Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/A Parcel o' Rogues

A lament for the loss of independence in 1707 due to the power, influence and financial weight of England. It seems tho' much changes, much abides across the centuries. Now it's time to wipe our eyes, lift our heads and start again

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O would, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Robert Burns
Photo of Linlithgow Palace by Alistair.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why I will vote Yes with a passion

 This is in part effectively a response to a newspaper article by an English journalist based in London called 'Why I'd Vote NO With A Passion'. You can read it here.

I would rather be a good neighbour, reaching out a hand in friendship as an equal to a true friend than a surly lodger who feels, ignored, neglected and constrained, forced to conform to the choices of a rapacious and absent aristocratic landlord.

I am fervently for inclusion, multiculturalism and multi-nationalism but our political system increasingly denies and demeans the reality of those things. Lip service to these values, to social justice, economic equality and to a progressive, inclusive society isn't enough. It's not good enough for me and it's not good enough for those generations to come. You deny my culture and nationality when you deny me the political, social and economic means to express it and to fulfil the dreams it carries. Now you make a minor gesture of more power but retain control and in a conceited lack of understanding expect me to conform to your limited concept of who I am and be grateful, docile and amenable while I do so. How dare you equate my nationalism with the extremes of the 20th century. You shame yourself in promulgating such absolute deceit.

You acknowledge we're different but don't understand why. That's why you cannot grasp why we recoil from a political system insistent on treating us like a fiefdom. If you lived here, far from London-centric economics,  with its political establishment and inherently superior 'Westminster village' mentality you might feel different too. Few journalists or politicians really understand what this feels like. Those who do speak out find a London dominated media and political system that struggles to hear anything not spoken in a London accent or in big business interest. We feel demeaned and sneered at for being welfare junkies, benefit dependants who spend more - £1200 more per person per annum - on our public services than the UK average while you are ignorant of the reason for this in delivering even limited services across Scotland's scattered communities.

Because of this we are 'taking more than our fair share' and face increasing demands that spend is cut to the UK average. You do not recognise that we pay heavily for this, contributing £1700 per person per annum more in tax than you do and therefore it is we who subsidise you.. Perhaps the more affluent South should contribute the same amount as we do to our union in this unequal society instead. While thousands live in poverty and depend on food banks, in our grotesquely unequal society our taxes  - that should be working for us - subsidise highland estates to encourage the worlds rich to come and shoot birds and maintain their workers on poverty pay. 60% of all private land in Scotland is owned by less than 1000 landowners. Our millionaire Prime Minister likes to come and shoot things on his mother-in-laws 90,000 acres of the island of Jura.

 Meanwhile you, the decision making political class - actually 'elite' is truly the right description -cannot represent an electorate you don't hear or understand as you tread the path of self perpetuation and blatant self interest. Only now, faced with a threat and reality brought on by complacency, conceit and neglect do you actually begin to do what you should be doing every day.  But you're not working your socks off for anything else other than the status quo.  You professional politicians, too often the privileged and privately educated sons of inherited wealth, display a staggering belief in your entitlement to dictate our lives, set us in thrall to the power, influence and demands of global corporations and show a complete disconnect from the reality of everyday life of the vast majority. You make promises and arguments couched in deliberately complex, convoluted language so they can be denied, qualified, redacted and reduced when convenient or challenged. No matter how we vote we are outnumbered ten to one in this fair land and our voices are heard only in a rare chime with English partners. You treat our demands for financial and social independence like the petulant whine of a misguided adolescent, reject and deny legitimate claims with impunity and threaten to withhold our pocket money while you already prescribe how much of our own money we get and what it can be spent on

 You are still that same establishment who, when oil was found in the 1970s,  buried a report for ministers by the senior civil servant Gavin McCrone that predicted an independent Scotland would be richer than Switzerland because you were afraid that an informed, burgeoning Scottish nationalism would split the union and result in a wealthy independent neighbour. You just couldn't have that could you? That was kept secret for 30 years and allowed you to needlessly squander £300 billion in oil revenues without setting up an oil fund to benefit UK society. There are only two oil producing countries that have never set up an oil fund. The other one is Iran. How's that for a comforting comparison?

Scotland is the only country to have produced oil and got poorer. The UK has nothing to show for it and you have the audacity to tell us we couldn't possibly do a better job on our own.. Now we're told the oil will soon be gone and estimates of  remaining value are vastly exaggerated. Our economy will collapse our pensioners will starve. Exactly the same fear mongering you worked to prevent the establishment of limited devolution in 1979. Shame on you for trying that again. Shame on us if we believe you have only our best interests at heart when billions of pounds of investment are being poured into existing oil fields and new ones are about to be opened up.

Now we have the bribe of more powers but, even this last minute offer of as yet undecided amounts of limited power reluctantly given - once it's been diluted, nipped and tucked by Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in the comfortable afterglow of a 'NO' vote - will be ripped to shreds to get it through a parliament stuffed with English MP's. It won't be fit for purpose for real change and the wish to be responsible for ourselves. It is beyond meaningless and beyond too late. You smile and tell us to be reasonable, you need us, we're better together, you care, ask us to think about our shared history, our heritage. You cajole us and tell us we're too small, too weak, too poor and too dependent on you to go it alone. You threaten us, scaremonger the elderly about our pensions, our economy, our health service and encourage your friends in big business to roll up and tell us in droves they will leave, will hike prices, reduce jobs, cancel investments, that oil and gas will run out. You say the world is safer if we are strong together while you park your nukes next to our largest city.

You don't deserve us any more.

Devolution has made significant positive changes, for example the emphasis on early years provision, early intervention and prevention which the Scottish Government has driven and invested in, the protection of free higher education, free personal care for the elderly and free prescription medicines for all. These all have the potential to make major differences to many lives, immediately and into the future but only barely scratch the surface of our hopes and ambitions. These are the things I value. With limited devolution whoever ultimately holds the purse strings wields the highest power. When it comes to making decisions that affect Scotland, that control should be by the people of Scotland. I believe independence, with complete control over our budget –  both income and expenditure, how we raise it and how we spend it – is the only way we will ever be sure that our priorities are our focus for

This is about a positive vote for our future and is not about voting for any particular political party – that comes later. None of us will get everything we want – but we will certainly be better able to influence a positive future, relevant to Scotland’s specific aspirations and priorities when we decide what we can do rather than being told what we can’t.

In an independent Scotland we can together identify the fundamental principles that will address what we care about and believe in - our aspirations for our country. I believe the way to assure a positive future for Scotland is to be a country that values, nurtures and protects all of its people and its future generations, something they have a right to expect from us. I am not naïve enough to think it will all be plain sailing but how we resolve difficulties will be our decision and for me that is important enough to live with the challenges along the way. We can take a few years of hardship to have control of our destiny. I doubt we will have the kind of hardship you describe though.

There will be no borders, no lack of regard or respect for shared history and heritage from this side at least. But it will be as equals. I believe you will always find Scotland to be your firmest friend and staunchest ally. I will always have friends and relatives living in England. It will never be a foreign country to me. Part of me will always be British but win or lose this referendum I will never choose to be governed from outside my country.

That is why I will vote YES with a passion on Thursday.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

It's Not About The Money, Money, Money.

My name is Alistair Robertson. I am a Scot, born and raised in a small and poor working class community in the coal fields of South-West Scotland. I am not an academic or intellectual but that's probably not important. I am a Scot and today my homeland is on the threshold of one of the most critical points in out history for generations.  A decision must be made on if Scotland should become independent and break a 300 year old political union with the United Kingdom or should we stay. This decision will be taken on 18th September, just a few short days away. Not one of us has a crystal ball. None of us can accurately forecast the future regardless of whether that's as an independent country or continuing as part of the UK.. I am a nationalist. I am not anti-English. I am not nationalist in the way that determined a National Socialist Germany seventy or eighty years ago and nor am I nationalist in the way that would determine a member of the British National Party today. I do not define my nationalism by race or ethnicity. I am nationalist because I believe in our right to self determination and in our ability to take responsibility for our own future and that that future should be significantly different to the society we live in today where the poorest in society are shouldering an unfair and unequal burden by being subject to increased taxes and reduced welfare and being stigmatised as workshy or benefit dependent while the gap between poor and wealthy grows at an ever increasing rate.

At  the moment Scotland has a devolved parliament within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with fiscal responsibility for about 7% of our national expenditure and restricted responsibility and policy freedom in areas of taxation, welfare, monetary policy and a raft of other areas affecting the kind of society we are.  Politically speaking, Scots have voted for parliamentary representation that, due to the country's size, has been unable to credibly influence the direction taken by a Westminster based UK Government elected by significantly different political agendas to our own for more than 40 years. With Scotland having only 8.4% of the UK population and MP numbers to match, that is a situation that is unlikely to change without radical action.

We are a nation rich in natural resources, with a diverse economy and the kind of potential in renewable energy that puts us near the top of future green energy producers per capita in the Western world. We will most likely be able to export green energy within a generation. We have abundant - but finite - hydrocarbon reserves of oil and gas that will last conservatively, at current production levels, for thirty plus years, even without further discoveries {which may be considerable} - easily long enough to bring on-stream technologically advanced streams of green energy. The Scottish economy currently produces more Gross Domestic Product {GDP} per head than the rest of the UK which means we pay into UK finances more than we get back. Even without oil revenues Scotland is acknowledged to be comfortably placed within a table of the world's wealthiest nations. {and many of the top ten wealthiest are small countries of about Scotland's population} Despite that we are part of one of the world's most unequal societies; a situation that has consistently worsened since the world economic recession of 2008. The Conservative Government, in coalition with Liberal Democrat MP's has led an austerity driven agenda which many feel has stigmatised the unemployed as workshy, penalised the disabled and most vulnerable with benefit cuts while the richest have thrived with tax breaks and a protective attitude displayed towards them as 'wealth creators'. This is a system in which all major UK political parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoliberal economics over all other aspirations. It treats the natural world, civic life, equality, public health and effective public services as dispensable luxuries,treats workers as no more than commodities and supports the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor as non-negotiable.

The Scottish Government is led by the Scottish National Party {SNP,} who have always aimed for an independent Scotland, but the current independence movement is a  much wider grass-roots movement which spans the gamut of political parties to a greater or lesser degree and is also densely populated with individuals of no party affiliation whatsoever. This movement believes Scotland can only be the kind of society it desires by gaining full control of income and spending, making different choices on welfare, taxation and economic investment and development. Most tellingly of all perhaps, it believes that a smaller unit will be able to hold its politicians to account and make them more responsive to the electorate in comparison to the current situation.

Some of you reading that will no doubt be screaming " So what are you waiting for?"


Things are not so simple as the information above would indicate.

Scotland has been in a political and economic union with the rest of the UK since 1707.  There have been many generations who have lived under the union. Scotland -  often by political design but also by circumstance - has a huge history of delivering its manpower into military and administrative service of Britain's empire. We have shed blood and given our creativity to build an industrial, economic and social entity that has worked for most of those generations. The ties are long and they are strong for many people. While older generations may wait in hope for the Labour Party to rediscover its working class mojo, others are fine with the status quo or scared of the scale of the change - and challenge - we may inflict upon ourselves. Many others, I included, feel there is only one choice. The opinion polls are showing a 50-50 split at the weekend.

As far as the future of the country is concerned it is all still to play for.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2013/ Oppression

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.

In some lands
Dark night
And cold steel
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Its jail.      

Langston Hughes.
Photo by Alistair.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.       

Jenny Joseph.
Photo By Alistair.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Sunday Posts2014/ Aye. Believe

Vote Yes

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it.

Poem: Edgar A Guest

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Sunday Posts 2013/ Peace


We passed their graves:
The dead men there,
Winners or losers,
Did not care.
In the dark
They could not see
Who had gained
The victory.

Langston Hughes.
Photo by Alistair.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Not Bad Just Unfortunate.

In my dream I take a deep breath and the long-forgotten smell of the wooden floor and stairs in the hall of my grandmother's house fills my nose. Standing in front of the slightly open door to the lounge I tidy my hair, sort my jumper into a child's semblance of tidiness then pull my socks up from around my ankles and clean my shoes by rubbing my right shoe on the back of my left sock and my left shoe on the right before doing a final check of my pockets/hands/mouth for any incriminating evidence. I knock, as bravely or happily as circumstances or guilt allow and enter, trying not to seem out of breath. 

"Hello Gran, were you looking for me?" 

Don't get the wrong impression. I wasn't a bad kid. Just unfortunate - I usually got caught.

I’ve never been a good liar. Even 50 years later, as an adult with a lifetimes experience I choose honesty. Not that honesty is simply the right or adult thing to do, always the best policy or even my preferred option but my blush response is too well-developed and independently minded for me to get away with any hint of being economical with the truth. So, honesty is the best policy or normally anyway. I can do fibs - those little lies that people normally describe as "white", even when they’re not strictly speaking in the other person's best interest. Yes I can do fibs - most of the time. 

Back then my tactic was to try and look cool, calm and collected, as innocent as a new born babe and to say as little as possible in an attempt not to incriminate myself with any old story, excuse, explanation lie. The trick was keep schtuum for as long as possible to try and calm your mind and get the story straight in your head before the grilling began. 

Granny Robertson undoubtedly had one of the most penetrating glares I have ever come across – then or since. Her eyebrows would twitch together and her nose would wrinkle in disdain as if dishonesty was a bad smell she could detect at a thousand paces. Her head would slowly lower until she looked at you over the top of her glasses. That look could find darkness in the soul of an angel, or would have persuaded said angel to confess there was darkness in there. What chance did a mere boy have, especially when that look was accompanied by a voice that prompted truthfulness as the only option for she already knew your innermost secrets. Granny Robertson could have outdone every interrogator from the Spanish Inquisition to the Secret Service. She’d probably taught Obi-Wan Kenobi that old "these are not the droids you're looking for" Jedi mind trick. What chance did a mere boy have, especially if he was guilty?  

Not bad you understand.  

Just "unfortunate". 

But she was more than some extraordinary witch finder general. She was the glue that held my childhood together; she was babysitter, nurse, refuge, teacher, historian, storyteller, fount of all knowledge, maker of sense for all things perplexing, confidante, diffuser of worries and prodigious knitter of multitudes of embarrassing jumpers socks and other oddities. There was no situation that could not be made better by a visit to and a cup of tea with Granny Robertson. Even those – ahem -‘relatively’ rare situations where a young miscreant had to stand and confess his guilt to some nefarious deed or other was cathartic, no matter how uncomfortable reaching that confession had been or the consequences would be after. But a summons to ‘tea’ on your own with granny was a welcome occasion, except of course when something would best be kept hidden to avoid repercussions. It was her way of checking everything was okay and giving you the chance to talk of any worries that may be troubling you. She had, it seemed to a small boy, a bewilderingly innate sense of timing. 

In my dream I take a deep breath and the long-forgotten smell of the wooden floor and stairs in the hall of my grandmother's house fills my nose. I smile at the overwhelming familiarity and comfort it brings after all these years. , I know my clothes are tidy but still  raise my hands and run careful fingers through my hair. I look down at my shoes and even though they are clean I lift my right foot and rub it on my left calf and the left shoe on my right. My hands automatically move for my pockets but I stop them before they reach. I look down at my hands and find I am trembling and yet smiling. I knock gently on the slightly open door and step through.

“Hello Gran, I’ve been looking for you…..”

Listening to

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A man Of Independent Mind.

In just under two months the people of Scotland will vote Yes or No in a referendum asking if they want independence from the UK . As you would expect, it's dominating the political agenda here. Britain's three main political parties; Labour, Conservative and Lib – Dem  have united in an uneasy alliance for this one issue to campaign against separation despite vastly different  political positions.  The campaign to vote Yes  is led by the SNP,  the Scottish National Party, who control the devolved government in Scotland but it also includes voices from other political parties, including increasing numbers of renegades from the Scottish Labour Party acting with their conscience against the wish of their Westminster masters. 

The two different camps have vastly different ideas about what an independent Scotland would look like. In the No campaign’s independent Scotland nothing will work: we can’t use the pound, afford pensions, a welfare system or health service, we will lose investment and businesses will leave, there will be border controls and passport checks between Scotland and the South, we will be outside the EU and it will be difficult and expensive to rejoin, taxes will be higher and food more expensive. Every man and child will be £1400 a year worse off. In short everything will be worse. They've done everything but claim the oxygen will leave.

On the other hand, the Yes campaign takes a different view where we have plenty of money and resources to afford spending on pensions and health, on justice and welfare. We will have an oil fund to provide for a safer future, we will be rid of nuclear weapons, use the pound and be welcomed into the EU with open arms, we will have a wealthy, socially just society where there is equality, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit by the bucket load and we live in social, cultural and economic partnership with the rest of Britain.. Our national football team will win the World Cup. (Okay – that one’s just me)

 But these are pictures painted by politicians and you'd be a fool if you believed them completely.

The response by the media has been interesting. One Scottish broadsheet newspaper has come out wholly in favour of the yes campaign while the majority of the others espouse neutrality yet publish more stories supporting no than yes. The BBC in Scotland struggles to resist the establishment’s endorsement of the status quo and maintain objectivity while in the South the issue is largely ignored and underreported. Populist newspapers often see the referendum in bemused stereotyped terms of "Why do they hated us so much" or "those bloody jocks are it again", as if we all have on kilts and have freshly painted our faces with woad and are ready to charge southward waving our claymores as we scream "FREEDOM!"

In two months time I will vote yes to independence and to separate from the United Kingdom. To be more accurate perhaps, I will vote to separate from political union with the United Kingdom. I don't hate the English. I don't hate England, Wales or Northern Ireland. I am and always will be proud to be both Scottish and British but we are different. I am increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy with the direction in which our society is going led by Westminster. This direction doesn't represent the wish of the Scottish people and hasn't done for generations. The Scottish electorate has traditionally voted centre left politically while England, particularly the South of England has voted centre-right. In all of my adult life Scotland has never had the government it voted for. We’ve never determined our own future or the kind of society we can be.

 I want that. Pretty damned badly.

But I'm just one person and no matter what my point of view is or how strong my belief in our potential and our abilities, I live in a democracy and there are other options possible. No matter how we vote in two months time I hope that the debate we are having now helps bring us all to better understand our differences, our strengths and weaknesses and above all the opportunity and choices we have to make this country a better place to live for everybody in it.

If we have nothing more, surely we deserve nothing less


Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Sunday Posts 2014/ Madrigal

Dedicated with love to Leonard and Karen who were married on Saturday. About time guys!

When the dragons grow too mighty
To slay with pen or sword
I grow weary of the battle
And the storm I walk toward
When all around is madness
And there's no safe port in view
I long to turn my path homeward
To stop a while with you

When life becomes as barren
And as cold as winter skies
There's a beacon in the darkness
In a distant pair of eyes
In vain to search for order
In vain to search for truth
But these things can still be given
Your love has shown me proof

Words by Rush