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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

USED UP PEOPLE AND CORRIDORS OF POWER. A DAY IN THE LIFE



Sometimes a day can be like a saga. A movie. A mini series. A docu-drama. Something from Channel 4 on a weekday night.

At eight o’clock.

I had one of these days yesterday.

It started at eight in the morning and it finished at eight in the evening. Which I guess means that it lasted for twelve hours.

It felt longer than that somehow.

It was a December day in the life of a Foodbank manager.

So if you’re all sitting comfortably….

For once there is no rain and my van is all loaded up and ready to roll. A drive of six miles or so past all the waterlogged fields. Out of town and up into the low hills where the buzzards are killing the slow hours of the morning.

And their breakfast.

I turn left fifty yards into a one street village with a long closed garage and a hall with faded posters in the dusty windows. 

Three hundred and fifty yards up a pot holed track past a closed down chicken farm. They can do chickens cheaper in Thailand now. Like most things.

A cottage that has become familiar over the last few weeks. Pretty as a postcard on the outside. Bleak as a Siberian high rise on the inside.

I will call the guy who lives there Donald because the name Donald is rather in the news right now.

Donald is my first used up guy of the day. Donald did the leave school and get a job thing. And he did his job for thirty years until he had an accident at work and wrecked his back. Irrevocably.

So Donald’s working days are done. Donald is all used up and suddenly at the mercy of the State. And being at the mercy of the British State ain’t a good place to be in these straightened times.

In theory the caring state is ready to step up to the plate and take care of things for Donald. You know, all the basics. His rent. His Council Tax. Enough cash to feed himself and keep some credit on his phone. It is a pretty straight forward deal. Pay your taxes and we’ll be there for you when you make the transition from being a working man to a crippled crock.

In theory.

In practice everything is cocked up. Computers have stopped talking to each other. And when a used up man lives out in the middle of nowhere and hasn’t the credit on his phone ring up and moan about it… well… he just gets forgotten, right?

He shows me his latest letter for the Department of Work and Pensions.

Dear Donald. Thank you for attending a medical. The results conclusively show that you are physically capable of doing any work whatsoever. Which means you are no longer eligible for Employment Support Allowance. So we are taking it off you. You’ll get sixty quid on November 30 and then you’re on your own pal.

Next is a letter which landed two days later from the Council.

Dear Donald. The Department of Work and Pensions has just let us know that they have deemed you to be too sick for ESA. Well that won’t do. So we have decided to come out in solidarity with DWP and take away your housing benefit. Sorry ‘bout that Don . Tootle pip.

These guys are pretty good at coming up with reasons for not giving people any money but I have to say this one is a first. Too sick for benefits.

Once again Donald’s kitchen looks kind of different. It looked different when I took him some food last week. I asked about it and he told me. No money no logs. So he is down to burning his furniture. Oh yeah. Charles Dickens would find many familiar things in Britain 2015.

I ran him out a few bags of logs last week, but they all gone now. Another cupboard has gone up the chimney.

A job for tomorrow then. More logs for Donald. The used up guy who is too sick for benefits.

Back in the van and north up the Nith Valley to our new collection point at the Little Ark Animal Sanctuary in Sanquhar. There is a pick up truck at the top of the track bearing the logo of a fencing outfit. Which I guess explaisn why Alison is looking like she is some kind of modern day Noah. All of the animals are in the yard whilst the fencer is doing his stuff and the sight of 12 food parcels being unloaded from one red van doesn’t half get them going. If anyone out there has anything to say about the quality of First Base emergency food parcels they should have a word with these guys. The donkeys are all trying really hard to plat the poor starving beast of burden card that we sometimes see on fundraising ads. But they really don’t come anywhere close to pulling it off. They are all replendant in their winter coats and their ribs are nowhere to be seen. So I reject their pleadings for an emergency food parcel.

What a cruel bastard I am.

Alison succumbs to the pressure and shares out a packet of value ginger nuts.

Cue happy donkeys.

And its always good to spend quality time with a bunch of happy donkeys.

Will these parcels be enough to see you over Christmas?

They should do. With a following wind. With fingers crossed.

So it's back in the van.

And this time it is over the hills and east to the capital of North Britain. And just like everytime I drive into Edinburgh I can’t help but think about how it might have been if things had gone differently on 18 September 2014. If 45 had been 51. Right now we would have all been counting down to Independence Day.

But enough of that.

Things to do and people to see. A person in fact. And not just any person I’ll have you know. Because even though First Base is a small town charity in a small town town, we are lads who tend to punch above our weight.

Today I have an appointment to see the Minister.

Alex Neil MSP.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights

No so bad for a two bit little charity.

My efforts to enter the Parliament building with a coffee to go are firmly rebuffed by a policewoman who is very much of the not to be messed with variety. I finish it outside and take the opportunity for one last fag. A couple of hundred yards away there are a clutch of tents on the other side of the water features. Who and what? Maybe later.

I go back in and I am deemed not to be a terrorist.

Andy arrives in Reception and we are guided through the rabbit warren and up to the the third floor and an office that I am pretty sure bears no resemblance whatsoever to Ian Duncan Smith’s gaff in Westminster.

Fifty minutes pass and I am delighted to discover that Alex Neil doesn’t bear any resemblance to IDS either. What a thoroughly hell of a good lad. I could spout any number of clich├ęs along the lines or down to earth and in touch and gets it. I gather he cut his cloth with Citizens Advice. We share stories and they are the same stories. My stories are about the Donalds and all the other used up people who come to us for something to eat. His stories are about the Donalds and all the other used up people who come to his Friday surgeries because they have nowhere else to go.

He tells me if the Scottish Parliament was only allowed the responsibility of looking after the Donalds and all the other used up people then….

I tell him I am the converted and ther is no need to preach. I am a Yes man. One of the 45. No need to explain. I get it.

I make my pitch. Foodbanks are part of the Welfasre State whether politicians like it or not. And we are getting a pretty crap deal right now. The rest of the Welfare Stae gets £300 billion a year. We get bugger all. Just a whole bunch of referrals. A whole bunch of Donlads and used up people who need their daily bread.
I suggest it is time for the Scottish Goivernment to step up to the plate and help us out. Nothing happy clappy or airy fairy. Something straight forward and practical. We give out 500 food parcels in a month. Then we knock up an invoice for £5 a parcel and send it to Edinburgh. And Ediburgh pays us. £2500 to pay the rent and the phone bill and the electricity and wages and volunteer costs and extra strong, extra large carrier bags.

I have been worried that his eyes would glaze over at this point. But they don’t. He gets it. He has lived plenty of years in the real world. He knows well enough that electricity companies want paying. He knows that should a Foodbank crash and burn it will leave a gaping hole.

Will we see our £5 per parcel? Who knows. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Right?

I add the name of Alex Neil to my list of the good guys.

Then I check out the tents.

It’s an Indy Camp. Guys who have decided to stay under canvass until London rule breathes its last.

They put a smile on my face. And I light up. As the lights of the city start to twinkle in the gathering gloom of a frosty night. Under the brooding rocks of Arthur’s Seat. By the shallow landscaped ponds.

And buses go by.

And policemen watch out for Jihadis.

And pigeons wait on American tourists.

And the guys in the tents wait for a country of their own.

Time to move. Back to the car park. And what a car park it is! If Carlsberg did car parks…. Three hundred yards from the front door to the Scottish Parliament and ther are always spaces to be had. And it is £3 for three hours. Like I said. If Carlsberg did car parks…

I throw some information into my SatNav and it lets me know that I have 4.8 miles and twenty minutes to go. It tells me there are no traffic issues between the best car park I know and the library on Oxgangs Rd where I am due to meet Sam at five o’clock.

And this is going to be hard.

I have only met Sam once before and it was very brief. It was on one of the very worst of days. The day we said goodbye to James. 

Some background. 

James, the youngest client of our Veterans Project. James, a could have been tearaway who took the King’s Shilling and signed up. James who stood tall and magnificent on a hard, hard tour of Helmand Province. James who left the army when his dad died because his mum needed him. James who was one of the most decent guys it has ever been my honour to meet. James whose conscience and soul could not handle what he had seen and done on that hard, hard tour of Helmand Province. James who took his own life at 23 years old on a bone cold January night.

His brothers in arms from the Regiment came down to carry his coffin under the cold grey January skies.

And Sam was one of the band of brothers. I can still picture him that day. Clearly. He was so tall it made carrying James awkward. Sam the six foot five Fijian with the ram rod back. A face as hard as one of those Easter Island statues. But his eyes. His eyes were windows onto a grief stricken soul.

And I remember standing at the grave side and thinking what a crazy world we live in. Sam. The warrior from a warrior tribe. So many thousands of miles from his South Sea home. Tall and like a king from a Kipling story. Still as a rock. Saying his goodbyes to a fellow warrior.

On a cold, cold day.

In Dumfries.

In Scotland.

James’s mum Nicola called me a few weeks ago. She said she had been talking to Sam on Facebook. She said Sam is out of the Army now. Out in the cold. And things are not so good. Pretty bad in fact. Could First Base do anything? I said we would do our best.

But no promises.

So Sam is the second bird to be felled with my visit Edinburgh stone. My second used up guy of the day.

He is waiting for me. He stands up. All the way up. And it’s a long way. He’s a six foot five version of Marvin Gaye. Hell of a hand shake.

But a very quiet voice. And a story that makes me once again wish that 45 had been 51 and we could be free of London’s bottomless nastiness.

He remembers when they got him to sign the dotted line in Fiji they said that five years served would mean guaranteed citizenship.

He served nine years. Iraq. The Falklands. Northern Ireland. Afghanistan. The same hard, hard Helmand Tour as James. With James. He did the hardest of hard miles. And every month his salary had income tax and National Insurance deducted. Like he was a citizen.

But when he left the army in 2012 he learned the hard way that the British Establishment tell lies.

Citizenship? Who told you that? Good lord. I very much doubt it..

Well. You’ll just have to apply along with all the rest, won’t you? But don’t hold your breath. We’re not overly keen on your type to be frank. No money? No thought not.

So Sam applied. Three years ago. And for three years they have made him sign on. But his was a different sort of sign on. Every Monday he walks six miles into Edinburgh city centre to sign his name in a police station. Like a common criminal. Like a terrorist. Like scum. And then he walks six mailes home agin.

And he waits.

He receives not a penny and he has been told in no uncertain terms that should he do do much as an hour’s work he will be on a plane back to Fiji before he gets the chance to blink.

His partner has left him and she doesn’t let him see his son. His son is five now. The last picture Sam has is of a three year old son.

He has another girlfriend now and she pays the bills. They share one room over a pub. They share a mattress on the floor. And Sam watches TV all day. And one by one the demons of those hard, hard Helmand days are starting crawl into his head like moggots.

Whilst he waits on the Home Office.

And waits.

And I feel useless and inadequate and so completely ashamed of being British even though I fought tooth and nail not to be. What have we become?

I promise that I will try to what I can.

And I will.

But when all is said and done it is the bloody Home Office we are talking about here.

We stand and shake hands. Maybe there is a faint smile. Maybe not. He thanks me and I feel terrible.

I get in my van and drive south.

He goes back to his one room over the pub and more hours of TV.

More waiting.

And all the way back I remember him in that cold graveyard on that cold January day. Like a statue. Like a king. Like a warrior. So very far from home. Saying goodbye to an unlikely brother in arms.

But a brother all the same.

Christ I really hate this country at times.

Friday, December 11, 2015

HERE IS A MODERN DAY FAIRYTALE IN THESE EVER DARKENING TIMES




Christ these are dark times. 

It seems like all over the world rivers swollen with hate are bursting their banks. They bomb, stab and machine gun us and they bask in their brutal glory on Twitter. We respond in kind with our drones and F16’s and Hellfires and Brimstones and we bask in our brutal glory on the ten o’clock news.

Look at this.

This is a square shaped building in the Middle East.

Watch closely. Because we are talking now you see it, now you don’t.

Bang and the building is gone! It's Cillit Bang for the War on Terror.

These are heady days for the preachers of hate. Hate is very much the new black. In the blue corner we have the dead eyed guys with the long beards and their peddled pipedreams of a modern day apocalypse which will wash the world clean of all the filthy infidels. As in everyone dies but them. They have a role model to aspire to. 

He is Noah.

In the red corner is the guy with the laughable hair who aspires to the big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue. He is the ultimate expression of the barking madness of the final gasp of capitalism. In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, 75 million Americans agree with Donald Trump. They are frightened people in frightened trailer parks all tuned into the airwaves of the barking shock jocks. Build more walls and bomb square buildings in the Middle East. 

And buy more guns. And sell more guns. 

And seriously consider giving the nuclear passcodes to a reality TV star who seems to be a whole hamper full of sandwiches short of a picnic.

The dead eyed guys with the long beards must be rubbing their dry hands in anticipation. Maybe they will get their Noah moment after all. Not a flood this time. But destruction is destruction when all is said and done. A nuclear winter is as good as a global flood for the boys rooted in the sixth century.

So they will continue to convert Raqqa into their 21st century version of an Ark whilst Donald’s itchy fingers hanker for the trigger which will release the nukes from their subterranean lairs.

Hate and lunacy and lunacy and hate.

And hate seeps like sewage laden flood water. Hate is a creeping contagion. I watched a news piece from the streets of Rotherham last week. Let’s face it, Rotherham is not a place that is often to be found in the news. A few months ago this corner of South Yorkshire hit the limelight for all of the wrong reasons. Marauding gangs of Asian men were grooming the lost white girls of Broken Britain. The offspring of heroin riddled mothers and violence fuelled fathers. Placed into the privatised care of a shrunken state and hung out to dry in dismal Rotherham streets where the walls are damp and the gutters are blocked.

Post industrial streets of festering, rotting sofas dumped in pocket size front gardens.

Post industrial girls desperately seeking the kind of life they watched on the tele. Sixth century guys emboldened to do anything they liked with the corrupted offspring of the sinning infidels.

It was all as ugly as ugly could ever get. Serial abuse that nobody noticed for the simple reason that nobody cared. And there were senior social work managers with frightened eyes fighting like cornered rats to hang onto their bloated six figure salaries and their treasure trove final salary pension schemes.

Ugliness breeds hate. And it only takes a matter of months for hate to grow and evolve. And seep.

A well shared picture did the rounds on Rotherham's social media.

“Keep Calm and Burn a Mosque.”

Oh how very droll. Rotherham has its very own Oscar Wilde.

And there was a father recounting the worst moments of his life for the camera. It had just been an ordinary day. Nothing special. A Rotherham day. A Rotherham early evening. A walk home for the pub. Or the shops. He did say from whence he came. He was simply walking home. 

A pavement blocked.

Faces all twisted in hate.

“Keep Calm and burn a Mosque.”

Not that this guy had ever been near a Mosque. He was born and bred White British Rotherham. So why on earth were the pond life blocking his path and lighting him up with their hatred?

It was all about his son. His disabled son. His disabled son who required the services of a wheel chair to make his way from Rotherham A to Rotherham B. It turned out that the pondlife had cast their online net wide. It turned out that the pond life had Googled their way all the way back to Germany in the late 1930’s. The pond life had learned all about how the Nazis had rounded up the cripples and the mentally ill and gassed them in a castle in the forests of Austria.

To maintain the purity of Aryan blood.

And it turned out that the pond life were attracted to that kind of thing. And so it was that they beat the living daylights out of the father of the disabled son. And all the while they screamed at him and told him they would do it again if he didn’t get himself sterilised. They screamed that he was polluting the purity of white Rotherham blood by siring cripples.

They were empowered. 

They were high as kites on all that Rotherham hate. And they actually thought it was OK to beat up the father of a crippled child. They actually thought they were doing a good thing. Because hate is a raving lunatic that requires no rhyme nor reason. And once people get wrapped up in hate they feel justified to do anything they please.

A couple of weeks ago I was tuned into Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions and Any Answers.’ Jonathan Dimbleby and the soothing airwaves of Middle England. A panellist from the Tory front bench. A man with the right name for the job. The right honourable James Brokenshire MP. The Minister for Immigration and Security. A corporate lawyer turned politician and as bland as instant mash potato with no salt. He was asked what possible justification he might be able to come up with for his Government dispatching a couple of Tornado bombers to Syria to atomise square buildings with Brimstone missiles available to all governments signed up to the War on Terror for £100,000 a pop.

Brokenshire adopted the very blandest of tones. He gave us his practised voice of reasom. You can trust me. You really can. I was at Exeter University you know. I wear glasses. I am one of the good guys. He told us that there were very bad people in Syria who were on their computers doing their level best to radicalise young Moslems in Britain. 

So, OK James. We have that. People are peddling hate online. I think we kind of knew that already.
And in his bland tones and without batting an eyelid he laid out this reason as his justification for letting the Brimstones bring their own particular kind of hell to the Syrian Earth. Summary execution without any kind of trial or due process. You try and radicalise some lonely teenager in his Rotherham bedroom, and we will kill you. His tone was so mind numbingly boring that nobody thought to question him. State murder delivered like a health and safety training afternoon. 

Reinhard Heydrich used to love guys like James Brokenshire back in the day. The efficient ones. The boring ones. The bland ones. The efficient ones who could make state execution run like clockwork.

It was called 'the banality of evil' once upon a time. I guess we could call it the same today.

I was 55 last week and for some reason it felt like something of a milestone. I can’t really say why. It was a day to take a moment and look back on a life. 1989 jumped out because 1989 always jumps out. The year of Hillsborough and near death. The year all the walls came tumbling down from the Baltic to the Balkans. 1989 was the year when hope gave hate a good hiding and everything seemed possible.

Fat chance.

Twenty six years later and the walls and fences are going back up all the way from the Balkans to the Baltic. And on the miserable litter strewn streets of Rotherham the pond life are using Google to trawl all the way back to Reinhard Heydrich’s twisted playbook.

The ghost voice of Sir Edward Grey can be heard whispering from a century back in time. “The lights are going out all over Europe.”

Dark days.

But out of dark times come fairy tales. Shafts of sunlight through banks of black cloud.

Last week I had a fairy tale moment in First Base. I was on my own. Everyone else was out and about flying the flag at the Tesco Neighbourhood Food collection. I was up to seventeen food parcels and counting when the door swung open and a beaming young man marched in.

His hair was wet from the rain and his smile lit up the walls.

“I am Sergei! I am in book!”

The book is for those whose lives are so utterly screwed that they need emergency food all the time.
He was indeed Sergei and he was indeed in the book. By the time I had checked, a queue had formed behind him. Which meant there was no time to talk. No time to pass the time of day. And all the while he beamed at me whilst I put together his food parcel complete with cat food.

And then he was gone leaving the memory of his luminous smile.

I asked about him. When he first came to us it was with a support worker from Headway. An accident. A damaged brain. But no bitterness. Instead his brain damage had switched on the luminous smile. And of course everyone took advantage of his sunny nature. Took a lend of him. They always do.

And Sergei’s life became all about cats. Cats, cats and more cats. And the word spread. Anyone with a cat and no money would take their cat to Sergei. Will you look after my cat Sergei? Just for a while. Just until I get some money. And Sergei always said yes. No problem. You have cat? You can leave with me. With Sergei. Sergei love cats, OK? Sure he does.

Soon there were five cats in his flat. Then ten. Then twenty. His support worker has managed to wean him back down to five. But probably not for long. Sergei love cats, OK? Sure he does.

Where is he from? No idea. Lithuania or Latvia probably. I doubt it it’s Russia. 

A smiling stranger from a frozen land far to the north. A stranger who comes to town to look after all the lost and deserted cats. A stranger with a beaming smile. A stranger people go to when they can no longer feed their furry friend.

A whispered story through the grey streets where festering old sofas quietly rot in overgrown front gardens. 

Places where cats can no longer be fed.

Sergei love cats, OK?

Sure he does.

And every time he comes to us with his beaming smile we give him a carrier bag filled with cat food.
Now if that isn’t a modern day fairy tale, I really don’t know what is. The smiling stranger from a cold northern land bringing some light to our darkening world.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

THE BEST WAY FOR OUR LEADERS TO HONOUR THE VICTIMS OF THE PARIS ATTACK IS TO FINALLY BE HONEST WITH US.



Friday night’s pictures from Paris were a hard watch. They represented everyone’s nightmare. A Friday night out. A  nice meal. A few drinks. A beautiful city. And then the crackle of automatic weapons and the descent into the butchery, panic and confusion of the battlefield.

Was it predictable?

Probably.

Was the reaction predictable?

Utterly.

Utterly and tragically.

President Hollande got himself in front of the screens and promised merciless vengeance and within a matter of hours ten French attack jets spat fire down on a small town in Syria. We were presented with the footage of the ten fast jets hammering up into the darkness of the night. We were informed that they had surgically struck a number of ISIL targets. A recruitment Centre. A training camp. A command centre.

We were expected to buy into the fact that the men in charge of the Islamic State are complete idiots.

I mean come on. Let’s just take a moment here. You order eight guys into the heart of the French capital and sit back and watch their murder and mayhem on the rolling news. Then you front up and release a statement taking full responsibility for what has just gone down.

So what do you do nect? Are you going to leave a bunch of guys making like sitting ducks in a training camp? A recruitment centre? A command post?

Fat chance.

President Holland did the usual thing and bombed a bunch of empty buildings to try and convince his people that he was not completely helpless.

Fair enough. Doing nothing would not have been deemed unacceptable.

Yet again we have reacted in the exact way that the bastards in charge of ISIL had intended. And no doubt we will continue to dance to their tune. And let’s not forget the tune they want the Moslem world to hear.
They have a clear message. The West is wall to wall bad. We are unbelievers and infidels. We hate and despise Muslims. The only way forward is to fight back and ISIL are the boys who are doing it.
So how are they about to spin things now? How to they use our reaction to make their point? Well we might as well start with the TV pictures of iconic buildings all across the western world being lit up in the colours of the French flag. It was a touching show of support and solidarity. Something to make us all fee better about ourselves. But ISIL will whisper a different narrative.

Only a matter of weeks ago, ISIL blew over a hundred people into pieces in Ankara, Turkey. Turkey as in one of our strongest NATO allies. Did we get to see London Bridge and the Sydney Opera House lit up in the colours of the Turkish flag?

I don’t think we did.

Similarly, not a single iconic building was lit up in the colours of the Kenyan flag in the wake of the Nairobi shopping centre massacre.

I don’t think we did.

Why?

Well we can be sure the boys at the top of ISIL will have the answer. They will point out the fact that we will never light up our buildings for black and brown people.

And of course we will scoff and say such an idea is utterly ridiculous, but our words will fall on deaf ears.
The fact that we give three days of wall to wall coverage when a hundred white European people are massacred by ISIL doesn’t go unnoticed. When a similar number of brown people die at the hands of the same nutters in Baghdad or Karachi or Kabul or Alleppo or Maidugari, they barely warrant 30 seconds of rolling news time.

It doesn’t go unnoticed.

I heard a guy on the radio who had once been in charge of counter terrorism for the Met. He was adamant that it was completely unheard of for a suicide terrorist to go into action with a passport in his pocket. And yet one of the Paris killers did exactly that. Was he just and idiot or was he following orders? Because surprise, surprise the passport told the story of a boat trip to a Greek island and a journey to Paris in the midst of the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Because of course the way Europeans are treating the refugees is a major problem to ISIL. If we Europeans are so evil and bad, how can it be that the people of Germany and Austria are throwing their doors open to the tide of human misery that is pouring out of Syria.

Well the the long beard boys in black need to change that, right?

So they sent a guy along the well trodden refugee road and told him to keep his passport on him at all times. And now they will sit back and let the tabloid press do the rest of their job for them.

And of course our tabloid press will be more than happy to dance to their tune. How will the poor sods waiting in the November rain on the Croatian border be treated now I wonder?

Usually when huge disasters strike, we draw on the lessons from the way we responded to similar disasters. We accept the value of a learning curve. After all, we are thinking human beings and we are able to evolve.
This logic governs the way we respond to floods or epidemics or hurricanes or earthquakes or famines.

But when it comes to learning how to successfully confront terrorism, we utterly refuse to learn from the past. If anyone took time for a measured look at what we now face, we would learn a lot and we would learn it very quickly.

Start with hard facts.

What is ISIL? They are a guerrilla force which commands a lot of territory. Air power? Zero. Sea power? Zero. Manpower? Between 20,000 and 30,000.

Ranged against them are the armies of the USA, Russia, Syria, Britain, France, Turkey and a bunch of Arab states. Massive air power. Massive sea power. Millions of soldiers. Satellites and drones and and a bottomless pit of cash.

So no contest, surely?

All we need to do is bomb the hell out of them and bring all of our nmassive military superiority to bear. Then it will be an open and shut case. 

Maybe before we press the button for yet more bombing, it might be worth taking some time out to see if such a course of action has ever actually worked . Let’s go back seventy years ago and see if we can find any similar examples. 

The criteria? Guerrilla forces of over 20,000 with control of territory facing enemies with vastly superior firepower.

1941 – 1944 – Polish and Ukranian Paritisans v. The Wehrmacht. Who won? The partisans.

1941 – 1944 – Serbian Parisans v. The Wehrmact. Who won? The partisans.

1946 – 1953 – The Viet Mihn v. The French Army in Indochina. Who won? The Viet Mihn

1958 – 1962 – FLN v The French Army in Algeria. Who won? The FLN

1963 – 1975 – The NVA and Viet Cong v. The US Army. Who won? The NVA and the Viet Cong.

1980 – 1989 – The Mujahadeen v. The Red Army. Who won? The Mujahadeen.

In every single case the side with all the firepower dropped hundreds of thousand of tonnes bombs and napalm and in every single case the guerrilla army won the war.

Has there been a single case when bombing the hell out of a guerrilla army has ever worked? Maybe once. Chechnya. And the Russians didn’t just bomb Grozny. They absolutely flattened it.

Are we really willing to hold up the smoking ruins of Grozny as good practice?

Nearly fifteen years have now passed since we embarked on our post 9/11 War on Terror. Nobody can accuse us of not having dropped enough bombs. Our governments have purloined hundreds and hundreds of billions of pounds and dollars of our taxes to bomb and bomb and bomb.

And the result?

Paris was the result. Can anyone in their right mind call that a success?

In all of the frenzied coverage, I have yet to hear anyone take a step back and look at what ISIL has done over the last couple of weeks from a military point of view. As far as these guys are concerned, they are at war. Well it must feel that way. They have got half the world raining bombs down on them. Recently things have just got a whole lot worse as Russia and France have joined the 'Bomb ISIL back into the Stone Age' club. Two pretty formidable enemies which huge arsenals of weapons at their disposal. To fight back ISIL dispatched a few guys to Sharm el Sheik to blow up a Russian passenger jet and eight guys to Paris to cause a blood bath.

Probably less than twenty guys and look at the utter fear and chaos they have caused. Despite being completely out gunned and out numbered, they have managed to deliver a pretty compelling message. Bomb us and this is what you will get.

So now we will all bomb them some more and they will draw strength from the hi-tech savagery of our response.

Like night follows day.

And in the end we will lose.

Again.

So how can honesty and smartness help us to find a way out of this rolling nightmare?

Brass tacks?

Who are the men who make the long journey to don the black robes of ISIL? Most are young and they come from countries wrecked by years of war. They come from the cities and towns and villages we have been bombing. They come from countries that have all but fallen apart. They come from places where 80% of young men are unemployed and economic activity has all but ground to a halt. They come from places which are devoid of any semblance of hope. And they ave grown up hard. Really, really hard. They have been brutalised and brain washed. They feel they have nothing to lose because they really DO have nothing to lose. They have grown from dangerous boys into dangerous men in streets filled with rubble and rats.

And they blame us for the bleak emptiness of their lives.

Has this happened before?

It has actually.

Check out Germany in 1945 where barely a building was left standing after years of our thousand bomber raids. Millions of youn German lads faced a desperate future. No houses. No heating. No jobs. Barely any food. And each and every one of them had been brutalised and radicalised by their compulsary years in the Hitler Youth. They had seen family and neighbours and friends blown to smithereens by our Lancaster bombers. In fact, they were primed and perfect to be forged into the same kind of implacable guerrilla force that ISIL has become.

What would have happened if we had simply walked away from the smoking ruin that Germany had become in 1945 and left them to it. Sod off and starve. Serves you right you Kraut bastards.

I guess there would very quickly have been a German version of ISIL and they would have been shooting and bombing us for the last seventy years.

But we didn’t simply walk away. Instead we were smart. We all signed up for the Marshall Plan and poured cash into the bombed out cities. We covered the bills for re-building. And once they started to make stuff again, we bought it. And slowly but surely we turned a brutalised wreck of a country into a staunch ally and friend.

For fifteen long and miserable years we have spend vast amounts of money on bombing and bombing and bombing. Iraq and Syria and Libya and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sudan and Yemen.

And…..?

We have3 created a huge wasteland where young men see no hope of anything at all. Is it really so very surprising so many choose to sign on the ISIL dotted line?

Right now we are being forced to listen to a stuck record that has us all dancing to ISIL’s tune. It is all so utterly futile. We know full well that we will lose in the end, but we do it all the same. If only a few of our leaders could find the courage to take own up to the fact that endless bombing never works.

If only our leaders could find the kind of courage Harry S Truman found seventy years ago when he had the vision to see that helping people is a better way that bombing them.

Will it happen?

What do you think?   

Friday, November 13, 2015

ONE FOODBANK. ONE DAY. 48 FOOD PARCELS. THREE TALES OF WOE.



Yesterday had the feel of a tipping point. All day the Atlantic storm lashed the grey November bleakness of the street outside.  It was enough to rattle the windows. Usually on the days when the gutters turn into rivers we can expect things to be quiet at the front desk.

But not yesterday.

Yesterday saw 48 emergency food parcels head out of the door and into the rain.

Yesterday the phone seemed to ring all day with names and referrals and back stories.

Three kids.

Four kids.

A cat

Two dogs.

Struggling, struggling, struggling….

Picture a vast wall stretching over the horizon and beyond. Grey and cold and unforgiving. Lashed by an Atlantic storm that the forecaster says will be with us for days to come. And the wall is home to thousands upon thousands of people with chalk white faces and fear in their eyes. They are hanging from the top of the wall with fingers and hands which are cold and chapped.

And one by one they are falling off.

Giving up and dropping like autumn leaves on tired bent trees.

Victims of the first Atlantic storm of the winter.

Flotsum and jetsum. Heaped rubbish at the foot of the wall. Heaped rubbish along side the rusty old prams and the drenched sofas and teles lacking the right kind of sockets for 2015.

OK

Over lyrical? I guess so. But stuff it, I am supposed to be a writer when all is said and done. Surely artistic is still allowed. Maybe even the Job Centre might allow artistic licence. But then again….

Yesterday was the day when the temperature dropped and it suddenly felt like the middle of November. Yesterday was the day when electric meters up and down the land screamed for attention like spoilt kids howling for sweets.

Yesterday was the day when all over Britain people put £10 in the meter only to discover that their power company immediately took £7 to cover arrears leaving only a lousy three quid to warm against the Atlantic storm.

Yesterday was the day when people all over Britain faced the hard truth that winter is more or less here and they are basically screwed.

Yesterday was the day when 48 emergency food parcels headed out of our front door and into the grey November rain

And in the midst of it all were three snap shots. Three tales of woe. Brief desperate glimpses of three broken lives. Micro dramas lost in the swirl of a vast sea of misery.

So we have a guy in his early fifties and he is unemployed. Had he watched the news last night, he would have heard that he is part of an ever shrinking group. Because there are only 5.4% us unemployed now. Wow. We are all blessed to live and breathe in booming Britain.

But I guess it didn’t feel that way for this guy. He is only recently unemployed which means he has become a part of the local Universal Credit trial rollout. This is a picture that is beginning to be revealed piece by piece. Not a pretty picture to be honest. It seems like every payment seems to get cocked up. And when you head into your local Job Centre to tell them your payment has been cocked up they shrug their shoulders and say there is nothing they can do. Not any more. Because when payments get cocked up, the city of Wolverhampton is now the only place where answers are to be found. You don’t go there. You call there. But beware. The number that connects you to Wolverhampton is not free at the point of use. Anything but. And when you ask the people in the Job Centre if you can maybe use one of their phones they tell you no. 

You can’t.

What they do tell you is that you need to spend a minimum of 35 hours of each and every week actively seeking work. And you need to prove it. And if you can’t prove it they will sanction your arse. Oh yeah. Will they ever.

My man was ‘jobsought’ to the point of insanity. But there was a training day to be had at Dalbeattie sawmill. An opportunity. A chance.

They told him if he didn’t attend the training course they would sanction his arse. But he said he wanted to go 

He was up for it. Really.

Only one problem guys. I ain’t got no money. Because my new Universal Credit claim is all screwed up. And nobody in the great city of Wolverhampton seems to want to pick up the phone to tell me anything about it.
So could you help me out with the bus fare?

Please?

No.

Not our problem. But you better be there or else…

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Or else you’ll sanction my arse.

Twelve miles in the Atlantic storm. A long march along dry stone walls and fields of soaking sheep. Twelve miles to a training day at a sawmill. In Dalbeattie. To seek a job.

He misjudged it and landed ten minutes late. They told him ten minutes was unacceptable. They told him to get lost. We live in a time when ten minutes is always unacceptable.

So it was twelve miles back the other way past the same dry stone walls and the same miserable sheep, only this time the Atlantic storm was at his back.

Back to the Job Centre to break the news that he had misjudged his route march to the tune of 10 minutes.
They told him they were in no mood for excuses. For they have targets and goals set by the mighty Duncan Smith.

You’re just so sanctioned..

And he did the really stupid thing. He got angry. He kicked off. He exited the building care of security. And they made his sanction even longer.

And he dropped off the wall.

And came to us.

The next tale of woe was a lad in his early twenties. The same age as my youngest son. In fact he asked how Courtney was getting on. And I said Courtney was doing all right. And he said he was pleased to hear it. And it was obvious that he meant it. A very polite young lad with the haunted eyes of a rabbit about to go under the wheels of a 38 tonne artic.

Oh where to start. A while back. At least a year. It was his mum you see. Her back went. Her back went badly. You know. So bad she couldn’t get out of bed and needed him to look after her. Which he did. He moved back in for the duration and became a carer.

One night he was out with some pals when he tripped and injured his leg. Was it bad enough to need A&E? Yeah. It probably was. So one of the lads said he would give him a lift. To A&E. In the car. The car he owned. And how was it that this helpful lad had the wherewithal to own his own car? 

Yeah, well that was the thing.

The helpful lad was a drug dealer. The helpful lad was a drug dealer who was well and truly on the radar of the boys in blue. And so it was that half way to A&E the dark night was strobe lit with flashing blue.

Out of the car and into the station. And lots of questions to go with a bloody sore leg. A mobile phone confiscated and then a release with no charges.

And there were never any charges,

But they kept his mobile phone for many months. Maybe it rang out into the emptiness of the police station's evidence storage room before the battery finally ran dry.

There were calls from his social landlord. Lots and lots of them. A neighbour tells us you are not living in your flat any more. Is this true? Call back. We have told the housing benefit people you aren’t living in your flat any more. Call back. We will be evicting you on…. Call back.

You’re evicted. Call back.

We have sent you a bill of £400 to cover the costs of smashing your door in and taking all your stuff to the dump. Call back.

You owe us £950. Call back.

You going to court. Call back.

And all the while he looked after his mum and knew nothing of the torrent of calls aimed at the mobile phone in the police evidence store room.

He found out in the end of course. And his smouldering mental health issues started to burst into life. Pills and pills and pills. Letters and letters and letters.

A new claim.

Your’re on the Universal Credit now my boy. You need to spend 35 hours a week…..

Oh! It appears you owe your social landlord £950. What a very bad boy you are. A very bad boy indeed. We can’t have little toe rags like you owing their social landlords £950. That really will not do at all. So. Here it is. You are due £250 a month to keep your nasty little body and soul together. But you won’t be getting £250. Oh no. Not from us. Not from Wolverhampton. You see we are going to take away £130 a month and give it to your social landlord. OK? No? Well tough. Live with it. Toe rag.

So it’s food parcel time because £30 a week really isn’t enough to keep your body and soul in a state of togetherness. Well I don’t think it is. But I guess there will be a queue of Government Ministers out there somewhere ready and raring to explain that £30 a week would be more than enough for them to be absolutely fine and dandy.

Hopefully I will be taking him along to meet Joan McAlpine MSP this afternoon. There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of her doing anything about the good folk of Wolverhampton. But maybe she’ll find a way to persuade the good folk at the registered social landlord to make a bit more nice.

We’ll see.

And then there were three.

Yesterday morning saw me driving six miles along the same road bordered by the same dry stone walls as my man walked a few days earlier on his forced march to Dalbeattie sawmill.

In the same Atlantic storm.

In the same grey November rain.

To the third tale of woe. A poster boy for rural poverty. A man with a wrecked back and a tonne of debt. They say they are switching him from DLA to PIP. One set of initials to another. A thing that should be simple but isn’t simple. And of course it is all cocked up. And of course they have left him to live on fresh air. And a bus pass is something of a lottery. The road to Dumfries is full of potholes and should the bus hit a single pot hole in the wrong way, the resulting jar of his back can be enough to leave him bedridden for a week.

So I always figure it is best to drop his food off.

We chatted and he told me of a time a few months ago when his back seized whilst he was in bed. He couldn’t get himself up. He couldn’t really move at all.

One day and two days and three days.

And he lives on his own. And nobody much calls round to his little cottage at the end of a long track.

No water. No food, And worst of all was a packet of fags lying on a table a mere three inches beyond the reach of his grasping fingers.

So near but so far. The kind of thing those wicked Chinese jailers used to use to break the spirit of a western prisoner of war in the Korea. Back in the day.

Thankfully his GP arrived for a home visit and passed him the packet of fags.

Maybe he’ll get some cash soon. Maybe he won’t. Somewhere he is a set of numbers which a computer is attempting to link up to another set of numbers.

And they are but three tales of woe in the midst of hundreds of thousands.

Out there.

In the wet greyness of Britain in November 2015.

Hanging by finger tips onto a high wall that stretches to the horizon and beyond.

Bodies dropping one by one. Bodies swept from their tenuous grip by the raging Atlantic storm.

Just like the leaves on the trees really.

I think we are about to be busy in our work.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

IT'S TIME FOR COMMUNITIES TO TAKE THE LOAN SHARKS DOWN. AND IT IS SURPRISINGLY EASY TO DO.




Pop quiz.

Name a bunch of people who are even more unpopular than bankers, tabloid journalists and politicians.

Well, I guess there are some pretty good candidates. Right now ISIS and more or less anyone from 1970’s British television would be right up there. But these are come and go characters. Back in the day the National Front would have strolled into any top ten. Now for anyone under the age of 50 it is a case of National Who?

Hate figures come and go but a few remain constant.

Like loan sharks.

Oh yeah, in the whole of human history these guys have never once been flavour of the month. Hatred of loan sharks spans the ages all the way from Jesus going mental in the money lenders’ temple through Shakespeare’s Shylock and his pound of flesh to the modern day Brits yearning for the chance to hang Fred the Shred from the nearest lamppost. 

Over our 12 years of life as a front line charity, loan sharks have always been oddly shadowy figures. I cannot ever remember anyone ever using a name when talking about a loan shark. Maybe you don’t find that so very odd, but it is actually. There is seldom a time when we are not kept fully up to speed as to who is the main smack peddler in the town.

To be honest the tawdry activities of the local loan sharks has never played all that large for First Base.
This made a meeting I had yesterday all the more interesting. It started with a call from a guy at a local housing association. There are two guys down from Glasgow. I gave them your name. Hope that’s OK. They’ll be round to see you at noon.

Fair enough.

Two Trading Standards officers down from Glasgow on the trail of a loan shark in North West Dumfries.
I was actually pretty impressed with them. They both had a kind of Eliot Ness thing going on and I got a strong sense of men on a mission. They were up front and open about the thread of intel that had drawn them south. It was as thin as Posh Spice. Just a whisper really. A faint echo. But enough.

I asked them to describe the pack drill. And as it turned out, the pack drill was pretty interesting.

Basics.

Lending money without a licence is illegal under the criminal law. Up to two years inside, a fine up to £2000 and the possibility of having all your stuff confiscated under the proceeds of crime act if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation about how you came up with the cash to buy it.

So once the Trading Standards guys get themselves a name they can very quickly make the life of one of our modern day Shylocks pretty stressful.
It was the next bit of the story that got my attention.
It is completely legal to borrow money from a loan shark no matter how much of a scumbag he may be. More to the point, once you borrow the cash, you have no legal obligation whatsoever to pay it back.
Which basically means that the loan shark is a pretty exposed character. So long as he keeps a hold of his season ticket in the shadows he is OK. Pay me or you’ll get seriously battered. But once they are dragged kicking and screaming out into the light, the battering part of their business plan isn’t all that feasible.
This is the point where 'people power' starts to kick in. Once the 50 or 60 poor sods who are caught up in the loan shark’s net start to get wind of the fact that they don’t need to pay after all, they soon start to tell Sharky to shove his compound interest where the sun don’t shine.
So he turns up at their front door, no doubt with some B movie wannabe in tow.
Knock, know, who’s there?

It's Sharky. Pay up or Big Danny here is going to put all of that time in the gym to good use.

At which point a quivering victim is supposed to open the front door before Big Danny kicks it down and tearfully hand over an Xbox and the housekeeping money.

But once Sharky and Danny have been yanked out of the shadows, things soon start to play out differently.

Knock, knock who’s there?

Sharky and Big Danny.

Ring, ring, emergency services. Who do you need? Cops please. It’s Mrs Terrified Victim here. I have Sharky and Big Danny at my door threatening to give me a proper kicking unless I hand over our Jimmy’s Xbox.

Nae bother love. Give us five minutes.

And then it is flashing blue light time. Hello Sharky. Hello Big Danny. So what are you lads up to then? Come on. In the back.

And so it goes that 'threatening behaviour' gets bolted onto 'illegal money lending' for the Sheriff to consider at a later date.
This is when it hit me that the loan shark is in a completely different position to the drug dealer who shares similar methods of cash collection, namely a proper kicking care of Big Danny.

First up, anyone who takes a few bags of smack on credit knows that they are breaking the law themselves. Not surprisingly, they are seldom over keen to pick up the phone to seek the protection of the boys in blue. Hello there, I had twenty tenner bags of Big Danny’s boss and now he says he’s going to break my legs if I don’t pay him back. And then of course there is the other pressing problem, namely that the punter knows full well that he is going to need to score three tenner bags the next day to avoid the joys of cold turkey. Will anyone sell to him if he has just served up Big Danny and his gaffer to the local drug squad?

No chance.

A completely different set of rules applies to the loan shark. All of those trapped in their net tend to have vowed to themselves that they will never go near the likes of Sharky and Big Danny ever, ever again. As in ever.

They have learned a hard lesson the hard way. All they want now is for the slate to be wiped clean and to have the chance to start to get back on their feet.

So when they get to hear of a way out, they are more than likely to grab it with both hands. To tell Sharky asnd Big Danny to get stuffed and if they turn up at the front door, to call up the cops. Thery don’t have to worry about having broken any laws themselves for the simple reason that they haven’t broken any laws. They have done absolutely nothing wrong and there will be absolutely no consequences. They also don’t have to worry about finding another Sharky next week to lend them £20 to get the lights back on because they have already decided never to go near the likes of Sharky ever, ever again.

As in ever.

Life for Sharky and Big Danny soon becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Every time they go near a punter's front door the cops are there within minutes. And this gets noticed from behind all the curtains down the street. The community starts to turn against them. They soon become universally hated figures. There is no sympathy. Only hard hating eyes.
They are Pariahs trying to explain how they funded the 50 inch 3D tele in the front room on £70 a week's worth of brew money.
For once there is a reasonably easy solution to the abject misery and fear that many people are enduring. It is obvious that more and more will be falling from the seductive sweet talk of the loan sharks only to discover that once they are in their clutches they are completely trapped. Well it doesn’t have to be that way. All the boys from the Trading Standards need is a name and an address. Once they have the name they can get the ball rolling.

Knock, knock, who’s there?

Trading Standards. We’re about to make your life really crap.

Oh shit. No Danny. Sit yourself back down….

And then its all about Chinese whispers through the pub and the Post Office and the Spar shop and the school gates and the bus stop.

If you owe money to Sharky and Big Danny, you don’t need to pay. Just tell them to get stuffed. And if they start to kick off, just call the cops….
Her at number 34 called the cops on Tuesday night. You should have seen that Big Danny when they shoved him into the back of the squad car......
And soon the ball is wll and truly rolling.

One minute Mussolini is the dictator of everything he can see.

The next minute he is a terrified bald guy about to be hung up from a meat hook in downtown Milan.
It turns out that Sharky and Big Danny are not so mighty after all. And it turns out that it doesn’t take all that much for them to take a pretty big fall.

All it needs is a name in fact.

So if there is anyone in Dumfries who fancies jotting down a name and an address on a scrap of paper and shoving it through our letter box, I will be more than happy to pass it along to the boys from Glasgow. This isn’t how First Base usually rolls, but this is different. Every day we see people who have had every penny of their income stripped away on the back of some bogus small print from the Job Centre. The idea of parasites feeding off this constant stream of human misery really sticks in the throat.
These people deserve nothing but complete contempt. They need naming and shaming and shutting down. If you can spread this blog around any Dumfries social networks, then you never know – on morning there might just be a scrap of paper on the mat.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

J'ACCUSE



 OK. It’s pretty cocky of me to hijack Emile Zola’s iconic strapline and fix it on top of this blog. Fair cop! My hands are well and truly held up. But one of the joys of penning a blog is the fact that I don’t have a sensible editor breathing down my neck.

Emile Zola is a big personal hero of mine and he should be a hero of anyone who aspires to use the power of words to make life tough for the authorities when they step out of line.
It was 1899 when Zola shocked the people of France to their Gallic core when he published his article in L’Aurore.
The title was simple and it has stood the test of 116 years of time.

'J’Accuse.'

I accuse.

It was an open letter to the President of France and he accused the French Government of wrongly arresting Captain Alfred Dreyfus for the heinous crime of spying for the hated Germans. The Dreyfus story had gripped the French for months and the nation had been exultant when the evil spy had been shipped off to a life of living hell on Devil’s Island penal colony.

By this time Dreyfus was rotting away and slowly but surely being eaten up by all kinds of tropical illnesses.

He had basically been found guilty for one very compelling reason – he was a Jew.

Of course being a Jew was not a great thing to be at that time and nobody was too concerned about such things a s evidence, proof or possible innocence. Dreyfus was deemed to be a rich, arrogant Jew and so he simply had to be guilty.

Zola gave up some time to the small group of voices in the wilderness who were fighting for justice for Dreyfus. Once he reviewed the paperwork it immediately became clear that Dreyfus had been fitted up by a state consumed by anti-Semitism. Even Inspector Cleuseau on a bad day would only have needed half an hour or so with the evidence to see that the hard drinking, whore loving Count Esterhazy was the real spy. 'L’Aurore' was Zola’s rooftop of choice and he cried long and loud.

The French state didn’t mess about. They had Zola tried for libel in two weeks flat and he only narrowly escaped prison by legging to England to claim asylum. I guess he was lucky it was 1899. He probably wouldn’t have had much joy today.

Once the cat was out of the bag world opinion soon did the rest. Dreyfus was brought back home and fully exonerated. He went on to serve his country with great distinction in the Great War as an artillery officer whilst Zola staked out his place in history as a writer willing to tell the kind of truth nobody wants to hear much.

Sadly the Jews of France had no kind of a happy ending as they went on to a fate worse than death. And then death.

So what is my 'J’Accuse?'

Well it is hardly the Dreyfus Affair. My Alfred Dreyfus is may mate Richard Arkless MP and thankfully he is not about to be shipped off to a British penal island of the coast of the Falklands.

I got to know Richard well during the heady days of the summer of 2014. We were fellow travellers for the 'Yes' campaign and we shared lots of different stages. September 19th saw me return to being an apolitical Charity manager whilst Richard decided to stay in the fray and put his name forward to become the Member of Parliament for Dumfries and Galloway.

In May he won by a country mile.

He is exactly the kind of guy most people want to be an MP. He has never been any kind of political advisor and has spent all of his adult life living in the same real world as the rest of us. He earned his corn first as a corporate lawyer and then as a small businessman selling LED light bulbs online.

He was never paid so much as a penny for the endless hours he dedicated to the dream of Scottish Independence and believe you me, it was a hell of a lot of hours. He did it because he believed in it.

Simple.

And when the dream of 'Yes' crashed and burned in the early hours of September 19th he chose not to lie down and play dead. Instead he stuck out his chest and continued to fight.

So Richard is a genuine believer in a cause who has lived out his life in the much vaunted real world.
How nice it would be if that kind of determination, passion and energy could be viewed with a degree of respect by those on the other side of the fence.

Fat chance.

Being endlessly attacked has become a very common experience for those of us who stuck our heads above the parapet and fought for 'Yes'. It has been made very clear to us that ours is a crime that will be neither forgotten nor forgiven. We are now deemed to be subversives. Troublemakers. Rebels.

Oh of course in theory we are allowed to claim our birthright of free speech and campaign to live in an Independent Scotland. This is exactly the sort of thing that is supposed to be allowed. In practice the experience is very different indeed.

The 'No' side has been quietly settling scores for over a year now. Project Fear lives on in a constant torrent of disinformation and smear. Of course when any of us complain about this we are immediately mocked and derided for our paranoia.

We are all conspiracy theory loving nut jobs. Oh of course we are.

Luckily the murky forces of Project Fear tend to be pretty rubbish at what they do. Almost every week Wings over Scotland picks apart yet another pitiful attempt to blacken the names of those who continue to speak up for 'Yes'.

There is nothing new in this of course. Britain has hundreds of years of experience when it comes to squashing pesky independence movements. Times have changed of course. Thank God! We are not subjected to the kind of torture and imprisonment that was routinely meted out to those who fought for Indian and Kenyan Independence. Or indeed Irish Independence.

Thankfully rules and regulations mean they have to take a more subtle approach with us. Damp, rat infested cells are no longer a part of the playbook.

Now the playbook is much less in your face. Instead the newly tried and trusted method is to make something up and plaster it across the front pages of the Unionist Press. Once these accusations are slammed down in front of the public under screaming headlines, nobody will be overly bothered to check out the small print.

Classic disinformation.

Last weekend Richard became the latest in a line of victims that stretches back well over a hundred years. Someone, somewhere has deemed him to be a problem. A threat to the Realm. A subversive. An enemy within.

A target.

So what did they do?

They made stuff up and plastered it all over the front page.

Richard got a call on Saturday. Hello Mr Arkless. This is the Sunday Express. This is a courtesy call. You see, we are making you our front page lead tomorrow and not in a good way. We are going to strongly suggest that you are a cheat and a bounder andf an embarrassment to your Party. Any comment Mr Arkless?

Richard asked what on earth he was supposed to have done. They told him that his business was about to be investigated by the Trading Standards. He told them this was news to him and he asked if they would hold the story whilst he looked into it.

Hold the story? Dream on. We’re about to take you to the cleaners sunshine and we can’t bloody wait.

So it was that Richard became front page news.

Of course Trading Standards don’t work on a Sunday so Richard had to sweat out a miserable weekend whilst his phone rang and rang and rang.

On Monday morning he was able to get the facts, every one of which has been confirmed in writing by the Dumfries and Galloway Trading Standards Department.

On October 16th the Citizen’s Advice Helpline received a call from a customer of Richard’s company from somewhere outside Dumfries and Galloway. The caller had a problem with either the product or the service they had received from Richard's company. The caller asked Citizens Advice to forward their complaint to the people at Trading Standards. Citizen Advice informed the caller that this was not the kind of thing Trading Standards would deal with. They explained that it was nothing more than a routine issue to be settled between customer and supplier. They informed Trading Standards as a matter of courtesy and duly closed the case down.

The nature of the complaint is confidential and so we have no clue as to what it was. We probably never will. 

It was one phone call.

Richard asked Trading Standards when the Sunday Express had made contact.

October 16th.

Well would you credit that. The very same day that the complaint was a raised, advised on and closed down. It has to be said that the Sunday Express certainly has its ear to the ground when it comes to a punter receiving a delivery of light bulbs in damaged packaging. Or not.

But there was more.

Oh there really was more. Because in their written response to Richard’s enquiries the people at Trading Standards let him know that the first contact they had received for the Sunday Express had in fact been on October 9th.

Wow.

What a newspaper. Surely this is the truly remarkable part of the whole story – the astounding reveleation that the Sunday Express is in possession of a fully functional crystal ball. This is the perfect asset for any newspaper. It gives them an ability to see the future in high definition. I am a little confused as to why they decided to use this remarkable asset for something as utterly hum drum as a punter receiving a delivery of defective light bulbs. I mean, they could have predicted 9/11 on 2/11. They could have called the General Election and the Grand National winner and every set of winning lottery numbers. How very odd that the best thing they could do with their supernatural powers was to call Dumfries and Galloway Trading Standards about a complain a week before the actual complain had actually been made. Even though it wasn't actually made. well not to Trading Standards. But never mind.

Or…

Hang on a sec here….

Maybe there is another answer.

Maybe someone, somewhere had a quiet word. Over the port and the cigars. Now look here. This Richaqrd Arkless chappie. Don’t like the cut of his jib much. Don’t like it all in fact. Rather hope he might be taken down a peg or two. You know the kind of thing. The man’s a bloody pest.

Could it be that the phone call to the Citizen’s Advice helpline was in fact nothing more than pre-planned mischief making? Oh surely not. And could it be that wires got themselves crossed and that is why the heroic reporter from the Sunday Express rang up to investigate the complaint a full week it was actually made?

The article that followed the damning front page headline was filled with lots of appalling revelations the relentless and intrepid reporters had managed to dig up by their sheer dogged professionalism. It was the kind of journalism that makes the Washington Post’s efforts to shine a light on Watergate look quite pathetic in comparison.

The forensic reporters from the Sunday Express burned the candle at both ends and they dug deep. They read through the Facebook page for Richard’s business. I know. Fantastic isn’t it. Truly inspiring. They really had the courage and tenacity to read through the complaints section on his Facebook page. Respect guys. Serious respect.

And they hit paydirt.

They found the real filthy truth about Richard Arkless MP. Subversive. Enemy within. Threat to the Realm.

Brace yourselves for this is going to be a hard read.

One customer ordered light bulbs on a Monday and hadn’t received them by Wednesday and when he called to complain the phone was not answered.

Christ. It makes you shudder. It really does. How could anyone do that?

And it gets worse.

Another customer complained that the website wasn’t working properly.

Well there really is nothing more to be said, is there? The website wasn’t working. Jesus Richard. And to think I actually considered you to be a friend. Well I know the horrible truth now. You are the kind of scum who runs a company which has a website that sometimes doesn’t work.

You utter bastard. I can only thank God that we now know the truth about you. This is where democracy needs a free press to keep the likes of you honest.

You deserve to rot in hell.

This morning I glanced through yesterday’s edition of the Dumfries Standard. It is not every day that our local MP finds himself all over the front page of a national Sunday paper. In fact I am pretty certain that it is the first time such a thing has happened in twenty years. Let’s face it, Dumfries and Galloway is hardly a region with a particularly high profile.

Oddly enough there was not so much as a sentence about the scandal.

The Standard had obviously checked out the Sunday Express story and then cross referenced it with the facts from the Trading Standards Department and quickly concluded that not only was it not a front page story, but it wasn’t any kind of story at all.

It was nothing more than a badly executed stitch up that fell apart within hours. But I don’t suppose anyone will lose any sleep. When all is said and done they succeeded in what they set out to do. They slagged Richard off on the front page and plenty of the mud will stick.

It is clear that this isn’t about to stop any time soon. It will go on and on and on until the day finally arrives when enough of us vote 'Yes' and we can be done with these ghastly people for ever and ever.

Amen!

Until that day we just need to stick together and keep on fighting.

So Rich, a few very well worn words of advice.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.