Category Archives: Bits and Pieces

General waffle not particularly on any theme

The Road to Riccarton Junction

For over 100 years passengers and freight were conveyed up and down the Waverly Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. In January 1969 the route closed to passengers, with freight continuing for another few months before the track-lifters finally moved in. In recent times a new “Borders Railway” has opened between Edinburgh and Galashiels (Tweedbank). An extension south to Hawick, and even Carlisle has been mooted, but as of yet the disused trackbed beyond Galashiels remains quiet. One of the most well known points on the Waverly Route is also one of the most hidden, lying as it does three miles from the nearest road. Riccarton Junction was a station which existed to connect the Waverly Route and the Borders Counties Railway, which ran from Riccarton to Hexham. All of those who worked at Riccarton Junction lived in the houses which sat on the hillside overlooking the station. Other than a long walk, the only way in or out was by the iron road.

Looking South from Whitrope – next stop Riccarton Junction

I have plans to visit Riccarton Junction but today I decided to stop one station short as I made for Whitrope Sidings, about 3 miles north-west of Riccarton. Whitrope isn’t the easiest place to get to, nestling as it does in unspoilt and remote countryside between Hawick and Newcastleton. One of the real treats of a trip down this narrow, twisting road is to see the magnificent Shankend Viaduct. Even if a connection is fully restored between Edinburgh and Carlisle it’s unlikely the Viaduct will ever see another train, as any new route would likely be diverted westwards to Langholm. However, it remains a truly spectacular sight and a living tribute to the engineers and labourers who raised its 15 spans over the Langside Valley back in 1862.

Shankend Viaduct

A couple of hundred yards south of the viaduct is Shankend Station. Like several of the Waverly Route stops south of Hawick, the station is extremely isolated and seems to serve no visible community, other than perhaps the surrounding farms.

Shankend Station

A mile or two south of Shankend Viaduct lies Whitrope Sidings, which these days is the site of a Heritage Railway (https://wrha.org.uk/) which has ambitious plans to run trains between the sidings and Riccarton Junction.  The sidings are currently closed to the public, but having travelled 60 miles to get there, I hope nobody minded me taking a walk along the platform – there certainly wasn’t anybody around to ask or object.

The sidings are home to several locos and carriages – one of which serves as a shop and café when the site is up and running. I certainly look forward to going back when it re-opens. The hope is that Whitrope will also act as the starting point for the walk to Riccarton, as nothing beats walking over the actual trackbed.

The station after Riccarton Junction is in Newcastleton. This was the site of vociferous protests when the line closed as locals blocked the level crossing gates to stop the final train from progressing south to Carlisle. These days there is no sign of the station, but the level crossing site, trackbed and Station Master’s house are all still there to see.

Site of the level crossing gates at Newcastleton (trackbed to the left)

Station Master’s house at Newcastleton (car is where track would have been)

After Newcastleton I made a brief stop in Kershopefoot which entailed a trip south of the Border. Thankfully Scotland doesn’t as yet have England on its quarantine list so I won’t need to self-isolate when I get home!

Picture taken from where the trackbed once lay – house over the hedge is the main station building

After Kershopefoot I made my way south and headed back to Biggar via the M74. On my next trip down the Waverly Route I will hopefully make it all the way to Riccarton Junction. When I do I will of course publish words and pictures from the day.

Thanks for reading.

What am I doing with my Gaelic?

Deagh cheist (good question) – what have I been doing? Well, there was never any real plan after An Cùrsa Inntrigidh other than to enjoy having Gaelic as a hobby. The whole point of doing the course was to give me a foundation upon which to build in my own time – over many years, in amongst doing other things I enjoy. So that’s what I’m doing. Don’t expect fluency any time soon! After ACI I worked through Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks which covered the areas ACI didn’t cover, but would have been covered on the following course An Cùrsa Adhartais, which I chose not to do. Therefore I have the vast majority of the grammar covered and the focus over the next year or two will be:

Improved Vocabulary – Not looking to swallow a dictionary, but I’m trying to develop a vocabulary which is relevant to the words I need i.e. no point in trying to remember the Gaelic for a word I’ll barely use. 

Improved Idiom – What’s Idiom? Well idiom is the way a language chooses to say something with a structure which may be unusual to non-native speakers. For example there are a lot of idiomatic phrases involving the verb cuir (put).

  • Tha mi airson crìoch a chur air an leabhar seo – I want to finish this book
    • literally: put an end on this book
  • Bu toil leam eòlach a chur air Barraigh – I would like to get to know Barra
    • literally: put familiarity on Barra

Idiom is the bit which means solid grammar foundations and a good vocabulary isn’t enough. You need to know how things are said. Until you do you will always come across as a learner. That said, until you know the idiom you can only go with what you have, and in time you will learn the idiomatic phrasing when you come across it. As long as you’re understood, you have a foundation to build on.

Improved Listening – At the moment this is not good. I still struggle to keep up with anything other than really basic conversations. The plan for later this year, possibly next, is to start working through the Beag air Bheag podcasts on Rèidio Nan Gàidheal. These are not for beginners but the hope will be that my knowledge of grammar backed up by solid vocabulary and improving idiom will serve me well.

To help with the first two goals I have started to read through Leabhar nan Litrichean (Book of Letters). This is a collection of the first 200 letters of an on-going series. The letters so far have been primarily old tales of where, when and how the Gaelic language was used. The writing can be a bit poetic at times but it has helped me add some much needed idiom as well as some useful vocabulary.

To date I’ve read letters 1-5 and the intention is to read and work on 5 before doing something else – including write blog pieces and working on other resources i.e. letters 6-10 will be tackled in a few weeks.

Key point in all of this is that there is no magic wand. It’s going to take time and effort – both of which I will give willingly. However, the results will be slow but that was always the idea. Gaelic is now something I have in my life which I enjoy greatly and it’s something I will work away at for the rest of my days, even if the outside world doesn’t see much evidence of it!

Taing airson leughadh!

General Election 2019 – A Union Divided

On Thursday (December 12th 2019) the UK had its third General Election in five years. The 2017 incarnation was a failed attempt by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, to get an increased Tory majority to progress Brexit. That ended in a muddled disaster of DUP collusion, Common’s defeats and ultimately her resignation. In Theresa’s place came the marmite figure of Boris Johnson – a man you either think is an out of touch, gaffe-prone Etonian who only cares for himself and his rich right-wing enablers, or you seem him as the People’s Champion. Generally speaking, Scotland sees him very much as the former, while England inexplicably leans to the latter. Anyway, as with May, Johnson suffered a series of defeats on Brexit and so decided to repeat Theresa’s trick of calling a General Election. The purpose was the same, to get a majority to push through Brexit. This time though they succeeded. However, the cost is undoubtedly a further weakening of the withering ties that bind Scotland (and possibly N. Ireland) to the now openly far-right UK establishment.

In Scotland the campaign fought by opponents of the SNP was fairly predictably around Scottish Independence. Despite this election being the UK Tories hunt for a Brexit mandate, the Scottish Tories chose to pretty much ignore Brexit – something they prefer to do as Scotland voting overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU. So the Tories focused all their energies and bottomless pit of money on “No to indyref2”. The SNP didn’t have a mandate they claimed. The results were as you can see. The Tories lost over half of their seats and the SNP recorded what was in many observers view their most impressive General Election showing. Seats which had thin majorities after 2017 now returned to several thousand vote margins. The Tories only managed to hold on in their traditional Borders and North East of Scotland heartlands – and even there with reduced majorities. A mandate well and truly secured by the SNP to progress indyref2.

Elsewhere Labour were all but driven off the Electoral map with only one seat for local favourite Ian Murray. The Lib Dems overturned an SNP majority of two to retake a seat in rural NE Fife. However, in the result of the night, their leader, and potential Prime Minister (her words), Jo Swinson lost her East Dunbartonshire seat for the second time – with 27 year old skin cancer survivor Amy Callaghan scoring a remarkable win.

Amy Callaghan (centre) defeats Jo Swinson (right)

In England the story wasn’t much better for the LibDems, and certainly not better for Labour.

England spoke and the their voice was loud and clear. They wanted to “Get Brexit Done”. Why they wanted Brexit, whether their reasoning actually made sense doesn’t matter. They wanted the Tories and they got the Tories, and ALL that comes with the Tories. Therefore as always, Scotland gets the Tories too as we always get what England wants – so much for a Union of equals. The main headline from the English results was the meltdown of the Labour vote in areas they historically took for granted. Former mining areas voted Tory. Areas devastated by Tory policies voted Tory nonetheless. All sense of perspective and rational simply appears to have been thrown out the window in the desperate urge to “Get Brexit Done”.

What all of this shows is a Union at breaking point. Scotland has once again rejected Boris Johnson, the Tories and Brexit. Northern Ireland has for the first time more Nationalist MPs than Unionist. However, as polls have shown, English voters prioritise leaving the EU more than maintaining the United Kingdom. Brexit has triggered a re-birth of English Nationalism and this is the first real result. It probably won’t be the last. Hopefully, Scotland can soon find her own path.

Thanks for reading.

Am bu toil leibh Gàidhlig na h-Alba ionnsachadh? (Would you like to learn Scottish Gaelic?)

With the release of the Duolingo course for Scottish Gaelic there seems to be a buzz in Social Media circles for our wonderful language. I therefore thought it might be a good idea to give potential new learners some thoughts on how to start their Gaelic journey.

Websites/Apps

LearnGaelic

A superb, and recently redesigned website which is many learner’s first experience of Gaelic. Has lots of beginner lessons, an excellent dictionary (which includes sound files) and an exhaustive list of Gaelic classes – there should hopefully be one near you. If not then there is always the distance courses!

Duolingo

As mentioned in the intro, the recent surge of interest in learning Gaelic has come about due to the release of a Scottish Gaelic course on the language app Duolingo. As with all apps like this there is a free and a premium option. Not looked into the premium option so don’t know what it costs. More than happy to deal with adverts and use the free version. I’ve done about half of it so far and I’d imagine it’s a typical language learning app i.e. very repetitive and really all about remembering phrases and less about learning underlying grammar.

For me as a grammar nerd I could never have used Duolingo as the basis of my learning. However, for those looking for something to use a gentle introduction to the language, or for something to use as a bit of practice, then it’s all good. Basically anything which brings people to Gaelic is good, no matter the flaws it may have.

Distance Courses

After initially attending a local class I quickly opted for this option. There are a couple of main places people go.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This is where I went. They run several distance courses with the main beginners one being An Cùrsa Inntrigidh. This runs for 18 months. It’s a mixture of learning on our own, weekly phone calls and end of session tests (written and oral).

There is then a follow-up course called An Cùrsa Adhartais which runs for two full academic years. I personally didn’t feel the need for this second course as two years seemed an overly long commitment for a hobby. Instead at this point I moved to Teach Yourself Books and have now covered pretty much everything An Cùrsa Adhartais would have covered.

However, if you have the time and motivation then do as many courses as you can. Just bear in mind they cost around £300 per block (Earrann) and An Cùrsa Inntrigidh had 3 blocks.

Atlantic Gaelic Academy

Don’t know much about this other than it has Skype hosted classes which last three hours. That’s way too long for me, but perhaps it would work for others. The AGA though, is about more than just the language, it offers many courses and events based around Gaelic culture. It is based in Canada but some of the tutors are from Scotland as far as I am aware. Like Sabhal Mòr Ostaig you would need to factor in cost and time if this is an option you think might suit you.

Teach Yourself Books

Not sure I could have learnt solely from a book – well, I know I couldn’t because I tried. However, maybe it will work for some. For me these books are best used as an accompaniment to a course, or for use once you already have a decent grasp of the basics. Two books I would recommend are:

Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks

I have two people on Twitter who I regard as my Gaelic gurus. One is a native speaker (and author), the other is a learner, but a seriously good leaner who has themselves written several books in Gaelic. Both of them, independently of each other, recommended this as the best Teach Yourself book on the market. I bought it on their recommendations and wasn’t disappointed.  Just be aware of a couple of things:

  1. Ignore the title. You will not read this book in 12 weeks unless you already know a lot of Gaelic. I read it in about 2 months but by then I had already completed An Cùrsa Inntrigidh before I started, and therefore already know a sizeable chunk of the content. Instead regard it more as 12 chapters, not 12 weeks.
  2. The book is very grammar dense. It’s kind of a bare bones look at what makes up the Gaelic language. For me that was perfect. However, I know from reading other people’s comments that it can seem a bit “dry” and tough to get into. I would say it’s maybe not a book to be your one and only source of learning – more as an aid to a course, or as a book to fill in the gaps, and extend your knowledge, after a course.

This is a book I will never stop going back to as there is always something to refresh or rediscover.

Teach Yourself Gaelic

This was the second Teach Yourself book I owned and I didn’t get too far with it. However, in revisiting it I can see that it was actually very good. One of the authors is Boyd Robertson, someone who was a key driving force behind the success of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. You can actually see this in the book. The chapters are set out like the Aonadan (units) in An Cùrsa Inntrigidh i.e. a conversation, followed by a list of the key vocab, an explanation of the grammar used and then some exercises. Again as someone who has done a fair bit of Gaelic, I now enjoy going back to this book and using the conversations for practice. As with 12 Weeks, you always pick up something when you read a book like this i.e. an idiom, a construct, a new or forgotten piece of vocabulary etc.

As with Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks, I wouldn’t necessarily advise brand new learners to use this as the only basis for their learning. Perhaps using this with 12 Weeks for more grammar depth/explanation would work. Either way it’s a very handy book to have in your collection, and one I would recommend.

Facebook Groups

There are several groups on Facebook. The one I contribute to is the Let’s Learn Scottish Gaelic group. The group has lots of links to learning resources allied to the chance to ask questions and start discussions. Like all groups it can be quiet at times, and there can be phases when conversation gets stuck at the Madainn mhath level. However, there are a few posters, such as me,  on there who are happy to dig deeper into the language, as well as helping others with their queries. Overall it’s a good group and something I would recommend you joining.

Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask – even questions on Gaelic grammar!

Thanks for reading.

Next Man Up

Dave MacKay (Pic. courtesy of Stirling Albion)

The latest incumbent of the proverbial “hot seat” at Forthbank has left the building following a truly toe-curling 3-0 defeat to Albion Rovers at Cliftonhill. The Wee Rovers had a single point and an extremely negative goal-difference pre-match, but that mattered not as they cantered to a three-goal victory against a thoroughly dis-spirited looking Stirling Albion side. This horror of this performance and result, allied to Stirling being on a run of 3 wins in 21 matches, saw things come to a head. Without much ceremony, an incredibly brief statement simply stated the obvious i.e. Goodbye Mr MacKay. Nobody was surprised, and reaction amongst Stirling fans has been fairly universal – there was no other decision to take.

Was a bit of a strange time under MacKay. He replaced the disastrous “project” that was Stuart McLaren and, really, things didn’t get much better. In his first full season, we started well and led the table after a dozen or so games. Unfortunately, the wheels kinda came off and despite a brief spurt to make the play-off spots we slumped again and only just hung on to achieve post-season action. However, we lost both legs to Peterhead in the semi-final and actually ended the season on a run of nine matches without a win. Moving on, an uninspired off-season, with a lack of anything remotely resembling a “marquee” signings, tempered expectations somewhat for the new campaign.

One win in four in the league-cup was then followed by two wins in eight in the league (plus defeat at Alloa in that nonsense tournament with the Welsh, Irish, English non-league sides). Worst of all was the manager’s continual bemusement after defeats. Time and again he just had no answers and you got the feeling that whatever happened next week would be down to luck more than judgement. Sadly for Dave that luck ran out for good at in Coatbridge.

Who next? Well, time will tell. Whoever it is we need to finally find someone who can lead us out of the doldrums. For far too long we’ve drifted. For too long we’ve watched sides get promoted who we should be getting promoted ahead of. Stirling is a decent sized town and has the potential for so much more. Those who turn up to watch the side deserve so much more than has been delivered over the last few years.

‘Mon the Beanos and thanks for reading.

Daniel Thomas – AKA PeeWeeToms

A few months ago a vlog by a lad called Daniel Thomas appeared on my YouTube suggestions. Out of curiosity I clicked the link and began to listen to Daniel’s story. Dan, known affectionally as “PeeWeeToms” was suffering from a rare form of cancer called a Sarcoid Carcinoma. In layman’s terms it seems that people normally get one of these two types i.e. a sarcoma or a carcinoma. However, poor Dan was one of only 16 cases recorded world-wide to have both. I won’t go into the details of his condition as I’d probably get my facts wrong. The blog below was one of the first Dan published, and gives you an introduction into what he was going through.

In a nutshell, Dan had an incredibly rare terminal cancer. He was going to die, probably within months at most, and there was next to nothing medical science could do for him. However, Dan was an incredible fighter and he simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. Every avenue was explored. He’d be given hope only for the latest round of scans and tests to show that hope didn’t really exist. But undeterred Dan kept looking for answers. All the while his tumours became more prevalent and his body more infested by cancer. Nothing was stopping it.

Despite all this Dan maintained a remarkably upbeat persona. No doubt we saw him in his better moments. Most of the time he was in pain and suffering terribly at the hands of this vicious disease. Over the last month or so there was a heartbreakingly marked change in his appearance. Weight loss was shocking and he began to look like the end must be near. Yet, instead of giving in and accepting his fate he fought more than ever. He fought right up to his final breath. Even at the end he kept death waiting until he was ready to leave.

Rest in Peace, Daniel.

An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – Aonad a H-Aon

Fàilte air ais!

It’s been a good few weeks since I blogged about my decision to start a Gaelic beginner’s distance learning course offered by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s only Gaelic language college. Well, in those few weeks the course has begun and we formally completed Aonad a H-Aon (Unit One) last week. We are now getting stuck into Aonad a Dhà (Unit Two) – in total there are six units in this block, ending with Aonad a Sia, which wraps up in mid-June. There are then a further two blocks which will take place in the Autumn and then early next year. I haven’t yet signed up for these other blocks, known as Earrann a Dhà and Earrann a Tr­ì, but probably will. However, one step at a time.

Content-wise, the course is made up of one hour long tutorial per week allied to roughly 10-12 hours of my own time reviewing the relevant notes. At the moment the tutorial still contains a fair amount of English language conversation, with the clear aim being that over the coming weeks it will become almost entirely Gaelic. To do this we are currently learning to be able to say handy things like:

  • Ciamar a tha thu ag ràdh …?  How do you say …?
  • Ciamar a tha thu a’ sgriobhadh …?  How do you write …?
  • Gabh mo leisgeul, can sin a-rithist!  Excuse me, say that again!

At the moment my range of conversation hasn’t moved much beyond initial pleasantries i.e. how are you, what’s your name, where do you live etc. However, I get the feeling that the pace will ramp up over the coming weeks and so hopefully by the end of Earrann a H-Aon I will be able to make Gaelic small talk that reaches into areas more akin to what I might actually say to someone in English.

One thing I am very keen to do is to have conversations with other learners outside of the class. This would be in the form of Skype calls. Nothing elaborate, just 15 minutes of chat in which we cover a combination of class notes and ad-hoc conversation. There are a couple of very lively Facebook pages, primarily Let’s Learn Gaelic, which will hopefully provide one or two willing accomplices. Pronunciation is one of the hardest things to master in Gaelic and the more conversations you have the better.

The last thing I will say, for now, is that you need to want to do this sort of course. There is quite a lot of work, and with most of it being done on your own, you have to have the right motivation. I like to think I do and so far I’ve really enjoyed getting to know every new word and grammar rule.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

Corbyn

Always felt that even the best of hands can be overplayed. Perhaps it’s just me but I can’t help but feel that “Corbynmania” is in danger of being overplayed. Jeremy is a decent lad. A real old school Labour leftie. Nothing wrong in that, nothing at all. While his party’s policy positions on areas such as Scottish Independence, Brexit and retention of Trident are at odds with mine and many in Scotland, there are still areas of common ground. However, Scotland isn’t really his issue. To win a General Election you need to win in England and at the moment I’m honestly struggling to see how this actually happens – I’d like it to, but I don’t see how.

While Labour are indeed ahead in the latest batch of opinion polls, and PM Theresa May is about as popular as a dose of the runs, the fact is we’ve just had a General Election (the second in two years) and the Tories “won” it. The Tories are unlikely to even contemplate another test of public opinion unless they are confident of winning again. While the Tories tend to have a solid core who back them in all weathers, the Corbyn factor undoubtedly has them worried. And so I don’t see another election any time soon. If and when that day does come though, I still have one major nagging concern with Corbyn and UK Labour in general.

Corbyn does not support Nuclear weapons BUT his party does.  For me it’s inconceivable that the leader can have a different opinion to their party on such a key issue. Based on some of the recent General Election TV output, the big problem appears to be that many, particularly in England, do support a nuclear deterrent. To not support one is to risk being portrayed as unwilling to “defend the realm” from invading hordes who would presumably swarm our Nuclear free shores. As mad as this may seem, it’s clearly something which plays with those in the key seats Labour needs to win i.e. traditional Tory shires. If Corbyn could get Labour into step with his CND roots AND win an election then we really would be in new ground. Can that happen? I don’t think so.

My feeling is that Corbyn will always be at the mercy of an establishment backing media who will portray him as being weak on defence and soft on terror. Jeremy’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness – he’s different, and different while luring in some, frightens off others. In time, Corbyn’s legacy will likely have been to say there is another way to do politics. There is an electorate out there waiting to be engaged. However, in presenting something different you also need to ensure those who are afraid of change go with you. This is something the Scottish Independence movement continues to wrestle with. I think Labour will perhaps eventually return slightly more to the centre ground, but certainly not back to the days of Blair and Brown. The way the electorate are in this country you can’t simply win from the margins, unless it’s the right.

Thanks for reading.

Grenfell Tower

Refurbished Tower

In the early hours of Wednesday morning a fire broke out and eventually engulfed Grenfell Tower in the Royal London Borough of Kensingston and Chelsea. For more on what actually happened I will refer you to the Wikipedia page. In this piece I just want to jot down some general thoughts on events as they have unfolded.

Like everybody else I watched on helplessly as the flames reduced most of the 24 story building to a charred, smoking monolith. Latest estimates seem to suggest 55-60 residents have perished. However, information has been very hard to come by, much to the distress, and in many cases raw anger of relatives and other residents.  Often a tragedy like this is followed by a quiet, solemn period as people come to terms with loss. However, many affected still can’t truly begin to grieve as there has been no formal word on missing loved ones. Perhaps because of this vacuum and perhaps because of the fears residents had over the refurbishment and general condition of the Tower what we have seen instead is a massive outpouring of justifiable anger and frustration.

One act above all has riled both locals as well as people watching from around the UK – the actions of the Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an act of crass insensitivity the PM visited the scene within hours to speak to members of the emergency services. All well and good, but there was one group of people she chose to ignore – the local people. While others such as Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Andrea Leadsom and even the Queen herself faced the front line, the country’s leading politician chose to stay away. Security reasons were quoted. To me this is an insult to the people who would have been there to meet her. Theresa May was roundly ridiculed for her increasingly stilted, evasive  and robotic performances during the recent General Election. She was also extremely loathed to interact with members of the public, instead preferring to keep appearances confined to back-street warehouses filled with party activists. There was also her refusal to take part in face-to-face debates with fellow politicians. It all added up to a picture of a person who is literally scared of the public, and people – not something any politician can be, especially one who is meant to be a leader.

Local kid adds to the sea of tributes

The Prime Minister belatedly visited the some of the victims in hospital. However, the moment had passed. In life, sometimes you only get one chance to do the right thing. Sadly for Mrs May when that moment came on Wednesday she woefully misjudged the mood of the local people as well as a shocked nation. From that there can be no comeback. She must resign.

Back in the Borough, anger is still the prevalent emotion. The actions of the Prime Minister aside, there is a feeling that once again the lowest in society have paid a high price at the hands of those looking to make a quick buck. The cladding added to the Tower may have pleased the eyes of the millionaires in their penthouses, but a material which was clearly not fit for purpose has created a highly visual and public tragedy which will scar London, and beyond, for many years to come. Hopefully answers will be swift and retributions appropriate. It’s no less than the people of Grenfell Tower deserve.

Thanks for reading.

General Election 2017 – Scottish Leaders’ Debate

Sunday night saw BBC Scotland hosting the first (not sure if only) debate featuring the Leaders of the main Scottish parties, and, err, UKIP. For those reading my blog who aren’t perhaps up to speed with Scottish politics, we essentially only have one wholly Scottish party, the SNP, who stand just in Scotland. The other party leaders could be looked upon as

(L to R) David Coburn (UKIP), Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservatives), Willie Rennie (Scottish Lib Dems), Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

heads of their respective Scottish branches. Not meant in a disrespectful way, but you get the picture. Currently the 59 seats up for grabs are split as follows: SNP (56); Tories (1); Labour (1); LibDems (1). While it’s probably unlikely that the SNP will get as many seats this time, there is little doubt that they will win the election in Scotland, with anything from 45-50 seats being predicted. The Tories are expected to bite back in a few marginal seats as the Unionist parties continues to trade votes to lessen SNP numbers.

As for the debate it was along standard lines. An opening 40 second salvo from each of the panel followed by a Q/A with an invited audience. I won’t get into the “audience” in this piece, but suffice to say it was the usual array of interest groups, plants and those who clearly had no idea of the difference between a Scottish and UK election. What then followed was a rather confused broth of Devolved (ruled on by Scottish Parliament i.e. Health, Education) and non-Devolved (ruled on by Westminster i.e. Defence, Foreign Policy, Brexit) policy questions. For reasons unclear the BBC decided to allow effectively irrelevant questions on devolved policy for the reason that “those were the questions people asked”. My response to that would have been to find other people who were prepared to ask relevant questions i.e. ones meaningful to a UK election. However, it is what it is, and as really pretty much any forum involving Scottish Leaders inevitably ended up focusing on the Scottish Parliament and in particular the job done by the SNP government.

Scotland’s Woman Leaders – Kezia, Nicola and Ruth go at it

The expected “No to second referendum” line was trundled out early doors by all concerned. It’s something the Scottish FM has heard a million times before and dealt with it comfortably. Really Nicola had a fairly easy night, and it was her Conservative counterpart who posted one of her weakest performances on television. Fact is Ruth Davidson has been cosseted by the Scottish media but in the last couple of weeks the gloves have finally come off. Last night she was actually treated as a Tory and asked questions a Tory (the UK Govt) would be expected to be asked. Ruth isn’t at her best when being put under pressure and she quickly resorted to shouting and looking extremely angry. Kezia Dugdale didn’t input much. I sort of admire Kezia for taking on the challenge of Scottish Labour leader but she just doesn’t have the substance to match any potential style. Willie Rennie was placid by his usual standards and saved his most savage attacks for the Tories, a change from his usual tirades on the SNP. Green party man Patrick Harvie spoke well. Not perhaps the most riveting public speaker, but he is passionate and did a good job. Not going to comment on David Coburn. He simply shouldn’t be there as he and his party are utterly irrelevant.

My overall feeling when it finished was one of frustration. While I enjoy politicians having a tear-up there was just too many areas and questions not pertinent to the up coming vote. Bit of an opportunity lost – a feeling shared by some in the post-debate spin room section. The only real loser on the night was Ruth Davidson who crumbled under the unusual sensation of pressure. All the rest stood their ground and can be happy with their night’s work. Sadly for Ruth, her national leader has also just had a day to forget with an interview by Andrew Neil being particularly grim viewing for those of a Tory persuasion. Things are definitely beginning to get a bit more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

General Election Countdown – Vote SNP, Vote Mairi

On Thursday the 8th of June the United Kingdom will once again open up its polling stations. It may have been only two weeks since the local council elections, and two years since the last General Election, but in those two years something fairly significant happened. It was called the EU Referendum and the result was a Tory contrived disaster which led these Islands out of the European Union. Having made this mess the typically opportunist Conservatives are now looking to get a moral and practical mandate to clean up an unholy mess they themselves created. To that end a snap election was called. The Tories clearly hope to seize on apparent Labour weakness to build a bigger majority.

However, I’m not going to get into too much, if any, detail today. All I wanted to do was kick off my General Election pieces with an introduction to the candidate I will be voting for, Mairi McAllan. At the moment I live in a constituency which has the only Conservative MP in Scotland. His name is David Mundell, and not surprisingly being the only representative of the UK Govt in Scotland he is our Secretary of State. His majority is only a few hundred but you can expect a heavily funded Tory effort to keep him in his seat.

Now, as much as at any other time in recent history, there needs to be tough, unflinching opposition to the Tories. That is something only the SNP seem capable of doing. If elected I’m sure Mairi will carry that fight as much as anyone else on the opposition benches.

Thanks for reading.

Tobermory

toby_01Tobermory Mobbs-Clements (Shooting Star Over Cowran of Nessaby)
11/03/2004-03/02/2017

The Clement’s household is eerily quiet today. Much quieter than normal. Much quieter than we’d like. Our broken hearts may heal in time, but the memories will never fade.

Sweet dreams Tobes. It was a privilege and a joy to share your 13 years.

The clock is ticking

Wee Ginger Dug

So that’s it then. The sun has risen but the darkness falls. The nightmare has happened. The nightmare is here. Two Unions lie broken. Last night England broke the Unions, and chose for us. Chose to take us into the dark forest, chose to take us off the path we wanted to travel. England and Wales have voted to leave the EU and Scotland has voted to remain. Every single council area voted to remain.  The union is divided but Scotland is united, and here we are again, sitting at the back of a bus that’s being driven to a destination that we’ve said we don’t want to go to. We cling on as we drive off a cliff. We shout from the back seat but no one listens. We hold our heads in our hands and we weep in frustration. That’s the best of both better together worlds. That’s…

View original post 1,158 more words

Election Aftermath 2016

SNP_LOGOmed_copyYesterday the Scottish electorate went to the polls to cast their votes in the 2016 Holyrood elections. In 2011, Alex Salmond led the SNP to a historic, and apparently, all but theoretically impossible majority considering the constraints of the De Hondt voting system. Last night, the SNP, under the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, came within 2 seats of breaking the De Hondt system for a second time. However, the overall result was never really in doubt. The SNP are re-elected as Scotland’s party of Government for the 3rd term in a row.

FM Nicola Sturgeon

A quick look at the numbers shows the SNP winning 59 of the 73 “first past the post” constituency seats with over a million votes – a record, and more than Labour and Conservative combined. However, despite over 950,000 votes on the Regional Lists, this only garnered the SNP an additional four seats. That’s the De Hondt system for you – it sometimes fights back and actually stops the thing it was designed to prevent i.e. a majority. In some respects this election was all about who would come second. Much to the on-going disappointment of Labour in Scotland, it was the Scottish Tories who now form the second largest grouping with 31 seats. This includes a constituency seat for the abrasive but undoubtedly media friendly figure of Ruth Davidson. Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale failed to win her seat and instead was once again elected via the top up list votes. Elsewhere LibDem leader Willie Rennie won his seat in Fife and the Greens did well on the list to move ahead of Willie’s party in number of seats.

Moving forward, despite no SNP majority, there is a natural pro-independence majority with the SNP and Greens having 69 seats between them. I can’t begin to speculate what horse-trading may go on over the next few years, but the SNP have governed before in a minority scenario (with many fewer seats) and I’m sure they can do so effectively again. Just as interesting as how the SNP perform is what will become of Labour in Scotland. It should now be clear to even the most blinkered Labour supporter that their party was well and truly used and abused by the Tories to save the union. The price they paid for that toxic marriage has been reflected at the last two national elections. Labour in Scotland need to move ground, reinvent, put distance between themselves and the Tories. Until they do I can’t see any way back. Until then the Tories will revel in Labour misfortunes – misfortunes of their own making.

Thanks for reading.

Moving House: Part 1 – Getting Ready

Pushed-into-Moving-HomeBack in 2003 we moved into our current house with the plan on staying for perhaps five years before heading onto somewhere new. Well that plan has finally come to fruition – albeit seven and a half years behind schedule. It’s not without a hint of sadness that we’re on on the move, but that’s only to be expected after so long in the one house. However, were excited to be starting a new chapter in our journey through life. It’s one we’re both looking forward to, and it’s also one I thought I’d tell the world about via my blog.

First thing to mention – where are we moving to? Well, the answer is a small town on the fringes of the Scottish Borders called Biggar. We currently live in Larbert, in Central Scotland, and the map below shows our move:

Moving1

It takes around 75 minutes to get from our old house to our new one. While it may not seem that far to some, to us it’s a big change. Biggar is a much smaller community with a completely different – more countryside – feel. It’s also much further from my work in Glasgow, but home working will mean it’s a journey I don’t need to undertake every day. The house we’re moving into is a new build. For details of the development, please click here.

Our moving in date is 04/03; however, we need to vacate our current house on 26/02 i.e. a week before. This will mean seven nights in a hotel before we can actually call Biggar our new home town. On 26/02 our removal people will take our belongings and place them in storage. A week later they will transport our possessions from storage down to Biggar. Between now and 26/02 it’s just a process of getting everything as it needs to be for moving day. Today we emptied the shed; next we will start to take some of our living room furniture to pieces.

Probably time I stopped writing and got on with something else. Hopefully this short blog gives you a picture of what we’re up to. Regular updates will be added over the coming couple of months – before, during and after the move.

Thanks for reading.