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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

IF YOU THINK THE UKIP POISON LOOKS UGLY ON THE TV, YOU SHOULD SEE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AT STREET LEVEL



The picture? 
The guys in the picture are Spitfire pilots from 1940. They are some of the guys who stopped Hitler in his tracks. I wonder how many of them saw 1941? Not many I guess.
It seems to me there is something in this picture that Nigel Farage wouldn't like much.....
Anyway. 
Rochester and Strood has come and gone and Nigel Farage’s laddish seduction of the Brits continues to hit the mark. It’s amazing how far talking like a regular human being can get you. As a tweed wearing public school educated investment banker, Nigel really should be an identikit hate figure. Instead he has become the champion of white van men up and down the country for his love of a pint and his unashamed public smoking. In the pub, Nigel is pure knockabout and it seems like ever more people are lapping it up.
He has perfected the art of wrapping up spitting poison in a cloak of likeable harmlessness and he just keeps rolling along. From behind the laugh a minute curtain come whispers of a sometimes uncontrollable temper and a Narcissistic streak a mile wide. But what the hell. Only 30% of voters believe that Nigel was once upon a time a public schoolboy. Such a tiresome truth just gets in the way. More and more people want to like Nigel. He speaks their language. He doesn’t do jargon. He likes a pint. He’ll sort out all these bloody immigrants……
And too be honest, Nigel should remain as nothing more than an amusing figure who is always good for a laugh. Fair enough, 20% of Brits tell the pollsters that they fancy lending him their vote, but by far the more important fact is that 80% would prefer to stick their fingers in a toaster rather than vote for UKIP.
Nigel really shouldn’t be a problem. Not yet. Thankfully it seems that we Brits are still a long way away from being ready to take a stroll down the Hitler road of mindless hate.
The real problem isn't Nigel: the real problem is the leadership of the so called major parties who have the collective backbone of a prawn. Imagine if the three main parties were right now leaded up by Ken Clarke, Alan Johnson and Paddy Ashdown. They would meet Nigel’s nonsense head on.
‘This is poisonous bullshit and we’re having none of it.”
End of.
Kind of what Alec Salmond said, right?
Instead Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are so utterly pathetic that they are being reduced to trying outdo Nigel in terms of spitting nastiness.
There is a miserable perception that it is impossible to stand up for the benefits of immigration. To watch the pathetic antics of Ed Milliband, you think that he would face the same danger as his family would have faced back in 30’s Germany had they taken a stand and spoken out for the Jews. I am more than happy to be disgusted at his spinelessness. Over the last year of two, I have been the speaker in all kinds of rooms where there has been an anti immigrant mood in the air – Rotary Clubs, Women’s Institutes, Indy debates. Once the hate agenda comes to the fore, I have always promised myself never to take a backward step. My mother in law - who I adore - is an immigrant who came to these shores from Barbados in the late 50’s. My partner is black and my two lads are brown. As far as I am concerned, making a stand is non-negotiable.
But here’s the thing. It is actually genuinely easy to stand up for immigration, no matter how tough the audience might appear. It is easy for the simple fact that most people are actually instinctively decent. Sure, people are angry and why wouldn’t they be? But it takes mere minutes to persuade a huge majority that the reasons for their lives being so crap has nothing whatsoever to do with the people who have chosen to come to our country. It is not a remotely difficult task to point out the blindingly obvious fact that almost all of our current troubles are down to the born and bred white Brits who emerged from public school and Oxbridge to rake in millions in the City of London. People aren’t stupid. In their heart of hearts they know this. The problem is that the real bad guys are out of their reach. The real bad guys live in Mayfair mansions and cruise the oceans in their vast floating palaces. Hating them can seem as futile as hating the Martians. How much easier it is to blame a crap life on Mr Patel in the corner shop or Mr Kowalski on the building site.
UKIP are not about to do what Hitler did in 1932 and become the biggest party. They might manage 20 or 30 seats. I would happily bet £100 here and now that they won’t get close to beating the SNP next May.
And then what? Then they will almost certainly fade away. The public spotlight isn’t kind on UKIP. The brighter the light, the clearer their nasty true colours become. Right now there is enough novelty value for many to turn a blind eye to the fact that most of them are the same kind of guys who Cameron and Osborne once upon a time broke bread with at the Bullingdon Club before smashing up everything in sight.
Leaders like Clarke, Johnson and Ashdown would know this. They would keep their cool and let Nigel and his cronies run of steam in their own time. But sadly we have no such leaders. Instead we have cardboard cut outs who are scared of their own shadows. Watching Milliband launch his latest anti-immigrant agenda last week was enough to make any half decent human being reach for a bucket. Has the wretched man forgotten that most of his ancestors went up the chimneys of Birkenau and Sobibor and Majdanek and Treblinka? It would appear he has. The hell with family history. In a pitiful, disgusting, pathetic attempt to curry favour with the men who drive white vans for a living, he has instead opted to join Nigel’s Hate Club.
It is easy to write off the hideous antics of those who reside in the Westminster bubble as being of little relevance to anyone eking out an existence in the real world. So long as you go out of your way to be polite to Mrs Patel when you buy a newspaper and a pint of milk, then that’s OK.
To get a close up view of how not OK all of this is, you need to take the stairs all the way down the place where First Base lives and breathes. Only when you come along to the pitiless world at the bottom of the ladder will you see the living breathing damage wreaked by those who have joined Nigel’s Hate Club.
For the last three years we have been doing our very best to support Yemesi and her three children. Yemesi came to London eleven years ago. When they came off the plane, her son was five and her twin daughters were one. I will avoid personal details as it would be very unfair to put them out into the public realm. It is probably OK to point out that for several years Yemesi was under the impression that she was legally entitled to stay in the UK. Once she realised that this was not the case, she embarked on the tortuous journey to citizenship. When she first came through our doors she was in a really bad place. The waiting room for those wanting to become British is a truly brutal place. She was eligible for not a single penny of state support but not allowed to work either. It would be pretty hard to survive such a situation for a few weeks. Yemesi and her kids have somehow managed to hang on for years. The local community, particularly the school, have been absolutely fantastic, and by hook and by crook the family has managed to stay afloat. The last couple of years have been particularly nightmarish as the girls have suffered from nightmares caused by the terror of being deported back to the threat of the murderous madmen of Boko Haram.
In May they had their moment of truth. The future of their lives all came down to a judge in Glasgow. The lawyer from the Home Office played hard ball. He wanted to see the family put on a plane and deported. He didn’t care that the kids spoke not a word of the language of their ancestors. He didn’t care about the nightmares. All he cared about was meeting the remit he had been given. This was where the trickle of Nigel’s poison finally reached journey’s end.
It is a long and steady trickle.
Nigel does his good old boy in the pub thing. UKIP jump a few points in the polls. Cameron shits himself and heads for TV studios to promise to be tougher than tough on immigrants. Cameron picks up the phone to Theresa May and screams down the phone. Get your sorry act together. I need people on planes heading out of Gatwick and I need it now!
Theresa May picks up the phone to a Home Office mandarin and screams down the phone. Get your sorry act together. I need people on planes heading out of Gatwick and I need it now!
And so it goes all the way down the sorry chain with mortgages, car payments, holidays in Tuscany and final salary pension schemes threatened every step of the way. And in the end it all comes down to a terrified family, a vicious lawyer and a judge with four lives in the palm of his hand.
Thankfully the judge had no wish to become a member of Nigel’s hate club. He chose the world of human decency instead and granted Yemesi the right to remain in the UK. It took the Home Office nearly six months to send her the paperwork which means that she is finally allowed to work. But that is all she is allowed to do. The letter could not have been any nastier.
It had the kind of brutal tone that any of the faceless beaurocrats who facilitated the filthy work of Hitler and Stalin would have been proud of. It explained that the judge’s decision meant that the family was safe from being thrown on a plane and deported for two years. The two years are a trial period. If any one of the family commits any offense whatsoever, then all bets will be off and they will be deported. If Yemesi attempts to apply for any benefits whatsoever, then she may well be deported. She has the right to work and to pay tax but nothing else.
Last week she had an appointment at the JobCentre where she was awarded her National Insurance number. The lady she met was appalled at the situation the family was dealing with and quite certain that she could organise at least some State support. Yemesi asked me what I thought. I said she shouldn’t even think of risking it. A lot will change over the next two years. Were she to receive even a £20 voucher for emergency electricity, it might well be enough for some hard eyed lawyer to frog march them all onto a plane back to Lagos.
So the family battles on, sharing a single room which more often as not lacks any trace of heat or light. I am confident that things will soon improve. It looks like they will soon be able to move to a three bedroom flat at half the rent they are paying now. The Bedroom Tax means that there are plenty of empty three bedroom flats to be had for anyone who pays the rent themselves. She is an amazingly strong and determined woman and I have no doubt that she will be in work very soon. Her children are an absolute credit and forever at the top of every class they sit in. All three kids are now working at the weekends and between them they are covering the rent.
So long as Nigel’s poison doesn’t provoke a moving of the goalposts over the next eighteen months, Yemesi and her children will finally become British citizens and they will be a wonderful additional to our community. For the last year Yemesi has baked fifty cakes a week for our food parcels. We provide the flour, butter and sugar and some money for the meter. It is her way of giving something back.
Her best friend in London hasn’t been so lucky. Her friend has been in the UK for fifteen years. She has two kids who are seven and five years old. The UK is only world either of the kids have ever known and English is the only language they speak. The family pleaded to be allowed to stay, but on this occasion the judge said no. He agreed with the lawyer from the Home Office. He agreed that the kids were young enough to be able to adapt. They would manage to learn a new language. So very soon they will walk out of school for the last time, pack up the single bag they are allowed and be driven to the airport and duly sent to a country they have never known. The odds are that they will never go to school again as education is an expensive luxury in Nigeria and they will get off the plane with no money.
I have no doubt that Nigel would dismiss this as sentimental nonsense. Why should we offer a home to such people as Yemesi and her best friend? What have their problems got to do with us? We are a small, overcrowded island and it is high time we focused on looking after our own? Is that about right, Nigel?
Well maybe they do have something to do with us after all. Maybe many of the reasons why things are still so bloody awful in Nigeria are entirely down to us. Once upon a time we stole 13 million of their fittest and strongest people and worked them to death on our West Indian sugar plantations. In the 1960’s we happily armed the government side in a civil war and our guns and bullets enabled the Biafran genocide. And now our greatest blue chip company, BP, bribes every politician it came find to makes sure the oil continues to flow our way. And when the people rise up in anger, we make sure the very same bent politicians have enough British guns and bullets and attack helicopters to crack the whip. When we are short of maths teachers, we import Nigerian maths teachers. When we are short of doctors, we import Nigerian doctors. When we are short of Anglican priests, we import Nigerian Anglican priests. For hundreds of years we have plundered Nigeria of anything that isn’t nailed down.
But Nigel chooses to ignore all of this. No doubt he and his fellow investment bankers are more than happy to take their commissions on the oil money as it flows through the City en route to the Cayman Islands. And when Cameron is under pressure over a lack of doctors in A&E, he is more than happy to bribe fully trained Nigerian doctors to come to the UK and thereby leaving the sick folk at home in the lurch.
From the dark days of Empire to the present day, we have always taken places like Nigeria for anything we have been able to get. And what have we given in return? Our language and a pipe dream of a mother country that is kind and compassionate.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Yemesi and her children with be wonderful addition to our community. All four of them will contribute just like my mother in law Judy contributed hugely over many years as a ward sister with the NHS.
Our political leaders should have the courage to be honoured that such capable people are still willing to make a home here despite the hundreds of years worth of crimes we committed in their countries.
Instead these pathetic pygmies can do no more than follow Nigel into his Hate Club like so may chinless sheep.
Shame on the bloody lot of them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

THANK GOD FOR THE POWER OF THE PEN


In 1989 Emile Zola picked up his pen and decided it could be every bit as mighty as any sword on the market. He then proceeded to crash out a letter to the papers which he awarded the compelling title ‘J’Accuse!’. And did he ever accuse. He went through the whole of the French Establishment like a dose of salts. In the language of 2014, I think it is fair to say that he didn’t miss and hit the wall. The reason he smashed a literary battering ram into the supposedly impregnable walls of the most powerful forces in France was the despicable treatment of an army officer called Alfred Dreyfus.

Dreyfus had been appallingly stitched up for treason, publically humiliated, and sent thousands of miles south to the living hell of the Devils Island penal colony. Zola correctly identified the fact that Dreyfus was guilty of only one crime: the crime of being Jewish in an era of virulent Anti-Semitism. The enraged French Establishment reacted to the letter like a rabid dog poked with a stick and Zola was prosecuted for libel and only escaped being locked up himself by legging it across the Channel to England.

The problem for the Jew haters in the heart of the French Establishment was that people around the world read Zola’s burning words and were united in disgust at the way Dreyfus was being treated. Within a year Dreyfus was brought back home and freed. With eight years he was pardoned and fully re-instated.

The political leaders and generals who dispatched Dreyfus to the torments of Devil’s Island did so with comfortable certainty. They after all were the top dogs and they held absolute sway. Dreyfus was a Jewish nobody. They could deploy their prejudice with absolute impunity.

Well Emile Zola made a mockery of their perceived power with nothing more than a pen and a piece of paper.

Our world is a very different world to France at the turn of the 20th Century. Every day we hear that Globalisation has changed the game and changed it forever. Governments and people are as powerless as each other. The whole shooting match has been bought and paid for by the mega-corporations who now pretty much own and control everything. They are all powerful and they soar above all of us in their Gulfstream jets. We are as incapable of forcing them to pay any tax as we are of making them treat their workers any better than modern day slaves.

This has been the week when the Economist printed a graph that really should make everyone’s blood run cold. The graph plotted fifty years in which two lines started far apart and inexorably drew ever closer until they have now come together.

The lines?

One line represented collective the wealth of the top 0.1% of American families. The other line represented the collective wealth of the bottom 90% of American families. It is truly mind blowing, don’t you think? The 16,000 richest American households are now worth more than the 90 million poorest American households.

This was the kind of situation that prevailed in France a hundred years before Dreyfus was packed off to Devil’s Island. Marie Antoinette came up with what sounds like something of a UKIP style strap-line when she suggested that starving poor people with no bread in the cupboard should eat cake instead. The 90% weren’t overly impressed with their Queen’s idea for a 'Great French Bake Off' and instead they opted for a policy of wealth distribution via the guillotine.

Of course it was easier in those days. The way to strip the wealth of the 0.1% wasn’t too difficult to achieve. 1. Storm Palace. 2. Chop off heads. 3. Nick everything that isn’t bolted down.

In our new digital world, things are a little more complicated. Of course a mob could storm the big houses in Mayfair but by the time they put the front doors in, the 0.1 percenters would already be up in the air in their Gulfstreams. At this point the murderous mob would learn the hard truth that smashing you way into a Mayfair mansion doesn’t mean you can get your hands on all those lovely billions which are tucked away safe and sound in Grand Cayman and the Royal Duchy of Luxemburg.

The last twenty years have seen corporations become ever more successful in their slow but sure take over of politics and the media. It is easy to feel that things have gone so far that there is no way back. It feels like the all conquering super rich have become genuinely indestructible.

Surely in the new digital age, the pen that Emile Zola once wielded with such devastating effect can no longer be used as an offensive weapon.

Well, over the last couple of weeks I have been truly delighted to find a couple of examples which offer proof positive that the pen can still be used to kick the dark forces of the Establishment where it hurts most.

OK. First up. For the last fifteen years I have been an author who has been well and truly rooted in the wannabe fold. Over these lean years, I have from time to time felt pretty damn jealous of John Grisham. Not only is he a fine writer, but millions and millions of readers around the world shell out their hard earned cash to read what he writes. Nice work if you can get it! However John hasn’t been content simply to count his cash and keep on rolling out the kind of stuff that is tailor made for Hollywood and Tom Cruise. Instead he has chosen to use his pen as a weapon in much the same way as Emile Zola did all those lost years ago.

The most blighted corner of modern day America must surely be West Virginia. Every years it tops all the charts which map the extent of human misery and deprivation. The men and women who live in the Appalachian mountains have been the butt of their nation’s jokes for years. They are the Hillbillies. They are laughed at for being backward and stupid and inbred. They should really be a people blessed to born into a region of gorgeous mountains and forests and bubbling streams. Instead they are cursed by the fact that those very same mountains are stuffed with billions upon billions of tonnes of coal. Wherever there is a coalfield, life tends to be a hard business. The guys who hack the coal from the belly of the earth are always the very hardest of men. And those in the boardrooms of the companies who rack up the cash on their balance sheets tend to be even harder men. When bosses and workers fall out with each other in the coalfields, things always get pretty tasty. For two hundred years the scales slowly but surely tipped in favour of the guys in the helmets. But then everything changed. Over the last fifty years or so, the coal unions around the world have been well and truly broken. In Europe this has meant that coal mining has all but died.

Not so in West Virginia. In West Virginia ‘Big Coal’ has outdone itself. They have decided that digging tunnels into the heart of mountains to hack away at seams of coal is too much of a hassle. It means employing lots of living, breathing human beings who aspire to a decent standard of living and the right to work in relative safety. Well of course that kind of nonsense seriously gets in the way of stashing away lots of lovely millions in offshore treasure troves. So ‘Big Coal’ gave up on the tiresome idea of digging tunnels. They decided it would be a whole lot easier to simply blow the top off the mountain and keep blasting until they reached the coal seam. It meant that instead of having to use the services of irksome human beings, they could do the job with explosives and giant diggers.

The brutality of the process almost beggars belief. Once they have blown a chuck off the top of the mountain, they shove the rock away into the valleys below and thereby choke up all the streams. When they reach the coal seam, they hack it out with vast mechanical shovels and them convey it into huge tanks where they wash off all the none coal materials. This process leaves them with two products. The first product of coarse is coal which is duly trucked away to the nearest railhead. The second product is a filthy, toxic grey soup called coal slurry which is brim full of the kind of deadly heavy metals that Vladimir Putin’s lads like to use to see off his critics. Big Coal has two ways of dealing with the coal slurry problem. If there is an old disused deep mine handy, they will pump the slurry into the old shafts. If there isn’t a handy old mine, then they use all the blown up rock from the top of the mountain to make a damn which they then use to create a festering reservoir of billions of gallons of sludge. Either way, the heavy metals soon seep into the water system and any poor bugger unlucky enough to live close by will more than likely have cancer in a matter of a few years.

When George Bush squeaked into the White House in 2000, he jokingly claimed that his campaign had been ‘Coal Fired’. ‘Big Coal’ stumped up more than 50% of his campaign costs and once he got his Texan boots under the Oval Office table, he paid them back tenfold. He tore up any pesky legislation that threatened to get in the way of the giant diggers and Big Coal was left with a free hand to transform huge areas of West Virginia into toxic moonscapes. Did anyone pay any attention? Of course they didn’t. The kids with the tumours were Appalachian kids. Hillbilly kids. Nobody kids. Dirt poor kids. Kids who don’t count like other kids.

The way Big Coal threw its weight around would have made a Victorian mill owner blush. When one of the damns burst on a slurry reservoir in Martin County, Kentucky in October 2000, it released ten times more filth into the local rivers than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska eleven years earlier.

But nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

Well John Grisham has chosen to use his pen to launch a magnificent attack on the monstrous antics of 'Big Coal'. His latest novel is called ‘Grey Mountain’ and it is fair to say that he hasn’t missed and hit the wall. I thinks it is the finest hatchet job on the disgusting behaviour of global corporations since John Le Carre’s ‘The Constant Gardener’ took apart the vile behaviour of the big pharmaceutical companies. Oh and how those ghastly suits in the boardrooms of Big Coal must yearn to send a pickup full of goons round to John’s house to beat him into silence. But they wouldn’t dare of course. For to do so would only double sales figures which are already guaranteed to be huge. John could have chosen to stay in an easy comfort zone and keep on rolling out middle of the road legal thrillers. He didn’t. He went into the desperate doomed towns of the Rust Belt where crystal meth dens have replaced the steel mills and he has given the people who live there a voice.

A loud voice.

After Grey Mountain it will be much, much harder for 'Big Coal' to act with such smug and deadly impunity. So bloody good on you John. You have my complete and utter respect. And jealousy of course.

Having finished the book, I trawled YouTube and found a truly gut wrenching video called ‘The Last Mountain’ which makes for a harrowing hour and a half. If you want to take a close up look at the uncontrolled brutality of the Big Capitalism of the 21st Century, I strongly encourage you to free up ninety minutes of your life and give it a watch. Here’s the link.


Second up.

Last Monday Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian turned his pen into a Kalashnikov and used it to shoot a ghastly Tory MP called Richard Benyon full of holes. Aditya is probably my favourite journalist and a couple of weeks ago I was well and truly chuffed to be interviewed by him about foodbank stuff. His ‘J’Accuse’ style hatchet job on the Right Honourable Richard Benyon MP would have had Emile Zola punching the air. Benyon was born with a bigger silver spoon than most in his mouth. His family live on 3500 acres of Berkshire and they don’t half rake it in. He is a man who loves nothing better than to spout on about the shirking scroungers who sponge off the state. The hated 'something for nothing' people who are forever on the front page of the Daily Mail. It turns out that Benyon himself doesn’t mind a bit of something for nothing himself. Last year Aditya discovered the elected member had in fact received a hell of a lot for nothing. He raked in £650,000 worth of Housing Benefit from West Berkshire Council and £2 million worth of grain subsidy from Brussels. It just goes to show – sponging and shirking certainly pays!

Anyway. Benyon has a property development company and he hooked up with some New York guys who has discovered a promising looking block in East London. The New Era Estate was built by a charity in the 1930’s to offer affordable housing to 100 East London families and for eighty something years it has done exactly that. But men from Manhattan sniffed out the fact that the charity wanted to cash in its prime asset and they made them an offer they chose not to refuse. Then they broke the news to the residents that their £600 a month rent would be going up a touch once their contracts ran out in 2016. Just a tad. Well surely £2600 a month is a bargain in anyone’s book for a pad in such a promising location? You only need to earn £100,000 a year to pay this kind of money so what on earth is the problem? It's not like you have to be super rich or anything.
 
One grandmother who has lived on the New Era Estate for fifty years went along to the local Council to ask what would happen to her once the new rent came into effect. They suggested her best option would be to move to Stoke.

In a few hundred words, Aditya laid bare the cold vicious greed of Benyon and within 48 hours he had run away from the deal with his over privileged tail firmly between his legs.

If you would like to have a read of Aditya’s ‘J’Accuse’, here is the link. It really is worth the time.,


Many years ago Edmund Burke wrote ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’.

Well both John and Aditya chose not to do nothing. Instead they chose to do something. They chose to weaponise their pens and as a result there is a little less corporate evil in the world.

You both have my absolute respect guys.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AFTER THE REFERENDUM, I FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT LABOUR AS I DO ABOUT MAN UNITED.... AND IT AIN'T PRETTY!


On a Saturday afternoon a little over forty years ago, I got into the car with my dad and drove for thirty five miles. Little did I know that over the course of the next few hours something huge was about to added to my life. The drive took us from the textile towns of East Lancashire to the sprawling city of Liverpool on the banks of the river Mersey. We went from the valleys to the flatlands: from a skyscape of mill chimneys to a skyscape of dockyard cranes.

We parked up and had a pint in an extraordinary thin pub which was packed with larger than life characters who spoke in an accent I could barely comprehend. At thirteen years old, I duly worked my way down my pint whilst dad sank two or three. The guys in the pub would have frowned with disapproval had I chosen the Coca Cola that I would have much preferred. And my dad would have been uneasy to have been seen in the company of a Coca Cola drinking thirteen year old son. This was Lancashire 1973 and rules were rules.

Then it was out of the nicotine stained darkness of the pub and out into a sparkling autumn afternoon and a walk across the manicured Victorian magnificence of Stanley Park to where the high stands of Anfield crouched in the midst of a warren of tight terraced streets.

It wasn’t my first football match. For five years we had been season ticket holders at Turf Moor, Burnley – my dad’s boyhood team. But he had been driven to cursing distraction by the antics of the club’s butcher chairman who had sold all the best players in order to build a new stand and call it after himself. Well dad was having none of it. Our season tickets were not renewed and the plan was to adopt and pick and mix approach. His plan was to tour the venerable stadiums of the north of England, choosing a different venue each week.

Anfield was the first venue.

And the last.

From the minute I reached the top of the steps and took in swaying sprawl of the Kop, I never wanted to go anywhere else and I never have. Forty one years and well over a thousand games later my fortnightly trips down the M6 are still a central part of my being.

I was not born and raised in Liverpool. I have never lived on Merseyside. Instead I am a once a fortnight day tripper to the city. Of course everything has changed beyond all recognition. On that distant afternoon, I looked over the muddy pitch to where the great Bill Shankly took the acclaim of his disciples on the Kop like a modern day Emperor. Shanks epitomised the city in 1973. A hard as nails lifelong Socialist from the tough school of the Ayrshire coalfield. He was no frills and a the kind of working class hero that John Lennon had committed to vinyl. The Pool was a tough place back then; a place where the life expectancy of a scab was measured in days. A city built on the backs of African slaves that had been sticking up two fingers to the rest of the country for as long as anyone could remember.

Shanks was the granite face of the city with his gravel humour and hard man charisma.

What was there not to like for the wide eyed thirteen year old? I became an adopted son and the city was more than happy to adopt me. Liverpool isn’t fussy about who it adopts. Once upon a time it was hundreds of thousands of starving Irish families. Now it is weekending Scandinavians who come in with Ryan Air for two days of Beatles and Liverpool FC. Now it is the 60 million strong worldwide Diaspora of Reds who log onto the club website every day in Kuala Lumpur or Shanghai or Soweto.

We are each and every one of us shaped by the vision Bill Shankly once sold to a city that was tailor made to hang on his words. It isn’t just football. It never has been. It is that unique, stroppy city by the sea which keeps getting knocked down and keeps getting back up with a bloody nose and a cocky grin.

We are partisan.

And like all partisans, there are always two sides of the coin. There is the love of our own team but equal in every respect is our bottomless contempt and loathing for the eternal enemy at the far end of the East Lancs Rd – Manchester United Football Club.

It means that if we get beat 1-0 it never feels so bad so long as they have got beat 2-0. Being seventeenth is no great problem so long as they are eighteenth. A Mancunian failure can give more pleasure that a Scouse success.

Schadenfreude defines any partisan. Schadenfreude joins those who loathe the enemy as much as they love their own.

Is it a thing to be proud of? No. It just comes with the territory. Back in 1973, falling under the magic spell of Shankly’s Anfield had nothing to do with hating United. That came later. That came once I became an adopted son. That came when I became partisan.

It creeps up on you and once it has you in its grasp it never goes away. It is neither pretty nor commendable. It’s just the way it is.

Over the weekend I realised that I am now a part of another similarly partisan group – the ones who fought for a ‘Yes’ vote. The media was awash with stories that a coup was about to dispose of Ed Milliband and replace him with Alan Johnson. The prospect of this happening sent a familiar sense of dread down my spine. With Milliband at the helm, it looks like a racing certainty that Labour will be subjected to a complete and utter humiliation next May. Johnson? That would be a nightmare. All of a sudden the enemy would have a new boss who might just to start to turn the ship around. All of a sudden they would have a guy who isn’t public school and Oxbridge. Instead they would have a guy who talks like a human being who once upon a time delivered the Royal Mail. I realised that the feeling of dull dread was identical to the familiar feeling I have known for so many years when the papers are filled with rumours that the Mancs are about to sign a new multi million pound superstar striker.

It’s not just that I want my side to win. I also want the other side to lose. Heavily. Utterly. With complete humiliation. Were United to fall apart like Leeds and Rangers and be relegated to the depths of the third tier, then I would no longer have the biggest game of the season to look forward to. Would I care? Not a chance. Losing the hugeness of United coming to Anfield would be a tiny price to pay for the utter joy of watching the Mancs collapse like a house of cards.

There is seldom any logic to Schadenfreude. If I sit down and read the list of the Labour Party’s proposals for the upcoming election, I dare say there wouldn’t all that many I have great objection to. But such sensible logic doesn’t even begin to come into it. After the lies and general obscenity of the Better Together campaign, there is no room for sensible logic. I am no more born and raised in Scotland than I was born and raised on Merseyside. But after the referendum campaign, I certainly feel like an adopted son.

I found being a part of ‘Yes’ triggered the same partisan emotions that Shanks triggered all those years ago. It’s us against them. They’ve got all the money whilst we make all the noise.

When I read Alan Johnson’s article in the Guardian this morning where he promised in capital letters that he would never, ever stand to be the Labour leader, it reminded me of hearing the news that Paul Gascoigne had chosen Spurs ahead of United. Or when Alan Shearer chose Newcastle over United.

Of course there are plenty of sensible and logical reasons for anyone on the side of ‘Yes’ yearning for a complete Labour wipeout in May. Such an outcome would surely bring the date of our eventual Independence much closer, just like Man United in crisis means Liverpool have a better chance of landing the title.

But I might as well be honest. There is little calculated logic behind my hopes for a springtime wipeout of the Red Tories.

To see then wiped of the face of the Scottish political map one by one will give me every bit as much pleasure as watching Messi’s Barcelona dismember United in Rome like a sadistic five year old pulling the legs off a spider.

I guess that means I have become a partisan. Something tells me that I am not alone!    

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

THE LIES OUR POLITICIANS TELL ABOUT IMMIGRATION ARE THE MOST TOXIC LIES OF ALL


So politicians tell a bunch of lies.

Shock, horror and hold the front page.

Well of course they do. Over the course of the last few months all of us up here in Scotland have got used to a veritable avalanche of lies, most of which are now in the process of unravelling. All of a sudden our oil is looking like being around for 120 years and Home Rule actually means Holyrood will be allowed be allowed to piss everyone off by raising income tax whilst having no access to the oil money.

Most of the time it is easy to understand why our lords and masters dump the truth and resort to telling a pack of lies. More often than not the truth tends to be a pretty hard thing to tell.

Once again the Referendum offers a good example of this.

Imagine for a moment yourself as a Better Together politician who had sworn to be a warrior of the light and always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Had that been the case, you would have faced the daunting tax of knocking doors and saying something along these lines.

“Oh good evening madam. I’m Mark, your local Better Together candidate. So here’s the thing. Here is why it is only right and proper that you vote 'No' in the coming Referendum. Basically this is how things have worked for years and years and I think it is absolutely tip top. You work. You get paid. You give me £10 in tax and I take it down to London and then I send £9 back to you. It means you pay 10% of your tax money as a membership fee for Club UK which simply has to be s terrific deal, don’t you think? Let’s assume for a moment that you are a person who earns the average wage: £23,000 a year. This means that you pay over £4000 a year or so to me in tax. I will duly take my £400 membership fee and give you £3600 back. Just think about that for a moment. £400 a year to be a member of club UK. It’s less than what you pay to Sky for a basic package including sport! And just look at what you get for your money. You can enjoy the protection of our nuclear umbrella and the sheer joy of being looked after by the oldest parliament on God’s green earth. Oh, and I nearly forgot. We beat the Nazis……”

Well it wouldn’t have got them very far, would it? Even the most fervent unionist might have taken a step back from paying such an eye watering membership fee in return for the dubious benefits of being a part of Club UK.

Not surprisingly the Better Together guys  gave the truth a pass and lied through their teeth. So it was that the oil was going to run dry and every business in Scotland would move into Cumbria and all supermarkets would charge Waitrose prices.

The lies stuck because it turned out that most Scots had been sufficiently brainwashed by years of propaganda which hammered home the fact that we are all subsidised by London rather than it being the other way round.

When telling the truth means that politicians are completely stuffed, it is hardly surprising that they resort to lying. Let’s face it, it is rare indeed for turkeys to vote for Christmas. And we kind of expect these lies. I suppose we even forgive most of them. We are completely used to it. And when someone lies all of the time, it doesn’t really matter so much. We all know someone like this. If they come into a room soaked to the skin and say that it is chucking it down outside, we still take a glance out of the window to check that it is indeed raining.

When you expect someone to lie to you all of the time, you get less and less wound up about it over time.

What is most frustrating is when politicians choose lies over truth even when the truth is actually in their favour.

So why would anyone do something so patently stupid? Simple. It is when telling the truth gets in the way of prejudice and pitifully few politicians have the guts to do that.

This is where it has become so very obvious that politicians are scared to death when it comes to telling the truth about immigration.

Let’s take a look at Ed Milliband in the Referendum. Surely here is a guy we should be able to trust to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to the issue of people coming to our green and pleasant land to make new lives. Of course he is the leader of the Labour Party and they are nice and cuddly unlike those wicked nasty Tories. More than this, Britain offered a place of safety to his mum and dad and thereby saved them from going up the chimney at Auschwitz along with five million others. It recently emerged that 56% of Brits are in favour of staying in the EU so surely there should be mileage in waving the flag for the free movement of people at a time when the Tories are planning their own version of the Berlin Wall.

So did Ed have the courage of his convictions in the run up to September 18th?

Like hell he did. Instead he came out with a fairytale that the Brothers Grimm would have considered to be too far fetched to put in the book.

Ed told us that were an independent Scotland to set a lower immigration bar than the rest of the UK, there might have to be border posts erected at Gretna.

Border posts.

It would have been nice if every politician on the Yes side had pointed out what complete and utter drivel he was talking. Check out any place where one country wants to stop people from another country coming across the border. Do a few border posts cut the mustard? Did they merely have border posts to keep the people of East Germany from crossing into the West? Do they merely have border posts to separate Israel from the West Bank? Gaza from Egypt? Texas from Mexico? Of course they don’t. If you want to physically stop someone making their way from one country to another, the only thing to do is to build a wall of a fence and then hire thousands of armed guys to hold the line. Imagine for a moment that you are an illegal immigrant who has taken advantage of a soft Scottish border to get onto these islands and now you are hell bent of making it down to the milk and honey of London town. You make your way to Gretna only to be confronted by one of Ed’s border posts where someone is going to check your passport. What do you do? Do you miserably shrug your shoulders, turn around and accept a life on benefits on Motherwell? Or do you leave the road and simply walk through the fields and by-pass the border post?

The truth is that border posts are only of any use when it comes to stopping 38 tonne wagons and making sure that the proper duty is paid on any imported goods. Border posts are of no use whatsoever when it comes to stopping people who want to enter a country illegally. To stop such people you need to build a wall of a fence and hire thousands of border guards.

Was Ed willing to tell the truth about how much it would cost to build a fence along the very same line that Hadrian once used to build his wall? And how much it would cost every year to pay for the border guards and the electricity?

Of course he didn’t because he was spinning a fairytale. But nobody was willing to have a right go at the utter nonsense he was spouting because nobody was willing to be seen as being too immigrant-friendly. So Ed was allowed to spout his nonsense unchallenged.

As Nigel Farage drip feeds his nasty poison into our national consciousness, it seems like hardly any of the guys who supposedly support the free movement of people around Europe are willing to use plain and simple truth to counter his prejudice. Instead of killing UKIP with cold, hard facts, the supposed supporters of the EU instead waffle on about vague economic benefits.

The truth is there to be told but few have the bottle to tell it. This is hardly a new thing. Swimming against a tide of popular prejudice can be a scary thing to do. Back in the day, most scientists knew full well that the world was not flat, but few were willing to go public and risk having their finger nails pulled out. Most educated Germans knew full well that their Jewish neighbours were not sub humans hell bent on raping little Christian girls, but not many said so.

It seems that we have got ourselves into a similar place when it comes to having a sensible conversation about immigration, though thankfully we don’ have to fear being carted off by the likes of the Spanish Inquisition of the Gestapo.

So what kinds of facts are we talking here? What kind of ammunition is available to anyone who cares to tear the world according to Nigel Farage into a million pieces. Well maybe they might like to try these two facts on for size.

According to Nigel, uncontrolled immigration from the EU means millions of unskilled types coming here to take our jobs, houses, primary school places and appointment slots at the GP surgery. According to Nigel this human avalanche is costing us a fortune.

If we leave Europe and stop the avalanche, then we will all be better off.

OK. That all sounds simple enough.

Now for the facts.

London is now the fifth biggest city in France. 400,000 French men and women live and work in London. Only Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse and Lyon are home to more French nationals than London. Many have legged it across the border to escape President Holland’s high taxes. They prefer to pay 45% in London rather that 75% in Paris. It is therefore fair to assume that these 400,000 French immigrants will be earning at least the average wage for London, which is £34,000. This means they will be paying about half of that sum into British coffers via income tax, NI, VAT, fuel and alcohol duty etc.

So let’s do the maths.

400,000 x£17,000 = £6.8 billion.

OK. So a healthy chunk of change.

Most of the £400,000 will also be paying eye watering rents. Let’s say £500 a month. £6000 a year. That’s another £1.4 billion. Assuming those who are renting the properties are paying their taxes – a pretty big assumption! – then another £400 million or so will be headed for George Osborne’s coffers.

It seems fair enough to assume that the 400,000 French immigrants who have chosen to live and work in London will be throwing at least £7 billion a year into the pot. To put this amount into perspective, it is worth noting that Britain’s total annual spend on Jobseekers Allowance is £9 billion. We should also take note that most of the French settlers are young, healthy and they have benefitted from an education system that is miles ahead of ours. Overwhelmingly they are ambitious and fit and in need of neither the NHS nor the welfare system.

So what would happen were Nigel to have his way and the 400,000 French settlers were shown the door? Would we have 400,000 similar ambitious, smart young people of our own ready and primed to jump off the dole queue and fill all the vacancies seamlessly?

Aye right!

What would basically happen would be that our budget deficit would simply have another £7 billion a year added on.

But kicking out the European settlers is only half of the world according to Nigel. If we Brits send 2 million European settlers back home, then the other countries of the EU will undoubtedly do exactly the same with the two million Brits who have made their homes abroad.

Here it is worth pausing a moment to look at Spain and France where getting on for a million retired Brits have made their homes. These are not young, healthy, ambitious people. These are people who have done the whole working thing and have chosen to live out their twilight years in the warmth of the South European sunshine. They get by on their pensions and when they get ill, they are treated free of charge by the French and Spanish health services.

So what is going to happen when they arrive at the quayside in Dover pulling their suitcase and looking miserable? These are people who have sold up everything and headed for the sunshine. They don’t have houses. We already have a chronic housing problem and once you add a million displaced pensioners to the list, it will get immeasurably worse. We already have a chronic NHS problem, and once you add an extra million pensioners onto list it will also get a whole lot worse.

What would such a huge repatriation of largely old people cost? I shudder to think. A bloody fortune.

The basic truth is that right now Britain is getting the absolute best out of the free movement of people thing. We import well educated and ambitious young people who work hard, pay a tonne of tax and barely need to see the doctor. We export retired people who longer work, pay hardly any tax and become a growing burden on the health services of our European partners who offer all that guaranteed sunshine and cheap real estate.

Surely any politician worth their salt would relish the chance to sell such a compelling argument. But to do so would mean going against the prevailing prejudice and it seems none of them have the bottle to do so.

So the world remains flat.

What happened all over Europe in the 30’s and 40’s should have been enough to warn us off this kind of illogical prejudice for ever and a day. Sadly it is clearly not the case. If the son of parents who were saved from the gas chambers of Auschwitz Birkenau is joining in with the anti immigrant rhetoric, then it seems there is little hope of any common sense being shown any time soon.
 
And every time a Pole or a Latvian or a Slovenian or a Bangladeshi or a Nigerian or a Frenchman is beaten to a pulp on a Friday night British street for no other reason than for being from somewhere else, then the likes of Ed Milliband should shrivel with shame.
 
But they won't
 
They never do. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

PROUD TO BE BRITISH? AYE RIGHT........


It’s a hell of a photo, don’t you think?

The place is Melilla which is a four square mile hangover from the days of the Spanish Empire. It isn’t in Spain any more than Gibraltar is in Britain. To all intents and purposes it is in Morocco. It’s a little piece of Europe clinging onto the northern coast of the Dark Continent of Africa. When you look at it another way, it is place where you can enter Europe without crossing any water.

For this reason the 4.7 square miles that belong to Spain are ringed by three thirty foot high fences. Here is one of the places where the twenty first century game of cat and mouse gets played out every day of the week. One side of the fence is the continent of famine, war, disease and sectarian slaughter. On the other side of the fence is the continent of the West Europeans who by and large live lives free from hunger, disease and sectarian slaughter.

Not surprisingly millions of those who live on the side of the fence where life is all but worthless dream of finding their way to the other side of the fence where stomachs are full and beds can be slept in safely.

On our side of the fence we prefer not to look too closely at the misery on the other side. We donate a few bob from time to time when Bob Geldof pricks away at our shrink wrapped consciences. And when something like Ebola or Aids comes along which thirty foot high fences are powerless to stop, then we reluctantly take an interest.

The photo says it all as great photos often do. The two smartly clad women who are striding the emerald green fairway have learned how to tune themselves out from the sight of the human desperation hovering above them. Two worlds might well be colliding, but they prefer to stay in their own comfortable Disneyland and gossip about who is having an affair with who.

What do we think of the men on top of the fence? Do we feel sorry for them? Do we acknowledge their super human journeys across deserts and through war zones?

Fat chance.

They are the enemy at the gates. They are the stuff of the UKIP nightmares. They are bad, bad people who are threatening to swarm all over us. They are human contagion. They are to be kept out.

So we build the walls and fences as high as we can and our leaders compete ferociously in the new game of who can hate the immigrants the most.

During the recent Referendum campaign, we were all subjected to a deal of flag waving from the Better Together people. We were told time and again about how wonderful Britain is and what a beacon we are to the world. The Establishment yelled at us like misbehaving primary school pupils and told us to be proud to be British.

Or else.

I have no particular objection to the idea of being proud to be British, but most of the time it is as alien to me as cheering on the eleven men wearing the red shirts of Man United. Every time it seems impossible that our nasty little country can possibly stoop to a new low, we do exactly that. Yesterday saw yet another of those lows and by Christ did we ever stoop.

Every day small, leaky boats head out from the North African coast carrying cargoes of the human desperate. We Brits should know a thing or two about packing human beings into boats in these kinds of numbers. Back in the day, we were the market leaders as we shipped tens of million of African slaves across the Atlantic to our colonies. Thankfully the weather in the Med tends to be a little kinder than the Mid Atlantic, but it doesn’t take much of a squall to capsize the boats and their cargoes of human misery.

Over the last few years the Royal Navy has played its part in searching for the ship wrecked victims and recuing them. It’s called basic common decency and it is the kind of thing British leaders love to gloat about. It is also very much the right thing to do. We never hear it said, but most of the human misery in Africa finds its root cause in the way we behaved during the time when we ran the place like some sort of a plantation. Is it really any surprise that you leave a bit of a hole when you steal 13 million of the fittest, strongest people and ship them off as slaves? For three hundred years we basically robbed Africa blind. We nicked everything that wasn’t bolted down including people and when there was nothing left to steal, we upped sticks and buggered off.

It is hardly surprising that the continent’s independent countries have found it so hard to deliver anything approaching a normal life for millions upon millions of their citizens. Which means it is hardly surprising that so many dream of escaping their lives of hunger and fear and start out on their epic journeys towards a better life in our lands of plenty.

So the very least we could do was to deploy our warships to pick them out of the sea before they drowned. Last year European ships saved 300,000 who would otherwise have perished.

Its only right that Britain takes a lead role in these rescues on all kinds of levels. First up, we are responsible for any amount of the misery and suffering as a result of our appalling behaviour during the years of the British Empire. We also have a whole load more ships than any of our European neighbours. We spend £35 billion a year on defence and a healthy chunk of that goes on the Navy. Well, of course it does. Think ‘Last Night of the Proms’. Unions Jacks and bright young things belting out ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves……”

France and Germany spend about £22 billioneach on their military and most of the other European countries spend way less. So we have the most ships and we kind of created the whole mess in the first place. So it’s only right that we do our bit, right?

Well not any more it isn’t.

Because on 20 November there is a bye election in Rochester and Strood and Nigel Farage has got our gallant leaders jumping about like scalded cats. Nigel is going ask the good folk of Rochester and Strood if they are happy for the Government to spend their taxes on providing a free ferry service to bring hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the Med to a life of benefit funded milk and honey in our green and pleasant land? Nigel will demand that the guys on the fence are knocked back onto the other side with police batons much like the Liverpool fans were smashed back into the death pens of the Leppings Lane End by South Yorkshire’s finest at Hillsborough.

We were told yesterday that recuing people from a watery grave only encourages more to make the crossing. Not since Marie Antoinette suggested that the starving poor should eat cake have we heard such callous claptrap. It is utter nonsense and the cynical, self serving brutality of the decision beggers belief.

They tell us to be proud to be British. I mean, be serious. How can any half way decent human being be proud of a country that is willing to see thousands of people drown in order to win a few votes from UKIP in the leafy suburbs of Kent?

We will now see the very same newspapers that peddled the Better Together lies close ranks and make this evil decision seem acceptable. And we are supposed to be proud of that? What does a farmer do when one of his cats has an unwanted litter of kittens? He drowns them. It seems like the British Government is now happy to allow much the same outcome to play out in the waters of the Med.

Of course this is a place where we have plenty of previous. Just under a hundred years ago the generals of the British High Command took their plans for a their 1917 spring offensive in Belgium to Downing Street to be signed off by the Cabinet. The big push was to be centred around a small, inconsequential village that nobody had ever heard of. Well, that was to change. The village was called Passchendaele. But when the top brass laid out their plans, there was a pretty big problem. The bill for the coming battle ran to over £20 million and the coffers were as empty as the pockets of the guys on the fence in the picture.

For a while it seemed like the 'Big Show' would have to be called off due to a lack of funds. But then the Foreign Secretary, Edward Balfour came up with a cunning plan which everyone signed up to. Balfour sailed to New York and set up meetings with the big Jewish banks on Wall Street where he offered then a sweetheart deal. You lend us the money for our spring offensive and we will promise a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

Hands were shaken and the cash was duly transferred. The Balfour Declaration sold the land out from under the feet of the people who had always lived in Palestine. The money bought enough bullets and shells to enable the Brits to advance five miles eastwards. They were expensive miles. 250,000 Brits and 400,000 Germans paid the price for those five miles.

But I digress.

By 1945 everything had changed and the 1917 Balfour Declaration suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea any more. By now it was very clear that oil was the biggest show in town and the Arabs weren’t at all keen on the whole 'Homeland for the Jews' thing. So we back tracked in a hurry and claimed that the Balfour Declaration had been completely misunderstood. The problem was that hundreds and thousands of the survivors of Auschwitz and Treblinka and Sobibor and Majdanek and Chelmno had taken it at face value and packed themselves onto boats to cross the Med to find a safe home in Palestine. The Royal Navy wasn’t having any of it. We stopped the ships and threatened to sink them if they didn’t turn around. The fact that they were packed with the half starved and completely traumatised survivors of the Nazi camps mattered not a jot. The only thing that mattered was Britsih interests and currying favour with the guys with all the oil.

Proud to be British?

In July 1940 the Royal Navy was involved in another miserable affair off the North African coast. Thanks in large part to the heroism of French troops, we had just managed to get 300,000 of our guys off the beach at Dunkirk. You would have thought that this would have meant that we owed our French allies a favour or two. Not so. The French had sailed their navy south to the safety of the their base at Mers El Kebir on the Algerian coast. This made Downing St feel a bit jumpy. What if the surrender monkeys in Paris join up with Hitler and let him have all their ships? Well we were having none of that, so we sent the Royal Navy to Mers El Kebir and told the French Admiral to hand over the keys or else. He said sorry, but I can’t do that. But he gave his word of honour that he would scuttle the fleet if there was any danger that it was about to fall into Hitler’s hands. That wasn’t good enough for us. So we shelled them and sunk their ships and killed 1250 French sailors. A nice way to treat an ally?

It really is no wonder that so many people cannot stand us. For hundreds of years we have behaved like murderous pirates on the oceans of the world and then we wave our flags and sing ‘Rule Britannia’. For once we have been using our beloved Royal Navy for something that is right and decent. Helping to save 300,000 lives is no small thing. It is a very big thing. A very good thing. A thing that for once we can be proud of.

But not any more.

Because thousands of innocent lives have been deemed to be secondary to beating UKIP in a bye election in Kent.

And they still keep telling us to be proud to be British……

Oh why oh why did we vote no!      

Monday, October 27, 2014

OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS THE FORCES OF 'YES' HAVE BEEN PRESENTED WITH AN OPEN GOAL. ALL WE NEED TO DO NOW IS KEEP OUR NERVE AND ROLL THE BALL INTO THE NET.


It is extraordinary to think that a month has now slipped by since those desperate early morning hours of September 19th which left so many of us unable ever again to hear the word ‘Clackmannanshire’ without wincing. The breaking of that bleak dawn was soon followed by the sight of David Cameron doing his smug act in front of 10 Downing St.

And for a few brief hours, his glibly spoken words carried a degree of weight. That was the day when ‘the settled will of the Scottish people’ had the sound of a life sentence with no possible chance of parole before at least twenty years had been served. The miserable spectacle of a bunch of Union flag draped meat-heads sharing their drunken Nazi salutes with the watching world seemed to sum up the all pervading air of nihilistic despair to perfection.

But the feeling didn’t even last for a week.

Almost immediately it became clear that nothing was about to be going back to Westminster usual. And over the course of an extraordinary month, everything has changed beyond all recognition. On the one hand it has become abundantly clear that the armies of ‘Yes’ are in no mood to hand in their weapons and slink back home to resume a life of servile cap doffing. Membership of the parties of ‘Yes’ has surged to such an extraordinary degree that the pundits are clearly at a complete loss for words to explain it. The forces of ‘Yes’ have also retained all of their online energy and the number ‘45’ is here, there and everywhere.

On the other side of the fence things haven’t been nearly as rosy. Those who screamed ‘Better Together’ from any roof top they could find have given a master class on how to fall apart. To say they have all been beyond pathetic would be an understatement to say the least.

Hindsight shows that their miserable, tawdry alliance was contemptuously torn into pieces and scattered to the wind at 7 am on the morning on the nineteenth when Cameron used his victory speech to plunge his ‘English votes for English laws’ dagger deep into the exposed guts of the Labour Party.

And ever since it has been one long unholy cat fight which has put beaming smiles onto the faces of both Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage.

It is hard to think of how the Better Together alliance could done made a better job of keeping the army of ‘Yes’ together if they had tried.

It only took days for Scotland to be completely forgotten as smiling Nigel started to make the weather. Now it is clear that only Nigel matters, and if that pisses off the good folk of Scotland, then so be it. The Blue Tories tried to rally their troops by promising to pay for everything by hammering the poor even harder and bashing the immigrants. The Red Tories duly promised to match them step for step, whilst the LibDems wailed out their collective misery to a Glasgow hall of empty seats. Clacton and Heywood sent out earthquakes and Rochester promises more of the same.

Across the board, support for the old order is withering on the vine and it has become clear the old order has no ability to stop the decay.

It isn’t just a case of people being fed up with their smug, corrupt complacency. It is much, much worse than that. People have come to absolutely hate them. Every poll shows all three of the mainstream parties shedding votes like tree shedding leaves in a November gale. Up north the ‘Yes’ parties are hoovering up the disaffected whilst south of the border Nigel goes from strength to strength.

Up here we should thank our lucky stars that the gleaming dream of ‘Yes’ offers a safe home for people to show their loathing for the way the world around them looks and works. South of the border the only choice for the disaffected is the shoddy poison of Nigel and his golf club buddies.

Whilst back bench Blue Tories quietly sharpen their knives and measure up Cameron’s back for the Brutus treatment, the Red Tories are already cannibalising themselves.

As I was driving home from Anfield yesterday afternoon my wandering mind drifted back 202 years to the heady days of 1812. That of course was the high water mark of Napoleon’s Empire and the whole absolute power thing had completely gone to his head. So he decided to do the crazy dictator thing, rustled up 600,000 troops and invaded Russia. At first things went reasonably well to plan as the Russians retreated in a blind panic. But it didn’t take long for things to start to slip. The pesky Russians didn’t follow the rule book. They were supposed to gather up their army and give Napoleon the proper ‘square go’ he was looking for. The French would have duly wiped the floor with the jumped up Slavs and a peace deal giving the little master everything he asked for would have duly been signed off.

But the Russian didn’t play ball. They refused to fight at all. Instead the burned all the wheat fields and torched all the barns and left the advancing French hordes to march on ever emptying stomachs.

The Russians finally stood and fought a few miles west of Moscow on the hills of Borodino. The battle was a predictable bloodbath and the Russians called it a day once the grass was stained red by the blood of 40,000 corpses.

And once again the cheeky buggers refused to play by the rules. The generals were supposed to ride their horses up the Napoleon’s command tent and sue for peace. But they didn’t. Instead they retreated from the filed of battle in good order and lived to fight another day. They marched back to Moscow and only paused to burn their capital city to the ground, and then they retreated some more and patiently waited for winter. The Grande Armee swaggered into town and maybe some of the top guys made speeches about the settled will of the Russian people. They found lots of pianos and ornate dressing tables but no people and no food. They hung around for a while trying to convince themselves that they had won a huge victory, and then they realised that if they tried to stay in town for the winter they would all starve to death. So they loaded up their loot and started out on the long return home.

It didn’t go so well.

By the time they left Russia there were barely 50,000 of them left and the supposedly indestructible Napoleon was a busted flush. A year later he got his first ever kicking on the battlefield outside Leipzig and in 1815 he was finally consigned to the history books at Waterloo.

Only a minority of the 600,000 men who swaggered across the border into Russia were French. The Grande Armee was a rag tag bunch made up of all kinds of different nationalities who had hooked their wagons onto the great man’s wheel. So long as things were going well, they more or less managed to hang together. And if things had gone to plan at Borodino and Napoleon had won his usual massive victory, then they would have continued to hang together to share out the loot. But once everything started to go pear shaped, they fell apart and they were driven from Russia like a pack of spitting, starving rats.

‘Better Together’s’ triumph on 19th September now looks every bit as hollow as Napoleon’s points win at Borodino all those years ago. BT marched into the Referendum campaign with all the confidence and swagger that the Grande Armee showed when they crossed the border into Russia. The rag tag alliance of ‘Better Together’ welcomed the chance to smash to pathetic forces of ‘Yes’ into trembling submission. They started the campaign quite sure that they would win 70 to 30 and the taste of victory would be so very sweet.

It was going to be the kind of wipe out that Napoleon had enjoyed when he marmalised the Austrians and Prussians at Austerlitz and Jena. But the ‘Yes’ campaign refused to follow a playbook and instead we came up with a grassroots guerrilla campaign that scared the bejesus out of the Establishment. Their 55/45 win on the nineteeth was a Borodino affair. They had to use every single gun and shell in their armoury to get over the line. They told every lie under the sun and decided not to worry about how it would look when all the lies unravelled over time. They threw every last one of their chips onto the table on the assumption that victory would be forever. That was how it was when Napoleon marched the massed ranks of his beloved Republican Guard into the meat grinder in the middle of the afternoon of September 7, 1812. It was his last chance. He needed his elite guys to defy the odds and smash the Russian forces into a million pieces.

They failed.

The Russians retired from the field in good order and the rest as they say is history. The story of Waterloo was written the moment the Imperial Guard’s last chance saloon advance failed to give their Emperor the knockout win he needed.

Failure at Borodino was the beginning of the end for the little Corsican.

From that moment it was only a matter of time before his huge Empire collapsed in on itself. He had thrown the kitchen sink and learned the hard lesson that you only ever get one chance to throw the kitchen sink. If you get it right, you hit the other guy on the head, shatter his skull and put him out of the game forever. If you get it only half right and merely break his arm, then one day he will come back at you to exact his revenge.

The last month has seen the miserable alliance of the Better Together fall apart like the Grande Armee fell apart all those years ago. Now they face the task of the long retreat from Moscow and we get the chance to be the partisans. Their flanks are exposed and they can’t get their heads around how quickly they have gone from being winners to hapless losers.

Now we can pick them off at our leisure and exact a slow revenge for all the lies they told. We will have our own Waterloo moment. Maybe it will come in five years. Maybe a little longer. It certainly won’t be the thirty years Cameron, Milliband and Clegg yearn for.

And when that Waterloo moment duly arrives, they will find that the kitchen sink has already been thrown and cannot be thrown twice. Next time the lies won’t wash. Next time the scare tactics won’t scare.

In the last knockings of the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon once again looked to the men of the Republican Guard to save his bacon. At Borodino they had failed to break through. At Waterloo they broke and ran.

At Waterloo they proved to be a busted flush.

That is how it will be next time for the reinvigorated forces of the 'Yes' Campaign. Next time there will be no Sir Ian Wood or Asda to tell lies to the pensioners. Next time they will get what the Republican Guard got at Waterloo.

An absolute kicking.

Over the last few weeks the forces of ‘Yes’ have been presented with an open goal. All we need to do now is to hold our nerve and roll the ball into the back of the net.

Bring it on.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

AS SOMEONE WHO MANAGES A FOODBANK, I AM GETTING INCREASINGLY FED UP WITH FOODBANKS BEING CALLED A DISGRACE.


This is an image that became pretty familiar across the length and breadth of Scotland in the wake of September 18th. The picture shows two members of our local ‘Yes’ campaign who bottled up their feelings of anger, despair and disillusionment and found a way to morph these emotions into something positive. They sent out word through the well established social media channels of the local ‘Yes’ campaign and appealed for the ‘45’ to show defiance by donating food to those in the local community who had nothing to eat.

The result of their efforts was £900 worth of donated packets and tins which required the services of a large volunteer trailer to be moved across town. In the same week, two local SNP branch meetings collected up a further £500 of food.

In the last three weeks a staggering £5000 of food has come in through the doors of the First Base Agency.

On the surface of things, what has happened is an appalling indictment of what the ‘No’ vote meant to so many. ‘No’ meant a whole lot of people in Scotland would continue to go hungry. ‘Better Together’ meant that those lucky enough to have a house and a job and a pension fund had decided they were best sticking together to make sure none of their stuff would be taken a away and given to hungry, poor types. I mean for goodness sake, how many widescreen TV’s do these wretched poor people actually need!

Even the most ferocious campaigner for the continued Union would surely have to admit that the events of the month following the Referendum has borne out most of what the ‘Yes’ side said. We’re once again bombing Iraq and UKIP has moved along from being a frightening bogeyman in the shadows to a clear and present danger. The only answer the Tory Conference could find to the abject bankruptcy of the country was to flay the poor even harder. The pound has weakened and the Stock Market has tanked and according to new research, we suddenly have 120 years worth of oil to go at.
 
Remember the bold Sir Ian Wood, Knight of the Realm and font of all wisdom when it came to the real truth about Scotland’s oil? In the days before the vote he sounded like Fraser in Dad’s Army. The oil is running dry!!! We’re doomed!!!!! In the days after the vote he released a profit warning to his City investors. Apparently his company’s maintenance services were no longer required by the hard nosed guys at Big Oil. Basically lots of them had fired his arse and he was about to hit the bricks. But wait! Just a couple of days later and the seventh cavalry rode over the horizon to save his sorry neck from having a tomahawk pushed through it. Phew. Sir Ian’s outfit were awarded 75% of the fracking rights across the Central Belt and the day was duly saved.

Who awarded the fracking rights to save Sir Ian’s bacon? The British Government.

Who’s bacon did Sir Ian save by lying through his teeth about Scotland’s boil reserves? The British Government.

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

It’s what they call an Establishment stitch up.

Suddenly there is a new political reality in the frantic corridors of Westminster. Blue Tories and Red Tories are frantically trying to keep up with the world according to Nigel.
 
It is the new gospel - what Nigel says, goes.

Keeping up with Nigel has become the be all and the end all.

Nigel says we’ll solve the problem of too many East European immigrants by leaving the EU and adopting an Aussie style points system to govern who is allowed to come to our fair shores.

I can better that, screams Dave. We Red Tories will continue to let them in, but then when they get here we’ll lock them up in concentration camps in the Scottish Highlands and solve the balance of payments problem by extracting ransoms from their families. What’s there not to like! It’s just so super and perfect. Serco have already bid for the contract. They will provide lots of smashing zero contract camp guard work for the Scots as a reward for them voting ‘No’ and they have already engaged a team of consultants from the Islamic State to provide training sessions on how behead the detainees whose families refuse to cough up the ransom.

Red Tory Ed shakes his head and makes a nasal tutting sound. He reveals a killer counter to the Blue Tory ransom plan. Ed announces that ransom money is just a drop in the bucket and the Scots are worth so much more that lousy zero hours work as camp guards. The Red Tories will go much further and dust down an old playbook. He agrees with the arrest and detain in concentration camp part of the Blue Tory plan. But instead of merely ransoming the captives, the Red Tories promise something much bigger and better. Don’t ransom… sell!!!! The Red Tories are going to get Britain back into the slavery game! It’s win, win and win again. A boom for ship building on the Clyde. Lucrative overseas work for the Scots. The good old days will be back!

Over the last few weeks, Nigel has discovered and new and wickedly appealing string to his bow. Why is it that those pesky Scots have free prescriptions and free futher education and free care for the elderly?

Nigel knows exactly why.

And Nigel is about to tell anyone willing to listen why.

It’s because the Scots are all a bunch of subsidy junkies!

And who is paying the bills? The beleaguered rank and file of Middle England, that’s who.

The same beleaguered rank and file who are paying the benefits of the fifty million Romanian gypsies who are about to flood our green and pleasant land to pick our pockets and take our houses.

Nigel is all set to make the Scots into the new Romanians and he has the Barnett Formula well and truly in his sights.

In the world according to Nigel, the Barnett Formula is the vehicle which carries an extra £1400 a head up the M6 from Middle England to shirking Scotland.

Will the Red and Blue Tories be willing to point out the tiresome reality that the Barnett Formula is designed as a vehicle to send back most of the money that Scotland pays into the Westminster coffers? Well. Most of it.

Will telling that particular truth curry any favour among the disaffected millions of the South East of England? Not a chance. Nigel’s anti Scottish poison will soon become every bit as addictive as his anti everyone else poison.

So let’s face it. Handing in a bunch of food in the wake of the ‘No’ vote wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The 2015 election is going to be all about who can hate the hardest and Nigel will make sure that the Scots will become popular hate figures alongside the Romanians and the Somalis.

Yesterday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicted that Scotland is well on target to having one in four of its children living in poverty by 2020. This desperate assumption is based on things staying as they are now and the Barnett Formula remaining unchanged. Once Nigel has had his impact, it seems more than likely that will not be the case for much longer. By 2020, the extra £1400 a head Barnett sends north will be no more. Should that be the case, then we can forget the 25% of kids in poverty figure: should that be the case, it will be more like one in three.

The report was picked up by the news channels and a debate duly broke out. As per usual, lots of angry voices said what an disgrace it is that so many now have to rely on food banks in order to keep their bodies and souls together. Many pointed out that Britain is becoming more unequal by the day and the street level result of this inequality is the growing number of foodbanks. What is needed are more progressive policies to redistribute wealth and level out the playing field.

As someone who manages a foodbank, much of this talk is starting to get me pretty pissed off. More and more it seems that the tone of much of this talk suggests that foodbanks in themselves are somehow disgraceful. If people could for a moment climb down from their moral high horses, they might realise that foodbanks ARE wealth distribution at its most basic. Someone who has some spare food in their cupboard is more wealthy than someone with a bare cupboard. If the person with the food decides to give some to the person without food, they are re-distributing some of their wealth. If a third person decides to donate some of their time free of charge to make the transaction happen seamlessly, they are also redistributing wealth in their own way.

How many people in Britain would have starved over the last few years if there hadn’t been foodbanks to keep them going? I hate to think. But not a single person HAS actually starved. The Government deserves no credit whatsoever for this. The community has proved that it is simply not willing to allow people to starve and it has found a way to make sure that it does not happen.

This is what foodbanks are all about: they are a people based answer to a people based problem. It is voluntary wealth distribution.

Surely the foodbank phenomenon is a perfect case study on how problems can be solved. It seems to me that the incredible efficiency foodbanks have shown in the way they have met the crisis of the last few years is something of an anathema to many.

Old thinking says that the only way to even things up is to pass laws to take more money off people in the form of more tax. Then the Government of the day handles this money with jaw dropping inefficiency and by the time it works its way down the chain there is hardly any left by the time it reaches the place where people are hungry. Just imagine how many managers and workers the Council would require to hand out the 500 emergency food parcels First Base gives out every month. The mind boggles. I absolutely guarantee that their overheads would be at least ten times what our overheads are. There would be no volunteers involved and they wouldn’t hand out any more food than we hand out now. Instead they would simply spend ten times as much to achieve the same thing.

I know which answer I prefer. This is the key to the success of foodbanks. When someone comes in through our front door to donate a carrier bag full of tinned food, they do so in the certain knowledge that every single one of those tins will find its way to someone who really needs a bite to eat. When any government raids our salary before we get it, we have no such confidence. Instead we wince at the endless number of managers who demonstrate barely a shred of efficiency before riding off into a Spanish sunset care of their staggering public sector pensions.

It is high time we stopped seeing foodbanks as some sort of a disgrace. Instead we should start seeing foodbanks as offering a compelling case for the community keeping government completely out of the loop and sorting stuff out for itself. We rail about the lack of care the government gives to the elderly. Fair enough. But is it really so hard to knock the door of an elderly neighbour and ask if they want any shopping getting in? We rail about the government’s inability to crack the whip and control the feral kids who scare us all to death. Fair enough. But is it really all that hard to add these kids to the invitation list when we are organising our own kids’ birthday parties and sleep overs? We have it easily within our power to make things a whole lote better for a whole lot of people all by ourselves. Those of us running foodbanks haven’t needed any politicians to hold our hands. Instead we have simply got on with it and you know what, nobody has starved.

A better society doesn’t mean a place where there are no foodbanks because the government has taken more money from us so that they can take the job over and and do it inefficiently and badly. That isn’t progressive. That is just more public sector jobs for the boys. A better society means no more foodbanks because people don’t need them any more. In the brave new world of Nigel, such a place shows no signs of happening any time soon, so surely the best idea is to see if the foodbank solution can be found for lots of different problems.

It seems we’ve all waited long enough for politicans of all colours to come up with the an answer to the question of why a quarter of our kids are living in poverty. Maybe it is high time we took control of the problem ourselves and look for our own answers.

So here is how the spirit of the 45 can help to undo much of the damage that is headed our way as the Blue and Red Tories frantically scramble to keep their heads above water in the world according to Nigel.