Independence Now!”

The SNP tree needs shaken violently to rid it of infestation, the deadheads pruned.



Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 24 Comments

Car Culture: Petrol TV Shows

A weekly look at what sucks in our world of cars, plus some good bits


A 1937 Talbot-Lago designed by the great stylists Figoni et Falaschi

Back in the day as a stressed out BBC executive producer going nowhere, I sat around a table with colleagues and endless cups of coffee at the annual get-together of head producers to discuss new programme ideas. I had three: a history of Scottish painters from 1800 to contemporary times, and two proposals for automobile shows. I was less critical of what cars were doing to the planet back then than now, my interest propelled by my Sicilian father who left me with an eye for good design from his days as an engineer for Alfa Romeo, a racing company once more famous and respected than Ferrari.

One proposal was for a car mechanic programme in which a classic car was remastered for the modern age, and the other was a series on the great automotive stylists, some of them talented artists in their own right. I had in mind the European greats, Bugatti, Pinin Farina, Giugiaro, and the incomparable bodywork designers Figoni and Falaschi. The car ideas were nixed immediately. Top Gear was riding high. It made BBC a mountain of money. Why create potential competition? All other car programmes were blocked.

Top Gear is like Rowling’s turgid Harry Snotter, you will never be free of it. When I junked the BBC and went to work in Los Angeles, there it was again, Top Gear reruns daily on BBC America, a commercial channel where the BBC profits from television advertising disallowed by their Charter in the the UK. However, once the stranglehold of Top Gear was broken by a single punch from the testosterone filled belligerence of Jeremy Clarkson the gates were open for all sorts of car shows to get a chance at broadcasting fame. 

Switch on your television set today and there’s a plethora of car programmes to watch, from basic mechanics for the man in his shed, to car renovations shows, and mega-auctions of super cars. In the US an entire channel is devoted to gearheads and caraholics. (Prescriptive text is desperate to alter caraholics to Catholics.) There is even a weekly show on horrible car crashes. They are recorded by the latest ‘must have’ car gadget, the remote dash top camera. A lot of recorded incidents are from Russia. You are left wondering if anybody there knows how to drive.

Top Gear is still on telly, in repeats of repeats of repeats, and in its new form exactly the same as the old, an ersatz copy. It has never grown up. Three ordinary geezers with uncompromising local accents (‘ordinary’, as in, a few million pounds in the bank), laugh and joke in a pub-like atmosphere doing infantile things with cars and their safety while exchanging puerile banter. “A’hm outa me cumfert zone”, says Paddy McGuinness, as he sails up an Amazon river, looking worried in case the camera crew behind him are not paying attention to his mock anxiety. Yes, that’s where I’ll be driving my Smart car next week, up an Amazon river.

Car makers are the most prolific of advertisers, spending millions a year on commercials. Any old car show activates the flow of loot from all aspects of car manufacturing, maintenance and insurance. Now that car sales are decimated by the pandemic, ‘Dieselgate’, and people switching to electric vehicles, revenue from car advertising is drying up. Television companies are in dire trouble. But car shows plow on.

The Clarkson, May, Hammond Top Gear used a magazine format. It had two good things going for it, three if you count no one had to wear a suit or tie. It provided thumb sucking Sunday night light entertainment for couch petrolheads and their deferential girlfriends, and it had superb film photography.

The outstanding photography was the one element that raised Top Gear above Fifth Gear, the ITV version. But the show really only lasted 25 minutes, not the hour it was broadcast. After the halfway mark it fell to pieces. We got caravan crashing, inane football games smashing up small cars like fairground dodgems, and dropping cars from a great height. The show actually ended once Clarkson had judged a celebrity’s character by the car they drove, and gave them a shot at racing around an old airfield near Clarkson’s home, so he could race home in time for tea.

The original black and white earliest Top Gear was a strict, old school rota, thirty-minute show where middle-aged hacks described what the car looked like, how it differed from the last model, showed you its engine, and drove it a little before handing the keys back to the car company and the next tester, They returned to their life as an automotive freeloader moving between spurious car comparison tests in Tuscany and glitzy car shows in Paris. Clarkson was singularly responsible for shaking up the genre. Clarkson broke the mould as a newbie when he compared a boring Vauxhall saloon with a fridge and told viewers not to buy the model.

What car presenters knew about cars and car styling back in the day, and how they affect society, was handed to them by the car company in a carefully composed, all good press release, memorised, spoken to camera, and edited by the programme producer. To explain a new car was junk or a menace safety-wise, was an end to a comfortable career.

Automobile writers aspired to become television car show hosts one day. One managed it, Chris Harris, now part of the new Top Gear, proving its takes about 300 car hacks at least ten years of hard graft in all weathers for just one to get a gig on a car programme.

What Top Gear did not have, still does not have, and ninety percent car shows do not have, is a Scottish presenter, but we shall lay that little bit of colonial oddity aside for today. I want to point out what is not obvious to men who watch those programmes, the absence of female presenters and mechanics. This is an outrageous situation. Forty percent of cars are driven by women. There are female racing car drivers. What’s the problem, chaps? Can’t get away from the image of the female form draped over a bonnet? Open any car magazine and it’s all scruffy men with receding hairlines and beards writing about men making cars, men racing cars and men owning expensive cars.


The all-female designed Ford Ghia Focus, so good they didn’t make it

For the absence of women in car programmes, I lay blame at the big feet of right-wing Clarkson and his thuggish executive producer Andy Wilman. “We advertised for a third presenter as a woman but none were good enough. So that’s that”, Clarkson said, without his usual ironic pause before speaking the last line. Women  in Top Gear are restricted to the ‘dolly birds’ ushered to the front of the audience in the studio, or some celebrity who drives a plastic Whizz electric car around London.

Fifth Gear employs an expert female racing driver and car enthusiast since it began, the resourceful and knowledgeable Vicky Butler-Henderson. (I prefer Fifth Gear because it is car criticism first, chat second.) Alas, the new Top Gear also doesn’t believe women exit.

Only when you turn to American car shows do you find one of the presenters is a female, probably married to the garage owner, and usually in a supernumerary role. A few years ago Ford handed the design of a complete sports car over to a team of women. What they produced broke a lot of standard design cues. Ford exhibited the concept wherever it could as a marketing tool … and then sold it in auction. At least today’s car makers are employing women in their design teams, but as far as I know, none have seen their exterior bodywork design concepts put into production.

I want to finish with one British car show that I enjoy and dislike at the same time. There’s no women in it either unless selling their car to the host. It’s called Wheeler Dealers. If you are not much interested in automobiles it is boredom on wheels.

There are only two presenters and neither look as if they have a home life never mind a partner. One presenter is the buyer-seller – the dealer: Mike Brewer buys an old car that is screaming out for repairs and upgrades but might turn a profit resold. The other is the mechanic – the wheeler: Edd China, a genius of an engineer, personable, talented, hard working, handsome in a six foot six sort of way – what cars can fit him?

Mike Brewer is a seriously annoying short-arsed cockney who pronounces ‘street’ as shtreet, talks to us as if selling a dodgy second-hand car, looks sweaty with clammy hands most of the time, and leaves Edd to do all the work, stripping out (shtrippin‘?) an engine to find one fault, sanding bad paintwork, and reconditioning an entire interior. Brewer has gone all American these days and has a new partner. Edd has brains, he stayed in Blighty. 

And no, I don’t watch the new Top Gear. I’d rather wash cars for a living.


My three best car shows

There are a few television orientated shows I’ll go out of my way to watch. Jay Leno’s Garage is top of the premier league; always informative. Leno knows the vehicles history, and keeps the show educational and humorous. Leno likes and collects European cars. The show is so good it won a Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding In Its Class” in 2016. Fifth Gear is the top rival motoring show to big budget Top Gear. It’s a lot more sensible, and has a focus on useful and newsworthy information. The team usually review more affordable cars than their counterpart. Overhaulin’. The producers got the punctuation right in the title. I can do without the kiddy’s prank stuff at the start where they take some poor guy’s beat up car without him knowing so they can surprise him with it rebuilt at the end, but the outcome is always superb, a car to lust after. The redesign is master-minded by the gifted Chip Foose. His team have one week to rebuild and refurbish the car to turn it into a custom masterpiece. Other shows are, to my mind, also-rans. Since I actually have a life, if I’ve nothing better to do, I admit I watch them.

Back to basics

Just when you thought the car industry has learned its lesson, the sneak thieves are back lobbying the government to reverse environmental policies. Thousands of unsold cars lying in fields has the car makers in a panic. How to get rid of them? The UK automotive industry is in confidential talks with the UK government over a possible £1.5 billion scrappage scheme or “market stimulus package” (ha ha!) that it insists should encourage the purchase of diesel and petrol cars on an equal footing with cleaner vehicles. The plans under consideration would take £2,500 off the price of a car and put a further 600,000 new vehicles on the road. Before you jump for joy at owning another unwanted diesel car hard to sell, that’s out taxes the government is squandering to have us pollute the atmosphere a few years longer.

Keep on truckin’

A lorry driver has been jailed for six months after making a dangerous U-turn on to the M6 motorway in Staffordshire at rush hour. Unbelievable, eh? CCTV footage shows the man heading the wrong way down a slip road to face oncoming traffic before turning around to join the flow of vehicles. Yes, a full 44 ton big rig. No one was injured but the driver was lucky not to be lynched.

Happy motoring – your five miles!

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Car Culture: Fall of the Giants

A weekly look at what sucks in our car world, plus some good bits


UK car production all but stopped last month. Only 197 vehicles were produced, an unheard of figure since cars moved from horse and carriage to bespoke handmade.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in trouble

Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s largest carmaker, owned by the Indian conglomerate TATA, is reported as asking for a £1 billion bail-out from the UK Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak, reported in the press amusingly as a ‘support package’ to help it survive the coronavirus pandemic. There is no mention of job protection. Redundancies are never ruled out in ‘support packages.

Born in Southampton, educated at Winchester and Oxford, those bastions of the English class system, Sunak is of Indian origin making this an auspicious time for an Indian corporation to ask for a massive gift. A billion pounds sterling puts the company firmly in the nationalised industry bracket. 100 to 1 BoJo’s bungling far-right regime will never contemplate such a thing.

Most carmakers are burning through mountains of savings every day, primarily because of the cost of maintaining and running their operations shut down costs, despite furloughing a lot of people. Still, when it comes to grabbing the nation’s taxes, shtum is the watchword.

“We are in regular discussion with government on a whole range of matters and the content of our private discussions remains confidential”. JLR Spokesperson

Falling demand from all car makers – in the UK by at least 90% – because of the lock-down, has grounded the entire automotive sector. Obviously, JLR thinks itself an entitled company. Last month JLR said retail sales for the fourth quarter, ending 31 March, fell by more than 30%, to 110,000 vehicles. In 2018 it sold about 600,000 vehicles. |This is a car company in crisis.

SKY broadcasting reported that JLR ended the last financial year with cash and investments of £3.6 billion and had access to up to £1.9 billion in credit. If used, credit means debt. Last summer the company secured £500 million in government-guaranteed loans in a deal with UK Export Finance to help accelerate electrification after it reported a £3.6 billion annual loss.

I get the feeling their former talented Scottish head of design, Ian Callum, saw the writing on the wall and got out of the company in the nick of time.

Nissan in trouble

Nissan is closing its Barcelona factory with the loss of over 3,000 jobs, holding onto its Sunderland plant meantime. This disaster causes great rejoicing from the right-wing jester Andrew Pierce not just because he is happy to see it affect Johnny Foreigner, but because he thinks the Sunderland plant is safe. It is not. Sunderland is still in jeopardy.

In a tweet, omitting to point out Nissan, like JLR is in deep doodoo financially, he said:

“Nissan to shut its plant in Barcelona with the loss of 3,000 jobs but its sticking with plant in Sunderland. the reverse of what the Remoaners said if we dared to vote for Brexit.” Andrew ‘ToryBoy’ Pierce

No one has gloated in the press over the potential of Nissan-Sunderland axed because of pulling out of the EU, warned it could be a causality if Brexit went ahead, yes, hoping it would close, no. Even if it gets a long-term stay of execution how does that prove Brexit is a raging success?

Reading auto pundits drivel gets very boring after a while. Perhaps that’s their plan, that we don’t notice what the right-wing are doing while we are shocked at the behaviour of underboss Cummings or the stupidity of Sunderland car workers voting for Brexit.


The French carmaker Renault plans to cut 14,600 jobs as it tries to save €2 billion in a savage restructuring programme prompted by the pandemic. The company will cut 4,600 jobs in its French operations, which will undergo a major reorganisation, and another 10,000 around the world.

If you don’t own a Renault you won’t be worried. If you do own a Renault car you might be justified in wondering what that will do to your local service dealer.

Carmakers keep a tight grip on franchised showrooms, how they present the vehicles, how they do deals with buyers, and the provision and cost of spares. Only a few years ago, Edinburgh’s Honda dealer for over forty years found itself dumped in favour of a new out-of-town swanky showroom and an outfit to run it. Car makers are among the most ruthless cost cutters on the planet. They always begin with loyal staff.

Renault’s closures could include a foundry in Brittany and either the Douai or Maubeuge plants. Major changes are under consideration at factories in Flins and Dieppe. The carmaker will also abandon producing combustion engine cars in China, with Dongfeng buying out its joint-venture partner.

Unless Nissan, still linked to Renault, decided to make a Renault model at Sunderland, no one should place a bet on its safety for another decade. Meanwhile, Nissan has asked the Japanese government for substantial aid and appears to be getting it. I’d like to think the investment showed up in better built cars.


McLaren is one of England premier supercar companies,that decided to go BIG and aim for the wealthiest set in society, Monte Carlo included. It also decided to return to Formula 1 racing, a crippling cost for even the most cash rich company. This week Williams Formula 1 Team posted a loss of £13 million for 2019 and is now up for sale.

Appeal plummeting in pandemic times, McLaren also failed in its request for a £150 million emergency loan from the government, a serious blow. JLR got their docket in first. McLaren has burned through £257 million in the year up to 20 April, with bleeding expected as lock-down continues worldwide. In keeping with almost one million other British businesses the group has furloughed staff and implemented temporary pay cuts for the few working. Production at Woking was suspended in March.

With the cajones of ace cricketer Ian Botham on crack, McLaren boasted it was taking on Ferrari as the world’s premier sports car maker – Lamborghini tried that once, now owned by VW. McLaren. It duly borrowed megabucks to build a space age factory on England’s green and pleasant land. All went well at first, the cars were admired, drove divinely, their looks less admired, until owners discovered resale values dropped 40% in a few months, on a good day.

“We’ve found a stealthily specced example going for £82,950 – almost a 50% fall from its price when new.” Autocar magazine

Delusions of grandeur ran ahead of reality. Limited-edition McLaren’s can cost as much as a small passenger plane: the windscreen-less Elva will cost a reported £1.4 million before options such as a 24-carat gold engine heat shield are included. Yes, we live in crazy times.

Back down to earth: there are no McLaren showrooms. You cannot walk into a McLaren showroom near you to check out their cars or extras. Wealthy buyers want to see their purchase before handing over £163,000 for a McLaren’s GT, a road car, yet are asked to pay up, wait months, and then take delivery.

In any event, ask yourself, if you had the money, would you buy a McLaren or a Ferrari?

Aston Martin

When the latest James Bond film was dry docked until later in the year the biggest groan could be heard emitted from carmaker Aston Martin. They have both the classic DB5 and the latest zoomy version in the new 007 movie, great advertising too late to boost orders.

Aston Martin sacked its chief executive, Andy Palmer, this week and without warning – he read of his sacking in the press – following a 98% collapse in the luxury car company’s share price since it floated on the stock market less than two years ago. The company has replaced Palmer, who has served as Aston Martin’s CEO since 2014, with an executive from Mercedes. Wonder why the executive left Mercedes?

Still, though the company has its back to the wall you can pretend you’re Sean Connery or whichever actor you like best in the role, you can buy a replica of 007’s car with all the gadgets, ejector seat too, a limited edition of 25, so long as you can cough up £3,3 million.

And finally, VW, some good news

This week Volkswagen lost a case in Germany’s highest court in the land against a single owner of a second-hand diesel powered minivan who claimed he had been deceived as to its emissions capability. The court said he should be awarded 25,600 Euros for the used-car purchase he made for 31,500 Euros in 2014. Sounds a fair deal to me. He had four years use.

VW is legally bound now to offer compensation, a replacement vehicle of the same value or the cash… and all the other diesel minivan owners.

The shock verdict applies to vehicles with rigged diesel engines in Germany, meaning it sets the precedent worldwide, though VW, as has been its habit in such cases, will do all it can to block claims internationally. This is a just but truly calamitous blow to the automaker almost five years after its emissions scandal erupted.

The ruling by Germany’s highest court for civil disputes will allow owners to return vehicles for a partial refund of the purchase price serves. It is a template for about 60,000 lawsuits that are still pending with lower German courts.

After years of dismissed protests about cars taking over the world and governments tarmacking  the green earth and the arid desert, we see Mother Nature doing it better by sending the Grim Reaper’s scout to bring car makers to their senses if not to heel.

I chose those companies as examples of the collapse of old ways because they are symptomatic of the two great ills of the motor trade: walking a tightrope by serving only the rich, a diminishing return unless you can keep values increasing, and making far too many vehicles you pile up in fields and sell to customers when they are already two years old. In those circumstances, rich or poor, the buyer is always the loser.


Best wee second-hand buy

Regular readers will know I had to drop a search for a small SUV for friends while no one is allowed to move beyond their local supermarket, and only if an essential journey, such as starving to death. I got asked a similar question for a small city car and remember I liked the VW Lupo with the its pleasant blue instrument illumination. I’d recommend the biggest engine variety – you need that burst of speed to get you out of trouble when overtaking. Prices don’t reach higher than £5,000 for a four-seat GTi version. A light car, it can cover 0-60mph in 7.7sec, and it has more character than its modern equivalent, the Up GTi. Get an MOT in with the price or walk away.

Big Rig Trucks

The truck industry is getting hit as hard as motor companies. I read the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association said coronavirus had ‘decimated’ large parts of his ‘sector’. After Beeching wiped out 70% of British rail – one of the easiest ‘rationalisations’ ever for a fat fee – the road haulage business grew and grew. So did the size of the trucks. Almost every year they add more tonnage, more wheels to carry it, and damage more bridges. I for one won’t miss fewer trucks on our road, but I have a soft spot for the red and green of Eddie Stobart trucks – they are kept spotless and driven by courteous truckers.

Unequal equality

West Granton Access, a long semi-rural pavement in Edinburgh, has been divided into two parts with a thick white line, two-thirds for cyclists, one thirds for pedestrians. Pedestrians include parents with children, mothers with prams, joggers, dog walkers and individuals glued to their iPhone. The width allotted to them is so narrow they have to step into the path of cyclists to keep a safe distance. Just to pass someone coming in the opposite direction forces them out of the pedestrian lane. To gain safety they have to lose safety. Ludicrous planning, Edinburgh council. Well done.

Happy motoring!




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