MARK FRANKLAND

The picture? Well the picture says that anything is possible. As in anything. The town is Darwen. And of course the guy is Gandhi. And those around him are unemployed cotton workers. When he heard they were all but starving because of his Indian boycott, he insisted on going to see them. Before he got off the train they were all ready to lynch him. By the time he got back on board he was their guy. Like they say - form is temporary, class is permanent.

Friday, January 30, 2015

SO LONG JAMIE, IT WAS A PRIVILEDGE TO BE YOUR FRIEND



Last month my friend Jamie died. Tragically he took his own life. Typing the six words of that particular sentence still seems ridiculous somehow. Tomorrow there will be a memorial to remember Jamie in Kirkudbright. Unfortunately I am not going to be able to make it which saddens me greatly. These words will have to be a poor substitute I guess.
Since September 18th Scotland has become a place of two camps: the ‘Yes’ camp and the ‘No’ camp. They are not Celtic/Rangers style camps. They are certainly not IRA/UDA style camps. But let’s face it, we struggle to get along with each other. It was something I found quite extra-ordinary about the campaign as people I had always got along fine with completely turned and suddenly seemed to want to shout and point. It is a thing that has managed to enter our everyday parlance. You go into a newsagent and the woman behind the counter is a real hard faced harridan who almost throws your change at you. Later when describing the encounter you can save a whole lot of words and effort. All you need to say now is ‘typical ‘No’ voter’ and everyone knows exactly what you mean. Well. So long as they are fellow travelers in the ‘Yes’ camp. I guess those across the divide will speak of us in a similar way.
Jamie was a ‘No’ voter to his toenails. He was one of the very few ‘No’ voters who didn’t feel the need to point a finger at me and shout. Instead we were able to josh each other about being either side of the widening divide. With Jamie, talking about the vote was like talking football with an Everton fan. It was all about taking the Mick with a smile. With most 'No' voting friends and acquaintances, referendum discourse was more akin to a Liverpool/Man Utd exchange of views. If such a discourse from either end of the East Lancs Rd is unfamiliar to you, I can assure you it ain’t pretty. I think Jamie was permanently amused by my fervour for 'Yes'. But when he met my son on the night of the vote he went out of his way to tell Dyonne to try and cheer me up.
In many ways Jamie was the typical ‘No’ voter. He was a land owner who farmed hundreds of acres of drop dead gorgeous Galloway wilderness: a place of rugged hills staring down onto the sparkling waters of the Solway Firth. Kirkcarswell is the kind of place that any Holywood director would choose to film Macbeth or Rob Roy. My favourite line from Shakespeare would find a comfortable roost in on a dark winter’s afternoon at Jamie’s place.
‘Light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.’
Sorry Jamie, but I’m going to lay out a few more of your ‘No’ voting credentials. Unbelievably you were eligible for a bus pass, you were seldom out of tweed and let’s face it, you spoke with a pretty posh twang! I think the fact that I am so very comfortable in taking the piss in what is supposed to be a deadly serious document should tell you a lot about the guy I am remembering. The thing is, I remain 100% secure in the knowledge in the fact that wherever you may be now Jamie, there will be a grin on your face. Your trademark grin.
You see Jamie was one of the good guys. One of the best.
No doubt many of my fellow ‘Yes’ travelers will have bridled at the thought of a landowning ‘No’ voter. Well you would be entirely wrong to feel that way. Because Jamie wasn’t a man who wanted to fence in his piece of Scottish paradise. Instead his instincts were to share.
Every year the doors of Kirkcarswell are thrown wide open to everyone and anyone for the three days of the Wickerman Festival. From time to time I have heard locals with trench like chips on their shoulders moaning on and on that the only reason Jamie ran the Wickerman was for money. It never failed to get me riled up and led to some pretty heated exchanges. Running a music festival is right up there with owning a lower league football club as a money making exercise. Had Jamie been interested in nothing more that filling up his bank account, there are about a million ventures which would have been in front of the queue before putting on a music festival. 
Sadly ours is a country where people love nothing more than to judge a person by their accent. Jamie spoke posh so there were many who could never bear to accept that he did what he did for the very best of reasons.
Their loss.
I first got to know him in 2003. The First Base Agency was just a few weeks old and it was already clear that we were not about to be particularly popular with the local powers that be. Let’s just say that opening up a drug and alcohol support centre in Dumfries back then was akin to opening up a Jewish day care centre in Leipzig in 1938. Nobody liked us much and they liked our clients even less. The fact that the two managers were both English and one of them was black didn’t exactly help either. After those first few weeks, it was abundantly clear that the road we had chosen to travel was going to be a rocky one.
And then one sunny day in June my mobile phone rang and Jamie was on the other end of the line. Within seconds I was drawn to the larger than life voice which was filled with all his trademark enthusiasm. He had read my book ‘The Cull’. He had heard about First Base. Would it be OK for him to call in for a chat.
Sure it would.
The next day he bounced in told us all about the very first Wickerman Festival which was about to go down in a few weeks time. Would we like to have a stand? Would we like to be an affiliated charity? Well of course we would. Jamie was the first person who was willing to see beyond the local prejudice and offer us his public backing. Many others have followed over the last twelve years but he was the first.
We will never forget that Jamie.
A couple of years later when our bank account was running on fumes, the postman dropped a letter onto the mat which felt much like sight of the Seventh Cavalry must have once felt to a bunch of wagon train people surrounded by whooping Apaches. Over £1000 have been raised from a dinner dance and somehow Jamie and his wife Patsy had persuaded the organisers to send it along to our unpopular little drugs charity.
We won’t forget that either.
Over the years First Base became accepted and the Wickerman festival grew and grew. In a region where there is less than nothing for young people to do, Jamie’s festival was a shining light in the dreary gloom. Something to look forward to. Something worth counting down the days to.
A few years back we produced a stage version of my book ‘A Christmas Carroll’. We took it round schools and everyone seemed to like it. The cast was pretty rag bag – myself and a bunch of recovering users. Not everyone’s cup of tea, right? I rang Jamie and asked if we could have a tent to put the thing on at the Wickerman? 
Sure we could.
And we did.
And once we had a tent capable of holding 100 people at our disposal it seemed like we should make maximum use of it. So I gave Jamie a call and made my pitch. Young people are completely disengaged from politics, right? 
Right. 
So maybe the Wickerman should do its bit to change that, right? 
A sigh. 
Right. 
So how’s about I give Tommy Sheridan a call and see if he will come along to give it both barrels? You know, let’s fill the tent with a hundred youngsters and let them know what an old fashioned firebrand sounds like. What do you reckon? And of course he said yes. And of course he was more than happy to stump up a couple of free tickets for Tommy and Gail.
It is something of a treasured memory. I recall clearly sitting next to Tommy as he split the air asunder. In front of me was a packed crowd of youngsters with their mouths agape and their glazed eyes registering astonishment at the compelling words that were thundering into their ears.
And there was Jamie with his trademark beaming smile. Only in it for the money? Grow up. Get over it. The fact that Scotland’s most notorious left wing firebrand was doing his stuff to an audience of a hundred local kids in a tent in a field in the middle of nowhere was all down to him.
And that is no little thing.
Every time I spent time with Jamie I would leave feeling better about the world around me. He was one of those very rare people whose enthusiasm was genuinely infectious. In the eighteen years that have passed since we emigrated north from Lancashire I have made very few friends. Jamie was certainly one of those few. And I like to think he would have felt the same way. He leaves a horrible hole. The collective heart of our family goes out to Patsy and Jennie. I wish I could pass on condolences in person tomorrow.
A few years back Jamie commissioned me to write short book to be handed out at the festival. I came up with a story called ‘Bialystok’. Here it is.


People seemed to like it. I wrote Jamie into the story and he absolutely hated it. He tried to get bossy and said that he was commissioning the book and so he had the right to edit himself out of it. I told him to get stuffed and played the stroppy author card. And he stayed in. He got over it!
I re-read the story recently and I was greatly relieved to find that the Jamie in the story was very much the Jamie I knew. I’m glad I told him to bugger off. Ideally I wanted to put ‘Bialystok’ into the Kindle Free section to coincide with the Memorial tomorrow but unfortunately it has already been there during the last 90 days which means it cannot go there again. The cheapest that Amazon are willing to let me sell for is 99p.
So 99p it is.
You can find the link to the book’s page at the bottom of the blog. I hope you have a read.
To wrap up I am going to blag a few words from Pink Floyd where they remember a member of the group who was lost to drugs. They chose remember the good times, times when he shone like a crazy diamond.
Shine on you crazy diamond? Sounds a lot like you Jamie.

‘You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!’

 To download a copy of 'Bialystok' please follow the link below.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

OH RUPERT MURDOCH.... YOU REALLY ARE A VERY CUNNING OLD AUSSIE BASTARD!!




Obviously evil genius isn’t something that we tend to like much. Well obviously. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for an element of grudging admiration. For a case study, Nazi Germany as per usual jumps to the head of the queue. Over the last seventy years or so Evil and the Nazis have become as linked in our consciousness as Bogart and Becall. They were an abominably bad bunch of people and fifty million souls paid the ultimate price for their abominable badness.
However the complete hideousness of Nazi Germany doesn’t mean that their invasion of France in the spring of 1940 was anything but a piece of pure military genius. In the 20’s and 30’s, the Germans had little affection for the Brits and French. Thanks to the eleventh hour arrival of the American cavalry, we had won the war and imposed a brutal peace. As a punishment we had just about starved the Germans to death and unsurprisingly they yearned for payback.
However it was very much easier said than done. When Hitler summoned his two highest flying young generals and ordered them to come up with a cunning plan to beat the Brits and French, it was a mighty big ask. In 1939 the Allied forces outnumbered the Germans by four to one in every area – men, artillery pieces, tanks and planes. Hundreds of years of military wisdom dictated that an attacker always needed at least a three to one edge to successfully overcome a well dug in foe. So instead of being 3 to 1 to the good, Rommel and Guderian were 4 to 1 to the bad.
The odds stank.
Which of course makes it all the more amazing that they wiped the floor with the Brits and French in six weeks flat. It made Chelsea 2 – Bradford 4 look like an everyday run of the mill result.
The audacious genius of the plan that Ernst Rommel and Heinz Gudarian came up with was right up there with Hannibal’s trans Alpine trek with a bunch of elephants. No wonder we hastily came up with a massive propaganda smokescreen shich has pretty well stayed in place ever since. The Nazi army was a vast mechanised juggernaut which was utterly unstoppable. Utter nonsense. They had less of everything and most of their guys got from A to B either on horse drawn transport or in stolen cars. Len Deighton wrote a brilliant book on the campaign called ‘Blitzkreig’ which is absolutely worth a read if you as in to that kind of thing.
It took Hitler’s barking mad reckless evil genius to sign off on of what must have seen like the most crazily risky battleplan to have ever been drawn up. Of course the whole thing went completely to his warped head and he soon became convinced that the whole thing was his idea rather than Rommel’s and Guderian’s. He was so convinced of his own brilliance that he took control of things himself and duly proceeded to feed millions of his soldiers into the mincing machine of the Eastern Front.
So.
What has any of this got to do with anything?
Well I reckon over the last few days we have been presented with a piece of evil genius care of our Aussie pal, Rupert Murdoch. Obviously like any self respecting Liverpool fan, I am no fan of Mr Murdoch and I never will be. Boycotting the Sun in the wake of the filth it put on its front page in the days after Hillsborough presented no problem for me. I had never bought a copy before 15 April 1989 and I have never bought a copy since.
And I never will.
Murdoch is a nasty piece of work who has amassed a fortune of hundreds of millions by pandering to the darker side of our natures. He has found how to take our desire for voyeuristic gossip and turn it into cold hard cash. Just about all of his media operations are purpose built to monetise the nastier elements of human nature. They have become the fat maggots that gorge themselves on the infected flesh of our modern society.
Rupert loves to pull all the strings. He loves to play the part of the Kingmaker. He likes being Blofeld. He is the spider at the heart of a worldwide web. His nasty band of journalistic stormtroopers root in our bins and hack our phones and bribe our public officials. Anyone with any degree of fame is deemed to be fair game.
Of course we could have put a stop it it years ago. The city of Liverpool gave us the perfect template of how to give the Murdoch Empire a proper kicking. Don’t buy his poison. Leave his nasty rags on the shelves. Starve him of cash.
But we have never managed that of course. We have never come close. And the Sun continues to be the best selling paper in the land. And the whizz kids who advise our political leaders continue to be convinced that the three million who shell out for the Sun are that kind of swing voters who hold the key to power.
So for years we have been treated to the unedifying sight of the likes of Cameron and Blair making the pilgrimage to the Court of Rupert to lick his boots just the way he likes them to be licked.
Rupert must have thought it would all last forever. Just like Hitler must have thought his thing was certain to last for a thousand years when he got his picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower on that sunny morning in June 1940.
But it didn’t last forever.
Hitler had Stalingrad and Rupert had Milly Dowler.
All of a sudden his place on the mountaintop was less secure. All of a sudden all those puppets he had made to dance on his strings could smell the chance for some payback. The moral high ground was suddenly as crowded as the old Anfield Kop with strident voices calling him every name under the sun.
And my oh my, was it ever hard. Closing down his beloved News of the World must have made him feel the same way as Hitler felt when he watched the newsreels of General Von Paulus surrendering what was left of his equally beloved Sixth Army after a winter’s worth of butchery in Stalingrad.
Things went from bad to worse.
He was summoned to the House of Commons to answer questions where he was subjected to a shaving foam attack by a guy who called himself Johnnie Marbles. The world tuned in and had a good laugh at the sight of the supposedly mighty media mogul being defended by his young Asian wife.
But Rupert isn’t the sort of guy to allow bygones to be bygones. No way. He must have waited for years for the chance to enjoy some payback for the humiliation he endured.
Who would present the perfect target for this particular desire to eat a nice dish of cold revenge?  Who would be just perfect?
Why those pesky feminists behind the #NoMorePage3 campaign of course! They were just super perfect.
But how, Rupert? How?
How can you engineer a situation where a squeaky clean Queen of your hated liberal elite like Caroline Lucus could be put into the same acutely uncomfortable spotlight as the one you endured in the House of Commons? No doubt you issued a standing order to your minions to leave no stone unturned in the search for something sufficiently damning for the front page.
Caroline Lucas addicted to Crack!
Caroline Lucss likes to strangle kittens!
Caroline Lucas in three in a bed romp with Polish builder and Somali asylum seeker!!
But the irksome Caroline must have come up as clean as a whistle. Her dustbins must have contained no more that empty jars of Fairtrade coffee.
Did you give up Rupert?
Of course you didn’t. Instead you waited with the homicidal patience of a cat waiting on a mouse to emerge from its hole.
And of course, good things come to those who wait. How long did it take for you to smell out the perfect opportunity when two crazed jihadis stormed into the offices of a fairly obscure Parisian magazine and executed 12 journalists? Now this event would surely have been quite enough for most newshounds. It was the story that for a while had everything as the French security forces hunted down the bad guys and duly put their lights out.
But you had bigger fish to fry.
You must have pondered deep into the night. And outside your high window, the lights of Manhattan must have twinkled in the frosty January air.
How Rupert? How?
How can you take the barking lunacy of two French jihadis and use it to coat The Right Honourable Caroline Lucas MP in batter and duly deep fry her.
Oh how you must have punched the air with a wizened, liver spotted hand when the answer came to you. It was all so perfectly logical.
How will the liberal elite react to the French executions? They will dust down their Voltaire and trot out that much treasured quote.
‘I may disagree with what you say but I would give my life to defend your right to say it.’
Would Caroline use the quote? Of course she would. All of them would. All those irksome liberal types who took such delight in your humiliation in the House of Commons.
So should a lefty French mag be allowed to offend Muslims by publishing cartoons of the Prophet?
OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!! WE LIVE IN A LAND OF FREE SPEECH!!!!
The reaction was completely predictable, wasn’t it Rupert?
And you saw that predictable reaction as a way to lure your enemies into a trap.
All it took was 2 phone calls.
Call number one – the editor of the Sun. ‘It’s Rupert here. Do me a favour mate. Don’t put any tits on page 3 tomorrow. OK? Bonza.’
Call number two. The editor of the London Times. ‘It’s Rupert here. Do me a favour mate. Put something out on the website saying the Sun will have no tits on page 3 tomorrow. OK? Bonza’.
Job done. Time to sit back and wait.
And what happened was oh so predictable. The lack of tits on page 3 caused a nice big media storm for of course the media loves nothing better than to cover stories about itself.
Was Caroline asked to do a tour of the studios to tell everyone how chuffed she was that #NoMore Page 3 had prevailed in its long campaign to remove tits from page 3? Of course she was. Dead chuffed. Just like all those hated enemies of yours from the smug moral high ground were chuffed.
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. As perfect as a glass of ice cold Fosters on a summer’s afternoon in Queensland. As perfect as seeing an English batsman getting his head knocked off by a Denis Lillee bouncer.
Time for call number three. The editor of the Sun. ‘It’s Rupert here. Do me a favour mate. Put the tits back on page 3 tomorrow. OK? Bonza.'[
So now how would the sainted Caroline react? Oh she would be fuming. Frothing at the mouth. Fit to burst with righteous liberal outrage. And would she accept all of the invitations to tour the studios to tell everyone how very outraged she really was? Of course she would. Just like you knew she would, didn’t you Rupert?
And so there she was on the sofa of the This Week studio facing Messrs Portillo, Johnson and Neil.
How do you feel about the tits reappearing on page 3, Caroline?
Outraged.
And what do you think should happen?
They should be taken away.
Why should they be taken away?
Because they are offensive to women.
But what about Charlie Hebdo, Caroline? I thought you said that you would defend their right to offend in the name of free speech?
Yes but…..
But??????
I mean, this is different….
Why Caroline? Why is there an absolute right for a paper to offend Muslims in the name of free speech and yet no similar absolute right for a newspaper to offend women in the name of free speech?
But, I mean………….
And there she was. A rabbit in the headlights. Snared in an Aussie trap that had been so very carefully laid.
She walked right into it and once the steel snapped onto her ankles, there was no escape.
How you must have chuckled as you watched your enemies walk into the trap one by one. How you must have grinned at their expressions once they realised they were caught up in a nightmare. How perfectly scrummy that dish of cold revenge must have tasted!
I actually have a lot of time for Caroline Lucas. I think she is one of our better politicians. And as someone who lived through Hillsborough, I will never have anything but contempt for Murdoch and his nasty rags.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn't a part of me that grudgingly respects the way you quietly laid your traps and lured in your enemies.
You cunning old Aussie bastard!   

Monday, January 19, 2015

THE ECONOMICS OF ABJECT LUNACY



Once again Oxfam has used its seat at the Davos economic summit in the Swiss Alps to shine a light on the sickeningly unequal world we all share. No doubt those delegates representing the oligarchs of banking and Big Oil must be itching to write out a few six figure assassination contracts on the pesky delegates who are giving voice to the eight billion of us who make up the 99%.

Here are a few of the more jaw dropping stats they threw down onto the table.

-          By 2016, the richest 1% of the world’s population will own more that the bottom 99%.

-          Since the recession arrived in 2008, the richest 100 families in Britain have managed to get themselves £15 billion richer. Big number, right? Let’s break it down some. We are talking £150 million each. Look at another way, each one of these gilded families has managed to get £68,000 richer every single day since the recession hit. Look at it another way, they have added £3000 to their fortunes every hour. £50 every minute.

-          Those very same 100 families are now richer than the poorest 20 million Brits put together.

Whichever way you look at these kind of numbers, they completely beggar belief. So what would you do if you were lucky enough to be a member of this particular 100 club? Well, first up I expect you would spend quite a lot of time worrying that the other sixty something million will one day get really pissed off with this state of affairs. So what then? What if the worm turns? Then of course you’re going to have to get out of Dodge quick before you get strung up from the nearest lamppost. You know, kind of like the same gig that members of the top 100 club like Tsar Nicholas the Second and King Charles the First and King Louis the Fifteenth once faced. Oh, but all of that lopping off heads stuff went out of vogue years ago, surely? Well maybe not. Nicholai Ceaucescu was in his own 100 club. As was Colonel Gaddafi. And I certainly would put a hefty bet on Bashar Assad’s head staying attached to he shoulders for the whole of 2015.

So to protect themselves, those who make up the 1% have been playing it canny. Their best move has been to invest a few of their bottomless millions in buying up the majority of the media. This has enabled them to deflect the attention of the 99% away from themselves and onto some pretty convenient scapegoats, namely Islamic terrorists, the poor and the immigrants. Everything is their fault, right?

Whilst driving up a snowy Nith Valley to Kelloholm this morning, my mind wandered onto wondering how this process of wealth transfer actually plays out at ground level. Why is it so very different now to the way things were thirty years ago?

So. Let’s check out a typical, common or garden daily transaction. A mundane transaction. A British citizen receives a prescription. A free prescription paid for by the tax payer.

The first thing is to try and create some kind of a level playing field. Thirty years ago, most Scottish prescriptions were not free. They have only been free for the last few years thanks to the SNP administration in the devolved Parliament.

So I will keep things close to home as someone who manages a charity which works in the world of addiction. A prescription for an unemployed drug user was free back in 1985 just like it is still free today.

So in 1985 a Dumfries heroin user reports to his GP and asks for some help with his habit. The GP duly responds to the request by writing out a script for methadone. And the whole process is made possible by the tax payer.

The heroin user has made his way from a flat paid for by the tax payer to a GP whose salary is paid for by the tax payer in a surgery paid for by the tax payer. The heroin user walks along pavements paid for by the tax payer, lit by street lamps paid for by the tax payer and he uses pelican crossings paid for by the tax payer.

When he arrives at the pharmacy, he enters a building whose sinks empty into drains paid for by the tax payer and which is lit up by electricity which has flowed through a National Grid which is paid for by the tax payer.

He duly hands over his prescription to a receptionist who has been well educated by the tax payer and the prescription is fulfilled by a head pharmacist who has been even better educated by the tax payer.

The heroin user swigs down the first of many thousand daily doses of methadone and the paperwork starts to move along the chain. An administrator who has been well educated by the tax payer raises and invoice for £7 and sends it to a government administrator who duly pays the bill.

The methadone game is a good gig for the pharmacist and by the end of the year a chartered accountant who has also been extremely well educated by the tax payer works out that a healthy profit has been made. Tax is due and tax is paid. But even when all of the tax is paid, there is still plenty left for the successful pharmacist to live well. He buys clothes and food and fuel from local businesses. He pays his subs to the golf club and the gym. He eats in local restaurants and he drinks in local bars. Locals do his garden, wash is car, clean his house and mind his kids.

This looks to me like an example of capitalism working reasonably well. The tax payer decides it is a good idea to invest £7 a day in helping the heroin user to stabilise his life and stop costing such a fortune when he is arrested for robbing shops and locked up in jail for months at a time. The pharmacist makes a bloody good profit out of the £7 a day he receives for dishing out the methadone, but that is OK. 40% of the profit finds its way back to the tax payer in the form of income and corporation tax. Of the other 60%, most of it again finds its way home to the tax payer in the form of VAT, petrol duty, road tax, booze duty or the taxes paid by the businesses the pharmacist has spent money with.

So. It isn’t exactly a Lenin style socialist paradise, but at least the money flows around some and stays in the system.

Time to look at the 2015 version of the transaction.
On the surface, things look kind of the same. The heroin user makes his way along tax payer funded pavements to see a tax payer funded GP to be issued with a tax payer funded methadone prescription to be issued by a local pharmacy.

But here is where things start to look rather different.

Why? Because the pharmacy is Boots.

Again on the surface things seem the same. The script is handled and invoiced by staff who have been well educated care of the tax payer. And the thing will be signed off by a senior pharmacist who has been even better educated by the tax payer.

But the reception and back room staff are working 20 hours a week at a rate of pay that means they will never pay any tax. The senior pharmacist will pay some, but not a huge amount.

Boots make a nice fat margin on the £7 a day they receive for doling out the methadone. They electronically export this profit to a post office box in a tiny cantonment in Switzerland where they have thrashed out a sweetheart deal which means they pay a mere 8% tax.

Of course every penny of that 8% stays in Switzerland to pay for Swiss pavements and Swiss pelican crossings and Swiss GPs.

Boots is now owned lock, stock and barrel by a small gang of private equity guys who will promptly take the 92% of the cash that is left after the Swiss have had their bite and then electronically whizz it around the world into their offshore treasure troves in the Cayman islands or the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. None of these lads will live in Scotland and so none of their 92% will ever find its way either into the pockets of local businesses or back to the tax payer from whence it came.

So basically a healthy chunk of the £7 which the tax payer stumped up will disappear forever from these fair shores and duly vanish into an off shore account where it will never see the light of day again.

In short, it becomes dead money. A bunch of noughts on a computer screen that will never be anything but a set of noughts. They are a bunch of noughts that will never be used to buy a pint or a pair of shoes or a packet of corn flakes. These noughts will duly join all the other trillions of dead noughts in computers in the offices of the off shore bankers of the 1%.

And here I guess is the great difference. Thirty years ago, every pound we spent would continue to flow around the system in one form or another. The wheels kept turning. Now everything has changed. Now the 1% have found new and different ways to siphon every £1 that we spend and drain more and more away into those secret treasure troves from where the light of day will never again be seen.

So we work longer and we get paid less. We eat worse food and we keep the heating low. We wear frayed clothes and switch from Heinz to Tesco Value. We give up going to the match and watch it on TV instead. We walk instead of driving.

And year by year, there will be an ever shrinking pot of cash to go around as the $23 trillion offshore dollars become $30 trillion off shore dollars.

And then $40 trillion.

And then $50 trillion.

Until eventually 40 hours a week of work will mean no more than a tin of Tesco Value beans every night.

And no doubt we will still blame the poor and the immigrants and the Islamic terrorists.

And the gilded 1% will have the pleasure of gazing yearningly at a few more electronic noughts on their screens.

And the 1% will have more money than they could possibly spend in a hundred lifetimes no matter how hard they try.

And so with a dismal inevitability almost all of the money in the world will become dead money. And 8 billion people will live out lives of endless grinding poverty and monotony whilst a thousand or so individuals will endure monotony of a different kind as they sail the oceans of the world in their vast yachts, forever terrified that one day the other 8 billion of us will finally lose patience and hang them from the nearest lamp post we can find.

Apparently all of this makes sense. I’m damned if I can see any sense at all. To me it seems rather like the economics of abject lunacy.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DID WE SEE BRAVE LEADERSHIP IN THE WAKE OF THE PARIS ATTACKS? LIKE HELL WE DID. WE GOT BLATANT PROPAGANDA INSTEAD.


So here they are. The heroic leaders of the Western World. This is what courageous, steadfast leadership looks like. This is what the free world got to watch on the evening news last week.

Let’s just run through the back story to the picture. Three deluded maniacs took to the streets and murdered a bunch of journalists for publishing cartoons of the Prophet and a bunch of Jews for being Jews. The world’s media went into 24/7 overdrive as the trio of  high rise Jihadists led 88,000 cops and soldiers a merry dance for a day and a half.

Soon the value of human life was being filtered by the media. Just under twenty innocent civilians lost their lives on the streets of Paris and they became the biggest news story of 2015. No doubt twenty similarly innocent civilians were murdered with equal brutality by similarly maniacal killers on the streets of Pakistan or Syria or Iraq  or Nigeria on the very same day. But these entirely innocent civilians don’t count as far as the rolling news channels are concerned. The viewing public are bored to tears with the sight of the corpses of Iraqi housewives littering the dusty concrete in bombed out market places. They are no longer newsworthy.

But dead French civilians are a different thing altogether. Well of course they are. They are close to home. And reporting the thing is just so much better. You can get yourself onto the very front line of the story by jumping onto the Eurostar complete with good coffee and excellent WiFi all the way to the Gare de Nord. And once you reach the new terror Ground Zero, the camera can frame your concerned expression with the Eiffel Tower in the background. So come on. Eiffel Tower or some godforsaken, dusty market place in the back end of Northern Nigeria? It’s a no brainer.

When nutters bring their psychotic war to the streets of a European capital, the media laps it up like nothing else. And once the the front pages and airwaves are filled to bursting point with shuddering outrage and horror, there is suddenly an absolute obligation for political leaders to step up to the plate and show…

Well…

....... Leadership.

And so they did. Once it became clear that over a million Parisians were hell bent on taking to the streets to let the Jihadists know in no uncertain terms that they were not about to be cowed, the democratically elected leaders of the West stepped forward with properly determined expressions.

We will lead you! We will march in the very front rank of your million! To hell with the risk! This is a time for your leaders to stand shoulder to shoulder with you all.

And so when we switched on the BBC news on Sunday evening, we were treated to glorious images of Cameron and Merkel and Holland and all the rest leading a million stubbornly determined Parisians on a march through their defiant city.

Except they didn’t.

And here is a picture of what they actually did.


As you can see they were taken to a sealed off street and lined up in front of a crowd of a a couple of hundred pretend civilians. The images were duly photographed and filmed and then grafted onto the pictures of the real crowd which was marching through different streets.

Did the BBC tell us about the fact that the whole thing was one big fat photoshopped lie? Did they hell. Did any of the mainstream media pull the curtain aside to reveal the fact that we were all being fed a pile of bullshit? Nope. Not one.

How ironic when you think about it. The reason a million Parisians were so hell bent on taking to the streets was to send out a clear message. We want free speech. We like free speech. We want to live in a place where our media can tell the truth or take the piss without the fear of being locked up by the secret police or of being mown down in a hail of bullets care of a madman with an AK 47.

We want to live in countries where the truth is allowed to be told no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be. So what do our so called leaders do? They concoct a big fat lie and somehow persuade the whole of the mainstream media to play ball.

The message they wanted to give us was simple. We believe Free Speech is vitally important. In fact it is so important that we are willing to put ourselves at risk and march in the front rank of the crowd to rubber stamp the message. We are your leaders. We will always represent you. We will ignore our personal safety in order to defend the right for the truth to be told!

Fine sentiments indeed. But they didn’t do that. Instead they hid in a sealed of street and made themselves a part of the kind of brazen propaganda exercise that Josef Goebbels once upon a time turned into an art form. And our so called Free Press signed on the dotted line to peddle the lie all the way into our Sunday night living rooms.

It is tempting to sigh and shrug and be resigned to the fact that our leaders have always been like this. But that would be wrong. Because they haven’t always been like this.

I am no kind of fan of the Royal Family, but it is worth remembering what they did when the bombs of the Luftwaffe were raining down on London in the summer of 1940. The security guys begged them to leave town and hole up in the country somewhere. Buck Palace was right up at the very top of Goering’s target list. Did they listen? No they didn’t. They made a point of staying home. They made a point of touring the wrecked streets of East London where there were unexploded incendiary bombs on every corner.

They showed leadership.

Four years later, Churchill caused a Constitutional Crisis when he was adamant that he would be the first Brit out of a landing craft when the D Day forces landed on the Normandy beaches. His stance was simple. I’m the Prime Minister. I an the man in charge. I give the orders round here and you lot can go and get stuffed.

Everyone knew that once Winston made up his mind there was no way of changing it. Everyone tried to persuade him out of it. Roosevelt tried. Ike tried. None of them budged him so much as an inch. In the end a smart constitutional lawyer found a few lines of small print which saved the day. It turned out that it was still legal for the monarch to give the Prime Minister a direct order in certain circumstances. Jumping out of a landing craft at sixty something years old was deemed to be one of those certain circumstances and so King George was able to summon Winston to the Palace and tell him he would have to stay home and watch things unfold from the War Room in Number 10.

A few years later the terrorists of the OAS were hell bent of assassinating President De Gaulle. They tried 31 times. The French security guys begged and implored their boss to avoid public appearances and stay safe. He told them to get stuffed. On one occasion when the sound of a sniper’s bullets snapped the air during a rally, every single person in the square hit the deck and prayed to their maker.

All but one.

One never moved a muscle and stood to attention like a statue.

De Gaulle.

Think Martin Luther King leading the march from Selma to Montgomery. Think Ghandi leading his salt march to the sea. Think Lech Walesa sitting in the front row of the Gdansk strikers. Think Mandela speaking from the dock before being sent to Robben Island. Think Jack Kennedy insisting on an open top car.

These were all genuine leaders who were willing to put their lives on the line for what they believed in. They didn’t pretend. They didn’t photoshop. They did what they said they would do.

If our leaders of today were too afraid to walk at the head of the march they should have said so.

And the media should have told them to go jump in the lake when they were asked to join in with the big lie.

Propaganda is at its most poisonous when the politicians and the media collude to sell a big lie.

If the media are really genuinely keen to carry a story about someone showing genuine courage and leadership in the face of Jihadist butchery, they should maybe try this on for size. How’s about giving up the front pages to the story of the Olympic medallist from Bolton who dropped everything to fly out to the Taliban haunted badlands of Pakistan in the wake of the recent school massacre. You would think he would ticked every required box. A celeb. A sporting icon. A bit of a lad. Oh, and a genuine down the line brave man from Lancashire.

A genuinely brave man who marched into the lion’s den and didn’t ask for any photoshopping.

This is what real leadership looks like.
  

   

Monday, January 12, 2015

THE SAVAGERY IN PARIS TOLD AN ALL TOO FAMILIAR STORY - THE GOVERNMENT BLEW IT AND THE PEOPLE SAVED THE DAY.



The recent horrors which played out on the streets of Paris once again demonstrated how our governments seem to do all they can to lose the so called War on Terror only for the people to step up to the plate to save the day.

And once again, the way things played out made it hard to wonder what the real agenda of our leaders really is.

Terrorist organisations come and go, but their strategy never varies a great deal. Any terror campaign is designed to achieve two goals. Firstly and blindingly obviously, the terrorists aim to catch the attention of the world by doing something sufficiently dramatic and brutal as to make it impossible to ignore. Back in the day, the IRA called such events ‘Spectaculars’. Big ticket terror. Terror tailor made for column inches of outrage on every front page in the land.

Is the intention of such acts to create terror? Doubtful. As yet, no group has ever succeeded in scaring people into staying home and cowering underneath their kitchen tables. Whether it is Belfast, Beirut or Baghdad, no amount of bombs have ever been enough to stop people heading out to do their grocery shopping. People don’t scare easily. In fact, the dogged courage people seem to find in the darkest of times never fails to astonish. Look at the way we collectively stuck two fingers up at Hitler during the Blitz. Look at the way the Germans collectively stuck two fingers up at us when we in turn fire bombed Hamburg and Dresden. The suicide bombers in Pakistan and Nigeria would never manage to kill a single shopper if every market place was empty. The fact is that the market places are never empty. People always find a way to make life go on.

The commanders of terror groups know this well enough. Of course they do.

So what is their real intention? Simple.

They want to provoke a reaction. Or more to the point – they want to provoke an over reaction. If things go according to plan, things will play out predictably. The terrorists do something terrible. The leaders of the under attack regime take to the air waves to condemn the terrorists as monsters and cowards and butchers and criminals. And then the men in charge give their security services the green light to get out and about to out-terrorise the terrorists.

At this point, there are a few key things the planners are desperate to see happen. Number one, they hope and pray that the government will tear up the rule book and instigate some sort of mass round up of potential suspects.

Internment without trial.

This is pure undiluted manna from heaven for the bad guys. Thousands of entirely blameless people are tossed into the back of tracks and vans in the wee small hours of the morning. No lawyers and no visitors. A few days of beastliness in cold damp cells where the interrogators discover that 98% of the people who have been arrested know nothing about anything. Then the interned are shipped off to some sort of hastily thrown together camp where they spend a few months getting ever more pissed off. They might not have been remotely ready to join the fight before they were dragged from their beds at four in the morning, but a few months in an internment camp soon changes all of that.

Internment camps are the dream outcome for all terror groups. In the seventies we did the IRA a huge favour by rounding up north of 20,000 men and women and sticking them in the camp at Long Kesh. Many of those who later went on to become the IRA’s most formidable fighters had no intention of ever joining the struggle before being locked up in Long Kesh. But the sheer injustice of the situation soon changed all of that and once they were behind the wire they soon signed on the dotted line. Internment camps provide perfect networking centres for any terror group. People from all over the land are brought into one place and given 24 hours a day in each others company. Contacts are forged and plans are made. Structures and put in place.

I read an interview recently with a senior ISIS commander who could not have been clearer about things. Without a huge leg up from the American army, there would have been no ISIS. Once the US military had 'shocked and awed' its way all the way to downtown Baghdad, they started rounding people up for no particular reason and sending them off to internment camps. The daddy of them all was Camp Bucca which was the size of a small city. 25,000 mainly innocent guys were stuck in dormitories behind the razor wire and basically left to their own devices. Every single ISIS commander got to know one another in Camp Bucca and plans made way back in 2004 have finally come to fruition in 2014.

The ISIS commander couldn’t have been clearer: without Camp Bucca there would have been no Islamic State.

Internment is all well and good for giving future terrorists the opportunity to spend quality time together and to make their plans. However internment on its own is never enough to ensure the terrorists success down the road.

That success comes from the over reaction. The terrorists know full well that the public will hardly love them for slaughtering forty or fifty entirely innocent civilians as they go about their day to day business.

Obviously.

These people are many, many things but they don’t tend to be stupid. What they absolutely rely on is that the government or establishment they are fighting will react with an uncontrolled brutality that is so primordial that the campaign opening market place bombs are soon forgotten.

Here is where the French really should know better, for they more than most have bitter first hand experience of how to lose a War on Terror.

In 1958, the FLN was the group who were fighting the French tooth and nail for the future of Algeria. The FLN wanted Algeria to become an independent country. The French want Algeria to stay a colony.

For a few years the war had been fought out in the countryside where both sides tried to outdo each other in terms of utter beastliness. It was stalemate and the FLN realised it was time to escalate things. They placed a three bombs in shops and caf├ęs filled with French civilians. There were lots of casualties and the world gagged at the horror of it all. Most Algerians gagged at the horror of it all. But then the Government in Paris jumped off the moral high ground like a toddler leaping into a paddling pool on a summer’s day. They sent their notorious Colonial Paratroopers into the Souk and told them to take the gloves off. Well did they ever. The Paras resorted to the kind of torture sessions that the Gestapo would have winced at. Predictably enough the people of Algeria was appalled at the lengths the Para’s went to and the FLN could barely keep up with all the new volunteers.

The result? Utterly predicable. The terrorists won hands down and Algeria duly became independent in 1962.

It has emerged that this was the playbook that Bin Laden followed when he persuaded the leadership of Al Queda to sign off on 9/11. They all realised that the Muslim world would be horrified and disgusted by the sight of two planes killing thousands of people for the crime of getting out of bed and going into work. They knew this just like the FLN knew their three bombs would provoke disgust and outrage. Bin Laden promised his bosses that the utter monstrosity of his attack would provoke the mother of all over reactions. He predicted there would be mobs out on the streets of every western city smashing the faces of any Muslim they could find. He promised there would be pogroms from Baltimore to Bradford. And then the whole of the Muslim world would close ranks. Millions would take up arms to take the fight to the infidel.

Well he certainly got it right in terms of Bush and Blair. They avenged 9/11 with two brutal wars and hundreds of thousands of dead civilians which guaranteed that the next generation of angry young men are primed and ready to sign on the dotted line for ISIS and Al Queda and Boko Haram and Al Shabab.

But it wasn’t enough because the people of the West proved to be so much better than their leaders. There were no pogroms. Communities stuck together. People still called into Mr Patel’s shop on the corner for their milk and cigarettes.

Bin Laden’s big gamble crashed and burned and he was duly cast from the Al Queda fold to life of watching daytime TV and waiting for the bullet.

And so to Paris last week.

What did the planners have in mind? I guess they must have realised that the execution of the journalists and the police woman wouldn’t have done much to help their cause. But that was supposed to have been merely phase one.

The key would be the reaction.

The over reaction.

Would the French fall for it again?

Would they make the age old mistake of turning murdering criminals into heroic martyrs?

Of course they would. They fell for it hook, line and sinker. The Ministers duly took to the screens to call the perpetrators monsters and cowards and turned the whole thing into David against Goliath. Within hours it was 88,000 cops and soldiers armed to the teeth against three guys. The screens were filled with pictures of helicopters and armoured cars and automatic weapons.

All of it for three guys.

And slowly but surely the worm begun to turn. Despite the massive numbers of boots on the ground, it still took them 36 hours to bottle the terrorists up and lock them down.

At this point the planners must have crossed their fingers and prayed for the French to deliver the biggest prize of all. Please, please, please give us martyrs. Because there is nothing better than a martyr for any terror group. The whole thing was set up perfectly. 88,000 against three and the three refuse to surrender. In fact, the three do better than that. The three get the message out that they were ready to lay down their lives for the honour of their Prophet.

At this point the orders from the top should have been absolute. Go to any lengths to take them alive. For God’s sake, don’t give them what they want.

They might have taken a look at the fate of the two nutters who killed Lee Rigby on the streets of London last year. Had we gunned them down, they might have become instant heroes. Instead they now look completely pathetic as they try to wriggle their way out of things by trying to look for loopholes in the law.

Maybe one of the French commanders might have checked out the picture at the top of the page. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid racing out into a sunny courtyard to shot to pieces by a hundred soldiers of the Mexican Army. Had they been arrested, tried and locked up, would Paul Newman and Robert Redford have taken time out to immortalise them a hundred years later? No chance.

How ironic that on the very day the Paris three were killed we saw the pitiful end of the Abu Hamsa story. This favourite bogeyman of the War on Terror was reduced to looking like a pathetic, snivelling old man as he begged a New York court for leniency. The picture of his tearful pleading would not have persuaded a single angry young man of the Arab street to sign on the dotted line to carry a Kalashnikov all the way to Paradise. Had we sent the SAS to execute him ten years ago, it would have been a completely different story.

Did the French take note? Did they hell. They gave the terrorists exactly what they wanted. They laid on a Butch and Sundance moment for two of them and they executed the third whilst he was unarmed and praying.

They created martyrs. They guaranteed murals of the three of them will soon adorn the gable ends of the Arab street.

So Phase One of the operation ran exactly to plan.

But the key was always going to be Phase Two. Phase Two required bloodshed on the streets as the enraged French public took it out on any Muslim they could find. Surely it would happen this time. It simply had to. Check it out. Marine Le Pen’s National Front were polling at 30% and growing in popularity with every passing day. No way would the French turn the other cheek. Surely!

But once again, where the government failed the people succeeded. Four million of them. They took to the streets to give the terrorists and the government alike a very clear message.

We are better than this.

We refuse to be scared into behaving like monsters.

Because in the end we like Mr Patel. And we like his son Javed who plays right back. And his daughter Fatima who helps out on weekends.

We have no interest in hatred.

We don’t want Terror and we don’t want a War on Terror. It gives me great pleasure to imagine the men who ordered the Paris attacks sitting in some room with the curtains drawn looking miserable as sin at the sight of four million people going out of their way to be nice to each other.

Just imagine how much more miserable they would have been if the authorities had found away to arrest and detain the shooters. They would have known full well that their fighters would have looked a whole lot less impressive in a few months time when they would appear dressed in their Sunday best for the judge.

They had their chance and they duly blew it. The legend of the three guys who faced down 88,000 cops and soldiers without flinching will grow and grow. And maybe in a hundred years the Arab equivalents of Paul Newman and Robert Redford will act out their final charge at the guns for a different kind of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie.

Over a half century of terror all around the world it has been proved time and again that the best way to win is to stick to following the rule of law. Arrest, try and prosecute. Instead all too many Governments can't resist the temptation to tear up the rule book and behave worse than the bad guys.

No wonder the same desperate story keeps playing out over and over again.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A DECEMBER DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SCOTTISH FOOD BANK.




Mondays mean early. Mondays mean fifty loaves of bread are available from the Greggs store on the High Street where all vehicle access ends at 8 am.
Or else.
Technically the sun is up, but there is little evidence of that being the case. Downtown Dumfries is a country mile from making onto any kind of Christmas card as a half hearted wind wanders through the empty streets like an aimless beggar. It is a world of dismal orange as street lamps spill their light down onto wet pavements.
Not many people about. A street sweeper and the East European driver who parks up his artic wagon outside the Ryman shop at the same time every week with the cast iron punctuality of a German train.
Fifty loaves of bread for the hungry. 20 kilos worth of free and gratis carbs care of the nation’s favourite purveyor of fine pies and pasties. Our fifty loves will feed exactly fifty people for we have yet to learn the happy knack of taking a mere seven loaves and making them into enough to feed five thousand.
The next stop is usually Morrisons where we have a collection box. A rare chance to park up more or less next to the front door and walk into the store as it is rubbing its eyes and waking up. Donated tins and packets are scanned through on 'training mode' to give a total but no bill to pay. For the next year we also get the chance to empty the dog collection bin as the local sanctuary for the town’s lost and stray four legged friends is being sponsored by Pedigree Foods. And here’s the thing. There is always at least twice as much food in the dog bin as there is in the human bin. Ah yes. The Brits and our dogs. The Daily Mail likes dogs of course. And the Daily Mail feels sorry for any dogs who have fallen on hard times. Well of course it does. It’s not their fault after all. They deserve sympathy and support. Human beings on the other hand…….
Shirkers and scroungers. Obesity and daytime widescreen TV. Support and sympathy? Come on. Be serious.
But this week Morrisons will have to wait until Tuesday morning because there are too many other things to do.
I open up the front door and there are three hand delivered letters waiting on the mat. A card smothered in silver glitter. A country church almost swallowed up in snow. The paper is cheap and thin but the handwriting is scrupulously careful. The words are well worth quoting in full.
‘To all at First Base (Hand drawn smiley face)
Thank you for helping me and my family with food parcels this year! I know I couldn’t have done it by myself. Thank you again. Great work!’
So what do you make of that Mr Daily Mail. Nice careful handwriting and not a word misspelt. Not bad for a shirking, scrounging wastrel.
The second Christmas card is a snow covered pine tree.
‘Thanks for all you do. A little contribution to the food bank. Best wishes.’
The signature is illegible which is frustrating because it makes saying thank you an impossibility. And thanks are certainly in order as the little contribution is five crisp twenties fresh out of a cash machine.
The third card opens onto a cheque for £200. I was expecting this one. It is from a couple of fellow travellers from the ‘Yes’ campaign who rang last week to say they had decided to trust us to spend their Winter Fuel Allowance on people who needed it more than they did.
The phone rings for the first time in the week before Christmas week a minute or so after nine. It’s a guy who has got lucky at the bookies over the weekend and won himself fifty quid. Well it’s always nice to share the luck around, so has cashed in his winnings and headed into Tesco to roll his winnings into fifty quid’s worth of food for the hungry. Can he deliver it? Sure he can deliver it. I give him directions to the back door.
Next call. A voice on the other end of the line gears up to tell a complicated tale. It’s the captain of an Irish Sea trawler working out of Kirkudbright. He’s had a decent week and the scallop haul has been good. As his boat chugged back into the home port he has decided it would be good to share his catch around some.
So first we get the bread and now we get the fishes. Bloody hell. Next up will be three wise guys knocking the door with a satellite-bright star bathing the street in film set light. I cock my ear for the sound of a braying donkey but I hear nothing more than the sound of engines idling at the lights outside the window.
Anyway. My man from the sea tells me that he has put a 35kg bag of King Scallops up onto Facebook and invited bids on the basis that any proceeds will find there way to somewhere the hungry go for food. He says he’s had a few responses suggesting that the proceeds should find there way to First Base. But nobody has stepped forward to buy the scallops. So here’s the thing. There’s a 35 kg bag of King Scallops sitting on the deck of a trawler right now. If I can find a buyer then the money is all ours. But the clock is ticking. The boat is due to head back out to sea in the late afternoon.
OK. 35g of scallops. Seven hours. Life is seldom dull.
I leave a message with an old neighbour who once upon ran a fishmongers in the town before it closed down a few years ago along with all the other small businesses. Well. In the real world that is. All these shops are still to be found on Christmas cards where every high street shop is still a family run affair.
He gets back to me ten minutes later with a recommendation to call the owner of a restaurant who prides himself on his shell fish.
I call. He’s out. I tell my phone to remind me to call a little later. But not too much later for the boat will sail as the early dusk swallows up the brooding hills of Galloway into a dark December night.
Another call. Guys at the front door. They are from the SNP and they had been out and about on the High Street collecting food. An idea from the time of Dickens advertised through a slick Facebook campaign. One of them shows me a photo of the haul on his mobile. Bloody hell. My old Volvo is a venerable workhorse, but this lot ain’t going to be shifted in a single trip. A plan of attack is put together. Logistics are worked through. There is a lad from Shelter coming with a Land Rover Discovery. The odds are that the two vehicle convoy will be just about enough to haul the load.
Noon arrives and cars from the small village churches start to arrive at the back door to off load carrier bags.
Mince pies and selection boxes and chocolate Santas. Hundreds of kilogrammes worth of carefully considered goodwill.
A call from a lady with a softer than soft Irish voice. Could she deliver? Sure she could. More directions to the back door. By now men from the Council are out and about filling in the potholes of the Great Recession and getting in and out of Brewery Street is far from easy. The lady with the soft voice arrives and she says there isn’t much because it is only from her. But only from her means ten bags worth. Eight tins of family biscuits and four boxes of mince pies. Her eyes light up when we get into the basement. People are really good aren’t they she says. Yes I agree. People are indeed really good. And will you have enough? Oh yes. We’ll have enough. By hook or by crook we always manage to have enough. Only this year we’ve had more help than we’ve ever had before.
The SNP haul is gargantuan. The battered Volvo and the better cared for Discovery are weighed down to the wheel rims. A reporter from the paper lands and wants a picture. The tarmac boys find the whole thing hugely amusing as we make a stack of bags in the newly smooth road out back. I volunteer Iain and Lesley for the photo proving yet again that rank has its privileges. It’s the part I always forget to mention to our volunteers when they sign on the dotted line. Come on board and you get frog marched into the photos for the papers. I share a fag with one of the SNP guys whilst everyone beams for the camera. One of our back doors bears the spray canned daub of a charming gang of Buckfast swilling wannabe’s from twenty miles down the road. They made their mark a couple of years ago whilst on a day trip to town.
‘AMP’
As in the Annan Mental Posse.
You’ve got to love it, right? 
I wonder if their mark will be visible beyond the piled up food and the smiling faces. Part of me hopes it will be.
John turns up with contributions from the upper reaches of the Nith Valley. For years as an implacable Unite shop steward, John made the life of the management of Brown Brothers an ongoing misery. But once he retired, John buried his hatchet and they buried theirs. He swung us an appointment with the directors of the Kelloholm meat factory and after an hour they agreed to give us 85 packets of sliced meat every week. John ferries the meat south and then ferries food boxes to Thornhill, Sanquhar and Kelloholm in the opposite direction. Thankfully I am on the phone and he is in a rush. He enjoys nothing better than tormenting me about any trials and tribulations Liverpool Football Club might be going through. A three nil drubbing at the hands of the hated Mancs counts as a pretty major tribulation and I am delighted to have seen neither hide nor hair of the retired union warhorse.
At two o clock we get the doors closed and set about the task of unpacking and stacking the SNP bags. Tin by tin and box by box and packet by packet until the basement has the look of an underground bunker set fair to keep the men and women of the Government fed and watered for many a month in a post nuclear world.
Scallop time.
I climb into the cockpit of the Volvo and consider my audio options for the 25 mile run along the coast to Kirkudbright. There is a slow dusk and a thin rain. The world is a mixture of black and grey. The stage is set and ready for the words of Boris Pasternak. The audio version of Doctor Zhivago. You really have to be a Russian to tell the stories of life and the universe in that particular way they tell it. I drive empty roads as the Tsarist armies are routed on the Eastern Front and the approaching sound of a revolution begins to fill the air.
I reach the harbour for the last light of day. The sun has managed to find an unlikely gap in the clouds and the scene has the unworldly glow of a Spielberg movie. Boats are being readied for the sea and my man comes over to shake my hand. On board, two hyper polite Sri Lankans heave the bag of scallops onto the quayside and then into my boot. The guys on the decks have a United Nations look about them. I comment on this and hear what I already know only too well. Twenty years ago and the crews would have all been local guys. But the heroin industry made a beeline for the fishing boats in the nineties and sunk its hooks in deep. Many trawlermen became life members of what is now called the ‘Trainspotting Generation’
So now many Scottish trawlers are crewed by lads from Asia and Africa. They don’t half know how to fish but the cold never finds a way out of their bones.
We share a couple of fags and I really like the guy. Night falls and one by one the boats head out to sea with winking deck lights.
Time to go.
The rain comes back for the journey home as Yuri Zhivago starts to deal with the wrecked bodies of lads from the countryside sent off to a Twentieth Century war.
The guy at the restaurant wants to see some I.D. I give him an Annual Report and a leaflet about the food parcels. I just love the idea of a scam artist concocting a tale of being a foodbank manager in order to hawk a sack of King Scallops for £80. The transaction goes through. 
First Base is well and truly in the shellfish game.
Tomorrow I will buy £80 worth of tuna and turn shellfish into tinned fish.
One last call. It’s the local paper. Can I comment on the fantastic generosity of the community?
You bet.
Because the real world isn’t like the dismal abyss of hatred and selfishness which gets pushed into our faces by the likes of UKIP and the Daily Mail. The real world isn’t like the locked down social wilderness Maggie Thatcher seemed to yearn for when she promised us there was no longer such a thing as community.
Not so Maggie.
Not even close.
I know the lady’s not for turning, but your ghost is more than welcome to check out all the selection boxes and chocolate Santas in our basement and then you can turn in your grave if you like.
Because Community rules OK.
Maybe I should spray it on the back door alongside the mark of the good old boys of The Annan Mental Posse. .    

Friday, December 12, 2014

HERE'S WHY I THINK RICHARD IS THE RIGHT GUY TO CARRY THE 'YES' TORCH NEXT MAY


Before going so much as a sentence further, I really should point out that this blog is unlikely to be of any interest whatsoever to anyone other than ‘Yes’ supporters in Dumfries and Galloway. So there you go. Pre-warned is pre-armed and all that.

Yesterday my phone beeped at me to announce that a message had landed in the box from Richard Arkless. He is campaigning hard to become the SNP candidate for our region in next May’s General Election. The message said he was in the process of setting up his candidate website and he wondered if I might be willing to write a few words.

Well Richard, a few words are the very least I can do.

I can’t pretend to know Richard well, but for a few months in the crazy countdown to the Referendum vote we became fellow travelers in the cause of ‘Yes’. We had quite a lot in common as a pair of ‘Ordinary Joes’ learning as we went along how to deal with the hurly burly of politics.

It seems worth kicking off with one of the issues that stirred things up on last night’s Question Time. Are today’s politicians detached? Have far too many of them done nothing more than get straight A’s in school, the right degree in University and done the right amount of crawling as so called ‘special advisors’ and sycophantic tea makers?

Want a case study?

So here’s a case study.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the Right Honourable Jim Murphy. Jim left school at 18 and took up a place to study Politics and European Law at Strathclyde University. He then studied Politics and European Law at Strathclyde University for THE NEXT NINE YEARS!

And then?

Well, as a fiction writer I would never dare to make this up but it is entirely true -  Jim never actually managed to graduate. Nine years and no degree!

However Jim spent his nine years productively. He made a beeline for the National Union of Students where he duly ingratiated himself with the powers that be in Scottish Labour. Who needs a degree when a bit for frantic crawling can win you the chance of getting into the mother of all Parliaments despite neither having worked a day in your life?

Well Jim made it all the way to the big house and predictably he became one of Tony Blair’s most fawning acolytes. He actually made it all the way to Shadow Defence Secretary where he took every chance to hobnob with anyone with Afghan dust on their boots. My how tough he talked to the Taliban through the lens of the TV cameras, though he didn’t prove to be quite such a tough guy when his steadiness under fire was tested by an incoming egg.

Jim is hardly alone in riding the Parliamentary gravy train with a CV devoid of real life experience.

Check out Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. A nice Hampshire girl who was top of everything at school. She then got a first in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford and was duly welcomed onto the gravy train with open arms. She did her bit researching for John Smith and Harriet Harman and was duly rewarded with the ultra safe seat of Pontefract and Castleford.

As in Yorkshire.

As in an Oxbridge nice girl from leafy Hampshire who has never done a proper job in her life being foisted onto people who once upon a time mined coal for a living.

As a Northerner myself, I can only wonder at how pissed off the good folk of that particular bit of South Yorkshire must have been to have someone like Yvette Copper parachuted in to become their voice.

The pathetic and infuriating life stories of Murphy and Cooper highlight the fact that Richard absolutely ain’t one of those.

Like I said, he’s an Ordinary Joe who has lived and breathed in the hard school of the real world. During the Indy campaign, he was always the one who was given the hardest job – it was down to Richard to explain all the unintelligible Economics stuff. He shelled out a couple of hundred quid or so to join up with Business Scotland and was duly rewarded by being given the job of explaining what GDP was to the good folk of Dumfries and Galloway. Time and again when chatting to people after meetings, they told me how amazed they were at finally understanding what GDP was for the first time in their lives.

I never failed to be impressed by Richard’s grasp of all aspects of the economy and the clear way he was able to explain it. Not once did I hear him resort to the comfort zone of jargon. I know this will annoy him, but the way he explains complicated stuff has much in common with Nigel Farage. Sorry about that Rich, but the ability to talk like a human being is not a thing to be underestimated!

For the last few weeks of the campaign Richard was out and about every night knocking doors and doing meetings. Sometimes there were 200 people in the hall, sometimes a mere ten. He didn’t get paid and I shudder to think how much his business suffered.

Nobody was left in any doubt as to why he threw himself into the fray with such wholehearted commitment.

Richard is a believer – plain and simple. He wants his kids to grow up in a country governed from a Parliament in Edinburgh.

At times the campaign got pretty brutal. One night Richard and I found ourselves debating Russell Brown MP and Elaine Murray MSP in Moniave. At the 'Yes'  table there was a charity manager and a Stranraer businessman. At the 'No' table there were two professional politicians with well over thirty years of experience under their belts. I think it is fair to say that neither of the full time politicos were in any mood to pull any punches that night! When Richard said that in his opinion the Scots were the greatest people on earth, Elaine called him a racist. Things got pretty heated. No quarter was asked and absolutely none was given. Richard never took a backward step and when economics were under discussion he ran rings round the supposed experts. It was genuinely tough gig.

Who won? Well here’s a clue. As we all know, the ‘No’ campaign won by two to one in Dumfries and Galloway. ‘Yes’ only managed to buck the trend in the poorer places where people are being hammered into the ground by the Welfare Reforms.

So what of Moniave? Well surely Moniave must have been a sure-fire bastion of ‘No’. A postcard pretty rural village with 40% of the residents being incomers from south of the border. Well folks, Moniave voted ‘Yes’. It was a heroic splash of red in an unrelenting sea of countryside blue.

I reckon that night in Moniave offers all the evidence required that Richard is the right guy to carry the torch for us next May. It is one hell of an ask for anyone representing the SNP to actually win the seat, but I would give Richard a fighting chance.

If any of these words have in any way, shape or form persuaded you to give the lad your backing then please share them around among the other 2000 folk who will chose who we send out to carry on the fight next May.