Sunday 21 April 2013


Activists of all Parties are familiar with the need for "duty" ovations.

It is the modern convention of all Party Conferences that the leader gets a standing ovation just for turning up. And that another ovation when they've finished would follow even if, in between, they had addressed the delegates with nothing more than a selection of local names picked at random from the telephone directory.

And all Parties are also familiar with the bizarre requirement that inadequate leaders or inadequate speeches are sometimes felt to require a counter factual hysterical response in the hall.

IDS was never received other than rapturously by the Tory faithful while the utterly mundane performance by Eck in Inverness last month was cheered by the Nationalists as if the new Demosthenese were among them. Or was, at least, so cheered once they realised he'd finally finished.

But, sometimes a speech draws a spontaneous and genuine response.

Lest I am accused of gratuitously insulting the First Minister, anybody who saw his famous "Braveheart" Conference speech  where he finished by adopting the personality of William Wallace (or at least William Wallace as played by Mel Gibson) would not have failed to note that his activists were on their feet before he reached the second syllable of his final word: "Freedum!!!"

And it is not for nothing that Michael Heseltine was described as the man who could always find the clitoris of the Conservative Party.

Johann made such a speech on Saturday.

I was in Inverness for two days and by lunchtime on Saturday I had half written my blog in my head.

"We know what we're against: Independence and the Tories, but we don't yet know what we're for".

And if they were being honest, so would many of those whose freedom of expression is more restricted by collective responsibility than that enjoyed by me, a semi detached blogger with no remaining personal ambition.

All failing opposition Party Conferences are of course obsessed to a degree with the Governing Party. Labour Conferences were obsessed with Thatcher throughout the eighties. It was the one few things that united us. As indeed were Tory and SNP Conferences in Blair's Golden period from 1997 till Iraq. Had he not died so prematurely, I'm sure SNP Conferences would have become obsessed with big Donald as well.

But successful oppositions don't just offer outrage they also offer an alternative to outrage.

And Johann started to do that on Saturday afternoon. The focus might have been on her "Scotland versus Salmond" line but the more telling line was that we should be shaped not by our villains but by our heroes.

And Scottish Labour's heroes are seldom flamboyant figures. John Wheatley; Tom Johnston; Willie Ross; Geoff Shaw and Dick Stewart;  big Donald himself and, dare I still maintain it, Gordon Brown. Seldom given to grandstanding but very much given over to the daily policy and legislative grind that brings about real change in the lives of ordinary working people.

So Johann's response to the Nationalists wasn't rhetorical pyrotechnics. It was practical proposals. On personal care for the elderly; on genuine education for all; on childcare; on land reform; on prioritising child poverty.

And the hall noted that. And it wasn't the personal story at the start; or the (good) one liners on the way that brought the Conference to its feet at the end of Johann's speech. It was the realisation that suddenly we were back to being something more than "not the SNP". That we were already looking beyond 18th September 2014 to 5th May2016. That the ideas whispered on the fringe: on social housing; on local government reform; on modernisation of the health service, were not taking place in a vacuum.

We should not lose sight of the fact that it is a very long way back from the debacle of May 2011 but it was Chairman Mao who observed that the longest journey starts with a single step. At least we've finally started out on the road.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Truth is not unimportant

I see more than one thousand new clients every year. Many depart after a single visit to my office, on the basis that they don't have a case or that I'm not the solution. And these clients are almost immediately forgotten.

But some stay with you.

About ten years ago a respectable middle aged man presented in my office bearing a summons from the Court of Session seeking damages against him and the Motor Insurance Bureau for a significant six figure sum. I asked him for some background.

"My car was off the road" he explained "so I asked my pal if I could borrow his car. I assumed my insurance  would cover me and so did he. Only it didn't. And I had an accident".

Not a morally reprehensible accident, just the outcome of the momentary error of judgement that might affect any of us who drive. But one which had written off a high value other vehicle and injured its occupant and caused them significant loss of their, high value, earnings. Hence the pursuit of six figure damages.

I explained the doleful likely consequence in law flowing from this to be met with the response "but I don't have £100,000."

"Do you own your house?" I inquired, and with that the blood drained from his face. For he did, and it had a significant net value, albeit that was all he had in the world. And was primarily looked at by him not as an asset but as simply where he and his family lived in relative comfort after twenty years of honest toil..

After a bit of my ruling out the various suggestions he made as to how he might avoid losing all he had in the world, we parted company. And I've no idea what the outcome was. Although, logically. I do.

Scotland, like every other advanced legal system, has a law of verbal injury. I might not like Alex Salmond but I couldn't write a letter to the newspapers making the wholly false claim that he was a serial adulterer or a drunken sot without expecting some consequence from that action. And no newspaper would publish such an allegation anyway.

But what's been revealed this week is that some people; bright, intelligent people seem to labour under the misapprehension that the same rules do not, or at least should not, apply to the internet.

Well, they ought to (my opinion only I accept) and they do (a statement of fact).

I hold no particular brief for Mr Ian Taylor. He's a Tory and I would no more wish to be making common cause with him than Patrick Harvie would wish be making common cause with Brian Soutar. But single issues make strange bedfellows. Michael Foot and Enoch Powell famously made common cause to defeat (a particular) House of Lords reform

But what I say is this. It is unacceptable for lies to be told about Mr Taylor. On the internet or anywhere else. And even more unacceptable if lies are being told about him simply because he holds a political position that others might disagree with.

If an anti-independence website was daft enough to publish an article maintaining that Mr and Mrs Weir, the lottery winners principally funding Yes Scotland, were, contrary to all available evidence, terrible neighbours; and to do so, not because that was true,  but simply because it might discourage their continued  financial support for Yes Scotland, then I would positively encourage the Weirs to sue. Indeed, I'd act for them myself, pro bono.

For lies are never an acceptable basis of political discourse.

Some of those telling lies about Mr Taylor have seen sense. Good. Others have persisted in a spirit of defiance.

I look forward to them being asked if they own their house.

Monday 8 April 2013


Your time is your time.

I went to University the same year as Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party.

And from the first moment she featured in my consciousness as "even more right wing than Ted Heath!", I was opposed to everything she stood for.

I still am. For in the midst of all the retrospective "she changed the country" tributes, I won't forget the callous  way in which that was achieved, or ever believe that much of that change was for the better.

But all day today I have had not a sense of satisfaction but rather a sense of loss.

I  fought Mrs Thatcher and her ideas pretty much all my life. And now she's gone.

The fight will go on but it will never be quite the same.

Rest in Peace Mrs T. If only we'd had a leader like you.

Sunday 7 April 2013


When I was much younger, a favourite essay topic was to be asked to explain the emergence of the Third Reich.

To my knowledge nobody ever wrote a single line: "Hitler was a uniquely evil man", rested their pen and expected the laurels of academe to descend upon their shoulders.

For while Hitler was undoubtedly a very evil man, he was not unique and he did not flourish without various other factors, some of them even virtuous factors, assisting his rise to power.

The Left has been under attack this week over the Philpott case, most notoriously on the front page of the Daily Mail. "It is mainly a consequence of welfare dependency that these kids have died" has been the line of attack, even as, by the same  logic, it was "mainly as a consequence of welfare dependency" that these kids were brought into this world in the first place.

But in disputing this allegation the Left has fallen back far to easily on the defence that Philpott was a uniquely evil man. Because he wasn't.

There were a number of factors which came together to create the Third Reich. I won't insult my readers by rehearsing them here and, anyway, if they were all agreed  in their relative importance then there would be no point to the essays.

And there were, I repeat, a number of factors which created the Philpott case. Not least, the media, who, in reporting after the event, have been reluctant to examine their own role in indulging this man prior to events. And one of these factors, in the State's desire to save children from absolute economic poverty, was and is an essentially virtuous one. But it was a factor.

Above all, however, the Philpott case was about domestic violence.

I don't normally write about my work. Some of it is, I like to think at least, meretricious but much of it "just" makes me money. Nonetheless, a significant part of it centres around domestic violence.

And I'll guarantee you two things about my forthcoming working week. The first is that at some point some poor young woman will arrive in the office and tell a tale about their treatment at the hands of their husband or partner which would leave a less battle hardened practitioner than me utterly bemused as to why they put up with this behaviour for so long. And the second is that some point some other poor young woman, who has commenced proceedings, either civilly or criminally, will come in trying to get these proceedings discontinued.

Now, at this point I want to stop briefly to comment on the two adjectives and the noun that I refer to above.

I use "poor" in the literal rather than colloquial sense. I KNOW that domestic violence is no respecter of class but, just as you are much more likely to be murdered if you're poor, so, unfortunately, are you much more likely to be the victim of domestic violence. It doesn't excuse for a moment domestic violence in any context to say that we cannot allow the middle classes to colonise this area as being just as common in their own experience. It is not, either in degree or frequency. And when it does occur, the victims have many more options to prevent its repetition.

And I also use "young" advisedly. I ALSO KNOW that while domestic violence is also undoubtedly no respecter of age, it is also something much more likely to be present from the start of a relationship or not at all, and young people are much more likely to be at the start of relationships. Rarely do I ask someone, leaving a violent relationship after twenty years, about when the abuse started to be met with the answer "only recently".

And, finally, to the noun. I KNOW that men can be the victims of domestic violence as well. But the extent to which this is sought by some to be portrayed as an "equal opportunity" phenomenon is, in itself, telling in its misogyny. Women can certainly be violent as well. I personally have, over the years, represented three separate women who have "gone down" for the attempted murder of their partners and at the "extreme", one off,  end I actually don't believe there is much to choose between the sexes. But in terms of regular, low level, violence I suspect the ratio is something like 1/100 and it undermines analysis of the 100 to try and lump them in with the 1 in pursuit of some sort of perverted political correctness.

So what has any of this got to do with Mick Philpott?

Well, firstly, violence does not have to violence in its physical sense. It can be just as easily part of an understood, even unspoken, background to a relationship. But, worst still, it can be simply psychological violence. And no-one watching the ghoulish exhibitionism of Philpott in his previous television notoriety can surely be in any doubt that, even if Philpott was not actually hitting these two young women, as he had hit, and worse, a previous partner, he was certainly assaulting them in every other sense of the word.

Common sense says that, after their arrest, the lawyers advising his "wife" must have told her that if she admitted what had happened, offered even perhaps to give evidence for the Crown, then, at the very least, her own period of imprisonment would be greatly shortened. And that he couldn't get to her now. And yet she didn't, standing by a hopeless defence to the end, in defiance, it would appear, of even her own family.

And that leads me to the reference to the second thing that will undoubtedly happen in my working life next week. Some other poor young woman will, on a lesser scale, attempt to the same.

For the number of allegations of domestic violence which are then attempted to be withdrawn is the secret shared by Police, Women's Aid, Social Work Departments and lawyers, both prosecution and defence. If it was true, for a moment, that all these men had been arrested; prevented from daily contact with their children and excluded from their home on the basis of false or exaggerated allegations than that would be a national scandal. Only that's not true. The "lie" is in the attempt to withdraw the allegations. And it is by no means as simple as suggesting these attempted retractions all take place because of threats or in consideration of economic factors

For the Philpott case is also about exploitation. But that exploitation is not the exploitation of the Benefit System. It is something much worse. It is the exploitation of the poverty of life expectation of far too many young women.

Neither Philpott's "wife" or "mistress" surely anticipated with enthusiasm at fifteen that the second half of their lives would end up with them sharing a house and a sexual intimacy with a man older than their fathers and in the midst of a collective pool of eleven children. But something, and not just Mick Philpott, resigned them along the way to this being their lot.

There are no easy answers here but at the danger of quoting a man with whom I seldom agree, it must surely start with education, education, education. Education at an early stage in life that a woman is entitled to be treated as an equal in any relationship. Education that violence and domineering behaviour is never a feature of true "love" and education that no matter what mistakes you might have made, threats you might receive or fears for the future that you might have, there are nonetheless always opportunities to get out.

If even some progress can happen in that area as a result of the Philpott case then perhaps in the end at least some good would have come of it.