Sunday 22 June 2014

Buona Vacanza

This is my last blog before I depart on holiday and I'm somewhat demob happy. I toyed with writing it in pidgin Italian but was fearful of causing offence (even though I only speak pidgin Italian). I also suggested on twitter I might only write about my favourite artist, Piero della Francesca, but, to be honest, nobody comes here for art criticism.

So in the end I'll stick to my usual stuff, Scottish politics although I might illustrate it with some pictures from the great man.

I'll start with this. The Flagellation of Christ. In the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.

I first visited Urbino on the day Italy beat Spain in the quarter finals of the 1994 World Cup. "Il Roberto" (Baggio) scored the winner. Anybody who thinks the BBC is too anglo-centric in its coverage should reflect that, when the victory led the RAI News later that evening, the "highlights" of the game did not include the Spanish goal, which was merely mentioned in passing.

Anyway, this has been described as the greatest small painting in the world. I thought by John Mortimer but Wikipedia corrects me to Sir Kenneth Clark. The Wikipedia entry is well worth reading for the various interpretations of the painting it contains. What it doesn't really reflect is just how small the painting is. Not much bigger than a large laptop screen.

And yet it is a great painting. Small can be beautiful. One of the great fallacies of the referendum campaign is that anyone on our side ever described Scotland as "too small, too poor, too stupid" to be independent. In fact, the first person to say that was John Swinney, albeit attributing the words to (invented) others in the usual chip on the shoulder manner of so many Nationalists. The only way the word stupid features in the argument on our side would be to suggest that Scotland is far from a stupid country. That's why the No side is so clearly winning the argument at a canter.


Now, at this point I'm afraid my own conceit defeated me. It is simply too much of a leap, for me at least, to link Piero della Francesca repeatedly to the micro politics of Scotland five hundred and more years later.

But I can't be bothered starting again, not least because I'm keen to watch the football.


I'm not always the biggest fan of Bernard Ponsonby but he observed ten days or so ago that the idea that the Referendum would dominate public discourse in Scotland now that the World Cup had started was perhaps, on the part of the political class, a somewhat optimistic one. And that is without Andy at Wimbledon or the Commonwealth Games to follow. But most importantly of all because, if even I am now thinking mainly of my holidays, then how much more so are people not obsessed with politics.

I have no idea how many people Eck thinks will be watching a two hour debate between him and Alistair Darling on 16th July, the Wednesday before the Glasgow Fair weekend, but I suspect it will be very few indeed. Even among those actually in the Country. Perhaps that is his hope

Of course the obsessives on both sides will still .....obsess.....about every twist and turn. But the public, particularly the undecided public, will have more pleasant ways to spend their time.

There is still an important period in the Independence debate but it will start only when the schools go back and, in Scotland at least, the Autumn starts.

I'll be back long since.


Firstly, I'm off to watch South Korea against Algeria.

Secondly, here is another painting by the great Piero della Francesca

Santa Maria Maddalena. Duomo, Arezzo.

Finally, a great Summer to all of my readers. Even the cybernats.

Sunday 15 June 2014


I have now got to the point of conceit to believe there might be an anticipation that I will produce a Sunday Night blog which will outrage some and reassure others. So this is it. although I don't have any particular "big point" to make.

Interestingly, this week it was revealed that there are only 78,000 active twitter accounts in Scotland and if you drill down into their number it would  reveal that the overwhelming majority of these have no interest whatsoever in politics.

Instead they are engaged with football, or popular music fandom, or simply in talking about what is happening on the telly. That is that part of the telly which doesn't include Scotland Tonight or Scotland 2014.

Perhaps we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we (by that I mean all of us reading this blog) are living in a pretty small bubble. Sometime in the past week somebody on twitter reported on an event specifically called to debate "the" question where those voluntarily present were asked how many had ever heard of Campbell Gunn. A solitary hand was raised.

If that is the impact the "scandal" of the week had had on those actually engaged, how much less so did it impact on the 5,217,000 Scots without an active twitter account?

Nonetheless, it is one aspect of that episode that provides my first (but not only) topic tonight.

Some time back the SNP clearly made a strategic decision to make common cause with a small group of cyberspace fanatics who saw it to be their task to try to verbally intimidate anyone prepared to suggest on the internet that they were not wholly persuaded of the merits of independence.

It would only be fair to point out that a number of committed nationalists were opposed to this strategy from the start, Who exactly were these people? Had they ever knocked a door or even delivered a leaflet in "the cause of Scotland"? Why did most of them feel it necessary to conceal their identities?

Nonetheless, Eck clearly felt they could do a job for him and, in the modern SNP, what Eck decides is final. So they were allowed to proceed with only the mildest of censure.

With the highlighting of the vile, misogynistic  attacks on Claire Lally and J.K. Rowling this week the chickens have come home to roost. When your key demographic weaknesses are with women and young people, what more lunatic strategy than to personally attack the mum of the year and the greatest living children's author? Suddenly the SNP leadership realised that they should have listened to wiser heads on their own side. Too late. In the words of Windsor Davies: "Oh dear, how sad, never mind".

But in the midst of the storm this week there has been one constant Nationalist counter argument. Yes, finally, we might be trying to disown this but the other side are just as bad. "Nicola Sturgeon received death threats on twitter".

Now this is an allegation that has gone the rounds before. And it falls into, the Nats hope, one of these situations where if something is said often enough people will come to assume it must be true.

Except, as a lawyer, it has always seemed to me to be a bit of an  incongruous allegation. You can be pretty outrageous on twitter. I have been myself. But direct threats to the life of another still attract the attention of the criminal law. There are, quite rightly, people in the jail right now for having made such threats against Neil Lennon.

So surely if people had threatened the life of the Deputy First Minister of Scotland that might reasonably have been expected to attract the priority interest of the Polis?

Well, as with so many assertions by the nationalists, when you look into this, this matter is somewhat different from how it was being portrayed last week. There is a single source for the allegation that Nicola Sturgeon received death threats on twitter and that single source is.................... Nicola Sturgeon, in an interview that she gave to the Daily Express. Now look at what Ms Sturgeon actually says. She suggests that the "threats" came from a single account (of a "sad and lonely individual" ) and that she herself did not take them seriously. Indeed so not seriously that she decided to report these "threats" not to the Police but rather to the Daily Express. In, it should not be overlooked, an earlier attempt to excuse the cybernats.

Yet by last week this "fact" was being held up by various SNP spokespeople as somehow equivalent to  the systematic vilification of Ms Lally and Ms Rowling by literally hundreds of nationalist online supporters. Or at least, since these supporters mostly remain anonymous, by literally hundreds of nationalist supporting accounts.

Which leads me on to whether there is a central mind controlling this. Well, there is and there isn't.

Most of the cybernats congregate around a single notorious nationalist website from which they take their cue. They certainly did that in the case of Claire Lally. And it was the failure to realise that what appears on that sewer often bears no relationship to the truth that led the fundamentally decent Campbell Gunn astray. Perhaps he was misled by the willingness of Yes Scotland to endorse the site as a source of "facts" when it is anything but.

So if the SNP are finally serious, as they claim to be, about reigning in the cybernats then a good start would be to ensure that there is no further reference to this sewer on Yes Scotland literature. Let's wait and see.

Or perhaps they should simply consider the second half of Jim Sillars intervention and reflect on where this man came from and how he comes to be so well funded?

And normally, that would be me. Except that something else happened today, Gordon Aikman announced he was dying..

I wrote at the start about appreciating how few of us exist in this electronic referendum bubble. But Gordon is one of us. One of the brightest and best and most tragically one of the youngest.

For me he did not need to write of the horror of Motor Neurone Disease, for it claimed the life of the wife of a close colleague who is now a major fundraiser in its combat. But even in her case it was in later life.

It is almost impossible to comprehend why a young man so full of life should be struck down in this way.

I can only end by doing what he does himself and ask you to donate towards finding a cure. That would almost inevitably come too late for him but it would be a worthy lasting legacy.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Arthur Donaldson and others

It was the seventieth anniversary of D-Day on Friday past.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has many great achievements to its name but surely its role in the defeat of Naziism is the greatest of these.

And, now the full history is known, it can be realised that it was a close run thing.

Those in the Conservative and Liberal ranks who would have appeased Hitler emerge with much discredit. As indeed do those of a 1930s pacifist bent in my own Party. But, in the end, Labour, at the instigation famously of Ernie Bevin, ditched the pacifist Lansbury and installed as leader instead Major Clement Attlee. Much more importantly, when that self same Attlee, at the demand of Leo Amery, spoke "for England" during the Norway debate, the Tories finally got it too. Not just that Chamberlain had to go but that the only credible candidate to replace him was Churchill.

And the ultimate triumph of these political events came on 6th June 1944 and over the ten months that followed until final victory.

Now, ask any Tory, Liberal or Socialist today about their own Party's history and they will acknowledge these events. They will be entitled to observe that neither Lansbury nor Chamberlain actively sympathised with Nazi ideology but they would readily acknowledge that their respective political responses to Naziism at the time were, not even just with the benefit of hindsight, fundamentally wrong.

Nothing I have said above is remotely controversial.

So, let us turn to the case of the fourth participant in Scotland's democracy. The SNP.

Now, in the 1930s they were a relatively new phenomenon, having only been founded in 1934. Actually, you would have thought that this being their eightieth anniversary they might have been keener to publicise that. I mean, all Parties are proud of their history. But for some reason the SNP are not. Here is why.

The original leader of the SNP was the innocuous figure of Alexander McEwan, who was even knighted by the King for his public service. But he was insufficiently Scottish for the rank and file. So in 1936 he was bumped out in favour of one Andrew Dewar Gibb. And let us be in no doubt about it, this man was a fascist.

Obviously, there were relatively few Jews in Scotland so Gibb seized on another target; Irish Catholics. You don't need to take my word for this, he wrote a number of books about the danger of Irish Catholics to the well-being of Scotland. And just like the wee man with the moustache, since outright racism needed a rationale, he seized not on their origin but their religion as their "fault". He was particularly outraged that "these people" (as he would have it) not only were allowed a vote but then used that vote to support the Labour Party. For he hated the Labour Party. But not quite as much as he hated the Communist Party, which he described as "too largely Jewish in origin".

There you are. One of Alex Salmond's direct predecessors. Never disowned by the SNP to this day.

But, I hear you cry, this was a long time ago!.As indeed it was, although still within the living memory of those who returned to Normandy this week.

So, presumably when Gibb departed, the Nats saw sense. No more anti-semitism. Well, No.

In May 1941 a man called Arthur Donaldson was detained under the emergency powers regulations for his pro Nazi sympathies. For he had been foolish enough to say the previous January to an MI5 officer (who he believed to be a sympathiser)

"We must, he declared, be able to show the German Government that we are organised and that we have a clear cut policy for the betterment of Scotland; that we have tried our best to persuade the English Government that we want Scottish Independence and that we are not in with them in this war. If we can do that you can be sure that Germany will give us every possible assistance in our early struggle. The time is not yet ripe for us to start a virile campaign against England, but when fire and confusion is at its height in England, we can start in earnest. He then went on to tell them that he had an idea in his mind for fixing up a wireless transmitting set in a thickly populated district in Glasgow or Edinburgh, in order to give broadcasts to the public"

(My emphasis)

Now, let's just consider when this conversation took place. After Kristallnacht. After the fall of France. When any lingering doubts about the nature of the Nazi regime could not surely be held by any reasonably informed person.  Yet here was this man wishing for a German victory and actively distancing himself from any continued resistance to it.

So what, I here you cry again?  So what even if this guy was a member of the SNP? All Parties have nutty members.

Except that in 1960, during my lifetime, after six million Jews had died, twenty million or more Russians and indeed more than 50,000 Scots, without ever disowning these views, this man was elected Leader of the SNP. 

And I will, believe me, come back to that.

For even then you say, this is all still history!

Well, Donaldson served as leader of the SNP until 1969, when he was succeeeded by a man called William Wolfe. Mr Wolfe was clever enough to keep any pro Nazi sympathies under wraps. But he remained in office until 1979, during which time, before 2007 at least, the Nationalists were at their most electorally successful. When, having demitted office, he was given the honorary position of Party President. And Mr Wolfe might then have faded into obscurity. Except that the removal of political necessity allowed him to express his true views.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II came to Scotland. I am  not a Catholic or even an unconditional admirer of the Catholic Church. But I recognised even then that this was an important and good man in the slow thawing of the Cold War. At least as importantly a man whose presence on Scottish soil would bring great joy to many of my fellow Scottish citizens. Except that wasn't the view of Mr Wolfe, let us not forget, leader of the SNP for a full ten years. 

Catholicism, he believed, was an alien religion, practiced largely by Irish immigrants, who, even if they had by now been here for several generations were, by implication, not "true" Scots. Now, don't forget, this wasn't in the depths of history, it was only just over thirty years ago. When Alex Salmond was already a member of the SNP. And while it might only have been in 1982 that Wolfe made his views public they could surely not have been a secret to those who worked with him daily before that?

Although, since those of you who have borne with me this far might see the echo of the words of Andrew Dewar Gibb, perhaps it is not unreasonable to assume they were widely shared internally within the SNP. After all, the Catholics weren't "really" Scottish. That was demonstrated by their voting Labour.

And the reaction of the SNP to Wolfe's remarks at the time? Did they disown him, expel him? Did they........

Instead they protested mildly that he did not speak for the SNP. Far from him being expelled or even being removed from office, instead he was allowed to step down in his own time and when he died in 2010, (yes, that's right, just four years ago), he was described by Alex Salmond, cuddly friendly inclusive Alex Salmond, as 

"incredibly influential in developing a social democratic ethos for the SNP in terms of its political identity".

Well, I don't know about you but that tends to lead me to think that Mr Salmond must have a pretty warped view of social democracy if he believes that Mr Wolfe had a place within its ranks. Mr Wolfe was a piece of racist scum would have been more in line with my assessment although,  to be fair, the First Minister might just have said that it was best not to speak ill of the dead. Except, tellingly, he didn't.

But anyway, that was four years ago! Since then the SNP really really have been converted to social democracy. I mean look at Yes Scotland! It has the support of Pat Kane, Lesley Riddoch, Patrick Harvie. These people aren't fascists!

And of course they aren't. Nor indeed are most modern members of the SNP. But, and this is a big but, why won't the SNP confront their own history? And why won't their media cheerleaders demand that they do so.

I realise that this is an angry piece. It is anger provoked by an article in today's Sunday Herald. In it Iain McWhirter states

"The character of "Naw" is revealed Daily in the stream of sneering tweets by its social media outriders who portray the SNP as Party that celebrates Nazi-sympathisers............"

I think by that he means me for I had indeed pointed this out on Twitter.

But more tellingly he goes on to assert

"I don't know who they think believes this stuff"

Well, I believe it. Only belief is not the right word for I know it with certainty to be true. Every year, every single year, at the SNP Conference, as part of the official programme, there is an Arthur Donaldson Memorial lecture. Yes, that Arthur Donaldson, the one who was interned for being..........a Nazi sympathiser. Last year it was delivered by Andrew Wilson. The year before by Blair Jenkins. That is a matter of public record. And Iain McWhirter knows that for, as a journalist, he will surely have attended at least one of these events.

So, two final questions.

The first for which I cannot possibly find an answer is why Iain wrote what he did? You'd need to ask him that.

The second is however more telling. Why do the Nats persist in honouring this man Donaldson? Even I don't believe the likes of Nicola Sturgeon or Roseanna Cunningham would want, in an ideal world, to have anything to do with him.

The reason is that to drop the Donaldson lecture would infuriate a significant minority in nationalist ranks. Who would dissent, thus highlighting their views. And that would be disastrous for the SNP electorally. So let us all, they calculate, just ignore that this happens and hope that nobody notices. That nobody notices that a significant minority in our governing Party hate the English so much that they believe that even a Nazi victory in the Second World War would have been an opportunity for "the betterment of Scotland."

And let's just pretend for the moment that these people, the Donaldson faction, SNP rank and file in some number, after independence, would not then be likely to move on to hating somebody else. Somebody nearer at hand. Citing indeed that such views had a legitimate tradition within "their" Party.

It is annoying enough when the Nats mislead people about the future but when they are prepared also to mislead them about the past? What kind of regimes come to mind as doing that?

Monday 2 June 2014

Credit where it is due

I wrote back in March about how disappointed I was with Labour's revised devolution proposals. I also however speculated as to the reason why, mainly involving the internal tensions among the various competing interests in my own Party.

Now, as someone seldom with a good word to say about the Tories I have to first of all concede (through gritted teeth) that their proposals published today are far from disappointing. They are comprehensive and radical and they make a proper attempt to address the absurdity that since 1999, far from echoing the American colonists demand of no taxation without representation, Scotland's politics have been corrupted by representation without taxation.

All the focus on the coverage of the proposals today has been on Income Tax but it should not be overlooked that there is also a tentative proposal to assign VAT revenues and devolve Air Passenger Duty. The ability to "top up" benefits will also call the bluff of those who think Scots would readily pay higher taxes to do just that. A typically devious Tory manouver.

The conclusions reached about which taxes cannot/should not be devolved: National Insurance; Corporation Tax; Capital Gains Tax and excise duties coincide largely with my own thinking on these matters (for what that's worth).

If I had a minor quibble it might be about Inheritance Tax. It is a geographic tax and it is difficult to comprehend how it might be subject to tax competition other than in the most macabre of circumstance. It has also seemed to me to provide the potential long term solution to the ever increasing cost of free personal care. Perhaps Ruth might yet be persuadable on that.

For my sentence immediately above betrays why the Tory proposals are so much more radical than our own. For these proposals, with no disrespect to the other contributors and advisers are, recognisably, Ruth Davidson's proposals. Now, Ms Davidson has a number of advantages over my own Party leader. She has not required to juggle competing internal interests. To start with, she has no Westminster Group of MPs to worry about. Insofar as she has required to take on the Thatcherite dinosaurs in the Lords she has the huge advantage of already starting to recover the Party support they are mainly remembered for having thrown away. And a gratitude for that has already started to filter down to local government and to ambitious future candidates for either Parliament. So she has, "up here" an almost free hand.

And then most crucially of all, in playing that hand, she has had the support of the Prime Minister. On this matter he clearly trusts her and she, in turn, trusts him to let her get on with it.

I have never for a moment thought anyone on the English Tory camp, other than a few nutters, has ever viewed the departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom with equanimity. But particularly I have always thought that David Cameron himself is utterly sincere in that sentiment. So sincere that he would do whatever was felt required to prevent that.

Today he saw the reward of what all able politicians do. He had delegated the detail to a trusted lieutenant, trusted their judgement, and then backed them to the hilt.

If there is any justice, then, come May 2015, they will be rewarded at the polls. Just hopefully not so much that they start taking seats off us.