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.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Am I enjoying watching the election play out? Of course I am. How could I not? What's there not to like. I guess every man and dog who did their bit for the ‘Yes’ campaign must feel exactly the same way. It now seems nailed on that just about every single person who voted ‘Yes’ on September 18th will be voting SNP on May 7th.
It’s a bit like hoping the weather forecast is true when you have a day off. On the night before, the weather man shows off a map of Britain where your neck of the woods has a big yellow sun sitting right on top of it. The weatherman's pearly white TV smile exudes total a confidence. I know you don’t always believe what I say, but I promise you that on this occasion I am totally, 100% confident. Trust me! Tomorrow the flags are going to get well and truly cracked.
But still…
And the next morning you look out of the window with trepidation, half expecting to see the trees bent double with a rain laden gale straight out of the heart of the Atlantic.
For the last fortnight the daily polls have painted extraordinary pictures as the SNP have soared all the way up to 53%
And surely I am not alone in just wishing the election could be tomorrow leaving no time for something to go wrong. Surely this time they will not once again be able to pull a new collection of lies from the Better Together hat to make everyone scared of things that go bump in the night.
But then I look at what a depleted, pathetic rabble those who lied their way to the ‘No’ vote have become and I feel better. 
The degree to which they just don’t get it beggars belief. They have chosen to believe their own publicity: their own propaganda. The likes of Jim Murphy and Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson genuinely see themselves as the great heroes of the campaign who saved the Union. They are desperate to take the chance to wrap themselves in the Union Jack and accept the tearful acclaim of a grateful nation.
There was a key moment in the Scottish leaders debate where all three of them gleefully turned on Nicola Sturgeon and almost danced around like playground bullies as they crowed about winning the Referendum.
We won, you lost, Na na na na na na.....
When Nicola semi stumbled in answering the question about if and when there might be another Referendum, they all bore the beaming expressions of cream gotten cats. And when a a portion of the studio audience booed Nicola, they bore the look of people mainlining of 100% pure heroin.
Their moment had arrived. Here was the adulation they so deserved for saving the Realm from a fate worse that death.
And at that very moment it was crystal clear in their jubilantly smug faces that they had no conception of what they were doing. Never have turkeys voted for Christmas with such smug delight.
They just don’t understand that the 45% of us who voted ‘Yes’ did so with absolute enthusiasm whilst most of the 55% who voted ‘No’ did so out of deluded fear. The young chose hope whilst the old panicked and chose to secure the most miserly pensions in Europe.
By taunting us so gleefully, they ensured that hell has to freeze over before any single one of us will ever vote for them ever again.
A couple of nights ago I channel hopped my way to the BBC News 24 Parliament channel which was playing a re-run of the Daily Politics. It was the night of the day when Scottish Labour had released their manifesto and Andrew Neil had summoned shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran to give her view of the campaign. I have never met Margaret Curran and to be honest I have no wish to. Maybe she is a thoroughly nice lady who doesn’t come across all that well on the TV. Somehow I doubt it. For ten minutes she did little more than screech at the camera. As a demonstration of prolonged spitting bile, it was a truly bravura performance. The sheer depth of her spite and nastiness was actually quiet awe inspiring.
Every time Andrew Neil mentioned anything about the SNP lead in the polls, she almost spat at the screen. Any director looking to cast one of the witches for an upcoming performance of Macbeth must have been scrambling to track down her number. She seemed convinced that if she claimed the SNP were worse than Hitler’s Nazis, then the electorate would suddenly see the error of our ways and flock back into the tent of her party. Her clear sense of entitlement was staggering. How dare the people of Scotland not vote for her party. How dare they! How dare we?
As a shadow minister, she is theoretically one of the top executives of Scottish Labour. Experienced. A safe pair of hands. Able to show a bit of class when the going gets tough. Imagine if something similar happened in the business world. Say Morrisons suddenly surged way ahead of Tesco. One company’s car parks are filled to over flowing whilst the other company’s car parks carry the eerie emptiness of a Detroit suburb. Morrisons sales 40% up. Tesco sales 40% down. How can such a thing have happened? Only a few years ago Tesco seemed set to rule the world for ever and ever. Who could ever have believed that an upstart company from Yorkshire could steal all their customers in a few short months?
Imagine after a particularly catastrophic set of collapsed sales figures that a Tesco board member is put forward to toe the company line on the news. And just imagine if that board member were to spend ten whole minutes screaming at the camera about how appalling and despicable Morrisons are.
How completely and utterly fired would they be! Their P45 would be winging its way within about 30 seconds of the news moving along to the next item.
The same rules apply for sport, religion, the workplace and general life. If you slag off your opponent like an uncontrolled harridan, then people will shake their heads and put as much distance between you and them as they can.
And yet Margaret Curran seemed to think it was OK. It just goes to show the degree to which these dreadful people inhabit cloud cuckoo land. Here’s how it works Margaret. Take a lesson from someone who once upon a time sold double glazing on the knocker.
If a pollster asks someone which way they intend to vote and they say ‘SNP’, it is because there is something about the SNP that they like. They have been attracted to their way of thinking. The odds are that they voted ‘Yes’. The odds are that they like the cut of Nicola’s jib. So is screaming at the camera about how they are the worst people in the world the best way to change minds and re-win support? Or will that kind of appalling, ill mannered behaviour make your target audience hate you all the more?
I know what I think.
That said, I do have one or two issues with the way Nicola dealt with being harangued about whether or not there will be another Referendum. In my book, she was far too much on the back foot and there was no need.
In fact, I think she is duty bound to give a much louder and prouder voice to the army of ‘Yes’. Had the country voted for Independence on September 18th, would the SNP have seen tens of thousands of new members flocking into their fold? I very much doubt it. The reason why over 100,000 Scots have hitched their wagons to the SNP train is to make sure the dream will not die.
So when the twisted monkeys of Better Together pop the question, why not give then the answer with both barrels?
Of course we want another Referendum.
Why the hell would anyone expect otherwise?
It took many years after Martin Luther King lead the march from Selma to Montgomery before black Americans were finally granted the Civil Rights they demanded. Over a decade passed between Ghandi making salt on a Gujarati beach and Lord Mountbatten handing over the keys to Indian Independence. William Wilberforce lost vote after vote after vote before slavery was finally abolished.
Check out Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. The clue is in the title.
‘The LONG Walk to Freedom.’
I don’t remember Ho Chi Minh telling his lads to pack up and go home after they got a hiding in the Tet Offensive.
Rule number one for any campaign trying to overthrow the might of the Esrtablishment.
You don’t give up.
When you get knocked down, you get straight back up and you keep on getting up until you finally wear the other guy out.
There’s nothing wrong in that.
Especially when people voted ‘Yes’ all the way to the age of 55.
Especially now all of the lies and propaganda have been exposed and unpacked.
So get them told Nicola. Loud and clear.
No. We’re not about to go back into our box like well behaved peasants.
We’re all still here and in the end you lot are going to have to send a fleet of helicopters to evacuate the embassy roof.
We’re not about to sit quietly and doff our caps with the required deference.
Of course there will be another Referendum.
And maybe another one after that.
And in the end we are going to win. There is no need to make like the sad cardboard cut-outs of the Westminster bubble, Nicola.
The army of ‘Yes’ wants you to make like a Ghandi. Fight their nastiness and spite with a smooth smile. Smile and assure them that they will lose in the end.
There is however one thing that really needs saying that it really isn’t possible for Nicola to say. And that is that the vote on May 7th is all about self preservation. Look into the eyes of the likes of Margaret Curran and imagine how they yearn to punish the upstart people of Scotland for daring to challenge their position of power and privilege. All being well, 50 SNP MP’s will be enough to ensure the Better Together people never get the chance to dine out on some cold revenge.
It is frighteningly clear that the Westminster parties cannot stand the fact that the people of Scotland have learned not to dance to their tune. Check out the waves of anti-Scottish loathing that are now flowing north across the border. The Romanians and the Muslims must think all their Christmases have come early! All of a sudden there is a new bogeyman in town and that bogeyman is us.
Give them half a chance, and they will follow the Farage line and attack the Barnett Formula with a lump hammer. Let those SNP swine try to govern their hideous realm for a while on fresh air and see how they look then. Starve the bastards. It is what the London Establishment does best. Ask the people of India and Ireland and Kenya. Their instincts for revenge are relentless when the natives have the audacity to get uppity. 50 MPs should be enough to keep them at bay for the time it takes to be free of them once and for all. 
Let's make sure the weather forecast is proved right and that on the morning of May 8th Scotland can be a Better Together free zone.     

Thursday, April 16, 2015


A couple of days ago I wrote a blog which I very much hoped would be a message in a bottle to float downstream through the ether until it found its way to exactly the right Drug Baron. Our local paper 'The Dumfries Standard' and the BBC both picked up on the story and ran with it. The result is the front page article you can see at the top of this blog. Surely the message must have landed by now! It is truly heartening when the local media is so willing to help out when this kind of vital information needs to be fed out into the community. So many, many thanks to Debbie and Jackie for your efforts. This is the kind of thing that can get dangerously close to giving newspapers a good name!

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Is it possible to stick a note in a digital bottle and float it out into the ether to find its way to exactly the right drug baron? Maybe. I guess I’m about to find out. It is much more likely of course that I will never have a clue about whether these words reached their destination or not.
So why the rush to open up a line of communication with the upper echelons of the local drugs industry?
Well here’s the thing. We have a situation here.
To start with I need to go back a while. The situation we now have started to take shape when Ian Duncan Smith took to the airwaves to announce the nuts and bolts of his flagship Universal Credit initiative to ‘make work pay!’
Things were clearly about to change.
Right now an unemployed individual basically gets three separate benefits. Once a fortnight, £140 lands in their account in the form of Jobseekers Allowance. That is the cold hard cash that the punter actually sees. But there is more happening behind the scenes. About £400 or so will be electronically transferred into the bank account of their landlord in the form of Housing benefit whilst £70 or so will find its way into the coffers of the local Council to cover Council Tax.
Well everything is about to change in a big way, for the powers that be in the Department of Work and Pensions are keen for British citizens to learn the skills of self reliance. The unemployed will now be required to budget and row their own boats just like all the rest of us.
So how will this look in practice?
Simple. The unemployed will get paid monthly just like they would get paid were they in gainful employment.
So once a month £750 will land in the account and the punter will be required to be organised and sensible. As soon as the money lands, they will be expected to take a couple of hours out from their busy job hunting schedule to head down to the offices of their landlord to pay the rent and then do the same again for the Council tax. They will then carefully weigh up how to make what money is left over to last for a whole month.
It is all very American and I guess the Tea Party must be positively purring. And of course lots and lots of people will do exactly what is expected of them and act like model unemployed citizens.
But others won’t.
And this is basically the thing.
According to the Westminster Government, ‘Our United Kingdom’ (Have you noticed that nobody seems to say ‘Britain’ any more.) is home to about a million and a half ‘Problem Drug Users’. ‘Problem Drug Users’ is a cosy Government-speak way of describing heroin addicts. By now, most of these 'problem drug users' are parked up on long term methadone programmes whereby the NHS issues them with a daily dose of a heroin replacer. Many members of this group describe themselves in rather less glowing terms – they call themselves ‘Giro Junkies’.
So what is the typical profile of one of the million or so ‘Giro Junkies’ who reside in Our United Kingdom?
They will be between 30 and 45 years old and they will have been using drugs ‘problematically’ for over a decade. By now they will have a long criminal record and failing health. Their years of chaotic drug addiction will have had many consequences. Once upon a time they might have been able to shoplift the cash required feed their habit. Not any more. Now they will be banned from every shop in town. Once upon a time they might have been able to blag and bleed their family for cash. No more. Now their families have washed their hands of the black sheep. Once upon a time they might have been able to indulge in some low level drug dealing. No more. The cops know exactly who they are and where they are and more dealing will inevitably mean a five year lump of time in jail.
All nefarious avenues have been closed down. So now they keep body and soul together with a daily visit to the chemist and once a fortnight they draw their cash from the wall and take a day trip to the Nirvana of opiates.
‘Giro Junkies’.
The Drugs Industry has become remarkably adept at getting the lion’s share of the £140 worth of cold hard cash that the DWP electronically transfers into the accounts of the nation’s ‘Giro Junkies’
One million 'problem drug users' will spend about £3 billion a year of this cash with the Drugs Industry.
It meant that the minute Ian Duncan Smith sat himself back down on his green bench having filled us in on the nuts and bolts of Universal Credit, the smart guys of the Drugs Industry were already licking their lips in anticipation of a new Klondike.
Of course they were.
For the million ‘Problem Drug Users’ of Our United Kingdom were about to be handed an additional £5 billion a year.
Now that kind of cash gets a whole bunch of beachside villas in Antigua.
Well, the Drugs Industry is nothing if not efficient. It is why it remains the third biggest industry on Our Planet Earth despite the ferocious prohibitionist efforts of 45 years worth of the War on Drugs. (Only oil and weapons are bigger by the way.)
So the smart guys realised that they would have to be quick on their feet were they to get their hands on the new bonanza.
In the summer of 2013, it was announced that Dumfries and Galloway was going to be one of the four regions in Scotland which were granted guinea pig status for road testing the new Universal Credit system. With weeks of the announcement, an extraordinary drug war broke out in North West Dumfries as a gang from Glasgow and a gang from Liverpool fought it out for control of the local smack trade.
Now why on earth would they do that?
Because North West Dumfries is home to 500 or so ‘problem drug users’ and on average their monthly housing benefit is £400.
A nice, cool million a year. So on one side of the coin, the DWP wanted to use Dumfries and Galloway as a guinea pig region to learn how to hand the money out. One the other side of the coin, the Drugs Industry wanted to use Dumfries and Galloway as a guinea pig region to learn how to get their mits on as much of the new cash as possible.
I wrote a blog about it. You can find it by following this link

In the end the whole thing was a damp squib. The DWP computers couldn’t get their act together and everything was postponed. It turned out the lads from Glasgow and Liverpool had fought it out for nothing and everyone licked their wounds and went home.
Months passed and new dates came and were duly postponed as the DWP computer had one nervous breakdown after another.
Until finally a new date was settled on. April 2015. A new financial year. A new dawn. A brave new world.
And suddenly there were new whispers to be heard at our reception desk as we handed out food parcels. There are strangers in the town. Strangers from Liverpool and Manchester and Glasgow. And all of a sudden there is more smack about than there has been in years and years. And the new faces are offering every man and his dog £400 of gear on tick. It’s because of the……
Oh yeah.
You’ve got it.
It’s because of the new Universal Credit. Klondike is here and Klondike is now and the bad boys from the big cities are staking out their claims.
But then on Friday we had the Universal Credit expert from the local Citizens Advice office call round to bring us up to speed about how the much delayed rollout would look in the flesh.
And a bombshell was duly dropped.
Citizens Advice have been working closely with the local Job Centre and not surprisingly the local Job Centre are worried that the DWP computers might throw yet another nervous breakdown.
So they have decided to take it slow.
Real slow.
So only new single claimants are to get a taste of Ian Duncan Smith’s brave new world. By their estimates, only 7 individuals a month in the whole of Dumfries and Galloway will draw Universal Credit. And this will remain the case until at least January.
Which basically means that we have a situation here.
Right now there are bad lads from Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow doling out £400 worth of heroin on the never-never to any ‘Giro Junkie’ they can find. They are like a bit like the Sky reps in the supermarket with their introductory offers. And the terms and conditions are crystal clear. ‘Use now, Pay later’. Pay next month. Pay when that nice fat payment lands in your account care of the DWP.
Except there will be no nice fat payments because by the time we get to next month there will only be seven people in the whole of Dumfries and Galloway in receipt of the new Klondike treasure and the odds are that they will never have looked at a bag of smack in their lives.
The people at the top of the drugs trade are smart cookies and they don’t tend to get much wrong. But they have got this one wrong.
Big style.
Unlike First Base, they have not been able to fix an appointment to get a briefing from Citizens Advice. Instead they have allowed their strategy to be governed by official Government releases which have proved to be little more that pre-election pipe dreams.
In a perfect world, the bad boys will shrug their shoulders and accept they have made a mistake and make nice with all the punters they have persuaded to sign up to their ‘Use now, Pay later’ deal.
But our world is a long way short of perfect.
These lads pride themselves on never, ever letting anyone off a debt and they can get pretty damned nasty when it comes to recovering any outstanding cash. They tend to prefer the baseball bat approach to the solicitor’s letter approach.
So what needs to happen as quickly as possible now is for the word to be passed along the chain to the fellows calling the shots that Dumfries and Galloway is not Klondike yet.
It won’t be Klondike for months and months and months.
Maybe even years.
So for Christ’s sake pick up the phone and close down the ‘Use now, Pay later’ offer before things get completely out of hand.
This is the kind of odd situation that First Base finds itself in from time to time. In many ways we are a bridge that links on world with another. One world is the so called normal world where the main players are Tesco and Amazon and the rules are overseen by the police and the council and the courts. In the other world the main players are the Drugs Industry, pimps, fences and loan sharks and the rules are enforced by the guys with the hard eyes and the hard bats.
We are expected at times to act as a kind of middle man. If some potentially lethal drugs have landed a few unfortunates in A&E, the authorities will give us a description to feed into the land behind the looking glass. Similarly when something really bad is going down in the lower world, we are sometimes asked to summon the cavalry from the upper world to ride in with all guns blazing.
To be honest it is a moral maze at times. Basically we work on the basis of never ever passing on a name to anyone. Ever. Unless of course someone is facing a clear and present danger to life and limb.
In practice it works pretty well. The local cops would never dream of asking us for a name for were we ever to give one, nobody would ever come near us again.
Hopefully this means that when a car crash like this ‘Use now, Pay later’ fiasco comes around we can maybe do something about it.
Our local paper ‘The Standard’ seems keen to run the story as do the BBC. We have passed the word out via a few likely lads and with luck this blog will wander around the ether until it finds it way to guys calling the shots.
If by any chance you are one of those guys, knock it on the head. Klondike ain’t even close.
This front line charity lark can be a funny old game at times!     

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Twitter gives us a snapshot of all sorts of things we would never usually see. Take the chart above as a classic example. It came to my attention via a retweet from Billy Bragg. His view was that it offered yet more evidence of the slow and dismal demise of the Labour Party in Britain.
So I took a moment and enlarged the image.
And having given it a quick once over, I couldn’t disagree with Billy’s instincts.
I gather that Robert James Mitchell is an Edinburgh based Labour man. His Twitter feed is certainly dominated by tweet after tweet extolling the virtues of Ed Milliband and his half hearted army with the kind of blind zeal that ambitious Soviet apparatchiks once showed for Comrade Stalin.
Fair enough.
It takes all sorts I guess.
So what was Robert James Mitchell’s big play? What great Socialist dream had kept him up deep into the wee small hours lovingly creating his lovely colourful chart? In the long lost days of Kier Hardie when the Labour Party was born, the likes of Robert James Mitchell dreamed pretty big dreams. It was all about World Peace and free health and education and the chance to join a Union without getting your head stoved in. These were the dreams which enabled Clem Atlee and Nigh Bevan to steer Britain out of the wreckage of the Second World War into the sunlit garden called the Welfare State. Imagine the kind of charts Robert James Mitchell might have come up with had he been around in those heady days of the late 40’s.
But things have changed.
It seems there is no room for big dreams any more. Instead the party of Kier Hardie and Clem Atlee and Tony Benn has now kicked off its bid for power by creating a mug boasting of a tough line on immigration.
And instead of dreams there seems to be little more than bitterness and petty hatred.
The chart.
Oh yes. The bloody chart.
Robert James Mitchell’s soaring vision to rally the tired troops of Scottish Labour for the big push on May 7th.
And what a vision it is.
Basically do anything in your power to stop the SNP getting a single vote. Vote LibDem. Vote Tory. Vote UKIP. Vote Nazi. Vote Genghis Khan. Vote bloody anyone at all so long as it isn’t those hated swine who follow 'the most dangerous woman in Britain'.
What a complete and utter sad pratt. But let’s face it, being a Twitter pratt is hardly a thing to persuade the editor to stop the front page. Is Robert James Mitchell’s spiteful little chart worth getting hot under the collar about? Not really. 
From any kind of intellectual point of view, the chart proves that Robert James Mitchell has some pretty huge challenges.
Check the blindingly obvious maths. Whoever wins the most seats has first dibs at forming the next government. Maybe it will be the Tories, maybe it will be Labour. It certainly won’t be the SNP. So tactical voting for a Tory is a pretty dumb move in anyone’s book if they purport to support Labour. And then assuming Cameron squeaks in with the most seats, then he will look to cobble together another coalition. Where will he look first? Oh yeah. His pals from the last five years. Those good old LibDems. So that seems to make tactical voting for Clegg’s boys to be every much as dumb an idea to tactically voting for the Tories.
If on the other hand Ed Milliband defies all expectations and crawls over the line, then his one and only hope of hanging on to any semblance of power will be to make nice with the SNP.
So whichever way you look at it, Robert James Mitchell’s chart is very seriously idiotic. But of course Robert James Mitchell plainly has no interest whatsoever in anything as boring as seeing his party take up the reins of power. Instead all he cares about is indulging his childish hatred of the SNP. I guess he must have had a rough time of it during the Referendum.
So the playground pettiness of the chart fell a long way short of getting me wound up and thumping the keyboard. Instead it was the sight of the blue panel at four o’clock on Robert James Mitchell’s chart.
Dumfriesshire, Clydedale and Tweeddale.
OK. I know what some of you are thinking. This of course is the seat that is home to Scotland’s one and only Tory, David Mundell MP. And some of you might be aware that the aforesaid David Mundell has recently had a pop at me in the Scottish Parliament claiming I am a person whose words should be taken with ‘a pinch of salt’ due to my efforts for the ‘Yes’ campaign. Surely the idea of anyone suggesting mass Labour tactical voting to keep David living the life he had become accustomed to is the thing that has got my Mr Angry juices flowing. Were that the case, then I would be every much a part of the school yard as Robert James Mitchell.
The reason why the sight of Dumfriesshire, Clydedale and Tweeddale framed in blue has got be spitting mad has nothing to do with what the incumbent Tory had to say about me. Instead it has everything to do with the Labour candidate who is fighting the seat.
The Labour candidate is Archie Dryburgh and Archie is a mate of mine.
In every respect, Archie is the kind of throwback Labour man that Kier Hardie would have had no trouble at all in recognising. Archie didn’t follow the gilded path from a PPE degree from Oxford to a shoe in safe seat like Balls, Milliband and Cooper. He certainly didn’t study for nine tax payer funded years without ever managing to graduate like Jim Murphy.
Instead Archie left school for the Gordon Highlanders and cut his teeth on the mean streets of Northern Ireland through the hard years of the Eighties. Civvy St saw him become a union man with Unite. For years he oversaw the health and safety of the workers tasked with decommissioning the nuclear power plant at Chapelcross. More recently he has been one of the most energetic of our local Councillors. He is the ‘Veterans Champion’ for Dumfries and Galloway and he has helped loads of the guys who have come through our doors since we started our Veterans Project.
Archie always returns calls and I very much doubt if he has ever judged anyone in his life. As a soldier, union man and elected politician, he has spent the whole of his adult life serving in one way or another.
In every respect he is one of the good guys. More to the point, he is in every respect what a Labour politician is supposed to look like. He has done the hard yards and seem plenty of life in the raw. I wonder if anything in Robert James Mitchell’s life has ever come close to facing down a cascade of petrol bombs on a Belfast street? Without pulling the trigger?
I very much doubt it. And staying up late to design a silly chart has nothing to do with what Kier Hardie started in Cumnock all those years ago.
Archie gave up his job to become a candidate. A hell of a sacrifice and one which I very much doubt if I would ever make. For months and months he has been chapping doors and doing the hard yards. During the Referendum campaign, he stood out as one of the best of the ‘No’ guys. He made his case for the Union honestly and fairly and I never saw him descend into the kind of arrogant nastiness that so many failed to resist. Instead he did his best to highlight what he believed were the good parts of the Union he had once carried a gun for.
Fair enough. Democracy, right?
We locked horns in a debate in Langholm. For a couple of hours we knocked ten bells out of each other and then we had a pint.
The huge post referendum SNP surge must have come as a huge kick in the teeth for Archie. All of a sudden every man and his dog seemed to be signing on the dotted line for the Nationalists. Worse still, most of those men and dogs in question were Labour men and dogs. Many were old school. Campaigners. Leafleters. Door knockers. And now they were exchanging red rosettes for yellow ones.
Suddenly being the Labour candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydedale and Tweeddale was a pretty tough gig. Not that I noticed Archie taking any backward steps. When all is said and done, the battle of the doorsteps in the constituency is rather less daunting that the battle of the doorsteps was in the Ardoyne and Ballymurphy. Better to get a door slammed in you face by a pissed off voter than have the door explode in your face care of a couple of pounds of PIRA Semtex.
So Archie faces an uphill fight and I have no doubt he will fight it all the way to the finish line. And right now he has the task of cajoling reluctant his Labour troops away from the tele to get out and take up the fight against the surging Nats. Not easy I guess. I guess many will prefer to spend an evening watching yet another Celebrity cooking show to heading out into a wet, rainy night to knock a few doors.
It’s a tough place and a time for all hands to appear on deck and all that. A time to stand up and be counted. A time to rally round.
And what does so called Labour supporter Robert James Mitchell do to help? He sits up late in his Edinburgh bedroom to create his crappy little chart. And then he sends his spiteful creation out into the ether to urge Labour supporters to walk away from Archie and cast their votes for the Right Honourable David Mundell MP.
For spite.
You pitiful little cretin.
If you want to get out of your bedroom and see what an real Labour man looks like in the flesh, then get yourself on a bus and head down here. Try knocking a few doors. Try putting yourself in the line of fire. Try actually doing something rather than playing your pathetic little games.
I very much doubt if you have ever done anything in your life to earn the right to tell Labour voters to desert Archie in favour of a tactical vote for the Tories.
I suggest you disappear back into your nasty, poisoned little box and stay there

A Labour man Kier Hardie would recognise

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


The unfolding story of last week’s crashed plane has been utterly heartbreaking. The image of the parents waiting at the airport for their kids to arrive home from their school trip is a haunting one for any mum or dad. This time there were no terrorist bad guys: no corporate failings. Instead the catastrophe was down to the metal disintegration of a single doomed individual. The watching world has not been allowed the luxury of anger. Instead the emerging truth has been of the most desperate variety.
150 people got on a plane for a routine flight.
150 people signed up in all good faith to travel in what is the statistically safest way there is to travel.
But it wasn’t safe.
Instead the flight became a flight of death and the media instantly switched itself onto full on tragedy mode. The last few days have offered up a diet of 24/7 of coverage which at times has bordered on the voyeuristic.
But there is nothing remotely fresh in this. Papers need selling and advertisers follow the viewing stats. Tragedy gets attention. A doomed plane will always sell more papers than Ed Balls spouting on about GDP figures.
We know this. It is merely another of the iron rules of capitalism that govern our lives. Sensitivity and showing a bit of class will forever be crowded out by the sworn in blood duty to look after the interest of shareholders.
And so the desperate death of a party of school kids is immediately monetised and measured into statistics to lure in the big advertising bucks.
What always fascinates me is how the media goes about choosing its tragedies. Because there are tragedies and tragedies and it isn’t always down to how many get killed.
First up, the type of victims is all important. Last week’s victims were very much triple A plus. They were Western and they were white. They had white, Western families waiting for them at the arrivals hall of a gleaming German airport.
They were people like us.
Well the ‘Us’ who interest the peddlers of news is the very same ‘Us’ the advertisers want to reach. We are Western and we are white. We have high disposable incomes and we are some of the world’s greatest consumers. We buy perfume and cars and life insurance and conservatories and lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners.
We are the A list.
So when a tragedy engulfs fellow A listers whose lives look a lot like ours, the media senses paydirt and they let the story roll 24/7 until every last single nook, cranny and avenue is exhausted.
Sometimes tragedies happen to people whose lives don’t look much like ours at all. On these occasions all of the media’s boxes are ticked in terms numbers of dead people. The problem is that they are basically the wrong kind of dead people. Almost every week a boat carrying the desperate refugees of Africa and the Middle East sinks to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Invariably the dead people are blameless civilians. Invariably there are many children included in the toll of the perished. In fact, the human tragedy in these cases should be particularly media friendly, for there are bad guys involved – merciless people traffickers living in the same moral vacuum as the slave ship captains who once upon a time shipped thirty million Africans across the Atlantic to the New World.
And there are the back stories of the victims. There were no juicy back stories to be found among the 150 who perished in the Alps last week. They were just regular folk living regular lives. The back stories of those who drown every week in the Med are anything but regular. Almost every one would provide material for a Holywood movie. The horrors of the lives they are fleeing from would be enough to make James Bourne think twice before getting off the plane.
So when a boat sinks with 300 civilians on board you would think the media would be licking its lips at the endless chunks of juicy airtime they could dedicate to its 24/7 coverage.
But they don’t lick their lips. Of course they don’t. Because the weekly victims of the Mediterranean crossing are the wrong kind of victims.
Civilians, yes.
Lots of kids, yes.
Amazing life stories from the worst paces in the world, yes.
White….. no.
Black and brown.
So no good then. Black and brown doesn’t count. It’s not that we have anything against dead black and brown people. It’s just that they aren’t box office.They just don’t look like the kind of folk the advertisers yearn to reach.
No money you see. Poor as church mice. They lack the necessary tuppence to rub together. Of course it’s a dreadful shame when 300 black and brown poor people get drowned, especially when lots of them are kids. It just isn’t news.
The wrong kind of victims.
It is always about the right kind of victims and the wrong kind of victims.
Always has been.
Ask any American how many of their fellow countrymen lost their lives in Vietnam and the majority will tell you 68,000 in the blink of an eye. Ask them how many Vietnamese fell in the same war and they will have no clue.
Most us are familiar with the fact that over 400 of our soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. How many Afghanis were killed? We have no idea. Well, I don’t.
They are the wrong kind of victims.
So here’s a pop quiz for you in this week when 150 people who look just like you and me were killed when a plane smashed into an Alpine valley.
What is history’s greatest ever tragedy involving some kind of public transport? Planes, trains, buses and boats. Which was the very worst catastrophe to come out of all of the endless billions of journeys man has taken in the centuries since we moved on from the horse and cart?
I guess for most of us it won’t take so very long for images of the Titanic to jump into the forefront of our minds. This of course is entirely logical for a whole number of reasons.
Big boats are by a country mile the means of transport which carry the most people, so it stands to reason that when things go wrong with a boat the tragedy will be loads bigger than when things go wrong with a plane, train or bus.
And the Titanic was a big boat. A massive boat. And it was filled to bursting point with the very best kind of victims. White people many of whom were wearing white tie and tails in spectacular ballrooms. It was the first voyage of the world’s most famous boat.
And when it went down, over 1500 entirely innocent civilians perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. No wonder the story of their desperate demise has lived on through the ages. And then of course Holywood rubber stamped the memory of the doomed Titanic with an Oscar laden epic complete with the sainted Leonardo di Caprio.
The tragedy of the Titanic was the right kind of tragedy to the last detail. No wonder the tragedy is still remembered so well even after a century has drifted by.
So surely there can never have been a greater tragedy than that of the Titanic when 1500 of the right kind of victims met with such a terrible demise?
Well there was actually.
Ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff?
No? I hadn’t either. Not until a few years ago. It was a cruise ship like the Titanic. Rather bigger actually. It was commissioned by Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s through his ‘Strength through Joy’ programme. In this case the ‘Strength through Joy’ in question was giving the heroic workers of the Reich the chance of a state subsidised cruise around the Med as a reward for their herculean efforts in the Panzer factories of the Ruhr.
When the war came, the Wilhelm Gustloff became a hospital ship until in January 1945 it was awarded its final designation as a rescue ship. 
This was the point in the war when the Red Army arrived in East Prussia and started to exact revenge for everything the Germans had done in Soviet Russia since June 1941. Their cruelty was very much of the primordial variety. In fact it went well beyond primordial. Stalin gave the nod for any of his soldiers to rape any German woman they chose. The Red Army definition of a woman was basically any female between the ages of 6 and a hundred. Many were raped 20 or 30 times.
The logic behind the giving of this most appalling of green lights is one of the most chilling things I have ever heard. Stalin decided the wholesale rape of German womanhood was to be enthusiastically encouraged.
It was to ‘To break their racial pride.’
His words.
Unsurprisingly the civilian population of East Prussia ran from the advancing Russian soldiers as if they were the hounds of hell. They WERE the hounds of hell. They were probably a bloody sight worse.
Thousands upon thousands made their way to the port of Gotenhafen where ships were waiting to evacuate them along the Baltic coast to safer areas. The Wilhelm Gustloff was a big boat. In its ‘Strength through Joy’ hay day, it was capable of showing 3000 factory workers a good time in the Mediterranean sunshine. But these were the most desperate times and so desperate measures were required. The boat was packed with over 10,000 passengers, 5000 of whom were children.
A furious argument broke out among the ship’s officers as to what was the safest way to get its huge consignment of human cargo along the Baltic coast to safety. Some said they should hug the shore without lights and risk the minefields. The captain disagreed and chose instead the sail in deep waters with every light on to spot mines.
Wrong choice.
It meant that when Captain Alexander. Marinesco and his Soviet sub S-13 arrived on the scene his prey was lit up like a Christmas tree. He couldn’t miss and he didn’t miss. Three torpedoes sent the Wilhem Gustloff to take its place alongside the amber at the bed of the Baltic Sea.
10,000 died.
5,000 kids.
It was history’s greatest disaster involving a means of public transport.
But nobody either noticed nor remembered. Interestingly enough the victims should have been the right kind of victims. After all they were white West Europeans and half of them were children.
But seventy years changes a lot. Back in January 1945, Germans were the epitome of the wrong kind of victims. The prevailing mood was one of 'serves them right' and it was a mood that stretched out down the decades. Of course the 5000 kids who perished that night could hardly be blamed for Auschwitz, but nobody was remotely interested in such niceties.
I guess it says a lot for how far Germany has come since those very darkest of dark days. Last week the dead German kids were absolutely the right kind of victims and they will be remembered as such.
The 5000 kids who never lived to see the post war Germany care of Captain Marinesco’s torpedoes will no doubt remain forgotten victims. It was history’s greatest ever tragedy at sea but history will never care to recall it.
In the end it just goes to show that nothing ever changes much.                

Saturday, March 28, 2015


A couple of things got my attention this week which jointly prompted this blog. One was a big thing and one was a relatively small thing.
The big thing first and it was a thing that went a long way to making my day. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of their independence, the people of Barbados have decided to ditch the Queen and become a republic. Well three cheers to chat. I have never been any kind of Royalist. As a born and bred Lancastrian, I guess I am hard wired in my instinctive dislike of cap doffing. It has never made any kind of sense to me why we should all be in breathless awe of the rather mediocre German family who for some inexplicable reason we have deemed to be royal. What on earth has The Duchy of Saxe Coburg and Gotha got do do with us? And why on earth should we fund these dreary people to the tune of so many millions of pounds a year?
The pragmatic part of me has always accepted the commercial sense behind this particular tax payer’s investment. Sure the Royal Family cost us millions and they are categorically not worth it, but the payback we receive is more than enough to keep on shelling out. Would all the millions of Asian and American tourists still be so keen to come to Britain and take photos of everything and anything without the bait of our high profile German royalty? Probably not. 
So from a pounds, shillings and pence point of view, I fully accept there is a commercial argument to keeping these dreary people in their palaces. But just because rest of the world seems to be in thrall of our royal family doesn’t meant the rest of the world is getting anything right.
Let’s never forget that the rest of the world was also particularly impressed with Maggie Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Beckham.
I rest my case!
So. Hawking the soap opera of our royal family to millions of foreign visitors is tawdry but lucrative. Accepted.
But it is a completely different story for the people of Barbados. I have a personal connection to this one. My wonderful mother in law, Judie, is 100% Barbadian. My partner Carol is 50% Barbadian and my two lads are 25% Barbadian. Dyonne and Courtney represent the generation at the end of an extra-ordinary immigrant journey that spans several centuries. A few hundred years ago a relative of theirs was yanked from their home by Arab slavers and marched in chains to the West African coast and sold to the Brits. The Brits locked them down in the hold of a slave ship took them through the hell of the Middle Passage to the sunshine island of Barbados. Against all odds, the relative with no remembered name managed to survive the ordeal for long enough to meet a partner and have children.
Successive generations survived the torture of slavery until eventually one became free. In the late 50’s Judy extended the immigrant journey of the family by accepting our invitation to come to Britain to help with our NHS as a ward sister. Carol was born with Caribbean blood and a British passport. Dyonne and Courtney had their Caribbean blood blended with Lancastrian blood and in 1996 the next chapter of the long immigrant journey saw us all trekking north to Scotland.
This all means I feel a strong connection to the island of Barbados and explains my delight at their decision to dump the Royal Family. They have no tourist payback for having the Queen’s head on their stamps and coins. They don’t need the Queen to encourage the tourist trade. They have beaches, palm trees, rum and reggae to do that, As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, their island in the sun was the scene of one of history’s greatest ever crimes against humanity. I have never felt so ashamed to be British as I was when I discovered that the life expectancy of an African slave being sold in a seventeenth century Barbadian slave market was SHORTER than a Jew getting off the train at Auschwitz Birkenau in 1943.
Three months.
It makes the survival of the heroic ancestor of my two sons all the more remarkable. When that kind of obscenity has been committed on your soil, why on earth would you want the head of the Queen of the people who did the deed on your stamps and coins? Well the people of Barbados have chosen to cut the cord and bloody good on them.
The second thing was a smaller thing. My constant insomnia meant that I was up and about at a ridiculously unholy hour a couple of mornings last week. To fill the dark empty hours, I used Sky Go to piggy back onto my dad’s Sky Sports account and watched the two semi finals of the cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The cricket itself was relatively unremarkable. What go my attention was the crowds in Wellington and Sydney. Kiwi supporters wore the same black as the All Blacks whilst the Aussies were clad in yellow. Fair enough. What was fascinating was the range of skin colours of those wearing the shirts. They were black, white, brown and yellow but each and every one of them was cheering every run or wicket with a shared passion and enthusiasm. Each and every one had completed their individual immigrant journeys and now they were roaring on the cricketers of their adopted home. In fact, the ones with the black, brown and yellow skin were the ones who were cheering the loudest.
My own two sons wear England football shirts when the football World Cup comes around. But when it came to the big vote on September 18th, they both voted enthusiastically for an Independent Scotland.
They wanted to see their adopted home get the chance to row its own boat.
Both things got me to thinking about my own immigrant journey which is mundane in the extreme when compared to the epic saga of Dyonne and Courtney's ancestors. To the best of my knowledge, my ancestors have kicked around Lancashire and Yorkshire for the last few hundred years. Before that, I guess some bearded type from Scandinavia must have hopped across the North Sea in a long boat to help themselves a spot of rape and pillage.
My own immigrant journey started in 1996 when I headed north to live in Scotland. But it didn’t feel that way to be honest. Dumfries is a mere 125 miles and two hours of motorway from my Lancastrian roots. I never felt like an immigrant. I was merely a Lancastrian living in a different part of Britain: A born and bred Northerner who had chosen to head a little further north.
Did I feel like some kind of Englishman abroad? Not really. To be honest I have never felt particularly English nor British. In my younger days back packing the countries of Asia and Africa, I always masqueraded as a Scot or Australian. To admit to being either English or British guaranteed a frosty reception. Pretending to be Scottish prompted an entirely different reception.
Think about it. Scotland fans travel to the World Cup and it is one long party – everyone is glad to see them and the bars are open 24/7. England fans travel to the World Cup and everyone wishes they hadn’t qualified at all – all the bars are locked tight and the riot police are out in force.
At the Wembley cup finals of the 70’s and 80’s when King Kenny Dalglish maxed out his medal collection, all of the Liverpool fans on the terraces would drown out the National Anthem with booing. Why? I guess we didn’t want to be seen as British. We were Scousers. Northerners. Not Brits. Not English. Saving the Queen was something we wanted no part of.
Then a year ago everything changed. 
I had written a blog explaining why I would be voting ‘Yes’ for an independent Scotland and a surprising number of people had read it. It didn’t seem like any kind of a big deal. Here is the link in case you are interested

Then Stuart Carroll got in touch via Twitter and asked if I would like to go along to give a speech to a ‘Yes’ meeting in Lockerbie.
I said sure. I’ll give it a go.
I was nervous as hell. Never in a million years had I ever imagined I would stand up to give any kind of a political speech. There were about 50 people in the Town Hall and when I sat down the applause seemed genuine enough. I was just happy not to have crashed and burned. The speeches were filmed that night which seemed a little strange, but not particularly. Here is mine if you are interested.

When the meeting was done, I drove home and chalked the night up to unexpected experience. It had the feel of a one off.
How wrong I was.
What happened next took me completely by surprise. To my enduring astonishment, the video of my speech was watched over 5000 times and for the next six months I became a part of the magnificent ‘Yes’ campaign. I spoke at a whole bunch of ‘Yes’ meetings. I got to experience the visceral nastiness of professional politicians in a series of debates. At times it got thoroughly nasty, most notably on a particularly ugly debate on BBC radio, but overall those six months were some of the most extraordinary of my life.
Oh, and I wrote a serialised book called 'Toxic' which I released online chapter by chapter all the way to our date with destiny on September 18th. Here it is by the way. £1.99’s worth of nostalgia for anyone wanting to time travel back to those heady days of the summer of 2014.

In the end we lost of course. And September 19th was without a shadow of a doubt one of the very worst days of my life. But without my really noticing, something had changed inside me. My immigrant’s journey had accelerated. In fact my immigrant’s journey was complete. For a few days I received gloating messages from English friends and acquaintances and complete strangers who had followed my Indy journey via my blogs.
Suddenly these taunting voices were clearly coming from a land that was now foreign to me. In November when Scotland played England at Parkhead, it came as no surprise when I found myself rooting for the men in blue shirts. And now when anyone asks me about my nationality and I say I am Scottish, I am no longer using a flag of convenience.
I am Scottish. 
To the toenails. How bizarre. How completely extraordinary. But as all those brown, black and yellow faces cheering on Australia and New Zealand proved last week, enthusiastic immigrants always tend to make the most fervent patriots. American has found a way to more or less rule the planet on the back of its ability to make anyone from anywhere feel a part of the Stars and Stripes.
My Scottishness has nothing to do with postcards of Loch Lomond and bagpipes and tossing the caber. My Scottishness is born out of the fact that this is a place where UKIP will lose lots of deposits.
It is a place where my black partner and two brown sons are made to feel welcome.
It is place where the community of a town of 50,000 have donated £38,000 worth of food in the last 12 months to feed the victims of the Welfare Reforms.
Scotland is what Britain is supposed to be.
Scotland is what Britain pretends to be.
Instead of Golden Dawn and UKIP and The Front National, we have the Scottish National Party.
Anyone looking for prejudice and racism should look elsewhere.
And you know what, telling people I am Scottish feels pretty good. It sits well with me and it sits well with the rest of the world. And this time the rest of the world has it right!
Has my own immigrant’s journey arrived at the final destination? I hope so. It feels that way. All being well, in the next few years the journey will be formalised when we all see sense next time and say goodbye to London rule for ever and ever. 
And then maybe we will take a leaf out of the Barbados book and get rid of that dreary immigrant family from the Duchy of Saxe Coburg and Gotha as well.     

Friday, March 27, 2015


Many hundreds of readers found their way to my blog about the imminent arrival of the Trussell Trust in Dumfries and how hack off we are about it. To be honest, the response to the blog has been extremely encouraging to everyone here at First Base. I was therefore particularly pleased when the phone rang the other day. It was Sharon, a reporter on our local paper - 'The Dumfries Standard'. Sharon had read the blog and felt the way all of our many volunteers were feeling about the arrival of the new kid on the foodbank block deserved wider attention.
Did I agree?
You bet I agreed.
The result appeared in the paper today and can be seen above. Once upon a time this kind of shoddy behaviour could easily have been played out behind closed doors. Not any more.
It's always nice when the traditional media agrees.
Thanks Sharon!