Tag Archives: Scotland

Leader’s Debates – A Scottish Double Header

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

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

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

Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

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

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

David Coburn (UKIP)

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

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

Scottish Party Leaders Participate In A Live STV Debate

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

Willie Rennie (Lib Dems)

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

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

Ruth Davidson (Conservatives)

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

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

Jim Murphy (Labour)

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

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

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Leader’s Debate – A Review

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

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

7th. Nigel Farage (UKIP)

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

6th. Nick Clegg (LibDem)

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

5th. David Cameron (Con)

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

4th. Natalie Bennett (Green)

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

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…and now onto the top 3!

3rd. Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)

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

2nd. Ed Miliband (Lab)

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

ns21st. Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Fear of Democracy

fearLately I’ve been limiting my thoughts on the General Election to a maximum of 140 characters. However, there are moments when the confines of a Tweet simply won’t do. Now, is one such moment.

For the last few weeks Electioneering, on both sides of the border (by Labour and Tory), has focused on the Scottish National Party. The line in Scotland from Labour is that if you vote SNP you’ll get a Tory government, which is a myth so easily debunked I’ll leave it to Google. Down south the Tories are saying Vote Labour and you’ll get the SNP in a coalition (formal or informal, vote by vote…whatever) enabling “the separatists” to influence UK wide decisions – a UK they would like to “break up”.

Fine. I get it. Political parties need to do what they have to do.

In Scotland Labour are in danger of a wipe-out at the hands of the SNP, so they attack them, paint a supposed nightmare scenario of another Tory government. Thing is to most Scots the difference between Red or Blue Tories in power is neither here nor there. What matters to Scots is to have MPs down on the green benches who will truly hold the government to account, irrespective of its colour. As we saw in the referendum, when push comes to shove Labour and Tory watch each other’s backs. The Scottish electorate is cannier than many perceive and they know the game now. They won’t be fooled again.

In England to play the SNP card, to raise the spectre of the Alex Salmond (even though he’s not even the leader) marching into Westminster, to casually wander into racist/xenophobic waters is the chosen Tory party, and supporting press route. We’ve had Alan Massie and his River Thames foaming red hysteria as well as Bruce Anderson suggesting parts of Scotland effectively being partitioned off if they vote NO in any future referendum. This morning we even had the unedifying sight of a Tory MP Anna Soubry admitting to being quite literally “terrified” at the prospect of the SNP having any influence at Westminster.

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Thing is, the UK begged Scotland to stay. “Don’t Go” they pleaded. “We love you” they cried. “Play your part in a United Kingdom” they said. “We’re Better Together” they repeated ad nauseum. Ok. So we stayed and as such we’re going to play a full part in the democratic process. If Scotland can be ruled by a Tory government with one single MP, the United Kingdom can surely have no complaints if 40-50 democratically elected SNP members have their say on UK matters now and again.

Let’s be clear, Unionist parties want Scotland, they’re just not to keen on the people in it. We can come to Westminster if we play the game according to their rules. Well, we Scots are bored of the old game, so we’re starting a new one. You want us, you’ve got us – warts and all. If you don’t like it then you know what to do i.e. let us go and get on with running our own country, and you yours.

Thanks for reading.

The Passing of Time Changes Nothing

hviii1A couple of nights ago I read a passage within the pages of Margaret George’s superb ‘The Autobiography of Henry VIII’ which stopped me in my tracks. Not long after the death of Catherine Howard, a conversation is taking place between an aging Henry and an ambassador sent forth from the Court of King James V of Scotland.  Within it was a brief exchange which I quote verbatim:

[Henry] ‘let us state it plain. Here is what I wish: that Scotland and England unite, preferably through marriage. That we cease these hostilities, which are nonsensical, if you consult a map; for we are one country. All else flows from that.’

[Scottish Ambassador] ‘Now you understand me,’ he said, and his voice was burred and edgy. ‘I care not what your maps say, or what your logic tells you. We Scots are a different people, entirely different from you. That you understand us not is of no concern to us. We are people of our land, and our land is as different from yours as is Spain’.

Now, I have no knowledge of whether such a conversation took place, or whether it was simply Margaret George using her artistic licence. However, if she did make it up she’s comprehensively nailed the reason why us Scots should have had no qualms or fears about voting YES in the 2014 referendum. It encapsulates entirely why those who seek to bind us are doing so despite the deep rooted cultural differences which will always exist.

You may accuse me of going all ‘Braveheart’, but I’d respectfully disagree. Scotland has been an independent country for most of it’s history. Only when a greedy few sold us out for English coin did we join with England. The above conversation, even if fabricated, is undoubtedly what was felt in Tudor times. For many nothing has changed.

As Scots we should never forget our history – it made us who we are. I remain convinced that one day we will be an independent country again. I just hope I live to see it, even if only for my final breaths.

(A more detailed review of Margaret George’s book will be posted soon – I’ve nearly finished it!)

Thanks for reading.

Skippy Bounces Back To The Beanos

Skippy2Just a brief addendum to the Blog, this Sunday lunchtime, to make large the news that Stirling Albion have announced their new managerial line-up. Following the departure of Greig McDonald and Marc McCulloch, after the 4-0 home reverse to Stenhousemuir, the club set about the process of finding their replacements. After two weeks of sifting applications and hosting interviews that process is now at an end. The result is that former players Stuart McLaren and Martyn Corrigan have returned to the club.

http://www.stirlingalbionfc.co.uk/2014/11/02/new-management-team/

As the above piece on the SAFC official organ proclaims, Stuart ‘Skippy’ McLaren is to become manager with Martyn ‘Kaiser’ Corrigan his assistant. Including nicknames may be overkill on my part, but it shows they were well enough liked the first time to earn one!

This blog, and I’m sure all Albion fans around the globe will wish Stuart and Martyn the best of luck. Based on the evidence of the match at Hurlford, they’ll need it.

Thanks for reading.

(Pic courtesy of Stirling Albion FC)

A Day Trip To Hurlford

hurlford teamsThe days of me traipsing around the lower league grounds of Scotland writing match reports for Stirling Albion are over. However, I always said that for special, one-off, occasions I might dain to put pencil to notepad again. When Stirling were drawn away to Scottish Junior Cup holders, Hurlford, in the third round of the 2014/15 senior version, that was deemed  occasion enough to come out retirement. So, enough of the waffle, onto the game. Thanks to digital photography I don’t need to list the two teams by hand – the pic to the left gives you all you need to know. In truth not the most inspiring Albion XI of all time, and it seems the caretaker management have decided to change very little while at the helm. Some familiar names in the Hurlford line-up with Neil McGregor, Steve Masterton and Stewart Kean the most notable. Perhaps all three are past their prime, but plenty of experience to call on none-the-less.

The match kicked off on the sloping Blair Park pitch with a cold wind blowing from the clubhouse end of the ground. The pitch actually sloped from side to side, as well as down towards both goals – that apart it was a decent enough surface for a game of football. The first attack in anger came when Hurlford’s Paul McKenzie drifted a deep cross behind for a goal kick. Up the other end, James Creaney had a similar effort, which this time required home keeper Ally Brown to clutch the ball under no real pressure.  Brown then reacted well to flop onto a quick turn and shot by Gordon Smith from the edge of the box. A long distance free-kick was then chipped in by Dale Fulton towards Craig Wedderburn, only for the gangling defender to steer his header wide of target.

DSC_0011 (1)Hurlford’s first serious attempt at Calum Reidford’s goal saw them take a shock (?) lead. A 20 yarder from Stevie Masterton was blocked and on the follow-up STEWART KEAN cracked the ball into the roof of the net. The home fans in the crowd of 551 were delighted, and they nearly had a second to cheer as Masteron tugged a shot just wide. Has to be said the Beanos were falling off tackle after tackle as the Ayrshire Juniors looked to take a firm control on proceedings. A rare foray upfield by Graham Weir saw his cross met by Steven Doris, and his deflected strike had to be turned past by Ally Brown. The resulting corner reached Gordon Smith whose header landed on the roof of the net.

As the half wore on it was Hurlford who became stronger, as the Beanos struggled to string any passes together. A cross into the visitors box was met by scorer, Stewart Kean, and his scuffed header looked netbound until Callum Reidford clawed it out at the last second. A long punt from inside their own half was then skimmed just wide of target via the head of Chris Robertson. It wasn’t going to plan for Darren Smith’s charges, and yellows apiece for full-backs Lee Hamilton and Ross Forsyth didn’t help matters. The game could have been almost beyond the hapless Beanos, but thankfully Kean headed over from a Gus Cochrane centre when a goal seemed certain. Stirling’s interesting strategy for defending corners appeared to be to let the Hurlford player win the ball and put it wide or over. This was further emphasised when another set-piece delivery was met by an unmarked Hurlford head as Kean bulleted one past Reidford’s right-hand post.

The last few minutes of the opening 45 were as good as it had been for Stirling. David McClune saw an ambitious dig deflect harmlessly into the gloves of Ally Brown. A shy then broke into the path of Dale Fulton, and another deflected effort required Brown to get down low to tip the ball behind. From the next corner Chris Smith headed high and wide. Nothing too subtle from the Beanos at this stage. But from one long ball the rarely described, Steven Doris, sclaffed an angled strike tamely at Brown.

This was about all she wrote for the period of time known to some football watchers as ‘the opening 45’. Therefore as the teams trooped off for the half-time Creamola Foam and Cheesy Wotsits it was the hosts who maintained a deserved advantage.

Half-Time: Hurlford United 1 Stirling Albion 0

Just one change at the oft lamented ‘lemons’, and amazingly it wasn’t an Albion one. Instead, injury forced Neil McGregor to be replaced by Ross Robertson. This switch led to Ross’s namesake, Chris, moving from up front, back into defence. Ross Robertson was soon in the action as a foul on the Hurlford sub saw Craig Wedderburn shown yellow. The wind had if anything picked up during the break. This allied to Hurlford seeming to run out of steam and the Beanos remaining absolutely clueless meant play became very bitty. In fact the next few entries in my notes are all subs and bookings! James Creaney and Lee Hamilton both made way fairly quickly as Phil Johnston and Ross McGeachie took their places. United withdrew the knackered looking Stevie Masterton with Jamie Wilson coming on. Stirling sub, Ross McGeachie became the next visiting player to earn yellow from Alan Newlands.

When a chance eventually came in the second half it was a huge moment in the game. A corner was swung in from the Albion left and the unmarked Glen Mitchell headed a foot wide of Reidford’s right-hand post, from almost point-blank range. A terrible miss when the net seemed set to bulge. Stirling’s response was a weak shot from Phil Johnston which sailed into the gardens behind the ground. The home side then made their third, and last substitution, as Paul McKenzie was hooked in favour of Martyn Brown. Another player was soon heading off the pitch, although on this particular occasion there wasn’t one replacing him i.e. Craig Wedderburn was sent off for receiving a second yellow following a clumsy foul on Ross Robertson. From the free kick, Gus Cochrane’s dipping effort was alertly palmed behind by Callum Reidford.

A goal, and a man, down and creating next to nothing, our hopes appeared bleak. Yet, the Hurlford vuvuzela was stunned into momentary silence as out of nothing their favourites were pegged back. A Dale Fulton corner, from the Stirling right, was swung to the back post from where CHRIS SMITH poked a header just inside Ally Brown’s left hand upright. Couldn’t exactly say it had been coming, but in truth United hadn’t really made capital on Stirling being down to 10. After a brief wobble Darren Henderson’s men pushed forward once again. Gus Cochrane picked out the Stewart Kean in acres of space, but the former Ayr striker’s low shot skimmed across goal without any takers. Ross Robertson then set up Kean for another attempt, a header over from six yards out.

Time was almost up. The final moments saw Hurlford pen Stirling back with a succession of corners. In amongst them Dale Fulton was carded for what was likely persistent fouling. Despite plenty of balls into the Albion box the junior cup holder’s were unable to fashion a last-gasp winner. So as Alan Newlands blew for time the match ended all square with the replay set for Forthbank next weekend. In summary I’d say we’ll probably never play as badly as that again and not lose – we were dreadful, and any new manager has his work cut out. For their part Hurlford will be disappointed not to win, but if you don’t take your chances that’s what happens. However, it’s not all over. Any Albion fan expecting an easy ride in the replay will likely be in for a rude awakening.

Ah well, I enjoyed being back. Keep yer eyes peeled and one day down the road I might just enjoy being back again.

Thanks for reading, and Up the Beanos!

Friday Fictioneers – Watcher On The Shore

ff221014‘Back again, Mr McDonald?’ said the Laird of Glen Vorlich Estate.

‘I am that, Hughie,’ said Mr McDonald.

The Laird stroked his rambling, red beard. The dawn breeze buffeted his kilt. A piercing whistle saw a black and white Collie spring suddenly to his side. He nodded and smiled a gentle smile before man and dog turned and disappeared once more into the lochside mists.

Mr McDonald focused his eyes back upon the waters of Loch Corran. The heavy grey clouds rolling down from Ben Machar looked ominous. Droplets of heather-scented rain began to run down his cheeks.

He wasn’t leaving though – not until he had a photo. Only then would they believe him.

friday-fictioneers

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

The End is Nigh

Greig McDonaldReaders of this blog will appreciate my current passion for creative fiction laced with a generous splash of Scottish politics. However, my first love (even before ‘she who must be obeyed‘) was the gallant footballing entity that is Stirling Albion FC. Since 1980 they were a huge part of my life – games were rarely missed, and when the internet was invented I became their one and only unofficial site. For 13 years reports were filed after every game and the burning of midnight oil became a common occupation in the name of SAFC. For a variety of reasons that passion quelled in the last couple of years. I’m still not sure why. However, I think it was a combination of reasons – poor football, lack of connection with the club/team, other things to do and really just exhausted mentally after so long writing about our travails.

So where is this leading I hear you ask?

Well this short blog entry is just to mark an important moment for Stirling Albion. We don’t change managers very often, but today saw our latest incumbent fall on his sword. Greig McDonald and his assistant Marc McCulloch resigned after our 4-0 home defeat to local rivals Stenhousemuir. Bottom of the League One table, with one win in our ten matches to date, our goal difference is a horrific -16 (13 worse than anybody else). A statistic of one first-half goal in our 13 competitive matches in 2014/15 tells the story of a problem which was never solved. It was one we had last season too, until a late burst of form saw us gain promotion via the play-offs.

So you were promoted last season and are still getting rid of your manager?

greig-mcdonaldYes. That may surprise some, but in reality promotion appears to have been the exception in what was in the main a poor tenure under Greig McDonald. The truth is that one or two results were the difference between 3rd and 5th (missing the play-offs) and we were on the right side of those results. However, fairs fair. We won promotion and we owe Greig thanks for that. Yet, the feeling persisted that something just wasn’t right. There were too many poor games. Too many scoreless first-halfs. Too many times the same mistakes were made in what was a weak division. Sadly for Greig those mistakes continued this term. A step up perhaps, but we simply had to do better than we’ve done. Four and five goal defeats at home just isn’t acceptable. The team seems to be playing with no plan, no goal, no real strategy. We don’t build on good performances, good moments. Lesson’s are never learnt.

Confession time – I never really took to Greig McDonald. Seemed a decent enough bloke, but one who was rushed into management on the back of an injury ravaged playing career. In my view he struggled to get the best out of his players and he struggled to get the best of opposing managers tactically. Just think he wasn’t ready. A lack of contacts, being too close in age to his players, a relatively blank CV – none of this helped him. Don’t think it’s the worse thing for him to move  on and get some experience at a lower lever, or perhaps as  coach. He needs be able to get the best from players and to be able to influence games more. Not writing him off, but it was definitely best for both parties to move on before our position became hopeless.

Now it is crunch time for the club. We can’t afford to slip meekly back into the basement division. We must get a manager who can inspire, organise and lead the team up the table. Hopefully we will do just that soon.

Thanks for reading.

New Politics, New Media

holy1It was once famously stated that Devolution would kill nationalism in Scotland. That was in 1995 before the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1997. Since then the Scottish National Party has become the party of Government in Scotland as their rivals in the Labour Party struggle to come to terms with the ever changing political landscape. Yes, there are undoubtedly those who vote SNP yet wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘Scottish Nationalists’, but simply prefer the SNP’s brand of left-of-centre politics to the increasingly centralist, Westminster driven agenda offered by Labour. However, there is equally no doubt that many who support, and continue to move towards the SNP, are indeed doing so from a platform of civic nationalism.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, after Lord Geordie Robertson’s quote from 1995 it was likely once more decreed that a defeat for ‘YES’ in the referendum of September the 18th would quell the cry of independence for a generation or more. One startling statistic says that is not going to be the case:

  • SNP Members on September 18th, 2014 – 25,642
  • SNP Members at 7pm on September 27th, 2014 – 68,231

joinsnpIn the space of barely over a week membership of the seemingly ‘defeated’ SNP has increased by nearly 43,000. They are now the third biggest party, by membership, in the United Kingdom. Some will say this is simply a reaction, an admittedly huge reaction, to the defeat i.e. join the party which drove the fight for independence to show solidarity. However, for so many to pay to join a political party needs to be taken seriously, no matter your allegiances. How many of these will remain members beyond a year, who knows. However, it shows the political lion has well and truly woken in Scotland and isn’t going to doze off again any time soon.

One last thing. Several commentators tell us that these on-going YES gatherings, rallies, people joining the SNP etc is a continuing denial of the result on 18/09. I couldn’t disagree more. What they show is that people want change. Let’s not forget, not only did the 45% who voted ‘YES’ want change, but so did a sizeable percentage of those who voted ‘NO’ – just that they wanted it within the UK framework. To this end the SNP and FM elect, Nicola Sturgeon, has made it clear the priority, for what was the YES movement, is to focus on the powers promised by the Unionist parties during the final weeks. They must be held accountable for these promises; they must deliver these promises. If not 1.6 million voters and rising will be demanding to know the reasons why.

n.b. It would be remiss of me to point out that the Scottish Greens have also seen a surge in membership. As the only other mainstream party to back the YES campaign they too seem to be receiving a commendable show of support from the voters of Scotland.

***

As well as entering a new chapter in Scottish politics, the eyes and ears through which many of us view the political arena, the Scottish Media, is also set to undergo a revolution. Is revolution too dramatic a description? Probably. However, as this new media is initially likely to be aimed at a target audience of 1.6 million (YES voters) there is every chance it has the potential to become something the mainstream channels will need to keep an eye on.

So why do we need this new media and who is it?

SundayHeraldYesWhy? Well, most of us in the YES camp would say there was a nigh-on systematic failure of the media in Scotland over the last two years. The newspapers, in the main controlled outwith our borders, were almost without exception in favour of the Union – two of them The Sun and Daily Record played the pro-Union fiddle all campaign only to back nobody in their final editions. This to me is having their cake and eating it i.e. back one side all the way only to claim some form of unearned impartiality at the death. Nope, their positions were clear and along with every other daily newspaper in Scotland they were hostile to independence. The only printed offering which openly campaigned for a YES was the Sunday Herald.

The other part of the media is of course the spoken variety: TV and Radio. Here we come up against the controversial, thorny subject of the BBC. Were they truly biased or simply incompetent? For my part I think they set out to play the role of a ‘concerned undecided’ voter i.e. someone who was looking for answers before making an important decision. As YES was campaigning for a change then this was I suppose fair enough. However, on too many occasions I felt this role morphed from ‘concerned undecided’ to ‘frantic, terrified’ NO. This led to some openly hostile and downright disrespectful interviews with the First Minister and others. Despite having questions of their own to answer (clarification of more powers, their own preferred options on currency etc) the NO interviewees rarely appeared to meet the same hostility.

Another example of the state broadcaster’s questionable role broke last week. Post-referendum the BBC published a story about new technology which would allow more oil than previously anticipated to be extracted from the North Sea. Pre-referendum the BBC and NO made continual play on ludicrous scares that oil was in fact running out. Now here is the kicker. The story the BBC eventually published post-referendum regarding new oil extraction technology was in fact not new – it had been widely available to anyone (and tweeted endlessly) since early August. So why was a story likely to favour YES not reported until after the vote? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Now onto the what: what is this new media. Well, you won’t be surprised to hear it is web based. In the main it’s a stream of existing www outlets who have decided to up their game, increase their output and offer genuine independent alternatives to the likes of the BBC and the establishment mediums. To name check a few:

Bella Caledonia

Newsnet

Derek Bateman

Yes, these are all essentially pro-Independence channels. Yet, as support for some form of change in this country is now undeniable, these outlets will surely campaign to ensure change, even if it’s not independence for now, comes to our country. If for no other reason than balance it is vital such places exist. I hope you will find time to check them out.

Thanks for reading.

Referendum Aftermath

Andy-Murray_2341157bOn the morning of the Scottish Independence referendum, Scotland’s own 2 x Grand Slam winner Andy Murray tweeted his support for independence. Have to admit I was surprised as he is usually fairly guarded on such matters. However, over the previous few days his older brother, Jamie, had made it clear he was in favour. Therefore it was perhaps no real shock that Andy thought the same. Like many he had become utterly despondent at the negative campaigning of the NO team and had therefore given his backing to YES.

So a fiery, passionate Scotsman having an opinion on the future of his own country? All good you would think. Well not so according to many in the southern based media. Seems ok for the likes of David Beckham, The Queen, The Pope, Barack Obama and Cliff Richard to come out for NO, but hell mend a famous Scotsman coming out for YES. Twitter and newspaper comment sections have been swamped with highly abusive sentiments towards Andy. Some of those who had previously waved their flags and celebrated when he won Wimbledon were now torn. How could they possibly support this turncoat who had advocated the breaking up of their glorious Union? In truth I think those in the south are taking it as some form of rejection of England, and as such why should England now support this uppity Scot?

Bottom line is Andy Murray gave an opinion. Last time I checked this was a democracy and considering the magnitude of the moment I’d expect every Scot to have had an opinion. If it truly does impact on his popularity in England then it will be a sad day for sport and the UK. People need to accept others think differently from them. We Scots do get passionate about our country. It’s not about hating on others, it’s about wanting the best for ours. I really hope the UK tennis crowds don’t get on his back. The bloke has given his all for tennis on these islands and doesn’t deserve to be shunned for the heinous crime of airing an opinion.

***

butterflyThroughout the referendum campaign the world ‘nationalism’ was thrown around as if one stepped removed from ‘Nazi’. Well, as referendum watchers will know there was indeed more than one occasion upon which supporters of independence were referred to as ‘Nazis’. Why someone who supports self-determination for their country would be compared to a regime responsible for two world wars and the deaths of millions is something lost on me. It’s actually a gross insult to those who died in the wars and camps that a free democratic process could in any way be compared to the actions of the Third Reich and the National Socialists.

So what is nationalism?

Well for me, it’s not about ethnicity. It’s about the people of a country wanting the best for that country i.e. civic nationalism. That is to say the voters of Scotland, those who live here, having their voice heard to the max. Whether you are 20 generation Scots or a migrant from any part of the globe, it makes no difference. If you live in Scotland, you are capable of being a Scottish Nationalist.

The problem the media has is that the word nationalism is often linked to ‘British Nationalists’. Now, a British Nationalist is in general perceived as an anti-immigration, anti-European…in short a racist. Think National Front, think BNP and that is what I would see as a British Nationalist. This form of nationalism is deeply ethnic, not civic. The difference between this and what he have in Scotland couldn’t be more marked. Scottish Nationalism is inclusive, pro-immigration, pro-Europe. People just need to take a moment to understand similar sounding words can mean utterly different things.

***

SNP_LOGOmed_copySo What now? As I type membership of the party which gave us the chance to vote on independence, The Scottish National Party (SNP), has increased it’s membership by nearly 100% since Friday. From 25,000 it now has around 50,000 members. I was a member many years ago and may well join again. However, more important than that is the mood. From the despair of early Friday morning an air of optimism has slowly but surely emerged. Part of this is a show of support for the organisation which gave us the chance to say YES.

Let me firstly say one thing. YES lost the referendum. No matter how you spin the voting patterns, campaign tactics etc the bottom line is NO won, and YES lost. I accept that without debate. However, does that mean I should stop wanting independence? Does that mean the 1.6 million who voted YES should just give up the hope of something new, something better for Scotland? Of course not! There is now talk of new movements, new alliances as old friendships are strengthened and new ones formed. The dream for constitutional change in Scotland will never die. It may just take a different path for now.

My own view is we need to press the Unionist parties as hard as possible on their pledge of new powers for Scotland. By accident or design the term ‘Devo Max’ has become associated with what the NO campaign promised in the final days. Devo Max is in essence just about as much devolution you can have without being independent. Everything apart from Defence and Foreign Affairs is devolved. Securing this should be the goal of the new YES alliances which form. If Scotland proves itself capable of the additional responsibilities offered by Devo Max then perhaps in time the people of our country will truly believe we can stand alone. However, if they remain happy with a much stronger Parliament in Edinburgh, but still in the UK then that’s fine too.

However, as a true Scottish Nationalist I hope one day independence will be achieved. But for now let’s take smaller steps, as that is what the country seemed to say last Thursday i.e. not a NO to independence, but a NOT YET.

Thanks for reading.

Rising From the Ashes of Despair

45Ok, perhaps despair is overdoing it, but I must admit to being somewhat crushed after my lifelong (adult life!) desire for Scottish independence came up short. However, from those smouldering ashes now comes a renewed energy and passion for blogging. I started this site a couple of years ago with all sorts of plans for regular articles on all sorts of subjects. Rather quickly this descended into a steady, if sometimes intermittent, stream of creative fiction – that will not stop;however, it’s time to get back  to you reading and me writing about the other stuff* in my head.

*’Stuff‘ gets stuck in my brain, I talk to myself a lot and I’ve decided one solution to heal this endless internal waffle is to write it down. Hopefully you’ll find enough of it interesting to hang around.

Why 45? Well, 45% is what the ‘YES’ vote garnered in Thursday’s referendum. Rather than sit around moping (which we did for a few hours) those who backed independence have declared their intention to keep campaigning for greater Scottish democracy. If you’re not one of the 45%, don’t worry – moving forward what you did in the past is irrelevant – this is now about the future. The support for an independent Scotland rose from 25% to 45% in the last two years. Think about that for a moment. Then factor in a changing demographic, more undoubted disappointment and betrayal from Westminster parties, and a growing self belief and positive vision for our country will only see that support base rise. In my view, when the day comes independence needs to be ushered in on a tidal wave of support i.e. we need a large majority in favour. That way it will feel like it’s been won, rather than earned by default. We can do that, and I believe we will – but be patient!

Talking of betrayal from Westminster parties, I present the following official campaign poster produced by the ‘NO’ group:

vow2

During the last week of the campaign the ‘NO’ team produced the above. Step one was as outlined i.e. publish a motion for further powers before the UK parliament on 19/09. Well, today is now 20/09 and it still hasn’t happened. Furthermore there is no imminent sign of it happening as the Westminster parties can, surprise, surprise, not agree on a way forward. In other words the Scottish electorate (YES and NO) have been sold a pup. The Westminster parties had no intention of ushering in a raft of new powers for Scotland. It was a desperate ruse to secure votes. It won, we lost, they lied. The Scottish electorate are already waking up to this deceit and Scottish Labour, in particular, are likely to hemorrhage support in the coming days, weeks and months. Yet, I don’t think they truly care. They sold their souls to save the Union and knew there would be a price to pay. I’m sure their expectation will be met.

Ah well, that’s all for now. I promise not to make all my non-creative fiction blogs political. It’s just that after such a long time living within the referendum bubble it will take a few days of talking, writing and thinking about it before I can truly move on. Please bear with me.

Thanks for reading.

Scotland Has Spoken

bbcsref…and it has said ‘No‘ to the offer of independence. In the end it wasn’t that close; well, closer than most would have predicted a month ago, but in the last three weeks there seemed to be a genuine chance of a ‘Yes’ vote. However, as the results were checked and counted an apparent late swing back to ‘No’ left the final outcome as a bit of a letdown. 

First things first – congratulations to the ‘No’ campaign on their victory. While I didn’t enjoy the oppressively negative style of their pitch, that was the choice they felt they needed to make. In fairness selling a negative such as ‘No’ can’t have been easy. Far more fun to promote ‘Yes’ with all the inherent hopes, dreams and aspirations. Yet, the negative outdid the positive on September 18th as perhaps many decided it a leap too far, from the devolved parliament we have at the moment to full blown independence. Interestingly data published in the last few hours shows that the demographic which won it for ‘No’ was the 55+ group, where over 70% backed the Union. With a more even split of this age-range a ‘Yes’ win would in all likelihood have ensued. However, such is democracy and I don’t deny the older generations their right to vote in whichever way they felt best – nobody should.

Scottish-referendumI suppose it’s now time for a confession of a sort. In truth I worried from the start of this process whether independence would be too big a step for many. Perhaps a halfway house like ‘Devo-Max‘ would have been a better road to go down i.e. get people used to more powers before offering them the lot. However, the UK Govt declined the chance to put Devo-Max on the ballot paper. The thinking presumably was that David Cameron wanted a straight Yes/No, with his bets firmly hedged for a convincing ‘No’. This would have meant no concessions and no new powers – just the status quo. That though all changed when it became clear the status quo wasn’t acceptable to many natural ‘No’ voters. So the Better Together campaign came up with ‘More Powers GUARANTEED’. This was underpinned by a joint pledge in the final days promising to honour this guarantee.

So where does it leave us? Well, the Union remains in tact, but in my view seriously wounded. Overall it feels like nobody actually won. The Independence movement didn’t get what they wanted, but they will get more powers in time. The Unionists got what they wanted, but only by compromising on giving more powers to Scotland. The upshot would appear to be a more general review of democracy in the UK is required. More powers for Scotland will undoubtedly raise objections from regions of England, and perhaps rightly so. However, as with us Scots the English regions need to put forward their case as we have done for over a century.

sref2Ah well, after three years the one, and perhaps only referendum on Scottish Independence in my lifetime is over. Disappointed, yes, but not downhearted. A process has now begun which will surely see things improve for both Scots and the UK as a whole in the years to come. In time I believe people will look back on last night not as an end but merely as a beginning.

Thanks for reading.

Why I’m Voting YES

Referendum-calendar_tcm4-814401On Thursday the 18th of September, 2014 the voters of Scotland will be going to the polls. It won’t be to help elect a UK Government, it won’t be to elect a Scottish Government – it will be to decide whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Now, I’ve no real feel for where the readers of my blog come from. I appreciate most are probably following because of my formative attempts at creative fiction. Where you are all from is a mystery. However, whether you are from Scotland, other parts of the UK or beyond the shores of the island of Great Britain it doesn’t really matter. However, whoever is out there it’s probably best to start with some facts.

In 1603 Scotland and England shared a monarch (James VI of Scotland, James I of England). At that point we were still two separate countries who simply had the same royal family.

In 1707 Scotland and England (and Wales) signed up to the Treaty of the Union. From this point our parliamentary systems were joined, as what we effectively know as the UK was formed.

The referendum the Scottish electorate – the people of Scotland, irrespective of ethnic background – are about to vote on is in relation to the second point of history i.e. we are looking to remove Scotland from the United Kingdom and let it wholly govern itself once more as an Independent sovereign state. We will therefore still have the same monarchy as the rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) and will remain part of the commonwealth.

Ylogo

As the title of this blog suggest I shall be voting YES to Scottish Independence. There are a few reasons, but it boils down to this:

  • Cards on the table – I have always favoured independence for Scotland i.e. I am not, and never was, undecided on this issue.
  • We are fundamentally different to the rest of the United Kingdom. As an example, the UK currently has a coalition government, mainly made up of Conservatives. At the 2010 General Election the Conservatives won 307 seats, one of which is in Scotland. This means Scotland is governed by a party who has one, solitary MP within Scotland. For me this undemocratic in that Scotland as a country has its government decided outwith our borders.
  • I want the people who run Scotland to be in Scotland. I want them close by so they can be fully accountable to the Scottish electorate
  • I think our country has untapped potential. For that to be realised it needs to run to its own agenda, not a sub-agenda of the UK.
  • Scotland was an independent country before, we should be again.

scottish-independnece

Look, I’m not political expert. Some of you reading this post may think I’m letting my heart get in the way of my head. Facts are being overridden by a naive vision of an independent Scottish utopia. Fine, if that’s the way you read me then that is of course your right to do so. However, at moments like this, defining moments in our countries history, there comes a time when heart needs to have as much say as heads. Yes, there will be uncertainties. Yes, there will be times of introspection. Yes, there will be ups and downs in all aspects of our society. Yet, isn’t that the case in every country in the world?

It’s time for Scotland to stand on its own two feet. It’s my firm belief, and that of well over one million Scottish voters that not only should we, but we can do so successfully. We will remain firm friends and business partners with the UK we leave behind. Perhaps in time they too will look at a need for change, such as regional assemblies around England. That though is a decision for them. It’s something they would need to campaign for, just as we have long campaigned for Scottish Independence.

Sadly, the Scottish main stream media has solidly backed the pro-Union stance, despite large numbers of their readership not doing so. It has led to an undeniable imbalance in the reporting of facts and figures. If you are taking part in the vote and are still ‘undecided’ then please read the following website which represents a small step in redressing the balance:

http://theweebluebook.com/index.php

Thanks for reading, and whatever way you vote, do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for yourself – do it for future generations; do it because it’s best for Scotland.

yearofyes

The Wait is Over – Arise Sir Andy Murray!

murray1British tennis waited 76 years for a Grand Slam winner. That wait ended in September last year when Dunblane’s Andy Murray won the 2012 US Open. However, for many seasonal followers of tennis in these islands that was merely a warm up event. The only tournament that matters is the one which takes place in SW19 each summer. Wimbledon. Win that and you have arrived. Don’t win it the wait for a home winner continues. For all he has achieved in the game the World No. 2 would only truly receive the adulation and acceptance of some Brits when Wimbledon was cracked. That moment came a few short hours ago. The Wimbledon men’s singles champion for 2013 is Andy Murray!

wimbledoneThis afternoon under scorching London skies was Andy’s second successive Wimbledon final. His seventh overall appearance in a Grand Slam final. He has actually played in four consecutive Slam finals. He missed the French through injury but featured in the most recent Australian, US Open and Wimbledon championship matches. Of those six to date he’d won one and lost five. Each occasion he has been up against either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic (three times each). Nothing has come easy. No patsy in the finals. Each time the underdog. Therefore when the moment came at Flushing Meadows it was for some the likely pinnacle of his career. Well, those thoughts are now being hastily revised.

Pre-match my thoughts were perhaps Novak in four but also suggested it wouldn’t surprise me if Andy won in straight sets. These two players are incredibly close and it was always going to boil down to a few points here or there. Today it was Andy’s turn to prevail. It wasn’t though without some last gasp tension which must have had the British nation on the verge of kittens. Three championship points came and went. Novak had three break back points. He couldn’t possibly lose it from here? He didn’t! Having shown incredible mental strength to fend off the break points the match and title was sealed when Djokovic netted a forehand.

He’d done it! He’d done it!

No more years of waiting. No more mentions of Fred Perry. We should cherish these years as they may well be the best ever in British tennis history.  Well done Andy. Two time Grand Slam champion. Wimbledon winner 2013. Take a bow sir. You’ve earned it!