Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Clash Of The Cabinets

Monday’s UK Cabinet day-trip to Aberdeen, the first occasion in two years when Tory MPs outnumbered pandas in Scotland, was a complicated logistical exercise.  Public safety was a huge concern, since most Cabinet members aren’t accustomed to being that far north without being seized by the urge to shoot something.  In addition, there was the threat of the Scottish Cabinet unexpectedly appearing on the scene and subjecting Dave and his pals to a hilarious Benny Hill chase sequence. 

When, despite Michael Gove’s intensive tutoring, the Cabinet proved to be absolute rubbish at spikkin Doric, it was the last straw.  Aides regretfully concluded that the politicians would have to be kept apart from the general public at all times.  Alistair Carmichael was instructed to run a decoy operation in Shell HQ car park, blowing aside the media’s fatuous questions with his copious supply of wind.  Meanwhile, the remaining Cabinet members were smuggled into the building one by one, concealing themselves where necessary behind lamp-posts, shrubbery or, in the case of Eric Pickles, Pittodrie Stadium.

As Cabinets go, it was something of a ‘B’ Team.  William Hague, who’d recently intervened in the debate with all the finesse of a hippopotamus in gumboots, was needed in Parliament for some booming but empty oratory on Ukraine.  George Osborne, still commemorated on local dartboards three years after his tax grab brought oil investment to its knees, had sensibly found a G20 meeting to attend on the other side of the planet.  But far be it from Westminster to short-change Scotland. The remaining bunch were a perfectly viable embodiment of Tory values, choosing to trumpet their economic achievements in a town full of millionaires in a country whose biggest food bank had just run out of supplies.

Their glorious leader had already recorded his keynote statement aboard an oil rig, with his hard hat giving him a distinct resemblance to Bob the Builder, albeit after he’d inherited a fortune and gone completely off the rails.  Anybody with a functioning cerebellum knew that the UK government’s stewardship of North Sea resources had been pants, but, with impressive chutzpah, Dave stood there insisting he could fix it.  Bet he used to say that to restaurant owners whose premises the Bullingdon Club had just trashed.

The UK government had “deep pockets”, he told us, which may explain where they hid the McCrone Report for 30 years after it had indicated this oil thing might be quite handy for the Scots. Their “broad shoulders”, possibly the evolutionary result of having to cope with such big heads, may be useful for nudging provincials out of the way and deflecting incoming wealth towards the South East, but they’d be a liability if you were in a tight spot.  Wouldn’t they just get stuck?  As for “top ten economy”, a phrase difficult to contemplate without Alan Freeman’s Pick Of The Pops theme running through your head, that description’s certainly true at the time of writing, but of scant relevance when said economy is run by chinless chancers you can’t un-elect.

The question isn’t whether a future Scottish government is up to the task of matching Westminster’s track record.  It’s how, short of setting fire to the oil as it comes ashore and chucking piles of £20 notes into the flames, the Scottish government could actually do worse.  If mankind could invent a truth serum to which Whitehall isn’t immune, what would be the UK government’s honest appraisal?  

“Well, initially we used the oil money to pay off creditors because we’d made ourselves bankrupt, then we spent 11 years compensating for the societal carnage caused by the policies of a deranged ideologue, and subsidising the bargain-basement sell-off of our public services to speculators.  After that it’s mostly a blur, but recently we’ve blown a fair whack on protection money to the banking community and tax breaks for the fantastically rich.  Now we’re flirting with bankruptcy again, but we’ve got a mind-blowingly expensive train set to build and we’ve told flooded Thames Valley residents money’s no object, so we wonder if you could lend us a few quid?”

Given the First Minister’s credentials as a former oil economist, Westminster’s choice of the North Sea as a debating topic was tantamount to picking up the nearest frying pan and challenging Andy Murray to a game of tennis.  To make it interesting, Alex and his Cabinet were accidentally-on-purpose also meeting in the area, at Portlethen ten, seven, six or five miles away, depending on which way up the broadcasters were holding their maps.  It was no less a stunt than the UK Government’s, although at least the Scottish Cabinet does make a frequent habit of venturing out and about, instead of showing up roughly as often as Halley’s Comet.

Alex’s strategy, gleaned from the “bleedin’ obvious” section of his campaigning handbook, was to anticipate every move his leaden-footed opponents would make and do things differently.   So instead of screeching on to the tarmac in “Scare Force One”, his Cabinet turned up in a coach as if on a Sunday School outing. Eschewing a swanky oil company boardroom, they met in a chilly church hall, as the BBC's Nick Robinson ruefully tweeted through chattering teeth.  Rather than executive coffee and luxury biscuits from preferred corporate suppliers, they had a whistling tea urn and scrumptious carrot cake courtesy of Mrs MacPherson of the Guild.

The greatest difference was, of course, that after their meeting they held a question-and-answer session with the Portlethen public, inevitably reported by the press as “Salmond gets a grilling”.  It would be a foolish dream to expect the same of their UK counterparts, but at least some of them consented to TV interviews, including Mr Cameron himself, who by the time STV's Bernard Ponsonby was finished with him was taking on a lovely shade of pink at the edges.  As his eyes bulged, you could see him think, “Oh bugger, is this the man George told me to avoid at all costs?”

As Westminster’s finest headed for a stiff gin on the plane, the broadcasters began a frantic search for anyone with serious connections to the oil industry who gave two hoots about independence.  It hadn’t worked with Sir Ian Wood, whose newly-published report on how to do things better was the ostensible reason for the whole day’s circus, and despite increasingly bizarre lines of questioning it didn’t work with anyone else.  

Looks like they might have to go back to the old scare about the oil running out soon, with warnings not to spend too long in the loo or you might miss it.  It’s not Scotland’s oil, it’s Schrödinger’s:  bust if we open the box, and bonanza if the UK does.

Coming soon:
  • Concern about the Scottish whisky industry, amid reports of dwindling peat stocks and a growing worldwide temperance movement. 
  • Scottish tourism under threat, as a respected expert announces global warming could turn off the Gulf Stream and insurers predict increased premiums for midge bite risk.
  • Tablet “could be major cause of diabetes”, says passer-by who looks a bit like a doctor.
A minefield, this self-determination thing, isn’t it?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Always Crashing In The Same Car

Writing is the sort of job you’d recommend only to someone you secretly hate.  You’re always the second person to come up with the idea of a schoolboy wizard.  Your funniest jokes have already been told better by scores of strangers on Twitter.  Anything you type after 10pm will by morning have mysteriously re-arranged itself into drivel.  And, no matter how long you sit by the phone, the BBC never rings to say, “Your sitcom idea is genius and we’re sending over a helicopter full of money.” 

Sooner or later you’re forced to heave your dignity into a skip and crank out whatever nonsense pays enough to stop the bailiffs taking away the furniture.  Desperation clouds your judgment, you start making crazy decisions, and before you know it you’ve signed up for the project from Hell.  If you’re really unlucky, that could mean working on Johann Lamont’s scriptwriting team.

The Herald awarded Johann the title of “Debater Of The Year” in 2013, prompting many to visit their GPs to complain about hallucinations.  Perhaps a last-minute rule change disqualified any contestants whose surnames began with S, or they introduced a new “folding arms and scowling” discipline.  But now the challenge is on. To sweep her to a similar victory in 2014, Johann needs a constant supply of easy-to-read words laced with negativity and sarcasm, written by people who are dying a little inside.

First Minister’s Questions is Johann’s weekly opportunity to draw attention to Alex Salmond’s obsession with independence by repeatedly asking him about independence.  That makes Wednesday a key night, when her scriptwriters gather for a stressful brainstorming session in a heavily guarded bunker buried deep within Salisbury Crags. 

Needless to say, the guards are on the inside, and wives, husbands and significant others know better than to ask when they’ll see their loved ones again.  The writers connect themselves intravenously to the giant coffee urn in the centre of the room and pray the supervisors don’t start clamping down on toilet breaks.  The pile of discarded drafts grows more mountainous with the passing of the hours, as does the fear of being smothered by its collapse.  Word-smithing doesn’t get tougher than this!

This week, as they always do, Better Together’s PR minions provided the team with a generous selection of possible topics for Johann to raise.   Currency and the EU continued to dominate the scaremongering charts, thanks to the BBC’s tireless misrepresentation.  Elsewhere, we had camera-shy Gordon Brown’s alarming news that after a Yes vote our pensions were doooomed, which seemed rather like an arsonist criticising your fire extinguishers.  And little Danny Alexander expressed a quaint idea that Scotland would, on technically impossible grounds, become a pariah state where Fabergé eggs were cheaper than mortgages.

Oh, and I don’t know if you heard, but there was a late intervention in the debate by a popular singer whose career peaked roughly 40 years ago.  It must have been an interesting moment in the bunker when the exhausted scribblers, thinking they’d completed the whole diatribe and could finally go home, discovered they now had to spend Thursday morning shoe-horning in Bowie references.  At Holyrood, the public gallery spectators were agog with anticipation. Would Johann tell us independence was “a god-awful small affair”? Would Alex Salmond, previously a star man, be put under pressure, hitting an all-time low?   

As High Noon arrived, it transpired that the First Minister’s advisers had supplied him with his own Bowie joke, about Eve Muirhead and her curling rink being “heroes, just for one day”. Not only did he manage to deliver it first, but it got a hearty laugh, whereas Johann’s “turn and face the strain” received an isolated titter somehow worse than silence.  Unperturbed, Johann started reeling off a list of the Westminster and Brussels elite whom the First Minister, a mere colonial, had “insulted” by disagreeing robustly with them.  Was Bowie, she asked, also to be dismissed as “preposterous, bluffing and bullying”?

Well, let’s see, the guy performed as a spaceman dressed in a leotard with a lightning bolt painted on his face, so that’s certainly pretty preposterous.  Otherwise, Johann’s opening gambit joins the ever-growing list of “Dumb-Ass Questions Alex Salmond Didn’t Dignify With A Response”.  If Alex had brought a 1970s copy of the New Musical Express with him, it might have been different.  Instead, he had a copy of, of all things, the Daily Mail, one of whose articles he gleefully cited as evidence that Westminster’s hardball approach was backfiring.

Johann switched into school-teacher mode, rattily harrumphing about Alex’s “extraordinary lack of self-awareness”.  If we had a separate currency, she asked, what about the “Alex Tax” (ooh, most original, high-fives in the scriptwriters’ bunker), with annual transaction costs to Scottish businesses equivalent to £75 per head of population?  Eight times higher than in good old Blighty, you reckless separatists!

I suspect that, even if we do end up with Plan B, it won’t involve a Scottish Pound, which means we may not have to put up with this George/Alex/JoLa Tax gubbins much longer.  For now, Alex simply pointed out for the 639,735th time that the proposed currency union would mean businesses paying nothing whatsoever.  Then, the cheeky wee scamp, he again waved around the Daily Mail, “Labour’s house journal”, expressing concerns at how Labour were damaging themselves, even though damaging them was clearly his job.

Oh, my!  In the bunker, horrified glances were exchanged.  Whether Johann was reliving past torments at the hands of smartarse schoolkids, or simply hadn’t bothered to attend her anger management sessions during the recess, there was no disputing she was losing her rag.  “Associating with the Tories… 3p Corporation Tax cut…. two-thirds of the people want a Plan B…. WHAT DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?”

Alex didn’t give the obvious answer, which was “nothing”, since he’d once again accomplished his mission.  For completeness, he put the boot in once more with ironic support for a “calm and considered debate”, then paraded the Fiscal Commission’s credentials and quoted EU sources who’d diplomatically explained why Mr Barroso was talking pish.  “The First Minister only listens to people who agree with him,” hissed Johann, picking up all the scare stories with a huge shovel and lobbing them towards him.

But the game was up for her.  Alex, having snaffled the first word, now had the last, producing an academic study that indicated Scotland couldn’t default on a debt we legally didn’t owe, and adding that not paying it would be worth £25,000 per head.  Well, that should certainly help Danny Alexander with his astronomical mortgage payments.

That’s why scriptwriting for Johann Lamont is such a hopeless job.  No matter what linguistic stunts you pull, no matter how much you polish your witticisms, there’s always the nagging fear that your efforts will be stymied as she veers off into a “wee things” moment, or goes nuclear under provocation.  Of course, BBC Scotland will ensure that any embarrassing footage ends up on the cutting room floor, but you can sense her Labour colleagues getting queasy.  It’s great having people behind you, but if one of them is going to be Ian Davidson I’d suggest checking for bayonets.

Next Tuesday Johann’s debating Nicola Sturgeon head-to-head on STV.  Her advisers need to come up with something ground-breakingly special by then, otherwise it could be carnage.  Or, as Bowie would put it, wham bam thank you ma’am.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Another Day In Bedlam

I wonder how José Manuel Barroso plans to strip me of my EU citizenship?  I’ve spent 40 years helping to provide a lavish lifestyle for useless people like him, so he’d better put some effort into it.  An incentive scheme where I chuck my passport into a giant skip at Tesco in exchange for 500 Clubcard points ain’t gonna cut it.  I want a weekend in Brussels where I can have a free pass for the Holiday Inn minibar and enjoy a final piece of sight-seeing before being humiliatingly deported.  Or a mass ceremony at Hampden Park, like a Moonie wedding in reverse, where unelected officials tell us to sod off in 28 different languages and we’re given a souvenir red card to take home for the mantelpiece.

Mr Barroso may have had nothing new to say about Scotland, thus sparing Andrew Marr the trouble of thinking up any worthwhile questions, but his comments were instructive.  England, should it wish to leave the EU after the 2017 referendum, now knows it can avoid years of wrangling and negotiation simply by declaring its own independence from Wales and Northern Ireland and being immediately expelled.  On the other hand, Scotland can, if it desires, erupt into civil war and instability without doing its prospects of EU membership any further harm.

In Aberdeen yesterday, the background noise from the soon-to-be-has-been Mr Barroso was unheeded by the First Minister as he addressed Business for Scotland.  He was enjoying himself, partially because he was in front of an appreciative audience, highly unlikely to form a lynch mob, and partially because it’s always gratifying to give George Osborne a kicking.  We even heard what appeared to be the odd chuckle, although that may have been George squeezing the throat of a voodoo doll 400 miles away.

The Chancellor’s speech had been “bluff, bluster and bullying,” declared Alex, showing David Cameron who’s boss when it comes to alliteration.  His view of currency union had been “a caricature”, an assessment that seemed to lend Mr Osborne's fag-packet doodle some undeserved artistic credibility.  Then came the headline-seeker, the “George Tax”, which may have sounded like a subsidy for the Royal baby, but in fact stood for the transaction costs businesses elsewhere in the UK would pay if Scotland had a different currency.  Alex sensibly stayed schtum about the effects on Scottish businesses, relying on Better Together to find some way of shooting themselves in the foot with that somewhere down the line.

The BBC immediately went on to a war footing.  Chief political spinmeister Norman Smith teleported in from a parallel universe, where Mark Carney had agreed with Osborne that currency union was nuts and the SNP were clearly in denial.  David Cameron, whose PPE degree from Oxford trumps two Nobel Prizes in economics any day, was dragged out of a flood relief photo-op in Gloucester to opine that Alex was now “a man without a plan”.  Which, apart from the plan he’s still articulating and the four other options set out in black type in a perfectly readable font on page 110 of the White Paper, he clearly is. 

Earlier, in an Edinburgh coffee shop small enough for it to look like the other customers were paying attention to him, Alistair Darling had looked remarkably relaxed as he used his psychic powers to rubbish what Alex was going to say.  Unfortunately, he’d then made the mistake of drinking some of the coffee.  Hence his midday BBC News 24 appearance, where he became agitated about the timing of opinion polls and patronised his interviewer in the style of Peter O’Sullevan commentating on the closing stages of the Grand National.

However, that was nothing compared to his evening Channel 4 conversation with Jon Snow, who clearly hadn’t received MI5’s instruction that questioning the No campaign is taboo.  “You people are panicking,” said Snow, and anyone who’d read the Ladybird Book of Body Language could only agree. “Oh, for goodness sake!” wailed Alistair, fending off Snow’s preposterous assertions that Scotland was not a third-world country and everyone would co-operate to make independence work.  “A small country doesn’t have as much influence in the EU,” he spluttered, inadvertently driving a coach and horses through Barroso’s contention that Scotland would be blackballed.  As the cameras moved away, a cleaner nonchalantly began to scoop him into a bin bag.

On STV, Bernard Ponsonby gave Alex Salmond a robust grilling and sacrificed his prospects of ever landing a job with the BBC by allowing him time to finish his answers.  “You’ve got a Plan B, C, D and E?” he asked incredulously, as Alex got as close as he ever will to raising his eyebrows and going “Well, duh”.  If only, we all thought, Bernard could be similarly incisive in interviews with people on the Better Together side.  Then we remembered that he’d have to catch them first.

To round the night off, Newsnight Scotland gave us Gary Robertson’s weird fixation on bank bailouts in an independent Scotland, a classic piece of stonewalling by John Swinney on the costs of the “George Tax” for Scottish businesses and a comedy cameo from Alistair Carmichael, the thinking man’s Rab C Nesbitt.  “A referendum is different from an election,” maintained Alistair, “because you can change a government.”  Except for viewers in Scotland, of course. It’s probably not even true in England now, with the Lib Dems tarting themselves about to form a government with just about anyone, no matter what the voters say.

And so another day in the bedlam of the Scottish referendum campaign came to an end.  No, I’ve nothing to say about The Agenda on STV, because I stopped watching it after I threw the first brick through the TV screen.

Seven months to go.  210 days of scare stories, increasingly non-compliant interviewers, meltdowns and interfering wastes of space from Brussels.  The greatest show on earth.  Join me soon for the next gripping instalment.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mixed Messages At Better Together

Thanks to my mole at Better Together for intercepting this e-mail.  I can’t imagine who “Alistair” and “Blair M” might be, although they seem to be quite important in the organisation, so if you have any ideas please let me know.

Hi Alistair,

I trust your anger management therapy is going well, and hope to see you soon here in Scotland, which I know you regard as your second home, when it isn’t your first.  It is, as always, an honour to present my report on Better Together’s recent campaign activities.

Firstly, many thanks for asking GCHQ to send us figures on the Prime Minister’s “phone-a-friend” initiative.  We’ve now analysed these and, as we feared, they’re somewhat disappointing.  With half of England underwater and the government’s response a mixture of back-stabbing, extravagant promises and hasty back-pedalling, it seems people aren’t exactly making it a priority to ring up their Scottish friends and say, “Wow, stick with this Westminster lot – they’ve totally nailed running the country!” 

We did identify one useful stat:  a brief spike in phone calls to Scotland midway through Saturday evening.  It was just Englishmen wanting to gloat about the rugby, of course, but readers won’t realise that when our selectively-edited graphs appear in the Herald’s imminent 4-page “Weekend Wooing” pull-out.

Now, one minor concern.  As you know, some key BT donors and their bodyguards visited our office last week, leaving lasting impressions on me personally.  We discussed how to reverse the trend in opinion polls, which had become so obvious that even Professor Curtice had noticed.  Our conclusion, if the subsequent anaesthetic hasn’t dulled my memory, was that we should start sending out a more positive message to voters. 

That’s all very well, but how does it square with today’s news on the BBC that George Osborne is about to rule out a currency union?  How is any propagandist this side of Alpha Centauri supposed to spin that as a positive message?  Might as well try training an elephant to tap-dance.  I know it’s the BBC, so obviously there’s a liberal sprinkling of pish involved, but, given all the hullaballoo, he must actually be going to say it, right?

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love misery.  I pour vinegar on my bran flakes every morning, and if my toast doesn’t land buttered side down I kick it around until it does.  But now the staff are confused by the mixed messages.  Are we supposed to be nice or nasty?  Was it a waste of time looking up “positive” in the dictionary?  Why weren’t we told about this before flushing 490,000 undistributed “Goodbye To The Pound” leaflets down the toilet?   Now we’re uncertain what we should be doing and the drains are blocked.  That’s no good for morale.

What about the efforts we’ve put into Johann Lamont’s smiling training?  We’ve already gone through half-a-dozen reinforced mirrors, and incurred significant agency expenses after two of our permanent trainers became traumatised.  The staff are in uproar because the milk for their coffee keeps going sour and they can’t say “Hello” in the corridor without getting a dose of her withering sarcasm.  Personally, I still prefer Plan B, where we hold Johann prisoner for seven months and replace her with a giant smiley sock puppet.  No-one at Holyrood would notice, and the puppet would stand more chance of getting Labour to approve her tax devolution proposals.

What about the money that’s already gone into the new charm offensive?  For example, on hiring an open-top bus to drive Strathallan School pupils down Princes Street while they pelt passers-by with tubes of Love Hearts.  Or replacing all of our switchboard operators with minions from Despicable Me in the hope that callers will find them cuter and funnier.   Or buying cuddly toys to send to local debates in place of speakers, to show the audience we love them even if we can’t be arsed to defend our position in public.

What about our plans to engage with voters through music?  Ruth Davidson is clearly ready to launch into Land Of Hope And Glory at the slightest provocation, and we’re considering sending her up a Munro and filming her Sound of Music style.  Douglas and Danny are all set to go on tour as the New Alexander Brothers, just as soon as Danny can be surgically detached from George Osborne.  Ian Davidson’s irony-free rendition of Shipbuilding is expected to go viral on YouTube, and Anas Sarwar is working on an ambitious project he calls his “Wall Of Sound”.  We may well bring the whole shebang together in an open-air summer concert, if we can find a football stadium small enough.

Our natural supporters in the media would surely enjoy a move away from constant negativity.  When the editor of the Herald picks up the phone to take dictation, we want to hear the birdsong of welcome in his voice, not the clink of anti-depressants in his glass.  When Sally Magnusson reads out the lies we pump into Pacific Quay each day, we want to watch her gasp at their sheer audacity, not read them out with the merest arch of an eyebrow before moving on to that night’s road traffic accident.

So, bearing all of this advice in mind, I wonder if you could pop round to your old house to ask the Chancellor if he might reconsider?   I’m sure the head-butt last time was an unfortunate accident, and in any case you could wear a protective helmet.

Meanwhile, with a degree of resignation, we’ll restart the creaky old baggage carousel and set the scare stories trundling endlessly round again:  EU, pensions, borders, supermarket prices, defence.  Of course, there’s now a space where “currency” used to be.  Perhaps I could fill it with one of the cuddly toys?  That would be the best of both worlds.

Yours aye (in the sense of “forever”, naturally),

Blair M

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Greatest Love-Bomber Of All

Mr Cameron addresses three-quarters of the nation.

People of England, Wales and Northern Ireland!

Scotland!  Stop pulling that face.  This is about you, but it’s not for you.  Daddy’s speaking to the other children now.  Don’t interrupt.  Why?  Because it’s rude.  Look, I don’t care if that IS what Evan Davis does on the Today programme.  Evan is a big boy, so he knows when he needs to step in to stop you embarrassing yourself. 

Sorry, everyone, I’m afraid Scotland is a bit tired and crabby this morning.  Must have had a little too much Irn Bru last night.  (Pause while acolytes hold up signs saying “LAUGH NOW”.)  Anyway, we have lots to talk about, so let’s ignore their high-pitched whining and get on.

Look around you at this magnificent Olympic park.  Isn’t it a splendid example of what we can achieve as a united British people?  It doesn’t matter in what corner of these islands you were born, or whether you can afford the outrageous train fares to get here.  You still had the honour of paying through your taxes for these splendid facilities, which the people of London and its burgeoning tourist industry will enjoy for decades to come. 

That’s why the warmth of our gratitude, which is a thousand times more valuable than money, will always be radiating outwards from the M25 to wherever it is you people live.  But as well as gratitude, there’s glory, with the memory of our Team GB competitors kicking the arse of the world, really sticking it to those bastards in the G20 who said we were just a titchy offshore island with delusions of grandeur.

But it’s not simply about the winning;  it’s about the red, white and blue.  Blue is in my blood, so can you imagine how it would feel to have that drained out of our flag?  The French would never let me hear the end of it, Obama’s flunkies would simply put the phone down instead of putting me on hold, and Vladimir would taunt me about the flag going pink in the wash.

Think of our connections with each other.  The UK is an intricate trap… I mean, tapestry.  Look at me:  I have West Highland Cameron ancestors, but I’m also the 5th cousin of the Queen. The name Cameron may mean “crooked nose”, but my forebears had good enough spin doctors to fix that.  They coined the family motto “Let Us Unite”, a useful rallying cry in 1707 when the overwhelming mandate of the privileged brought Scotland into England’s embrace.

We can’t unpick institutions and infrastructure that have grown up together.  Can you imagine how Scottish supermarkets would suffer if lorries had to queue for hours at border posts we’d erected for no discernible reason?  What about the chaos if Scotland had a different legal system?  Or a different tax regime?  I don’t know how the Europeans manage, not that that will matter a jot after 2017.

Our prosperity, which from personal experience I can tell you is very real, even though invisible in your own daily lives, depends on sticking together.  We have a long term economic plan -  no, a vision, though I’m sure George hasn’t done drugs since college -  for Britain to be innovating, creating and shovelling the proceeds down our banker pals’ throats until the sun goes nova.  Without access to Scottish resources, George and I could find ourselves getting boiled in oil, in a nice ironic touch, at the next Bilderberg conference.  

Our armed forces?  Finest in the world, though Philip Hammond is working on that.  Our shipyards?  Thanks for taking one for the team there, Portsmouth.  But it’s not just about national vanity, although obviously that’s mostly it. 

We’re also the soft-power super-power, a crucible of creativity that produced Emeli Sande, whose CDs the people of Kazakhstan would chuck on a massive bonfire if they discovered she was Scottish and not North British.  And what about Sherlock, whom Conan Doyle would have been too poor and stupid to create if the country had just stopped at Hadrian’s Wall?  (Is that where the border really is, Tristan?  Can someone check before the speech?)

Then there’s the BBC, whose reputation for fairness and impartiality goes without saying.  More and more frequently, as it happens.  But Aung San Suu Kyi was a fan, so that’s the moral high ground secured against annoying questions.  (Tristan, can we leave out the part about her bopping along to the DLT Show?) 

This is a country where, if we see someone who’s sick, or has lost their job, we don’t just walk on by.  We kick them in the nuts, get them evicted from their home and say it’s all their fault.  Let’s keep speaking out for these values together, filling the gaps with “la la la” if we must, to shut out any dissenting voices pointing out the immense moral vacuum at their heart.

We are the pride and hope for the world.  Think of the British ships, named after different parts of the UK, sailing to the Falklands to protect the then-popular principle of self-determination.  Think of how, in 1964, Nelson Mandela, even though he was at that time a terrorist, delivered a moving speech in court about his respect for British institutions such as Parliament.  Can you imagine? Unlike the Jocks, he had no place to air his grievances!  Whereas we gave the SNP at least 10 minutes yesterday to make themselves heard above the heckling, and some unelected peers as long as they liked recently to explain why the very idea of independence was pants.

My favourite book when I was growing up was Our Island Story, which may be sub-titled A Child’s History of England, but also contains several compelling paragraphs about the provinces.  I want to give it to my three children so that they, too, can pee their pants with laughter about the gigantic con we’re… I’m sorry, I’ll read that again.  Britain is our family home, which we built brick by brick through brave buccaneering belligerent blustering brash brawny brilliance.  I couldn’t bear to see it torn apart, and to prevent that I’ll fight with everything I have, except my debating skills.

So let the message ring out, from Manchester to Motherwell (Tristan, is that where we shut down those steelworks?), from Pembrokeshire to Perth (shooting and fishing country, we’re on firm ground there), from Belfast to (crap, can’t think of anything!  Will they notice if I just say Brigadoon?  Oh, wait a minute, there’s an earl of…of…where is it?) BUTE, from us to the people of Scotland:  we want you to stay!  Please please please!  Don’t go breaking our hearts!

Alternatively, let us have all the oil, then you can bugger off.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Accentuating The Positive

Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 2 February 2014

Selected highlights from the Independence Referendum Campaign in January.

Alan Cochrane is in a tizz.  The bitterness of the independence debate will create fissures in Scottish society for generations to come, says the Daily Telegraph’s Scottish Editor.  Or maybe it’s the stand-up comedian with a similar name;  I do tend to get the two mixed up.

As Alan sobs gently into his comfort blanket, he should rest assured that kindred spirits are available to offer him a group hug.  For January 2014 was the month when several stalwarts of the No campaign, including Alistair Darling, Jim Murphy and up'n'coming Labour starlet Kezia Dugdale, appalled us with fearful stories of “Cybernats” hurling online poison at them from dank bedrooms across the land. 

Online abuse is disgraceful, but most would agree that it’s (a) a general problem, by no means specific to the referendum debate, (b) a minority pursuit, (c) present on both sides of the argument, and (d) not masterminded from an underground bunker by Alex Salmond.  However, this view proved too nuanced for the Daily Mail, which under its guest editor Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a two-week witch hunt of separatist agitators, even door-stepping a few who’d escaped detection by the elaborate double-bluff of using their real names and not actually saying anything very controversial.

I’m sure Alistair and his friends would be horrified if this unpleasantness were to distract us from the real debate.  So let’s stick with the positive campaign stories of January, such as Alistair’s own heart-warming reconciliation with former neighbour and boss from hell, Gordon Brown.  Through boom and bust they’d shared a brotherly bond, until the day Alistair had spoiled it all by giving an update on the economy in the style of Private Fraser from Dad’s Army.  Now, with Westminster’s throttle-hold on Scotland at stake, they’d put all the volcanic tantrums and self-serving memoirs behind them and were back in harness.

The rapprochement didn’t extend to appearing in public together, which saved someone the job of ensuring all throwable objects were nailed down.  But it did involve Gordon smiling in that peculiar, disconcerting way of his, lavishing praise on Alistair in a speech and even remembering to remove his radio mike before getting in the car.  Gordon is now scheduled to disappear for months on end, as usual, and step in to save the day once Alistair’s cocked everything up.  Alistair’s views on all of this are not recorded, but he seems to be fluttering his eyelashes quite a bit.

Meanwhile, Labour were busy launching their latest buzz-phrase, “pooling and sharing resources”, or, as the rest of us say, “kicking the Barnett Formula in the nuts”.  They also added to the mystery surrounding their classic slogan “a bigger idea than independence”, in a First Minister’s Questions performance by Labour leader Johann Lamont that was extraordinary even by her standards. 

In Johann’s words, which Alex Salmond helpfully repeated back to her in case of any mistake, removing Trident, avoiding illegal wars and tackling child poverty are “wee things”.  Blimey, you might think, this idea Labour’s got must be really massive.  That must be why they didn’t get round to implementing it in 13 years of government.  Maybe they’re worried about its gravitational pull causing tidal surges.  Or perhaps Johann is just looking at independence through the wrong end of a telescope.

The spate of “love-bombing” promised by Better Together was almost a positive story, but didn’t work out as expected.   William Hague marched into Edinburgh to deliver a lecture, long on bombast and short on understanding, that was more of an oaf-bombing.  Then on Burns Night John Barrowman didn’t show a great deal of love, but certainly bombed, punctuating a bizarre Immortal Memory with elephantine asides calling Alex Salmond a pudding.  About his jacket it’s kindest to say nothing, except that the day’s statistics for self-inflicted eye injuries must have been somewhat alarming.

Elsewhere on the explosives front, a stink bomb went off at BBC Scotland, as the University of the West of Scotland released a report demonstrating bias in their referendum news coverage in favour of the No campaign.  Everyone assumed it was part of the university’s “Bleedin’ Obvious” series of reports, a successor to the ground-breaking “Cows Go Moo” and “Ye Canny Shove Yer Granny Aff A Bus”.   

The BBC certainly seemed to assume it wasn’t news, since they didn’t report it.  Instead, in a letter sneakily copied to his boss, they demanded that the author, Dr John Robertson, show them his workings, so that a middle manager with no relevant academic qualifications could “evaluate” them.  “Heroic Apparatchik Debunks Hate Report Using Plain Common Sense” -  now that’s news!

Another notable publication during January was Jim Sillars’ alternative vision for Scotland, in Place Of Fear II.  Its title’s a nifty homage to Nye Bevan, it’s downloadable to your Kindle and, at a sixth of the length of the White Paper, you can read it in an afternoon without your head exploding.  Its release coincided with Jim’s appearance on BBC Question Time from Dundee, where his natural authority never lost its grip on the audience’s attention, even when he strayed off topic into a lengthy reflection on quantitative easing, while David Dimbleby shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, steam gently hissing out of his ears.

Jim doesn’t agree with the SNP on a number of things, including a sterling currency union, so he may have had a beady eye on Mark Carney’s “technocratic” outline of how to operate one.  The BBC marked this key moment in the campaign by switching into “gloating in advance” mode.  Would Salmond be handed his chosen currency option in a bin bag, or be given a dustpan and brush and ordered to sweep up the mess himself?  What would “Ye cannae dae it” sound like in a Canadian accent?  The occupants of Downing Street gathered round the telly with beers and Cheesy Wotsits in anticipation of a rout.

Instead, what we got was a scrupulously even-handed, non-judgmental analysis, a master-class in tightrope-walking over a minefield with a nuclear warhead strapped to one’s back.  The subsequent press conference re-enacted the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider, but with an alternative outcome, as time after time James Naughtie and his colleagues tried to put words in Carney’s mouth, only to be gently encouraged to sod off and get a life.

“The idea of a currency union is now normal, not risky or outlandish,” we thought, until we read the brain-shredding spin in the newspapers the following morning and realised we’d been visiting a parallel universe.  It seems that if you can’t pin a damaging quote on someone, you declare it’s what he didn’t say that matters.  As he left Edinburgh, Carney’s parting words had been, “It’s over, it’s over.”  But it never is.

In the universe inhabited by Better Together, not so much parallel as accessed by falling down a rabbit hole, it was as if someone had flicked a magic switch.  “Goodbye to the pound,” screamed their new leaflet, aimed at commuters on the basis that one must always have something sensational to read on the train.  It’s unclear whether they really printed the 500,000 copies they claimed, or someone in the press office had fat-finger syndrome.

Never mind, though, I’m sure there are many uses to which squillions of unread leaflets can be put.  We could even knit a few together and make a nice new comfort blanket for Alan Cochrane.  I’m positive his old one’s getting a bit worn.

To A Grouse (Epistle To Alistair Darling)

Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 25 January 2014

Happy birthday, Robert Burns, 255 years young!

(On Him Turning Up In Newspapers Everywhere, Whining)

Wee, sleekit, glowerin’, troublous Darling,
O what a panic’s set thee snarling!
Thy bare-faced claims we can’t use sterling
Dinna convince.
The imprecations thou keep’st hurling
Are full o’ mince.

I ken wherefore thou art sae crabbit,
Thy fizzog like a startled rabbit,
Thy point of view sae parched and scabbit,
Thine aspect grim.
Faith! Thou maun earn a handsome habit
Wi’ ermine trim.

I doubt na but thy denigration
O’ Scotia’s self-determination
Is based on wild imagination,
Or pauchlin’ lies!
Such mischief bears its indication
In blinkin’ eyes.

Thy Project Fear has fallen tae ruin!
The Cybernats gave it a doin’,
Noo all deride its idle spewin’
O’ stories strange,
And bold September’s wind’s ensuin’:
The wind o’ change!

Thou saw Carmichael, bare and wast,
And moothy Sarwar, speakin’ fast,
And Michael Moore, in ancient past,
For mercy plead,
By Nicola’s scything wit outclassed
And left for deid.

O Grand Panjandrum o’ Finance,
Wha reads White Papers at a glance,
Whose style o’ banking governance
Was fair found wantin’,
It’s nae surprise we look askance
At a’ thy rantin’!

Gowk, thou maun learn the lesson plain:
Thy negativity is vain,
Awa’ back hame and think again,
Thy scheme’s agley.
An’ nought remains but grief and pain
On voting day!

How drab thy lot, compared wi’ me!
Westminster only toucheth thee,
And, as I backward cast my e’e,
It turns tae dust,
While forward, though I canna see,
I hope and trust!


Author's Note:  

In the spirit of "I am Spartacus", I hereby embrace the term "Cybernat" in the neutral sense of "supporter of Independence who comments and debates online". 

Recent use of it by politicians and the Daily Mail to tar ordinary Independence supporters with the same brush as online abusers and bullies is outrageous, and can't be allowed to stand unchallenged. Online abuse and bullying is to be unreservedly condemned and must be stamped out - but it exists on both sides of this debate and, alas, many others.  

If you're abused, that's dreadful, but there are laws to protect you and you should report it to the police. Don't attempt to hijack the moral high ground;  it's not clever, it's not pretty and it's very, very tedious.

All Together Now

Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 15 January 2014

One of the striking things about the “Better Together” campaign whose positive message over the last few months has so galvanised the Scottish independence debate is how excitingly inclusive it is.  It doesn’t matter how ridiculous you are, how anti-democratic, how irrelevant to the debate or how tainted by past failure; you’re still welcome to point out to the Scottish people that we’re uniquely incapable of making our own decisions, and that if we try to do so the entire planet will be torn from its axis and hurled into the void.

Take the grey, cobwebbed figure in a deserted corner of the pavilion at Lord’s that startlingly came to life shortly before Christmas and revealed itself as Sir John Major.  Sir John’s affinity with Scotland is such that at the 1997 election he became the only Tory leader in history to preside over the complete obliteration of his party’s representation here.  But he did leave sterling out in the rain on Black Wednesday for speculators to rip apart, so currency is kind of his specialist subject.  As long as he keeps his clothes on, anyway.

It’s often hard to be sure of what Sir John is saying, because you’re so busy stabbing yourself with a pencil to stay awake.  But the gist of his remarks seemed to be that after voting Yes we could forget about negotiating a sterling currency union with the remainder of the UK.  Any of that malarkey and a gang of Phil Mitchell lookalikes would show us off the premises faster than we could say, “Mmm, aren't these knuckledusters delicious?”  Thereafter, we’d have to rely on bawbees, pibrochs or Irn Bru bottle tops until being grudgingly permitted to join the Euro in 2099, twenty years after Ruritania. 

We had little opportunity to consider what George Soros and his fellow vampires might think of a sterling zone shorn of oil revenues, for within seconds a weedy, knackered-sounding trumpet voluntary announced the arrival of the next uninvited guest.  Why, if it wasn’t Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain!

When we’d last seen Mariano, he and David Cameron had been engaged in a red-faced, middle-aged shoving match at the head of a seven-mile traffic queue outside Gibraltar.  But with a tiny sprinkling of “Better Together” fairy dust, they were now best buddies, standing shoulder to shoulder against slippery secessionists.  It’s unclear whether they were in some sort of bromance-related clinch, or simply using each other as glove puppets. 

When Mariano said that a region splitting off from a larger country would “remain outside the EU”, it’s a pretty solid bet he was talking about Catalonia, Spain’s own little pocket of troublemakers.  Naturally, having the politician’s usual allergy to unambiguous statements, he didn’t come out with it explicitly, but merely left his words hanging there like a fart in a lift. 

Of course, he didn’t have a scooby what would actually happen, since the EU has no mechanism for chucking out entire populations for unacceptable voting choices, but who cares?  Better Together simply slapped clothes pegs on their noses and got their pet journalists to disgorge some tripe spinning his statement as a dire warning from the EU to Scotland.  One suspects that shortly Dave will issue a reciprocal weasel-worded threat, expertly timed to banjax Barcelona.

Since Scotland’s untimely removal from the EU would result in Spain’s fishermen being kicked out of Scottish waters and his paella having to be made from tofu, I rather think Mariano would be amongst the first to summon us back down from the naughty step.  But never mind, it’s great to see that ignorance and guardianship of a tottering economy mired in scandal aren’t barriers to inclusion in the grand Unionist charm offensive.

As 2014 has dawned it’s become apparent that Better Together have significantly ramped up their game.  Perhaps they’ve been spending the NoTunes vouchers they got for Christmas.  We’re promised that, just as soon as they can identify candidates with the right combination of shamelessness, cashflow problems and fake sincerity, “English celebrities” will be all over the airwaves, telling us how much they adore us and can’t live without us.  

What toe-curling telly might we expect?  Luvvies in “I Heart Scotland” T-shirts getting the words to Auld Lang Syne wrong?  Jeremy Paxman introducing Newsnight wearing a Jimmy wig?  The cast of Strictly doing a White Heather Club tribute?  OR MAYBE THE BBC COULD JUST PRODUCE A WEATHER MAP WITH SCOTLAND THE CORRECT FLAMING SIZE?

This technique is known as “love bombing”, a vaguely pornographic-sounding term often associated with religious brainwashing cults.  It worked a treat with the Quebec independence referendum in 1995, something Better Together think we’re too stupid to have noticed.  The current retread will also feature “ordinary folk” cold-calling Scottish voters in an initiative called “Blether Together”.  (That isn’t satire, folks.)  If I were a candid friend, I’d advise against recruiting too many callers from the North of England, in case discussions take an unexpected turn and we end up with the border at Sheffield.

However, the “marquee signing” of the whole BT campaign is surely the one just announced… oh, all right then, denied by official sources, so obviously true.  Step forward Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of Russia, tough-talking tiger-tranquillising macho man, the world’s first authentic super-hero!   Yes, he’s a repressive, homophobic thug steeped in the ways of the KGB who doesn’t give a monkey’s about democracy, but protocol demands that we listen politely to him this year, because Russia has the presidency of the G8.  What better time to call upon him to stem the shock waves of self-determination currently buggering up the world for bankers and oligarchs?

It’s easy to imagine Putin striding topless through the heather, the midges bouncing off his leathery skin as he pauses occasionally to wrestle a lion rampant into submission.  With him around there’d be no more dissent from musicians:  Eddi Reader’s behaviour on Question Time would have to be peh-eh-eh-eh-eh-erfect and the Proclaimers’ proclamations would be limited to weather forecasts for Leith.  He’d win appeal, too, as the sort of guy with whom you’d happily share a pint.  I mean a single pint;  damned if I'd drink anything he offered unless he were drinking it too.

Still, this could all rebound on Better Together if Putin were to stumble across the nuclear base at Faslane and realise that independence will stop the warheads pointing at Moscow.  Of course, the missiles are useless and Putin could personally punch each one out of the sky as they fell, but it’s the principle of the thing.  And Putin’s probably drunk more toasts to St Andrew and Robert Burns than the whole UK Cabinet put together, so who can be sure he doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Scotland under that adamantine exterior?

But that’s Better Together for you:  devil-may-care risk-takers in their anxiety to ensure everyone gets a proper chance to rubbish independence from their all-encompassing tent.  It’s a pity they can’t attract the one figure whom voters are actually clamouring to see directly involved in the cut-and-thrust.  But Mr Cameron remains forever in the background, steadfastly maintaining his unimpeachable neutrality.  On what grounds?  Why, that the independence debate is just “for Scots”.

Aye, right.

A New Scotland Is Born

Originally published in "This Time It's Personal" on 1 January 2014

As a special New Year treat, here’s an advance extract from my blog dated 1 January 2064!

(Yes, it’s quite a leap to suggest that in 50 years’ time I’ll still be gabbing on like this, or even that blogging and the Internet will exist in their current form.  But, hey, the Institute for Fiscal Studies can predict a black hole for Scotland’s finances 50 years hence without being universally derided as a bunch of scaremongering charlatans, so how’s about cutting me a bit of slack?)

As Scotland basks in the glow of last summer’s International Peace Summit in Glasgow, when the nations of the world agreed to lay down arms for ever and cement their friendship by going out to get pished together, our thoughts now turn to the independence 50th anniversary celebrations coming up in September.

Although I’m now just a brain kept artificially alive in a jar, I well remember the excitement and trepidation we all felt as the bells rang for New Year 2014.  Little did we suspect how momentous the events of that year would turn out to be!

The first unusual turn came during a Newsnight Scotland broadcast late in January.  Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael was sounding off about a General Medical Council prediction that, sadly, the population of an independent Scotland would fall victim to a plague of boils.  Suddenly, breaking off with an anguished cry of “God help me, I can’t go on spouting this guff a second longer!”, he ripped off his microphone, leapt to his feet, bounded over to the studio window and leapt out.  Fortunately, his fall was broken by a large pile of manure, which had just been delivered to the BBC to form the basis of the following day’s news bulletins.

Carmichael’s career might have ended there, except that no potential candidate to replace him could stand the prospect of being duffed up in a debate with Nicola Sturgeon.  So he was packed off to Harley Street for repairs.  Following his return, he was invariably flanked at public appearances by engineers carrying screwdrivers and WD40, and his voice took on a raspy tone best described as “Dalek”.  The Scottish press complimented him on his new robust approach, and declared his frequent outbursts of “Exterminate!” to be a neat sound-bite summing up the positive case for the Union.

It was at about this time that Alex Salmond discovered the cure for cancer.  This was a low point for the “Yes” campaign, as their opponents made hay with potential job losses in NHS oncology departments and the pensions black hole created by people living longer.  Anyway, scoffed the Scotsman, what use was a cancer cure when the real threat was obviously a plague of boils?

The 16 weeks leading up to the referendum constituted a formal campaign period, when the BBC was bound to observe strict impartiality.  As the subsequent public enquiry established, they did try ever so hard, but staff shortages over the summer holidays contributed to a number of regrettable errors.  These included the addition of a laughter track to “Yes” campaign broadcasts, a keynote speech by Nicola Sturgeon being interrupted by extended live coverage of Prince George’s first birthday party, and the broadcast of a previously unseen edition of Balamory, where the village bank is held up by a robber in a Salmond mask.

Four weeks before the vote, the “No” camp finally came up with its killer campaign document, fully setting out its position.  It was a tarpaulin draped over the Forth Rail Bridge, spray-painted with the words “WE CANNAE DAE IT”.  The Herald called it “a masterstroke” and the Telegraph described it as “a comprehensive rebuttal of Alex Salmond’s vanity project.”

One week before polling day came the campaign’s most sensational development.  Alistair Darling, who’d been going steadily downhill since the launch of the White Paper, when he’d blown a fuse by attempting to speed-read all 670 pages in 30 seconds before giving his reaction on TV, finally snapped.  When a punter at a public meeting asked him about the consequences of a “No” vote, the accumulated cognitive dissonance of several months spilled out of his head and randomly formed itself into an honest answer.  “The bagpipes, kilts and the Saltire will be banned and the Duke of Cumberland will be installed as viceroy of Scotland in perpetuity.”

The press blamed a “mole” amongst Darling’s special advisers for providing a fake briefing, but the game was up.  He was blackballed from gentleman’s clubs in London and Edinburgh, the House of Lords seat reserved for him was destroyed in a controlled explosion and he had to flee the country dressed in a burqa.  As we all know, he subsequently rebuilt his life and found fame in Hollywood, where his facial tics and paranoia were put to good use in Pink Panther remakes, as Clouseau’s tortured boss Inspector Dreyfus.

Apart from voters streaming in steadily,  referendum day itself was unexceptional until five minutes before polls closed, when a fleet of Royal Mail vans suddenly appeared, carrying half a million postal votes, all mysteriously postmarked “Brigadoon” and voting No.  All, it transpired, except for the very last, where the voter had unaccountably failed to tick the “No” box but had instead scrawled beside it, somewhat mechanically, the single word “Exterminate”.  The ballot paper was declared void and - yikes! - that made the referendum a dead heat.

The UK Establishment always knows the right thing to do at such times.  A civil servant produced some Tipp-Ex and drafted an amendment to the Edinburgh Agreement, stating that in the event of a draw Her Majesty the Queen would have the casting vote.  Immediately David Cameron, accompanied by as many lickspittles and poltroons as he could find, set off in a motorcade for Buckingham Palace.  “Cameron’s midnight dash to save civilisation,” cooed the Dundee Courier.

There followed the scene that appears in every child’s history book.  Cameron and his parcel of rogues strode into the Palace, gold-edged ballot parchment in hand, only to find Salmond and Sturgeon already there, sipping tea with Her Majesty.  It turned out that Nicola had cornered HMQ several weeks previously at one of her garden parties and swung her round to the idea of independence.  She’d even helped her choose how she’d like to appear on the new stamps.  Quite a charmer, that Nicola.  Cheeky wee besom, of course.

And so Scotland began to write its own history.  And, though we were still unaware of it, so much excitement was still to come. 

London declaring its own independence in 2017, commencing its journey to the military dictatorship we know today, ruled over by a dynasty of increasingly loopy Johnsons.

The smooth absorption of Britain’s entire land mass outside the M25 into Greater Scotland, and the establishment of the Scottish Pound as the world’s reserve currency following the collapse of sterling and the US Dollar. 

The discovery that a combination of midge bites, gale force winds and drizzle is the perfect tonic for the human immune system, leading to the Scottish tourism boom of the 2030s and the Ardnamurchan Lido becoming the world’s prime holiday destination.

Catalonia achieving its own independence in 2016 and its football team winning every World Cup since then.  Of course, to commemorate our respective independence struggles, they insist on playing Scotland in a friendly every year and handing out the most embarrassing gubbing.

What a future, eh, folks?  Of course, it’s only one of a number of alternative timelines, so the precise facts may diverge ever so slightly.  But if you hear that Carmichael is being lined up to talk a load of boils on Newsnight, it will be well worth watching.  However, if you can't watch it live, I’d set the video if I were you.  I doubt if the BBC will put it on iPlayer.