Sunday 25 August 2013

The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

If Yes Scotland has been hacked by anybody in the media and/or attached to the opposition to Scottish Independence that is a very serious matter indeed. Nobody would give you an Argument about that.

However it seems to me we are a million miles from anybody proving that to be the case.

It seems we can accept, for the Polis are still investigating something, that the Yes Scotland internal IT has been accessed remotely by somebody. The suggestion from the Daily Record at least is that this was somebody outwith the UK.

And, eh..... that's all we can accept.

Certain sections of Nationalist opinion have always been given to a touch of paranoia but generally the leadership have realised that giving credence to conspiracy theorists is inclined to be counter-productive. The overwhelming number of conspiracy theories, of any sort, turn out to be just that; theories. And the general public has a certain view of those who subscribe to them. It is not a benign view.

Some time ago there was a good humoured twitter competition aimed at coming up with the best title for a Scottish Spy Novel. The winner, from @daftquine, was "The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo."

The real book giving rise to her spoof does of course features a central character who is, amongst other talents, an accomplished computer hacker. She has a circle of hacking friends. They help her unravel the novel's mystery but their activities are also undertaken for fun, for the sheer hell of it. Although this is fiction, it is common knowledge that such people exist in real life.

The information they access would often be of great commercial or other use to some but they're not interested at all in that. Their  fun is derives from the intellectual challenge of overcoming supposed unovercomeable security.

Who's to say that's not what (if anything) has happened to Yes Scotland?

One solitary piece of "counter-evidence" is produced. That information relating to a minor payment for a newspaper article "could only" have come from hacking of an email account belonging to Blair Jenkins.

Well, firstly, there is no "could only" about this. The email need not have been the original source of the leak at all. The only people claiming, definitively, that it was are Yes Scotland. The information about the payment could have come into the public domain in any number of ways. It is an open secret that there are many in and around Yes Scotland who are far from gruntled at the way the campaign is being run and at the performance of Mr Jenkins at its head. Or, more innocently, Dr Bulmer might have told a "friend" he'd received the payment, or indeed Mr Jenkins told a "friend" that he'd made it. Indeed, since Mr Jenkins claims to be completely relaxed about the payment, why wouldn't he have been happy to talk about it to others? Why wouldn't Dr Bulmer, who certainly saw nothing wrong in receiving the payment, have been happy, on getting his round in, to joke that it was Yes Scotland on the bell?

And then secondly, if  "sinister forces" did indeed have access to the Yes Scotland email account, was this the best they could come up with? I can certainly think of other things the press would be much more interested in, such as the genesis and funding of "Labour for Indy" or indeed the true number of people who have signed the Yes Scotland Declaration. And why choose something that reflected badly only really on Mr Jenkins, a man most Unionists would be delighted to have remain in place?

Finally, anybody whose ever read a spy story knows that the value of intelligence is in the other side not knowing you've got it. If "sinister forces" had undisclosed access to the Yes Scotland email account, why blow the secret over a minor story that would have been a ten day wonder, thirteen months out from the vote? That's hardly the actions of a latter day George Smiley.

Now, I accept everything I've said above is just speculation. But so is everything said so far by Yes Scotland. Let's just let the Polis do their job and avoid conclusions until they have.

And then , as I say, if Yes Scotland has been hacked by anybody in the media and/or attached to the opposition to Scottish Independence that is a very serious matter indeed. And if it has not, Yes Scotland would have avoided looking like conspiracy theorists.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Zero tolerance? Not if you're in the SNP.

In February 2008 a man called Rob Armstrong visited the Constituency Office of his Member of the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon.

He went there for two purposes. Firstly he was involved in a child access dispute. My understanding has always been that such an approach to an MSP would have been in confidence but not apparently if it involves circumstances that subsequently embarrass the MSP. Then, confidentiality goes out the window. For it appears the only reason we know this at all is because the SNP later put it into the public domain in an attempt to throw the press off the scent.

This is because the other reason Mr Armstrong went to Ms Sturgeon’s office was to draw to her attention to the fact that his ex brother in law, Bill Walker, was a violent and abusive bully and not, in Mr Armstrong’s opinion, a fit person to be a representative of the SNP or any other political Party. Yet Mr Walker had, that previous May, been elected as an SNP Councillor in Fife.

Ms Sturgeon was, as the Deputy First Minister, understandably not immediately available to meet Mr Armstrong.  So he spoke to a member of her staff.

Now, I’ve been involved professionally in dealing with the Offices of political representatives of all four major Parties. And enough to know that, while child contact disputes form, regrettably, part of the routine grind, allegations of the nature of those being made by Mr Armstrong against Mr Walker are a much more unusual occurrence.

Yet, today, we are asked to believe that then something quite extraordinary happened. Despite Mr Armstrong going to Ms Sturgeon’s Office specifically to draw this to her attention, Ms Sturgeon was not told about this at all. Despite this being precisely in the, always difficult, area (for all Parties) of the interaction of Constituency Staff, paid for from public funds, and Party political matters in which, theoretically, they ought not to be involved. Despite all that, the member of staff, without even so much as mentioning it to her employer, Ms Sturgeon, contacted the SNP head office. And, then, even more extraordinarily, the member of staff forgot all about it.

And yet there was then an even yet more extraordinary occurrence. The SNP, by reason of administrative oversight did nothing at all to follow up a matter raised by the Constituency Office of their Deputy Leader. Or even to respond to that Office.

And the member of staff didn’t even recall this when, two years later, Councillor Walker was adopted as the SNP Scottish Parliamentary Candidate for Dunfermline. When her boss was photographed with candidate Walker, she didn’t apparently think even to ask informally if the allegations made had been checked out and dismissed. She had completely forgotten the whole thing.

So, when in the aftermath of Candidate Walker, to everyone’s surprise, becoming Bill Walker MSP as a result of the 2011 landslide, and then being exposed by the Sunday Herald as a man with a long history of domestic violence, conduct for which he has finally convicted today, it was just as well everybody had had these previous memory oversights, administrative errors, and departures from what common sense might have been the more likely sequence of events following Mr Rob Armstrong’s visit to his MSP.  For otherwise this would be a scandal requiring Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.

Here’s what I suspect really happened. When Walker became a Councillor, the SNP knew nothing. Once they found out, that was embarrassing to the SNP.  But let’s be honest, all Parties probably have Councillors with dirty secrets, some of which become known to the hierarchy after they’ve been elected. Then a calculation has to be made (by all Parties): the right thing to do and the damage caused by doing it. A decision was made by the SNP to do nothing about Councillor Bill Walker based on that calculus. When however,  he became a Scottish Parliamentary candidate things became more difficult. To intervene would mean awkward questions about when first things were known. So a further calculation was made. The SNP would never win Dunfermline, a calculation that didn’t factor in the potential ineptitude of the Scottish Labour Party. By then the die was cast. The only hope was that no-one would find out. But Paul Hutcheon did.

I say only three things in conclusion.

Firstly, and disgracefully, domestic violence doesn't yet press the panic button of paedophilia or, bizarrely, mere financial impropriety. At least within the SNP.

Secondly, Nixon was not brought down by Watergate. He was brought down by the cover up. Hopefully the SNP won’t take my caution in that regard. Hopefully Hutcheon and Gordon will then live up to their self image as successors to Woodward and Bernstein in the face of that cover up..

Finally, those SNP spinners briefing that this was all the fault of  Nicola’s member of staff, who met with Mr Armstrong, are contemptible pieces of human detritus who have no place in any system of government.

Sunday 18 August 2013

The Find them Something to Do (Scotland) Act

From the very outset of the modern attempts to develop a scheme for Scottish Devolution it was a given, unlike proposals for Wales, that the Scottish Assembly, Parliament or whatever should be a legislature. By a legislature is meant a body with an ability to pass its own laws. Pre devolution it was always anomalous (to say the least) that Scotland was the only place in the world with its own legal system but without such a legislature. That was not the only reason however that law making powers were regarded as important.

The making of law is required for two purposes. Firstly, it can be prescriptive: either positively, such as the requirement that every birth shall be registered, or negatively such as the "outlawing" of smoking in public places. Secondly, it can be permissive: discretionary, such as authorising Police Officers to detain people if suspected of a crime, or directive such as (to choose a topical example) empowering but also instructing Returning Officers to hold a Referendum next year.

So the ability to pass laws is important.

Invoking the law however requires to be done for a purpose. It is not meant to be the vehicle for the expression of worthy sentiment, still less for the sake of giving our MSPs something to do. Yet increasingly it is being employed for precisely that object.

Before I go on, it is important that I emphasise that this is not a unique criticism of the current SNP Government. This baleful trend started under Jack and has only been continued by his successors in office. The criticism is not a Party political one, it is an institutional one.

I am moved to these thoughts by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill which was introduced in April past and which is currently grinding its way through the Parliament. Last week, the Faculty of Advocates produced their response to the Bill. Now the Faculty, for those that know its workings, is not an organisation given to outspoken remarks of any sort and this document has to be read against that background. My own professional body, The Law Society of Scotland, is a bit more combative in its evidence.

Nonetheless, I have chosen the Faculty's response for the very reason that its words are so measured. When they say in their comments on Part 1 of the Bill

"The Faculty does not consider that Part 1 of the Bill further develops the rights of 
children and young people in Scotland to a significant extent."

they could, in all truth, be referring to the entirety of this legislation.

Let's just consider clause 1 of the Bill. It relates to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

1 Duties of Scottish Ministers in relation to the rights of children

 (1) The Scottish Ministers must—

(a) keep under consideration whether there are any steps which they could take which 
would or might secure better or further effect in Scotland of the UNCRC 
requirements, and

(b) if they consider it appropriate to do so, take any of the steps identified by that 

(2) The Scottish Ministers must promote public awareness and understanding (including 
appropriate awareness and understanding among children) of the rights of children.

(3) As soon as practicable after the end of each 3 year period, the Scottish Ministers must 
lay before the Scottish Parliament a report of—

(a) what steps they have taken in that period to secure better or further effect in 
Scotland of the UNCRC requirements, and

(b) what they have done in pursuance of subsection (2).

(4) In subsection (3), “3 year period” means—
(a) the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which this section comes into 
25 force, and
(b) each subsequent period of 3 years.

(5) As soon as practicable after a report has been laid before the Scottish Parliament under 
subsection (3), the Scottish Ministers must publish it (in such manner as they consider 

Now, I am not Alex Neil's greatest fan but I do not for a moment think that he and his officials do not currently

a) keep under consideration whether there are any steps which they could take which 
would or might secure better or further effect in Scotland of the UNCRC 
requirements, and

(b) if they consider it appropriate to do so, take any of the steps identified by that 

Nor do I think that any potential future Government, even made up of the most reactionary of reactionary Tories, would fail to take these steps but, just in case they were so inclined, they would, anyway, only require to do anything at all "if they consider it appropriate to do so" !

As for the requirement to produce a three yearly report, there is nothing at all preventing this being done by the Scottish Government at the moment and, indeed, since this is their legislation, presumably they are already of a mind to do precisely that.

This is completely meaningless legislation, as indeed is so much of the rest of the Bill

It is a hotchpot of warm words and statements of good intentions. It proposes, for no particular reason, to give statutory form to matters that are already being done, voluntarily, either administratively or under existing legislative provisions. It just kind of wanders about the area to no particular end. At one point it repeats what is already in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, apparently just for the sake of it. The only substantive new proposal, regarding a state guardian for every child is bureaucratically unnecessary and almost certainly incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed there are some rumours that it might even have to be withdrawn for that very reason, leaving what is left of the Bill even more redundant of purpose.

Yet, of course, it does have a purpose. It gives the members of the Scottish Parliament Education and Culture Committee something to do.

Now in some ways it is unfair to pick out this Bill or this Committee for there are numerous other examples I could easily have picked, many of which now form part of the law of the land, not that anybody would ever notice.

Yet this raises wider issues. Why do we need 129 MSPs, particularly if it appears the Government finds it difficult to provide them with any actually useful occupation?

The Scottish Parliament has only limited powers. Far fewer than those available to individual States of the USA. Yet many US States of similar size to Scotland have far fewer legislators. Colorado (population 5,187,582) has only 65 members of its lower house; Wisconsin (population 5,726,398) 99.
Looking at small comparable European Countries with fully sovereign parliaments, dealing with Economic Policy. foreign affairs, defence, taxation, social security and so much else reserved to Westminster under our system, despite their much wider remits, Norway gets by with 169; Denmark with 179.

And indeed at Westminster, England,  regards one representative for each 76.641 voters as sufficient to deal with a much wider remit than that for which Holyrood apparently requires one MSP for each 31,085 voters.

Now this is not about the size of Parliament Scotland would need if we were independent. I agree 129 is probably (a bit) too few for that unlikely scenario. It is about the size of the devolved parliament we have at present. The one that sits only two and a half days a week, never when any school anywhere is on holiday, and even then never after 5.30 pm at night. The one which nonetheless struggles to find "things" for its members to do and thus occupies them with meaningless legislation.

Now, I know that expecting current MSPs of any political colour to vote for their own redundancy is a bit improbable but perhaps they should not be the only ones with a say. Another matter perhaps for my suggested Constitutional Convention.

Friday 9 August 2013

A Return to the Fray

So, I'm back.

But while you're away you get the chance to view things from a distance.

And from a distance it is clear the Scottish Constitutional debate is already moving on beyond 18th September 2014.

You see it in the accidental slips of Nationalist commentators. Their language has moved subtly from "A No vote would be a disaster for Scotland" to "A No vote will be a disaster for Scotland". And indeed from arch Unionists, most recently Michael Kelly in the Scotsman. (To paraphrase) "When we vote No, is there any reason for a continued Scottish Parliament at all?"

While I was away I read Iain McWhirter's book "The Road to the Referendum". I would commend it, more or less, unconditionally. I say "more or less" because it still, in my opinion, underestimates the extent to which 1560 rather than 1314, was the key year in ensuring that Scottish identity survived both the 1603 and the 1707 Unions. And also because of his innocent scepticism about the ruthlessness of the internal politics of the Scottish Labour Party, which reflects well on him if not on us.

But the general thrust of the book, essentially why the National question in Scotland  has moved from the periphery of left discourse to a dividing force within it, is absolutely spot on. It's not really a book for Tories, although they both play an important part within it and would, I am sure, nod along with much of the analysis as to where they themselves lost their way.

Its concluding argumentative chapter however speaks to the left. To that part of the left in particular who have always been well disposed to some form of Scottish Home Rule.

Is it the case that the divergence between opinion North and South of the border is now such that the cause of progress would best be served by separation? Both for "us", in setting our own agenda, and for "them", in us setting a good example? Is that the way the Left should go? Even if that means making temporary cause with the "chip on the shoulder" brigade who still form majority Nationalist opinion?

Dismissive as I am of the patent front organisation that is "Labour for Independence", there is no doubt that this is indeed the conclusion of lots of good people, formerly Labour people, have reached: Tommy Sheppard, still one of my closest comrades; Susan Stewart, recently of Yes Scotland; Dennis Canavan himself. That I don't agree with them is mainly because of the section of the book where McWhirter discloses Eck's old complaint that he wasn't taught any Scottish history at school. That events prior to 1707 are more important to his mindset than events since 1789.  He's the Party leader, so hardly unrepresentative of the SNP, yet that reveals that on any view that his vision of an independent Scotland would be a Country looking backwards not forward. And that's even before I returned to discover the proposal for the compulsory teaching of Gaelic in primary schools. Alongside Scottish literature irrespective of its actual merit.

I remain absolutely convinced that, by reason of the genesis of the idea, an Independent Scotland would be culturally hobbled and inward looking, convinced the world was against it and increasingly looking for scapegoats. In consequence of which it would eventually would turn on itself. That's got to be a more nightmare vision to my mind than any Tory Government.

But, nonetheless, that's where Tommy and Susan and Dennis have ended up, presumably on the basis of a belief they could wrest control back from their temporary allies after a Yes vote. I personally "hae (mair than) ma doots". It is also however where McWhirter himself ends up. But with, on his part at least, an important caveat. He will (I think) vote Yes but only because that is all that is on offer. Except No obviously.

Now, here I want to diverge briefly. There are many partisans of Independence. There are many, also, of the status quo. But those in the middle have fewer advocates and even then a smaller committed audience. Yet that is where public opinion lies, insofar as it can be judged.

And it is clear that both extremes think, or at least at one time thought, that they had advantage to gain from offering a straight yes/no choice, although it is also clear that one side in particular is increasingly regretting their being lured into that position. For if there is a No, what will that mean?

Despite the wilder fantasies of the occasional irridentist such as Michael Kelly, and indeed the rather desperate attempts by some Nationalists to enlist his opinion as an ally in the debate, nobody is proposing the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. Nobody. Not us, not the Tories, not the Libs, not even UKIP. What's more complicated is whether anybody is genuinely proposing additional powers.

And here we have to be honest. The potential for support of the SNP/Independence has always been an ally of the devolutionists in all of the Unionist parties. If (when) there is a decisive No vote, that leverage will be substantially reduced. Indeed I recently had lunch with a prominent Labour figure, no more a fan of Independence than I am, who confessed that if Yes looked like getting really gubbed, then she might vote Yes herself for fear of the issue of further powers completely dropping off the agenda.

Yet we also have to be honest about something else. Few votes turn on the issue of more powers for the Scottish Parliament in isolation. And few in either of the major British Parties are particularly animated by it. (The Libs, to be fair, with their greater interest in constitutional matters more generally are in a somewhat different situation).

So, what's the most likely outcome of a decisive No vote? That the Parliament will continue with its existing powers together with the "Calman" additional powers already in the pipeline.

Now, for the sake of honesty in campaigning, it would be better if we (Better Together) were to say that. At least to the extent of saying that nothing was being promised. At the same time we could make the not insignificant point that the existing powers are in fact much more substantial than the Nationalist administration purports them to be. As I've pointed out elsewhere in this blog , they include already, for example, the power to completely compensate for the Bedroom Tax in Scotland, a point quietly admitted by the Minister, Margaret Burgess, when the Scottish Parliament debated the matter.

There are also other, more practical, issues in play here.  We have to avoid the situation where, ex post facto, the Nationalists can try to keep the Independence issue alive by maintaining people were "tricked" into voting No against a promise of additional powers which were subsequently not delivered. A mythology has arisen regarding the 1979 Referendum, that the decisive moment was a suggestion by Sir Alex Douglas-Hume that by voting No a better scheme would be produced. In fact, the key reason for the failure in 1979 was the 40% rule (together with the patent inadequacies of the scheme proposed). With or without Sir Alex's intervention, there was never sufficient enthusiasm for the 40% hurdle to be crossed.

The second, practical, reason for Better Together to take the line that nothing more is promised (as opposed to contemplated) is that we simply could not get an agreed package together between now and September 2014 even if we wanted to. That's the lesson both of Johann's abortive attempt to devolve all Income Tax as a proposal (or, as it turned out, not) to our Conference in the Spring past and indeed of Ruth Davidson's difficulties with those determined to hold her to the "line in the sand". These things take time. It appears to be taking from (at least and to be generous) May 2007 until November 2013 for the SNP even to define "Independence". Getting Labour committed to the Convention scheme took the best part of five years (I was there), never mind the further two years of work on the Scotland Act and in the Constitutional Steering Group which followed the 1997 Referendum. There is simply no way that we or the Tories will have a worked out proposal by September 2014, never mind mutually agreeing it. The sooner we admit that the better.

However, because I personally favour more powers, because indeed many of those voting No favour more powers, I also think we need to have a way forward on that, albeit without any promises being made. And here I think we can build on the flaws in the '97 process.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention took place against a background of an assumption that a Scottish Parliament would need to be wrested from an unwilling Westminster. In it's deliberations it therefore had little or no regard for the interests of the rest of the UK. The unconscious assumption was that they would be part of negotiations to follow the principle of devolution being reluctantly conceded. That of course proved not to be the sequence of events. The arrival of a Labour Administration (at least in Scotland) enthusiastic about Devolution and the September referendum following the May election in 1997 meant that we, collectively Scotland and the rest of the UK, were tied into enacting the Convention scheme. Issues that ought to have been addressed: the proper process for changing the powers of the Parliament; voting rights of Scottish MPs at Westminster; the financial accountability of the Parliament; the process for any future revision of  Barnett; even the role of Westminster's second chamber in the new constitutional structure. All of these, and more, were deemed irrelevant or at least unable to be addressed, at least publicly, in the aftermath of the immediate mandate Donald had obtained for "his" White Paper.

But the political imperative of progress, which had my own enthusiastic endorsement at the time and still does, conflicted with the reality that we, in Scotland, were creating a form of unilateral federalism without the consent of the other interested Parties.

That's not sustainable in the long term and at some point there will be a crisis. There is, for example, every prospect that Labour and the Libs could form a majority Westminster coalition in 2015 which does not, even collectively, have a majority over the Tories in England.. That's a very different situation from 2005-10 when although Labour's absolute majority depended on Scotland, we still had more seats than the Tories in England and when further the underlying assumption, Left and Right, was that, if the chips were down, the Libs would be more on our side than theirs.

So these things need addressed anyway, as does the demand, cross-party, in Wales for more powers for the Welsh Assembly even as there is an acceptance in Wales, unlike in Scotland, that there still requires to be an English subsidy (more, in reality, a London subsidy), in order to balance the books. Then we have the Northern Irish demand for a variable Corporation Tax, which might not be concedable but surely needs resolved on some basis other than the arbitrary decision of the Westminster Government of the day.

Above all we have the issue of the Second Chamber; who gets to sit in it and what exactly is its role?

So here's my suggestion. In the aftermath of the Referendum, there should be a commitment to a UK Constitutional Convention. Everything should be on the agenda but among the things on the table should be the powers, particularly the taxation powers of all the devolved legislatures. And, like the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the participants should extend well beyond the political parties.

Now, I know that's not a very exciting proposal, Certainly not nearly as exciting as a way forward as Independence. But it is a practical proposal and it is also, dare I say it, a more honest one than some sort of vague promise without process which appears to be the alternative course of action commended to my Party. Anyway, given that we're patently not going to vote for Independence, it is at least something.

Sunday 4 August 2013

The Hunter home from the Hill

My plan to be a bit more blogging from my holiday fell by the wayside when I didn't have wifi at my location for the second week. But, although I'm home, I'm actually still on holiday for another week so I'm going to be staying away from politics till then.

Or Scottish politics at least.

The second week of my holiday coincided with the disposal of Silvio Berlusconi's final appeal against his four year prison sentence for tax evasion. He is now, in theory, to go to the jail. Although in practice that would, at worst, mean a form of house arrest, since he is over 75 and Italian law means that nobody over 75 serves time in a normal prison. And anyway only for a year because...................oh never mind, it's a long story.

In the immediate aftermath of the Court's decision there was the usual outrage by the man himself and an immediate suggestion by his Party, the PdL, that if President Napolitano wished them to remain part of the governing coalition, then a Presidential pardon might be considered. Our Man, the current Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, seemed largely to do no more than suggest everybody keep calm, a task for which he might be ideally suited for as an orator he makes Ian Duncan Smith look like Cicero.

Anyway, then everybody went on holiday, since it was August and this was Italy. No doubt they will all return to a state of hysteria (Comrade Letta aside) around about the 1st of September.

Now, I might be the last person to say this but I can see the argument of the Cavaliere's supporters on these matters. They relate to a period when nobody in Italy paid their proper taxes. You might think that Berlusconi, as a leading public figure (for a good part of the time covered by the indictment he was Prime Minister!) should have been the visible good example to the contrary in that regard but that misunderstands the nature of his electoral coalition. He was only doing what they were doing, albeit on a somewhat larger scale and to many of them it seems unfair that he has been singled out in this way "just because he was Prime Minister."

Most of us, I think, would believe that this was all the more reason for singling him out, if he was singled out, to jump languages for the moment pour encourager les autres.

And, do you know, I think that might just be having an effect. I was struck both in the fortnight past and when I was in the Veneto in May that retail transactions are now invariably done "by the book", with proper receipts and far fewer insistencies on cash. Now, I suspect that the tax reforms of Mario Monti in response to Italy's Euro Crisis has also had an impact here, and indeed the panicked reactions of many Italians, at that time, to the realisation that Italy might drop out of Europe's "First Division". Even the "moral disapproval" of Grillo's Five Star Movement may also be playing a part (although the man himself remains a clown).Whatever is behind it, this can only be a good thing for the Country and the wider European project.
Maybe I'll try to get to the mezzogiorno in the Autumn to see if this change goes all the way South.

There was however another thing worth noticing. That was how far the whole Berlusconi thing passed most people by. Now obviously there must be some element of ennui about this. Berlusconi is a bit like our own First Minister in this one regard; most of those engaged with politics have already made up their mind about him, for good or ill.

But that's not the real message. Most people simply couldn't care less. During the week I had a car, I would listen to Italian Radio. It helped with my efforts to improve my Italian. The channel (!02.5) had a standard format. Cheesy pop songs (about twenty played in a continuous loop) and phone ins. And despite the Berlusconi verdict, before and after, leading the hourly news bulletins, the phone ins were entirely about where people were, or were going, on holiday; how hot it was and what the caller had had for lunch and/or was going to have for dinner. And with whom.

For, like here, politics remained very much a minority interest. I've said this before but it's worth repeating that the whole Independence Referendum does not dominate everyday life for ordinary people, no matter how it might appear to within the limited circle obsessed with Good Morning Scotland; the "serious" newspapers; Scotland Tonight; Newsnicht and, dare I say it myself, Twitter.

The only other thing I would say is that if  Italy is anything to go by, this is not a uniquely Scottish experience.


However, in case your worried, I'll be back to feeding the obsessives in that regard next week when, amongst other things, I'll give you my view's on Iain McWhirter's "The Road to the Referendum" which I read while away.

Meanwhile, I've still got a week off so I may go to......Edinburgh.