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Tuesday 10 September : A Buzz round the Media with Honey McBee

There really is only one story, compared with which everything else pales into insignificance. But Syria is an intractable problem – a moral dilemma for the West - seemingly beyond the wit of man to solve, even with hours of debate and acres of newsprint. The world waits for the US Congress.  It is not in our remit here – save to say human suffering on such a scale must surely be brought to an end. Preferably by fair means, or if not, by foul and so be it.


Meanwhile, back in Scotland…

Fun? Really?

Ah well. Scotland’s back from the summer hols, Festival-comers gone - and indyref cranks into action again. Another 53 weeks and it’ll all be over bar the girning… one MP is clearly looking forward to it, though there are apparently some lucky people in the Borders who are not getting the same coverage as the rest of us – SNP MSP Joan McAlpine clearly thinks they shouldn’t get away with it…

Fraser Macdonald in last Wednesday’s Guardian reminded us that with the coming of the referendum, Scottish politics is ‘fun’ again.  The electorate are ‘het up’, says Mr Macdonald, because we do at last have the chance to make our big decision.  Sheltering under the volley of phlegm between Yes Scotland and Better Together, can be found the much neglected "mibbes aye" and "mibbes naw" camps, together with their beleaguered but abundant kinsfolk, the "devo-maxers" and the "indy-liters". There may be a few weary souls among the head-scratchers and the eye-rollers, but the real story is that this is a choice people care about. The prospect of this seismic vote has triggered a wave of creative and intellectual energy that has not been seen in Scotland for a generation”.   

Clearly he did not have in mind the spectacular stairheid rammy on STV’s Scotland Tonight Pensions debate last Thursday. Nicola Sturgeon and her Labour counterpart Anas Sarwar were a joy to behold.  On balance we (and the Twittersphere) awarded the winning points to Ms Sturgeon for at least trying to interject some facts and answer the question, rather than rely on bluster. Also she shouts louder.

The week before Steve Richards, also in the Guardian, had spent time at the book festival and reminded his English readers that Scotland is already different and heading away from ‘down south’. But, said Richards, this is none of our doing – rather it’s the wicked Tories at Westminster who are moving England away from us – “In Scotland the NHS is spared the haphazard revolution in England. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is powerless to impose his resolute will on schools in Scotland and the same applies to his other more evangelical colleagues moving England rightwards. Without doing very much Scotland becomes more different because of what is happening in England. The limited powers handed over to the Scottish parliament are precisely the ones that partly protect it from the ideological mission of the Westminster government. The cautiously incremental New Labour settlement becomes the basis of historic distinctiveness”.

Gerry Hassan in Saturday’s Scotsman said that though it has always been  a ‘given’ that Scotland is different, there has recently been an argument, based on the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, that individuals in Scotland think much the same as their counterparts south of the border. This, says Hassan “has become the predominant academic account of present-day Scotland, posing itself as the evidence based view in opposition to what it claims is a more emotional and instinctual feeling of distinctiveness”.  Hassan counters this argument by looking at voting patterns and attitudes towards the public v. private sector.

The case for a separate currency has been made again, this time by Jim and Margaret Cuthbert for the Options for Scotland Group and the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Their report questions the wisdom of Scotland’s economy being controlled through a currency union – either by the Bank of England via the pound, or by Germany via the Euro.  They also reject the notion that a small currency is inherently unstable, pointing to countries like Denmark, Norway and Switzerland who seem to manage very well.

For closet psephologists, Severin Carroll’s blog analysed this week’s indyref pols, including the Panelbase poll that showed the Yes vote running at 44%.  Before unionists pack their bags however, Scotland’s pseph-par-excellence, Prof John Curtice points out that Panelbase tends to be pro –Yes, and that it only asked participants their intentions after two fairly leading positive questions.  And  Devo Plus and You Gov are apparently  up to the same tricks.

So do we trust the latest polls from Tory Lord Ashcroft, headlined in yesterday’s Scotsman, apparently showing that voters are unhappy that the SNP is concentrating more on the referendum than on the economy, jobs and the NHS, but will nonetheless still vote for them in 2016? Brian Monteith in the paper’s opinion columns seems to think so. It has implications for the leaders of the other parties, but that Holyrood 2016 vote for the SNP may evaporate, he says - “After a referendum defeat for the SNP, an electorate awakening to the waste of money and three-year distraction of an independence referendum instead of dealing with the main issue may well choose to punish the SNP and keep it out of power for a generation.”

Finally, we are indebted to the Future of Scotland e-letter for a wonderful glimpse of indyref from Press TV.  Watch the tripartite discussion between London, Tehran and Washington and you begin to think Fraser Macdonald is right – this could be fun after all…



Better add frogs to the boils and locusts…

Last week too, the Chancellor came amongst us to tell us once more that boils and locusts will follow a Yes vote.  Iain McWhirter in Thursday’s Herald was unimpressed by Mr Osborne’s assertion that an independent Scotland would be running a deficit of £8bn and setting up an oil fund would leave us without free personal care and with university tuition fees. Every family will be £2,000 worse off as trade borders are thrown across the Cheviots and taxes will rise by 27%.

It was also a mistake, McWhirter thinks, to mention Norway – “This is a successful small country, with a very similar demographic profile to Scotland, and fewer economic advantages. It has become something of a beacon for all those who believe there is an alternative to the devil-take-the-hindmost banker capitalism that is currently the British way. Not only does Norway have one of the highest standards of living on the planet, it has one of the lowest levels of income inequality, the highest levels of social security and - Conservative chancellors please note - one of the most dynamic private sectors in the world”

Moreover, “Scotland is already more like Norway than England, in its social outlook and political culture. A social democracy with communitarian values borne of struggle against a harsh climate and an implacable global economy. Norway has one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, worth $700bn. Britain has one of the biggest debt problems of nearly £2tr. And he has the nerve to say Scotland would be worse off? On yer bike, Chancellor: Scots have been fooled once too often”. 


Cats in a Sack, continued.  Falkirk lives on…

Who knew that six months after we first flagged this up as a little local difficulty, Falkirk looks as though it might morph into Waterloo for Ed Miliband?   Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald felt the need to refresh our memories over its beginnings, as did Eddie Barnes in Scotland on Sunday . Last week an internal Labour Party report cleared the Unite union of wrongdoing.  Aye, right, say some Labour MPs and local councillor Linda Gow, a former runner for the seat, why was some evidence withdrawn?  

Meanwhile, former Labour campaign manager Tom Watson has accused another candidate of being the one who was signing up members without their knowledge; he and Jim Murphy have gone into battle on and off Twitter, Eric Joyce has likened the affair to something “from Sicily” and key player Kate Murphy, though exonerated, has withdrawn her candidacy… “Developments in Falkirk have left me shocked and saddened but I have acted throughout in what I believe was in the interest of the Party. I have been sustained during this difficult period by my union, but most importantly, by the members in Falkirk who deserve the highest representation and support. I believe that my continued presence in the Falkirk arena detracts from achieving that goal…it is therefore, with great sadness that I must withdraw my name from any consideration to be the Labour Party candidate for Falkirk”.

It remains to be seen whether Ed will get a rousing reception at the TUC this week, and indeed, how far he will get with his heralded reform.   Seems after all Johann Lamont might have had the right idea – duck below the parapet, say nowt, let the bullets fly over you... 



What kept him?

Bill Walker, MSP and convicted serial wife-beater, has finally decided to let go of the money (meaning no £58,000 salary, no £29,000 resettlement grant, £5,000 a year less pension) and resign.  The First Minister, supported by Michael Moore, has asked Westminster to devolve the power to decide what to do with convicted MSPs, which seems reasonable.  His spokesman Iain Maciver served to make matters worse yesterday with an ill-considered attack – though later withdrawn - on one of Mr Walker’s wives.

Like Falkirk though, this will not just quietly go away.  The SNP not only faces an embarrassing  by-election in marginal Dunfermline, but, says Paul Ward in yesterday’s Scotsman,  questions over how Walker was ever allowed to become a candidate in the first place, not just on the party list, but given a constituency – albeit he could never have been expected to win it. As the political wolves gather, the SNP says their President, MEP Ian Hudghton, has conducted a review of selection procedures and changes made. Lessons have been learnt.  It is good Mr Walker has gone – let us hope we do not see his like again.



“Fighting for a place in the multimillion-pound lifeboat”

Matters appear to be coming to a head at the BBC as former DG Mark Thomson and Chairman of the Trust Lord Patten squared up to each other and the Commons Select Committee at one and the same time.  Ian Bell in Saturday’s Herald took a view of the BBC in general and BBC Scotland in particular. He didn’t much care for what he saw. The BBC's right to a claim on the public's trust, he says, is no longer a God-given fact of British life. “The journalism is nothing special; some of the programmes would shame Channel 5. If the mission ever was to "educate, inform and entertain", most of us would these days be pushed to pick a category. The habit of patronising viewers and listeners is ingrained. The sense of a self-rewarding institution is established. In what mythical journalistic market would Jeremy Paxman ever find another six or seven-figure salary?”   If at any time you have resented the £145.50 tax levied on your television set, this is a must-read.



Sheep may not safely graze for much longer …

A walk on the wildside in Scotland on Sunday made for lighter reading while yet being QI.  Shan Ross was writing about Scotland’s ‘Flying Flock’ – a hit squad of about 300 hardy sheep that travels all over Scotland eating species that endanger bio-diverse wildflower meadows. No, neither did we.  They belong to the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which is now appealing for £20,000 to keep the flock on the move. The intrepid woollies apparently eat thistles and coarse grass ‘without hesitation’, and thus protect species like the rare greater butterfly orchid.  Dispatched to wildlife reserves like Aberlady Bay and the aptly named Fleece-faulds Meadows near Cupar, two of the diamond jubilee Coronation Meadows, they are also maintaining the grassy spirals of architect Charles Jencks at Kelty.  More power to their munching.



And finally…

“Dool and wae for the order sent oor lads tae the Border! The English for ance, by guile wan the day,

The Flooers o' the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,The pride o' oor land lie cauld in the clay”.

Yesterday, September 9th, was the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. You’d be forgiven if it passed you by, since the English don’t celebrate their victories as we do Bannockburn, and, though there are some low-key commemorations, we tend not to glory in our defeats. 

Best of the commentaries came from Magnus Linklater in Saturday’ Scottish edition of the Times (£)  Late in the afternoon of September 9, 1513, an English soldier, in pursuit of Scottish troops as they fled down the Branxton Hill overlooking Flodden Field, stopped to strip a fallen nobleman of his finely wrought armour. The body bore the wounds of an arrow and a halberd, the sharpened axes used by the English, which had helped inflict on the Scots the worst defeat in the history of the nation. The body was that of James 1V, the 40yr-old King of Scotland…” 

The defeat, says Linklater, shattered the self-confidence of the nation, cost it its wealth and political standing and wiped out the brightest and best of its nobility. He prefers to dwell on the many outstanding facets of James’s reign – the renaissance of Scottish culture in a period of relative stability; these, he says, are what we should remember, rather than the moment of madness that was Flodden.