MARK FRANKLAND

I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

HANGING ON IN QUIET DESPERATION....

Our new 'Bridge project' is three months old now. It is a simple enough affair. Basically we try to do what we can to help the slowly growing number of foreign nationals who come through our doors for emergency food. Three months isn't so long. But it is long enough. Long enough to see a future filled with stories of quiet tragedy.

Quiet desperation

You see it in their eyes. A journey's end that isn't even close to living up to what the wording on the tin promised. Sam, the homeless and penniless Fijian soldier learning the hard way that giving his all in the brutality of Iraq and Afghanistan wasn't enough to warrant a British passport. No benefits. No right to work. Do not pass 'Go'...

The Tunisian father of four facing imminent eviction and the prospect of seeing his young kids out on the street.

So many people cut adrift and slowly drowning in a vast grey ocean of small print and regulation. It is impossible to paint an accurate pitcture of just how utterly dismal this world is. The world we have created at the behest of Farage and his fellow xenophobic hate mongers in the tabloid press. Nothing new in all this of course. Other times and other places have seen living breathing human beings reduced to despised numbers by the beaurcrats tasked with delivering endless nastiness.

People tell me that over the last couple of years the Home Office has added thousands on new clauses to the UK's immigration rulebook. The bar inches up higher and higher. And buried deep in the small print lies something that is becoming ever closer to true wickedness.

Deport and appeal.

Dusty old ghosts from the history books of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia or Honecker's East Germany would purr with appreciation at deport and appeal. It really does what it says on the tin. It goes something like this. Johnny foreigner pitches up in the UK and asks to stay. Maybe they are fleeing torture and war. Maybe they have already been here for long enough to settle into a family life complete with kids and career. Well, the answer is no of course. The answer is always no. Unless you are a Premier League footballer or a Russian oligarch. Once they say 'no', Johnny foreigner has the right to appeal. Because the UK is a decent caring place under the rule of law. Of course it is. And to help with their appeal they have the right to seek representation from a lawyer capable of getting their head around all those thousands of pages of vindictive Home Office legislation.

But I am using the wrong tense here. The present tense is no longer fit for purpose. The Home Office didn't like the appeals process. Too many pesky judges digging far to deeply into a well of human kindness they had no right to dig into. Saying 'yes' when it should have been abundantly clear that 'no' was the only acceptable outcome. Wig wearing pinko bastards.

Well the Home Office decided enough was enough. The goalposts needed moving and it was the beloved Michael Gove took an axe to the legal aid budget. Let's see how these jumped up foreign types get along trying to work their way through the rule book on their own. Ha!! Thought not. Go on. Off you bloody well pop. Goodbye and good bloody riddance. He even came up with the front to suggest that the legal profession should represent these uppity foreign types 'Pro Bono'. He conveniently forgot the fact that there was barely a living to be had for any lawyer plying their trade in immigration law even before he took away their life blood. He conveniently forgot that the lawyers from the milk and honey areas of the legal trade have no expertise whatsoever in immigration law and therefore couldn't help on a Pro Bono basis even if they wanted to.

But even that wasn't enough. The Home Office worried there might still be thousands of foreign types hanging around like a bad smell whingeing on about not wanting to sent back to the torture room. I mean. Come on. Some even bleat on about wanting to stay with their kids who were born in Britain as British citizens. Can you believe these people. The bloody cheek. They want to stay with their children! Bastards. And the children are little better. They actually want to stay in schools with their pals and continue to speak English as their first language. Bloody wimps. The cowardly swine can't even face the modest idea of upping sticks and relocating to a place thousands of miles away to learn a new language and live on a dollar a day.

So what did they come up with? It wasn't easy for them to be honest. You see, many moons ago that pinko bastard Winston Churchill signed us all up to the European Human Rights Convention. As in the nanny bloody state times about twenty. It doesn't half tie the hands when it comes to handling uppity foreign types. It insists they have the right to appeal. Bloody outrageous. Well the lads in the Home Office were having none of it. So the bloody European Human Rights Convention insists on a right of appeal? Fine then. They can have their right of appeal. But we don't remember it saying anywhere that they had to actually be in the country to appeal. Well, does it? Ha!! Thought not. So here's how we will play it. We'll deport the bastards and let them appeal from whichever hell hole they hail from. Bloody wogs. Best of luck with it. Let's see how they get on hiring a lawyer when all they've got is Skype and a dollar a day.

Is evil too strong a word? Not in my book. It's all about finding new small print ways to treat people like cockroaches.

And David Cameron looks so smug when his cherubic features fill our TV screens. Oh how he loves to gloat about his new triumphs over the tidal wave of human cockroaches who threaten to overwhelm us. The bastards in Brussels insist than any Lithuanian, German or Pole has the right to come to our fair shores with no questions asked. And the scrounging, scheming bastards actually seem to think they have the right to claim benefits. Well not on Dave's watch. Because Dave has sorted it. Dave has been out to bat for each and every one of us and Dave has hit the ball out of the park. Now these foreign cockroaches need to prove their worth by working for at least 16 hours a week before they are entitled to a lousy brass farthing. Pow!! Zap! Take that human cockroaches! There's a new Sheriff in town and the man in the white hat is called Dave. All hail Dave the bane of Johnny Foreigner.

Because they are all the same you see. These foreigners. Bloody cockroaches. They need a firm hand. They need to know exactly who's the boss here. Bastards. Aren't they Nigel? Course they are. All or 'em.

But here's the thing. They aren't all the same. Nobody is the same. Every single one of us on the planet is different. It's called genetics and it is inescapable. Every one of us has a different story. Sure, some of us are scheming, evil bastards. Others of us are not. Most in fact. We deserve to right to be treated on our merits. We deserve not to treated like human cockroaches as a punishment for not being born under a British postcode.

But this of course is the world of John Lennon. The reality is more Josef Goebbels. There is no case by case basis. And it is all completely hateful when you see it play out first hand. When you are confronted by the blindingly obvious fact that these are people not cockroaches.

Which brings me to Katarina which as usual is not her real name. Katerina hails from Eastern Europe and needs two First Base food parcels a week to keep her body and her soul together. You want to see her CV. Impressive doesn't even begin to cut it. For thirty years she was a very senior executive with a number of large companies in her home country. Then she met a Scottish ex pat, fell in love and got married. The Scottish ex pat fell ill and wanted to come home to the NHS. So they sold up and packed up and Katerina cut all her ties with home. The NHS treatment worked but the marriage fell apart. And all of a sudden Katerina found that without the paperwork linking her to a UK citizen she was all of a sudden one of those human cockroaches. She is over sixty and draws a pension from home which is enough to pay the rent on a flat in the tough part of town. If the exchange rate is good, she has £60 or £70 a month left over to pay for everything else. If the exchange rate is bad, then that figure can drop to £20.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Katarina to see if there was anything we could do to make things better. She came up the stairs looking smart as paint in her Sunday best. She sat quiet as a mouse and told her story in a quiet voice weighing every English word with great care. Time and again she apologised for her English which to my ear was pretty damn good. Let's face it, we see plenty of home grown clients whose English is all but indecipherable. Three litres of Frosty Jacks can turn the Queen's English into something akin to double Dutch.

I digress. Katarina. Her quiet words told of a life mostly lived without power. A lonely life of make do and mend. Wear an overcoat at all times. Only light the room you are in. And heating? No. No heating. She has a list of qualifications as long as her arm. Back home she was a high flying professional. Not here though. Here she fills in application form after application form to become a cleaner. Because cleaning offers her the best chance to find the sixteen hours a week of work Dave demands. But cleaning jobs are hard to come by when you are 61 years old and you live in a country far from home.

I filled in a form to a Trust that can help those in dire need. I got word yesterday that £100 had been ear marked for Katarina. To help with the power. To allow some electric light into her life. So I called her. And when I let her know that someone out there was going to help, the other end of the line was suddenly filled with quiet sobbing. And with every sob the sheer bottomless loneliness of her life ate into me. Once I was done, I called up Neil who is the minister at her local church. Neil is one of the good guys. Would you go see her? Sure he would. But only if she wanted him to. So I called her back up and once again there was sobbing. She said I was too kind. I said I wasn't. It made no difference.

Christ. You just feel so utterly and completely useless. Well I do. And every time I hear the likes of Farage spitting his poison I think of this lovely lady in her Sunday best. I see the loneliness in her eyes. I hear the quiet sobs on the other end of the line. And it really shouldn't be like this, but it is. And I can hear a million angry voices shouting why the bloody hell doesn't she go back home then? If it's all so bad here? Well.... why!! Because she has burnt her bridges and cut her ties. Because she put all her faith in a marriage that didn't work out. Because home is a place where the fascists are getting ever closer to enjoying a re-run of the good old days of the 1930's. Because of a whole host of reasons.

Her reasons. And I have no doubt that she will get a job at some stage. So long as she keeps body and soul together and doesn't allow the cold loneliness of her life to eat away at her soul so badly that it becomes incapable of repairing itself.

So.


Here's a request for any of you reading this are from in and around Dumfries. Anyone need a cleaner? An hour a week? Two hours a week? If you do this lovely lady really could do with a leg up if she is to abide by Dave's new rules. If anyone out there feels they might be able to help Katarina in any way please get in touch.

markglenmill@aol.com or 07770 443 483.      

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

HIDDEN CORNERS OF THE WAR ON THE POOR

The war being waged on the poor right now is no World War Two. It lacks the vast sprawling set piece battles like Midway or Stalingrad. Instead it is much more akin to the Cold War: a long, endlessly vicious conflict played out in hidden corners the eyes of the world seldom get to see.

The nearest thing we have seen to a Stalingrad has of course been the much hated Welfare Reforms. One by one these have been placed on the floor of the House of Commons and one by one they have been sent out across the country with a majority. Watching the likes of the Bedroom Tax being passed into law has been similar to watching a group of acne riddled Brownshirts kicking an old Jewish shop keeper on a pavement glittering with broken glass. Vicious, sure it has been vicious. But the mood music playing away in the background has always hammered home the fact that the beating is well and truly deserved. In any mid 1930's German town, the message was loud and clear – you life is shit and the reason is all down to those lousy scheming Jewish bastards. So it's OK to give them a kicking, right? Is the Bedroom Tax so very different? Struggling to make your mortgage payment this month? Well that is because all of these nasty skiving poor people are hoovering up all of tax you are paying. So it's fine and dandy to give them a proper kicking, right? It's what the shirking swine deserve.

The Welfare Reforms are the war on the poor right out there in the open for all the world to see. Brazen if you like. At risk of flogging the Cold War comparison to death, they are the equivalent of Reagan and Thatcher deploying their Cruise missiles and pointing them straight at the Kremlin. There was nothing secret about it. Instead it was all done right in the face of the Politbureau. When all was said and done, that was the whole point.

All the while, the real bread and butter brutality of the Cold War was being played out every single day in a hundred forgotten corners of the world where the TV cameras never came close to telling the story. CIA funded death squads quietly filled up mass graves in Nicaragua whilst Soviet Hind helicopters turned Afghan villages into rubble whilst South African punishment battalions deployed medieval levels of cruelty in Angola.

I guess that's probably enough of 'the war on the poor'/Cold War compare and contrast. Time to run through a couple of examples of how the war on the poor is being waged far from the public view. One is tiny, one is massive and both come from the same nasty stable.

The tiny one first.

I heard about this from one of our long term food parcel guys. No real names. I will call him Boris for obvious reasons. When Boris first came in a few years ago, the idea of him becoming a regular would have seemed laughable. He was about fifty and he had always worked. He had his shit together and getting a job was only a matter of time. So he filled out his job applications and he knocked doors. No big deal. He had plenty of experience of getting a job. However, he didn't fill in enough application forms to keep the Job Centre happy so they nailed him with a one month sanction. No big deal. He was perfectly confident that he would find a job which would render the sanction null and void.

He didn't find a job. Instead he kept on getting sanction after sanction. And it started to take a toll on him. He was spending too much time on his own in an unheated flat with no power. Cold and dark, dark and cold. Every day became a story of killing time through empty hours. Finding a bit of warmth care of hot food providers. And of course he started to keep the kind of company he would never normally have kept. Slowly but slowly the grinding misery of his new life broke him down. Piece by piece. He stopped shaving and his clothes started to look like a tramp's clothes. He drifted over an invisible line and joined the ranks of the unemployable. And the sanctions kept on coming as surely as cold, dark night followed cold, dark day.

I remember chatting with Boris one day at the counter. By now the bones of his skull were in danger of bursting through his grey skin. If Speilberg were ever to come to Dumfries to cast for Schindler's List Two, my man would be hired on just like that. He shook his head in wonder at the sheer extent to which his life had become so utterly crap. He told me how he would kill all of those empty hours. He would walk and walk through the streets of the town centre collecting docked fags from the ashtrays on the top of the council's bins. Once he had a carrier bag filled up, he would take them home and gather in all the tobacco. And then he would smoke it. He said he would never in a million years have believed he would ever become a guy who would spend his days collecting dockers. But that is what he had become. A guy who spent his days collecting dockers. In a carrier bag.

He was in last week. He doesn't have the energy any more to get angry about things. He is too broken up to get angry. He is a poster boy for utter resignation. He told me that the council had buggered up his quest for dockers. He told me that council guys had been instructed to go around all the bins in the town centre to pour water on the docked fags.

This seemed to me to be a whole new level of gratuitous nastiness. Fair enough, it isn't exactly a good look for a town to have lads like Boris haunting the high street in the pursuit of dockers. But come on, it isn't like it will put off tourists or inward investment or recruiting doctors for the hospital. Instead it seemed as fine an example of kicking a man down as I had ever seen. So I called up the leader of the SNP group. I mean, bloody hell Andy. Surely this is out of order? Don't you think? There aren't necessarily all that many councilors you can call up with this kind of complaint, but Andy is one of them. He is one of the good guys. He got it. But he boxed clever and fired off an angry e mail to the relevant department asking if they really thought this was a good use of scarce human resources in this era of austerity? They replied pretty sharpish. Not us, Guv. Nobody here has issued any such instruction. Honest. They were no doubt telling the truth. Instead a lone wolf council employee had taken it upon themselves to use their authority to indulge themselves in the pleasure of kicking downed men.

How charming.

Once upon a time the front page headlines of 'Der Sturmer' made it seem to the Brownshirt bully boys that it was OK to kick old Jews on the pavement. No doubt the poor hating tabloids of today had the very same effect on the guy to decided it was perfectly OK to pour water on ashtrays full of dockers.

And now the big thing.

It might be wicked and calculating. Or maybe it is just a horrible accident. The result is the same either way. The result is the mass screwing over of the poor.

It goes something like this.

We demand our politicians defend our NHS. But our politicians daren't ask us to pay more tax to make such a thing realistically possible. Instead they try to convince us they are miracle men who can conjure up billions of pounds worth of magic money to keep the show on the road. They can't of course. They know it and if we ever choose to be honest with ourselves, we probably know it as well. They have learned the hard way that trying to close a hospital is the quickest way to render yourself unelectable, even if every medical professional agrees that closing the hospital is the best thing to do. So instead they look for ways to make the required cuts far from the public view.

Last week some highly reputable outfit shone a merciless light on some of this. And it is nasty. Really nasty. So your hip is killing you . You go to your GP and tell him your hip is killing you. He sends you for an X Ray which reveals your hip is all shot to hell. He tells you you need a new one. So he sends you along to the hospital to meet with the consultant who has the job of installing the new hip. All very straight forward and in an NHS free at the point of use, this is available to each and every one of us who is deemed to be a bone fide citizen.

Well it was. Not any more. Well. Not in England at least. For instead of meeting with a consultant you now get to meet with a beaurocrat who doesn't talk about how much your hip is hurting. Instead they get you one the scales and work out just how fat you are. And if you are deemed to be too fat, they tell you to bugger off and lose some weight before coming back. The report was all about how angry the consultants are about this. They seem to think they are the real experts who should be making the decisions about who gets a new hip and who doesn't. They are seriously pissed off that the beaurocrats have muscled in on their turf. It's hard to blame them for being angry.

Of course this kind of thing is pretty inevitable when you think about it. Politicians promise to maintain the NHS. Politicians promise not to cut the NHS. Politicians promise not to raise taxes. More people use the NHS. The NHS creaks at the seams. Politicians haven't the first clue what to do about it. Politicians hire Fancy Dan high fliers from the private sector and pay them six figure salaries to work a miracle. Politicians offer the Fancy Dan high fliers massive bonuses if they can find new ways of cutting NHS costs without the public noticing. The Fancy Dan high fliers come up with a cunning plan. We can stop fat people from getting expensive treatment. And the really good news here is that 63% of the population is deemed to be overweight or obese. So we can still bang on about how our NHS is free at the point of use for everyone. We just don't bang on about the fact that we have added an extra line to that 1947 statement. You know. The bit that says free at the point of use for everyone who isn't fat.

Pretty neat, right? The Fancy Dan high fliers cash their fat bonus cheques and the politicians get to keep on spouting their nonsense and nobody is any the wiser.

But wait one minute. Surely this is a war on fat people, not a war on the poor. Well once upon a time I guess it would have been. Back in the days of cotton mills and children being boosted up chimneys, poor people tended to be skinny people. Not any more. Now studies in obesity show the opposite. In the leafy suburbs where people own second homes and send their kids to private school, Waitrose is the shop of choice and people have the wherewithal to fill their trolleys with all the healthy stuff. In the schemes on the other side of the tracks, Farmfoods rules supreme. For a pound you can buy a whole box of things that have the look of sausages but in fact are little more than tubes filled with reclaimed fat, sugar and a bunch of weird and wonderful flavourings.

Check out any map of obesity and it looks a lot like the map of life expectancy. If you live in Kensigton you can expect to live many years longer than if you live in Easterhouse. Similarly if you live in Kensington and go to the gym and shop in Waitrose, statistically you are all but certain to be many pounds lighter that you will be if you live in Easterhouse and shop in Farmfoods. The wheel has come full circle since the days of Dickens when Mr Bumble was fat and Oliver was skin and bone. Now the rich tend to be trim whilst the poor tend to be obese. And this of course makes the cunning NHS plan all the more cunning. You save cash by finding a way to exclude fat poorer people from getting treatment and thereby ensuring slim rich people get seen quickly even though the budget has been cut. Especially older richer people.

And whose votes do politicians really covet? The older richer people who vote in their droves. And whose votes are the politicians really not all that bothered about? All those obese poorer people who don't tend to bother much with the polling booths.


Unlike the decision to pour water on dockers in Dumfries council bins, this is not the action of a poor hating lone wolf. This one has to come right from the top. But the effect is much the same.    

Saturday, April 30, 2016

ALL OF A SUDDEN I HAVE A HEAD FULL OF SPIDERS

Every now and then people ask me why I write this blog. I hope the answer I give is an honest one. I think it is. As far as I am concerned, most of my blogs are a part of my job of managing the First Base Agency which among other things is a foodbank. Ours is a door people walk through when their lives have hit the bricks. Crashed and burned. Gone down the tube. We see a lot of the forgotten people who live in the dismal half world at the very bottom of Britain's ladder. Their lives are quiet tragedies which nobody much cares much about. I guess they are the forgotten people.

These people have no voice. And so it has always seemed to me as a person who has written 23 novels that part and parcel of my job should be to do my level best to provide a voice. To tell their dismal stories. To shine something of a light on the way they are being treated.

So that is what I try to do. When I started the thing off I never ceased to be amazed when more than ten people found their way to reading the stories I had to tell. Then slowly but surely I found more and more readers were eager to hear the voice of First Base's forgotten people. As I write this, the 'Page Visits' counter on my page tells me almost 350,000 people have chosen turn up and survey the bleak little pictures of modern Britain I do my best paint.

But this is a very different blog. I guess you could call it an effort at self-therapy. Catharsis. An attempt to clear the spiders that have been crawling through my brain for the last few days. I guess it is a case of putting my money where my mouth is. For years I have sat quietly whilst all kinds of clients have drained the poison from their souls. Young female heroin addicts burying memories of beatings and rape. Skin deep hard men forever using violence to blank out what a so called uncle did to them when they were eight years old. Ex Soldiers trying to find a way of live with things they once did in the name of their Queen. And sometimes I suggest they get a pen and some paper and write it down. All of it. Like lancing a boil. Like throwing up a manically swigged bottle of scotch. Use words like bleach to scrub the soul.

Does it work? For some. For others not so much. And most don't try it at all. In the end the human brain is one of the last undiscovered horizons. There is no right or wrong way. We are all so very, very different.

I remember one lad telling me how after twenty tortuous years he finally found a way to break the stranglehold the childhood abuse he had suffered in a 1970's borstal had held him in. He took a pen. He took a piece of paper. And he wrote it all down. All of it. Every last festering detail. Then he screwed the paper into a ball and entombed it with a whole fat roll of sellotape. And then for five lunatic minutes he attacked the makeshift ball. Like a maniac. Like a psychopath. Screaming and swearing and dripping sweat. And all the while all the other lads in the rehab cheered him on like the crowd must have once roared on the gladiators in the Coliseum. And when it was all over the poison was purged. The spiders in his brain were evicted. Finally he was able to resist the honeyed whispered lure of heroin. He found he didn't need it any more.

The very moment the jury of nine wound up two years worth of the coroner's Inquiry into Hillsborough, I felt a dam burst in my head. At first I put it down to nothing more than an explosion of emotion. I don't cry much, but when the answer to Question Number 7 exonerated the Liverpool fans of all blame, I found my cheeks were soaked. I felt relieved I was on my own. Sitting behind the wheel of my van. Parked up in the middle of a million acres of Scottish nowhere.

It passed.

I smoked a couple of cigarettes and semi absorbed what people were saying on the radio. Then I got on with day. And I waited for things to normalise.

But they didn't normalise. Instead there were spiders in my head. Lots of them. Spiders on speed. Spiders like a mob of hyper active kids. Itching, scratching, teeming bastard things.

For years I have considered myself to be one of the lucky ones. I wasn't one of the 96 who died. I wasn't one of the hundreds who were injured. Lady Luck saw me turn right rather than enter the tunnel of death a mere matter of seconds before Duckenfield ordered the gate opened. Before a few square feet of crumbling concrete were turned into hell. I was on the right side of the cage. The side where you didn't die. A mere few feet away from a massacre. Able to breathe. Able to live.

And for years I felt hugely lucky to have avoided the mental wreckage so many of my fellow survivors have been afflicted with. From time to time I would hear of the suicides and divorces and alcoholism and drug addiction. I was never signed off sick. I never had to beg my GP for anti depressants or my smack dealer for a line of credit. My brain managed to process what it had witnessed.

Triggers? Again I was one of the lucky ones. I have learned a lot about triggers over the last few years from talking with clients of our Veterans Project. Sights and smells and sounds to transport a person back to a moment of trauma. A moment of blind terror and shame and guilt. One young lad with raw desperate eyes told me how he had lost his job in Tesco. I said that he had no problems with the afternoon shift. It was the morning shift that did for him. Because in the morning they baked bread. In the mornings the store would fill up with the smell of fresh baked loaves. For most of us this is a favourite smell. But not this lad. For this lad the smell of baking bread took him straight back to Helmand Province. It had been the smell in his nostrils on two separate occasions when mates had been blown to bits by roadside bombs. One minute he would be working quietly away. The next minute he would be all over place. Off on one. Way too far out of line for the management of the store. And he could never find the words to tell them how the smell of the bakery took him back to the worst place in the world.

I only have two triggers which carry me back to 15 April 1989. There is the smell of hot dogs and fried onions on a very particular kind of spring day. A few years ago this was common enough but not any more. Street hot dog stands seem to have gone the same way as coal mines and shipyards.

And then there is a sound rather than a smell. Think news items about famine zones. Think of a flatbed truck loaded up with fifty kilo hessian sacks of flour. Imagine sound it would make if someone dropped one of those sacks down onto a concrete floor. It is a very particular sound and not a common sound. It is a sound you hardly ever hear. Thank Christ. Because it is the very same sound as an inert body makes when you push it up and over a South Yorkshire steel fence and down onto a South Yorkshire floor. The sound of dead meat.

So. Not dead. Not injured. And afflicted by two triggers that hardly ever happen. Like I said. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. One of the luckiest.

And then things changed the very second the answer to question 7 was 'NO.' I haven't felt right since. Listless. Lethargic. A stomach full of inexplicable doom. Spiders in the head. And a feeling of guilt that doesn't want to go away. I tried to explain it to my two sons on Thursday night when we went to the pub to watch the Reds in the Europa League semi final. I couldn't seem to engage with the pictures on the screen. It didn't seem to matter somehow. More to the point, I felt if I allowed it to matter I would somehow be letting the dead down. And of course there was no logic to it. There never is. Just spiders. Just a general feeling of emptiness and doom. And way back in the back of my mind is the feeling that maybe I should have done more. On the day. In the years that followed. When I gave my first statement to the police. When I appeared at the Inquiry. Had I really done as much as I could have done?

And no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to make the answer into a yes. Hence the spiders. And already I am sick of the spiders. And the constant sense of … of what? It's impossible to describe. Foreboding? Emptiness? Rage? A mix of all sorts.

Whatever it is, I need it to go away. So like I said. This is an effort to practice what I preach. Write it down. But I'm not going to print it out and wrap it in sellotape and attack it with twenty seven years worth of bottled up fury.

No. I'm going to proof read it for typos. And being as dyslexic as I usually am, I will miss most of them. And then I will click the 'Publish' button.


And then I will send these words spiraling away into the ether. Hopefully the bastard spiders with go along with them.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

PEOPLE ASK ME 'HOW DO YOU FEEL?' AFTER 27 YEARS? I GUESS IT IS SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

In some ways it is similar day to that day twenty seven years ago. That South Yorkshire day. That Sheffield day. That Hillsborough day. An ice blue sky with cotton wool clouds. It was warmer twenty seven years ago. Lads were in T shirts. Today the temperature hits the deck every time the sun hides behind a cloud.

I'm out and about running the errands of a guy who manages a food bank. And second by second the clock on the dashboard is ticking its way to eleven clock. And at eleven o'clock a jury of six women and three men are about to pronounce on two years worth of what unfolded in a matter of minutes.

So I take a couple of back roads. Hedges and lambs and pot holes. A lay-by on the side of a hill giving an overlook onto a Scottish postcard. Hills and sea and buzzards in the sky. And an ice blue sky with cotton wool clouds. Like twenty seven years ago.

How long will it take? No idea. Probably ages. But after twenty seven years it doesn't seem to matter much. So I chain smoke and I wait. How do feel? Queasy. Braced for yet another kick in the teeth care of the British Establishment.

I remember my own part in the Inquiry. I was ambushed. All those promises of the process being non adversarial and mindful of the feelings of those who lived through that sunny Sheffield afternoon proved to be yet another lie. Instead I experienced the joy of being hauled over the coals by Mr John Beggs, the QC of choice for all top cops in trouble. Non adversarial? Aye right. He gave it to me with both barrels. According to John Beggs QC I was nothing more than a fantasist. Just another whinging Scouser. I half expected him to break out into that witty little number so favoured by United fans.

'It's never your fault... it's never your fault... you're always the victims .. it's never your fault...'

He was particularly angry at the letter I wrote two days after the disaster which I ended with a quote from Wilfred Owen. 'What passing bells for those who dare like cattle.' What kind of person would quote poetry in a letter to members of Parliament? A self aggrandising fantasist. An over blown Scouser off on one. A pound shop John Lennon. A person to be ignored and discounted and discredited.

I have to admit that for a while his viciousness worked. I was pretty distraught as I left the courtroom. Having waited two and half decades to finally be granted the chance to tell the truth about what I saw that day, I felt like I might have blown it. I felt I had let everyone down. The dead and the families of the dead. A version of survivor's guilt I guess. The M6 seemed a bleak place. So you want to take on the British Establishment little man? Oh really? Don't be so naïve little man. Just disappear back to your nasty little life. There's a good chap.

Later several of the families who had been in court got in touch to say thanks. They told me it had been better that I thought it had been. They reckoned I had given the hated Beggs a bloody nose. Thank Christ. In the end being vilified by John Beggs QC turned out pretty well. One of the family members told me that only one other witness got the same level of personal attack as I did. Who? A certain Kenneth Matheison Dalglish. That'll do me!

11.10

One by one the fourteen questions are answered. And finally after twenty seven bloody years the blame is placed squarely where the blame needs to be placed: where it always should have been placed. The South Yorkshire Police. The South Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Sheffield City Council. Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.

And the fans of Liverpool Club? Question seven?

No blame. Not so much as a shred of blame.

The fans are identified as the true heroes of those desperate hours.

Finally. 

And I am surprised at how emotional I suddenly feel. Suddenly the Scottish postcard beyond the windscreen is blurred by tears. The buzzards up above are indistinct. All those conversations. Those Hillsborough conversations in the bleak years when the cover up had been clamped into place. What? You were there? Really? And I would tell them what I saw. What we all had seen. And in return there would be quizzical expressions. Or even open aggression. Because for all those years I was nothing more than a typical whinging Scouser. Always the victims, never our fault.

Because in those wilderness years we were still very much Thatcher's 'Enemy Within'. Not to be trusted. Not to be listened to. Only mocked with a thousand 'Scouser in a suit' jokes. Or a shell suit.

We got to understand how it must have been for the guys who tried to explain how the world was round when the Establishment demanded everyone tow the party line of flatness. I guess we can count ourselves lucky not to have been burned at the stake for our heresy.

When the cops came up to Dumfries to interview me in advance of my giving my evidence to the Inquiry, they brought along a copy of the letter I had written all those twenty seven years ago. The ghost of a younger me who had bought a £6 ticket to the killing cages of the Leppings Lane End. The same letter that John Beggs QC had taken such an aversion to. They asked if I had kept a copy of my own? I told them I hadn't. They asked if I would like to take a few moments to read the words of a twenty nine year old me? I said I would.

And there they were. Words written by the younger me less than 48 hours after the killings. 

'It is already clear that a cover up is being put into place.' 

Christ. It was already that obvious. I could see it without any need for hindsight. They had already laid out their cover up for all the world to see. They were brazen. Well of course they were. This was the British Establishment. These were people whose fathers and grandfathers had perfected the art of the cover up all the way from Amritsar to Bloody Sunday.

They didn't care that there had been 54,000 eye witnesses. They didn't care that the whole thing had played out on live TV. They didn't care because they held all the cards that counted: the Government and the Police and the media. What did we have? 96 corpses. Only the British Establishment would have the front to cover something up that had played out live in the nation's living rooms.

These were guys who had taken on board Hitler's advice on how to lie. If your going to tell a lie, tell a big lie. A huge lie. One of the biggest lies ever told. And let's face it, they did a hell of a job. Their huge lie remained doggedly in place for twenty seven years. Long enough for all of the main players to draw their gold plated pensions.

And for year after year those of us to did our best to attack the lie were treated with derision and disdain. And when we stood in the away sections of football grounds up and down the country we would hear the chant of 'Murderers!'

We were the ones who had urinated on corpses and picked the pockets of the dead. Scouse scum.
  
'Always the victims... it's never your fault.'

Even after two years of the truth being told in the Warrington courtroom nothing changed. When the Liverpool fans made their way to Old Trafford for the second leg of our Europa League clash, they were met by a banner hung from a bridge over the M602.

'MURDERERS'

Yesterday everything changed. We got something the people of Amritsar and Londonderry never got. We got the truth care of six women and three men. Care of a jury of our peers.

The truth at last.

Those who emerged from the courtroom were asked how they felt? Was their faith in British justice restored? I asked myself the same question. The answer? I don't think so. I doubt if it ever will be. These last 27 years have changed me. I have never been any kind of patriot. Maybe that was why I was drawn to Liverpool FC in the first place. When we get to Wembley, we boo the national anthem. We always have. Hilllsborough was the main reason I fought tooth and nail for Scottish Independence. I want no part of a country where such a monumental lie can remain safely in place for twenty seven years. Does yesterday's belated truth make me feel an different? Does it hell. Yesterday's truth merely rubber stamps the fact that the British Establishment is rotten to the core.

I spent a quiet hour re-visting that sunny afternoon in Sheffield. I remember getting back to the car a couple of hours after the killing. I remember the look of ashen relief on my dad's face. The relief of a man finding he still has a living, breathing son. I remember us sitting in the car with the radio on. Tuned into the rising death toll. It was still BBC Radio Two back then.

Peter Jones achieving the almost impossible and managed to find the right words. I have returned to his words many times over the years. They are close to poetry. You can hear them if you like. Just follow the link below.


YouTube pointed me in the direction of Match of the Day's coverage. I didn't watch it on the night. I didn't watch anything. I just sat and stared at a world of nothing.

It is worth taking half an hour to watch the coverage. They told it exactly how it was. They came to more or less exactly the same conclusion the jury of our peers came to yesterday. It was literally that obvious. The fans were clearly not to blame. They saw it all with crystal clarity mere hours after the killing.

It is here if you are interested.


Then the cover up was snapped into place.

For twenty seven years.

At least I was alive to see it finally unravel. Unlike the ninety six men, women, boys and girls who never came home from that sunny afternoon in Sheffield. Unlike so many of their family members. Unlike my dad.


There was more death yesterday, but it was the very best kind of death. The death of a lie. The death of one of the biggest lies ever told.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

IN THE LAND OF THE SANDWICH BOARD GUYS

I was driving around town the other day doing nothing of any great importance. The radio was on but I wasn't really listening. Some kind of news. A guy was working his way through the well worn '5th largest economy in the world' routine. Just background. Same old, same old.

Why had he bought it up? The fifth largest economy in the word thing?

I think it was the EU referendum. Was the fact we are purportedly the fifth largest economy in the world a reason to stay or leave? No idea. It is just one of those facts which are wheeled out over and over again until they mean nothing at all.

Lights on red. A queue of six or seven. Few enough to mean I would be through and on my way at the next change. A grey sort of a day trying hard to shake off the morning frost. Pedestrians in clothes advertising the fact that Spring was with us in name only.

And my eyes were drawn to a bizarre figure standing on the pavement by the lights. He was clad in a strange sort of jumpsuit. What the hell was it? Hard to say. It had the look of a Superman outfit that an over enthusiastic dad might hire in for his son's fourth birthday party. Maybe. The reds and the blues were faded from years of wear. This was certainly not a Superman jumpsuit of 2016 vintage. Instead it was a Superman jumpsuit which had been tucked away in the back of some cupboard for many a year.

From the neck down the guy was Superman weird. From the neck up, he was full on terrorist sporting a balaclava which left only his eyes exposed to the cold air. Well that isn't really right. Not any more. In the days when the Bogside and the Ardoyne hit the news every night, it only tended to the the terrorists who went in for the knitted head gear look. All that changed on the day when the SAS did their stuff at the Iranian Embassy live on prime time TV. Now it seems to be a requirement for any cop or soldier doing anti terror stuff to go for the eyes only balaclava look.

It was however abundantly clear that the man by the traffic lights was neither cop, soldier nor terrorist. Well I am pretty sure he wasn't, because his outfit was capped off with a large sandwich board announcing to the world that any Domino pizza could be had for the sum of £6.99.

Is £6.99 supposed to be good? I have no idea. I have to admit that I have never eaten a Domino pizza in my life. Maybe £6.99 represents the kind of unmissable bargain that is guaranteed to get any Domino fan changing their dinner plans. £6.99 actually seems quite a lot to me. For a pizza. I guess it's just me showing my age or something.

Well £6.99 may or may not be a hell of a price for a Domino pizza, but it still didn't explain why the message needed to be delivered by a guy in a faded Superman outfit and headgear to take us back to Belfast street scenes in 1973.

The lights changed. I drove through and the sandwich board guy slowly raised a gloved hand and gave us a wave as we passed him.

A few streets later there was another of these strange figures though this time his balaclava was rolled to the forehead to reveal a face that hailed from somewhere in North Africa. His jump suit didn't ring any superhero bells in my head. It was kind of mustard yellow and had probably come from the same dusty cupboard.

Over the next couple of days I clocked two more of these lads. Neither had recognisable jumpsuits and by this time I was secretly hoping for either Spiderman or Batman. You know. Superheroes I grew up with. But no such luck, Both had opted for the eyes only terrorist/ anti-terrorist chic head gear.

The locations they chose to announce £6.99 Domino pizza to the gold folk of Dumfries had been carefully chosen. Main junctions and roundabouts. Traffic hubs. The places where most cars would pass and pass slowly enough for the drivers to have time to take in the great news from Domino. It occurred to me that most of these junctions had once upon be home to factories where men and women worked in their hundreds. Back in the day when we did that kind of thing in Britain. You know. The whole factory thing.

Once we stopped doing that kind of thing, we bulldosed the factories and leveled the land and cleaned up the soil and came up with the dream of out of town shopping where we could all pretend that we were Americans living the suburban dream just like the Americans on the tele. And oh how truly marvelous it would be if we really could be like those American TV families with kids with blue eyes and corn stalk hair with their dad telling them how much he loves them every three minutes and their mum pulling an impossibly perfect turkey out of the oven. Or maybe they might give mom a break for the night and settle down together on an impossibly large and comfortable settee to laugh and hug each other as the kids slaughter the bad guys on the Playstation powered impossibly large TV.

And what does the impossibly perfect American family do on the nights they give their impossibly perfect mum a night off from cooking impossibly perfect turkeys? Why, they get on the phone and order in Domino pizza of course.

For £6.99. Any size. Super size.

And who needs factories when you can have your very own version of the out of town American dream. Tesco and Homebase and Currys and Matalan and …..

And, And, And.

And the sandwich board guys in their faded suits and balaclavas.

Fifth largest economy in the world? Really? All of a sudden it didn't make any kind of sense. How on earth can we be the fifth largest economy in the world now that we have bulldosed all the factories in favour of making like Dayton, Ohio?

We have replaced places where hundreds of men and women would actually make stuff the rest of the world actually bought off us with oddly dressed guys wrapped in sandwich boards.

Once I was in front of a screen I repaired to Google. Largest economies in the world? Ah. It looked a lot like the guy on the radio had been telling a few porkies. The consensus of the first few sites was that we were actually the sixth largest economy in the world. Not the fifth. So why lie? Oh that one is easy. Guess who is the real fifth largest economy in the world? You got it in one. France. And it wouldn't do to own up to the fact that we are behind our much loved neighbours in terms of our place in the global pecking order.

But what the hell. Fifth? Sixth? We are still bigger than the likes of India and Brazil and Russia and South Korea. So that's all right then. Who needs factories anyway? Factories are just so 20th Century. Best to leave all that kind of retro nonsense to the Germans and the Chinese. We are way too hip to do factories any more. We do service industry. Lots and lots and lots of it. We do out of town shopping and nail salons and costume drama and sandwich board guys.

So we're fine and we're dandy and any Domino pizza can be had for a mere £6.99 and one sunny day we will finally arrive in the promised land where paper boys on bikes sling the Daily Mail onto our doorsteps.

I remember hearing an interview with a customs guy. He was bringing the listeners up to speed on the art of money laundering. He said that every high street in every town is home to a restaurant where nobody ever seems to go. Night after night the view though the front window is one of lots of empty tables watched over by terminally bored waiters glued to their mobile phones. How can these places stay open we wonder? Of course we do because human beings are naturally inquisitive animals. Well the customs guy had all the answers. You buy a big restaurant. And you employ staff and you switch on the lights. And maybe if you are lucky you put a hundred quid or so in the till every night. But that doesn't matter because once you have closed, a quiet sort of a guy will turn up with a bag of dirty cash and a hundred quid becomes two thousand. And the next day you take it all to the bank and the dirty money is rendered clean. And the only way for HM Customs to catch this kind of operation in the act is for an undercover guy to sit in the empty restaurant for night after night taking notes of how many living breathing customers actually eat and pay. But of course the undercover guy will stick out like a sore thumb and on those nights the books will remain uncooked. So everyone knows exactly what is going down but nobody can prove it and in terms of turnover the ever empty restaurant can boast that it is the fifth biggest restaurant in town. Though in reality the French restaurant has the larger turnover, but nobody is about to own up to that embarrassing fact. Well of course they aren't.

The Panama Papers have maybe given us an insight as to how the land of the sandwich guys can claim to be the fifth largest economy in the world whilst not actually making anything. We follow the same playbook as the ever quiet restaurant. Only in a rather bigger way. In a truly massive way. For in the world of Mossack Fonseca, we are much more than the fifth largest economy in the world. In the world of Mossack Fonseca we are the largest and the finest launderette in the world. We are the go to place for anyone with a suitcase of dirty cash in urgent need of a good clean. It doesn't matter that we don't actually make anything any more. Once upon a time 70% of the British Government's income flowed in through via the Customs House in Liverpool. Those were the days when the goods of the world flowed in and out of Britain. Now we don't bother with the goods. Instead we just do the money. Land or hope and glory, money launderers to the world by appointment of the Queen.

Land of hope and glory where we like to pretend that sandwich board guys and out of town shopping mean we do more than South Korea and Brazil.

A faded superman outfit. A balaclava. A scripted wave. Any Domino pizza for £6.99. It is what we are.


It is what we have become.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

AND THE ANGELS WEEP...........


For avid Le Carre fans like yours truly, the the Panama Papers feel like the most wonderful vindication for the great man. Of course he hinted at the greyness of this particular Latin grey area many moons ago when he penned 'The Tailor of Panama'. But back then John's main area of forensic focus was still spooks. And then he moved on to a new set of bad guys: corporate crooks.

In book after book, John put flesh on the bones on the men behind the offshore ghost companies we are suddenly hearing so much about. And let's face it, it is pretty hard not to secretly believe that the name Mossack Fonseca hasn't actually jumped out from the pages of a Le Carre novel and into the blinding noon light of the real world.

Mossack Fonseca. What a name. What a completely perfect name. A boxy office complete with palm trees outside and blank faced security guys whose dads probably cut their teeth torturing people for Noriega.

A quiet office on a quiet tropical street providing a home to eleven million secrets. In 'The Night Manager', John's arms dealing bad guy Dickie Roper was called 'the worst man in the world.' And now we can see the place where all the worst men in the world hide their secrets and their treasure. The tyrants and the gun runners and people traffickers and the drug cartels. The place to stash your cash when you've closed out a deal for a quarter of a tonne of heroin or a thousand M16 semi automatic rifles.

All that is bad in our worsening world hidden away in a quiet office building in a quiet tropical street. In a place bearing the name plate Mossack Fonseca.

It is the biggest story in the world. It is a story about the worst people in the world. An up close and personal view of just how the wheels of evil are oiled. At one end of the story there is the destruction wreaked by the arms dealers and the drug dealers and the slavers. And at the other end of the story is Mossack Fonseca.

Have we discovered anything new? Not really. Not at all. Instead we have been given the thrill of seeing actual names on actual pieces of paper. We have been treated to the sight of what lies behind a bland letterhead for Pan Global Holdings BVI Ltd.

A reality TV guy. A Chelsea midfielder. A one legged model. A Russian dictator. A Etonian Prime Minister. And the media has done what the media does. When in doubt, obsess about celebrity. I guess there must have been much whooping and hollering when one of those 11 million documents yielded up the name Simon Cowell. And who needs the big picture when you have Simon Cowell?

And then of course the magic name Cameron also jumped out. Cameron + Mossack Fonseca = Feeding Frenzy. Well of course it does, especially when the Cameron in question suddenly looks as guilty as a double glazing salesman trying to pass off pine as teak.

So all of a sudden the pieces of paper telling the tale of how a container load of claymore mines can make its way to the Democratic Republic of Congo holds no interest whatsoever. Because David Cameron might or might not have benefited from flogging £30 grand's worth of off shore shares.

Is this immediate obsession with finding a few celebrities named and shamed in the leaked papers a deliberate smokescreen? Or is it merely proof that the unwashed masses are incapable of taking in anything that resembles a big picture? It's impossible to say.

Once we look beyond David Cameron and Simon Cowell, the big picture is as terrifyingly ugly as anything Heironymous Bosch ever committed to canvas.

If only our media would step away from the names and take a moment to focus on the numbers. The utterly terrible numbers. Numbers that are so big as to be almost meaningless. Numbers that simply have to be somehow broken down into something small enough for us to wrap our heads around.

So here goes. The big one. The huge one. The worst number in the world.

Right now there are 31 trillion dollars stashed away in the likes of the British Virgin Islands.

$31 trillion.

As in thirty one thousand billion dollars.

As in three hundred and ten thousand million dollars.

It's too big, isn't it? Way too big to make much sense. Context? The annual turnover of Great Britain Plc is about $3 trillion. As in every single penny 60 million of us spend or earn for a whole year. So it would take a whole ten years for every single penny and pound the whole lot of us spend to catch up with all cash in the off shore treasure chests.

Maybe there is a better way to look at it. Our beleaguered planet is home to 7 billion human beings. 3 billion of the aforesaid human beings get by on the princely salary of $2 a day. As in $700 dollars a year.

What if....

What if the off shore $31 trillion was seized under some kind of global version of the Proceeds of Crime Act and re-distributed to all those getting by on two bucks a day. Each and every one of the poorest people in the world – all three billion of them – as in three thousand million – as in the population of Britain fifty times over – every man Jack (or Jill) of them would receive a windfall of $10,000

$10,000.

The equivalent of fifteen years worth of salary paid out as a one off bonus. As John Lennon said, 

Imagine....

If the booty was split between every one of us on the planet, we would all get about $4500 each. £3000. Were such a thing to happen I reckon the global recession would end in the blink of an eye. Don't you?

Or maybe the confiscated cash might be channeled into solving a few of mankind's more intractable problems. We humans are pretty good at overcoming big hurdles. The only thing that tends to hold us back is a lack of cash. With a completely open cheque book, it is hard to believe that we wouldn't find ways to nail all the big problems one by one. A cure for cancer and malaria. A way to keep the world's lights on care of energy pulled from the tides of the Oceans. A way to coax the food we need from what agricultural land we have left.

$31 trillion would be enough for mankind to completely re-invent ourselves - to find a way of buying ourselves another few hundred years of history to write up.

Like John said. Imagine. But those two words Mossack and Fonseca say something very different. They confirm that we live in the world of John Le Carre and not the world of John Lennon. And in the world of Le Carre, the propaganda and the corruption will roll on relentlessly and all the worst men in the world will be allowed to do what the worst men in the world do. When it comes to the biggest and the baddest things in life, it is always a good idea to sub contract out the job of describing them. So cue Mr Shakespeare.

'But man, proud man
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured—
His glassy essence—like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.'

How the angels must be weeping at the sight of the squirreled away $31 trillion. Enough to make a life worth living for all of those desperate souls whose lives are barely worth living. And for what? The money will never be spent. How can you spend such a sum? There are only so many Lear jets and villas in Antigua. Instead this money which could be life blood for our failing world will never be anything more than numbers on a screen. A 21st Century version of the kind of treasure chest that once upon a time got Long John Silver hopping about.


If you ever visit the museum at Auschwitz you will find rooms filled with paperwork. Reams and reams of paperwork. And it is beautifully compiled by guys who were meticulously educated in schools where perfect hand writing was deemed to be a big deal. Copperplate. Precise. How many documents? I have no idea. At the time there must have been millions of pieces of paper. How many sheets per person? What kind of paper trail tracked a person from ghetto to crematorium? Maybe 11 sheets per person? Maybe 11 million pieces of paper for the million who went up the Birkenau chimneys?

Train time tables and coal requirements and staff rostas and Zyclon B orders and the take from every arriving train accounted for down to the last dollar note and diamond ring.

The paperwork that allowed evil to be super efficient. To be all conquering. To prevail. Mossack Fonseca and the biggest numbers in the world and the worst men in the world. And the angels are weeping like they have just sat through Bambi for the very first time.

Here are another couple of numbers. Not as big as $31 trillion. Not even close. But big in a different way.

The population of the British Virgin Islands is 32,000. OK. Fair enough. How many companies have chosen those sun kissed shores as their corporate home?

250,000.


Aye right.

Angels weep on. And on....

Friday, April 8, 2016

WHY I RECKON JOAN DESERVES OUR VOTES

Yet another election is a month or so away and once again there will be boxes for us all stick our crosses in. It rather seems like the elections for the Scottish Parliament will be something of a dull affair where the only question is just big the SNP majority is going to be. Certainly it all seems rather low key when compared to all the Trump fueled tumult going down in America. I guess what makes us different to most places in the world at the moment is the strange fact that most of us are by and large happy enough with the establishment. Of course the SNP are far from perfect, but when compared to many other ruling parties they have plenty to commend them.

All over the world the natives are getting very uppity indeed. The natives are heartily sick of the elites who have overseen the neo-liberal rampage which has reduced billions to being little more than slaves whilst a thousand or so gilded individuals have managed to squirrel away 13% of all the cash in the world into their offshore accounts. In the mid 1920's, the Italians were so pissed off with their ruling elite they decided Mussolini seemed like a good bet. Fast forward a few years and the Germans made a similarly catastrophic choice with Hitler. Now the very same impotent rage is driving millions into the savage embrace of the likes of Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump.

Thankfully we seemed to have dodged this poisonous bullet up here in Scotland. IndyRef gave us the chance to have our own version of a Velvet Revolution. Fair enough we failed to storm the palace and tear down the Union flag. But once the dust settled, the '45' marshaled our strength and most of those who marched under the banner of Better Together have been cast into the wilderness. The Red Tories and the Blue Tories now vie with each other to see who can reach the gates of oblivion first. They strut and fret around the stage, and they do a pretty good job of shrieking like unruly kids whilst refusing point blank to look the truth in the face. Their race is completely run and Scotland is well on course to make like Northern Ireland. Have you noticed a Tory Party or a Labour Party over the water from Stranraer? Nope. They were there once, but not any more. They became history.

The future isn't all that hard to read. In the short term some kind of Scottish Tory party will emerge under a new brand name along the lines of the DUP whilst Labour and the LibDems will become echoes from the past.

And then when the first independent government is sworn in, the re-branded Tories and the SNP will be the two main parties.

All of which makes this coming election somewhat underwhelming. As Celtic have found over recent years, it is tough to fill the stadium when the title is in the bag before the season has even started.

However elections are about lots more than parties. They are about individuals. Candidates. Contenders. Over the years I have had much more to do with many of these individuals then I would ever have anticipated. Firstly as the manager of the First Base Agency and then of course as a campaigner for Independence.

It has always surprised me what a magnet First Base has been for our elected politicians. I guess they feel we are a box they need to tick. Look how compassionate and caring I am. Here are some pictures of me visiting the place where the heroin addicts and the hungry go. The front line holds no fear for me! Oh no! I am the very essence of a true man/woman/person of the people.

Yeah. Well. Let's just say that in this case a picture sometimes paints rather less than a thousand words. More like about three. Because the proof of the pudding is forever in the eating. Things have always followed a familiar path for us. Politician comes to call. Photos are taken, hands are shaken, Press Releases are released and promises are made. Then one of our clients finds their way into a nightmarish situation with the State and we ask the politician if they are willing to intervene on our client's behalf. And let's face it, many of our clients are hardly pillars of the community. Anything but. They are mainly the forgotten people at the bottom of the pile.

And at this point most of the politicians who made such stirring promises during their visit will head for the hills. All of a sudden phone calls are not returned and e mails disappear into the ether.

Most, but by no means all.

Over the years we have met many exceptions to the rule that is now fueling the campaign of 'The Donald'. We have had three party leaders round our table. Jack McConnell was brand new, as was Annabelle Goldie. Both talked straight and both listened. Both were scheduled in for a half hour flying visit and both stayed for over two hours. Fair play.

Tommy Sheridan came to call in the days before his SSP colleagues made like Brutus and stabbed him in the back. Tommy is old school, cut from the cloth of John McLean and the Red Clydesiders. Say what you like about him, but even his fiercest enemy would never claim he doesn't go out to fight for the little people. Tommy is one of the good guys.

Alex Ferguson who has stood down this time offered living breathing proof that not all old Etonians are like most old Etonians. He was always absolutely brilliant with our clients and I cannot speak highly enough of him. He will be sorely missed. If anyone had ever told me that I would vote Tory one day, I would have told them such a thing was about as likely as me buying a season ticket for Old Trafford. And going. And actually cheering. Aye right....

But I did vote Tory. Last time around. Except I didn't vote Tory. I voted Alex because he was everything a politician should be. If all politicians were like Alex there would be no room for any Trumps.

Similarly our local Labour MSP Elaine Murray has always gone out to bat for our clients when we have asked her to. Once again. Fair play.

I am particularly delighted to report that my mate from the Indy ref campaign Richard Arkless has proved to be an outstanding constituency MP. Every hour of every day, his office is fighting the corner of those who have been booted in the teeth by the Welfare Reforms. Good on you Rich. Keep the faith.

Which brings me on to Joan. As in Joan McAlpine MSP.

We shared a bunch of platforms in the IndyRef campaign and it didn't take me long to be impressed. All kinds of Better Together merchants attempted to give it to Joan with both barrels and each and every one of them regretted it. I know it is politically incorrect to go in for racial stereotyping, but let's just say that Joan is very much a red headed Scotswoman. Enough said? Probably. Probably best to shut up in fact!

We hear all the time that politicians are out of touch and they don't get it. Many don't, especially those who have taken the well trodden route of public school to Oxbridge to internship to safe seat. Well that absolutely ain't Joan. I guess in a way Joan and I followed a similar route to doing what we do today. Words. For me it was writing novels. For Joan it was journalism. Researching our words took us both into the world where the forgotten people get screwed over every single day. In the end I wound up managing a food bank whilst Joan wound up in the Scottish Parliament.

It only takes a nano second to tell if a politician is genuinely comfortable with what the media likes to call 'real people'. We have a standing open invitation to all of our elected politicians to come and spend an afternoon at First Base serving food parcels. Only two have accepted: Joan and Richard. She was completely at home that afternoon and it is fair to say she served one or two pretty colourful characters. She has gone out to bat for us in several different areas. She spoke up in the Parliament about our battle to secure permanent mental health treatment for our local Vets suffering from PTSD. She sorted out a Portacabin for the Clark's Little Ark animal sanctuary in Sanquhar who hand out food parcels for us. She has sorted us appointments with Government Ministers on three occasions.

Are there many votes to he had from going out to bat for a small place like First Base and the forgotten people who come to us for help? Not really. I am pretty sure Joan helps us out because it seems like the right thing to do rather than it being the chance of a cosy photo opportunity and an easy life.

But here is the clincher: the best reason I can give you for heading out and voting for Joan next month. At the back end of last year I went into our local jail to see one of my veteran clients. I am giving out no precise details whatsoever on this one because I don't have any great aspiration to wind up in the back of an unmarked van with a bag over my head. This was one of those darker than dark cases. It is supposed to impossible to wind up locked up for years on end without a trial here in the UK. It is supposed to be. But it turns out it isn't. The story my man had to tell was not dissimilar to the stories we hear from those who have taken a boat across the Med to Lesbos to escape the clutches of Bashar Al Assad and his merry men. Put it this way. If my man had managed to escape from jail and duly made his way to Lesbos to claim asylum, I am pretty sure asylum would have been granted.

We get this at First Base from time to time. Dark, dark stuff from the very darkest corner of the State. We don't touch these cases with a barge pole. They are dangerous. Toxic. You don't need a great deal of common sense to know that it is a really, really bad idea to mess with the State. This doesn't mean we don't talk to the people Of course we do. We just don't stick our heads up above the parapet.

What we can do is to take the case along to one of our Parliamentarians. But not with a great deal of hope. Because most Parliamentarians will run a country mile from this kind of dark area and too be honest, I don't blame them.

Some, but not all. Tommy never ran away from anything. When I took this thing along to Joan and asked how she would feel about me dumping it in her lap, I would have fully understood if she had said thanks but no thanks. And I wouldn't have blamed her.

But she didn't say thanks but no thanks. She didn't bat an eyelid. Red headed Scotswoman, right? As it turned out the lad in question decided even worse things might happen to him were he to enlist Joan's support and he decided not to proceed.

But Joan was up for the fight. In my experience, she always is. And in my book it is good to know that there is someone like Joan out there to have our backs should anything bad happen.

So in my book she fully deserves our votes. Fingers crossed you get enough Joan.