Tuesday 26 June 2012

What happens now?

So. Yesterday should have been a day of some self congratulation. The anti-independence Campaign seems  to have had a successful launch, even though in my opinion it is of some doubt whether we needed to bother. Additionally, the MSM (copyright Newsnet) seems finally to be waking up to my long advanced proposition that Eck, not being an idiot, has no intention of having a Referendum he would inevitably lose.

But the question remains: what happens now? And the answer is not very much.

At the end of this week, Scotland goes on holiday. And we're more than entitled to it after the most miserable June I can remember. More importantly however, even those of us immersed in politics will have more important things to engage us. Beakers brim full of the warm south, if not, hopefully, full of blissful hippocrene; girls who will be forever chased, fair or otherwise; sunsets to be sailed beyond the baths, albeit  in the knowledge that we will, eventually, have to go back to work.

Eck has still got nearly two and a half years until his promised Referendum, and thus eighteen months at least until he need disclose how he proposes to justify calling it off. And, if it is any consolation to my nationalist readers, the suggestion of an immediate vote, at the initiative of the "unionists" has proven to be corn thrown on stony ground. I told you no-one listens to me.

So, through the Autumn ahead, we will be back, almost, to where I started my blog, nearly fourteen months ago. That there is not going to be an SNP called Referendum. That is only common sense. But that the issue will remain undecided over whether there will be a Referendum at all, since Eck will not yet have summonsed up the courage to tell his own troops that the game's a bogey.And so the ball won't yet be back in our court.

The Nats have had some understandable fun at the Labour/Tory alliance today. But in doing so they have, in their own self-interest, ignored the fact that we and our temporary allies are actually quite split on one fundamental issue. 

Essentially, the Tories just want to save the Union. We do as well, but we have a further objective and that is in destroying the SNP.

So, the danger is that when Eck eventually admits his lack of Imperial clothing, the Tories will have a good night out and then get on with being .............Tories. What do they care who runs the Scottish Parliament since they have concluded it is unlikely ever to be them?

We, on the other hand, have really had enough of this. So we are determined on a vote.

Despite reports in the Sunday newspapers, I personally have never had any knowledge of any poll putting support for Independence as low as 20%. I do know however of a sweep being run currently on our side where anyone prepared to go beyond 25% is denounced as chicken.  28% is however my own long term estimate and, with some apprehension of being over pessimistic, I am prepared to stick to that.  

And I doubt if even  the most Cyber of Nats could spin that as susceptible to "one more heave".

But I also understand the Tory argument. Seeing off Salmond is the big prize, After that it is back to normal politics. 

So, at this point I need to make an important argument in support of the Tories own self-interest. Sure, in the aftermath of such a result, we'd likely be back as the Party of Government in Scotland. But with a bit more confidence they could be the opposition. And with the SNP restored to what they ought to be, an eccentric fringe Party: somewhat less serious than the Greens but still a bit more coherent than the Liberal Democrats, then, in the longer term the Tories would become the only possible alternative Scottish government. Given Labour's past hubris that might be more of an opportunity than they think.

So, if any Tory is reading this, it's up to you to make that case to your own leadership. It's not enough to have Eck call off his vote. We need our own vote. And once we get rid of the common enemy, we can then get back to proper politics.

And, finally, I want to make one last point. It's never ideal to be saying "No". So, if we're having a vote at our own initiative, let's make it on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. It might involve a bit of rebranding on the other side but I'm sure they can afford it.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Viva l'Italia!

I don't usually include music on my blog but this is a special occasion
The Man who wrote the Italian National Anthem actually died fighting for Italy in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution. For many years I had a picture of him being cut down on the barricades while confronting the forces of black reaction. Actually however he died of blood poisoning after being accidentally (?!) stabbed by a bayonet belonging to one of his own side. And he wasn't fighting black reaction but rather the forces of the French Second Republic who, for reasons of 19th Century realpolitik, were fighting to restore the Pope. Who was opposed to the "Italians". It's a very Quarantotto tale.

Anyway, tonight, we will all be Italians. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

I was last night at the Dinner of the David Cairns Foundation. If you had suggested to me ten years ago that I'd have a great night out in Greenock surrounded by Blairites, I'd have struggled to think which was the more unlikely proposition. But a great night it was, with, to be fair, an ecumenical audience. Indeed, among a number of great speeches, easily the best joke of the night came from David Mundell. I won't repeat it for causing yet more disharmony among the Coalition partners.

But, obviously, much of the Labour talk was about the imminent launch of the cross-party anti-independence campaign. And in that context I raised with one of the organisers what they would say if asked about the football. "I know, it's difficult", he replied.

To my mind it's not difficult at all. I will, of course have a particular affection for the Azzurri this evening but over the last fortnight I've been successively French, Swedish and even Ukrainian; and if the worst comes to the worst sometime next week I will become a stout ally of Frau Merkel.

I've never understood the idea that the sporting rivalry between Scotland and England is anything but a natural state of affairs. The idea that, in our increasingly common non appearance at major tournaments, somehow Scots should automatically support England is farcical. As farcical, dare I say it, as any suggestion that when France played Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final, the English should have supported France as their closest continental neighbours and fellow members of the European Union. Or indeed that I personally should support Renfrewshire's other team in any circumstance or against any conceivable opposition. Sport disnae work like that.

But there's actually a wider point here. The European Football Championships are a great event for breaking down barriers. Countries who once marked their differences through blood and misery now engage much more benignly on the sporting field. There is certainly fierce rivalry on the park and still, regrettably, the occasional few nutters off it, but, generally, in  the mixing of nationalities united by the common language of football it is the nutters who find themselves increasingly isolated.

And, oddly enough, this United Kingdom has been the model for that. For if their is one thing the British can unapologetically and unconditionally be congratulated on bringing to the world it is organised sport. And it is no accident that the first football (and rugby) international was played between two countries once long at war but yet then enjoying, between close neighbours at least, the longest period of peace and common purpose. Just not on the football field.

So, here's hoping that if asked tomorrow, whoever fronts up the Campaign launch will be able to answer sincerely that they are sorry for our Southern neighbours themselves that they have been eliminated. But if fate determines otherwise, then among the Union Jacks and Saltires, let's not be afraid to sneak a metaphorical Bundesflaggen.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Sir John, oor Gordon and Eck

My theme over several months that there will not be an Independence Referendum if the SNP leadership can possibly avoid it is, I am pleased to say, beginning to gain some traction.

I've tried on this blog  to approach this from a number of different perspectives; about the politics, the polling, even the various straws in the wind that demonstrate that it is the thinking of their leadership group themselves.

Tonight I'm going to try simple logic.

Every blogger nowadays tries to identify themselves with the admirable Rangers Tax Case and when I say that I would not attempt such comparison I protest a false modesty.

But, when that enterprise started it, while it was intensely logically argued, the ultimate conclusion, that Rangers, RANGERS, were headed for financial disaster, possible complete collapse, was just too absurd to contemplate. So, it was dismissed by those not hostile to the wish of that conclusion as (they regrettably presumed) proceeding by virtue of omission of other facts of which they were unaware. Those hostile to the logic simply asserted outright bias on the part of its author.

Well, nobody need excuse me of bias. I am.  I really do not have any time for the SNP as anything more than a (sometimes useful) protest movement.

I rely therefore entirely on my logic but, blogging to a more selective audience, actively invite additional facts bearing on what follows. If any can be identified.

Here we go.

John Major and Gordon Brown do not have very much in common. I presume that is common territory.

In the run up, respectively, to the 1997 and 2009 General Elections they were both pretty certain themselves of defeat. I presume that is also common territory.

By virtue of the Parliament Act 1911 they were however obliged to have an election (at least) five years after the previous one and for each of them time had run out. I presume....etc

That prior to 1911, UK elections required to be held only at seven year intervals. I...etc.

That given the option of not meeting the electorate for (up to) another two years neither Major nor Brown would have held an election when they did. I... (this is getting repetitive so until I reach a contentious proposition I will abandon the practice).

If they had had the option of delay, both Major and Brown would have taken it in the hope "something" might improve their potential fortunes.

There is a legal requirement that a Scottish Election take place in 2016.

There is no legal requirement that an Independence Referendum take place at any time before then.

Every credible opinion poll ever held indicates that Independence would be rejected by the Scottish electorate.

Some indicate that it would be rejected in a way that would disdcredit the idea for several generations.

The SNP want Independence. (Actually this is a significantly contentious statement. A good number of their voters patently don't and a significant section of their leadership, having looked at the detail are no more persuaded of its viability than I am. Nonetheless, to avoid irritating the cybernats, I will let it stand)

From the logic of wanting Independence, it would therefore be a disaster to have a referendum that was decisively lost.

All the polling currently indicates that it would be decisively lost.

Following David Cameron's January initiative, beyond legal dispute, having a referendum on Independence alone would be a matter of choice for the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP have an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament.

But, unlike Major or Brown, this is not a vote that they need have.

And a defeat would be a disaster.

And at some future date, circumstance might be better.

Indeed, logically, could only be better.

Since they could hardly be worse than inevitable defeat.

So, unless the polls improve, there will not be a referendum,


Now, for me this is not a new argument but it would only be appropriate to comment on the way in which it has been attacked. Not a single cybernat has advocated the charge of the (Scottish) Light Brigade. There are protests that the polls are wrong; that, even if they aren't they will, nonetheless, be better in two years time; that, even if that's not the case it will somehow be all right on the night.

Nobody however has articulated how the interests of the SNP would be served by holding, entirely voluntarily, a vote they would lose.

And that's all I have ever said. If the SNP think they, even might, win then there will undoubtedly be a vote. But if they conclude that the cannot (not might not, cannot) win then they will attempt to prevent a vote taking place at all.

But their Leadership will of course look at how they might avoid the rage of their own rank and file in delivering that unpleasant message. And they've already concluded that the best way to do it is by some sort of legal debacle over whether another question might be asked.

Because their leadership have already concluded that they cannot win.

Now, I know that will be a pretty miserable message for many in the SNP so I end with a note of optimism.

I think there will be a Referendum. Only it won't be Eck who calls it.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Religion, Football and Politics (In that order)

I have had a terrible hangover all day. As those daft enough to follow me on twitter will already know, I was invited to a barbecue in Edinburgh yesterday. It was hardly barbecue weather and the event transformed itself into a football-fest while copious quantities of drink were consumed. How untypically Scottish you might observe, although only if you had never set foot in Scotland.

Anyway, after brunch, I decided it was a time for a "wee lie doon" only to find that the bandstand outside my house had been appropriated by one of the numerous happy-clappy churches that seem to flourish in Kilsyth. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I am not necessarily hostile, in normal circumstance, to organised religion. That view was formed however in different circumstance from lying in my bed at three o'clock in the afternoon while being assailed through a p.a. system as to the evils of wild living, interspersed with folk/rock renditions of various potentially redemptory courses my life might take as an alternative. At that point, I found myself thinking of Richard Dawkins as a man who held ridiculously conciliatory views.

So what has any of this got to do with the usual subject of this blog, I hear you think?

Well, simply that as reassurances that I might find a friend in Jesus prevented me from drifting off, I found myself thinking about what I might write about tonight.

And it was about what people were discussing at the barbecue. And that was mainly about Rangers. Now, there has been much, good humoured, mockery of the extent to which the agendas of our two main news analysis programmes, Newsnight and Scotland Tonight, have been dominated by discussion of Rangers since the crisis broke with the club slipping into administration on St Valentine's day.  "This is not news" has been the complaint, "it is just sport". Well, setting aside the question of whether, in Scotland, football is ever "just sport", the reason that the editors of these respective programmes have devoted so much time and resources to this issue is because it is one in which people are interested.

And, more importantly, because in a climate where the public are engaged, to a greater or lesser degree, in whether Scotland might viably "go it alone", the patent failure of Scotland in the one significant area where, after the Union, Scotland has chosen to go it alone can't but have an unhappy resonance for those determined to pursue that course more widely.

The reason Rangers went bust is because their ambitions were too big for Scotland. In a world where television revenue became increasingly more important than average home gates (by which latter measure Rangers remain the 19th best supported club in Europe and 6th in the UK), both of the Old Firm teams were at an increasing competitive disadvantage. And as relatively modest domestic television revenues increasingly impacted on their abiltiy to compete in Europe, Rangers found themselves trapped into a vicious downward spiral; a spiral of reduced European revenues as well, which, if you follow the small print, Celtic also recognise. For all the outrage across Glasgow, corners were cut at Rangers not to compete against Celtic but to try, hopelessly, to compete with Arsenal or Manchester United. And, before the ultimate meltdown, it had led to Jelavic being sold to a modest mid-table Premiership side. If Celtic were honest,  any of their top players would have been vulnerable to a similar bid.

And the irony of this is that it is caused by the one bit of particularism which all Scottish political opinion, unionist or nationalist, would defend in the last ditch; that Scotland and England, on the football pitch at least, should remain separate "Countries". But buried in that is a wider, and overtly political, lesson.

All of Rangers and Celtic's financial disadvantage would be solved tomorrow if they could join the (English) Premier League, which they would both very much like to do. And, if that could be done without imperilling the Scottish National Side, most of the rest of Scottish Football would happily wave them on their way. But it can't. We cannot have our cake and eat it. Because, Scotland having resolved to remain separate (a word chosen advisedly)  from their jurisdiction, the English Premier League, at the request of their members, were perfectly entitled then to act in the best interests of no-one but themselves. And these interests did not include indulging two potential major competitors.

And that's the political lesson in all this. If Scotland wants it's own Football Association we are welcome to it, but having made that choice, we are no more entitled to the assistance of the English FA than we would be entitled to the assistance of the Football Associations of Germany or Italy.

Yet, in its current incarnation, that is precisely what the SNP propose as Scottish Independence. We can, apparently, seek competitive corporate tax advantage but yet rely on the Bank of England as lender of last resort. We can create employment through subsidising alternative energy production and then rely on a unified "British" energy market to sell it. We can reject the disagreeable elements of British defence policy yet still enjoy a right to serve in the British Army. We can complain without justification of an abusive relationship but still hope for an amicable divorce.

This is all nonsense. And the SNP know it. And if ever attempted it would end no more happily than the way in which Rangers ended.

More importantly still for how the politics of this will play out, that knowledge is shared by the fast majority of the people of Scotland and will not be overcome by mere semantics. Which is why, if Eck can possibly achieve it, there will not be a Referendum.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Scottish or British?

I'm going to try to be brief. I today read a number of blogs on both sides on this very subject and realised that my attention was suffering towards the end. Brevity is the soul of wit.

If there ever is a referendum called by the SNP and no matter the result, neither of which are matters, in my opinion, truly at issue, then, irrespective of the result, the following day I'll still be Scottish. And so, still, will be all of us on the (hypothetical) winning side. And while the lunatic mainstream of the SNP might protest otherwise that protestation will only go to show why I am so certain of the correct call on this matter.

Obviously the SNP has a sensible fringe. Those on the left whose calculation is that they have more prospect of power in Scotland than in Britain; those on the right who think that only independence will bring a degree of financial realism to our affairs; those in the centre who think that there might be cultural advantage in being left to our own devices.

But mainstream SNP opinion proceeds from the assumption that everything that is wrong about Scotland is in some way the responsibility of the Union with England. I just don't agree with that. And neither, in their heart of hearts, do very many others. That's why there won't ever be a referendum. Not because the SNP wouldn't like to persuade others to reach that conclusion but because they know they can't.

So we're left with the last Nationalist position standing: "Vote for Independence because it would make us happy and, for you, it won't make any actual difference".

And it's against that background that we have the ludicrous soul searching over the last few days over the concept of nationality, admittedly started by a contribution by my own leader as incoherent as everybody else's.

I'm in no doubt what Country I currently live in: Scotland, But of which State am I currently a citizen? Is it Great Britain, making me British, or the United Kingdom, making me UnitedKingdomish, or even, as most of the rest of the world would have it, England, making me, whether I like it or not, ...........no, I won't even say the word.

This is not however a unique dilemma. One of our closest neighbours in mainland Europe is a Country legally called The Netherlands, invariably referred to as Holland and whose people are.........Dutch.

It really doesn't matter. What matters is what that state delivers. And my state delivers a mature democracy; freedom of speech and, largely through a universal language, an openness to the world. And , for all we might argue about the minutiae, it would protect me, as far as it could, from foreign incursion, educate any putative children I might have and provide me with medical care, in sickness and in health.

So, why should I seek another State instead? Because it would be "better"? Mibbees aye, mibbees naw but, to be honest not, to my mind to the extent that I'd be inclined  to let hold of nurse. And even if I was inclined, like Sir Sean, not in real life but in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, to take the "leap of faith", and  emerged alive on the far side, I'd still wonder whether the moment before my foot hit the hidden causeway had really been worth the apprehension.in advance.

But there is another reason. There are lots of very sensible people who argue for British withdrawal from the European Union. Those on the left who complain that it is tying our economic policy into a downward spiral of austerity; those on the right who argue that its over-regulation hampers enterprise; those in the centre who say that it stifles national diversity. And they've all got a point. But, if there ever was a EU Referendum, and their side won, that victory would not have been delivered by their small fractions of sensible objection. It would belong in the main part to those those who don't like foreigners very much and who thus want to have as little to do with them as possible. Those who want to look back rather than forward.

And, much as I might disagree with them, even I accept they'd only want to look backwards to 1945, not to 1707. I, on the other hand, am for looking forward. For, as Tawney observed "If there is to be a golden age, it will lie not in the past but in the future."

Friday 8 June 2012

Thursday 4th October 2012

I love twitter. I could probably write an entire blog on its virtues.

But I'll cut straight to the point. Twitter provokes the instant response. And in that instant moment, there is occasionally an accidental moment of insight.

So, with due modesty, I tweeted, earlier tonight, in a moment and barely without thinking about it, this:

I'm just for getting on with this referendum. Let's have it in September. What could the Nats do? Boycott it?

And then I thought. What a brilliant idea.

Now, it is part of the hypnotic spell that Eck held over Scotland for a few months after May last year that he somehow persuaded people that to hold a referendum other than at a time of his choosing would be a disaster for the combined Unionist/Devolutionist bloc. But even to ask the question why he maintained that, betrays the absurdity of that proposition. For, if Eck truly thought that a referendum called from Westminster and on a British timetable would assist his cause, then surely he would have kept his own counsel on the matter. He does presumably want to win.

We were assured that the Scottish people would be "outraged to be dictated to in this manner" but, if that were truly the case then surely they could find no better way of expressing that outrage than by voting for separatism? What else did he expect them to do instead? Burn down polling stations at being invited to determine their own future on the wrong date? Really?

Now, as you, reader, will know, I am certain in my own mind that, if it is left to the leadership of the SNP, there will never be a referendum. But we'll still have to put up with the xenophobic rantings of their lunatic mainstream for the next two years at least. Probably even beyond that, since I've no doubt that, even when they do eventually call it off,  they will attempt to establish that their own failure to have a vote was as a result of a "Unionist Conspiracy" of some sort. (Lawyers; BBC bias; too many English people living here; bad weather, who knows).

And I just canny be bothered with that.

So, here's an idea, why don't we just have the referendum, on Eck's own chosen question, as soon as possible?

The Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Act 1997 was introduced to Parliament on 14th May 1997 and received the Royal Assent on 31st July. And the Referendum itself took place on 11th September.

Now that Parliamentary timetable took longer than would be needed this time because there was a continuing Westminster opposition to there being a referendum at all. With the support of all three major UK Parties I'm sure the legislative timetable could be considerably shortened. There is no reason at all that the legislation could not be in place before the Westminster Summer recess.

And then, if we rule out, as I am confident we could, any prospect of getting the wrong result in the referendum itself, what is the downside to this from "our" side? I'm genuinely struggling to find one. That Eck might be annoyed? That various cybernats might burst a blood vessel? Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

For what could the SNP possibly do? They would of course maintain that "Scotland" would be outraged but once "Scotland" voted we'd soon see about that. They might try and complain that the contest was in some way unfair because they hadn't had time to prepare but since they are already boasting how better they are prepared than us it's difficult to see that having much traction. They would protest they were placed at a financial disadvantage but again that would ring false from the lottery winning dead poet beneficiaries.

And anyway, these complaints could only be accompanied by assertions that they enjoyed popular endorsement against a background that the populus themselves would imminently be the judge of that.

So they'd be left with the option of encouraging a boycott and a suggestion that they'd take part in a vote, on the same question, two years later. Ha ha ha ha ha. Haud me back, Bravehearts.

And in the vote's aftermath? Here I readily admit a partisan motivation; the SNP would implode. There would be a realist faction who recognised the game was up but that there might be a continued role as a soft nationalist, centre right, Party; and there would be a fundy, neverendum group determined to hold monthly votes until they got the right result, or, better still, to dispense with voting at all. It's difficult to see either group having much of a long term appeal. Indeed, it's difficult to see how there would not need to be another Scottish election well before 2016. And again, the final difficult to see, from my perspective, is the downside to any of that.

And so to the title of my blog. 4th October 2012. The first Thursday of the month. That's when I suggest we have the vote.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

In praise of Kate Middleton

Don't panic, I have not come over all Nicholas Witchell

It's been the Jubilee weekend and the obvious topic tonight would be something about the monarchy and the class system or what on any view a demonstration that Britishness does exist means for Eck's fatalled project. Lots of others will however occupy that ground.

I'm prompted tonight however by the remarks of a wee girl, as excited as any, interviewed by the BBC in the Mall. "

"Who did you see?" the obvious question; came and the reply: "I saw the Queen, and Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton"

Now, there are all sorts of reasons buried in royal protocol about why Kate Middleton is not Princess Kate and maybe, in another blog, you might have a go at that ridiculous sort of convention. But that is not my purpose here.

"I put to you", as is the formula of the equally ridiculous conventions of my day job, "I put to you", reader, the question "Who is the wife of Prince William?". And the answer, from the most dedicated republican to the most loyal of monarchists would be "Kate Middleton".

And without thinking about it, you have embraced one of the happiest and quietist revolutions ever to take place under the reign of a sixty year monarch.

When I was growing up, the standard form of any formal correspondence sent to my parents would be addressed to "Mr and Mrs J Smart". My mother, in marrying, had given up not only her surname but even her initial as well.

And as recently as when my own pals were getting spoused up, a very distinguished legal colleague, having moved to a posh area, was invited to meet the local "wives" and then asked, after casually revealing that she and her husband did not share the same surname, if they had any plans to "get married".

But today, if there was ever anybody who did have reason to immediately adopt their husband's surname, then surely the wife of the second in line to the throne would be that woman. But she hasn't, at least not immediately. And that's the only point I'm making.

Now I'm certainly not saying that spouses should not have the same name; patently if you have kids it makes things altogether simpler. And nobody has quite worked out how we're going to cope when the politically correct doubled barrelled weans of liberal parents start having weans of their own. I'm only saying that a surname should be a choice and that it has become a choice is indicative of a wider change in the perception of women's role in society.

Not that everything's perfect but just that in this, not unimportant, way, things are moving in the right direction. And that, as with all things that move in the right direction, there will be no going back.

And that leads me on to the second change. When the Queen took the throne it would have been shocking for people to live together before marriage. Today, it would be slightly worrying if they hadn't. And that's also a good thing.

About six months ago, there was a kind of kerfuffle when somebody founded a campaign in favour of marriage as if this was some sort of reactionary idea. Indeed, there were undoubtedly those on the left who managed, at the same time, to hold an intellectual construct that while same-sex marriage was a good thing, heterosexual marriage was an outdated patriarchal institution!

Patently the human race is not universally monogamous. But an awful lot of us are. And not simply "for the procreation of children". (Sorry, Cardinal) And marriage, in the declaration of mutual commitment, is an important declaration that a place for that monogamy has been found. To that extent it is, in the proper sense, a Sacrament.

But marriage isn't (just) about grand passion. you've got to get on. In the Queen's lifetime we've moved from the point of view that you're stuck with your initial choice, through an acceptance that you shouldn't be stuck, by law or convention, in that way; to, finally, and maturely, that perhaps the sensible thing is that the initial choice should not be made in haste; more importantly need not be made in haste.

So, Kate Middleton, I don't know if you'd still have married the heir to the Throne if he'd proposed five minutes after you'd first met. I do know however that it's a good thing you didn't have to make that call.

And that's progress.

Monday 4 June 2012

Ten Favourite Paintings

Things are, frankly, quiet politically and I suspect may remain so now until the Autumn when some more entertainment at least may be enjoyed from the further unravelling of independence as a seriously thought through idea.

Maybe I'm wrong in that because there is one big open secret in Scottish politics that is now "confided" to me, it seems. by virtually every second person I meet. Maybe somebody will run it before the Summer but I suspect it will, in the end, be saved for when it might really be needed.

So, I thought I might take the opportunity of the Jubilee weekend just to indulge in a further bit of whimsy and to share my ten favourite paintings.

Dedicated readers of this blog will know the eventual winner. Such is the peril of the writer not planning ahead. Here, nonetheless, after a brief setting of terms, are the other nine. And the winner again.

The terms are that no painter, with one exception, can appear twice and that all of the paintings must be ones I've seen in real life. Thus, no Mona Lisa, since, despite various false starts, my one and only visit to Paris was at an age when the Musee des Invalides held a much greater attraction than the Louvre.

It is also, I admit, a pretty commonplace list but, then again, the reason great paintings are regarded as great paintings is because they are great paintings. Generally regarded as better than merely very good paintings. A list of the world's ten greatest footballers that did not include Pele or Maradona would be regarded as an eccentric choice. I proceed in that spirit.

And I also acknowledge the omissions. Not one painting in Florence. No Fra Angelico, possibly the most spiritual of all painters. And from being senza Firenze thus, more or less, neither Lippi; no Masaccio either.

No Sienese art either or even Leonardo (no Leonardo!); no  Giotto, though here more by being spoiled for choice.

Not even excepting the Caravaggio, no real Counter-Reformation art, this time through taste rather lack of space.

And no painting by a British, let alone Scottish artist. If I was choosing my favourite ten books it would be different but horses for courses. If I was choosing my ten favourite pieces of music I'd be equally unpatriotic.

So here we go

1. The taking of Christ (Caravaggio). National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

File:Caravaggio - Taking of Christ - Dublin.jpg

The Caravaggio. I love Caravaggio, More even than the choice between the paintings of my main man, choosing even a Caravaggio was difficult. Both of my favourite churches in Rome (San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria del Popolo) occupy their position substantially because of paintings by this man, although the former also benefits from being close to my favourite restaurant in Rome.

But this is as good as anything he did. As always, the unusual lighting angle, here magnified further by the light  striking off the armour but the real attraction to me comes from two sources. The first is in the back story, which, much as I would like to claim it as my own must properly be derived from a link . The second is the way in which it was displayed in Dublin the first time I saw it; at the very end of a corridor you saw almost immediately upon entry but which could only be reached by proceeding along that corridor while being lured away by the numerous side galleries on the way.

The last time I was there it had been given a room of its own and as I left I remarked on this to one of the curators. "Everybody makes that complaint", he replied, implying by his body language that it was not a relocation he approved of. Here's hoping everybody has been listened to by the time I return

2. Christ of St John of the Cross (Dali) Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

First of all, I should apologise for my earlier disavowal of Counter-Reformation paintings. For this, although almost painted in my lifetime,  could very nearly be by Murillo or Zubaran and enthusiastically endorsed by the Jesuits. The political background to this being painted at all kind of defeats me. It's here however because, of all the paintings listed, it is the one I have easily seen the most often. For it is in Glasgow and in the midst of even a gallery containing some fine other works it is nonetheless never encountered with anything less than a gasp.

I hesitate to say that it is the painting worst served here by reproduction in A4 as the sense of vertigo captured by the original can't even remotely be appreciated in this format. And unlike my other selections, you don't need to travel to appreciate that. Just get the Underground to Kelvingrove.

3. Santa Maria dei Fossi altarpiece (Pinturricio) Galleria Nazionale dell' Umbria, Perugia.

You can't entirely separate a painting from where you see it. I had to have a Pinturricio but I chose this ahead of anything from Siena or Spello chiefly because it is in my favourite Gallery in the world, the Galleria Nazionale dell Umbria in Perugia. The Gallery is situated in the building of ancient Comune, directly off the main Corso Vanucci. The very best time to go is during the Jazz Festival when they erect a gigantic Sound Stage in the Square outside the Cathedral, just at the exit to the Gallery. One Sunday morning past we emerged at lunchtime to discover a massed black gospel choir singing, as an encore, When the Saints go Marching In. I phoned my eight year old nephew and held the phone up for him to hear. "Why," he eventually inquired "are they singing that? Are they from Paisley?"

The altarpiece itself is everything you would expect from the artist with the vivid reds in the cloaks of the supporting Saints to the overall grandeur of the conception. And a great Madonna. Ah.............time for lunch at Il Mangar Bene, just round the corner.

4. The School of Athens (Rafaello) Vatican Museum, Rome

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Genius. Almost enough said. The apotheosis of the Renaissance Papacy with, of course, the tribute within to Michelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Every character depicted worthy of study in its own right but the whole such a mastery of perspective that you feel you could almost walk into it.

Unless you've planned well, it's a long wait to get in and a bit of a scrum once your there but it is more than worth the effort. If I had my time again, I'd have made more of an effort to become Pope so that I might get some time with it to myself. Such is life.

5. Il Quatro Stato (Guiseppe Pellizza da Volpedo) Museo del Novecento, Milan (apparently!)

And now for something completely different. Actually, I'm not sure I have seen this painting, for I had to google its precise location and Wikipedia says that there is an earlier version which is in the Pinoteca di Brera in Milan. I'm almost certain that's what I've seen. This link has some comment on why the painting has such a deep symbolism but the main reason I love this is in its connection to Bertolucci's Film, Novecento, which is certainly my favourite Italian film and possibly my favourite film. The painting itself is best viewed while listening to Bella Ciao on the iPod.

6. The Legend of the True Cross (Piero della Francesca) Church of San Francesco, Arezzo

A bit of a cheat this, since its not really a painting but a fresco cycle, from which I've chosen but one detail. But it's in Arezzo, and  next door to my absolute favourite restaurant in the whole of Italy, L'Antica Osteria L'Agania which means, in reality, my favourite restaurant in the whole world. I particularly recommend the ribollita, followed by the slow roasted stuffed rabbit in herbs. Definitely red wine and a wee pannacotta to finish. Oh, and fagiolini bianchi. Don't at any cost omit the fagiolini bianchi..

Anyway, about the frescoes. The story is a lot of nonsense but the execution flawless. For almost half my life they seemed to be under restoration to the extent that when the restoration was finally finished the whole town was hung with banners proclaiming "Bentornato Piero!" Never a truer word spoken. And a wee bonus for film buffs. When the Sikh Officer hoists Juliette Binoche up by torchlight inside a Church in  The English Patient, it is these very frescoes that he hopes will cheer her up. Awww!

7. The Art of Painting (Vermeer) Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

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Vermeer, eh. Nowadays I suspect he might be subject to psychological "help" such is his attention to detail and quest for absolute perfection. But the work is.............perfect. Lots of choice here of course, few artists have so many "famous" paintings. I've gone for the Vienna one however, as there was an exhibition devoted to this painting alone when we were last there. Think of the effort alone just in getting the squared tiled floor in such perfect perspective; and the light shadow; and the drapery. I could bore you to death with the allegories apparently concealed within, if I could remember them from the exhibition. Instead I'll tell you that the Kunsthistoriches Museum Cafe has the best cakes ever encountered in an art gallery. Go there. See the paintings as well if you have the time.

8. Las Meninas (Velasquez) Prado, Madrid

Everybody says Barcelona is superior to Madrid but I've never been to Barcelona. Madrid is a bit like the proverbial curates egg. In large parts its hung over with the ghost of Franco by way of Philip II and the Churches are, generally, undistinguished baroque. You kind of get the impression most of the free thinkers effed off to Austria and the low countries when Charles V announced he'd had enough and the place has never really recovered

But the galleries in Madrid,  three of the greatest in the world, are worth a visit alone. And never were undistinguished Royal Family better served by an artist than the later Hapsburgs by Velasquez. This is his masterwork, at least according to the Spanish, who attribute it the greatest painting of all time. To the outside observer however it also speaks of the artificiality, indeed grotesqueness of the age. The little girls seem no more in a natural environment than the dwarves and indeed almost personally covered in a slight layer of dust.

Technically, of course, the painting is brilliant with the retreating figure framed in the light of the doorway and, above all, the reflection in the mirror, no doubt intended to show off that mastery.

But, above all, it seems a melancholy painting. All the odder then that Philip IV regarded it as his favourite. Maybe he saw what was coming.

9. Madonna and Child with Ss Nicholas of Bari, Peter, Mark and Benedict (Giovanni Bellini) The Frari, Venice

Nobody paints Madonnas like Bellini. Not Leonardo, not even Raphael. Again I could be spoiled for choice but actually its not difficult at all. This is easily my favourite. Actually, I'd quite happily ditch the supporting Saints but I don't want to second guess the artist.

Again, location is everything. This painting hangs in the Sacristy of the Frari. Above the main altar of the Church itself is a painting many Italians, at least at one time, claimed to be the greatest in the World, an  Assumption  by Titian. The latter painting is gigantic, apparently the largest altarpiece in Venice, and I really don't like it at all. It's trying too hard, I suppose. Religion as soap opera.

It's therefore a joy in itself to step out of its view and contemplate this Bellini. Simple, beautiful, quiet.  And Our Lady wears blue. Always her best colour. That's all.

10. The Resurrection. (Piero della Francesca) Borgo San Sepolocro

Now, its not just because I've disclosed this to be my favourite painting on a previous occasion that Piero gets two entries. The man's a genius. I wouldn't have swapped this one for anything but, above, instead of the Legend of the True Cross, I could just as easily have chosen the Flagellation or the Madonna del Parto or...........

Difficult to add to what I said about this when I wrote of it previously so, instead, I'll content myself with another lunch recommendation; don't eat  in San Sepolocro, go to Umbertide. If your prepared to do that, I'll let you into a secret.

But that's enough art for now.