Sunday, 30 March 2014

Bring Me Sunshine

Aberdeen was enveloped in an unexpected heatwave over the weekend, as literally several Scottish Liberal Democrats appeared on the scene, bringing with them their new “sunshine strategy”.

Leader Wullie Rennie, who will be claiming credit for the strategy if it works, but will otherwise be a speck of dust on the horizon, peeped out from behind a huge smiley mask to comment.  “We’re just thrilled to celebrate being in Britain, in government and indistinguishable from the Tories.  And what a wonderful platform Aberdeen is for us, with the Lib Dems having such a great record of delivery in the North East.  Like Domino Pizza, but with more limp cheesiness.”

What about the critics’ charge that this outpouring of manic jollity is a cynically engineered ploy to disguise the moral vacuum at the party’s heart?  “Ha ha, well, if you’ve heard me speak at Holyrood, you’ll know I have no chance of understanding what you’ve just said.  But look, we’re not at home to Mr Sourpuss.  People say we’re faking, but our position on the Union is something you couldn’t make up. The whole conference hall has a song in its heart and a smile on its lips, and the laughing gas we’ve been feeding through the air-con is just a precaution.”

The highlight of the proceedings was the keynote speech by David Cameron’s personal valet, Nick Clegg, the possessor of a fine old Scottish surname meaning “bloodsucking insect”.  Mr Clegg, who is fluent in five languages but chose to address the audience in his mother tongue of Bollocks, was unwavering in his support for the No campaign’s frantic attempts to discover a positive case for Scotland staying in the Union.

“The SNP and UKIP are very similar,” declared Mr Clegg, “All right, they fundamentally disagree on the EU and immigration, and only the SNP actually has any policies apart from that.  But otherwise they’re like identical twins.  Both of them end with the letter P, both are far more popular than the Lib Dems and both have a leader who can kick my arse in a debate.  Sorry, uncomfortable memories, so I’ll simply leave the comparison there for everyone to mull over, and move swiftly on.

“This referendum is about capturing imaginations.  It’s easy to wear a Grim Reaper costume and come out with doom-laden claptrap you’ve just made up, as you’ll find out when Danny Alexander does that later. But Scotland doesn’t seem to have fallen for it, so we also need to take people’s imaginations into the wild blue yonder, the universe filled with unicorns, pixies and fairy dust where everything is made of chocolate and diabetes is unknown.

“In an uncertain world, there’s strength in numbers.  Some numbers are a bit frightening, such as 1.3 trillion, but, if you imagine that the UK debt is a big fluffy snowman and George Osborne has a magic blowtorch, you can put the worry straight out of your mind.  By contrast, 50 is a nice number:  that’s the number of years we expect to have North Sea taxes available to camouflage the UK’s Ponzi economy.  Another nice number is 0, which is the number of nuclear warheads currently stationed in Surrey.  Er, sorry, this line of argument isn’t working, is it?  Time to move on.

“Scotland has an 8.3% decibel share in the UK’s loud voice in the G8, or the G7, as it’s called now that Putin’s been suspended for taking the results of a referendum way too seriously.  Imagine the results of that influence!  A bottle of Highland Spring in front of each delegate, apart from Monsieur Hollande, who needs to have Perrier or he’ll set fire to some tyres.  The Prime Minister lightening the atmosphere during carbon emission negotiations with his hilarious impression of Billy Connolly discussing farts.  Can Scotland afford to lose that impact at the top table, even though it exists only in my head?

“Speaking of the G7, look at the UK’s growth, now showing the highest dead cat bounce of any of them!  Yes, it’s all founded on an out-of-control London property boom, and it’s only a matter of time before it goes pop and subsides with a squeaky hiss.  But just imagine if God had a cosmic joke with us, and it kept going?  We’d be the largest economy in Europe by 2030, as long as all the other governments inexplicably decided to pursue rubbish policies.  Imagine Scotland missing out on that, while the rest of us linked hands on Hadrian’s Wall, or an alternative northern landmark not yet destroyed by fracking, and chanted “losers, looo-sers” in a northerly direction!  Um… I’m afraid this is getting a bit negative again.  Sorry….

“Tell you what, I’ll scrap the Bedroom Tax!  Only joking, that’s well above my pay grade.  But I’ll undertake to speak to the Prime Minister, if I can find some space in his diary, and ask him if he’ll let you spend more of your pocket money on alleviating its effects.  I imagine that’s almost as good as independence.  Isn’t it?

“Actually, we’d offer you and the rest of the provinces Home Rule in a federal UK, which is what we’ve been banging on about ever since Ming Campbell first proposed the idea 100 years ago.  But we can’t imagine what it would actually involve, although Ming suggests giving everyone a free cardigan and a Werther’s Original might be nice.  Frankly, it’s pretty academic, because after the debacle of the last four years there’s no way the electorate will ever touch the Lib Dems with a bargepole again.

“Sorry.  I’m so very sorry…..”

At this point a giant shepherd’s crook was deployed to assist Mr Clegg off stage. As he was being sedated, Wullie Rennie entertained the dwindling audience with a hastily improvised tap-dance.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats will meet again this time next year, probably in a bus shelter in Cardenden.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Gentleman Jim Meets Gorgeous George

I don’t know if the prospect of punters evading the licence fee without landing in the clink has caused a stramash in BBC Scotland’s executive bunker, but of late its referendum coverage seems to have inched closer to even-handedness.  It’s hard to be sure, because I can’t include Labour’s Perth Conference in my stats, since it turned out to be comedy rather than news.  But there have been a couple of occasions recently where prominent Unionists have been somewhat discomfited to encounter robust and pertinent questioning, rather than the usual “Why don’t you spout unchallenged drivel into the microphone for five minutes while I make us a nice cup of tea?”

I’ve probably kyboshed things now.  Jim Naughtie and his sword of truth will be back on Good Morning Scotland very soon, itching for an opportunity to announce “And now, Thought For The Day with Blair McDougall”.  Still, in a world of rabbit droppings you have to be grateful for the odd chocolate raisin.

That said, with a charter review on the horizon it’s still a bit of a stretch to say the Beeb has an interest in disseminating information that might actually be useful to the electorate.  We all know where that leads.  The obvious tactic, therefore, is to broadcast a series of head-to-head debates, with eye-catching personalities adding a veneer of light entertainment to reel in the viewers.  Boxes duly ticked, BBC Trust cooing contentedly and, if you get the format right, no chance of anyone accidentally being enlightened.  Hence, before our very eyes, last night’s celebrity smackdown between Jim Sillars and George Galloway on Newsnight Scotland.

They’re certainly an engaging pair of mavericks, and you can see why the respective campaign leaders might wish to keep them out of the spotlight, with cattle-prods if necessary.  Any spin doctor trying to convince either of them to toe the party line had better have a good therapist on speed-dial.  Both advocate a form of socialism that would make Ed Miliband spontaneously combust, and both, if Alex Salmond walked out into the road in front of them, might struggle to remember which pedal was the brake.

Jim’s now been a member of three political parties, thanks to the rare characteristic of having rock-solid principles, and is so detached from the present-day SNP that he’s practically on St Kilda.   He’s a master of the type of ringing phrase that makes you think “poet” rather than “smartarse”.  His vision of Scotland’s future, In Place Of Fear II, evoking the spirit of Nye Bevan’s hymn to the Welfare State, makes Anas Sarwar’s recently trumpeted “red paper” look like The Ladybird Book of Pissing About.  This is not a man in whose face you slam the door, unless you want it to fall off its hinges.

Coincidentally, George has also been in three parties, if you include the G Galloway Worship Party.  He devoured Roget’s Thesaurus at an early age, possibly force-fed by classmates who found him irritating, and has been famous ever since for his rhetorical flourishes, although the queue behind him at the Co-Op checkout has not always appreciated these. We all enjoyed his finest hour, when he memorably slapped a hostile US Senate Committee all round Capitol Hill, but I suspect not many of us would accept a used car from him, even if he offered it free and threw in £500 for fuel. 

The two stood at their respective lecterns facing the inquisitorial panel:  Gary Robertson, who obviously never sleeps, Isabel Fraser, whom we all feared had been kidnapped, and Laura Bicker, revelling in having such an appropriate surname for a referendum correspondent.  Jim was in conventional jacket and tie and George in a tuxedo and wing collar, looking like he’d just breezed in from a champagne reception, even though he doesn’t drink, because his ego is intoxicating enough.

The debate itself was a bit of a jaw-dropper.  George charges £12 a throw for his anti-independence roadshow Just Say Naw, as if he’d ever be so monosyllabic himself, so we were looking for all sorts of zingers from his script.  Instead, all we got was the standard Better Together bilge-fest:  Alex Salmond, currency, SNP, banks leaving, banks needing bailed out anyway, Alex Salmond, border posts, Alex Salmond, shipyard job losses, SNP, oil running out, oil crashing, Alex Salmond, NATO forcing Scotland to keep Trident, yadda yadda. He even trotted out Mr Barroso, now officially enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary under “busted flush”!  Sorry, George, if that’s your entire argument I want my money back and you’re lucky I haven’t set BBC Rogue Traders on you.

To be fair, there was a bit more:  we were treated to an exchange of catch-phrases.  George stole Jim’s “nonsense on stilts”, which Jim had used to describe currency union.  George, naturally, expanded it to encompass the whole idea of self-determination, a concept great for Palestine but disastrous for Scotland. Later Jim hit back, pulling a note from a breast pocket George’s tuxedo didn’t have, and reminding his opponent of the time he’d described his pro-Union Labour and Tory bedfellows as “two cheeks of the same backside”.  That’s probably not the exact terminology with which George regaled a grateful Oxford Union, but remember, Jim’s a gentleman.

Well, kind of.  There was a moment when Jim cheekily wondered aloud if George could suggest a home for Trident south of the border, since he was an “English MP”, whereupon the Gorgeous One threw a contrived anti-racist strop. Oh, the infamy!  The nonsense removed its stilts and started bouncing about on a pogo stick.

It was noticeable that Jim seemed to become more authoritative as the discussion wore on.  He even snuck in a positive word for EFTA, simultaneously short-circuiting George’s tedious “ooh, we’ll be up a gum tree with the EU” argument and sending thousands of viewers scurrying to Wikipedia to find out what the hell EFTA was.  George, meanwhile, got progressively louder and boomier, as if he was announcing the last train home.  Metaphorically, perhaps he was. 

And Jim did produce the night’s most memorable phrase:  that Scotland was in the process of shaking off its greatest handicap, the “myth of inadequacy”.   Not to mention the most head-scratchingly optimistic statement:  that after a Yes vote Scottish Labour would arise rejuvenated “with Middle England off its back” and win the 2016 election.  With Monty Python’s parrot running them a close second, no doubt.

So, in my own little opinion poll of one, I hereby award the points for last night’s tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte to Jim, while George leaves with nothing.  Except his undying affection for himself, and the controversy that constantly dogs his footsteps.

Of course, in complete contrast to the BBC, I’m totally biased.  Please feel free to send me your complaints about lack of balance.  My reply will be similar in content to their standard response, but slightly more succinctly worded.

Monday, 24 March 2014


Two years out from 24 March 2016, it's "Reasons For Yes" Day.  So here's a wee change of pace, with profound apologies to Stephen Sondheim.  The jokes will be back tomorrow!


The bankrupt campaign
Having no dreams of its own
Tramples on others.

Scots aspiring?
See what’s coming

Newswires humming
Insults firing
Fix the plumbing

Grown-up nation?
Know your station

Poor and stupid
We abhor you
Pricked by Cupid
We adore you

Osborne snarling
No to sterling
High inflation
Rumours swirling
Border station

Job migration
Storm winds whirling
Yay for curling!

Oil is flowing!
Lovely jubbly
Oil is slowing!
Scots in trouble, eh?

Voters turning?
Marr opining
Murphy whining
No solution
Lamont girning
Air pollution
Values spurning
Labour learning

The Herald, 24 March 2014:
SCOTLAND will be worse off than the rest of the UK to the tune of £1000 per person in the years immediately following Alex Salmond's proposed date of independence, according to an analysis published today.


Johann Lamont, Labour Perth Conference, 23 March 2014:
There is one thing which the First Minister has discovered this year. Women give birth to children. Then they look after them.  So when his focus groups tell him women don’t like him, he discovers child care.”


Sunday Telegraph, 23 March 2014:
“The Scottish National Party’s plans for the country’s economy post-independence have been dismissed as “a few windmills and hydro power” by one of the UK’s leading businessmen.


The Scotsman, 21 March 2014:
“An independent Scotland may end up accepting an “off the shelf” deal to join the EU with “significantly worse” terms and conditions than it currently enjoys, the Scottish Secretary has claimed.”


The Herald, 24 March 2014:
“Conservative Cabinet minister Ken Clarke has claimed a Yes vote in the independence referendum would "revive the medieval state of Scotland"…. Mr Clarke, 73, also referred repeatedly to the independence ballot as the "devolution vote" and said it was in May, rather than in September.


Daily Telegraph, 23 March 2014:
“An independent Scotland faces giving up the pound and higher borrowing costs, according to an analysis by the world’s largest fund manager…. A 12-page analysis of the ramifications of leaving the UK also raised the prospect of higher interest rates, financial services jobs moving south of the Border and cuts to public spending.”


Worship the financial sector!
Gorge yourself on endless nectar
Don’t turn on that lie detector

Never mind a small disaster
Who’s the servant, who’s the master?
Just bung on a sticking plaster

There was a time
when foreigners were welcome here,
when the Welfare State offered security from cradle to grave,
when the concept of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay existed,
when greater equality was considered a goal worth pursuing.    
But that was a long time ago.
Welcome to the UK.

Next!  Next!
Everyone in brace position,
Next!  Next!
Scorch the earth, fulfil the mission,

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Circus Comes To Perth

In a body-blow for the No campaign, Ed Miliband today entered the independence debate at the Labour Party’s Perth conference with a heartfelt declaration of love for Scotland. 

“My father trained with the Royal Navy at Inverkeithing,” the Labour leader fondly reminisced.  “It instilled in him a huge affinity with Scotland, although he never made it back there because for the rest of his life he was really busy.  But he always had a special smile for lucky white heather sellers, and a high tolerance for bagpipe music.  I remember my conversation with him as a boy, when he said to me, ‘Son, when you’re Prime Minister don’t forget to suck up to the Jocks. They’ll vote for any old rubbish if it wears a red rosette’.  And I said to him, ‘Dad, I’m Ed.  You’re mixing me up with David again.’

“Only Labour can restore the 50p top tax rate in Scotland,” Miliband continued, “because by the time we’re finished with the economy nobody will be earning enough to pay it anyway.  Under independence Alex Salmond would find himself competing with David Cameron in a race to the bottom, whereas within the Union we would pool and share the collapse of the economy so that everyone suffered equally.

“John Smith, whom respected mediums have confirmed to us would definitely have voted against independence, passionately believed in social justice. So magnificent was his vision that it’s taken us twenty years to come up with a plan to implement it.  But we’re ready now, as long as the opinion polls don’t go tits up.

“Alex Salmond used to call himself a social democrat.  He can’t any more, because we’ve debased politics so much in the last few years that the term’s meaningless.  Now that we’ve made punters think all politicians are the same, I can call him a Tory without anybody batting an eyelid.  Why put up with him making life easier for rich people with obscenities like free university tuition and prescription charges, when you can vote for us, and ensure 10,000 extra civil service jobs administering a means-tested quagmire?

“Anyway, it’s time for my oil change, and then I have a train to catch.  Bye!”

Mr Miliband’s speech came after Scottish Labour’s new “red flag” policy document Together We’re Crap had been unveiled by deputy Scottish leader Anas Sarwar in a five minute speech that lasted for four hours.  The document will be mailed to all Scottish households at the expense of Aberdeen council tax payers. It has several key planks, many of whom helped to write it.

“It’s about something bigger than independence,” indicated Sarwar, practising circular breathing to make sure no-one else got a word in edgeways. “It’s about adventure, ambitions, aspiration, assertions, assistance, assumptions and astonishment, and that’s only page 62 of the dictionary we’re at.  The SNP waste so much time on mundane delivery of policies, when they could be dreaming the dream like only Labour can.  Wake up, Scotland!

“Our proposals will halve child poverty by 2021.  We figure that by then about 40% of those currently affected will no longer be children, so we only have to worry about the other 10%.  So we’ll offer a few hours of free childcare to 2, 3 and 4 year olds and then re-define “poverty” to exclude families in receipt of childcare.  Job done!

“We’ll finance it by punishing better off people for living in Scotland by levying higher taxes than the rest of the UK.  If enough of them bugger off to Carlisle, average wealth in Scotland will go down, so people will be relatively less poor anyway.

"Johann’s done the sums and says 100 million people will benefit from our proposals, or maybe it’s 10, but the arithmetic doesn’t matter. Jackie Baillie will be in charge of publicity, since she’s a face that everyone can trust.”

Johann Lamont was unavailable for comment on humanitarian grounds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Bingo Budget Bulletin

Once we start deciding everything for ourselves, will Scots miss the theatricality of Budget Day?

The line-up of shop-window dummies outside Number 11, with the Chancellor holding up the red briefcase that, unbeknownst to all, contains only sandwiches and a rolled-up newspaper.  The 300-yard limo drive to the House of Commons, expensively filmed by the BBC from a helicopter because they’ve got your TV licence money, so bollocks to you!  The adversarial ranks of testosterone-addled louts, immune from everyday concerns, bellowing insults at each other and kept at bay only by an improbably pint-sized Speaker.

Then there’s the tradition that permits the Chancellor a drink of his choice during the speech, the only time alcohol’s allowed at the despatch box.  In their day Brown and Darling opted for mineral water, which was fine, because I wouldn’t like to see either of them too excited. Kenneth Clarke, who would rather have been lying back with headphones listening to Miles Davis, endured his ordeal with the aid of whisky.  Gladstone drank “sherry and beaten egg”, although he may have been secretly chastising himself for some personal misdemeanour.  George Osborne’s tipple looks like water, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it were actually the tears of the poor.

It’s very different from Holyrood, where there’s plenty of knockabout humour and gnashing of teeth to titillate the public gallery, especially when Johann Lamont is confronted with matters of detail, but nothing so compelling in dramatic terms.  Still, there’s nothing in my life these days to approach the thrill of Thunderbirds, Marvel Comics or sherbet dabs, either.  But that’s all right, because I’ve grown up.

There’s no doubt that George enjoys being in the spotlight, and not just because it helps to disguise his otherwise vampiric complexion.  It’s a great opportunity for him to put the boot in while others can only watch helplessly, summing up in one bravura performance the whole outlook of the Coalition Government.  His wickedest moment yesterday came when he announced funding for celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which he reminded us was the story of a weak leader, who betrayed his brother and was bullied by powerful barons.  The House erupted into laughter, as in response Ed Miliband's control chip activated his “smile” app while he waited for Ed Balls to explain the joke to him.

George was particularly pleased with himself this year, because the economy had grown to the point where he could afford to buy the Office For Budget Responsibility a new dartboard for its forecasts. Naturally, he attributed this to austerity, a brilliant economic strategy that he would gladly enshrine in the Constitution, if only the UK had one.  That’s as may be, but if I smash you to a pulp with a baseball bat, and you subsequently recover sufficiently to live a normal life, it doesn’t make me an orthopaedic surgeon.

The Treasury’s “lazy stereotype” unit had obviously told George that potential UKIP voters were mainly elderly people with piggy banks, because he unleashed a massive love-bomb on savers and pensioners. When he announced that £15,000 annual ISA limit, I’ll bet the champagne corks were popping in Easterhouse.  As for easing restrictions on retirees, allowing them to blow their entire pension pot on drink and drugs, what a splendid boot in the knackers for annuity providers!  Standard Life must be considering moving to Sevastopol, where the outlook is more certain.

Any senior citizens needing to offload some cash might want to pop down to the bingo, where their local hall had its tax bill cut in half, or to the pub, where for the second year in a row George ran a “buy 300, get one free” offer on pints of beer. 

The Tories were so proud of these concessions to the proles that their resident idiot, Grant Shapps, decided to publish a colourful poster claiming credit for helping folk “do more of the things they enjoy”.  Unfortunately, as Twitter went into meltdown, it soon became clear that what they enjoyed was humiliating the Tories for talking patronising pish.  I don’t yet know under which of his many false names Grant will appear in the soon-to-be-published Great PR Gaffes Of All Time, but I’ll try to find out once my sides stop hurting.

With a significant expression of Scottish voters’ wishes falling due in six months, we were agog to see how George would play things.  We already knew that the pound we weren’t going to be allowed to have would be changing, taking on the shape, and by 2017 possibly also the value, of the old threepenny bit.  What noise would the new coin make, we wondered, as it clunked ineffectively into the reject tray of a slot machine?  Would there be compensation for people whose jacket pockets would be destroyed?  After independence, would Scottish engineering firms still be allowed to build the new fleet of supermarket trolleys? 

In the end, George didn’t offer Scotland much in the way of bribery.  I think we’re just not his type, dear.  And we could have done without the little victory jig when he indicated that North Sea tax receipts were lower than forecast.  However, at least he didn’t raise whisky duty above its present eye-popping level, and Scottish firms did share in his attempts to breathe life into the corpse of UK manufacturing.  He even tweaked Air Passenger Duty a little, although not enough for the BBC to start pressing Willie Walsh to recant his views on independence.  Yet.

As for the inevitable stiletto, we were too busy watching George’s lips to notice it being inserted between our ribs.  Buried deep within the crannies of the Red Book was the reduction, in real terms, of Scotland’s block grant for the coming year.  John Swinney is an equable chap, but I’m sure he must sometimes want to sneak into a private sound-proofed cubicle and unleash a blood-curdling primal scream.   

Well done, James Cook of BBC Scotland, for spotting that little piece of jiggery-pokery.  There is hope for you and your colleagues yet. Now chair a TV debate where Better Together aren’t permitted to lie their socks off, ye wee scamp!

As with all Budgets, we’re now in the honeymoon period.  First impressions never reflect the full horror that lies slumbering within the Red Book.  However, it’s good to see that George has already put the ever-willing Danny Alexander in place as a human shield for the coming storm, whatever form it may take.  Let’s see how long his zealous infatuation with the Tories survives that.

Barring unimaginable political upheaval, George will be back for another dramatic extravaganza next March.  Will it be his finale as far as Scotland is concerned, or the start of a series of increasingly irritating curtain calls?

One ballot paper, one question, one moment in history.  You know what to do.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Powers For A Purpose?

Did you miss that ground-breaking Labour Devolution Commission report, telling us what new powers they might have in store for Scotland after a “No” vote if Ed Miliband doesn’t screw up the 2015 General Election and they can still be bothered? Never mind, here it is again.

Accounting for Strengthability and Peopling Empowerment

by J Lamont, Leader (for the time being), Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour is a party of both cynicism and opportunism.  For over 100 years, Labour has led the argument for Scottish subservience within the Union, and it is a cause we have advanced out of a deep-seated need to give otherwise unemployable politicians a wee sook on the gravy train.  That is why it was a Labour Government which set up the Scottish Parliament, delivering on what Tony Blair memorably called “shutting up these Scotch wankers for good, with any luck”.

In making the case for devolution, Labour has brought an enhanced set of buzz-words into the debate and caused significant puzzlement among the interviewers of BBC Scotland.  Our desire has always been a simple one: meeting the Scottish people’s legitimate desire for more powers with a smug assurance from Jackie Baillie that everything’s fine and anything they can’t do is all the SNP’s fault.

Scottish Labour needs the United Kingdom.  Look at our leadership, for pity’s sake!  You wouldn’t trust any of us to go to the shops for a pint of milk.  Without e-mails from Ed Miliband’s junior advisers telling us what to do, or our weekly dressing down from Ian Davidson and Jim Murphy, we’d be sunk.  So the questions for us today are what sort of con trick we need to fool the voters into thinking we’re competent, and whether Brian Taylor can keep a straight face while hyping it up on Reporting Scotland.

The Scotland Act 2012 represents a major step in this direction, despite Alex Salmond flippantly telling everybody it’s rubbish, and it was the aim of this commission to go much further.  Unfortunately, our English colleagues told us we weren’t allowed to, so instead we’ve just photocopied the Act, Tipp-Exed out some of the figures and replaced them with slightly higher ones.

It is clear, from reading the Daily Mail online comments and the collected writings of Alan Cochrane, that absolutely no-one in Scotland wants independence.  I fully expect this to be confirmed by the news brought to me in my padded cell on 19 September.  We do not, of course, take this outcome for granted, but Ian Davidson seems pleased with Westminster’s plans for handling the postal vote and I’m no’ goanny risk a doing by arguing with him.

Politics to me has never been about abstract debates; you need empty sound-bites as well.   I came into politics to tear down barriers, not erect borders.  It has always been about how to make people’s lives better.  Something for nothing.  Didnae say that.  Astonished.  We can achieve more working together than we can ever do alone.  As people, we are not fixed in isolation.  We are family.  I’ve got all my sisters with me.  I’m genetically programmed:  British, a Scot, a Hebridean, a Glaswegian, clueless, and proud!

It was never the intention of devolution to devolve power to the Scottish Parliament, only to see it accumulate powers upwards.  I’ve got no idea what that actually means, but let’s have a conversation about it anyway. 

Oh, wait a minute, someone’s just whispered in my ear that it’s about “empowering communities”.  We’re going to give Aberdeen City Council the legal right to plant a custard pie in Alex Salmond’s face every time he shows up within a 40-mile radius.  In fact, we’ll make it mandatory, so they can’t wimp out of it.  That’s what re-invigorating local democracy is all about.

I’d like to thank the Commission for letting me know what’s in the report, and I’m sure it’ll stand me in good stead for the TV interviews later.   Thanks in advance to the Labour Party for your forthcoming endorsement of the report at the Perth Conference.  You are going to approve it, aren’t you?


Scotland to be given additional things to pay for, using pretty well the same amount of money as before.  Or maybe less, if electoral pressures force us to bin the Barnett Formula altogether.  The Scottish Government shouldn’t whinge, though, because we’ll compensate by giving it powers to increase income tax to ruinous levels. 

Other tax receipts, including those from the second great oil boom, to continue to flow to Westminster, where they will be pooled and shared among selected millionaires.

BBC3 to be replaced by a “Let’s Laugh At Scotland” channel, featuring Andrew Neil and a constant flow of uninformed celebrities.  Pointless to be moved to the new channel, and broadcast live from Holyrood.

Scottish Labour to criticise the Scottish Government for all of this at every turn, while continuing to promote candidates so useless they’re in no danger of accidentally getting into office.

That’s your lot.  Satisfied? 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

New Voices, Same Old Song

Six months to go!  Get your referendum personality bingo cards out, folks, it’s time for you to be subjected to some new voices in the debate.

Look, everyone, here’s Charles Kennedy!  He’s someone for whom people have a lot of time, although most of them refer to it as “the past”.  For those of you that were missing him, he’s just finishing a stint as Rector of Glasgow University, a job you can easily combine with being in hiding.  However, unlike his equally invisible successor, Ed Snowden, he hasn’t actually blown the whistle on anyone yet.  I imagine whistle-blowing is quite difficult when your jaw’s constantly on the floor at the sight of the party you once led zealously endorsing economic vandalism.

Anyway, Charlie’s keen political antennae have found a queue of roughly 5.3 million people who think the “No” campaign is too negative, and he’s decided to join it.  Better Together shouldn’t be grizzly bears growling at the public, he maintains; they should be care bears painting a picture of the Union’s benefits in lovely pastel shades.

Of course, they’d first need to conduct a comprehensive search for such benefits, possibly at sub-atomic level, but if they did manage to identify some, however frivolous, Charlie says these would need to be presented to voters “coherently”.  As he probably knows, this could best be achieved by kidnapping Alistair Darling, flying him out to the South Pole, where only penguins would be freaked out by his wittering, and replacing him as Better Together mouthpiece with a clever yet avuncularly laid-back debater such as…. oh, I don’t know… the Rt Hon C Kennedy MP, perhaps.  Could Charlie be angling to be a bonnie prince again?

Charlie’s well past the stage where he expects anyone actually to listen to him, but even he must have been taken aback by how off-message Jim “Why The Long Face” Murphy was when he galumphed into the debate yesterday.  Jim hides his personal charm well, particularly in his dealings with every other member of the human race, but he does have a wry sense of humour, which sneakily emerged when he of all people referred to the SNP as “fake socialists”.

Jim is old-school Better Together, in that he thinks “Vote my way and you won’t get your face smashed in” constitutes a positive message, and can’t understand how people have the cheek to believe otherwise.  The sub-section of voters he chose to fear-bomb was the “working poor”, a group that he and his Labour colleagues had spent 13 years assiduously creating.  These were plumbers, cleaners, nurses, bus drivers – terms that meant little to him, since he’d never had a proper job in his life, but, according to his advisers, real occupations.

They, and anyone else with a modicum of sense, might have concluded that the UK, where Oxfam had identified five families whose combined wealth was equal to that of the poorest 20% of the population, was about as crappy an economic model as you could imagine.  Not so, crowed Jim, dancing about in a scary bed-sheet like this week’s Scooby-Doo villain.  According to recent projections by fantasists, with independence things could get far worse.  

Mortgages, credit card charges and shopping bills would shoot up into the stratosphere, and even if they didn’t, we’d have no currency of any sort to pay them!  There would be no jobs for anyone, especially Scottish Westminster MPs!  The contents of honest working people’s window boxes would mutate into Triffids and devour them, if asteroids didn’t selectively destroy their homes first!  For pity’s sake, was Alex Salmond’s vanity project really worth this?

It would have been compelling stuff, if listened to with an uncritical ear in front of a pile of mind-altering drugs.  Unfortunately for Jim, his immediate audience was Hayley Millar of Good Morning Scotland, the morning after the BBC memo had gone out saying they’d better make an example of some No representatives to even things up.  It was difficult to counter Hayley’s diplomatically-worded argument that, on the basis of his own party’s catastrophic track record, Jim was a scaremongering, cynical toad whose delusions of adequacy merited urgent medical attention.  The best he could manage in response was a softly-spoken snarl, which died away pitifully as she triumphantly handed him his arse.

We’re looking forward to Hayley’s future work, although I fear that from now on it may be limited to traffic reports.  She would have been the most newsworthy BBC employee of the week, were it not for the previous day’s stushie surrounding Andrew Marr. 

Of course there’s no substance to the charge that in his fireside chat with Mr Salmond he ventured his own opinion, or that of the BBC.  As the Beeb stated in their cut-and-paste dismissal of the resultant tsunami of complaints, Mr Marr is a senior journalist with a Cambridge degree, and the BBC is a venerable British institution of unimpeachable impartiality, so of course they don’t deal in opinions.  Everything they say is A Fact, Because It Just Is, OK?

The row brilliantly masked the BBC’s real triumph of the day, which was the discovery of how to nullify troublesome agitators such as Alex.  Simply interview him remotely, bouncing the signal off Venus, round the back of Alpha Centauri and through a traffic jam on the Kessock Bridge, and the resultant time delay will make it look as if he’s got no idea how to answer your questions.  Nice work, Auntie.

All of which brings me to the final new voice of the last few days:  a purveyor of surreal, chaotic humour that appears to be stream-of-consciousness nonsense made up on the spot, but actually took several months to craft.  No, I’m not talking about Eddie Izzard and his upcoming “Please Don’t Go” concert in Edinburgh, funny as that may be in a kind of sad way.  I mean Labour’s Devolution Commission, which today finally cranked out a list of things they think Scotland should be allowed to control, if Labour MPs don’t mind too much. 

But that’s a tale for another time, when I’ve finally stopped laughing.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

That's It, We're Dooooooomed

Guess what?  We’re too poor again.

It’s only two weeks since North Sea oil was such a fantastic investment that it looked set to keep the South East in infrastructure projects and Cabinet ministers’ chums in gold-plated bath-taps for years to come.  But all of a sudden, now that the latest GERS report’s come flying through the window wrapped around a brick, it’s a dodgier business proposition than Del-Boy and Rodney flogging a lorryload of inflatable dolls at Peckham Market.

Of course, the figures are a game-changer, if you ignore every single one of the last four years, close your eyes to the bleedin’ obvious special circumstances, remove your brain with an ice-cream scoop and replace it with cushion stuffing.  Speaking of which, isn’t it wonderful to see Iain Gray back on the BBC, sharing his child-like vision of the world with a grateful public?

At Pacific Quay, moves are afoot to commemorate Douglas Fraser’s heroic efforts in interpreting the report for us, by permanently displaying a scribbled-on fag packet in a glass case in the lobby. Elsewhere, there’s unbridled joy amongst those who love Scotland to bits, but would rather it remained in the shortbread tin where it can’t embarrass them.  Alistair Darling, more relaxed than he’s been for aeons, has donned a pair of shades and intends to spend the day zipping round Edinburgh on a scooter saying “Ciao” to passers-by.  In Aberdeen, meanwhile, a house-to-house search for copies of the White Paper is under way, as councillors look forward to a massive celebratory bonfire with optional naked frolicking.

So was Sir Ian Wood just taking the piss when he produced that report about the North Sea having a future?  “Yeah, couldn’t be bothered doing the work, so I just wrote the first thing that came into my head.  You should have seen Jim Naughtie’s face!  Pure beetroot, he went.  Had to stab myself with a paper-clip to stop myself laughing.  The oil’s buggered really, won’t last much beyond 10 pm on 18 September if you ask me.  Unless the UK Parliament slips in a change to the territorial border to make it run northwards from Carnoustie to the Arctic Circle.  That might keep things going a bit longer.”

Jings!  What do the oil companies think?  Why bother with this exploration thing if it’s so hopeless? Maybe they’ve got a sentimental attachment to fighting losing battles?  “Wait a minute, chaps, this oil’s flowing a bit too easily for my liking.  Why don’t we replace all the pipes with used-up toilet rolls, to make it interesting?  Or, even better, let’s stop drilling altogether and just send frogmen down to hack at the sea bed with teaspoons.”

And what about the £14.4 billion investment the conglomerates ploughed into the North Sea during 2012-13?  “Yep, that was a bit of a horse’s arse.  But, to be fair, the initial e-mail we got was very convincing, and the “How To Send The Money” web page had proper bank details and everything, and they did send each of us a nice embossed certificate.   It’s tax-deductible anyway, so Osborne will probably just chuck a few more poor people on the fire and forget about it.”

So, despite all the signs we naively thought were positive, it would appear the oil industry is in fact about to collapse in a heap, like a drunken camel attempting to ice-skate.  Except for viewers in the OPEC countries, who expect to benefit from price rises in the next few years, and Norway, where they’re too well-mannered to be smug about their oil fund, and indeed every other country on the planet that isn’t run by over-promoted toffs whose greed is matched only by their incompetence. 

Well, you know what?  Oil was, is, and ever shall be a bonus.   If, uniquely among our species, we can’t make money from it, we’ll leave it in the ground.  (“Ooh, God will start charging you rent!” warns the pipsqueak Danny Alexander.)   What’s really impressive about yesterday’s GERS figures, unless you’re Eeyore’s first cousin spouting unchallenged mince on Newsnicht, is that you can take a wrecking ball to North Sea revenues and still end up with Scotland in a position broadly the same as the rest of the UK.  That’s a decent enough starting point for us to make something of it.

We already know we’ll start out with a deficit, and whether or not it’s per capita larger than the UK’s, on the basis of one iffy snapshot out of the last five, is mind-blowingly irrelevant.  Maybe it’ll be smaller than we think, since debt interest could be anywhere between £4 billion and diddly-squat, depending on how idiotic Westminster decides to be, and some of the other GERS expenditure attributed to Scotland looks a tad steep.  I mean, £3 billion for defence, when the blustering Hammond allows Russian ships to roam unchecked with only Ian Davidson and his bayonet to protect us? 

Maybe things really will be squeaky tight, and we’ll have a tough task to balance the books.  But, even if busting out of the Westminster stranglehold isn’t enough to avoid austerity, I’d still rather have the likes of John Swinney taking a sensitive approach to it than Osborne or Balls imposing ideologically-driven mayhem on whoever can’t fight back.  (Other Scottish politicians are, of course, available.  If the people are smart enough to vote for independence, I expect them to be smart enough to avoid electing numpties.  Otherwise it’s like spending a fortune on loft installation, then smashing all of your windows.)

So there.  Do your worst, Better Together, whatever foul blast from the cheeks of Beelzebub you plan to unleash on us in the next few days.  Your ammunition’s beginning to run out, and we haven’t even begun to fight yet.

Would be nice to start soon, though.  

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Barrage Of Balloons

Weren’t the Oscars a disappointment?  Faced with the planet’s foremost assembly of emotionally incontinent attention-seekers fuelled by mind-altering substances, the No campaign couldn’t persuade even one of them to supply a vacuous sound-bite about Scotland staying in the UK!  We were treated to the biggest “selfie” in history, and there wasn’t an embarrassing tartan jacket in sight, nor a single designer handbag with a petite Union Jack poking coquettishly out.

I suppose it’s possible the silly buggers entrusted the flag to Liza Minnelli, only for her to end up hopping about in frustration at the back of the photo group, searching in vain for a stepladder.  But if we move back into reality, the truth is obvious:  they’ve called off the love-bombing because they just don’t fancy us any more.  Perhaps it was our constant references to Norway that put them off, or our indiscreet hand gestures during Dave’s Olympics address.

The violins may have stopped playing, but the bombardment continues.  Now it’s a barrage of bouncing bombs, skittering along the river towards the dam of Scottish self-confidence.  “You’ll be uniquely unable to use any currency whatsoever.”  “You’ll be chucked out of the EU, but mysteriously be bound by its rules.”  “You’ll be walking away from the BBC…. oh, hang on, maybe that’s a good thing…”

In fact they’re not really bombs, but giant balloons filled with noxious gas, much like the people who launch them.  Anybody capable of sharpening a pencil can easily pop them, albeit never loudly enough for the mainstream media to notice.  But we’re dealing with the UK establishment, where you earn a gong by repeating the same crap over and over again, so the balloons keep coming.  The last week or so has brought an exciting new trend, where many of the balloons have sported a “highly respected” company logo and, according to the BBC, carried the message “Vote Yes and get the sack, losers!”

That's because it’s the corporate reporting season, when, as a condition of the pen-pushers signing off on their accounts, companies must draw attention to any risks they believe will affect operations.  Even though the UK economy is a Ponzi scheme teetering on the edge of meltdown, they’re not allowed to cast aspersions on the status quo.  Independence, on the other hand, is just the ticket to set alarm bells jangling, especially if it means a firm might be properly regulated and any fraudsters thrown in the clink for a change.

This is particularly relevant for the financial sector, which a couple of weeks ago was a ravening monster whose demands would suck Scotland dry, but is now a pillar of national prosperity we can’t afford to lose.  Hence the hullaballoo about Standard Life “threatening Scottish jobs”, even though that’s not really news, because they sack people all the time, especially when the directors’ bonus pool needs topping up. 

Similarly, Alliance Trust, tiptoeing on to the scene today with a bland statement about forming additional companies, soon found themselves waving in the wind on top of the media flagpole, as commentators sucked their teeth in concern.  By contrast, Aviva, through the brilliant stratagem of announcing they weren’t fussed about independence, guaranteed themselves peace and privacy for the duration of the campaign.

It’s difficult to conceive of any situation that can’t be made more annoying by the intervention of a banker.  Sure enough, an old Square Mile chum of Robert Peston popped his head out of the trough the other day to deliver a sly tip-off.  While looking for buried treasure, he’d found a cobweb-encrusted piece of European legislation, forgotten by everyone and never tested in the courts.  After some restoration work with Tipp-Ex and a felt pen, lo!  the magic document proclaimed that upon independence RBS and Lloyds would have to move their head offices from Edinburgh to London.  Surprisingly, Robert assumed we’d interpret this as bad news, whereas it actually prompted a surge in sales of pitchforks and firebrands as we prepared to help them on their way.

In opposing independence, oil companies are on the sort of sticky wicket that defies all lubrication.  As soon as they praise the UK as a bastion of stability and continuity, it’s a fair bet that Osborne will move the taxation goal-posts again and UKIP will have a five-point boost in the opinion polls.  They also know that it would be a bugger of a job to extract the oil, transport it into English waters, bury it and extract it again, just to keep in with the chancers at Westminster.

So the oil sector’s comments about independence tend to be restricted to remarks by chief executives, whose grasp of the real world slipped away long ago.  Bob Dudley’s pro-Union views in a BBC interview were sentimental claptrap, albeit carefully judged to mask his own diabolical performance at BP.  Still, at least they were internally consistent, unlike those of Ben van Beurden, who at Shell’s annual reception waxed lyrical about the certainty provided by the EU, but didn’t notice that a Yes vote might be the best way to prevent it being flushed down the toilet.  Perhaps he was simply reading from the script Mr Cameron left behind after the Cabinet had finished posing in Shell’s Aberdeen offices.

And so it goes on, and on, and on.  The nay-sayers in the mainstream media are in clover here, because unless a company has something to gain from independence, such as British Airways hoping for Air Passenger Duty cuts, it isn’t going to leap on the Yes bandwagon in its annual report, any more than it would eulogise about its favourite colour or Kylie Minogue single.  So the best we can hope for is neutrality, although that hope seems somewhat forlorn when so many company boards are festooned, like Standard Life’s, with former Thatcher acolytes.  “What would Maggie do?” they ask themselves, and the answer’s always “Knee Scotland in the balls!”

Meanwhile, a million miles from the microphones and the lurid headlines, membership of the pro-independence group Business For Scotland has hit 1400 and continues to rise.  They’re mainly small enterprises, trying to make a living for their owners and the ordinary folk they employ, so they needn’t expect Westminster to give them so much as the time of day.  But they have a clear glimpse of something that’s plainly in front of us, when it isn’t obscured by the Unionist propaganda that surrounds us like a cloud of midges. 

Hope, not fear.  Opportunity, not risk.  A decent society, not an austerity-ridden hellhole.

And maybe, just maybe, the chance of a Saltire in next year’s Oscars selfie.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Wee Aural Diversion

Hello, dear readers!  I'm still chiselling away obsessively at my latest account of Better Together's onslaught on the intelligence of the Scottish people, so you'll have to wait a day or so for that. Meanwhile, let me ease your frustration by directing you to a small aural treat.

It's Michael Greenwell's latest "For A' That" podcast, recorded on Sunday afternoon, in which I featured along with the infinitely less hungover and more erudite Derek BatemanCarolyn Leckie and Andrew Tickell, Michael's co-host, whom many of you will know as "Lallands Peat Worrier".  If you've got 60 minutes to spare, it's well worth a listen, and by the wonders of the World Wide Web you can do so using this link.

In the podcast, our informal brains trust took stock of the events of the past few days, which included, amongst many other delights:
  • The Nicola Sturgeon/ Johann Lamont "stairheed rammy" which STV, stretching the boundaries of language to breaking point, had the audacity to term "a "debate".  Yes, it was the wrestling throw-down that had undecided voters running screaming for the hills, pleading for the Banshee-like screeching to end.  It even had me rocking myself to sleep in the foetal position, trying to convince myself it was just a nightmare, and I'm a Yes supporter, as you may have deduced.
  • Standard Life making a legally unavoidable and relatively uncontroversial remark about contingency plans in their annual report.  All of which would have been hunky dory if certain blood-sucking capitalists and rampant unionists on their board hadn't then got on the phone to Robert Peston to say they'd definitely-maybe-possibly have to abscond from Scotland with a sackful of loot if we opted to decide things for ourselves in future.  Of course, any journalist worth his salt would be honour-bound to report that, although possibly not with the glee that erupted like a smirking pox over the faces of Robert and his BBC colleagues.  "We wouldn't wish to influence your decision, Scottish voters," murmured Standard Life, nonchalantly releasing the safety catch of the gun they were holding to our heads.
  • Women for Independence kicking off their campaign to support a voice that, even though it belongs to 52% of the population and might have interesting things to say, isn't always being heard in the maelstrom of the referendum campaign. With even non-fruitcake opinion polls suggesting that women aren't particularly impressed by the Yes campaign so far, Women for Indy have a hugely important task ahead of them.  And, now that Nicola and Johann have stunk out the airwaves with "The Worst Goalless Draw Ever", it's probably become exponentially harder!
  • The explosion of crowd-funding, with Wings Over Scotland proving that if you have something worthwhile to do, and you ask nicely, right-thinking people will throw money at you.  And not just you, but any other decent causes for which you might feel inclined to act as signpost.  This threw certain hysterical commentators on the No side into a bilious frenzy, which makes the whole thing tremendously satisfying in its own right no matter what these estimable organisations eventually do with the money.
Enjoy, and I'll be back with another secessionist rant very soon.