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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.