A Creepy Scottish Government

Nursery accuses Humza Yousaf and wife of 'vendetta' as couple sue for  £30,000 | HeraldScotland
Humza Yousef, minister without discernable qualifications

The SNP’s love of creating as many squirrels to chase as possible rather than educate the populace to the benefists of self-governance, ready to enact independence at 55% support, sees a once victorious party turn on its own supporters and withdraw into the Dark Side of politics. Journalist Kevin McKenna thinks it is time to place a restraining order on their preponderance for concocting seriously flawed policies and their ‘creepy’ sexual curiousities. But they are not listening. Any dissent, even the mildest, is deemed illigitimate, to be burned at the stake. The SNP consider the electorate in terms of unionist derision – a bunch of whinging Jocks.

RESTRAINING THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT

by Kevin McKenna

The record of anti-social behaviour by the SNP-Green coalition targeting the Scottish people is starting to give cause for alarm. Of equal concern is their tendency to gas-light the people when they react negatively to their social directives .

Do you have concerns about the economic threat to the north-east of Scotland by the SNP’s newly-discovered hostility to oil? Then, according to Patrick Harvie, you are guilty of belonging to the hard-right. Might you have some mild misgivings about what gender self-identification could mean for women’s rights? Then you’re a hate-filled transphobe. If you think Glasgow’s refuse-collectors are right to use Cop26 as leverage in their struggle for decency and respect, then think again. It could be that you’re actually a Unionist lap-dog who’s doing down Scotland.

In the sensitive area of family life and human relationships the SNP are beginning to display an unhealthy and creepy obsession. While eager to solicit the votes of working-class communities at elections, they spend the rest of the year treating them with suspicion and outright scorn. They’re Buckfast-swilling brutes who lack basic parenting skills and have a tendency to assault their children.

So, let’s make alcohol more expensive, criminalise smacking and deploy an army of Named Persons to be on the look-out for signs of neglect. This idea was first explored by Baroness and Baron Bomburst when they created the position of state Child-Catcher in that dark, psychological thriller, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Humza Yousaf, in his former role as justice secretary, recently considered going the extra mile in enforcing state control of how Scots behaved in the privacy of their own homes. He wanted to encourage family snoopers to report outbreaks of hate speech at the dinner table.

How was that going to work? Perhaps setting up a free helpline for traumatised siblings to report errant renditions of rebel songs or The Sash. Perhaps all new affordable housing developments would come complete with surveillance technology to monitor slovenly talk. As all the top social workers say, early intervention is key.

We should have known that the Scottish Government would seek other ways of criminalising the hate-filled working classes. They were obviously still smarting from the wholesale failure of their attempts to collar the punters while attending football matches. Them and their despicable songs and displays of delinquent bunting.

In all of this of course, a familiar cast of middle-class media types and Walt Disney academics quickly got with the picture to portray themselves as edgy and progressive and signal their chi-chi virtue. They swarmed all over social media last week to express contempt for those reactionary Scots who felt that asking their children to provide intimate details of their sexual preferences was akin to grooming.

“Daddy; a strange man asked me if I liked oral sex.”

“Not to worry sweetheart; it’s all part of a wider policy framework to tailor future health strategies to the user’s needs. Don’t be so intolerant.”

In those feral housing schemes that the SNP loathe so much such a question would see the inquisitor leaving in boxes. But what do they know? They’re all knuckle-draggers whose ideas about raising families are trapped in the 19th century … except at election time when they undergo a remarkable metamorphosis and become victims requiring the help of the SNP to lift them out of poverty. Aye, very good! Fortunately, the Scottish judiciary and the UN have been on hand to slap down the Scottish Government whenever they’ve attempted to impose a 24/7 social curfew on the rest of us. Yet, as the SNP seem set fair to rule for another decade or so they show no signs of halting their remorseless drive to control everyone’s behaviour.

One of the few successes of the Nicola Sturgeon era has been the provision of baby boxes for all expectant breast-feeders in Scotland. On the basis of the party’s implacable desire to kettle the future behaviours of our young people we should soon expect to see the provision of “adolescent boxes”.

These might contain those everyday items familiar to all of Scotland’s young teenagers. Along with the Kleenex and massage oil there could be a blow-up sex mannequin (non-binary of course); a free subscription to YouPorn and a vibrator. These could obviously be customised for Catholics with a slower rpm to prevent full satisfaction, if you ken what ah mean. There could even be fluffy hand-cuffs to introduce a playful element to proceedings.

Perhaps it’s now time that we considered imposing a restraining order on Nicola Sturgeon and her voyeuristic cabinet ministers. I’m sure the UN could facilitate this, while the EU could make it a condition of future membership; this being the Holy Grail of the SNP.

Thus, all cabinet secretaries, their advisors and National Executive Council members would be required to sign up to a people’s declaration before assuming high office. The list of requirements might include:

A signed guarantee to refrain from soliciting or attempting to solicit intimate information from minors about their private lives, as outlined in the UN charter for children’s rights.

An undertaking not to use the apparatus of the state to encroach on the family’s right to privacy, as laid out in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A guarantee that you will not seek to criminalise, or attempt to criminalise, the citizens of your country for making free expressions of religious or cultural beliefs, as protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A promise to ditch the habit of using inspirational quotes on Facebook as the basis for your social justice programmes.

All ministers and their advisors would be required to wear an electronic ankle tag that would flag up any breaches of the ASBO conditions during cabinet discussions and meetings of the NEC.

During parliamentary recess the Scottish Government would be required to undertake reality familiarisation courses at special summer camps to wean themselves off their psychotic addiction to interference. A phased and monitored recovery programme would be provided as part of the process.

We all want the Scottish Government to be the best possible version of itself and we’d be supporting them through this challenging but ultimately rewarding journey.

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Stonewall Exposed

Nancy Kelly, CEO of Stonewall

This article is written by the writer Simon Edge

A couple of weeks ago Nancy Kelley, the media-shy CEO of the embattled trans lobby group Stonewall, gave a rare interview to Emma Barnett of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. In it, she struggled to give coherent answers to questions on matters that have preoccupied public discourse for months, such as the hounding of Professor Kathleen Stock from her job at the University of Sussex, or her own suggestion that belief in the immutability of sex is as bad as anti-semitism.

Her stumbling, evasive responses — at one point claiming to have “no idea” whether JK Rowling was transphobic, as Stonewall’s supporters angrily insist, because she had “never met her” – reinforced the impression that hiding behind the mantra “No Debate” has done trans activists few favours; they are notably ill-equipped for debate once it eventually happens. As one widely shared tweet put it, Kelley’s interview was “a real Wizard of Oz moment” when the voice behind the mighty Stonewall was “revealed to be an easily confused woman who barely knew what day of the week it is”.

In the MGM movie classic, the illusionist behind the curtain is Professor Marvel, a bad wizard but an accomplished con-artist who is smart enough to have pulled off a major deception, so the parallel doesn’t entirely hold. But it does raise an important question for those of us battling to undo the havoc caused by gender ideology to schools, women’s refuges, prisons, sport, publishing, higher education and many other environments: is Stonewall really in charge, or is the charity the puppet of other, less visible strategists? If the latter, reining in Stonewall may not be the win we’re hoping for.

Kelley occupies a seat warmed for her by brighter predecessors, such as Angela Mason, architect of the first victories on lesbian and gay law reform, and my old journalist colleague Ben Summerskill, a strategic genius who completed the process.

Summerskill’s deputy, Ruth Hunt, was also formidably talented. When she took over in 2014, she and her board had to decide which way to go: wind the charity down because its work was done, or find new battles?

They chose the latter. That’s what “adding the T” to the initials LGB was all about. Since then, they’ve added an ill-defined Q and an explicitly open-ended “+”, while one member of their Diversity Champions scheme has even added a U, short for “undefined”. It’s all about creating new minorities, no matter how nebulous, to present as oppressed and needing support.

Quitting in 2019, Hunt is now in the House of Lords, as the first ex-Stonewall head to receive a peerage (Mason and Summerskill made do with the CBE and OBE,  respectively). It soon became apparent that her successor did not have the same smarts. For example, Kelly took to Twitter to complain about the huge of amount of time Stonewall spends responding to Freedom of Information requests. This could surely only refer to requests made to Stonewall’s client organisations, which it had no business answering; admitting as much in public was remarkably inept. For journalist Jo Bartosch, who has made Stonewall and its ideology her specialist field, the interview with Barnett confirmed a long-held suspicion. “Nancy Kelley’s appearance on Woman’s Hour made it abundantly clear that anyone with the ability to lead Stonewall wouldn’t touch it,” she tweeted.

So who, if not Kelley, is the brains behind the charity’s strategy? Are there shadowy paymasters and string-pullers in the wings? I offered an answer of sorts in my novel The End of the World is Flat, which uses flat-earthery as an allegory to satirise gender ideology. In my version, a nut-job Californian billionaire provides unlimited cash to a once-respected geographical charity called the Orange Peel Foundation, with a brief to impose flat-earth ideas on the world, while a sinister lobbyist in a Bond villain lair in South London directs strategy.

But that was strictly fiction, where you need a small number of players in easily defined roles, and you also need a way of resolving the story neatly. Real life is not so simple.

We know there are some billionaire donors funding the extreme trans rights agenda, including Republican ex-army officer Jennifer Pritzker, who is trans; medical technology heir Jon Stryker, who is gay; and the investor and philanthropist George Soros. (For mentioning these three in her book Trans, Helen Joyce was accused of peddling an anti-semitic conspiracy theory, even though she didn’t say they conspired and made no reference to race or religion. As it happens, the idea that Stryker is Jewish seems to be fantasy on the part of Joyce’s detractors.)

As for strategy, the answer may lie in the so-called Dentons document, prepared for a group of trans lobbyists by the world’s oldest law firm, with the backing of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It set out a cuckoo-in-the-nest strategy that is all too familiar to those of us who remember Stonewall when it was simply campaigning for lesbian and gay equality: find a more popular cause to piggy-back onto, and be discreet about it. “[A] technique which has been used to great effect is the limitation of press coverage and exposure,” the document advised. In other words, No Debate.

So what happens when that strategy unravels? When the media starts to disobey the “No Debate” edict, opponents of gender ideology refuse to be cancelled, and more and more people experience a Wizard of Oz moment?

My hunch is that the strategists never had a Plan B. Plan A was all about bullying, intimidation and legislation by stealth, because they knew they had no hope of foisting this stuff on the world by honest persuasion.

But the real unknown is what lasting impact Stonewall has had on hearts and minds. A generation of young people now believes that sex is a spectrum, that children have the right to choose a male or a female puberty, and that any man who says he’s a woman should be allowed in women’s spaces. These young people are already becoming teachers, policy-makers, journalists and politicians, insisting that anyone who disagrees is a bigot who must be cast out of society. Taking Stonewall out of the equation won’t stop them imposing these ideas on another generation.

That’s the pessimistic view, but there’s also a more optimistic one. It’s often noted that identifying as LGBTQ+ has become a fashion for teenagers. Fashions are, by definition, transitory. What’s more, ideas change very quickly under stress. Sooner or later, a group of detransitioners will bring a class action against the doctors and/or pharmaceutical companies who have facilitated a mass medical experiment on children. If it succeeds, it will be hard to find anyone who admits to ever having cheered the experiment on.

That’s why it really is worth continuing to pull away the curtain to reveal the truth behind the Wizard.

NOTES

Simon John Edge is a British novelist and journalist. Educated at the King’s School, Chester, he went on to receive a master’s degree in Philosophy from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and has a master’s degree in Creative Writing from City University, where he also taught as a visiting lecturer.  The article first appeared in ‘The Critic’.

Grouse Beater’s view on this highly notorious subject is here: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-qE2

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The Happiest Nation

Sanna Marin at her official residence at Kesaranta in Helsinki.
Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, at her official residence at Kesaranta in Helsinki. 

Finland is constantly cited as the happiest nation on the planet, and certainly my visit to that lake-strewn forest of a country – one of my daughters had a Finnish boyfriend for years – can attest to a certain air of contentment, an attitude of nothing phases, everything is solveable. Scots, inculcated for centuries by their Anglophile politicians to feel inadequate, are divided not by Yes or No, but by how capable they are to govern their own country.

Like all societies Finland has problems, only in Finland’s case the government of the day, headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, has a policy of tackling societies ills such as poverty and homelessness, rather than removing funding from a crisis to teach people to fix themselves without government support. The self-serving greedy elitism of Boris Johnson’s Tories, ‘levelling up’, is treated with derision in Finland.

Finland has its spread of political ideologies, same as any European nation, from far left to far-right, and Marin heads a coalition group. Finnish people come together to support their nation. They have no wish to see it governed by Russia, Norway or Sweden, their neighbour nations. (Russian architecture can be seen everywhere from the days of the Russian Empire that ruled Finland as a Grand Duchy, from 1809 until 1917.)

Coincidentally, all the political parties are led by women, and many ministers of state are female. We tried gaving female party leaders in Scotland but the experiment failed, the quality of intellect and state craft rock bottom, courage of conviction wafer thin.

Taking office at age 34, head of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), she is the youngest person to hold the position in Finnish history. Her parents split up when she was very young; the family faced financial problems and, according to records, Marin’s father, Lauri Marin, struggled with alcoholism. After her biological parents separated, Marin was brought up by her mother and her mother’s female partner. Consequently, Marin is sympathetic to ‘rainbow families’, as she describes same sex marriages. That aside, she does not keep her sexual orientation hidden. In a thank you to the Finnish people who had congratulated her on her marriage, she said, “I am happy and grateful to be able to share my life with the man I love. We have seen and experienced a lot together, shared joys and sorrows, and we have supported each other in the depths and in the storm. We lived together in our youth, grown up and aged to our beloved daughter.”

She worked in a bakery and as a cashier while studying, graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Administrative Science from the University of Tampere. Her political initiation began aged 20 when she joined SDP Youth. She is married to Markus Räikkönen, an entrepreneur. They have one child, Emma. Marin is a confirmed vegetarian. She admits that she never expected to get into politics: “When I was in high school, I felt that people who do politics are quite different and come from different horizons than mine. At that time, I didn’t think it was possible to get involved myself.” Earlier this year, Marin, an MP since 2015, announced her intention to give fathers the same amount of paid parental leave as mothers, to promote equality and increase birth rates.

Prime Minister Marin is not known to favour interviews, preferring instead to concentrate on the tasks before her rather than court popularity in a stream of photo opportunities and press briefings. But by dedicating herself to political solutions that the electorate support, she has garnered a lot of respect and … popularity, an asset when your party does not hold the majority of seats in the parliament. This interview by Alexandra Topping is a fair portrait of a woman whose humanity guides her politics.

DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS

Equality, a well-funded education system and a strong welfare state are the secret to the success of the world’s happiest nation, according to Finland’s prime minister.

In a rare interview with foreign media, Sanna Marin – who briefly became the youngest world leader when she became prime minister of the Nordic nation in 2019 at the age of 34 – said Finland was committed to preserving its generous welfare state in an “environmentally sustainable way”, and saw the development and export of green technology as the key to its future prosperity.

Marin said the country “wanted to do better when it comes to equality”, after being named the happiest country in the world in April by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which asks people to rate their contentment on a 10-point scale.

A low death rate from Covid

Marin rode a wave of popularity during the pandemic for her assured management of the crisis; in the nation of 5.5 million people, only about 1,300 have died from the virus. But cracks within her five-party coalition – all headed by female leaders – are beginning to show.

A poll last week by Finland’s national public broadcasting company YLE showed the opposition liberal-conservative National Coalition party as the most popular party followed by the right-wing populist Finns party, with Marin’s Social Democrats in third place.

In recent weeks, she has faced down a speculative vote of no-confidence from opposition parties seeking to close the 800-mile border to asylum seekers, after Belarus launched what the EU condemned as a “hybrid attack” by sending asylum seekers to the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. But Marin said there was no problem at the Finnish border.

“We have to say this is not acceptable. We’re condemning the actions of Belarus. But at the same time we have to make sure that people’s human rights are respected in this situation,” she said.

Asked if she thought future governments would continue to push for equality, despite the disparity between her liberal government and more right-wing opposition parties, she said: “I think so. Because it’s work that’s ongoing. We have always worked for equality in Finland, and I think it’s also important in the future, and not only the equality of men and women, or the genders, but also the equality of minority groups in society.

“We have to make sure that structures don’t act as barriers to people. So there are many things to do.”

A recent legislative flurry saw education made compulsory until the age of 18. A new parental leave system that is expected to come into effect next August will increase the time allowed to be used by fathers from 54 days to a minimum of 97 days.

“The idea would be that mothers and fathers would spend the same amount of time at home with their small children, so that both can have the same opportunities in their career, but also so that we can [narrow] the gender pay gap,” said Marin.

Ending homelessness

Marin also reiterated her commitment to ending homelessness in Finland, where the Housing First approach has helped reduce street homelessness, and aims to eliminate it by 2027.

It’s a model that has attracted attention from UK politicians. But funding for three pilots in this country based on Housing First launched in 2018 is set to run out next year, and MPs have warned that they now face a “cliff-edge of support”.

Marin said long-term investment in Housing First was important progress, but that there was still work to do. “There are still people without homes, and we still have problems, especially in the bigger cities. But we have also made progress,” she said. “The Housing First model is a very important one, but of course we also need solutions from the healthcare system, from the social security system, and employment. We have to make sure that we’re treating people as whole individuals.”

Finland has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2035, 15 years ahead of the EU target. Marin said that while climate change was the biggest challenge facing the country, it could also be “a big opportunity” for Finnish companies.

“We want to make the transformation in a way that actually benefits ordinary people,” she said. “Because if we don’t get people on board, then there’s nothing we can do.”

A more equal society

A commitment to a fairer and more equal society would continue the work of “many generations” of politicians, added Marin, who is herself from a low-income background. On equality, there are no private schools in Finland. Parents are, however, free to fund their local school.

“The biggest issue, of course, is that they have built a welfare society in Finland: that people like me, coming from quite a modest background, have had the opportunities in life to go to study, to go to university, to have a chance in life to make their own future,” she said.

“So I think all the decisions, the hard work that people before me have done to build our society is important – the real work to be done now is to make sure that we continue to promote equal opportunities.”

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Scotland’s Ghost Banks

Special report: Is Scotland's financial services sector ready for Covid  recession? - Business Insider
The Bank of Scotland on the Mound, Edinburgh

We ought still to be spitting, furious at how easily the guardians of our world renowned banks let their institutions collapse into moral decline and bankruptcy, and how swiftly lumbering Gordon Brown and his hireling Lord darling, sold them to their corrupt English equivalents.

There was no thought to keeping the profitable departments and junking failed ones. The taxpayer was asked to fork up our taxes and pensions to keep the bank executives in the privileged manner to which they were accustomed. “You want the best talent, you will have to pay for it!” argued one smug, self-serving CEO amid rapturous cheers from his comrades in crime.

Not much has changed since 2008, other than the banks we, the public are supposed to own, are quietly sacking staff, removing wall tellers critical outlets for villages and the poor, and shutting branches, seemingly with the purpose of pushing us, their customers, to use online services, not paper or coin currency, and pay by bank card for almost everything. For the most part, our banks still have freedom to invest your savings in phantom schemes and bankrupt themselves, secure in the knowledge they are ‘too big to fail’, rescued again by the taxpaper.

Ian McConnell, Business editor of the Newsquest Group, has published an article more nostalgic than lamenting or lambasting the demise of our bank’s greatness. And though far too respectful in attitude to what was the biggest theft from the poor to the rich in modern history, no one jailed, I republish it for it has some interest in the implicit warning that the shift of power and wealth is still south. An independent Scotland may need to guard our new banks with army tanks.

Scots Money Goes South

by Ian McConnell

Walking past The Mound in Edinburgh on a recent evening felt for a moment like being on one of the Scottish capital’s famous ghost tours – but in this case a journey which evoked memories of big corporate headquarters now gone.

Memories of the hubbub of events attended by the top brass of what was until 2001 an independent Bank of Scotland came to mind, as did interviews and conversations with those who led the venerable institution in decades past. The Mound remained the seat of power, in some important ways, after the bank’s 2001 merger with Halifax. However, in other ways, the southward drift of decision-making power began from there.

Across in Edinburgh’s New Town, there were, of course, also many meetings with board members of Royal Bank of Scotland in St Andrew Square. Later, these meetings were sometimes held at the Gogarburn campus built by Royal Bank at a time when it was a huge player on the global banking stage, ahead of the financial crisis.

So it was impossible, when walking past The Mound and recalling how the very top brass of Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank had been so firmly ensconced in Edinburgh in those days, not to reflect on how different things are now. And on the events which have led us to where we are.

Back in the 1990s, there was, of course, always the worry from a Scottish perspective that one or other or both of the big two banks in Edinburgh would be acquired, most likely by a major London player.

When Standard Life put a big minority stake in Bank of Scotland up for sale in the mid-1990s, there was a strong and broad will in the political sphere for the Scottish institution to remain independent. The importance of Bank of Scotland’s head office to Edinburgh and the broader economy north of the Border was widely recognised. And, in the end, the Standard Life stake was not sold to a single buyer but placed widely among investors, and the takeover threat was averted.

The thing which struck home, thinking back to this period while looking at the building on The Mound recently, was the huge amount of political and public discourse a quarter-century ago about the importance of the Bank of Scotland headquarters to the nation.

This did not appear particularly rooted in any views, one way or the other, on Scotland’s constitutional future. Rather, it revolved around the importance of having the head office in Edinburgh to the economic prosperity of the city and Scotland. It was about how crucial it was that top-level decisions were made here, and the knock-on benefits of that for the likes of professional services firms. And it was, of course, also about Scotland’s status as an important financial centre on the international stage.

What has been demoralising in the new millennium has been a seeming dissipation of such passion about the importance of major companies being based in Scotland. Of course, we should celebrate impressive Scottish inward investment successes such as US financial giant JP Morgan Chase’s European software centre in Glasgow. And investment management giant Baillie Gifford’s huge success, as it has pursued its own path on the global stage from its Edinburgh head office insulated from the whims of consolidation in this arena by its partnership structure, has undoubtedly boosted the reputation of Scotland’s financial sector.

The effective loss of the headquarters of the two big Scottish banks this millennium is a major blow to Edinburgh and the nation. Of course, in the end, this did not occur as anyone would have thought back in the mid-1990s. In 1999, Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland fought it out in a hostile bid battle for London-based NatWest. Royal Bank won this contest in early 2000, and made a great success of integrating NatWest. All looked very good for a while, and it seemed that, against all the odds given its previous relative size, Royal Bank had done what many had thought it would not be able to do and ensured its continuation as a venerable institution rooted firmly in Edinburgh. Then came Royal Bank’s blockbuster bid, in a consortium with Santander and Fortis, for Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007.

The NatWest success had appeared to cast doubt on conventional wisdom that a hostile bank takeover bid could not succeed because of the need for a detailed examination of the bid target’s books. The ABN Amro deal, from Royal Bank’s perspective, in contrast indicated that the conventional wisdom might well be right. By the time Royal Bank completed the ABN Amro deal, we were seeing what turned out to be harbingers of a global financial crisis which took a lurch for the worse in autumn 2008.

The rest is history. Royal Bank had to be bailed out to the tune of tens of billions of pounds by the taxpayer, with the UK Government taking a majority stake. The UK Government still owns the majority of Royal Bank, 13 years later. What it was difficult to see at the time of the bail-out, a rescue effected impressively by former prime minister Gordon Brown and erstwhile chancellor Lord Alistair Darling, was what would happen in terms of Royal Bank’s effective headquarters.

The shift of top-level decision-making from Edinburgh to London has become much more apparent in recent years. And it is only in the last couple of years that what most observers eventually realised had become an inevitability has been confirmed. The contract of Alison Rose, who succeeded Ross McEwan as chief executive of Royal Bank, makes it plain that she is based in London.

And it has been galling, from a Scottish perspective, to see the Royal Bank of Scotland name replaced at holding-company level by NatWest, a change which took effect in July last year. The NatWest name dates back to 1968. Royal Bank of Scotland, which has been retained as a brand name north of the Border, was founded in 1727. This change of name was implemented by Ms Rose, who worked for NatWest when it was acquired by Royal Bank back in 2000. She joined the English bank as a graduate trainee in 1992.

While NatWest’s head office remains technically in Edinburgh, it is apparently no longer a bank run from Scotland. This was already clear in terms of where Ms Rose has been based in the chief executive post. And it has most certainly been underlined by the elimination of the venerable Royal Bank of Scotland name at holding-company level.

The institution formed by the merger of Bank of Scotland and Halifax, HBOS, also had to be bailed out after the global financial crisis took a lurch for the worse in autumn 2008, with what was then Lloyds TSB mounting a rescue takeover of the institution. The resultant Lloyds Banking Group is based firmly in London.

So, in the end, it was not the conventional consolidation feared in the 1990s which led to the effective loss of the two big Scottish bank headquarters. Bank of Scotland did a merger deal which made it much bigger but then HBOS came unstuck amid the crisis. The need for a rescue takeover by Lloyds made the shift of all top-level decision-making to London inevitable. There had been a drift in this direction anyway, even before the financial crisis.

The loss of the Royal Bank of Scotland name on the global stage and the shift of decision-making from Edinburgh to London, looking back on it, have their roots in the global financial crisis. However, there is no particular reason the head office had to shift. That has been a choice of those who have held the decision-making power at Royal Bank (now NatWest), and it certainly appears the UK Government as the major shareholder is happy enough with what has transpired on this front.

NOTE: Ian McConnell is the Group Business editor of the Newsquest Media Group Ltd.

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Scotland’s Jury System

Scottish Sentencing Council comes into force - BBC News
A courtroom in Edinburgh’s High Court

At the behest of Nicola Sturgeon, High Court judge Lady Leona Dorrian is chairing a committee to look in detail at the efficacy or otherwise of retaining juries in rape cases, her brief to weigh the pros and cons of change, and to investigate alternative models of jurisprudence. (I am tempted to title the enquiry the Dorrian Adventure, though spelling is different.)

What troubles observers is both Nicola Sturgeon and Lady Dorrian are motivated, the latter by accepting the commission, by the outcome of the Salmond trial; they share the belief that the women complainers in the trial were honest but cheated by the jury system.

Readers will recall Lady Dorrian presided over the Alex Salmond case where there was a jury that exonerated him, and then the linked case of human rights activist Craig Murray, where there was no jury and he was jailed for eight months. Indeed, Lady Dorrian refused his request to be given a jury trial.

One has to begin thinking about all this knowing that woman are as capable of being bribed and lying as men, and the most predatory and vindictive can destroy a man’s career and reputation. There has to be fairness and protection for both sides, the accused receive anonymity like the woman under Scots Law, a veil lost if proven guilty and sentenced.

In this regard, one is tempted to add women proven to be liars should also lose their anonymity. But that is only my view. I believe absolutely in being judged by one’s peers. I acknowledge that system can come unstuck, misled so easily in cases where a jury are hoodwinked by false statements and allegations and faux sincerity, but the job of illuminating unreliable testimony belongs to defending and prosecution lawyers to discover by fair and penetrating questioning of the accused and of witnesses.

The person best able to discuss this side of the issue is the distinguished Scottish QC Roddy Dunlop, who confirms “the Faculty of Advocates shares the concerns at proposals to remove jury trials, either for particular types of case or to get through the backlog. The right to trial by jury is fundamental and should not lightly be removed”.

I should add, I was a jurist on a Not Proven rape case some months ago. In my experience, juries are a critical and staple foundation of a democratic system that advocates the principle an accused person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. I would be profoundly unhappy to see a panel of judges on a case, sexual and gender prejudices and preferences unknown.

Judge-only trials raise a lot of questions. What happens if the accused is known to the judges? Are they to be excused, a non-specialist appointed? What is to be the minimum number? Should they be an equal number of male and female judges? Knowing the SNP’s proclivity for interfering in the sex lives of citizens, should there be all sorts of ‘genders’ represented on the panel? If the rape is homosexual, should the judges be homosexual, heterosexual or a mixure of all preferences? What about judges who are bi-sexual or asexual?

Will judges have to register their sexual orientation, their in-bed peccadilloes, including an enjoyment for sado-masochism? One can spot a mile off unacceptable complications to a system of corralling rape trials to judges only. The riposte to this line is, of course, what I argue can be applied to a jury – well yes, but since when was a judge one of my peers, the woman from the bakery, the joiner from the local construction company? And will judges’ names be chosen out of a fish bowl as in the case of a group of forty individuals for a jury?

IT SEEMS INCONCEIVABLE
by Iain Lawson

This at the same time as there is a group of rogue woman throwing about smear and innuendo like confetti against political opponents. These woman enjoy a special status of anonymity that protects their identity while no such protection exists for their intended victims.

We have just witnessed Craig Murray’s release after he was convicted in a Scottish Court by a judge. A trial where he was not permitted to know exactly what he had done, where he was not permitted to lodge his defence or appeal against the judgement. He spent months in jail on the whim of a judge, his crime only known in the mind of the judge. The first person in the World to be convicted of ”jigsaw identification”.

Operating on new rules, created by who other than the judge herself, who determined that journalists like Craig and bloggers like myself should be judged on stricter unwritten rules than journalists working for the giant newspaper corporations. Who decided that was fair? Where does that legislation exist? Why should freedom of speech be graded in this way? In my view he would NEVER have been convicted by any jury in Scotland. I am sure the EHRC will correct the wrong and again the Scottish “Justice” system will be the subject of condemnation and ridicule.

Will it surprise you to learn that Lady Dorian, the judge concerned is a leading advocate of jury free trials for sexual offences? Looking at her handling of both the Alex Salmond trial where she ruled out the defence lodging WhatsApp messages that clearly demonstrated Alex Salmond was the victim of an organised, malicious plot, involving many of the prosecution witnesses, and also her conviction of Craig Murray in a concocted evidenced trial that will remain a permanent stain on Scotland’s Justice System, adding Scotland to the list of renegade nations that jails political prisoners. We need to be very wary of this Lady.

We are told the reason for getting rid of jury trials is that the conviction rates are not “high” enough. To me that is the most dangerous warning sign that this is very, very wrong and DANGEROUS!

Do we want Justice being determined by a judge anxious to keep their quota of guilty verdicts up? If you want more convictions invest in better trained police and medical personnel, improve the quality and depth of the prosecution evidence, improve the confidence levels of the “victim” of the crime but finding more people guilty, just because the politicians want a higher level of successful prosecutions is very dangerous…and another step along the road to fascism. We need the safety valve of a jury to stop the State interfering in trials to create the right POLITICAL outcome.

They say timing is everything. At the current time, with the legal system the subject of widespread criticism and distrust, as Scotland’s Government seems to have completely lost any moral compass it might have once have possessed, it can be absolutely guaranteed that any move to hand judgements in cases of a sexual nature  solely to a judge with no involvement of a jury of our peers, will be opposed in the most energetic manner.

I hope for and expect much more from the leading figures in Scotland amongst our legal fraternity in opposing any suggestion of moving in this deeply flawed direction. These are offences that can result in lengthy jail time. We have witnessed, very recently a very clear example of where an innocent man, was singled out and the subject of blatant trivial, malicious false accusation. We know in Scotland we have a rogue band of anonymous women only to happy to mount false and malicious allegations as a political tool to intimidate political rivals.

If ever there was a country that needed the protection of independent juries to separate and regulate the power of the judges and politicians it is Scotland in the 21st Century.. How shameful is that?

NOTE: Iain Lawson writes for the Yours For Scotland blog site

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‘ESSAYS’ Now On Sale

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“If you want to learn about Scottish history, or know about its politics, read Grouse Beater” Jon Davies, master conservation tiler, Exeter, Devon, to his young son.

ON SALE NOW

The Collected Essays of Grouse Beater2015 – 2021

250 pages of past and new writing, some past work expanded for the book.

Review: “Grouse Beater has a knack of flushing out critical and in-depth stories. Truly insightful, possessing a strong sense of right and wrong, his sound ethics and finely-tuned moral compass gets to the heart of the matter. As a Scot in America, it’s a joy to read.”

Hardback £20, Kindle £9.99.

Please log into Amazon Books to buy a copy – the link is below the red stars foot of the page. Alas, Amazon are playing safe because of the rush to buy hardback copies, they do not guarantee delivery by 24 December.

If you prefer a signed copy please contact me at: garwarscot@hotmail.com. There is a charge of £5 for package and posting, and again, copies will be sent soon as supplied to me by Amazon.

This collection of essays from Gareth Wardell’s Grouse Beater site displays his range and inimitable capacity for a memorable phrase dealing with Scotland in matters historical, political and personal. Uncompromisingly frank, but with insight and wry humour, he calls a spade a spade, and a colonial an arrogant Englishman.

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LINK TO PURCHASE COPIES (NOTE USE OF PLURAL): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09MR1NYZJ/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_D2PTBPQMZ4CX02KK8NPQ via @AmazonUK

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Our Police State

Alex Salmond trial blogger Craig Murray freed from prison
Former ambassador and human rights activist, Craig Murray, released from Saughton Prison

The ludicrously over-the-top jail sentence handed down to human rights activist Craig Murray, for a minor infringement of a presposterous court rule called ‘jigsaw indentification’, together with the hurried embracing of a ban on assembly around our Parliament building, is yet more warning that the Scottish National Party (SNP), has lost touch with people. They are delighted to keep us at a distance, the further away the better. Better still, having supporters stick newspapers through letterboxes for a hobby will keep the compliant busy.

One need only count the dead bodies of mangled supporters the SNP has thrown under a bloody bus to see how intolerant the party’s elite has become. It is an alarming development in a list of wild, eccentric, vindictive actions the First Minister has seen happen, and indeed initiated, under her crass leadership. The lesson we are given is a political party determined to protect itself and its power at the cost of political freedoms.

The one party elected to free us from conformity is hell bent on imposing obedience, the very shackle we want removed called British rule. The SNP is now emulating Westminster diktat, in this instance, the UK government’s back-door amendments to the ‘Policing Bill’. When one understands and acknowledges British rule is colonial and tyrannical what does that make the SNP, a defensive group of skulls, giving us a good impression of authoritarian, bullying laggards?

Nothing describes the SNP’s descent towards an impression of Angry Birds than its choice of slogans in recent years where they use words that shout ‘clenched fist’: “Stronger for Scotland”, and yet we watch our MPs demonstrating how weak and useless they are to alter anything. This is a lack of a strategy and any willingness to confront the Tory party.

The environmental activist George Monbiot is worried why we are not on the streets screaming blue murder. Among the new amendments are measures that would ban protesters from attaching themselves to another person, to an object, or to land. Our MPs in the Gothic House of Horrors blithely continue to warn the Tory party they will live to regret what they do, and then repeat the same lame reprimand the next day, and the day after. We are forming a police state.

(Words in blue are links to information.)

The Police State of Boris and Nicola

This is proper police state stuff. The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media there’s a resounding silence.

Among the new amendments are measures that would ban protesters from attaching themselves to another person, to an object, or to land. Not only would they make locking on – a crucial tool of protest the world over – illegal, but they are so loosely drafted that they could apply to anyone holding on to anything, on pain of up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

It would also become a criminal offence to obstruct in any way major transport works from being carried out, again with a maximum sentence of 51 weeks. This looks like an attempt to end meaningful protest against road-building and airport expansion. Other amendments would greatly expand police stop and search powers. The police would be entitled to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any article that could be used in the newly prohibited protests, presumably including placards, flyers and banners. Other new powers would grant police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur “in that area”. Anyone who resists being searched could be imprisoned for – you guessed it – up to 51 weeks.

English stop and search powers

Existing stop and search powers are used disproportionately against Black and Brown people, who are six times as likely to be stopped as white people. The new powers would create an even greater disincentive for people of colour to protest. Then the media can continue to berate protest movements for being overwhelmingly white and unrepresentative.

Perhaps most outrageously, the amendments contain new powers to ban named people from protesting. The grounds are extraordinary, in a nation that claims to be democratic. We can be banned if we have previously committed “protest-related offences”. Thanks to the draconian measures in the rest of the bill – many of which pre-date these amendments – it will now be difficult to attend a protest without committing an offence. Or we can be banned if we have attended or “contributed to” a protest that was “likely to result in serious disruption”. Serious disruption, as the bill stands, could mean almost anything, including being noisy. If you post something on social media that encourages people to turn up, you could find yourself on the list. Anyone subject to one of these orders, like a paroled prisoner, might be required to present themselves to the authorities at “particular times on particular days”. You can also be banned from associating with particular people or “using the internet to facilitate or encourage” a “protest-related offence”.

The powers of a dictator

These are dictators’ powers. The country should be in uproar over them, but we hear barely a squeak. The Kill the Bill protesters have tried valiantly to draw our attention to this tyrant’s gambit, and have been demonised for their pains. Otherwise, you would barely know it was happening.

Protest is an essential corrective to the mistakes of government. Had it not been for the tactics Patel now seeks to ban, the pointless and destructive road-building programme the government began in the early 1990s would have continued: eventually John Major’s government conceded it was a mistake, and dropped it. Now governments are making the greatest mistake in human history – driving us towards systemic environmental collapse – and Boris Johnson’s administration is seeking to ensure that there is nothing we can do to stop it.

The government knows the new powers are illegitimate, otherwise it would not have tried to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. These brutal amendments sit alongside Johnson’s other attacks on democracy, such as the proposed requirement for voter ID, which could deter 2 million potential electors, most of whom are poor and marginalised; the planned curtailment of the Electoral Commission; the assault on citizens’ rights to mount legal challenges to government policy; and the proposed “civil orders” that could see journalists treated as spies and banned from meeting certain people and visiting certain places.

Where is everyone?

Why isn’t this all over the front pages? Why aren’t we out on the streets in our millions, protesting while we still can? We use our freedoms or we lose them. And we are very close to losing them.

NOTE: George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist.

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 9 Comments

Barbados Ditches the Queen

The Queen meets with Governor-General of Barbados Sandra Mason during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on March 28, 2018 in London, England.
The Queen meets Gov-General of Barbados Sandra Mason – a private audience at Buckingham Palace, Mar 2018

“Barbados is a republic. No one screamed ‘Blood and soil nationalism!” for the people were happy.” Grouse Beater

“The creation of this republic offers a new beginning,” Prince Charles

In an act that makes the government of Nicola Sturgeon appear beholden to Westminster’s agenda and fearful of making a move to independence in any meaningful way, Barbados has become a republic.

The government of Barbados has ditched the last of colonial links with the United Kingdom. ‘Royal’ and ‘Crown’ will be removed as a prefix from institutions and entities.

The move has been a long time coming and well advertised by the guardians of Barbados’ parliament, promoted vigorously in particular by its leader, Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

In fact, unlike the SNP and the Scottish Government, Mottley’s party has made it a core policy of her government’s political aims by conducting a consistent campaign of education over these last years. This is turn forced the anti-Republican media and press to include the government’s agenda in news bulletins, political discussion programmes and historical documentary.

Queen Elizabeth will have one less realm after this week, when Barbados severs its final imperial links to Britain by removing the 95-year-old as its head of state and declaring itself a republic.

The former British colony – which gained independence in 1966 – revived its plan to become a republic last September with the country’s governor general, Sandra Mason, saying, “the time has come to leave our colonial past behind”.

“Mason, a 73-year-old former jurist, will be sworn in as the first-ever president of the island nation of just under 300,000 at a ceremony late on Monday night.” CNN

Prince Charles endorses republicanism

Present at the festivities was Prince Charles, heir to the British throne and future head of the Commonwealth, a 54-member organization of mostly former British territories. He accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley to be guest of honor at the transition celebrations, according to Clarence House. It is known in high circles that Prince Charles is one of the few Royals who believes independence for Scotland is inevitable, and similarly a move to a republic.

“Becoming a republic is a coming of age,” said Guy Hewitt, who served as Barbados high commissioner to the United Kingdom between 2014 and 2018.

“I make the analogy to when a child grows up and gets their own house, gets their own mortgage, gives their parents back the keys because it says we are moving on. “Barbados’s decision marks the first time in nearly three decades that a realm has opted to remove the British monarch as head of state. The last nation to do so was the island of Mauritius in 1992.

Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales, greets Barbados' Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley ahead of their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland
Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Prince Charles at Glasgow’s COP26 summit

Barbados slave past

The changeover comes nearly 400 years since the first English ship arrived on the most easterly of the Caribbean islands. Barbados was Britain’s oldest colony, settled in 1627, and “governed in an unbroken way by the English Crown to 1966,” according to Richard Drayton, professor of imperial and global history at Kings College London.

“At the same time, Barbados also provided an important source of private wealth in 17th and 18th-century England,” he said, adding that many made substantial family fortunes from sugar and slavery.

“It was the first laboratory for English colonialism in the tropics,” added Drayton, who grew up in the country.” It is in Barbados that the English first pass laws, which distinguish the rights of people who they call ‘Negroes,’ from those who are not, and it is the precedence set in Barbados in terms of economy and law, which then come to be transferred to Jamaica, and the Carolinas and the rest of the Caribbean, along with institutions of that colony.”

A decades-old debate

The writing has long been on the wall for a break-up between Barbados and Britain, with many calling for the removal of the Queen’s status over the years, according to Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor of constitutional governance and politics at The University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill, Barbados.

The desire to become a republic is more than 20 years old and “reflected the input in the governance consultations across the island and its diaspora. “The conclusion then was very simple,” Barrow-Giles said.

“Barbados had reached the stage of maturity in its political evolution where what ought to have been part and parcel of the movement to independence was not for pragmatic reasons. Fifty-five years later this failure is rectified by a prime minister who is determined to complete the process of nation-building which has obviously stalled for the last four decades or so.”

Covid-19 pandemic makes no difference

She explained that while most Barbadians are supportive of the transition, there has been some concern over the approach to it. Radical change is always accompanied by the naysayers who advocate people wait for the ‘percet time’.

thers have questioned the timeframe of just over a year that the government gave itself to make the transition, aligning the birth of the republic with the country’s 55th anniversary of independence on Tuesday.

Hewitt believes Mottley’s government wanted to act quickly to “try to take attention off of what is a very difficult time in Barbados.” He threw in the pandemic excuse as his main anxiety.

“The world suffers and struggles against the Covid-19 pandemic, but for Barbados, as a tourist-based economy, it has been particularly difficult,” he said. “If you accept the notion of a republic being a system being given to the people, the challenge we face is there’s not been a lot of consultation on becoming a republic. Yes, it was included in the throne speech. But the people of Barbados have not been part of this journey.” This is an exaggeration. Barbadians have debated becoming a republic for years, lately deciding on the best way to do it. Mia Mottley’s party campaigned on that core principle alone and received a landslide electorial victory to go ahead with the wishes of the people. It was a cast-iron mandate.

Hewitt does his best to make the issue one of complications. “What we are dealing with now is just the ceremonial, cosmetic changes and I feel that if we were really going to republic, it should have been a meaningful journey, where the people of Barbados were engaged in the entire process of conceptualisation to actually bringing it to fruition,” he added.

As expected there was initial opposition to becoming a republic. Those with privileges under the Commonwealth scheme, and honours from the Monarch, felt excluded from the debate. It’s a sentiment shared by Ronnie Yearwood, an activist and lecturer of law at the UWI Cave Hill campus in Barbados.

Seeing the future, Yearwood now supports the declaration of a republic, but feels obliged to add “robbed of an opportunity to have my beautiful moment. The government made a decision on the type of republic that we were going to become, without asking me the voter, me the citizen, what form of republic do you want?” The Barbadian government “focused on the endgame” rather than the process of transition.

It is often said that cutting loose from Westminster will seem normal once done, so it transpires with Barbados and the British Monarchy. Jeremiahs and Jonahs aside, It is often said that cutting loose from Westminster will seem normal once done, so it transpires with Barbados and the British Monarchy. The mass of the electorate feel a republic to be a normal state of existence, especially one that was once a slave colony. Scotland, to offer a simile, has been in servitude to Westmisnter rule since 1707, sometimes brutal and bloody, often by unwanted and repressive laws, it’s devolutionary government a token gesture.

Colonies are invariably awarded mock (known as ‘pretendy’), self-governance by their colonial masters in the form of a few weak powers and an administration packed with politicians offering allegiance to the colonial power. In Scotland’s case, it is to the Queen, and ipso facto, to Westminster.

Until recently, Scotland’s laws were protected by retention of its own unique law system, broken once the UK established a Supreme Court that can overrule anything Scotland’s passes. The occasional judgement in favour of Scotland, made by a group of judges some of whom are Scots, does not undermine the absolute finality of the Supreme Court rulings. Now out of the EU, Scotland has no other body to which it can appeal that Westminster will respect. Scotland’s traditional ties with Europe are severed.

Barbados in Glasgow

Prime Minister Mottley, who recently charmed world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, did not need to hold a public referendum on the subject to push forward. In May, her government created a Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee, a 10-member group tasked with helping manage the transition from a monarchical system to a republic.

The only hurdle was securing a two-thirds majority in parliament, which was a relatively straight-forward process given her party has held a majority since her landslide victory in 2018.

Barrow-Giles said that the government “was able to determine what legally and politically were required to patriate the constitution” adding that Barbados’s changeover “is consistent with the road travelled by other jurisdictions.”

“The fact that Prince Charles is in Barbados for this very important occasion for the country is testimony to the lack of opposition to the move by the royal family and essentially an endorsement of the transition,” she added.

With such an amicable split, other nations could follow Barbados’s lead, according to Drayton.”I would imagine this issue will now sharpen the debate within Jamaica, as well as elsewhere in the Caribbean,” he said.

“The decision in some ways doesn’t reflect any evaluation of the House of Windsor. I do think it reflects more of a sense of people within Barbados now think it’s a little bit absurd to have your head of state determined by the circumstances of birth in a family which resides 4,000 miles away.”

Will other countries follow?

Hewitt, too, anticipates more countries may opt to break with the British monarchy but suggests that will happen after the reign of Elizabeth II comes to an end “simply because the Queen is held in such high regard. People would see it as almost a personal slight against her to do it now. But I feel that once the Crown passes, people will feel that it is time.”

The move to a republic began well before Barbados achieved independence. It has been delayed by successive administrations dragging their feet, and a debate influenced by UK authorities often espoused by colonial placemen publishing black propaganda and scaremongering, a tactic with which Scots will be familiar, done in an effort to retain Barbados as a UK territory.

The attitude to interference in the democracy of Barbados has usually been batted off as unacceptable. As Mia Mottley said, “The decision was a matter for the government and people of Barbados, adding that it was not “out of the blue” and had been “mooted and publicly talked” about many times.

On the first day of the republic no Union Jack flags will fly in Barbados.

NOTE: For a fuller understanding see GB’s essay: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-q5z Aspects of this report have been culled from CNN.

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Leader Popularity Plummets

Nicola Sturgeon tells Cop26 negotiators: 'Do not fail'
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

A new survey puts Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity in the doldrums, but all the opposition leaders are in Purgatory or in Hell. She leads the pack by a wide margin but should not be complacent. Any number of setbacks have befallen her tenure and the public have begun to notice the accumulative tally, effectively denting her image as the Teflon Queen. This is par for the course for all long-serving politicians anywhere, their failures and flaws begin to stack up.

One aspect that keeps her popularity way above other leaders is they are so very bad at what they do. Voters look at the intellectual poor quality of the other parties and decide Nicola Sturgeon can talk and walk better than them all. Circumstances and luck have sustained the first minister as best of a bad bunch, a determined character ‘getting on with the job’ while her opponents bicker, backbite, and deal in peurile point scoring. In addition, she gained a great deal of trust from the public to handle the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the praise unwarranted.

In the matter of popularity, there is an element, of course, of familiarity breeding contempt, but there are other aspects that cannot be ignored. A short list has to include alienation of swathes of the electorate who dislike her curtailment of women’s rights, the recent banning of democratic, lawful assembly around Scotland’s Parliament, and an air of Prebyterian certitude that she exudes, they all work against her. Dissent is so rife in the country to the blundering policies of the SNP that two new independence parties have emerged with full self-governance as their priority, the ISP and ALBA parties, both shunned by Sturgeon, the post of First Minister normally associated with national unity and inclusiveness.

In addition, repeated promises of a referendum on independence sidelined or broken are not supported by any campaigns to educate the public over the benefits of restoring self-governance.

Finally, there is a perception that she lacks statecraft, tending to react to events rather than be a good judge of her opponents’ political tactics, knowing how to repel or outwit the worst of them. Meanwhile, demographic surveys show that, barring unforeseen existencies, Scots will be in the minority of ethnic people in Scotland by 2050, overtaken by incomers and settlers looking for a better environment. This does not bode well for a nation delaying full sovereignty.

Nicola Sturgeon’s devotees, clutching at straws, may dismiss the signs, but there is no doubt that sections of the electorate are tiring of the over-exposure and headmistress style of leadership. The apparant lack of empathy for the jailing of human rights activist Craig Murray did not dispel her image of a one-solution-to-everything politician, especially not after the hunting down fiasco of her mentor Alex Salmond, the loss of taxpayer money on court cases, and a never plausibly explained missing independence fund of £600,000, still under investigation by Police Scotland.

Down but not out

The slump in her personal appeal (revealed in the YouGov poll for The Times) emerged as Sturgeon faced questions about her leadership successes and failures. She coped well with a brace of loaded questions from Laura Kuenssberg, followed by a brief report of Scotlands ‘limited’ ability to withdraw from the Union full of fabrications, myths and half-truths repeated by BBC Scotland’s Sarah Smith.

In the interview, Nicola Sturgeon said she had “no intention of going anywhere” and was determined to lead the country at least until the end of this parliament in 2026. Reaching this 12-year tenure would comfortably position Sturgeon as the longest-serving first minister. The Times states ‘since devolution’, but no such post existed prior to devolution!

However, despite facing no real threat to her party’s political dominance, Sturgeon’s popularity has fallen almost 40 points since August last year when it was a remarkable +50. The latest survey gives her a ranking of +12, the only Scottish party leader to achieve a positive rating. (See list below.)

At her apex of popularity, the first minister addressed the public almost daily in televised Covid-19 briefings. Since YouGov’s last pre-election poll in May, her public appeal has halved. The Times states: “It is understood that private polling for political parties paints a similar picture to the YouGov poll suggests her government’s domestic record is beginning to drag on the first minister’s reputation.”

Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said that Sturgeon “is at risk of looking like a politician stuck in second gear” despite the SNP’s electoral ascendancy, which appears to have been maintained. He continues, “While she may still be Scotland’s most popular politician (albeit not as popular as earlier in the pandemic) who leads by far and away Scotland’s most popular party (albeit one dependent on the Greens for its Holyrood majority), there is little sense of progress towards its ultimate goal of independence.”

Independence not a priority

The YouGov’s revelation that the electorate no longer see independence as a priority comes as no surprise since Sturgeon herself relegated the core ideal of the SNP to the backburner some years back, closing down committees on research and development. “Research also found that voters had relegated the pursuit of independence to eighth in their list of priorities, with less than a third of SNP supporters seeing it as a key objective of the Scottish government.”

This collapse in confidence is a bi-product of SNP inertia in promoting the vast benefits from running one’s own country, especially one as wealthy as Scotland. But there is also a feeling in the country that Sturgeon does not have the statecraft to steer the populace to a Yes vote, or take on the power of England by withdrawing from a long abused and broken Treaty of trade partership in a Union.

Professor Curtis again: “The constitutional question remains on a knife edge; unionists maintain a slim lead with virtually no movement compared with YouGov’s last survey in May. The UK and Scottish leaders of the Conservative and the Labour Party have all sunk to record lows in voters’ estimation”.

The rest are all also-rans

Bumbly boor Boris Johnson has an absolutely farcical rating of minus 62, a 17-point decline, as allegations of sleaze and corruption engulf the prime minister and his government. It is so bad, there are mutterings in the ranks of a palace revolution. How much further a personal rating can drop before it is out of sight is anybody’s guess.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, had the smallest drop of any leader, four points to minus 38. The largest individual fall in any leader’s popularity was that of poor, struggling Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, who dropped 21 points to minus 1 after he had struck a personal chord with voters during the election campaign.

Leaders doing well or badly?

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party: Well 17% Badly 55% Don’t know 28%

Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labour Party: Well 32% Badly33% Don’t know 35%

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister: Well 53% Badly 41% Don’t know 7%

Harvie and Slater, leaders of the Scottish Green Party: Well 27% Badly 35% Don’t know 38%

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish LibDems: Well 14% Badly 30% Don’t know 55%

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party: Well 22% Badly 57% Don’t know 21%

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister: Well1 6% Badly 78% Don’t know 6%

Sturgeon interviewed in shockingly bad BBC item

Sturgeon, 51, said rumours that she was looking for a way out of frontline politics were “wishful thinking” by her opponents. She will become the longest-serving first minister next year but has regularly spoken about the emotional toll of leading the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speculation about her plotting an exit was fuelled when she told Vogue magazine that she and Peter Murrell, her husband and the SNP’s chief executive, might wish to foster children in the future.

In an interview with the BBC that Scottish Labour branded “a self-indulgent distraction from the challenges facing this country”, Sturgeon said she had “no intentions of going anywhere right now as first minister”. She added that she hoped to still be “relatively young when I get to the point of contemplating other things”. The first minister said: “It is almost as if my opponents have concluded they can’t beat me or remove me from office themselves, so they’re hoping that I’ll remove myself from office.” But they are going to be really disappointed because I’m going to be around a lot longer.”

It is hard to accuse the First Minister of vanity in allowing a news item to be all about her popularity because the questions asked of her are those she answered, but a skilled politician would know how to brush off remarks on self and move the interviewer to issues that affect the public.

Sturgeon concluded, “My opponents are going to be really disappointed because I’m going to be around a lot longer.” History teaches us politicians should never make such pronouncements, especially those who fail consistently to defeat their opponents even when their enemies are in disarray and vulnerable.

NOTE: Some aspects of this article are culled from the Times-YouGov survey.

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Cairngorms By eBike

A cyclist in Glen Quoich, just to the east of Braemar.
Glen Quoich, just to the east of Braemar. Photo: Tom Richardson


Jamies Lafferty takes a hike on a bike through some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside, host to lush forests, red deer and buzzards. This is an out-of-season guided cycle trip around Braemar revealing a landscape in a state of flux. My days of cycling are over, but I know cycling is a supremely better, cleaner and quieter way of seeing areas of Scotland when the weather is kind to cyclists, than churning up the earth with giant 4×4 SUV muddy tracks. GB

Braemar out of season is a strange place to be. Not quite lifeless, but definitely falling into an autumnal torpor. After an extraordinarily busy summer hosting the great flood of northbound domestic tourists, in late October just a few B&Bs and pubs are hanging on before some much-needed downtime.

At the edges of the village though, and in the wider, wilder countryside beyond, a lot more life is to be found. Red squirrels are emboldened by the reduced traffic, the red deer rut is just coming to an end. Dan Brown and Rachael Iveson-Brown, owners of Wild Discovery, are at a similar stage of life: busy preparing for winter and renewal next year.

I’m heading out with the couple to experience their new electric bike safari around a scenic part of Aberdeenshire. The autumn colours are aflame, the River Dee, appearing like polished steel, imperfectly mirrors the infernos above.

Our starting point for the safari is literally regal. Balmoral Castle and its sprawling estate lie in the heart of Deeside and it’s in that car park I meet my hosts, along with Tony Yule, owner of eGuide Scotland, which provides bike tours all year round as well as the e-bikes for this more specialised trip.

In 2019, Dan and Rachael, and Tony, set up their businesses separately, not knowing each other or that Covid was on the horizon. After a few exceptionally bleak months, first in 2020 then at the start of 2021, things have rebounded, and their entrepreneurship no longer feels like such a terrible idea.

We’re using electric bikes because they’re much more likely to get people out into the wilderness. The Highlands can be a daunting enough environment to explore, but doubly so if you’re worried about whether you have the leg strength to get you up the next rise.

“Plus, it’s really multi-sensory, unlike these guys,” says Tony as we’re passed by a polished black Range Rover, a guide with a mic in the front seat, guests hermetically sealed in the back.

In this year of surging domestic tourism, an organised trip such as ours brings order where there has been so much chaos. As visitors streamed north over the last two summers, many for the first time, they found it difficult to control their motorhomes, lockdown pets, and bodily functions. There’s no need to worry about those North Coast 500 problems here in the Cairngorms – there are proper roads rather than passing places, large car parks, and even toilets.

Out on the trail, Dan explains that while there are humans in this part of the world who have latterly benefited from the pandemic, the same cannot be said for the wildlife. On a loose checklist of Highland animals I hope to see, capercaillies are close to the top.

“Hope’ is probably the best word,” says Rachael.

“Yes, they’re not doing so well,” adds Dan, before the couple explain that in Scotland numbers of these large, boisterous grouse are thought to have plummeted by as much as 30% in the past two years alone. Any breather the climate got from humankind’s reduced international travel was evidently not felt by these birds.

“There are just around 10 males left in Deeside,” Rachael says gravely as we remount the bikes.

It’s not long before we’ve stopped again. This time to look at an impressive Scottish wood ant nest, then buzzards wheeling high above. On a luckier day they may have been golden or white-tailed eagles. Even without those trophies, Dan and Rachael’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the environment means I never feel short-changed.

Part of the mission on these safaris isn’t just about what you are seeing but understanding what you aren’t. Our bumpy path leads out of the forest and briefly away from the autumnal foliage, the Highlands suddenly erupting around us with mountains on all sides. From this vantage point we can see Lochnagar rakishly wearing a cloud hat, glens rolling up and away from us. More than that, though, we can see a landscape endlessly altered by man. Many of the areas in front of us are extravagantly bald, the result of burning for grouse hunting. Much of the damage caused by the clearing has been exacerbated by red deer, the numbers of which are thought to now exceed 400,000. As they have for centuries, estates around here want to maintain this artificiality in order that rich people can travel to Scotland, see these animals, then easily shoot them.

The fabled Highlands landscape is far uglier as a result. “We understand that there are livelihoods tied up in it, but we do have questions about how the land is managed,” says Rachael over her shoulder as we cycle away from an incoming squall and back to the cover of trees. This section of almost unadulterated Caledonian Forest is far more varied and beautiful that what had gone before, immediately more photogenic than the planned forests of regimented pines elsewhere.

Some of the only development here came with the installation of a scenic footbridge over the Falls of Garbh Allt, said to have been ordered by Queen Victoria in 1878. She loved this place and was an unlikely pioneer of woodland preservation in this part of the country.

The House of Windsor may well have some sway, if not with Cop26, then perhaps with other wealthy landowners in this part of their territory. Some kind of rethink is needed around here, for the sake of man and beast alike. Why not make it a matter for royalty? “The whole landscape is slowly changing, bit by bit,” says Dan. “If they reduced grouse hunting and eased deer pressure, you could end up with a fantastic corridor of Caledonian Forest. There’s room for rewilding and sport to co-exist.”

NOTES

Wild Discovery offers private half-day e-bike tours of Deeside from £110 per person, e-bike included. In spring they will also offer a two-night adventure weekend from £499 per person, e-bikes and accommodation included. Visit wild-discovery.com

This article first appeared in the Guardian.

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