Tag Archives: Scotland

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.

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.

Cò Pòl Cliaman?

Fàilte chun earrann Ghàidhlig de fromheretorhere.

…cò Pòl Cliaman?

Uill, is mise Paul Clements agus is mise Pòl Cliaman cuideachd! ‘S e Paul Clements a th’ orm anns a’ Bheurla ach ‘s e Pòl Cliaman a th’ orm anns a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha sin math ach s’ docha gu bheil sibh a’ smaoineachadh carson a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh anns a’ Ghàidhlig? ‘S e deagh cheist a th’ ann agus tha an freagairt furasta gun robh mi airson a-riamh Gàidhlig na h-Alba ionnsachadh.

Tha mi air a bhith ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig o chionn an t-Samhain 2017. An toiseach chaidh mi a chlas ann am Biggar agus chòrd e rium. Bha an tidsear glè mhath agus chaidh mi an-sin airson còig no sia seachdean. An toiseach bha mòran duine ann ach mu dheireadh bha dà no trì ann fhathast. Sguir na clasaichean aig Nollaig ach bha mi airson tuilleadh ionnsachadh. Roghnaich mi An Cùrsa Inntrigidh a dèanamh aig Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Faodaidh sibh tuilleadh a leughadh mu dheidhinn a’ chùrsa an seo.

Dè bhios mi a’ sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn anns a’ Ghàidhlig? Tha mi an dùil gum bi mi a’ sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn mòran rudeigin – mo bheachdan, mo bheatha, gràmar na Gàidhlig agus rudeigin eile cuideachd. Tha mi an dòchas gun còrd e ruibh.

Taing airson leughadh.

Speaking Our Language – ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig na h-Alba

At least twice before I’ve attempted to learn (Scottish) Gaelic. However, on each occasion, I’ve given up without too much of a fight. Learning a new language, particularly one where pronunciation isn’t intuitive to English speakers, can be difficult. For all that the fire has still burned and at the third attempt, I’m hopeful that I finally have lift off.

In my hometown, a Gaelic Conversation class started in early November. The class is run by a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis who has kindly given up her Friday nights for the cause. After an initial surge of interest, the class has trimmed down to half a dozen or so who seem keen to learn. Think to start with people turn up and are immediately put off by the quirky pronunciation and sentence constructs. At that point, if the motivation isn’t strong you could be put off. That said, learning anything new will have an initial knowledge curve, but that shouldn’t put people off if it’s something they truly want to do, and importantly, have the time and drive to commit to the process. My personality may have many flaws but one I do have is a stickability to see something through when it truly interests and intrigues me, especially when there is genuine motivation allied to an intellectual challenge.

Well, why do I want to learn Gaelic? Several reasons. First and foremost because I still believe that Gaelic is Scotland’s language. For many reasons lost in the mists of time, the language was pushed away from the mainland out to the Island fringes. However, the language has never died and I want to play a small part in making sure it never does. It’s not about creating a difference between  Scotland and other countries, it’s about holding onto something Scottish. Something in which much of our history and culture remains wrapped – for example, there are many lowland (and indeed border) towns which have place names rooted in Gaelic. On a more direct level, I  want to make my Scottish Islands website (www.lonely-isles.com) bilingual. I want to blog and read Gaelic. I’d also like to speak it, if and when chances arrive.

While I continue to plan on attending my local conversational class I have also decided to strike while the iron is well and truly hot. Scotland’s only Gaelic language college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, runs a three-part introductory course in Gaelic. It is a distance learning course and will be spread over 18 or so months. Hopefully, by the end, I will have a solid foundation on which to build on over the coming years.

I will, of course, write a regular diary on my blog so those reading can keep up to speed on my progress. I warn you now that you may be seeing more and more Gaelic on my blog, but fear not, an English translation will always be provided. Finally, as this is going to be my last blog of the year then it seems only appropriate to end with the following greeting:

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

Thanks for reading.

General Election 2017 Fallout – What Now for The SNP?

It was only 10 years ago that the SNP took control of Holyrood for the first time. At that year’s Scottish Parliamentary election the SNP edged out Scottish Labour by 47 seats to 46 and went on to form an Alex Salmond led minority government. This result shocked Scottish politics to the core. For most of their history the SNP had been seen as a fringe party. A party of by-election success and a party of protest. Their call for Scottish Independence was supported by perhaps 25% of people on a good day and independence was not really looked upon as a serious discussion for debate. Despite that breakthrough in 2007 the SNP only won 6 seats at the subsequent 2010 General Election. We then come to 2011, and that’s when things really changed.

For those who don’t know, the Scottish Parliament is based on Proportional Representation i.e. a mix of first past the post and list, or “top-up” candidates. The theory is that this should ensure that no party can possibly get over half the seats and gain an overall majority. However, in 2011 the SNP “broke” the Holyrood PR system with 69 seats and a seemingly impossible majority. The momentum gained from such a crushing victory left the SNP with no choice, they had to take this opportunity to go for independence. As such the 2014 indyref was scheduled. History of course shows that the Scots chose to reject the chance for full independence by 55% to 45%. A bitter blow for many, but the country had spoken. Pundit after pundit predicted a rapid demise of the SNP at this point, but instead the exact opposite happened. Over the coming months their membership rocketed to over 100,000 and at the General Election of 2015 they won all but three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. A year later the SNP retained control at Holyrood with 63 MSPs, having just failed to break Holyrood PR for the second time, by a mere three seats.

Not long after the 2016 Holyrood elections came the EU Referendum. This was PM David Cameron’s gamble to put an end to the In/Out question brought to the fore by the Tory enclave otherwise known as UKIP. Like most I went to sleep that night not even bothering to watch the results. It was assumed to be a certain win for “Remain”. Unfortunately for the second referendum running I was to be on the losing side as “Leave” won. The campaign was decided largely on the back of English fears and smears over immigration south of the border. This was something which barely touched Scotland who as a result voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. As a consequence the SNP government decided to put a bill to Holyrood to timetable a second independence referendum. The justification was that their election winning manifesto had clearly stated that any major changes, particularly constitutionally, would entitle the call for the Scottish people to revisit the independence question. Leaving Europe certainly qualified as a trigger and so a bill was introduced and subsequently passed with support from the Scottish Greens. At the time polls were favoring independence and many previously hostile commentators agreed it was a perfectly valid path to take.

Nicola Sturgeon announces plans for a second independence referendum

After all of this excitement politics began to settle down. The earliest “indyref2” would take place would likely be 2019. It would only happen once the outcome of the negotiations around UK exiting the EU were defined. In essence it was designed to give the Scottish people the chance to remain in the EU within an independent Scotland, or stick with the UK outside of Europe. We then entered a period of relative calm with only the 2017 Local Council elections on the horizon. Then the unthinkable and unforeseen happened. On April 19th the UK parliament, at the behest of the Conservative government decided to call a snap election. The purpose was to gain a meaningful mandate ahead of the EU exit negotiation process i.e. a mandate to clear up a mess the Tories themselves had created. More than likely, the real reason was to crush Labour who languished 20+ points behind in the opinion polls. On June 8th the second General Election in two years took place. The full result and some high level analysis can be found here. The SNP went into this election with 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. They left it with only 35, a loss of 21 seats and 400,000 votes.

Disappointment as the 2017 loses mount up

So now we are up to date, we can return to the original question – what now? Firstly some perspective. In winning 35 seats the SNP still has 11 more seats than the other parties combined. It was the second best result in SNP General Election history. If you’d said after the 2014 referendum that the SNP would have 35 seats in 2017 you’d have been laughed out of town. However, because 35 is 21 less than 56 any sense of perspective has been lost. Not even the most ardent of SNP supporters expected us to retain 56 seats. That election was a night where all the stars aligned and anyone who had the smallest of reasons to vote SNP did so. This time that wasn’t the case. This time the opposition parties beat us into submission with joint agendas which demanded a second referendum be taken off the table. In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum opposition from Labour and the media softened towards a second indyref. This was undoubtedly due to the polls favouring such a move. However, over the months which followed the polls slipped back to roughly 2014 levels. Therefore old battle lines were redrawn and once more it was the SNP against the rest. It wasn’t a fight we seemed ready for and it meant we got stuck on the back foot and were rarely able to go on the attack. Tory leader Ruth Davidson was barely questioned on actual UK Tory policy, most of it divisive and unpopular. Instead she and the other Scottish leaders simply stuck to the “No Referendum” line from pillar to post. This resulted in tactical voting, a rise in Tory support as “saviours of the union”, which allied with SNP core vote not turning out led to the results we had. Reality is Both Labour and the LibDems barely moved – they won seats with less votes than 2015 because the SNP vote dropped and the Tory vote rose.

In the aftermath of the result there were the usual calls from both ends of the spectrum. We should talk about independence more. We should shelve indyref2 and get on with governing Scotland. Well, what do I think we should do? Well for one we shouldn’t panic. As things stand the SNP have 35 MPs, 63 MSPs and 431 Local Councillors. We remain the largest and most successful political movement in Scotland. Ten years in government, while not perfect, have shielded Scottish voters from the worst excesses of UK Tory policy. Scotland would be a lot worse off it it wasn’t for the SNP in government.

I’m no political strategist but as someone who is sick of the SNP being on the back foot I’d say we need to go on the attack. We may never again be as strong as we are now. As such we need to be defiant. Show passion. Show we’ve had enough. Stop taking shit from our opponents. Lay it out in Blue and White. Indyref2 is not coming off the table, in fact It’s being nailed to the table. It’s staying. Deal with it. Why should the Scottish people burn the only  lifeboat we may have as the once previously unsinkable UK is about to hit an iceberg called Brexit? The only people who want a second independence referendum off the table are Unionists. The reason they want it scrapped it simple – they think there is a good chance they’ll lose it. Even if polls aren’t necessarily in our favour at this moment, we’re not talking about having the vote now, we’re talking about having it once we know EXACTLY how the UK is to leave Europe i.e. summer 2019. There are no more elections between now and then. No more predicable debates where the opposition are allowed to ignore policy to simply play the same old no referendum tune. Once the grim facts are laid bare voters will then know the true cost and risks of leaving Europe. By then the SNP will have a fully fleshed out plan for independence in Europe. No confusion over currency. No argument over EU membership. No doubt left as to how much staying in the UK will cost the Scottish economy.

For now I’m not going to look beyond indyref2. That’s precisely what our opponents want us to do. To take our eye off the ball and to let slip possibly the best chance we’ll have to be free to run our own country. We can’t afford to do that. If it does all crash and burn at least we’ve gone down fighting the good fight. I’d rather that than stay passive and watch a chance to be a proud independent nation pass us by.

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.

Adieu Europe

diceGot to be honest and say I wasn’t really watching the EU Referendum hustings that closely. Why? Well, two main reasons. Firstly I didn’t appreciate there was a serious chance we would actually vote to leave. Naive perhaps, but for me Europe has simply never been an issue. Secondly, it all felt like an internal Tory squabble (most UKIP are ex-Tories) – a squabble that has been brewing for years and needed to finally vent steam. Well, vent steam it did, and driven by the racial intolerance currently rife in our politics, the voters of the UK took the frankly mind-numbing decision to cut themselves adrift from our European neighbours.

What now? Well, that’s a good question. However, I wouldn’t waste time asking the ‘Leave’ campaign as none of them seem to know. Unlike the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, where there was a 670 page white paper outlining the transition, in this referendum there has been nothing but soundbites and rhetoric. On the news of a Leave vote the UK markets crashed to the point where we dropped from the 5th to the 6th biggest global economy. Hot on the heels of share values being decimated the first lie of the Leave campaign was then exposed. Leaving the EU would apparently allow an extra £350m to be spent on the NHS, each week. As it turns out that was, err, “a mistake” according to UKIP leader, Nigel Farage. Conveniently it was a mistake plastered all over battle buses, hoardings, flyers and television interviews. As I type I’ve just read that Cornwall residents (who voted 57/43 to leave) want their current EU subsidies to be matched by the UK Govt. I wish them well with that request. There will be a long queue of people wanting their lost EU income protected.

Of course, I’m Scottish and a passionate supporter of my country and it’s right to become an independent nation once again. Many people will now be asking where this result leaves that dream. The answer is probably best summed up by this post-EU Ref map.

ukeu

The yellow bits voted to remain; the blue bits voted to leave. As you can see there is a rather large, unspoiled, yellow bit north of the Scotland/England border. In more detail, there are 32 council areas in Scotland. Of those 32, erm, 32 voted to ‘Remain’. Sad fact is if everyone who voted in Scotland had voted to ‘Remain’ it would have made absolutely no difference i.e. we were, as we always are, outnumbered by our fellow islanders in England and Wales. The net result is that despite an overwhelming desire to remain in the EU, Scotland is on the way out. With it will be an end to the EU funding so vital to many Scottish organisations. However, I’m sure we can expect the UK Govt to cover the shortfall, or more likely not.

Unsurprisingly this outcome has triggered talk of a second Scottish Independence referendum. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made it clear during the recent Holyrood elections that only a “significant and material change” would bring “indyref2” onto the table. There can’t be much argument that being dragged out the the EU against our will more than qualifies. It looks like being an interesting year or two ahead on the UK political scene.

Thanks for reading.

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.

General Election Footnotes

New Political Map of Scotland

With the votes counted, the ballot boxes packed away and the tears of both winners and losers all but dried it’s time to put a wrap on the General Election of 2015.  A campaign which for so long seemed to be leading towards a hung parliament, and ensuing minority government, instead ended in a clear cut victory for the incumbent Conservatives. The Exit polls which beamed out of our televisions at 10:00pm on Thursday were initially met with scoffs and collective shaking of heads from most politicians. Sadly for them, and happily for the Exit pollsters, and David Cameron, the figures were all but bang on.

In my own constituency of Falkirk I spent several afternoons and evenings leafleting for the SNP candidate, John McNally. As it turned out I could probably have saved on shoe leather as he romped home with an incredible majority of nearly 20,000. However, I wanted to be part of the process, and even if just one person was persuaded to vote SNP because of a leaflet I delivered then I’m more than happy. In Scotland as a whole the SNP captured 56 out of the 59 seats. In years to come the names of Emma Harper, Neil Hay and Danus Skene will probably be an answer in pub quizzes. The question of course being which three SNP candidates failed to get elected at GE2015! However, let’s not dwell on negatives. Prior to the election, the SNP had six MPs; their record was 11. These unprecedented numbers make it clear what a momentous result this was for the inspirational Nicola Sturgeon and her party.

However, the net result of it all is that David Cameron and the Tories are back for another five years. Some had hoped that the SNP might align with UK Labour to prop up a minority government with Ed Miliband as PM. For that to happen Labour had to make ground in England. Having failed to do that the results in Scotland meant nothing to the overall picture. Even if they had won all 59 seats in Scotland, David Cameron would still have been back inside No 10. Downing Street. The reality is of course that Labour could never actually win all the seats in Scotland. Unlike the SNP they aren’t able to take on LibDem and Tory candidates in rural areas.

So what now?

For the 56 SNP MPs there is the task of standing up to a Tory Government undoubtedly cock-a-hoop at getting re-elected. However, the scale of the SNP vote surely makes it implausible, if not impossible, that David Cameron won’t realise that the Scottish people have spoken for change. We therefore wait to see what emerges over the next few days, weeks and months. Let’s not also forget that as the 3rd largest party the SNP will now get unprecedented access to the mythical “corridors of power” i.e. on more committees, even chairing committees, plus two questions at PMQs etc. It’s up to the SNP to make best use of this advantage. Under Nicola’s stewardship I’m sure they will

As for Scottish Labour, well,  it’s a case of asking where it all went wrong – a process which might take a lot of soul searching and uncomfortable truths. Bottom line is their capitulation on election night has been a long time in the making. They have been out of government in Scotland since 2007 and their alliance with the Tories as part of Better Together sealed their fate. The hapless LibDems were also all but wiped out in both Scotland and the UK. For Nick Clegg it was a clear thanks, but no thanks from the voters for their decision to go into coalition with the Tories.  As for the Tories themselves, they’ll keep on doing what they’ve always done. Govern for their own self interest and interests of those who back them. Some things just never change.

Thanks for reading.

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.

manlaunch2

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.

manlaunch

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:

voteconfusion2

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.

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.