Boris Johnson, prime minister of mirth, with a slogan fit for the side of a bus

I cannot think of a worse time in this planet’s history, a pandemic, for so many countries to be landed with a right-wing demagogue as prime minister or president. We have Boris, a man the worth of a pitcher of warm piss. The vision of the fate of Britain, of the world in the hands of so many sociopathic buffoons, narcissistic, self-serving thieves and liars, is deeply depressing. The worst think we will come out of the coronavirus pandemic in weeks, the charlatans clamp down on human rights.

Tories, useless in a crisis

Here we are, weighed down by a Tory party in a world crisis handing taxpayer largesse to major corporations without any conditions attached. If ever there was an opportunity to alter society this is it. We could have demanded worker participation, an end to low wages, all bank accounts to be held in the country of activity even if a foreign owned company, and so on and so forth.

Instead, BoJo, the bad Churchill impersonator, hands millions to two companies who back his party, Dyson and JCB, to supply ventilators to the NHS they have yet to test and manufacture, ignoring offers from companies that already make and sell them. What a coincidence both wanted out of the European Union, and JCB’s boss thought Scotland should remain a subservient region of the UK.

The same sociopaths are exploiting the pandemic to pull back the small advances in environmental protection, even to the point of keeping the worst polluting companies working, coal burners and all. Orange Man Trump and his minions are among the worst criminal offenders but others closer to home might surpass even his lick-spittle cabal.

Worse than a virus

Coronavirus is bad enough, but we are bound to fear there is worse to come. We are racing to an abyss that easily outdoes the forays of the Grim Reaper’s scout. Taking into account the stupidity of Orange Man tearing up of the Arms Control Treaty, a regime that helped halt or reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, we have the threat of world war rekindled by idiotic despots and Little Hitlers. Just a great a threat is the continuing destruction of the planet from mankind’s indiscriminate exploitation, poisons and plastics. We can recover from coronavirus, but hardly from the other two catastrophes.

Boris Johnson is Scotland’s overlord. He is so confident about his power and our inability to govern ourselves he puts a substitute buffoon in charge of us while he plays chief buffoon in London, Alister Jack. Union Jack is a man who cannot think and cannot be bothered that he cannot think.

BoJo himself is subordinate to Trump. What Trump wants BoJo gives, or dances around Trump if he needs to fool us into thinking he is resisting Trump. That’s the power of the USA. And that’s why I wince every time Nicola Sturgeon parrots US foreign policy. We are supposed to be creating a nation where we evolve our own thinking not read from the Bible of the British state as written by the USA. If England feels the wrath of Orange Man so will Scotland.

Scotland the craven

Over 300 years of England’s power Scotland has remained resilient to the strictures of the British state. In many ways we are as resilient as Cuba which has survived decades of brutal US sanctions.

Around the world, authoritarian administrations are in charge of events. In Russia, authorities have turned up the pressure on media outlets and social media users to control the narrative amid the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak. Under the guise of weeding out coronavirus-related “fake news,” law enforcement has cracked down on people sharing opinions on social media, and on media that criticize the government’s response to the outbreak.

In Poland, people are worried about a new government smartphone application introduced for people in home quarantine. In Scotland, cocky SNP politicians demand lock-down on internet cybernats, backed in that censorship by the Scottish press.

BBC to the rescue

Here we have the unfortunate situation of relying on flaky BBC television and radio for our news, a government broadcaster that bangs out government wisdom by the hour. In the case of what to do about the coronavirus crisis it broadcasts the UK government’s bad advice as well as corrections to the bad advice.

The Scottish government repeats what the BBC says and is forced to use the broadcaster to get its message across, always secondary, of course, to England, cut off mid-announcement if there’s news from London. Our institutional functions can’t function properly because we are in a union with a dominant neighbour. Scotland has no way of holding checks and balances on Westminster power. Scotland’s elected leaders can only shout how it is terribly unfair, and stamp their feet.

Boo don’t applaud

We are asked to stand outside our houses to applaud the hard work and devotion of nurses and doctors. They certainly deserve praise, but they deserve being better paid and having better facilities. We are not expected to boo or jeer the UK government for following neo-liberal economics that have left us all in a precarious economic state not just our hospitals. We are completely unprepared for a pandemic.

They had us suffer austerity so they could hand our precious medical services to the tyranny of private companies, where even in Scotland our own government is forced to pay £1 million to a private consortium to allow free parking at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. If ever there was a justification for locking off ticket machines to allow hospital staff to do their job without being robbed, here is a perfect example to show how powerless we really are.

Be scared, be very scared

There are too few ventilators to  go around. The UK government wants us scared and to stay scared. Media and press echo the warning: our neighbour may be our death.

There isn’t near enough face masks to give everybody peace of mind when shopping. Use your scarf. There are not enough beds to hold the sick and the dying. We do not have enough nurses to help. Stay at home, alone if need be and die alone. A decade of austerity policies has the old and the sick dying alone. 

A final example, and there are many I could have chosen. In Belgrade soldiers patrol the streets with their fingers on machine gun triggers. Serbia’s president warns residents that Belgrade’s graveyards won’t be big enough to bury the dead if people ignore his government’s lock-down orders. President Aleksandar Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency and used it to sideline his parliament, in the same way Bojo tried it to get Brexit moving. There is a 12-hour police-enforced curfew imposed and people over 65 banned from leaving their homes. With a Tory government that has no respect for democracy we stand to follow Belgrade’s example. 

In the UK Westminster passed an emergency Bill that deprives us of our human rights for a minimum of two years. Why two years? Why not three months, renewable? In England the police have confronted walkers exercising in remote areas, not close to anyone else, and road blocks go up to stop people doing urgent work or repairs. Electronic surveillance is turned up to 11.

BBC propaganda tell us to stay indoors but does not question why billions of our tax money is being shifted to the wealthy, yet again. Overpaid television front men and women say nothing of bank bosses paying themselves huge bonuses a few days before the bank of England issues instructions to stop the practice. They speak no ill of extraordinarily wealthy individuals making millions by selling shares on the stock exchange just before lock down.

The tragedy of 2014

The pandemic is a painful illustration of how easily Scotland’s parliament is overruled. Bojo wants to make Britain safer for us. My question is very simple, how much safer can Scotland afford to have him make us?

“A state of emergency — wherever it is declared and for whatever reason — must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chief, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir.

Disaster gets closer and closer because democracy, the one bulwark we have against corruption, against state tyranny, against corporate theft, has been whittled away so successfully it is almost meaningless. I still meet people who ask, “what is the purpose of independence. Why is it needed?” Tell them Iceland manages with a lot less than Scotland and all you get is a blank stare.

When our newspapers, the supposed guardians of democracy, when they know Boris Johnson is an incompetent buffoon but are happy to have him walk over Scotland rather than see a free Scotland we have only ourselves to blame.

If we are are not able to be in control of our fate – call it full, absolute sovereignty for Scotland – then we are lost. As for looking to HRH the Queen for solace; she is the hand wave of today and the postage stamp of tomorrow.

The perfect dictum of the British state was coined by England’s most patriotic poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “ours is not to reason why. Ours but to do or die”.



Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

Car Culture: Man, What a Gas

Your weekly guide to car culture as it affects us, plus some good bits


VED is about to tax you away from the combustion engine

Buying a second-hand car for a friend, sorry, scratch that; a pre-owned car, I was on the point of handing over the money when the dealer asked if I wanted to pay half the year’s ‘road tax’ or a full year. The question caught me by surprise. I’d forgotten the outstanding amount left on a vehicle does not shift to the new owner – another neat trick from the profiteering DVLA. The new owner pays for a full year. I paid up and drove off.

Though we talk of Road Tax it’s called Vehicle Excise Duty – VED, Road Tax abolished decades ago, leaving some to argue it neatly sidesteps complaints that the tax is never used to improve roads. The UK Government spends it on other things, making it as close to theft from a car owner as the DVLA can get away without anybody calling it a scam.

The famous disc on the windscreen was junked soon as everything could be done by computer. How much you’ll pay in the new scheme depends on what kind of car you have, how old it is, and how you want to pay. This article might help make sense of it all.

VED tax

Vehicle Excise Duty, known as VED, is a tax levied by the government on every vehicle on UK public roads, a major source of revenue for the government, totalling billions of pounds each year, which goes into the central coffers of the exchequer. The cost of maintaining the UK’s roads is currently covered by general taxation, not specifically VED.

The VED system based on vehicle emissions was introduced in 2001 as part of a push to reduce pollutants released into the atmosphere. Vehicles emitting pollutants cost more to tax. The incentive is to push us to buy cleaner vehicles. The planet now in dire jeopardy, you’d hardly think we need a reason, but old habits die hard. That’s why governments are necessary – to  protect us and the environment.

After an extended campaign by car owners, in his 2015 budget, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that a new road fund would be set up whereby all funds raised through VED will go into the building and upkeep of the UK’s road system. For some mysterious reason the fund never quite reached Scotland. This new system was implemented by Rishi Sunak in his recent 2020 budget, but scheduled road works are likely to be pushed back as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Changes to system this month, April, mean significant differences for new car buyers.

How VED has changed

The government has up-rated VED in line with the retail prices index (RPI) for cars, vans, motorcycles and motorcycle trade licences, but the biggest change, and the one that will be felt most by motorists and traders, is the switch from using NEDC emissions testing as the basis for the various tax band tiers to the new WLTP system.

The WLTP procedure (world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure) is a global, harmonized standard for determining the levels of pollutants, CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of traditional and hybrid cars, as well as the range of fully electric vehicles. This new method is meant to deliver realistic readings for a vehicle’s fuel consumption, emissions output and driving range, and will result in vehicles moving up a band and becoming, on average, £5 more expensive to tax annually. There’s that word again – ‘tax’.

I am still trying to discover what I will pay on my Smart Car and 25 year old RAV4; it’s all rather confusing. I can see the £320 ‘expensive car tax’ for electric cars costing more than £40,000 is to be removed, which means anyone buying a new electric car will save £320 per year for years two to six of ownership – a total saving of £1600.

Diesel cars – once upon a time heavily promoted by transport ministers as the gateway to heaven – that don’t meet the latest emissions standards will be taxed at higher rates than their petrol equivalents, but a new flat rate of £150 for purely combustion-engine cars registered from now on will come into effect. A flat rate of £140 will be applied to hybrids registered after today.

The old system will still apply to vehicles registered before 1 April 2017.


If your vehicle was registered before 1 March 2001, then the engine size in cubic centimetres (cc) is what’s important. Cars with engines equal to, or smaller in capacity than 1549cc (roughly equivalent to 1.5 litres) will pay £145 a year, assuming you pay up front for 12 months. Cars with engines larger than 1549cc will  pay £235 a year. The exact amount due can vary slightly, depending on whether you pay for six months or 12 months, and whether you pay all at once or in instalments. I’m still smarting at the hike I cough up for paying only six months VED at a time – a full £30.


If your car is newer, and was registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017, then it’s the emissions that you need to think about. (I know, it’s all very confusing.) Petrol and diesel-powered cars are the most commonly taxed vehicles and they’re categorised by bands that are determined by their CO2 emissions. Prices vary slightly depending on how you pay – in one go, or in instalments.

At this point I am going to give up trying to make sense of the new values, other than to say, your VED will increase. If like me you keep a strict document history of your car you will see what the difference is, in the same way you check your insurance premiums. Instead I’ll leave you with the link to discover the increase that applies to your car.

You can see a full breakdown of the charges by going to the DVLA website here.


My Corona

Automobile hacks must be shivering into the mugs of tea. Coronavirus has them without cars to test. A cursory survey of British car magazines sees articles on everything from best buys, to Honda bringing back rotary controls for the heating system in their electric cars. I’m waiting to read an article on ‘your favourite car colour’. By the way, press hacks keep telling us this and that is due to coronavirus. No. It is because of the crisis, or owing to, if you prefer. Perhaps only annoying to me, but if you want to read tortured grammar the best place to find it is in automobile periodicals. One of the best writers in the late Eighties was a rather mannered character called LJK Setright who turned clunky car criticism into fine prose. Then again, he spotted a gap in the market and filled it easily. As for Honda and things for the driver to twiddle, the company thinks heater controls on a computer screen are counter-intuitive, and take your eye off the road, which is true in both cases. Bravo.

MOT Delayed Six Months

Anticipating lock-down for at least three months, and outbreaks here and there for months afterwards, the DVLA has delayed  MOT’s. From the 1st of April – no joke! – drivers who have an MOT due will be granted a six-month extension because of the coronavirus pandemic. An MOT is a test of a vehicle’s safety and road worthiness. You must have if you don’t want your insurance cancelled, or get a police fine. We are given a six-month extension – so, for example, if your vehicle’s MOT was due to expire on Friday 3 April, it will now run out on 3 October 2020. When you do renew it, it will run a full year from that date. However, keep your car in a roadworthy condition. Garages will remain open for those needing repairs.

Personal Bubble

Media pundits are forever telling us we indulge our prejudices communicating in ‘social bubbles’ (their bubble is never a negative space), but, as I said last week in Car Culture, a car is a safe social bubble. My wee Smart car is the safest of all, safe from the Grim Reaper’s scout. The only journeys that encounter others at close quarter is the one trip a week to the supermarket, every two weeks to the nearest petrol station. After using the petrol pump and hitting the bank card keys to pay, I wash my hands King Herod-like in antiseptic gel which I carry in a small squishy bottle on the dash. There is talk of  some petrol stations closing down since so few cars are using them. I hope not. That will cause a run on the pumps still in use, and queues to fill up with the liquid gold.

Happy motoring – if you can get it!

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The Salmond Witches


The National newspaper, a newspaper that has dedicated itself to putting forward the case for regaining Scotland’s autonomy in all things, has published a letter signed by the same anonymous Women who accused the former first minister Alex Salmond of attempted rape, most of sexual harassment. The High Court found Alex Salmond innocent, in effect finding the Women made false allegations or had no case to bring. The same Women now attack him again. This has caused outrage in all quarters, anger expressed from as many women as men. 

The Law has spoken

Watching the agents of England’s rapacious power redouble effort is an ugly, unpleasant sight, yet another reason for an independent Scotland. We have no other way of ridding ourselves of tyranny in a colonised nation.

Alex Salmond was acquitted of all charges. Twice. In separate cases.

By circulating their letter and remaining anonymous, the Women are, in effect, saying hundreds of women interviewed by the police who found no fault in Alex Salmond are suspect, the decisions of a jury of their peers, the majority female, the judge female, suspect, the High Court verdict is suspect. They imply Alex Salmond is guilty, jury and judge missed the obvious; he should be punished.

They also imply the women who spoke in Alex Salmond’s defence in court lied or are blind. The editor of the National could have refused publication on the basis they choose to remain unnamed, but the newspaper did not. A colonial mentality is tough to throw off especially in British journalists.

The implications

The Women imply the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is part of the attack on her former mentor’s integrity and honesty. If they do not mean Nicola Sturgeon is involved in any way or manner, they most certainly embarrass her to the core. Two of her special advisers were complainants. This leaves Nicola Sturgeon in the position of a dupe or a confederate, a serious matter of association that only Nicola Sturgeon can dispel.

Meanwhile, the British state, an archaic colonial institution, is rubbing its hands with glee. They have both Salmond and Sturgeon on the rack thanks to the fury of the Women. In time, the British state will dump the Women when they think them of no more use, just as the Women attempt to junk the verdict of Scotland’s justice system.

Dreyfus or Salem?

Commentators suggest the Salmond trial is akin to the scandalous affair of Alfred Dreyfus, (1859 – 1935), an artillery captain in the French army, falsely convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans. There are parallels, an innocent man framed, dreadfully harmed by the French establishment, but there any similarity ends. Dreyfus was found guilty in a closed trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. Later he had a great novelist come to his defence, Émile Zola, in his famous “J’accuse” letter. In that case there was a strong element of anti-Semitism. Dreyfus was a Jew.

I align Salmond’s agonies with ‘The Crucible’, a play by the great American playwright Arthur Miller. He wrote it as an antidote to the McCarthy political trials. Accused of being a communist, you lost your reputation, livelihood and friends; and you were forced into perpetual penury. The play is based on a real event, the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings and prosecutions of women (and men) accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and May 1693. Yes, the British were at it even then.

Miller’s play has sexual longings at its centre. He distills the hearings and trials into one; an innocent man, John Proctor, strays once from his wife, soon brought down by women scared of being caught as liars and witches, fearful of God’s retribution and the power of the elite. The group is led by one woman, Abigail Williams, seeking retribution for being spurned. To convince the court they speak the truth, they conspire to accuse Proctor of adultery, and against all natural justice, cause him to be hanged. Group hysteria convinces them what did not happen, did happen.


We live in an age where accusation of a thought crime is enough to ruin a person. (I should know from bitter experience.) Men dare not wink at a woman in case they are guilty of sexual harassment. How a man manages to show interest in a woman, even one who has shown interest in him, is fraught with angst and loose talk. Just listening intensely to a woman chat, one-to-one, and not doing more about it is called ‘teasing’.

The central civil servant to the Salmond affair, Leslie Evans, issued an email on January 19th, 2019, after losing the first case against Alex Salmond, in which she wrote, “We have lost the battle but not the war.” In addition, Woman H made an anonymous complaint and was told the SNP would “sit on that and hope we never need to deploy it.” Not a police matter then? Deploy it for what purpose, exactly, unless politically useful? How else does one interpret this fusion of events if not civil servants plotting to ruin the reputation of a prominent politician, the one most able to deliver Scotland’s self-governance? How then can you not implicate the UK government, their employers?

Conscious I am a male questioning the honesty of women, and despite married with two daughters I have protected from nefarious males, I lay myself open to being accused of not knowing anything of the crime of rape.

As a vulnerable youth I was attacked on three occasions by predatory adult men. In each case it was a physical attempt to rape. That they did not succeed is neither hear nor there. It was a harrowing event. On a fourth occasion a known pederast exposed himself to me. Most young boys have a similar experience to tell. However, the Women here are not young naive girls. They are all adults.

The letter

The letter in question issued as a press release I republish below. Badly set out, I publish it in paragraphs without altering a word. It is a classic example of its kind, full of supposition, innuendo, tautology and streaked with revenge. Keep in mind Alex Salmond was accused of attempted rape by two women. There is no law against a person being too tactile, yet that accusation was added to the list by most of his accusers.

“The jury has delivered a majority verdict on the charges brought against the former First Minister.  We are devastated by the verdict.

However it is our fervent hope that as a society we can move forward in our understanding of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In defending Alex Salmond, Gordon Jackson quoted Woman H and said his client should have been a ‘better man’. He said behaviour which others described as demeaning, intimidating and humiliating, was ‘trivial’. The behaviours that Alex Salmond and his defence team admitted to in evidence were not and are not trivial.

Today we want to send a strong and indisputable message that such behaviours should not be tolerated – by any person, in any position, under any circumstances. This has been a traumatic process however we thank Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for taking our experiences seriously and for allowing our voices to be heard. Many of us did speak up at the time of our incidents but were faced with procedures that could not deal with complaints against such a powerful figure.

Others were silenced by fear of repercussions. It was our hope, as individuals, that through coming forward at this time we could achieve justice and enact change. We remain firm in our belief that coming forward to report our experiences and concerns was the right thing to do. But it is clear we alone cannot achieve the change we seek.

The outcome of this trial will pose many questions and be cause for much debate. But as politicians, commentators and society reflect on this case, we would ask you to consider whether behaviour which is so often merely described as ‘inappropriate’ or is tolerated by society, is acceptable towards your daughters, granddaughters, sisters, wives, friends, and colleagues. Many of them will already have suffered such conduct. Often in silence.

We would also request that as you debate, you conduct it respectfully and stay mindful of the many women in Scotland who may have had traumatic experiences and are considering whether or not Scotland is a country in which they can come forward to seek help and support. This is more important now than ever before. All people should feel safe, valued and equal in society and their workplace and it is imperative to ensure robust complaint structures are in place.

We should all take strength in calling out bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault wherever it takes place. And we should all seek to create an environment in which people can challenge and report these behaviours without hesitation or fear of retribution. Some say that women’s fight for respect has gone ‘too far’.

We argue it has far to go. For too long, behaviour which should be condemned has been accepted and excused. For too long perpetrators in positions of power have been shielded by their ability to influence and intimidate. For too long women’s complaints have been dismissed or swept under the carpet. And for too long, women have been let down by organisational structures which should exist to protect them, not put them in situations which endanger their welfare. This must end.

To those who have spoken out in support – thank you, we see you. While we are devastated by the verdict, we will not let it define us. We hope through shining a light on our experiences, it will serve to protect and empower women in the future.

Be brave, be loud, be heard.

Signed, Woman A, Woman B, Woman C, Woman D, Woman F, Woman, G, Woman H, Woman J, Woman K” 

To the press release is appended a post script:

“These women are brave, and we stand with them and hope that their voices are heard.” Please remember that this letter is absolutely NOT an invitation to contact any of the women individually – if you have any further questions or queries please direct them to Rape Crisis Scotland. Brenna Jessie, Press + Campaigns Officer | Rape Crisis Scotland”

The witches of Salmond

The British state, an archaic colonial institution, is rubbing its hands with glee. They have both Salmond and Sturgeon on the rack thanks to the fury of the Women. The Women have the backing of the media who are turning the scandal into a topic of gossip. In time, the British state will dump the Women when they think them of no more use, just as the Women attempt to junk the verdict of Scotland’s justice system.

The Women in this case are unreliable. All those years ago none chose to complain officially about Alex Salmond to anybody who was not Alex Salmond. As it is, they do women everywhere a terrible disservice tarnishing the judicial process. They entrap men by widening the definition of sexual harassment to mean as little as a wolf whistle.

If there is one unassailable quality in the Scots Calvinist character it is a sense of justice. The Women lost not one but two court actions. Justice was done and seen to be done. 




Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments

Car Culture: The Safest Place

A weekly look at car culture as it affects us, plus some good bits


For all our war on cars, environmentally noxious, noise, parking, good land concreted to serve them, they are currently the safest place to be to avoid the coronavirus emergency, or Grim Reaper’s scout, as I call the nasty bug.

Media pundits are forever telling us we indulge ourselves in ‘social bubbles’ (their bubble is never a negative space), but a car with one driver is a social bubble, and my wee Smart car the  best of all. So, I take a daily drive and back when needed, most journeys not engaging others bar one trip a week to the supermarket, every two to the nearest petrol station.

The coronavirus is the worst attack on the automobile manufacturers existence since Brexit. If they were mad at the stupidity of the blundering, xenophobic Tory party and its blind followers, they have no one to shoot over a virulent virus striking down all human activity caught out of house doors.

They are in no position either to blame the Chinese. Not only is there no evidence the virus originated there, but almost all Britain’s major car manufacturers decamped to China to make and sell their vehicles to prosperous Chinese.

The small and the strapped for capital are particularly vulnerable, Morgan Cars and Aston Martin come to mind as the obvious ones, but there are many more specialists who will not survive the crisis. Small manufacturers face a double whammy having to compete with large car makers for Treasury subsidy cash. (What we call welfare, car makers call incentive grants.) Just as you did not vote to ensure the existence of corrupt banks, neither did you vote to hand wads of dosh over to car makers.

If that sideways rebuke sounds too harsh, remember there are no car manufacturers in Scotland and yet our taxes go to subside their activities in England and Wales. Scotland is at the mercy of whatever they choose to sell to us. Had we our own industry we could at least create something more fitting for the 21st century. Anyhow, I digress,

We don’t have power over what we are sold. For years auto makers have been making their vehicles bigger and bigger. Logically, it’s the only way they can describe their latest model as ‘better’ than the last, that and a few new gizmos, such as Sat-Nav, or parking assist. I doubt that attitude to making cars will alter with the advent of electric cars. Far too many manufacturers are tied into producing thousands of cars a year to keep their  bottom line fat.

Gone are the days when a a car buyer went to a company that made chassis’s, chose an engine from another company, and handed both over to a coach builder, the name a hangover from horse and carriage, today a Carrozzeria, to give it its Italian moniker. maker for a bespoke design. In a lot of cases all today’s automakers do is modernise design to fit fashion. Renault cars are the best at that dodge, Ford a close second, essentially the same car as last time with a different set of body lines and colours.

Nissan, probably the largest car manufacturer in England, decided it should not chuck away all its past investment after Brexit by closing its Sunderland plants. Instead, it shifted some new cars abroad and, much to the relief of all their workers who had voted to leave the EU, announced a £400 million investment in its English plants, spread over a few years. That is now been shelved. What a mess.

While Brits cheer at dumping the EU, car manufacturers are still obliged to comply with EU safety rules in car design for passenger and pedestrian safety if the intend selling their cars outside the UK, which of course, 80% of their entire output is constructed to do. Irony is plastered all over Brexit.

What we have not done is place constraints on size. Cars are produced bigger than ever year by year, the more bulky they are, the more the seem like a safe place to be. Our streets cannot accommodate them, or parking base useless.

The big SUV as a safe way to travel is a myth. The higher the centre of gravity, the greater the chance of a vehicle overbalancing if a tyre hits soft ground and rolls over, or gets hit by strong side winds with the same result.

Three of the worst offenders for producing army tanks on wheels are Volvo, BMW, and Land Rover. In many cases SUVs are saloon cars with jacked-up chassis offering only a few inches more of headroom than a conventional vehicle. We keep buying SUVs because the appear to be bigger inside, they help us see over the tall SUV in front, and because their suspension is often better than conventional cars at soaking up a thousand potholes, that and travelling over washboard surfaces that trash our roads. They are sold as able to tackle rough ground, but few rarely see more than grit or sand.

Will the latest crisis to hit car makers and their workers do anything to force them to rethink what they are doing and why? I doubt it. The big manufacturers will keep churning out tin and plastic, the small ones price their supercars as high as possible to  appeal to the residents of Monaco and others with fat offshore bank accounts.

Meanwhile, all car makers in the UK have shut down. Car showrooms follow suit. Our own Scottish car organisation, the SMMT, estimates that the shutdown could mean the UK produces 200,000 fewer cars in 2020 than in 2019 – a drop of -18% (sounds a good thing to me), but warns the impact could be “far more severe” if the shutdown continues for several months. And as predicted, the conversation turns into the begging bowl:

“If we’re to keep this sector alive and in a position to help Britain get back on its feet, we urgently need funding to be released, additional measures to ease pressure on cash-flow and clarity on how employment support measures will work.”


Static statistics

Coronavirus lock-down means cars sit idle. On the subject of keeping safe in your own motoring bubble, classic bubble cars best of all, cars don’t like sitting in one place for long. Tyres get flat spots, leak air, batteries lose power, paintwork degrades if sitting in all weathers. The occasional journey has to be a must, even if a wide circles, or to a remote area to walk the dog and your legs, unless you want to switch on the car one day only to find nothing does. The smaller, lighter the car, the smaller the engine and therefore the more adapted the vehicle is to sitting doing nothing for days on end. 

No go areas

Readers who live in Aberdeen will remember the city’s autumn 2018 experiment to ban cars for a weekend from the city centre. In place sprang up social events and food stalls selling local produce. (That happens every weekend in selected Los Angeles streets, year round.) Edinburgh followed suit, at least I think it was that way around. With the Grim Reaper’s corona scout seeking out likely victims, police have set up road blocks in various English cities to stop drivers and question where they are going and why. To my knowledge there are none stationed on the Scottish border. There should be. Keep alert for draconian powers retained by authoritarian administrations planning to control our activities for their sinister reorganisation of our rights. And send me incidents you’ve been involved in, or witnessed. Use my twitter account if you like.

Bus virus

Spare a thought for bus drivers. Though passenger numbers have fallen dramatically, and consequently bus schedules reduced, drivers have to drive the buses to carry those of us without a car. Luckily most new buses have a plastic or glass partition between them and the scruffy, hacky coughing public, us. Black taxi drivers have a safety glass too between them and passengers, assuming the twenty pound note you pass to the driver doesn’t carry the ugly bug, or the receipt they pass to you. I wish them well and a safe journey. Uber taxis are no go areas for me for some time to come. 

Happy (as possible) motoring!

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ST: Week Two

DAY 6 – Monday 16 March 2020 

a. First witness today is Woman B – Alex Salmond is accused of indecently assaulting her. She was a civil servant in the Scottish government. Court discussing the creation of Alex Salmond’s official Christmas card – Woman B says she didn’t think one year’s design by Jack Vettriano was appropriate as it featured a man and a “quite scantily clad” woman kissing. She says Alex Salmond agreed to change the card, but after discussing it he wanted to “recreate the pose” on the card and grabbed her wrists and tried to kiss her. She says she was trying to get away but it was like “wrestling with an octopus”. She says “it felt like it went on forever”, but it was probably only seconds or a minute – she says someone came into the room and Alex Salmond stopped, and she left. She says she spoke to her line manager but she didn’t feel there was a option to “take things further. The relationship which existed between the civil service and the first minister, if I had complained formally I would have been the problem and I would have been removed – and I had worked really hard”.

b. In cross examination, Shelagh McCall asks if Alex Salmond and Woman B had a “reasonably respectful” relationship, and he respected her work and professionalism; she says yes. McCall asks if Alex Salmond was in a “playful” mood; she says “I think even if he was in a light-hearted mood there was always an underlying tone of – you would never relax in his company”. McCall asks Woman B why she didn’t complain at the time; she says “if I had complained it would have been swept under the carpet and I would have suffered in my career….I never saw anyone in a senior position in the Scottish government tackle the FM on his behaviour”.

c. Next witness is a colleague of Woman B, who says she told her about the alleged incident the following day. In cross examination witness tells McCall she thought Alex Salmond was in a “cheerful and playful” mood.

Lunch adjournment

d. Next witness is a civil servant, who worked with Woman F – he says he met with her at time of alleged incident and she was “unusually upset” and “very nervous” – he says she told him Alex Salmond had encouraged her to sit on his bed. He says she seemed “traumatised”. Witness tells the court that after incidents involving Woman F and Woman G “we changed the rota meaning that no female [civil servant] would be alone in Bute House”. He doesn’t know if it was ever written down but would have been reflected in rotas. She said he would not have trusted the civil service procedures in place at the time to be able to handle sensitive issues; and he said stress of the job caused some mental health issues and others to stop working with the FM

e. Another civil servant tells the court this was “more an operational response than an official policy”, but efforts were made in civil service to either “double up” or “avoid single female contact with Mr Salmond after certain points of the evening”.

f. Crown has withdrawn charge six (a charge of sexual assault on Woman E, who has not given evidence). Alex Salmond stands and is formally acquitted of this charge. Some tweaks made to other charges, and the Crown closes its case.

DAY 7 – Tuesday 17 March 2020

a. Defence begins their case. Alex Salmond says there was a “blurring if the normal social-professional boundaries” in his private office – there was an “informality” as it was a 24/7 operation where people were “living out of each others pockets”.

b. On to the specific charges – Gordon Jackson, his QC, asks about the allegation by woman B about the Christmas card. Alex Salmond says she has “mis-remembered” – he says he took her hands and suggested they reenact the card as “a piece of fun” and “high jinks”. Story has “developed” over time. Asked if he now wonders if he went too far, Alex Salmond says “from where I’m standing now, yes…I rather I hadn’t told that joke or had that idea of fun. But at the time it wasn’t regarded as its being presented now”.

c. On to Woman C – Jackson asks if Alex Salmond “disputes” the claim he touched her leg in the car. “Yes,” he says. He says back seat armrest couldn’t go back because it had a phone fitted in it; you couldn’t have your hand on someone’s knee without those in the front seeing.

d. On to Woman D – Alex Salmond says he had no sexual contact with her but would occasionally “tug her hair” in an “affectionate gesture”, as it was so curly it would spring back immediately. He says he believes others did this too and that she never seemed offended or upset. He says they had attended the Ryder Cup for meetings as Scotland was hosting the next one at Gleneagles. He acknowledged further that Woman D had shown him a bikini shot of her holiday in Jamaica. He agrees that he told her she looked like Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’. Alex Salmond says from where he stands now he wishes he’d been “more careful with people’s personal space”, but “I’m of the opinion that events are being reinterpreted and exaggerated out of any possible proportion”.

e. On Woman G’s claim Alex Salmond touched her bottom after a dinner, Alex Salmond says any touching was on the stairs on the way in, when he gave her a “gentle shove to chivvy her up the stairs”, touching her lower back. He says it was “totally and utterly harmless”. On the other charge involving Woman G, of sexual assault at Bute House, Alex Salmond says he put his arm around her to “comfort” her but says he didn’t try to kiss her and says there was nothing sexual about it whatsoever.

f. On to Woman J – the “zombie impression” claim – Alex Salmond says this didn’t happen; he says the only physical contact he had with Woman J was to tap her on the nose before he went off to bed, leaving her working on his computer. He says “nothing improper” happened.

g. On to Woman K, who says Alex Salmond touched her bottom as they had their photo taken – he says “it didn’t happen, I didn’t grab her bottom.” Adds, his wife Moira had been between Alex Salmond and Ms G when he reached up to give the shove.

h. On to Woman A. Alex Salmond says claims he kissed and touched her are “a fabrication from start to finish”; they were out in public at the centre of attention, it “would be insane to be doing anything like that”. He says the claim he sexually assaulted Woman A is “not just a fabrication, it’s ludicrous”. He accuses Ms A of recruiting and encouraging five of the other accusers also to make fabrications against him. He describes Ms A as extremely close to Nicola Sturgeon. He says it “accusations make no sense whatsoever” and says Woman A has encouraged some of the other complainers to “exaggerate or make claims against me. Some are exaggerations that are taken out of proportion and I think that the impact of some of the publicity of the last 18 months might have led some people quite innocently to revise their opinions and say ‘oh well something happened to me’ and it gets presented in a totally different way. And [then] people get in a sausage machine and can’t get out of it, even if they want to.”

i. On to Woman F, the charge of sexual assault with intent to rape. Alex Salmond says the two had a “sleepy cuddle” on his bed after drinking Chinese liquor. He says “it shouldn’t have happened”, but says it was a cuddle and there was “no struggle whatsoever”. Jackson notes this is a charge of sexual assault with intent to rape. “It’s not true” says Alex Salmond. “Not in the slightest. I’ve never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life.”

j. Court having a legal debate – jury are sent out, nothing can be reported at this point.

k. Court back in open session. Jackson asks Alex Salmond about Woman H; he denies there was sexual contact on either of the occasions listed in the charges, but says there was a “consensual sexual encounter” on another occasion. Alex Salmond says there was a “consensual sexual liaison [with woman H] in the bedroom which did not involve full undress of either of us”, and says “we parted good friends with no damage done”. He says this was on a date prior to those in the two charges which he denies happened.

Lunch adjournment

l. Back in session. Gordon Jackson is taking court through Alex Salmond’s diary and calendar for the month of one of the charges involving Woman H – defence has lodged a special defence of alibi on this charge. After running through a series of dates, Jackson says from the diary and calendar, is there any time that month that Woman H could have been at Bute House with Alex Salmond? “No there’s not”, he says. On to the attempted rape charge; Alex Salmond says he was “never” involved in anything like this with Woman H. He says he remembers the dinner with a celebrity she says she was at and says it’s “not possible” Woman H was there. He says he remembers the dinner and “she wasn’t there”.

m. Jackson says Alex Salmond’s position couldn’t be simpler – the allegation is “just a lie”. “Yes, that’s correct,” he says. He says Woman F was annoyed that he hadn’t backed her in a personal political project. Defence concludes questioning of Alex Salmond.

n. Alex Prentice cross examines for the Crown. Prentice is repeating a question at Alex Salmond. Prentice repeatedly asked if Alex Salmond had “any regard” for Woman B’s feelings when he tried to reenact the Christmas card. He says “it was a joke, it was high jinks”. He says he wouldn’t do it again, it’s a “good lesson” not to invade people’s personal space. Prentice asks if Alex Salmond instilled a sense of fear in staff? “That’s not my belief, intent or perception”. He says some people have said they found him intimidating, but “clearly it’s not a universal belief”. Prentice asks if Alex Salmond has respect for women? “I did and I do”. Did he seek to avoid humiliating women? “Always”. Did he have a duty of care to staff? “Yes” – and he regarded sexual harassment as a serious issue. Was Alex Salmond surprised to hear one witness claim that staff had suffered mental health issues? “I think it was unfair of him to say that. He was misleading, intentionally or otherwise.”

o. Prentice asks if it surprised Alex Salmond to hear rotas were changed so female staff were not alone with him? “I had no knowledge at the time and it couldn’t have been put into effect without me noticing….I don’t think the arrangement could have been put into effect”. Prentice asks if Alex Salmond thought it was appropriate to touch Woman D’s hair. “I tugged her hair occasionally, it was not meant to convey anything sexual”. What about the age difference between them? “I wasn’t in any way shape or form pursuing a sexual relationship”. Did Alex Salmond consider himself so powerful that he could reach out and touch her hair in the presence of a senior civil servant, Alex Prentice asks? “I had no reason to think she would have found it offensive”. “It wasn’t a sexual thing.”

p. On to Woman F – Alex Prentice asks if Alex Salmond can see how “chilling” it was for the FM to ask a younger female staff member to sit down on his bed? “That’s not what happened, she went to sit there to put on her boots”. What is a sleepy cuddle, Prentice asks? Alex Salmond says “both of us were slightly tipsy and it was something that wasn’t meant to happen, it was across the bed with her feet on the floor…it wasn’t a pre-arranged anything.” He says Woman F left “in perfect order”. Prentice asks if Alex Salmond can see how demeaning it would be for a young woman to have her bottom smacked in public; he says yes, but that’s not what happened with Woman G. He says he “ushered her up a staircase”.

q. Prentice asks if the truth is Woman H was at the dinner with the celebrity? “No it is not”. And Alex Salmond behaved the way she has described? “No I did not.” He attempted to rape her? “I did not.”

r. Did Alex Salmond grab Woman K’s backside because he could? “No,” he says; “I didn’t grab her backside but I should have been more sensitive to the fact she apparently didn’t want her photo taken….I didn’t want to exert any power.”

s. Brief evidence from Alex Salmond’s former constituency worker: she says he could be “very demanding” in their busy office, but “never nasty”. Court finishes for the day.

DAY 8 – Wednesday 18 March 2020

a. Cross examination from Alex Prentice; he suggests to Samantha Barber that Woman H was at the dinner. She says “I absolutely genuinely have no recollection of seeing [Woman H] that night.” Reminded Woman H says she was sexually assaulted by Alex Salmond. Samantha Barber says her recollection is that Woman H wasn’t able to go to that dinner. She says it’s her recollection that it was just the three of them. Asked if the police had contacted Samatha Barbara. “Yes, but I wanted legal advice before I talked to them. I wanted to know the process.” Prentice queries why she sought legal counsel. Lady Dorrian asks Prentice “Is a citizen not entitled to take advice, Mr Prentice?”.

b. Next defence witness is Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. [She produces Alex Salmond’s political television show.] Ms Ahmed-Sheikh says Woman H texted her in 2015 to discuss a personal political project, saying “it would be great to work with Alex again”. Court looking at screenshots of texts. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh says Woman H had also been very angry Salmond did not support her in a career move. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh says she was at the event where Woman K had her photo taken with Alex Salmond; she says she was next in line and didn’t see anything untoward happen. Shelagh McCall asks if she noted any apparent discomfort on the part of Woman K; “no I did not”.

c. Next defence witness is Fergus Mutch, who worked for Alex Salmond. He says he was with Woman J in his company in the days after the alleged incident at Bute House; he says she was “in good form” and “professional at all times”, and says she was “relaxed” in Alex Salmond’s company.

d. Defence calls Kirk Torrance. He was working for SNP and also says he saw Woman J in days after the alleged incident at Bute House; did she seem upset? “Quite the opposite”. He says Woman J was “enthusiastically” gossiping with other staff.

e. Another witness, a civil servant says working for Alex Salmond was “a privilege & a penance”; it was “very exciting & fast paced, but it was tough & you have to be resilient”. FM “could be very demanding” and “quite fierce” if people weren’t on their game, but could also be “fun”. Asked about Alex Salmond as a boss, civil servant says he was driven, committed and set high standards for himself and for everybody else. He was old-fashioned. He had always opened the door for her and other women and ushered them in, he would insist even junior civil servants be seated properly at table when working over meals. Gordon Jackson asked if Salmond was tactile? Yes, he was always hugging and kissing and posing for selfies with people.

f. Next defence witness is Geoff Aberdein, who worked for Alex Salmond. He says the FM was “firm but fair”; the job was “all hours, hectic, very demanding” – but it was “one of the best experiences of my life”. Jackson asks: “Tell me if I’m wrong. There was a meeting between you, [a complainant] and Nicola Sturgeon?” Geoff Aberdein says he had two meetings with a complainant in early March. He said that at the second meeting, she told him there had been two retrospective complaints about Salmond. Jackson asks “Was there ever at any time from her the slightest hint that she was making a complaint about Alex Salmond’s behaviour?” Geoff Aberdein replies “Never”.

Lunch adjournment 

g. Court back in session, defence questioning a civil servant who says she never felt uncomfortable around Alex Salmond; she says she was not aware of any system prohibiting women from working alone with him at night.

h. Defence questioning Ms Ann Harvey, a civil servant who says she never felt uncomfortable around Alex Salmond; she says she was not aware of any system prohibiting women from working alone with him at night.

i. Court also hears from Alexander Anderson, who worked for Alex Salmond; he says the former FM “has always been tactile” and approachable and would shake hands with and hug people in the street. But witness says his behaviour was “absolutely not inappropriate”.

j. Court told that one witness hasn’t turned up to testify, another, a police officer, has been called away on urgent business – so case out of witnesses for today. Gordon Jackson says he has a few to go through tomorrow, but “nothing major”.

DAY 9 – Thursday 19 March 2020

a. Alex Salmond in court with his wife on what may well be final day of defence case. Next witness is DCS Lesley Boal, who led police investigation into Alex Salmond; she confirms she did not accept a copy of the conclusions of the govt’s internal investigation in case her inquiry was “unconsciously tainted” by it. She says her team took 386 statements.

b. Next witness is Alex Bell, who worked for Alex Salmond. Asked about the Jack Vettriano Christmas card incident with Woman B, he says he doesn’t recall seeing anything that concerned him; “there may have been some joking” around the card, but he doesn’t remember Woman B being unhappy about it.

c. In cross examination, Alex Prentice asks if Alex Bell went upstairs to join Woman B and Alex Salmond because he was concerned about her being alone with him; he says he returned to the room “to ensure the welfare” of Woman B. 

d. Next witness is Alex Salmond’s former driver, Roger Cherry. He says he can’t remember who sat where on the night Woman C says Alex Salmond touched her leg, but he confirms that the back seat armrest could not be retracted and the atmosphere was “very jovial and happy”.

e. After agreement of a joint minute of various defence productions, that’s the end of the defence case. Speeches next, although Judge Lady Dorrian wants to discuss matters with the two legal teams first. Expecting Alex Prentice to sum up this afternoon for the Crown, but if he takes too long, then Gordon Jackson tomorrow morning. That could mean the jury charged by Lady Dorrian to begin deliberations immediately thereafter.

Lunch adjournment

f. Crown’s summation: Alex Prentice QC says he wants the jury to convict Alex Salmond of all that’s on the indictment. He says they are the masters of the facts; they decide what evidence they accept, what they reject, and what conclusions to draw. “I suggest that Alex Salmond’s conduct was intimidating, humiliating, degrading and created an offensive environment”. He adds, “This is a powerful man who used his power to satisfy his sexual desires with impunity.” He says jury are entitled to dismiss the evidence of the nine complainers as being fabricated or exaggerated, but equally they can regard them as “truthful and honest witnesses”. He says that if you do, then “you see a pattern emerges”. He says much has been made of Alex Salmond being a “tactile person” – he tells the jury that he’s not sure what this means, but it’s “not a licence to grope women”. He says there’s a “course of conduct of seeking sexual gratification”. He runs through the charges one by one urging jury to look at the context around the circumstances; of young women alone late at night at Bute House. He asks if claims of each complainant chime with the others, suggesting there is an “emerging pattern”. Adds, there is an “ongoing course of conduct” through the indictment, “a common theme of a sexual predator with escalating gravity”. He says there is a further common theme running through this case, that “these ladies effectively had nobody to turn to”. They felt they could not speak out to expose what was going on.

g. He concludes his speech by telling the jury: “they felt they had nobody to turn to for an effective remedy – well they do now. I invite you to convict Alex Salmond of the charges against him.”

DAY 10 – Friday 20 March 2020

a. Bright spring sunshine over Edinburgh. A big day for Alex Salmond and indeed his accusers. A reminder to readers Gordon Jackson QC is defending him, this his moment to state the case for the defence. (The judge, Lady Dorian will then address the jury and charge them to find a verdict.)

b. Defence summation. Gordon Jackson QC opines that the prosecution is right. He paraphrases the prosecution’s remarks: “that there’s a pattern here” – but adds “not the one they want the jury to draw”. It’s of things that had nothing thought of them at the time, that were not a big deal at the time, later rethought, re-imagined, now criminal charges in the High Court. He says the jury must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt – [my italics] and that is a very high standard of proof. ”There is only guilt in these matters not because someone could have been a better man, but because of that standard of proof.” He warns against making moral judgements and asks jury to concentrate on proof. On the attempted rape charge, Gordon Jackson says defence have shown Woman H was not at the dinner that night. He repeats the prosecution’s phrase “The pattern does not fit”. He says there’s something in the “murky” world of politics in that phrase, a catch all phrase: “I can’t prove it, but I can smell it, there’s something not right”. He says the charge of sexual assault with intent to rape is “a hell of an allegation”. “There may have been inappropriate behaviour, but when they are both fully clothed and they sit up and say goodnight afterward, how does this become intent to rape?” He adds “Don’t ask me.” He enumerates the other charges – he says none are “trivial”, but “these were incidents nobody thought twice about” at the time. He finds problems in “Every one I look at”. He continues on the same theme, “this is frightening, scary, this stinks, this absolutely stinks”.  Gordon Jackson says “inconsistencies and contradictions crop up repeatedly” in the testimonies and evidence. He alleges there are signs some of the charges were orchestrated. He tells jury that if they had any hesitation about the truth or accuracy of the charges, they had to acquit. “You cannot take a risk with his life or anybody else’s life … If you accept any of these things is a criminal matter, you need to be satisfied to that high, high standard.” He says Woman A was “fiercely involved” in talking to other complainers, and then he touches upon the issue of conspiracy by repeats the line. Again to the jury he says “A fifth complainer, a senior politician, has refused to take part in those conversations because she felt it was inappropriate. There’s something that doesn’t smell right about the whole thing.” He adds, “Alex Salmond is entitled not to be convicted of anything unless there’s clear evidence.” He pauses and then says “this all comes out of the political bubble with no real independent support of any kind”.

c. He concludes his summing up speech telling the jury that he doesn’t care if they like Alex Salmond or not – “he’s not above the law, but he’s not below it either.” He finishes with “This has gone far enough!”

d. Judge Lady Dorrian thanks the Defence counsel and turns to the jury to her instructions – explaining points of law, where not to draw conclusions, how not to be subjective, how to be a responsible person on a matter involving reputations and livelihoods, and they must decide on the basis of having no doubt in the minds one way or the other. She tells them that “it’s your judgement that matters, it’s for you alone to decide what is or isn’t important”.

e. We now await the decision of the jury. I am never sure if a swift verdict is a good or a bad thing, but I take a long deliberation to mean a split jury.

Posted in Scottish Politics, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Coronavirus Updates


It is understandable readers will want to know who has been affected in their local area in Scotland, which places one should avoid. The best tactic is to stay in doors at home as long as is desirable. However, to answer the anxiety precisely, areas least affected tend to be the remotest areas with the fewest inhabitants, although Shetland proves such areas are not immune.

The ‘Coronavirus Tracker’ site below keeps tabs on occurrences as they are logged and published. As soon as you click on the link, the accumulated titles are animated to keep you up-to-date.

Take it for granted matters will get worse before they get better and the virus contained … in time, as with Spanish Flu, a cure will be found, a cure the medical experts are working on now around the world. Meanwhile, stay safe, think smart.

However, ‘social distancing’ shouldn’t, mean the end of social cooperation. On the contrary, if coronavirus has shown anything it is the necessity of both micro-local and unprecedented trans-national cooperation. Scotland is a keen international nation.






Posted in General, Media | 5 Comments

Car Culture: Volvo Philosophy

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


Working on a car assembly line is no picnic

The car industry is in dire trouble. Faced by the perfect storm, Brexit, falling sales, ropey reliability, dieselgate, and now the Devil’s Virus, Nissan has closed its Sunderland factory for an indefinite period. This comes as a blow to the workers who were told only days ago that Nissan had decided to stick with building cars in the UK and would invest £400 million in the plant over the next few years. That policy is in shreds.

Nissan’s decision means work will stop at its Sunderland factory, which employs 6,000 staff [many who voted for Brexit] and produces about 440,000 vehicles a year. The company said: “Further measures are currently under study as we assess supply chain disruption and the sudden drop in market demand caused by the Covid-19 emergency.”

The car industry employs thousands of people, from factories to showrooms, to suppliers and pour millions into advertising, especially television and cinema commercials. Admittedly, car makers have stopped telling us about their latest model and instead ply us with aspirational images, thumping music, and a brand name, but fewer commercials means fewer film crew.

Almost all the major movies made in the UK by British talent arose from people working in television commercials, Ridley Scott and his Hovis add in Shaftsbury, Dorset, probably the best known. (The one with the boy pushing his delivery bike up the steep crescent past chocolate box thatched houses called Gold Hill.) For a long time producer David Puttnam employed no other crew but those he knew from his advertising agency days.

And then there is us, the car owner. Far be it for me to ring alarm bells, but I can hear cyclists and environmentalists cheering on learning large parts of automobilia Britannia may never recover from the crisis.

According to press releases 20,000 UK car workers have been sent home temporarily across the UK industry, while Mercedes-Benz parent, Daimler, Volkswagen, Ford, Fiat and Peugeot have announced broader suspensions of European output. Jaguar Land Rover keeps its UK sites operating but has frozen output at its Slovak factory.

And it isn’t only in the UK that car makers are staring at severe contraction. Toyota stopped output at more of its plants in Europe and Asia, including factories in Poland, the Czech Republic and Turkey. The great money-making monolith BMW reports profits this year will be significantly lower due to the interruptions at plants that accounted for half of the 2.6 million cars it built in 2019.

Let’s look at this more closely. What is a car plant doing making almost half-a-million cars a year? No matter many are destined for the European market, what happens in days of famine when demand falls away and you have harnessed your costs and bottom line to selling masses of vehicles? You lay off workers. That is always the first way to cut costs. Then you close down plants. It wasn’t always like that.

Pausing an assembly line can be disastrous, and that ever-moving line is an invention of Henry Ford. The conveyor belt made Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times look like a picnic. It brought cars to the masses but factory work was barren. Workers given a set time to add a part to a vehicle on the move at 3 mph remains became an emblem of the worst kind of capitalism, a kind of modern slavery.

Since those bleak days, car makers have gotten around the needs of human nature, such as tea and toilet breaks, by turning entire plants over to robots. The build quality of cars has vastly improved but not the reliability. The people who supply the parts don’t always supply the best, and often the best is not what the car maker ordered.

Since the Eighties the ‘just-in-time’ method of supplying parts to car makers has become the normal way of manufacturing, with the exception of a few cars hand-built places such as Morgan and Ariel. It wasn’t known as ‘just-in-time back in the day. It was known as ‘lean production’.

The Japanese invented lean production, European and American mass manufacturers followed suit. Does lean production bring worker satisfaction? Opinions are divided. For one thing, there is very little craftsmanship in being a cog in a wheel. Scots lay a lot of  weight on good craftsmanship; we praise it whenever we see it. We look for it in our cars.

The Japanese used lean production wisely. A worker could stop a production line to explain to managers – the shusha – that a part was faulty. The part maker supplying the plant could be called in to analyse the problem and make changes to his production methods or materials. In the UK, we fitted the part just the same. Let the dealer fix it.

When a Japanese supplier was thanked for delivering components in time and the correct number they were rewarded with a long-term contract, but at a much lower cost per component than previously supplied. That way Japanese cars tended not to rise in price. The parts supplier saw his company given security of tenure for years, a preferred relationship to high profits and frequent changes of supplier. Loyalty was the ethos so long as the car maker’s vehicles sold, which they did because they were cheaper than British and European cars and more reliable.

When the system was taken up in the UK the Brits did it differently from the Japanese. Soon as a component supplier fulfilled their brief well they asked for, and got, a higher price for their next batch of products but no long-term contract. British cars rose in price with each new model making them uncompetitive compared to an imported Japanese car. Parts delivered did not get better made. Company bosses preferred to retain the power to fire people and companies rather than encourage good work and a written, guaranteed partnership. Company loyalty was rock bottom.

For a long time Sweden’s Volvo company refused to join the American-Japanese way of working. They had no assembly line, no just-in-time, supplies. In their Udevalla factory they had a dozen cars lying on revolving plinths the factory floor, the 740 and 760 estate models, built by ten genuine craftsmen, each with a specific role, working together to put an entire car together, until it was ready to test drive.

In some ways it was the same as Henry Ford’s 1903 assembly hall before he hit on the idea of a moving line. Each group worked on their car and no other. They had to make four a week. If a problem arose, a faulty part, something not fitting, the team were able to set their own pace to get the problem solved. The men and women took a pride in creating a vehicle they had built, an intense team effort. To avoid repetition and errors arising from it, the team could rotate jobs. The system was a humane one.

At one time Scotland was Volvo’s biggest market after Sweden and Norway. We loved Volvo cars. They looked like a brick, seemed carved out of one, but handled our winters with ease. They started in freezing weather, first time. They trundled through deep snow and slush, other cars lying by the wayside. They were safety conscious, huge rubber bumpers to push aside annoying small cars, had seat belts, crumble zones, and reinforced windscreen glass.

Volvo was the first and the last car maker to sell their vehicles on safety aspects alone. They were great family cars. Then we took to SUVs, Volvo’s sales dipped and Ford bought the company, junking their build philosophy – team work – and instituted a conveyor belt system. Quality dropped. Ford sold the company back to the Swedish government.

The point about team work built cars is, you had to order one. You were happy to do that, or take one that was in the dealer showroom even if not the colour you wanted. Volvo did not have a few thousand in different colours rusting away on some green field site ready to deliver.

The engineers, the social scientists, the accountancy experts, the people with the power to alter manufacturing methods disliked Volvo’s methods intensely. Their attitude was, a modern car is a highly complex machine with at least 10,000 parts. It needs a highly complex manufacturing system to cope. They got their way and we got streets filled with the things, gradually constraining how we used them, our freedom to roam lost, which was the opposite reason for buying one.

Car makers have all they need to build a car that will last for decades, but they hate doing that. They want us to buy the latest model that under the skin might be the same as the last but in a different suit, so they churn them out. Today … not so much.

Maybe that’s a good thing.


Looking for an SUV

I’ve friends asking me to find them a car on a decent budget. It has to be a medium-sized SUV, 1.6, 1.8, or a 2 litre engine, 5 doors and automatic. I’d prefer it didn’t have more than 60,000 miles on the clock and no rust or accident damage. Chipped alloy wheels are fixable, cutting out rust and respraying panels is too expensive. I’d consider one of the small Volvo estates. If you’re selling, let me know by dropping a line attached to this article. If you can bring it to Edinburgh, I’m interested. I have the cash.

E-Scooters made street legal

Electric scooters will be allowed on public roads for the first time under a UK Department for Transport proposal which will consult on the rules required to allow the new technology to operate safely, so says Grant Shapps, the ever industrious Transport minister, approving £90 million spent on initial experiments. They are already all over Los Angeles where people escoote-share them, but there are few hills to climb, and streets are wide boulevards. The legalisation of e-scooters is just one proposal in a wider plan to enable a “transport revolution”, which also involves projects to trial medical deliveries to the Isle of Wight using autonomous drones, and a test of self-driving cars between Bristol and Bath. You have been warned.

Wear your seat belt!

I knew a retired English lecturer who refused to wear a seat belt. She considered it an infringement of her civil liberties. She died in a 30mph accident on an Edinburgh road. According to figures from the Police Forensic Collision Investigators (PFCI), via a Freedom of Information request, the percentage of road deaths where the victim was not wearing a seat belt has increased from 25 per cent in 2016, to 31 per cent in 2018. 261 people died in 2018. There’s a cheery statistic to finish on a week of coronavirus deaths and loss of Scotland’s independence referendum. On both counts, ‘Better Together’ is the last thing we need.

Happy motoring!

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