Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Peter has an interesting post over at Moridura with a link to an interesting article on England's Europhobia. It reminded me of an issue that I've been chewing over for a while, and which I don't think I've ever seen a discussion of, namely the rather rigid notion of nationality that a lot of people in the UK seem to have.

This was in evidence in a recent Radio 4 show, Mark Steel's In Town, when the comedian visited Berwick upon Tweed. He asked the audience what they were, English or Scottish. There seemed to be a prevalence of Scots in the audience, but running through the show was the real truth, that people there do have a separate Berwick identity, part English (or perhaps more accurately Northumbrian), part Scots and with a good dollop of Berwick thrown in. This is hardly surprising given the geographic location and history of the town. (I wonder if similar examples could be found along the Welsh border...?)

Similarly a recent(ish) episode of Who Do You Think You Are? ended up in Alsace. Again, the big question was put to the locals: what are you, German or French? Implicit in the question again was the idea that they must be one thing or the other. To be without a strong, fixed sense of nationality was unthinkable. No grey areas are permitted!

It strikes me as a peculiarly (but by no means uniquely) English view of nationality, perhaps borne of a long history as an independent, unconquered and unoccupied nation, allied with an island mentality. When there are big cliffs and an expanse of sea between you and your neighbours it is perhaps natural to feel a stronger sense of "them and us".

What rescues most Scots from this aloofness is perhaps our long history of engagement with foreign powers, principally of course with France, and the fact that Scotland never really competed with other European countries in the way that England did. Or perhaps it's as simple as size. Scots know that Scotland is small - if we want to prosper we better work with others. We're scarcely going to bully anyone into agreeing with us, and there aren't enough of us to impose our values on others even if we wanted to.

Thinking of nationality from a typical European perspective, many countries lack a formidable natural border, or their borders have shifted frequently through the course of history, or their country was only unified in the 1800s, or their country was repeatedly occupied by a variety of powers over the preceding centuries. It's perhaps not surprising then that many of our European neighbours take a more nuanced view of what nationality means.

Go to SW Germany and the locals will pepper their local Badisch and Schwäbisch dialects with a fair few French words, first borrowed when Napoleon was occupying the area. Go to Alsace and marvel at the contortions involved in pronouncing the predominantly German place and family names in a French way. The reality in this area is that the people have absorbed influences from both sides. Are they uniquely French or German? Well not really, no, they're a bit of both. And that's not a bad thing, it's actually what makes them unique.

Elsewhere in Europe there are numerous other examples of this reality, that language, and therefore identity, is a continuum rather than a series of discrete homogeneous blocks neatly divided by borders on a map. Does a French Basque really have more in common with a Corsican, or a Parisian, than with the Spanish Basque living just a couple of kilometres over the border? Does an "Englishman" in Berwick share more with someone in Berkshire, than with someone a few miles over the border in Berwickshire?

What's this got to do with anything? Well firstly, I wonder if this rigid idea of nationality doesn't hold the UK back when it comes to understanding, and therefore participating in, the politics of the EU. When you view foreigners as utterly foreign, when you view any form of co-operation and integration purely and simply as a betrayal and a loss of sovereignty, then it's no wonder you get sidelined.

Secondly, perhaps Scotland can play a role in updating the prevailing view in England to better reflect the modern inter-dependent world. If England is forced to deal with an "other" right on its doorstep, to negotiate and agree on areas of co-operation and to come to a mutually advantageous conclusion, then perhaps that approach will carry forward to other neighbouring countries. That of course will require either confederalism or independence.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Third class citizens

I must apologise profusely for the grievous error in my previous post. The Scots are actually third class citizens in the UK, not second class. What is the cause of this deflation? Well it seems that Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser have stuck their fingers in their ears whilst simultaneously sticking two fingers up at the poor Scottish license fee payer (quite a feat, just try it...). Both of their "blogs" now bear the sombre message...

We are no longer enabling comments on this page as a general rule. We will continue, however, to enable comments from time to time on this page as we do across our online service to provide users with the opportunity to contribute on particular stories.

See for yourselves: Brian and Douglas.

Aha, I thought to myself, the Beeb is making swingeing cuts and the moderators have been given the chop! Erm, except that the following blogs still seem to be accepting comments from the great unwashed...

Nick Robinson - UK Politics
Mark D'Arcy - Parliament
Betsan Powys - Wales
Mark Devenport - NI
Gavin Hewitt - Europe
Mark Mardell - North America
Katty Kay - Washington DC
Damian Grammaticas - Beijing
Soutik Biswas - Delhi
Robert Peston - Business
Stephanie Flanders - Economics
Fergus Walsh - Medical
Jonathan Amos - Science
Richard Black - Environment
Rory Cellan-Jones - Technology
Will Gompertz - Arts

I suppose it's fair enough, it's not like anything much important is happening in Scottish politics at the minute, is it? Nor in Scottish business. Not as important as some exhibition on Da Vinci anyway. Well dear reader, I can only urge you to draw the same conclusion as me: if the BBC aren't interested in your opinions about Scotland then they surely can't be too interested in the license fee from Scotland.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Second class citizens

Interesting to see the glee with which various Unionists met the publication of a report by the Commons library. Amongst other things it talks of the possibility (it should be noted that various scenarios are outlined) of Scotland losing various EU rebates and opt-outs that the UK has negotiated and our EU membership itself. The reality of course is that we are in completely uncharted waters here. There are no rules for what happens when an EU member splits up and the decision in the end would be ruled by realpolitik. So I don't think it's wise for either side of the debate to claim certainty in this regard.

But returning to that glee so obvious in the Unionists. By rallying behind that worst-case scenario in which Scotland is out on its ear and has to re-apply as an accession state, aren't they just affirming that the current situation of Scotland (and Scots) is as follows?
  • We aren't proper EU members, we're just being allowed to piggyback on rUK's membership. Even though Scottish votes helped elect the UK government that took us into the EU.
  • The rebate and opt-outs aren't really ours, rUK is just generously allowing us to benefit from them. Even though the UK conducted negotiations for these things (at least in theory) on behalf of the Scottish electorate.
It reminds me of the old wheeze that Scotland would have to fund new embassies all over the if we didn't already have some sort of stake in the existing ones. Or that we'd have to start new armed forces from if we didn't contribute to the UK forces at the moment. Or that we'd lose the if she is in some way less our Queen than rUK's (for the avoidance of doubt I'm a republican, but for a monarchy without any real powers it's a separate question to independence).

Surely independence negotiations will be a matter of apportioning liabilities and assets? Or if we take the new Unionist view, Scotland takes a share of the national debt and gets none of the assets because they never really belonged to us in any way, shape or form. What really amazes me is that the likes of Margaret Curran seem so happy to put Scotland into that role of grateful supplicant. This is her positive case for the Union, one in which we own nothing and will be kicked off the estate as soon as we piss off the Laird.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Negative Unionism

I live in hope, but there is still no sign of a positive case for the Union emerging from the Unionist parties. This troubles me, not because I want them to miraculously conjure up a convincing case for the Union, but rather because of the consequences if they stick with negativity.

First up, imagine the post-referendum scene, Scotland has voted against independence after years of being hammered with doubts, half-truths, downright lies and pessimism at the hands of the Unionists. In short Scotland has been cowed and frightened into voting No. The spoils of war are a downtrodden, depressed and shrunken Scotland, our people trampled underfoot, bereft of ambition, introverted, knowing our place in the world is the cold, wet corner of an inconsequential little island adrift from a fading continent. This is the victory that the Unionists seemingly crave with their unremitting negativity.

Alternatively (and let us hope and pray that it comes to pass), Scotland sees through the scaremongering and votes for independence. What then for those parties that tried to hold us back without offering any positive, that is to say honourable, vision? I'm sure their self-preservation instincts will kick in and they'll scrabble for some way to become relevant in the new Scotland that they so despised. But I wonder if the electorate will be so quick to forgive and forget.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

UK Citizenship Revoked

I just stumbled across the practice version of the United Kingdom Official Citizenship Test. Needless to say I thought it would be a laugh to spend 5 minutes having a go. Lo and behold...

You're barred!
Whoops! Quite a long way from the 75% pass rate needed. Have a go yourself if you're brave enough and let me know your score via the comments. NB there are some clues as to what to expect below, so if you prefer to go blindly into the test do so now!

Amongst the various questions that tripped me up were such vital pieces of information as...
  • The year in which women gained the right to divorce their husbands
  • The number of days each year that a school must be open
  • The number of people in the UK under 19
The crazy part is that the last of those had 4 options from which to choose: 13 million; 14 million; 15 million; 16 million. Not the usual namby pamby, bloody obvious, multiple choice answers here matey! Oh no. We can't have answers of, say, 2 million, 15 million, 30 million and 14 juvenile hippos. Why, somebody might actually know only roughly the right answer. We can't let that sort in.

Amusingly one of the questions was as follows: Which of the following TWO types of people get their prescriptions free of charge? The choices were: Over 60s; Under 18s; Pregnant women or those with a nipper <12 months old; people on the minimum wage. I guess the mandarins that came up with this load of p*sh haven't been keeping up to date with developments in the colonies.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The pain in Spain

The game in Alicante made for sobering viewing. I think it's time we come up with a new name for whatever it is Spain are playing, it bears little resemblance to the pedestrian game called football that everyone else is labouring with.

Glad to see Scotland stick at it though and hey, we won the last half hour! Yes, dear reader, that was the sound of straws being clutched right there. We've a decent side though, and I do think Craig Levein has us moving in the right direction. But for a contemptible dive and poor refereeing decision at the end of the Czech game we'd be looking forward to the play-offs now. Some decent young players are coming through, and the pace of Mackail-Smith and Goodwillie looked like it could threaten most teams. Shame that Goodwillie started reading his own headlines when he raced through and failed to square it to Mackail-Smith. 3-2 would have made for an interesting last few minutes. But hopefully he'll learn from the experience and be a bit cooler next time.

Another plus is the emergence of Bannan. He looks like just the kind of player we need to unlock opposing defences. The reality of the modern game is that every team is well organised and fit, even the likes of Liechtenstein. It's pretty rare for the minnows to get completely annihilated these days. The difference between the top teams and the also rans are those players that can create goals with a moment of creativity. If we can concentrate on encouraging the development of these type of players then we'll start to move up the rankings and maybe even qualify for a tournament.

All of which leads to the main point of this post. I do hope that the fans and press alike give Craig Levein at least another round of qualifying (or two) to continue to pursue his vision for the development of Scottish football. He's the first national manager I can remember who actually talks sense about the need to change how we coach kids to play in order to become competitive at international level. By definition the fruits of his labours with our youngest players will take several years to pay off. The last thing we need is to give him the chop in favour of someone who only sees the job as a stepping stone to a bigger pay day.

Ok, the tactics away to the Czechs were pretty objectionable (although in fairness they did almost work), but other than that Levein has developed a squad that clearly play with spirit and are trying their hardest. I'd like to see him use the time until the next qualifiers to give Mackail-Smith and Goodwillie more experience and perhaps to make sure that we have a good plan B in place for when his favoured 4-1-4-1 has to be abandoned. The 4-4-2 that we ended with against Spain tonight looked pretty reasonable, or perhaps a 3-5-2 with Hutton and Naismith charging down the flanks.

Finally, we can ill afford to have a player like Steven Fletcher sidelined. It would be great to see him back in the fold. I'm not sure on which side the problem lies, though from the press reports it seems to be on Fletcher's, but enough's enough. Time to bury the hatchet and get him back involved.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Rugby World Cup reflections

Overall it's been an enjoyable RWC so far and with Scotland's likely exit (come on Georgia!) the time seems right for a few thoughts...

  • The investment by the IRB in the "minor" countries is paying dividends. Canada and the USA, Japan, Georgia and Romania have all made a good impression on the tournament and have played some good quality rugby.
  • Great win for Tonga earlier today against France, but why oh why, when they needed a bonus point win did they continually kick (and miss) those second half penalties?! On the other hand it was close in the end so perhaps they were concentrating on getting a historic win. But now that they've done that it's time for them to raise their ambitions for the next tournament.
  • The other Pacific nations have also been a great presence in the tournament so far. It's high time they were properly integrated into Southern Hemisphere rugby. I'd love to see a Super XV team based in the islands somewhere. As with other teams they could move the home games around so that Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, etc. all get to host matches. Similarly it would be great to see them in a 5 nations tournament with NZ, Australia, SA and Argentina. There are a couple of ways to do this: either a pre-qualification tournament with the leading island team going through, or if local rivalries can be put aside a combined islands team - that would be a team worth watching!
  • France need to get their act together. It seems like a replay of the last football world cup. Surely time to put squabbles aside and play as a team, play for the country and play for pride.
Regarding Scotland I think there's some good news. We've got some quality players, especially in the forwards and the days of record defeats each year are long gone. Just one or two teensy things to work on, like scoring tries for example. If we could finish moves and capitalise on opportunities regularly we'd be blowing teams away, England included this morning. Oh, that and decision making, e.g. when the ref signals a penalty advantage right under the opposition posts that doesn't mean it's a free shot at a drop goal!! A drop goal will only give you 3 points, the same as the penalty that you're about to get (but more difficult). For the love of God, go for a try!! If you don't get it you've got the penalty.

But more importantly, f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k Wayne Barnes f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k f**k. F**K!!!!!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ken Macintosh campaign gets a boost

I can see Ken Macintosh's campaign slogan now: "Vote for me, this weirdo has never heard of me!"

Johann Lamont and Tom Harris must be furious. Although at least Tom's name was spelt correctly in the subtitles. They even called him The Ritz. Wonder if that nickname will stick...

Hat tip to Guido Fawkes.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Gordon Brown: Labour's last Scottish leader?

If the Boyack-Murphy review's recommendations come to pass the Labour party in Scotland will soon(ish) have a single leader, chosen from amongst their coterie of MSPs, MPs and MEPs. Which makes me wonder, will a Scot ever again lead the Labour party at UK level?

How would that work exactly? They would simultaneously be leading their Scottish leader, yet would also be being led by them. The image it brings to mind is of two dogs circling whilst sniffing each others rear ends.

If they were to disagree on policy who would defer to whom? I presume it would depend if the policy in question concerned a reserved power or a devolved one. But if it were a reserved issue what about any Barnett consequentials? Would and indeed should the Scottish leader keep schtum despite the impact on Scotland's pocket money? A headache for all concerned.

In any case it may well be academic. It's not so long since Gordon Brown was regularly slated south of the border for being "too Scottish" to be PM. Will UK Labour have an appetite for another Scottish leader any time soon? I suspect not, despite Ed Miliband's continued floundering...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Union dividend

There is a good article by Ian Bell in the Herald, laying bare the complicity of successive UK governments in renditions and torture in Libya.

As he rightly concludes:

Now we applaud the movement we betrayed, and bomb the torturer we succoured. And they say Gaddafi is mad.

Depending on your point of view Scotland has either ceded it's sovereignty over the past 300 years or had it roughly taken away. In return we are told that we benefit from the union in various ways, invariably rather vague and nebulous ways. Chief among them is often the notion that we punch above our weight in the world. Well, perhaps it's time to update that worn out phrase. Recently it seems rather to be the case that we tear fingernails out above our weight. Or waterboard above our weight.

This moral descent is the very real price that we in Scotland pay today for allowing our sovereignty to be mishandled by successive UK governments. These atrocities are done in our name. The British people are responsible since we elected politicians that either failed to stop it, tacitly condoned it or even ordered it. And for what? All these betrayals of basic human decency are committed so that Britain has a place at the far corner of the big boys' table, or worse, for grubby oil deals that will benefit the local populace not one iota.

Britain once held itself to stand for fair play, decency and democratic values. Perhaps this self-image was never a reality. As the new Foreign Minister in 1997 the late Robin Cook spoke of Britain developing an ethical foreign policy. Well, that aspiration was brutally crushed in the intervening 14 years. Whether it's the waging of illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no thought given to reconstruction afterwards, the use of bribery to sell weapons to repressive regimes, complicity in the rendition and torture of "terrorists" (was ever a more useful and flexible term coined?), abuse of so-called anti-terror legislation to silence an old age pensioner or to freeze the assets of Iceland (that hotbed of terrorism), rioting and looting in English cities or the callous robbing of a young man injured in the violence, the notion of Britain as home of fair play and the gentleman is dead and buried.

The pertinent question for Scotland today is, do we get a sufficient return on the investment of our sovereignty? Do the benefits of union outweigh the loss of control over our destiny? Well, Scotland should be in no doubt that it is inhumane, cold and calculating acts and values like those mentioned above that we continue to give our sovereignty away for. Britain has become a country with a nasty, vindictive ruling class that will do anything to anyone in the name of national interest. In truth this is the narrow nationalism that supporters of independence are often accused of. Now I don't doubt for a moment that there are Scots among this ruling class. As a people we are no more immune to human failings than anyone else. But an independent Scotland nevertheless has a chance to take a different path. We will assuredly suffer no delusions of being the world's policeman, or indeed his faithful poodle. We can leave the posturing death throes of imperial Britain behind and instead become a modern social democracy, one that seeks partnerships with like-minded peoples around the world. Let's try cooperating above our weight instead of punching everyone within reach.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Footbawl 2020

Depressing times for Scottish football. No teams left in European competition (although Celtic might just sneak back in if Sion are booted out) and it's still August.

I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth in 1990 when we were dumped out of the World Cup by Costa Rica amongst others. Well it's 20 years later and we've gone backwards. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Here's a quick guide to fixing Scottish football, the good news is it should all be doable by 2020.

1. First and foremost develop a new style of play. I know Craig Levein & Mark Wotte are already working on this but all clubs in Scotland need to sign up to it. Football has changed in the last 20 years. It's all about technique and athleticism today. That's what we need to focus on with the very youngest players. By 2020 some of them should be pushing through into the senior sides. NB All the points below are of secondary importance to this.

2. Become an export industry. Rangers and Celtic aren't going to win anything in Europe. Ever again. Accept it. Indeed, embrace the fact. Success will instead be seeing our players performing for clubs at the highest level. The SFA should have in mind an initial target of at least 30 Scottish players playing regularly for clubs in the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 by 2020. Look how many Dutch players are in these leagues - that's the level we need to get to. Part of developing young players should be to prepare them for living and playing abroad.

3. If point 2 is achieved then the real proof of success should emerge, namely Scotland youth and senior sides qualifying regularly for European Championships/World Cups again. Choosing a team from 30+ players who play top level football every week would certainly help.

4. Summer football. The season should run from March to November. Better weather means better pitches, in turn better football and perhaps then bigger crowds and TV audiences and the money that goes along with them. A mid-season break would easily allow us to accommodate the major international tournaments (assuming we were participating!).

5. End Mickey Mouse league format. 16 teams in the top division, they play each other twice home and away. Automatic relegation for one team, second and third bottom play off with the second and third from SPL 2. Allow Rangers and Celtic (plus others if willing & able) to field reserve teams in SPL 2 with the proviso that they can't be promoted. Proper pyramid system down to junior/highland league level.

6. Minimum standards for entry to SPL 1, e.g. SFA-accredited youth training scheme, proper training/medical facilities to include (ideally indoor) 3G pitch. Standards to be enforced in season starting March 2020. Gives clubs 9 years to sort this out, surely enough time.

7. If all else fails, splash the cash on some top drawer youth coaches from Spain, Holland or Germany and wait 10 years for the results. If I was the owner of Rangers or Celtic I'd be investing my money there rather than in the Rafael Scheidts of this world.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Salmond accused of globicide

The planet Earth has now reached the same position relative to the Sun TWICE since Kenny MacAskill's decision to release Abdelbassett's Murray Mints Megrahi on compassionate grounds. This is a monumentally significant cosmic alignment.

A Labour spokesdroid with serial number 1a1n Gr4y said: "The movement of Megrahi from North Britain's northerly latitude to Libya's tropical climes may well have shifted Earth's centre of mass significantly toward the equator. As the equator is closer to the Sun this causes an extra gravitational pull that may inexorably be moving Earth's orbit inwards, too far and too fast, in a tortuous death spiral that will be the ruin of us all.

We can only speculate at Alex Salmond's motives for damning us all to be vapourised, but figures that we made up suggest that we might enter the Sun's corona in the second half of this parliament thus conveniently getting Salmond out of holding his referendum that nobody wants.

Salmond himself will of course probably flee in his escape pod, cunningly disguised as a wind turbine, in order to pursue his narrow ideology of independence for the universe.
A Freedom Of Information request we submitted to ask whether Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch have seats reserved in the escape pod has been refused on highly questionable grounds. Repent ye voters!

Oh, nearly forgot the positive bit.
We are calling for immediate action to increase the number of apprenticeships for parasol makers. I used to be a physics teacher y'know..."
Earth's certainly possible doom at the hands of the SNP
Source: Labour Hame's Spurious Haverings Investigative Team

Lonely Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie cried: "Remember me?"

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hacked Off

Interesting to see how the hacking scandal is playing across the pond...

...anyone seriously doubt that other papers have been up to similar tricks? All in the public interest of course.

Update: James from SCOT Goes POP! has admirably ferretted out a copy of the video at the New Statesman that should be viewable in the UK.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Happy anointment Willie Rennie!

You know how it is. That nauseating feeling in the pit of your stomach, that burning sensation rising up into your throat...yes, I think we all know what it's been like to see the Lib Dems snuggling up to the Tories over the past year...

Truth be told most Lib Dem activists have been feeling the same, culminating in that sense of deflation and despondency, particularly keenly felt in Scotland on May 6th this year. What could possibly cure the heartburn and indigestion that they have been suffering from?

Enter Willie Rennie! Let's see if he can live up to his name and cure the Scottish Lib Dems of all their ills!

Thanks in advance to Rennie for not complaining about the (ab)use of their images. However, in the interests of impartiality I should of course point out that other indigestion products are available...even if other Lib Dem leadership candidates were not.