Monthly Archives: April 2015

Friday Fictioneers – Global Rituals

ff290415The royal flags fluttered above the palace. A warm, bright sun shone down from a cobalt blue sky. It was set to be another beautiful day in the capital.  Yet the cafés around the square lay empty. Wide avenues normally alive with taxis, tourists and rickshaws were all but deserted. The only real signs of life were in the queue which coiled around the old town hall.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked the man at the back.

‘Plasma TV! Only 3000 Rupees!’ he grinned.

‘Wow, they have Black Friday here too,’ my wife said, as we quickly took our place in line.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge. 

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Friday Fictioneers – Making Our Mark

They say that onceff220415 the mountain streams ran free towards clear oceans filled with life. Verdant forests sang a song of hope while a happy peoples worked the plains under a warming sun. This was a world of expectation; a world to replace one exhausted and dead – a second chance.

Now the descendants of those first settlers live in domes. Constrained behind a metre of glass, they stare out from their sterile confinement towards a frozen wasteland. Man has only been on this planet for but a moment in time, yet already the search for another new home has begun.
friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into Earth Day’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge. 

Scotland Takes Centre Stage

Today saw the launch of the Scottish National Party’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Now, as best I can remember this sort of event normally takes place in front of the media pack and that’s about it. The politicians sit at the top table, show their slides, sip water and get their spin across. A few questions follow and then it’s off to the pub. Let’s remember the SNP only stand in the 59 Scottish seats, can’t win a UK Election and at best aspire to have some influence in a hung parliament. In the past this would have seen their manifesto launches restricted to the hardened hacks of the Scottish press corp. Those days are clearly over. For now, at least, the whole of the UK has their eyes on Scotland.

The video below contains all 62 minutes of today’s event. This is made up of roughly 20 minutes of presentation, followed by a 40 minutes Q and A with the assembled press.

I don’t deny I regard Nicola Sturgeon as the UK’s best politician, by a distance. However, as I’ve said before, no matter your allegiances it’s hard to not give at least grudging respect for the way she handles this sort of occasion.Not once was she remotely flustered. Her demeanor remained positive and only rarely did she show any signs of understandable irritation.

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The questions asked covered all the expected areas i.e. another independence referendum, Full Fiscal Responsibility, Ed Miliband and of course the big one, “Why is England scared of you?”. In truth the last type of question is a gift as it gives her the chance to reassure voters in rUK that there is nothing to be scared of, unless progressive democracy and Scotland having a voice frightens you.

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I was feeling really buoyed having watched today’s event. However, my mood has darkened somewhat since. The expected trail of xenophobic and misogynistic bile flowing up from Westminster and Fleet St has actually surpassed my worst fears. Some of it is truly shocking. I won’t repeat any of it on this blog. The part which my poor brain is struggling to cope with is this: the UK pleaded for us to stay, we stayed and now they complain when we take part in the very system they wanted us to remain part of. The reality is the UK establishment has misjudged the mood for change in Scotland. Their current approach is to insult us rather than to work with us. Any short term gain will surely be more than matched by a continuing decline in Scottish respect for a system creaking at the seams with corruption and self-interest.

Thanks for reading.

Translating A Soundbite

They’ve said it so often I’m sure some of them actually believe it. However, most, I presume, know it to be intentionally misleading. What I’m talking about is this:

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Now, as far as I am concerned what Labour want us to read into this soundbite is:

‘Vote SNP and there will be less Labour MPs, therefore more chance of a Tory government, as Labour are the only party who can stop them!’

However, the idea what voting SNP will improve the Tories chances of getting back into Government is patently false, as not a single SNP MP would support such a scenario. By returning an SNP MP you will simply get an anti-Tory MP who isn’t Labour. Hence why they don’t want you to do it.

Let’s face facts. If polling is to be believed, the only way SNP beating Labour to seats in Scotland will keep David Cameron in No. 10 is if UK Labour leaves him there. Surely even Labour aren’t daft enough to do that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday Fictioneers – The Last Resort

ff150415Oily, black tears ran down his cheeks. ‘She’s still inside. Hurry. Please hurry,’ Bob screamed.

Bob and Joan Eastman had lived in that same cream house for over 50 years. Six children had been raised in its rooms – three of them were now Lawyers, one a Doctor. Now it was just Bob and Joan, but Joan hadn’t quite been herself since a stroke last winter, and Bob was struggling to cope.

I reached out and cupped his trembling hands within my own. As the medics ushered Bob towards the ambulance the faintest smell of petrol lingered on my fingers.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge

Divide And Conquer

Had something on my mind and I was struggling to get it over in a tweet. So a small blog entry is needed to give myself more room – but not too much more i.e. I’ll be brief.

Ok, my feeling is growing that the ‘Establishment‘, and by that I mean:

  • Conservatives
  • Labour
  • Lib-Dems
  • UK Government Civil Service
  • Almost all newspapers
  • BBC

Are hell bent on trying to turn every election into a re-run of September 2014. Debate after debate, headline after headline, interview after interview plays the Scottish National Party against the rest. Everything gets spun around YES/NO. I could understand that if we were in the run up to a Holyrood election, or another Independence Referendum – but we’re not. The only possible reason for this is to maximise support against the one party, the SNP.

ns2Let’s cut to the chase. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP could win all 59 seats in Scotland, and still be frozen out of Government decisions. This election will send either David Cameron or Ed Miliband to 10 Downing Street – not Alex Salmond or Stewart Hosie. The only people who can, and will likely continue, to create “black holes” in the UK economy post 7th May are the same people who have done it all their days i.e. Tories or Labour. The role of a large contingent of SNP MPs is to make Government accountable to the people of Scotland: to give us a voice, and to put an end to the Labour/Tory closed shop (with occasional meddling from the Lib Dems).

The latest Labour campaign tactic of showing weakness in Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland is a clear attempt to tell people we don’t really want “Devo Max“. We’re too wee, too stupid. Classic “Eat your cereal” claptrap. In short, no reason to vote SNP as there are no more powers to give. Bizarrely Labour have made it known they actually want to attract YES voters. Their way of doing this is to rule out another IndyRef as well as reneging on “The Vow” of real powers for Scotland in the Union i.e. Devo Max. This is of course being lapped up and echoed around Scotland by their Establishment colleagues.

In truth I’m uncomfortable with the wedge that the UK is trying to drive between Scots for their own narrow aims. They need to stop it, and furthermore stop denying what’s staring them in the face. The old days and old ways are over. Attempts to alienate, ridicule and demonise half of the Scottish Electorate (and growing) is not only insulting, but it’s plainly not working.

Thanks for reading.

Leader’s Debates – A Scottish Double Header

ge15As the credits rolled on BBC Scotland’s Leader’s Debate it’s probably fair to say that those of us who watched all three recent debates are in need of a timeout. Five hours of televised political jousting over just a few days has certainly left me drained. That’s not to say I’m not up for some more, but let’s have a wee break to recharge the batteries. In the meantime here are my thoughts on the two debates held in Scotland.

Rather than look at each of the debates separately, I’m instead going to give my views on the contributions of the candidates involved. I’ll start with the two party representatives who only featured on the Aberdeen panel:

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Aberdeen Debate Line Up: Top Row (L-R) Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson, Jim Murphy; Bottom Row (L-R) Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie. David Coburn

Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

Despite colleague Natalie Bennett being part of the UK wide Leader’s Debate, Patrick Harvie, was omitted from the first Scottish debate held in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Have to be honest and confess I haven’t heard Patrick speak as often as some of the others gathered in Aberdeen. His contributions were passionate but perhaps a bit rough and ready. In an understandable eagerness to make his voice heard some of his comments felt a bit rushed, even slightly flustered. That said he’s clearly a politician of substance, whether you agree with his policies or not.

A solid contribution, but not one that would have blown anyone away.

David Coburn (UKIP)

Lived down to expectations. Had nothing to say aside from the usual UKIP rhetoric. Thankfully he was by and large sidelined during the hour long debate. I have no problem with UKIP being on election panels; however, they would have been better served with a Scottish representative more in control of their subject matter, and perhaps less excitable, than David Coburn. Does such a person exist? I doubt it, as most people now see UKIP for what they are – an extension of Nigel Farage’s ego. He likely despairs of his followers as much as the rest of us do.

…and now onto the four representatives who appeared on both nights

Scottish Party Leaders Participate In A Live STV Debate

Edinburgh Debate Line-Up: (L-R) Willie Rennie, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson, Jim Murphy

Willie Rennie (Lib Dems)

Softly spoken lad. Seemed nice enough, if a bit lightweight. Unfortunately on both nights he became extremely repetitive and predictable. His stock response contained a reference to the referendum as well as lauding the economic revival his party, in cahoots with the Tories, had begun. In fact he rarely answered a question without reminding us that Scotland voted NO in the referendum – he does seem particularly proud of that. To listen to him speak you’d think the result was 99/1 and not 55/45, with a vote today likely to achieve a different outcome. Scotland is moving on while Willie and the Unionists want us to remain forever locked into 2014. Not sure that’s a winning philosophy.

Like most LibDem’s he seeks credit for their part in the Coalition, while at the same time attacking their Coalition partners. That said ‘attacking’ is probably over playing it as there was very little antagonism between Ruth Davidson and Willie on either night. If anything, Willie gave the impression he’d happily have another five years in Government with the Tories. His main target on both nights was not surprisingly Nicola Sturgeon. He wasn’t alone in that strategy. In summary he was competent enough, but largely irrelevant to the main debate.

Ruth Davidson (Conservatives)

Every time I see Ruth I can’t help but picture a young Tory student speaking at a party conference. It’s not that she’s particularly young, she just has that wide-eyed, innocent, and ready to convert the world to Conservatism look, whether it wants it or not. Thatcher is nothing to do with her, as she reminds us. Ruth can’t be held accountable for that. Handy. Like her partner in the Coalition she obsesses on the Referendum. The Union is her ‘red-line’ coalition issue, despite the fact that her only likely partners in Govt (Lib Dem and UKIP) agree with her on that subject. If at any point she started to struggle, a quick return to the referendum guaranteed a burst of applause from the loud-clapping Unionists in both venues. Policy wise I thought she struggled. Yet nonsense like bringing back prescription charges, even though it would cost as much to administer as it would bring in, went largely unchallenged.

In fairness I think Ruth has the potential to be a decent politician – she is a fairly skilled debater. Just don’t think she will ever do much in Scotland where a career as an also-ran List MSP in perpetual opposition awaits. I think she should head South and aim for an English Tory seat at Westminster. She needs to know what it’s like to have constituents i.e. be a real MP. Until then I’ll always view her as a rather empty shell who only represents herself and a Tory party almost extinct in Scotland.

Jim Murphy (Labour)

Jim started on Tuesday with a tale about a woman who couldn’t afford any shoes. He ended with some strange waffle about mental health being about broken spirits. In between we had football puns, Messi, horse-racing and an impression of Kenny Dalglish. This was all delivered in a calm, relatively composed, almost hypnotic manner. He sounded extremely rehearsed – as you would expect. Throughout it all though it didn’t feel natural or comfortable to me. He didn’t look at home on this sort of stage. His habit of shouting over the top of people suggested someone used to having his own way. As with Davidson and Rennie his ire was reserved almost exclusively for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Considering Labour are battling Conservatives for 10 Downing Street, he spent very little time grilling Ruth Davidson. In some ways not surprising as the main challenge for Jim in Scotland is the SNP, not Tories.

The ‘Largest Party forms the Government’/’Vote SNP Get Tory’ mantras featured heavily, as expected. However, Jim point blank refused to answer the question which is rapidly turning into Labour’s very own “Plan B” debacle i.e. what happens if Ed Miliband has less MPs than the Tories, but Lab and SNP combined can lock the Tories out? He insists Labour are aiming to win, just as Alex was planning on a Currency Union. What happens if Labour don’t win remains foggy in the extreme. Of course the likelihood is some of deal with the SNP, but as this would play into Tory hands he can’t admit it. In summary, Jim was Jim. I for one remain unconvinced that Jim being Jim is where Labour needs to be in Scotland at this time.

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

In the UK wide Leader’s debate last week Nicola was largely able to smack down the opposition with barely a glove being landed on her own chin. This was undoubtedly because her fellow debaters knew decidedly less about Scotland than she did of the UK. Wasn’t quite a freebie, but it was an excellent chance to impress, and she didn’t disappoint. The two debates in Scotland were totally different. Firstly it very quickly became a three-on-one rerun of the BetterTogether campaign. Nicola was the target for Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem froth alike. Secondly in Scotland, SNP are the party of power, so she has a record which can rightly be challenged. When you factor in that both nights became bogged down in Holyrood politics and the referendum, instead of focusing on Westminster, it became an even tougher ride. However, she was up for the fight and more than held her ground.

At times it felt to me that because YES/SNP had lost the referendum, Nicola wasn’t allowed to have opinions any more. Are Lab/Con/Lib expecting the SNP to drop their founding principles and simply become a left of centre party who exist only in Scotland? It feels that way. The reality is though very clear. This election is about getting the maximum powers from the Smith Commission/Vow/Vow Plus etc. The majority of Scots want more powers. Whether they want full independence is something we’ll find out, if and when, the Scottish electorate have the appetite for another referendum i.e. vote for a party who will offer one. As the FM said, people will decide Scotland’s future, not politicians.

Overall the First Minister more than held her own, despite the unionist bullying on display from her opponents. The problem the other leaders have is that Nicola Sturgeon is better at her job than them. While the rest rabble on incessantly about Westminster, the Union etc, she sticks to her guns on Scotland, and Scottish issues and concerns i.e. Trident. Whether you agree with her or not you can’t help but admire her for that.

As for Jim, he had two chances to make a dent in the SNP lead. At best he treaded water, at worst people who didn’t really know him will have been turned off. In my view there isn’t going to be much change in the polls between now and May 7th, and the debates so far haven’t altered my view on that.

Couple of last points. Have to be honest and say I enjoyed the UK Leader’s Debate more than the Scottish two. Manchester was more controlled, less ranting over other speakers, more polished. The crowds in Scotland were more involved but at times to my ears didn’t really represent what the polls tell is the mood of the country. Also feel audiences are duped too easily by untruths, but this isn’t a problem exclusive to a Scottish crowd!

Thanks for reading.

Friday Fictioneers – Last Stop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPiss stop!” spat the Guard.

Tired, chained bodies stumbled out into the baking heat.

A faint peal of church bells drifted across the scrubland. In the shimmering distance the familiar whitewashed walls of a village. An old man on a donkey stopped by the track.  The donkey’s tail swished at buzzing flies. The grey-bearded man took a deep swig of water from a battered canteen  – his eyes narrowed as they locked in on mine.

Back inside!

The carriage door slammed shut: glistening, warm sunlight once more replaced by stinking, oppressive darkness.

It would be a long time before I saw my home again.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge

Leader’s Debate – A Review

MAIN-Election-2015Anyone with even the remotest interest in UK politics was likely tuned it. That said, viewing figures of barely over 7 million perhaps points towards a disenfranchisement of people from politics, and politicians. In days of yore a program like this would have easily pulled in twice that audience. However, I freely admit that I sat glued to it for the entire two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The lack of audience reaction jarred slightly, against the lively action on the debate floor, but it would seem that was intentional to avoid a sense of bias in favour of one candidate or another. Just the one heckler, shame, but in these santised times, perhaps not surprising. Like a lot of other people, I want to see Ed Miliband and David Cameron in a real ‘head to head’, alas it would appear that particular delight has been denied us by Cameron’s refusal to take part. Pity.

Like others who watched, I had my favourites before it started. I don’t pretend that I’m not a Scottish Nationalist, but I was willing to give everyone a chance. Here therefore is my placings for each of the debaters. Before I start I would add that none of the candidates ‘bombed’. Each was probably happy that they connected with those they felt the need to connect to. Saying that, some did better than others.

7th. Nigel Farage (UKIP)

Don’t like the man or his politics. UKIP in Scotland barely register in opinion polls. Yes, we unfortunately have one UKIP MEP, but we all have our crosses to bear. Nigel did what he does i.e. pretends to be different, blames everything on immigration, acts as the people’s voice. He is of course no such thing. His nose is as deep in the trough as any of the Euro politicians he continually ridicules. His ‘jack the lad’/’Arthur Daly’ wide-boy impression has never worked on me. However, it seemingly does work on a certain strand of English/Welsh opinion. His supporters will be pleased with his showing. The rest of us cringed, and at times just got plain angry at the things he said. Nope, not for me I’m afraid.

6th. Nick Clegg (LibDem)

His job on the night appeared to be to put clear blue water between himself and his coalition partners, the Conservatives. Fairly obvious strategy, and to an extent it was successful. Problem for Nick and the Lib Dem’s is that the electorate won’t forget his party’s role in the last five years as easily as they would like. That said, Nick himself does seem happy with what his party has achieved. Must admit to being confused by his ‘let us finish the job we’ve started‘ mantra. Is he suggesting the ConDem coalition get another five years? Is he suggesting we vote Tory? Surely he can’t be seriously suggesting a Lib Dem majority. In fairness there was the odd spark of the old Nick Clegg in there which flashed at what might have been. For me though his ship has sailed. He had made his bed and needs to lie in it. His thoughts should quickly turn to somehow saving his own seat, and with it his career.

5th. David Cameron (Con)

Dave clearly doesn’t like this sort of platform. He looked the most uncomfortable of the seven. A sweaty top lip in the opening statements suggested he was feeling the heat, in more ways than one. His plan was, unsurprisingly, to attempt to engage directly with Ed Miliband as much as possible. Seems he’s ok tackling Ed if there are other’s around – Head to Head he’s not so keen. I’ve always viewed Cameron as a poor man’s Tony Blair i.e. style and soundbytes over substance. Tends to prattle on about the past, his children and make vague future pledges which mean almost nothing. He is the classic empty suit of a politician. On the night he held his own, although he clearly dodged any questions with tough answers. In his defence it was a bit of ‘six on one’, but as PM that’s the way it should be, so he can’t really complain. Didn’t do terribly, didn’t to overly well. Treaded water but that’s what he does.

4th. Natalie Bennett (Green)

Have to be honest and say I had no idea who she was until very recently. She looked the most nervous at the start and was the only one who appeared to have to read her opening remarks from her notes – everyone else looked straight out, presumably at an autocue. After her nervy start she warmed into it. Her Australian accent took me unawares, but it gave a slightly different tone to what she had to say. In my view her performance wilted a bit through the two hours. Towards the end she became too stuck on big green issues. Nothing wrong it that per se, but the point of this debate was to appeal to the voters on a wide range of issues – especially as another coalition could be on the cards. By the end she had reverted to a cliche of what you might think a Green candidate would be. Bit of shame, but this must have been a tough assignment for her. Overall she did fine but could have done better, and may well do with more experience of the big stage.

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…and now onto the top 3!

3rd. Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)

Along with Natalie Bennett, I thought Leanne was the most nervous, perhaps even more so at times. The Welsh Nationalists aren’t anywhere like on the same scale as their cousins up here in Scotland. As such Leanne simply won’t have had exposure like this before. However, for taking on Farage when the Tories, Labour and Lib Dem’s seemed afraid to, earned her kudos in my book. She should have addressed more UK issues, and where her party could fit in with them. Yes, she is the leader of PC and Welsh politics is her area; however, as I’ve mentioned before a hung parliament is in the offing and as such all parties need to think outwith the box, and their comfort zone. She didn’t stumble or get figures wrong at any point. It was a competent performance, even if I think she could have pushed herself more onto the UK agenda.

2nd. Ed Miliband (Lab)

Ok. Tory press say he did badly; Labour press say he did well. I’m not a Labour or Ed fan, but I thought he did well. There appears to be low expectations of Ed Miliband in debate, and at times it was a bit forced/fake i.e. appeals directly into the camera, cow eyes etc. For all that I thought he showed a good grasp of his subject and was able to score some direct hits on Cameron and Farage. Main negative for me was that he almost ignored the three women. His focus was on the camera and Cameron. I’d say he ‘appears’ much more genuine than David Cameron. He admits mistakes, too many in truth, but that makes him feel more human. Less soundbytes too which is a bonus. He didn’t win the election with this performance, but I seriously doubt he lost ground either. In truth I was surprised at how well he did.

ns21st. Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

Ho hum. I’m an SNP member so I would say that. Fine, I don’t deny it. However, the fact that the YouGov poll of over 1,000 viewers gave her the win, as did most of the serious political pundits, I think I am justified in my selection. It would seem watching viewers in Scotland were particularly impressed as nearly 2,000 of them joined the SNP during, and after the debate. Nicola’s task was two fold. Firstly to appeal to Scottish voters ahead of the vote on May 7th. Secondly she had to appease voters elsewhere in the UK that she was not the tartan devil the mainstream media painted her to be. Instead she made it clear that the SNP, if elected in good numbers, would be good for other parts of the UK too i.e. seeking to protect the NHS from privatisation in England, Wales and NI.

Nicola is just an outstanding politician, and no matter the colour of your rosette it’s hard to deny her qualities. Oh, and one last thing she nailed was that she, Nicola Sturgeon, and not Alex Salmond is the leader of the SNP.

Thanks for reading.

Friday Fictioneers – On The Threshold

ff010415“Emmy, don’t go. Don’t leave me on my own,” pleaded Maggie. The pale, translucent skin on the back of her hand shimmered as she raised a smouldering cigarette towards her lips.

Emma-Jo paused to fasten the leather buckles on her green rucksack. “You’re a mess, mum. I can’t handle this, not now. No wonder dad walked out on us.“

“Of course, him, he had all the answers didn’t he?” Maggie winced as she remembered some of her husband’s answers. The bruising on her ribs still stung from the night he left.

Emma-Jo slid the security chain along its silver track.

Maggie took a shallow, nervous drag on her cigarette.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge